Marking time

It is marking season at the university where I work. I love my job, but not this bit of it. I once wrote a song about it:

The unmarked essays pile high
I start to scan with dread
The words of those who cannot write
‘Bout books they have not read

To make the task more bearable, I listen to records. An LP by Gordon Lightfoot, the great Canadian singer songwriter, is on the turntable now. GL DQ

Don Quixote was released in 1972, and it is one of those albums they call “solid”. A critic opined: “The album contains little innovation on Lightfoot’s trademark folk sound”. Maybe so, but it is a good collection of songs, well performed and produced, and it is cheering my day. As a caffeine addict, I can particularly relate to this song.

I’m on my second cup of coffee and I still can’t face the day

Yup. Been there. Now, back to the marking.

  • Artist: Gordon Lightfoot
  • LP Title: Don Quixote
  • Side 2, Track 2: “Second Cup of Coffee”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: Reprise
  • Catalogue: MS 2056
  • Manufactured in: United States
  • Year: 1972

Many of the records featured on Planet Vinyl are for sale on Discogs.

 

 

Sun filtering though curtains

She was a southern belle with big hair and a husky voice, and for a short time she was the biggest thing in country music. Born in Mississippi in 1944 to dirt-poor farmers, Roberta Lee Streeter managed to get to college, where she studied philosophy and music. She was good at both, and adopting the stage name Bobbie Gentry, she had a smash hit in 1967 with the swamp-gothic story song “Ode to Billie Joe”.

Bobbie_Gentry_1970

Bobbie Gentry. Picture: NBC  [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Later she went more mainstream, recording covers albums and duets with Glenn Campbell, hosted some fairly bland television shows, then retired from performing. But in between, she recorded an album, The Delta Sweete which was, writes Dorian Lynskey in the Guardian, “her second record and her masterpiece: a multi-faceted quasi-concept album about Gentry’s Mississippi delta roots”.

I discovered this astonishing work via one of the singles released from it. The A-side is a vivacious version of the Doug Kershaw song “Louisiana Man”: Gentry’s take leaps out at the listener, fresh as a kicking catfish. But it is the B-side, “Courtyard” which dazzles, even on the scratchy disc I found. A Scots folk ballad meets Astral Weeks in a graveyard on a sticky summer’s day: understated, lovely, chilling.

Lynskey again:

most of The Delta Sweete‘s innovative, sophisticated sound is down to Gentry herself, who played piano, guitar, banjo, bass and vibes. Swampy southern grooves mingle with the latest Nashville trends, blue-eyed soul [and] whispered intimations of psychedelia … each track blurs, dream-like, into the next … the earlier tracks chime with her public image as a husky, sensual southern belle but [elsewhere] her voice enters … like sun filtering though curtains.

And he is right. The LP sank with little trace at the time. This single peaked at 100 on the US charts, and did not even register elsewhere. The Planet Vinyl manifesto declares:

We are archaeologists of sound, at a dig. We value the pot shards and door knobs and belt buckles, and we sometimes find riches unimagined.

Bobbie Gentry’s The Delta Sweete is one of those.

“Louisiana Man”

“Courtyard”

  • Artist: Bobbie Gentry
  • Single Title: Louisiana Man
  • Tracks: A “Louisiana Man”; B “Courtyard”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm
  • Label: Capitol Records
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Catalogue number: CP-8325
  • Year: 1968

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

 

 

 

 

 

Mountain music

The things I know about Nepal can be put in dot points:

  • Mountains (generally, and one very big mountain in particular)
  • Sherpas (who help rich westerners climb said mountains)
  • Kathmandu (the city, not the clothing franchise)
  • A Maoist insurgency
  • Yaks

That’s about it.

640px-Bos_grunniens_at_Letdar_on_Annapurna_Circuit

Two of the things I know about Nepal. Image: travelwayoflifeFlickr, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

Of the music of the people of Nepal, I had never heard any until this random op-shop LP came my way. In the 1970s, a man called Stefano Castelli visited Nepal with a microphone and tape recorder, and captured the music of the people of the mountains. I can learn nothing about Castelli, except that he was probably Italian (the LP was first issued in Italy). The LP does not have much in the way of notes, and I know nothing of the Nepali language (or, probably, languages).

Even so, the sounds Castelli recorded are fascinating, absorbing.

Some are obviously religious ceremonials. Others are folk songs, and even in a strange tongue you can tell that they are telling a story. It is one of these which I want to share. It is titled “Soldier’s Letter”.

The LP sleeve tells us nothing else: not even the name of the singer, or where or when it was recorded. So I’m just guessing, but to me it sounds as if the song is about a soldier writing home. Could be an ANZAC in France, or a GI in Vietnam, or a Roman soldier on Hadrian’s wall: the message is the same.  He is enduring danger and boredom and physical hardship, but worse than that is his yearning for home, for his wife and children. Will he ever see them again?

  • Artist: ‎Unknown (Field Recordings – Stefano Castelli)
  • LP Title: Folk Songs of Nepal
  • Track: A5 “Soldier’s Letter”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm, stereo
  • Label: Lyrichord
  • Manufactured in: United States
  • Catalogue: LLST 7330
  • Year: Unknown (c. 1977)

Kali or an octopus

The uilleann pipes is a musical instrument of such extraordinary complexity it could only have been invented by the Irish.

pipesIt is related to the bagpipes, but you don’t blow into it. The uilleann pipes is inflated with a small set of bellows, strapped around the waist and the right arm. It has three sorts of pipe: the chanter (on which you play the melody) , drones, and also regulators. There are three of these (tenor, baritone and bass), and each one has a set of keys to play chords accompanying the melody. It is astonishing that this instrument can be played by anything short of the many-armed Indian god Kali. Or maybe an octopus.

2060 sleeve full

But played it is, and it is a beautiful instrument, quieter and more subtle than the bagpipes. Among the bands which kept is use alive was the Gallowglass Ceili Band, part of the Irish cultural revival. This track comes from an LP released in 1968, the same year as The Beatles’ “White Album” and the Stones’ Beggars Banquet. It was, in short, irredeemably square even at the time of its release. Just look at the bloke playing the pipes on the album sleeve.

2060 sleeve Pot-smoking flower child on the Summer of Love? Not so much.

Ah, but we respect all music here on Planet Vinyl, and we have a special place in our hearts for those dedicated souls who keep alive ancient traditions by playing impossible instruments. And Gallowglass could pump out a mighty tune. Just listen.

  • Artist: The Gallowglass Ceili Band
  • LP Title: Irish Night
  • Side 1, Track 4 “McDermott’s Reel”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm, mono
  • Label: Hallmark
  • Catalogue number: Hallmark
  • Manufactured in: UK
  • Year: 1968

Many of the records featured on Planet Vinyl are for sale on Discogs.

 

What became of her?

Somewhere in his sprawling masterpiece, Moby Dick, one of Herman Melville’s characters muses that “It’s a mutual, joint-stock world, in all meridians”. We are all interlinked and intertwined and astonishing coincidence happens so often that we should cease to be astonished.

Even so.

I was listening to an old LP, a compilation called Hootenanny Vol. 2. It is a bit of silly name, but Hootenanny was a TV program back in the early 1960s which showcased the emerging American folk scene, the Greenwich Village coffee-house crowd. It is a great LP, with a wide range of styles – gospel, blues, flamenco, bluegrass – consistently excellent performances. But one track stood out, sent shivers down my spine. It’s a nonsense song, “Hooka Tooka”, and it doesn’t mean anything, but somehow the singer’s voice makes it rich and poignant and sad and joyful, all at once.Henske crppped

So, I looked at the sleeve. Judy Henske? Never heard of her, but an amazing talent. What, I wondered, became of her?

Half an hour later, I picked up a music magazine I had bought earlier the same day, and flipped it open at random, and this is what I saw.

henske magHenske, I learned, had married Jerry Yester, and together they made an album, Farewell Aldebaran, which flopped at the time but is now regarded as a classic and has been re-released. Might track it down.

Meantime, have a listen to “Hooka Tooka”. Nonsense about chewing tobacco, but maybe also saying that it’s a mutual, joint-stock world, in all meridians.

  • Artist: Judy Henske
  • LP Title: The Original Hootenanny Volume 2 (Various Artists)
  • Track: Side 1 Track 6 “Hooka Tooka”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: Crestview
  • Catalogue number: CRV-807
  • Manufactured in: United States
  • Year: 1963

Many of the records featured on Planet Vinyl are for sale on Discogs.

 

 

Hear the real Maria

Sound of Music tragics, of whom there are many, will tell you that there is a scene early on in the film in which Maria, played by Julie Andrews, passes through an archway, and you see an old lady in the background. That, so I have heard, is the real Maria von Trapp. A fellow blogger has gone to the trouble of capturing the frame – thank you!

real maria

In a strange way, The Sound of Music is a bit like Macbeth. A piece of theatre is based on real people. The show is a huge success, such that the real people fade, are forever seen through the lens of the fiction. You can forget there really was a king of Scotland called Macbeth, and he never said “Is this a dagger I see before me?”. You can forget that there really was a Trapp family, and that they became refugees who managed to make a living from their music.

The Trapp Family Choir sang and played complex interwoven harmonies, mostly arrangements of traditional German songs. Like in the musical? Not really. There is a hint of similarity, here and there. Rogers and Hammerstein clearly took some songs as starting ideas. “Wohlauf ihr lieben Gaste (Now Then, Dear Guests)”, is a party wind-up song, and identifiable as the distant ancestor of “So Long, Farewell”.

This track was one of a dozen the Trapp family recorded in December 1938, not long after they had left Austria. It is a traditional Christmas song, “Maria Durch Ein Dornwald Ging”, which means roughly “Mary Walked through a Thorny Wood”. The family must have felt they were in a thorny wood of their own. A rousing show tune it ain’t, but the singing is quite lovely. Forget what you know, and listen to the real Maria.

  • Artist: The Trapp Family Choir
  • LP Title: The Sound of Folk Music of Many Lands
  • Track: A2 “Maria Durch Ein Dornwald Ging”
  • Label: RCA Camden
  • Catalogue: CAS-904
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1965 (song recorded 22 Dec 1938).

 

Dorky uncles get down

The cliché about books and covers applies double to recorded music. Some LP sleeves, especially those produced by little independent folk labels, take gauche, add extra gauche, then multiply by the number you first thought of. The music may be brilliant; it’s just that the graphic design was entrusted to the bass player’s second cousin, who is doing Year 8 photography.

Exhibit A

championstringband

The pic is like a snap of the dorky uncles gathered at Christmas lunch.  Anything would have been better. A blueprint pinched from an old guide to making banjos, or just the band’s name in nice clean letters.

Ah, but the whole point of Planet Vinyl is to ignore the visual.

I had never heard of the Champion String Band, though I love folk. Their one self-titled LP was released on an obscure provincial English label from Newcastle, 35 years ago. The cover is a shocker. But who cares about that? The only thing which matters: can the dorky uncles actually play? Oh yes they can. Listen to this set of three tunes, and the combination of fiddle and rhythm guitar.

Close your eyes, open your ears.

  • Artist: The Champion String Band
  • LP Title: Champion String Band
  • Track: Side 1, Track 1 “Lady Rothes / General Garibaldi / The Champion Hornpipe”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: Black Crow Records, CRO 201
  • Manufactured in: United Kingdom
  • Year: 1981