Mike Auldridge, Dobro
File Between: Chet Atkins and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
Comments: Mike Auldridge was a young, relatively hip member of the “progressive bluegrass” movement of the early 70s, taking the traditional instrumentation — guitar, fiddle, banjo, resonator guitar — of bluegrass and applying it to more ambitious compositions, drawing as much from jazz and rock as country. His band the Seldom Scene was one of the flagships of the movement; but on this solo album, he keeps the song lengths mostly lean and trim, and drawn from traditional music of all kinds: Jimmy Driftwood’s “Tennessee Stud,” “The House of the Rising Sun,” “Greensleeves,” with a few originals thrown in. It’s a mostly instrumental album, though Auldridge takes vocal turns on “Rolling Fog” and “Take Me.” The pleasure, though, is in the playing: superbly-recorded, effortlessly atmospheric and fluid and just plain gorgeous. I don’t think I’ve heard a record that sounded this immediately beautiful in a long time; and while it does get a little samey — it may be better as background music than intently focused on — it’s charming enough throughout that it doesn’t matter. Checking the credits for names I recognize, I see that Vassar Clements turns up on fiddle and David Bromberg on lead guitar, and Norman Blake wrote the gushing liner notes; that right there is reason enough to listen.
A Keeper? Hell, I’m going to listen to it again as soon as I post this.
Vinyl Rip: It’s Over
Genya Ravan, Genya Ravan
File Between: Janis Joplin and Maggie Bell
Comments: I’ve known who Genya Ravan was for years — in fact, I first learned of her, and of this album, when I first began looking up obscure 1972 records, and the Allmusic review by Joe Viglione put it at the top of my wishlist. But I didn’t find it, and didn’t find it, and in the meantime I listened to her 60s girl-group work in Goldie & the Gingerbreads (as Goldie Zelkowitz), and her late 70s tuff rock records ( think a more urban Chrissy Hynde, or a bluesier Joan Jett). Both of which were better than this record, as it turns out. Not that this is a terrible record; it’s just too much in the shadow of Janis Joplin, and Ravan’s bluesy howl is neither as subtle nor as variable as Janis’s. She has (here, at least) two settings: croon and shriek, and she spends far too much of the time shrieking, making sure you know she’s really feeling it, man, without giving too much thought into what she might be feeling or if there’s a better way to express it than screaming. The backing band, credited as Baby, is a nice crisp rock band, and probably the best comparison (besides Pearl) is to Stone the Crows. There are some stylistic exercises which vary the mood a little: a jazzy saunter through “Moody’s Mood for Love” (complete with James Moody on sax), a version of “Turn on Your Love Light” which merges it with an African chant, and a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on the Wire” that starts out as a hymn and ends as yet another meaningless shriek.
A Keeper? It’s still interesting enough to be worth hearing, though I’d probably only keep a couple songs if editing down my mp3 collection was something I did.
Vinyl Rip: Sit Yourself Down
Ray Price, The Lonesomest Lonesome
File Between: Johnny Cash and Frank Sinatra
Comments: Maybe I’m just getting good at adjusting the levels when I rip these albums, or maybe I’m developing a new appreciation for the art of easy listening countrypolitan in my old age, but this is easily one of the best-sounding records I’ve come across in this series. It’s one of several records Price made in his “For the Good Times”-fueled mid-career renaissance, and producer Cam Mullins goes all out with the pillowy, smooth orchestrations, setting crystalline guitar and piano against cloudy banks of strings and, occasionally, horns, all in service of Price’s mellow, immaculately-phrased baritone. Songs of heartache, devotion, and rumination by Mac Davis, Kris Kristofferson, Jerry Fuller, and other lights of the 70s Nashville songwriting world — none of which are overly familiar, so that the contemplative mood is all Price’s, not riding anyone else’s coattails — are excellent settings for him doing what he does best, which is to express tenderness and regret in a voice as homey and durable as polished oak. After ten such reflective, sophisticated cuts, he closes out with a polished, moderately rousing of Don Gibson’s classic “Oh, Lonesome Me,” and sends you off (if you’re anything like me) with a smile.
A Keeper? I was thrilled when I found this record for a couple of bucks in a cutout bin — Price is one of my all-time favorite country singers, all the more special for being so (relatively) uncelebrated. The fact that it’s such a good record only sweetened the deal.
Vinyl Rip: Wake Up Yesterday
Sarah Vaughan, Feelin’ Good
File Between: Ella Fitzgerald and Nina Simone
Comments: Of all the classic jazz vocalists of the swing era, Sarah Vaughan was perhaps the most purely talented. Billie had her blues, Ella had her sonority, Dinah had her attitude, but Sarah had her voice. But that was, in pop terms, a generation ago. She was only 48 when she cut this record, but she couldn’t take the flights she did in the magical 40s and burning 50s; so she trades her supernatural flexibility for a more restrained subtlety, showing off in the corners, with delicious phrasing. The music mostly doesn’t live up to her, though; nothing even approaches the psychedelia of the cover, of course, but the AM-pop doldrums conjured by the tracklist — Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again (Naturally),” the Bee Gees’ “Run To Me,” the Carpenters’ “Rainy Days and Mondays,” Dusty Springfield’s “Just A Little Lovin'” — is only confirmed by standard easy-listening arrangements which feature a Muzaky flute far too prominently on many cuts. The highlight of the set is a Michel Legrand-produced “Deep In The Night,” which at least lets Sarah get a little bluesy, and I’m guessing was probably an outtake from the other record she cut in 1972, a full-on Legrand collaboration. (I have it; I’ll get to it.) Still, even if the arrangements are a little too straightforward pop, it couldn’t possibly be a bad thing when the primary record it brings to mind is Dusty in Memphis.
A Keeper? It’s Sarah Fucking Vaughan. You should be ashamed of yourself for even asking the question.
Vinyl Rip: Deep In The Night
Boz Scaggs, My Time
File Between: Van Morrison and Aaron Neville
Comments: I hadn’t realized until I checked Wikipedia that Boz had had his solo career going on since 1966 — I was thinking this was his first album, but depending on how you count it’s more like his fourth or fifth. Which sort of explains both how comfortable he sounds and how different from what he was doing concurrently in the Steve Miller Band. Two of the songs on here were written by Allen Toussaint, and there’s a general pillowy New Orleans soul vibe to the record, with impeccably recorded horns, keyboards, and guitars all over the place. Critic Noel Murray points to Boz Scaggs as one of the high points of the “well-made album” of the 70s, along with Steely Dan and Fleetwood Mac, and I’d be hard-pressed to say this wasn’t one of the best-produced records I’ve heard from 1972. Even a song like “Old Time Lovin’,” whose title made me roll my eyes when I saw it on the back cover (cue the bog-standard choogle, I thought), turns out to be an Al Green cover with a sly wink to gospel; the rock-inflected soul on offer here is far more thought-through and, well, grown-up than I was expecting.
A Keeper? It’s not perfect — not all of the originals are very memorable, and there’s nothing on the bonafide classic level of “Lido Shuffle,” but I’ll be glad to revisit as often as I can get down that way.
Vinyl Rip: We’re Gonna Roll