Easy Run (7.3k)

It’s still overcast and menacing looking outside but, hey, it’s not raining – yet – so I’m going to head out for a quick and easy 7.3k run just to get some mileage into ‘ol Thunder n’ Lightning before the heavens do decide to open up.  My album selection is the ‘In the Court of the Crimson King‘  by King Crimson.

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This 1969 release represents the group’s definitive album, and one of the most daring debut albums ever recorded by anybody.  For many bands and artists, this was the  holy touchstone upon which to base all other Prog Rock that was to come.

At the time, it blew all of the progressive/psychedelic competition (the Moody Blues, the Nice, etc.) out of the running, although it was almost too good for the band’s own good – it took King Crimson nearly four years to come up with a record as strong or concise.

Ian McDonald’s Mellotron is the dominant instrument, along with his saxes and Robert Fripp‘s guitar, making this a somewhat different-sounding record from everything else they ever did.  And even though that Mellotron sound is muted and toned down compared to their concert work of the era (e.g., Epitaph), it is still fierce and overpowering, on an album highlighted by strong songwriting (most of it filled with dark and doom-laden visions), the strongest singing of Greg Lake’s entire career, and Fripp’s guitar playing that strangely mixed elegant classical, Hendrix-like rock explosions, and jazz noodling. Sadly, lineup changes commenced immediately upon the album’s release, and Fripp would ultimately be the only survivor on later King Crimson records.

For today’s run, it was the perfect dreary overcast soundtrack for a perfect dreary overcast evening’s run.

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Tuesday Downtime Vinyl

Yesterday’s “Festival of Nothingness” is officially over, I’m making a go of resuming normal physical activity again beginning this afternoon with a 2500m swim and, hopefully, a little run later on (or a ride perhaps)  if the weather holds out.  Until then, I’m slipping in a few chapters of my book in the coolness of our basement, a delicious cheese sammich courtesy of my sweetie and this Desert Island album, ‘Working Man’s Dead‘  by the Grateful Dead.

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This is another generous donation to the ‘ol collection courtesy of Uncle Lance.

As the 60’s drew to a close, it was a heavy time for the quickly crumbling hippie movement that had reached its apex just a few years earlier in 1967’s “Summer of Love”. Death and violence were pervasive in the form of the Manson murders, fatalities at the Altamont concert, and the ongoing loss of young lives in Vietnam despite the best efforts of anti-war activists and peace-seeking protesters. Difficult times were also upon the Grateful Dead, unofficial house band of San Francisco’s Summer of Love festivities and outspoken advocates of psychedelic experimentation both musical and chemical. The excessive studio experimentation that resulted in their trippy but disorienting third album, ‘Aoxomoxoa‘ (which is still on HRH‘s “To Find” list), had left the band in considerable debt to their record label, and their stress wasn’t helped at all by a drug bust that had members of the band facing jail time.

The rough road the Dead were traveling down seemed congruent with the hard changes faced by the youth counterculture that birthed them. This album (their 4th) reflects both the looming darkness of its time, and the endless hope and openness to possibility that would become emblematic of the Dead as their legacy grew.  For a group already established as exploratory free-form rockers of the highest acclaim, ‘Workingman’s Dead‘s eight tunes threw off almost all improvisatory tendencies in favor of spare, thoughtful looks at folk, country, and Americana roots music courtesy of prolific songwriter Robert Hunter with more subdued sounds than the band had managed up until then.  The songs also focused more than ever before on singing and vocal harmonies, influenced in no small way by a growing friendship with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.  The band embraced complex vocal arrangements with campfire-suited folk on ‘Uncle John’s Band‘  and the psychedelic cowboy blues of ‘High Time‘.

Before they blasted off into hallucinatory rock as the Grateful Dead, several founding members had performed as Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions, a group that played traditional jug band music with earnest, heartfelt appreciation.  Those early influences came into sharp focus on the bluegrass rhythms and hillbilly harmonies of ‘Cumberland Blues‘  and the glistening pedal steel and shuffling drums of ‘Dire Wolf‘.  The more rocking songs add to the album’s brooding feel with ‘New Speedway Boogie‘  directly addressing the violence at Altamont, and ‘Casey Jones‘, which appeared at first to be a lighthearted celebration of cocaine, but was really a lament for troubled times that felt like they were spinning off the rails.

The abrupt shift toward sublime acoustic sounds on this album completely changed what the Dead meant to their listeners at large.  The enormous risk they took in changing their sound entirely resulted in a heart-breakingly beautiful, unquestionably pure statement and one of the more important documents of its time. They’d continue this trend on the even more roots-minded ‘American Beauty‘, recorded later the same year (1970), but the limitlessness, fearlessness, and true power of the band began here.

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Post Solar Eclipse Vinyl

Now that the big “Festival of Nothingness” is over and it’s safe to go out side again, I’m still not going outside.  Nope.  So the “Festival of Nothingness” continues on in my EZ-Boy with my book ((‘Lost On Planet China: One Man’s attempt to Understand the World’s Most Mystifying Nation‘ by J. Maarten Troost), a pint of Brimstone Brewing Sinister Minister and this ‘Falcon and the Snowman‘  soundtrack featuring the Pat Metheny Group.

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Metheny’s prolific output, indelible sound, and innate versatility would earmark him as an obvious candidate for film music, making this lone 1985 foray into film scoring remarkable for its singularity.

The set is credited to the Pat Metheny Group, then a sextet including brilliant percussionist Nana Vasconcelos, with choir and orchestra added to expand the music’s sweep–added ammunition, to be sure, but ironically of diminishing value when Metheny’s signature guitar shimmer, Lyle Mays’s multi-layered, textured keyboards, and the rest of the group could create such vivid music without props.  The centerpiece remains their lone collaboration with David Bowie on ‘This Is Not America‘, a tasteful and largely successful collaboration intended to underline the espionage thriller’s central theme of alienation and disaffection.

Did I also mention that it has a oiseau on the cover?

I’ll get back to doing something tomorrow, but today (and the rest of today) is dedicated to lee-lax-in.

Well, that, and trying not to go blind.

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Solar Eclipse Vinyl

I have vague memories of the last total solar eclipse back in 1979 when I was only 7 years old.  I remember being holed up in a basement classroom with the shade of the only window drawn and sealed up tight with duct tape so that it felt like we were all being held captive by our teachers in an interrogation cell.

But, today, while everyone else is putting their faith for retinal protection in the efficacy of an expired box of All Bran buds, some tape, and tin foil, I’m once again holed up in a basement, except this time I’m watching it on live Internet feeds (including one live feed that’s observing to see whether or not a herd of fainting goats in Cross Plains, Tennessee will actually faint after being startled by the total eclipse – click HERE) and listening to an old school comedy record, specifically the ‘Wild Party‘  album by Redd Foxx.

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So why is this album significant?  Well, Foxx basically introduced the concept of putting comedy on vinyl in the 1950’s to be enjoyed as you would any other musical album.  After Foxx, all comedians were doing it.

Foxx was also significant in that he was one of the comedic ground breakers who openly used vulgarities in his routine long before George Carlin, Richard Pryor or Eddie Murphy.

Essentially, Foxx made obscenity funny.

He originally gained notoriety with his raunchy nightclub acts during the 1950’s and 1960’s.  Then known as the “King of the Party Records”, he performed on more than 50 records in his lifetime, most of which were played long after the kids had gone to bed.  This particular album was released in 1961 and includes such interesting bits like “Congo Cannibal“, ‘The Arm Pit Masquerade‘, ‘The Overworked Prostitute‘, and ‘The Indian And The Spook‘.

Really funny stuff, albeit a bit tame in today’s day and age.

So, yeah, lots of highbrow stuff going on here at the moment (Wild Party that I am!) to celebrate a rare and incredible natural phenomena.

Go me.

P.S.> The goats didn’t faint.  Stupid goats.  The really funny moment came when at the exact moment the total eclipse actually happened, the camera went dark.  So, yeah, here’s 8,000 people around the world all watching non-fainting goats in total darkness.  Luckily, the farmer demonstrated what a “paralyzed goat” looks like when the camera came back on, so there’s that.  So, yeah, there’s 30 minutes of my life I can never get back again.

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Friday Vinyl

We’ve cleaned the house this afternoon and evening and we’re therefore ready to rock for the big SunRype Tri-Kids Niagara series tomorrow in Port Colborne, Ontario.  So after my last round of “Dis Widdle Piggie” physio exercises, I’m settling in for one last chapter of my new book (‘Lost On Planet China: One Man’s attempt to Understand the World’s Most Mystifying Nation‘ by J. Maarten Troost) and this ‘Armed Forces‘  album by Elvis Costello.

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Either you get Elvis Costello or you don’t and until just recently, I didn’t get it, err, him.

I don’t  know what happened really.  At first – for years actually – I was like, “Yeah, this nerdy guy isn’t for me”.  But then I heard him perform some of his songs solo on a piano and I was like “Hey, this is some pretty hip shit”  so I gave it another shot and now I’m like, “Okay, I dig this now”.

Funny.

So this is my first official Elvis Costello album outright; a good enough place to start.

After releasing and touring the intense ‘This Year’s Model‘ (another album now currently on my “To Find” list) Costello quickly returned to the studio with the Attractions to record this third album, released in 1979.

In contrast to the stripped-down pop and rock of his first two albums, ‘Armed Forces‘  boasted a detailed and textured pop production, but it was hardly lavish.  However, the more spacious arrangements – complete with ringing pianos, echoing reverb, layered guitars, and harmonies – accent Costello’s melodies, making the record more accessible than his first two albums.

Perversely, while the sound of Costello’s music was becoming more open and welcoming, his songs became more insular and paranoid, even though he cloaked his emotions well. Many of the songs on this album use politics as a metaphor for personal relationships, particularly fascism, which explains its working title, “Emotional Fascism“.

Occasionally, the lyrics are forced, but the music never is – the album demonstrates the depth of Costello‘s compositional talents and how he can move from the hook-laden pop of ‘Accidents Will Happen‘  (which, if you remember is what Elliott’s brother sang in the family kitchen after coming home from school in the 1982 film ‘E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial’) to the paranoid ‘Goon Squad‘  with ease. Some of the songs, like the light reggae of ‘Two Little Hitlers’  and the impassioned ‘Party Girl‘, build on his strengths, while others like the layered ‘Oliver’s Army‘  (my favorite) take Costello into new territories.  It’s a dense but accessible pop record and ranks as his third masterpiece in a row among diehard fans.

I might even be inclined to agree with them at some point after I listen to the other two.

Anyway, in 2000 Q magazine placed ‘Armed Forces’  at #45 in its list of the 100 Greatest British Albums Ever.  In 2003, the album was ranked at #482 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time“, and then in 2012, was moved to #475 on an updated list.   The album was also included in the book “1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die”.  I also think it’s significant because it has elephants on the back cover and HRH  likes it because it has some birds on it to boot.

It’s a class “win-win” all round!

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Easy Run (5.25k)

It’s a tad (a “titch” maybe?) cooler out at the moment so I’m getting out and getting in my 5.25k worth of easy running accomplished before I start to get dinner going.  I’m taking a bit of a temporary break from the Glam Rock trend I’ve set the past two weeks on this evenings’ run and going in a completely different direction, the ‘Young In All the Wrong Ways‘   album by Sara Watkins.

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Don’t read too much into this 2016 album title, the sexy librarian ex-Nickel Creek singer/violinist isn’t necessarily acting deliberately youthful here – the record isn’t as brightly pop as its predecessors – but that doesn’t mean that bluegrass factors heavily into the equation either.

How else would you describe a rootsy album featuring such guests as Jim James (My Morning Jacket) and movie soundtrack guru Jon Brion.

Young in All the Wrong Ways‘  does make feints to roots music – if it weren’t for the stylishly sculpted fuzz guitar, ‘The Truth Won’t Set Us Free‘  could be suited for a honky tonk hardwood floor, while ‘One Last Time‘  contains some fleet-fingered picking – but the record feels settled and assured as it leans into its maturation.

A large part of its charm lies in its ease. Watkins never is particularly forceful – she seems to lead from her voice, reveling in its lightness but also letting it bruise when it verges toward heartbreak – but she’s certainly considered, choosing her topics and tempos with care.  The album underscores this sense of craft by accentuating steady, almost thundering, rock rhythms, anxious guitars, and also delicately structured ballads that function as tonic to the bold incidents elsewhere.  It’s a brief album album (excellent given that so too is this evening’s run), ten songs lasting no longer than 41 minutes, but it feels deep due to its nicely shifting sounds and styles, not to mention the sense that Watkins is settling into her own skin here…sexy, librarian skin as it may be.

She’s never seemed awkward – the opposite, really, releasing her first album with Nickel Creek when she was a teenager – but what makes this album resonate is how it touches upon her bluegrass and folk roots while feeling entirely different: the work of a musician who is integrating the whole of her influences into an idiosyncratic voice.

There were no intervals or pace work today.  Just keeping ‘ol Thunder n’ Lightning moving steadily at an “easy” pace and doing my best to burn calories and, hopefully, my slowly developing summer man tits (“moobs”).

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Core

I flaked on going to the pool this afternoon so I’m making sure that I a) still make it out for a short run this evening, and b) substituting my planned swim workout with this short on the mat core session instead.  My accompanying vinyl selection for this workout is James Last’s ‘Well Kept Secret‘  album.

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This is another Goodwill Hunting find from the Goodwill shop in Niagara Falls a few weeks ago.  I had no idea who who James Last was or what kind of music is was.  I solely bought it because it had an airplane on the cover and it was only ¢25 so, really, what the fuck, amIright?

According to Discogs, the album is listed as being “Jazz-Funk”-slash-Disco.

Good lord.

Let’s start with man first.  Last was a German composer and big band leader of the James Last Orchestra.  Initially a jazz bassist (Last won the award for “best bassist in Germany in each of the years 1950–1952), his trademark “happy music” made his numerous albums best-sellers in Germany and the United Kingdom, with 65 (of at least over a hundred) of his albums reaching the charts in the UK alone.  Last is reported to have sold an estimated 200 million albums worldwide in his lifetime.

So that’s not too shabby, right?

And here’s another interesting tidbit, his final UK performance was his 90th at London’s Royal Albert Hall, more than any other performer except Eric Clapton.

Okay, so the man has some skills apparently.

But then there’s this:

“At times he was derided by critics and purists as the “king of elevator music” or “acoustic porridge”.

 

Really then, who the fuck knows what the hell it is that I’m about to begin doing my planks and crunches too (click HERE if you’re interested to learn about more about the man, the myth, and the legend that is, apparently, James Last).

This album – whatever it is – was released in 1975 on Polydor Records and it’s 100% cheeseball…like, seriously, cheeseball.  There’s a totally instrumental funkified version of Gershwin‘s ‘Summertime‘ which will undoubtedly melt your brain from the moment the bongos and Jethro Tull-like flute solos kicks in.  The same goes for his version of Cole Porter’s Love for Sale‘, but don’t even get me started on the kitschy cover Richard Rodgers ballet number ‘Slaughter on 10th Avenue‘.  I can’t even.

This just might be the best-worst thing I have ever heard.

Bar none.

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