Today on Driftwood, we’ll take a look at some recordings that have gotten a modern facelift. There’s a double dose of Bromberg and more Stawbs for the folk rock fans (now with more Sandy Denny!); some soulful singing from one of the most underrated songwriters of the mid-1950s; an extraordinary package of Haitian field recordings brought to you by the Smithsonian; and Amazing Blondel, a band your humble editor is only just now learning discovering.
See You Later, Alligator
[Bear Family Records BCD 17207 (2010)]
Bobby Charles, recently deceased, may not be a household name, but that doesn’t diminish his legendary status as a classic songwriter and rocker. Bear Family Records has obtained Charles’ complete Chess Records catalog, and the 28 tracks here confirm his spot as one of the pioneers of New Orleans rock and soul, with classics such as “Ain’t Got No Home,” “Watch It, Sprocket,” “I’m a Fool to Care,” “Don’t You Know I Love You (You Know I Love You),” and, of course, “See You Later, Alligator,” which Bill Haley took to the top of the charts. Born and raised a Cajun in Abbeville, Louisiana by French-speaking parents, Charles, whose real name was Bobby ‘Charles’ Guidry, loved Hank Williams, Fats Domino, and R&B. When Charles wrote “See You Later, Alligator” in 1955, the song was passed on to Leonard Chess of Chess Records who was knocked out by Charles’ soulful voice and his songwriting, and the rest is history. The album includes a 32-page booklet with rare photos and discography.
—TJ McGrath (Woodbridge, CT)
David Bromberg/Demon in Disguise
[Beat Goes On (2008), originally released 1971, 1972]
David Bromberg began his career as an accompanist to folkies like Jerry Jeff Walker, Bob Dylan, and Emmylou Harris. Following an impromptu performance at the Isle of Wight festival, he began his extensive recording career with these two albums, originally released on Columbia and now re-released as a BGO twofer. Bromberg’s eponymous debut established a career long pattern of balancing his folky side (“Last Song for Shelby Jean”) with bluesy rock (“Suffer to Sing the Blues”). Here he has the assistance of virtuoso musicians including multi-instrumentalists Jody Stecher, David Nichtern, and Norman Blake. Bromberg’s second album, Demon in Disguise, continued this pattern, but brought in an even more eclectic crew of collaborators, including most of the Grateful Dead backing him on slinky the title tune and the raunchy “Sharon,” which remains a perennial Bromberg concert favorite three decades later. The disc also included a live bluegrass session from Passim’s that featured playing with fiddler Ken Kosek, frequent Bromberg collaborator Andy Statman, and bassist Tom Sheehan. The BGO reissue contains no bonus tracks, but does include all of the print materials from the original release along with an essay tracing Bromberg’s perambulations into the 21st century.
—Michael Parrish (San Jose, CA)
Alan Lomax in Haiti
[Harte HR 103 (2009)]
Folklorist Alan Lomax was only 20 years old when he and his then-newlywed wife, Elizabeth, traveled to Haiti under the auspices of the Library of Congress in December 1936. Over the next five months, they recorded more than 50 hours of field music on 500 aluminum discs. Though poor sound quality left them unreleased for more than six decades, advances in technology have made it possible for the sound problems to be corrected. With the resulting 10-CD set, Alan Lomax in Haiti, the extent of the Lomaxes’ survey can finally be appreciated. While much of the collection sounds antiquated, the 289 songs that are included present a Caribbean island that was extremely rich with music and culture only two years after the United States Marines ended their 19-year occupation. Individual discs explore the two-step dance rhythms of merengue, the music of Voudou and the Mardi Gras, children’s songs, songs of worship, songs of the troubadours (the wandering bands of Port-du-Prince), romances (a style of music brought from France during colonization) and the singing of Francilia, heard for the first time outside of Haiti. Among the collection’s gems are early recordings by classical pianist Ludovic Lamonthe and Harlem Renaissance author Zora Neal Hurston singing children’s songs. Music, though, provides only one slice of this history-based collection. Also included are black and white and color film footage shot by Alan and Elizabeth Lomax, a full-sized reproduction of Lomax’s map of Haiti (with his handwritten notes), his field journal, transcribed and notated by his niece, and a more than 100-page hardbound book with liner notes, essays, and translations and detailed information about each tune.
—Craig Harris (Chicopee, MA)
Sandy Denny and the Strawbs
All Our Own Work: The Complete Sessions
[Witchwood Media (2010)]
Sandy Denny recorded these tracks in 1967, before she had joined Fairport Convention and before The Strawbs had a recording contract. A subset of these recordings was released in 1973, after both Denny and the Strawbs had achieved commercial success. A second version, with some additional tracks, came out as Sandy and the Strawbs on Joe Boyd’s Hannibal label in 1991. This release aims to be the ultimate version of the Denny-Strawbs sessions, rounding out the original album with an equal number of demos and outtakes, along with a bunch of unpublished photos and entries from Dave Cousins’ diary. Denny’s sole composition here is the first, and arguably best, recorded version of “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” but she sings the majority of the songs composed by Strawbs Dave Cousins and Tony Hooper. The sound veers between folk era acoustic numbers that resemble a British version of Peter Paul and Mary and more of a pop-folk sound, a few tracks with strings, two Cousins banjo breakdowns, and even a bit of psychedelia thrown in on a version of “Tell Me What You Want,” featuring sitar and gong. The previously unreleased material includes a demo of “Pieces of 15 and 79,” which appeared on the first Strawbs album, and the melodramatic Cousins piece “Indian Summer.” Denny does not appear on all tracks, but where she is singing lead, as on Cousins’ stirring “Sail Away to the Sea,” she is transcendent. All Our Own Work: The Complete Sessions is an essential release that does full justice to the brief but historic pairing of Denny and the Strawbs.
—Michael Parrish (San Jose, CA)
[Talking Elephant TECD141 (2009)]
This is a reissue of the second album that Eddie Baird and Terry Wincott recorded after the departure of John Gladwin. The Renaissance instruments and inspiration that animated the Gladwin years is entirely absent, leaving Baird to write songs that are reminiscent of quieter Strawbs at best, especially the majestic “Iron and Steel.” Their vocal harmonies and sentimental sides also point toward Firefall or Supertramp on tracks like “Love Must Be the Best Time of Your Life” and “Goodbye Our Friends.” The surprising time changes in “Leader of the Band” point back to a more exuberant and experimental period and are still a delight. For all the resemblances to their contemporaries, this music is itself in the end because of the meticulous playing, flawless singing, and a strict avoidance of bombast.
—Bill Chaisson (Trumansburg, NY)
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