October 31, 2011

Not as Halloween-y as it looks

I grabbed this album because I liked the cover, and have always been curious about Spike Jones, that irreverent bandleader/musician I first heard about from comedian George Carlin in one of his comedy performances.

Based on the cover, I thought perhaps this would be an album of Halloween-type songs, but it's not, really. Still a lot of fun, though! Listen for the legendary voice actor, man-of-a-thousand-voices, Mel Blanc doing a "drunken", hiccuping verse in track 3, "Clink Clink Another Drink", as well as a truly ridiculous version of Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker Suite" on track 7. Happy Halloween everyone!

September 8, 2011

Them Old Country Songs

I find I've been listening to a lot of bluegrass music lately. That tends to happen in the summer - there's something about bluegrass that has an "outside in the warm weather" feel to it, at least for a city dweller like me.

As I listen, I realize that while I often say "I don't like country music" ... I actually like a lot of country music. Now, this isn't bluegrass music (however, this post from 2010 is), but all of this made me think of "Them Old Country Songs", a 3-LP set I picked up many years ago for a few bucks. This is that old-school kinda country music, full of soul and heartache.

Three LPs worth of music means there's a lot of stuff here. Particularly notable though, and by far my favourite track, is "Down Yonder" (LP 1, track 4) - a wild honky-tonk piano piece from 1951 played by Del Wood (a.k.a. Polly Adelaide Hazelwood - a woman in the 1950s country music scene! My goodness!). There is also a version of "Tell It Like It Is" (LP 3, track 2), popularized by Aaron Neville, as well as the upbeat "This Ole House" by Stuart Hamblen, later covered by Rosemary Clooney, mother of now-famous George Clooney (well somewhat famous, but what has he done lately? *snicker*)

Anyway, it's a "who's who" of old country, if there ever was one!

August 8, 2011

MORE Johnny Puleo and his Harmonica Gang

... and now we get more into the "specialty" side of Johnny Puleo with Volumes 3 and 4 of his LP series.

In Volume 3, we get "Molto Italiano!", a collection of Italian-themed, all-harmonica renditions of songs such as "Sicilian Tarantella", "Funiculì, Funiculà", and the similarly operatic "O Sole Mio". The similarities in sound between the harmonica and the accordion is quite evident here.

Volume 4 is dedicated to "Western Songs" such as "Home on the Range" and "San Antonio Rose", for a distinct 'out riding fences, sitting by the campfire' feel.

July 18, 2011

JOHNNY PULEO and his Harmonica Gang

Johnny Puleo has been a staple of my vinyl collection for many years now. I must have been only 15 or 16 when, as a nerdy music student, eager to listen to anything and everything "unusual" (clearly, I never really grew out of that), I picked up Volume 2 of this series of albums from Johnny Puleo and his Harmonica Gang for about 25 cents at a flea market. Years later, after thinking I'd NEVER find Volume 1 to complete the set, I found Volume 1 (but didn't complete the set - more on this later).

"The only instruments used on this recording and harmonicas or mouth organs!", the back cover proudly declares. Indeed, it's nothing but harmonicas, but if you like harmonicas, especially a bunch of 'em all together, it's nothing but fantastic. It's mostly corny old music but these guys really make their harmonicas sing. You may recognize Aram Khatchaturian's "Sabre Dance" (Volume 2, track 2) as the Buffalo Sabres' hockey team theme music often played during their home games, like I did (memories of old-school Hockey Night in Canada!) - but you've never heard it like this.

Not enough Johnny Puleo for you? Stay tuned for MORE Johnny Puleo, up next.

June 5, 2011

CALYPSO with The Mighty Sparrow

Wow, it's been WAY too long since the last LP resurrection. What can I say, I get lazy and tend to put things off unless someone says "hey man, why no blog posts lately?" So if you're an active follower of this blog who has been patiently waiting, and can't bear to go another three months until the next post after this, feel free to bug me about it and it might coax me to get off my arse.

Anyway, this post is for "Gale" and "FredrikO", two readers who have requested MORE CALYPSO after listening to some music from Trinidad and Tobago on the very first post on this blog. Request granted!

The Mighty Sparrow is sometimes referred to as the "Calypso King of the World", and considering he's won numerous important calypso competitions (quite often more than any other calypsonian), it's an appropriate title.

Always known for being outspoken, a notable track on this album is track number 9, "No Future", where Sparrow warns what might happen to you if you choose a life of drugs: "... brother, you ain't got no future, you ain't got no hope ... you might think you're dead, 'til somebody said, 'poor little bloke, he went off on dope." - kind of a "Just-Say-No calypso" (or "calyps-NO"?), if you will. Great summer music! Enjoy!

January 25, 2011

Happy "Rabbie Burns" Day!

Today, Scots and poetry lovers alike are celebrating the birthday of Robert (a.k.a. Robbie/Rabbie) Burns, considered to be the greatest Scottish poet (and even the greatest Scottish person) of all time.

Admittedly, this album has nothing to do with Robert Burns, except for being made by Andy Stewart, another Scot. But who cares, right? Robbie Burns Day is often a celebration of Scottish culture as much as it is a celebration of the famed poet.

Andy Stewart was a musician from Glasgow who had a number of international hit singles in the 1960s. Since this LP seems to have two front covers (pictured) rather than a definite front and back cover, it's possible that this is actually two albums in one, or perhaps a compilation of his biggest hits.

The track "Scottish Soldier", written by Stewart, is known by many fans of old-school professional wrestling as the entrance theme for "Rowdy" Roddy Piper (who is actually Canadian, but used his Scottish heritage as inspiration for his wrestling persona). The lyrics for "other" title track, the tongue-in-cheek "Donald, Where's Your Troosers?", is said to have been written by Stewart in 10 minutes while sitting in a bathroom with his "troosers"'round his ankles. Kind of a comedy-crossover song, the song pauses about halfway through, and Stewart wonders aloud if the song needs more "international appeal". Then the first verse is repeated - Elvis Presley-style! (and what a great impersonation!) - before going back to the original Scottish version. It's a bonny LP! Pour yourself a wee dram and have a listen!

January 10, 2011

Gerry Rafferty, 1947-2011

On January 4, 2011, the music world said goodbye to Gerry Rafferty, a Scottish musician best known for two late-70s hit songs that continue to be radio staples to this day: "Baker Street", which is instantly recognizable for its saxophone solo, as well as the more laid-back "Right Down The Line". Before that, he was also a part of the early 70s group Stealers Wheel, the band behind the song "Stuck in the Middle With You" (a song that had a resurgence in popularity in the early 90s, after being used in the rather gruesome "ear cutting" scene in Quentin Tarantino's film Reservoir Dogs).

In honour of Rafferty's passing, this post features this self-titled compilation album from 1974, a collection of songs written by Rafferty and recorded by yet another band he was a part of, The Humblebums. Interestingly, this band also had Billy Connolly as a member, mostly known these days as a stand-up comedian and character actor who has appeared in a number of Hollywood movies.

December 27, 2010

Chassidisco Fever!

Recorded and released in Israel in 1978, CHASSIDISCO FEVER is now the second LP inspired by the mega-popular Saturday Night Fever movie soundtrack to be featured on this blog (after Sesame Street Fever! back in 2008).

I picked up this record in small record shop in the town of Peterborough, Ontario, a rather unlikely place for an album like this (the title, by the way, is a play on "Chassidism", a branch of Orthodox Judaism). So at first, I wasn't sure what to make of it. Was this a parody album? But then I turned to the back cover and saw lyrics such as "Thy my help come from the Lord, who created heaven and earth ... Hear, O Israel! Our God is an eternal unity" - pretty heavy lyrics for a parody album, and all of the song titles were in Hebrew. When I played the record, I found out that's it's indeed real disco music, and actually sung in Hebrew too.

So I suspect it's a wee bit of both - serious late 70s Israeli disco music, with a nod to the 1977 mega-hit American film. The album consists of five tracks - four on the first side, with Ricki Gal (probably not her real name) providing vocals. The second side is entirely dedicated to the 18-minute instrumental disco epic CHASSIDISCO. 

This track, in my opinion, is where the real "fever" lies. While the main theme (which is repeated intermittently throughout, and sounds a lot like the music in an often-played heartburn medication commercial here in Canada) gets a little tiring after while, there's some good stuff in between. At various points in the piece we hear solos from a flute, a saxophone, some bongo drums with a triangle, an electric guitar, and a funky bass guitar. Particularly notable is an interlude around the 8:50 mark that sounds amazingly like the syncopated horn-and-sax bit in Stevie Wonder's 1976 song "Sir Duke". Mechaieh indeed!

Thanks for your support in 2010 - have a happy, happy New Year! See you in 2011!

September 29, 2010

Oh, for the love of Steve Allen!

Stephen Valentine Patrick William Allen (1921-2000), best known simply as Steve Allen, was known for a lot of things. He was the original host of the long-running (and still running) NBC television series The Tonight Show (so he never needed to worry about being booted to make way for of Jay Leno). He was the host of several other television shows, such as The Steve Allen Show, The New Steve Allen Show, and The Steve Allen Comedy Hour, as well as several others that did not actually have the name "Steve Allen" in the title.

He once appeared on The Simpsons to poke fun at himself for all of these self-named works, by talking about some of his books: "How to Make Love to Steve Allen", "Happiness Is a Naked Steve Allen", "Journey to the Center of Steve Allen", and "The Joy of Cooking Steve Allen". While these book titles were merely made up for a joke, Allen was nevertheless a prolific author as well, having penned over 40 books over the course of his lifetime.

I feel like the name "Steve Allen" hasn't been used enough in this post yet, so - STEVE ALLEN! STEVE ALLEN!

As if all of this wasn't enough, he was also an accomplished musician and composer, writing over 10,000 songs during his lifetime. The album featured here - "Electrified Favorites" - is from 1958 and features Allen doing bouncy swing/jazz tunes (some his, some written by others) on a Wurlitzer electric piano. This is a different instrument than the one featured in an earlier post on this blog, which was more like a pipe organ.

Sadly, Mr. Allen died in 2000 from injuries sustained in a vehicle accident, just short of his 79th birthday. It's a real shame, because I can't help but think we would have seen more great stuff from him if he had been around longer. Well, at least we have a few (read: hundreds) things to remember him by.

August 30, 2010

Now circle right, the other way back,
make yer feet go wickity-whack.

Before he was corrupted by the American right wing, former Saturday Night Live cast member Dennis Miller could a pretty funny guy. Known for his cynicism, and for routines filled with plenty of pop culture references, he once talked about his contempt for square dancing - "when I go to dance, I go to express myself. These people are into being ordered around the floor by some neo-fascist Sam Drucker ... some sort of bizarre B.F. Skinner hoedown ..."

He makes a good point; indeed, square dancing probably isn't the thing to do if you really want to cut loose on the dance floor, but that doesn't necessarily make it easy. Square dancing is almost always thought of in an American context, but is actually from the UK originally, and bears a resemblance to Scottish country dancing. This is an album of square dance calls from Carson Robison and his Pleasant Valley Boys, recorded some time in the 1950s. Although he passed away over 50 years ago, Robison was very well regarded as an important influence on early American country music.

If you're not sure what to expect of this, and you're familiar with old Bugs Bunny cartoons, I can tell you that listening to this album will almost certainly remind you of these guys:

July 28, 2010

First, you spread your limbo feet.
Then, you move to limbo beat.

Okay, drop everything. It's time for a limbo party. Got a pole? That's about all you need. So get a pole, if you don't have one already, call some friends over, and get to it. It's fun, and it's a perfect theme for a summer party. How low can YOU go?

Although often mistaken as a Hawaiian invention, the limbo dance actually originated on the island of Trinidad. The name of the dance comes from the local pronunciation of the word "limber" - clearly the most important quality of a good limbo dancer. Since it was fun and got people up and moving about, the dance came to be a very popular fad in North America in the 1960s.

For your party, we have not one, but two albums of limbo music, enough to last until that limbo pole is as close to the floor as it can get.

First up is Lord Jayson and his Limbo Gang, who don't really sound like an authentic limbo/calypso group but they get the job done.


We've also got an album from Chubby Checker, best known for his 1960 mega-hit "The Twist", as well as "Let's Twist Again" a year later. He must have had a thing for follow-up songs, because he released two limbo-themed albums (1962's "Limbo Party" and 1963's "Let's Limbo Some More") during the height of the limbo craze in the 60s. Actually, he was probably a major reason for the fad to begin with.

June 1, 2010

"a rollicking album for young and old"

So it has been a wee bit quiet around here lately, but we return with a set of infectiously toe-tappin' tunes from 1956 by "Pee Wee" and "Fingers", on trombone and piano, respectively.

The back of this album declares "a musical first: Mr. Ragtime meets Mr. Dixie", and that's a great description for it. A fusion of Ragtime and Dixieland music, it's got enough tinkling piano riffs and muted, "wah wah" trombone to last you all summer.

"Pee Wee", in real life, is actually jazz trombonist, vocalist and band leader W. Gerrard Hunt III, while Joe "Fingers" Carr is a nickname for pianist and music producer Louis Ferdinand Busch.

With only 12 songs, the longest running only two and a half minutes, it's a shame there isn't more!