Friday, August 28, 2009

Music Library: Garage a Trois, Gary Higgins, Gary Wilson, Gastr del Sol, Geechie Wiley, Gene Clark, Genesis, Geoffrey Oryema, George Baker Selection

Garage a Trois - Emphasizer (2003). Pretty nice funk-jazz thing with Charlie Hunter and a few other rock-oriented jazzbos.

Gary Higgins - Red Hash (1973). Higgins was a unknown folkie who recorded this with some friends only days before he was due to start a 13-month stint in jail for marijuana distribution. After Higgins got out of jail, he went on with his life, working for New York State, becoming a nurse, having a family. However, unknown to him, this album became a collector's item, and when Six Organs of Admittance (aka Ben Chasny) recorded a cover of "Thicker Than A Smokey," Higgins was eventually located and agreed to re-release his sole album on the label Drag City. And it's a good thing, but this is a lovely folk album of bittersweet oddball songs, filled with the dread that Higgins must have felt about his imminent incarceration.

Gary Wilson - You Think You Really Know Me (1977). Speaking of oddball songs, this is the strangest love-funk you'll ever hear. Wilson was a creative young man whose aesthetic sharply veered into the avant-garde when he met John Cage. He recorded this album in his basement, and, like Gary Higgins, faded into obscurity while his album's cachet grew, leading to a namecheck by Beck in "Where It's At." Heck, this excellent High Hat interview seems to be the most illuminating place to learn about Gary Wilson. Go read that. Then find a copy of this album.

Gastr del Sol - The Serpentine Similar (1993), 20 Songs Less EP (1993), Crookt, Crackt, or Fly (1994), The Harp Factory on Lake Street EP (1995), Mirror Repair EP (1995), Upgrade & Afterlife (1996), and Camofleur (1998). David Grubbs went from the punk band Squirrel Bait to the howling post-punk of Bastro (coming soon to a Catch-Up posting) to the post-rock, avant-folk, and chamber pop of Gastr del Sol. The first Gastr del Sol album has Stubbs' Bastro bandmates Bundy Brown and John McIntyre as the rhythm section, but both soon left to form Tortoise. Guitarist/producer/all around go-to avant-wiz kid Jim O'Rourke partnered with Grubbs for all the rest of the albums with a number of other musicians (including John McIntyre) filling in to round out the sound. The sound is wonderfully surprising, occasionally annoyingly repetitious, often startlingly beautiful. My favorite is Camofleur, but just barely.

Geechie Wiley - "Pick Poor Robin Clean" and "Skinny Legs Blues." From the 30s, I believe. I have Ms. Wiley's two other recorded tracks on compilations elsewhere. In fact, I may have these tracks elsewhere, too. She had a lovely, unearthly voice, and her blues were like no other.

Gene Clark - It is impossible to overrate Gene Clark as a songwriter. His great songs are some of the best in rock music. But I think I have overrated his albums in the past. The problem with just about all of these albums is that when the song you're listening to is not one of the best you've ever heard, it's a little lackluster.

  • Echoes (with Byrds tracks from 1964 and 1965) and American Dreamer (1965 - 1972). Echoes combines Clark's first solo album with the Gosdin Brothers with some of his early tracks with The Byrds. Since I have the solo album, the only ones I kept are the Byrds tracks. But wow, what Byrds tracks: "Here Without You," "Set You Free This Time": two of the greatest songs in rock music. American Dreamer is a best-of with a bunch of songs I have elsewhere, so I only kept the outliers. Again though, wow: "She Don't Care About Time," "I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better."

  • Gene Clark With The Gosdin Brothers (1967). The first solo album (Clark left the Byrds after the 2nd album, although he co-wrote "Eight Miles High" before leaving) with the Gosdin Brothers is an amazing folk-rock album, with chamber-pop strings and choral singing and chiming guitars. Best songs: "Tried So Hard" and "So You Say You Lost Your Baby." I have a Gosdin Brothers album without Gene Clark, too, which should be coming up in a few weeks.

  • Dillard & Clark: The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark (1968) and Through The Morning, Through The Night (1969). Clark then teamed up with banjoist Doug Dillard for the next two albums, attributed to Dillard & Clark, in which he traded in his spacey folk-rock for a bluegrass foundation. It should be noted that the band here was basically the Flying Burrito Brothers sans Gram Parsons with a few Byrds for good measure. The best songs remain as transcendent as ever, with "Something's Wrong" and "Why Not Your Baby" on the first album and the title song on the second being unbelievably great, while some of the other tracks are instantly forgettable.

  • White Light (1971) and Roadmaster (1973). His next solo album White Light (also known as Gene Clark) was pretty strong, with 5 near-perfect tracks and only a few throwaways (keepers are: "The Virgin," "With Tomorrow," "White Light," "One in a Hundred," and "For A Spanish Guitar"). Ditto Roadmaster, which featured several songs recorded with all of the original Byrds, and had 6 out of 11 indispensable songs, although a few of those were older songs re-recorded for the occasion: "She's The Kind of Girl," "One in a Hundred," "Here Tonight," "Full Circle Song," "In A Misty Morning," and "She Don't Care About Time."

  • No Other (1974). And then there's No Other, a full-on masterpiece, with all of the songs sounding simultaneously like Clark's standard folk-rock and like glam rock: guitars buzzing, a swinging R&B-ish rhythm section, phased vocals. Amazing stuff, even more so from the reports that everyone was not out of their minds on cocaine while making it (Clark would eventually seek rehab for a drug addiction, but according to Wikipedia, that came later, following the depression that overtook Clark when this album failed to chart). Every song on the album is a keeper, even the outtakes that popped up on the inevitable re-release.

  • So Rebellious A Lover (with Carla Olson, 1986). There's a handful of albums in the 12-year gap that I've never heard, but all reports indicate that they're pretty disappointing. This one is, too. Olsen's voice is a poor complement to Clark's, and other than a version of the traditional tune "Fair and Tender Ladies," there's not much going for this album. Clark was apparently clean at the time he made this album, but when Tom Petty recorded a cover of "I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better," he used the royalty money to drink and drug himself into an early grave in 1991.

Genesis - "The Carpet Crawlers." I have but one Genesis song, and it's one from their Peter Gabriel-led prog-rock days instead of their Phil Collins-led pop days. However, based on this song, I suspect that I might like prog-rock Genesis. Who knew?

Geoffrey Oryema - Exile (1990). This is the Brian Eno-produced debut album of the musician, an Ugandan who was smuggled out of the country in 1977 after Idi Amin's goons assassinated his father. I'm not a huge fan of afropop or much of a fan at all of so-called "world" music, but I think Eno's lush production does a lot for this album.

George Baker Selection - "Little Green Bag." This decent little garage ditty was apparently a hit in 1970. Wow!


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