Archive for August, 2009
In June this year we lost one of the finest Blues singers of their generation. Not a household name perhaps, but Koko Taylor was not known as the Queen of the Blues for idle reasons. Damn this woman could sing, her scream and holler a testament to the guttural earthiness of the blues. Known primarily by most for her 1965 Chess classic “Wang Dang Doodle”, penned of course by the maestro Willie Dixon, we prefer this collaboration from a year later. If ever there was a song that summed up the inner turmoil and outer madness of love’s labours lost, “Insane Asylum” is it. Total badness. R.I.P queenie. As Dixon himself says as Taylor cuts in at 1.10, Lord have mercy.
This has crept up on us somewhat, but by stealth or not there is much to love about New Jersey beat supplier Memory Tapes, whom you may also have come across through his other fittingly analogue monikers Weird Tapes, Memory Cassette, or even his now defunct band Hail Social. But however you have unearthed the work of the man whose mother calls him plain old Dayve Hawk, the outcome is likely to be the same. And that is one of wonderment and delight. Memory Tapes is the side of his recording personality that combines the hazy and wistful electronica of Memory Cassette with the slightly harder dance-oriented electronica of Weird Tapes. By now you should get the picture.
The music of Memory Tapes is somehow both wistful and lazy, yet dance floor focussed, shimmering with disco-tinged intentions, and coming out in totality as works of pure euphoric, not to mention melodic, joy. And all wrapped up in some analog synth electronic that embraces the music like a big fluffy cloud of dreams. And now these sounds are available on debut album “Seek Magic” for all to enjoy, as opposed to the world of remixes, myspace and blog released tracks hitherto available from which to sculpt a coherent body of work.
You may have already heard the simply brilliant “Bicycle”, the track that takes the groove of mid-period New Order and funks it up a little bit more, like applying some come-hither glittery eyelashes to a fishnet, hot pant and open-bloused pulling outfit. And this is just one of many highlights, including the disarmingly pleasant grower “Plain Material”, a song which scratches its way into your grey cells with fuzzed out guitars and beat-combo melodies, before exploding into exuberant loveliness and anthemic hands-in-the-air smiles. And just like the slightly off-centre spelling of his given first name, once you have discovered his work, the only question remaining is “y” it didn’t happen to you earlier.
We love many things here on A Story To Tell. We love Erykah Badu and her music. We love 9th Wonder and his production. We love soul and jazz legend Nancy Wilson and her incredible canon of work, and especially we love her 1978 classic “Music On My Mind”. And so when these three things collided in the shape of Badu’s first single from her as-always-stunning 2008 album “New AmErykah: Part One”, we damn near wept. The result then was “Honey”. The original cut was “I’m In Love”.
The resolution was that we love both, and more importantly, how the hell do we get our hands on 9th Wonder’s record collection!? While we work on that, enjoy the return to the source.
There are a number of tunes that we all have from our formative years of musical appreciation that almost appear as half-memories, shadows of fully recognised wholes. You know, those tunes that you have always remembered as classics that perhaps flitted across your radar at one stage or another, but which you never fully pinned down or explored further. And for me one period which spawned a number of these moments is the mid-1980s, and particularly in the area of synth-led funk and soul. Now I was but a nipper, but I can remember being distinctly drawn towards this style of music even though I knew relatively nothing about it.
I recall a close friend’s much older brother unleashing Luther’s “Give Me The Reason” album through his car stereo and being blown away even then. I thought it was the height of adult cool, despite the fact that said friend’s sibling was only probably just 18 himself, and hardly the arbiter of mature sophistication. But the fact remains that in the UK at least, there was a definite sub-trend towards this style of smoothed out funky pop, with synths high in the mix, and the dazzle of soul-glo shining brightly across the nation’s dancefloors. Not that many of the tunes weren’t also hits stateside, or in other territories, but the UK has always had a distinct affection for what I suppose might be termed pure groove. I’m thinking of Luther, but also Change, Loose Ends, Atlantic Starr, Alexander O’Neal perhaps, The S.O.S Band, Shalamar, Zapp, Ashford & Simpson, Cherrelle, and Midnight Star, amongst many others. And it is the latter who provided one of the tunes which I had always craved to rediscover, the hit tune from 1986′s “Headlines” album, “Midas Touch”. Now I am sure that lots of readers out there will smile in appreciation at the memory of this tune, simply one of the catchiest hooks and silky vocals you will hear. But like me perhaps you will recognise that it is one of those tunes that never really stuck in any mainstream sense, instead becoming a record that you occasionally hear blasts of on a retro radio channel or pops up hidden on compilations.
Regardless, the digital age amongst other advances, of course makes detective work easier, and thus “Midas Touch” has been a staple of my collection for some time now. And yet it still takes me back instantly to this fertile musical period, an era of “lost” classic that are surely ripe for a reappraisal. And when it comes to “Midas Touch” itself, all of the ingredients of greatness are there. Never a tune that is going to win plaudits for innovation and masterpiece status, with relatively bland lyrics over programmed electronic funk, and yet somehow it comes together as a perfect little whole. Their earlier albums “No Parking on the Dancefloor” from 1983, and 1984′s “Planetary Invasion” are undoubtedly better full-length offers to explore, and yet this cut for me remains a standout.
From the opening snapping electronic drums, through the harmonised power synth chords which mirror the vocals, and the little bells and triangle tinkles that crop up throughout, it just completely kills it. The production is ridiculously sharp, multi-layered and yet not too busy. And the bridge is as uplifting as the Empire State elevator. Cheesy and dated it may be, and yet effortlessly the coolest thing ever. Solid gold in fact.
Quite how A Story To Tell has gotten so far into its lifespan without addressing the music of Minnie Riperton is something of a puzzle to me. And I write the damned thing! But I intend to right the wrong, dear reader, for this is truly an oversight of some epic proportion, particularly when I reflect on quite how much of a fan of her work we are here at Story To Tell Towers. And epic is indeed a very good word to kick this appreciation off, because I wanted to focus on the beginning, and Riperton’s debut solo cut “Come To My Garden”, a 1970 long-player for which the term epic may easily have been invented.
Riperton’s career is of course forever tinged with sadness, given her tragically early death at the age of just 31 in 1979, the victim of cancer which robbed the world of a fantastically talented singer, not to mention dedicated wife and mother, and by all accounts a rather wonderful woman. And yet, to have shone so brightly as a performer at the very least leaves us with a legacy of beauty and wonderment, a mark which many others get nowhere near to in triple the time. And in “Come To My Garden” Riperton reached a sublime early peak which at times resounds with brilliance, astounds with its musical vision and execution, and confounds all expectations of anyone who thinks Riperton is just the sweet whistle-voiced marvel of 1975 monster hit “Lovin You”.
Now “Lovin You”, for all of its saccharine sweetness, is itself an incredible record. Don’t let over-familiarity and a suspicion of Hallmark-style sickly romance ever put you off. It is undoubtedly brilliant. And yet 5 years earlier, Riperton, while still recording with the still under-appreciated rock-soul-funk fusion Rotary Connection, unleashed her debut solo cut. And in many ways she reached a zenith which her subsequent work often matched, yet never in such a coherently fantastic whole. The album bears comparison with some of the most innovative recordings of the same period, critics comparing it to Van Morrison’s essential “Astral Weeks” for its jazz fluency, deep soul, and heavenly themes. And the comparison is more than fair. Riperton is renowned for her stunning 5 octave vocal range, and the album explores every nook and cranny of this phenomenal instrument. While later recordings bombastically and exuberantly scaled the extremes of the voice, in “Come To My Garden” the exploration is more subtle, and richer for its understatement. There are no weak points on this record, and from the opening bars of the other-worldly “Les Fleurs” the stage is set for a musical journey that lulls you into a dream-like reverie, a state of happiness that gives rise to the notion that music can transcend consciousness and tap into something wholly more essential. That the record was produced by the quite inspirational Charles Stepney, of Earth, Wind and Fire fame primarily, but who’s lush, soulful orchestrations are themselves an overlooked wonder of the world, is also a major force in its favour.
But ultimately it is the combination of factors which makes this truly a masterpiece work, a seminal album with an influence that is perhaps difficult to trace explicitly, but which stands in rarefied air as a truly unique offer, at a time when soul was enjoying a period of growth and exceptional innovation. Riperton’s is a career which deserves the full attention o anyone who loves music. Not all moments will appeal, and indeed it is fine to admit it is not you cup of tea at all. Horses for courses after all. But to not be at least appreciative of the sheer force of musical aspiration, well that really would be epic. Epically foolish that is.
We know that readers of this blog have a taste for the funkiest of flavours. So consider this a gift to you, from a Story To Tell. Ignore the cover, firstly, that’s not important. Ignore the fact that you may not have ever come across jazz fusion guitarist Larry Coryell up until now. Unimportant also. But don’t ignore how frighteningly funky this 1969 monster workout “The Jam With Albert” is. Just peep the breakdown at 05.20. Guitar might not be your thing, certainly not when this frenzied, but surely you have to feel the force. And the next time you’re searching for that analogy for a riotous jazz guitar session, just call for a jam with the mysterious Albert.