Forgotten Albums: Steve Forbert, Streets of This Town

Like my college, the church I attend has gone the Zoom route for gathering dispersed people for face-to-face conversations. Our minister isn’t doing live services–he’s working with congregants to piece together abbreviated services that are recorded in advance–but today a couple of the adult Sunday School classes got together over Zoom for a while. It’s good to see people’s faces and hear their voices after weeks away from one another (the same holds true for my students–I’m not having class per se online, just Q & A sessions at our regularly scheduled meeting times–I may be a little surprised at how much of a lift I’m getting from interacting with them).

But this morning, rather than watch the pre-recorded service with Martha, I was in the basement gathering thoughts about my next set of Calculus II notes and videos (if you’ve been wondering what my voice sounds like, my YouTube handle is cayleytable–there’s some really enthralling calculus content there, letmetellya) and attending the church of Steve Forbert, specifically his 1988 album Streets of This Town. A couple of songs from it have been knocking around my head as of late, resonating with how I’m feeling about the current times. Streets was a comeback album of sorts, Forbert’s first release in several years. It didn’t sell all that much, but the little buzz it generated reached my eyes or ears; I got it through Columbia House as I was building my nascent CD collection.

Here are a few selections.

Track 3 is “I Blinked Once.” So much feels impermanent right now.

My two favorite tracks are the ones that would have been side-enders had I bought it on vinyl. “As We Live and Breathe” is truly uplifting to listen to, and it offers me some small measure of hope today.

“Hope, Faith, and Love” is another cut that reminds me to look for the good out there.

It was the rocker “Wait a Little Longer” that flitted through my brain this morning and led to this post today.

The CD ends with the quiet “Search Your Heart.” “Don’t take gloom for granted/And don’t bridge time to time/And if you search your heart/You’ll ease your mind.”

So ended the sermon. I’ll try to take what I can from it and go forth to be as good a math professor and person as I can be in the coming weeks.

Forgotten Albums: Maria McKee, You Gotta Sin to Get Saved

To date, the Forgotten Albums series has been about lifting up recordings I’ve listened to time and again over the years that I believe are under-appreciated. This entry’s different, in that I’m the one who was doing the forgetting.

After I wrote up a little about Dusty Springfield a couple of weeks ago, I sought out her highly-regarded Dusty in Memphis LP on YouTube. It’s amazingly good, definitely worthy of purchase. When its last song came on, I thought, “I know I’ve heard this somewhere else before,” though I couldn’t immediately place it…

One quick internet search later, I was reaching for a CD on a shelf in my basement, one that to my complete discredit hadn’t graced a player for maybe a quarter-century: Maria McKee’s second solo release, You Gotta Sin to Get Saved. I popped it in and immediately forwarded to track six (which I hadn’t realized was written by King/Goffin). Yes, this is what I was thinking of:

After the song finished, I let the rest of the album play out. Two thoughts dominated: 1) how had this never gotten into serious rotation? and 2) this sure sounds like a lost Jayhawks album in places.

I can’t defend myself regarding the first, but the second came with good reason: Gary Louris and Mark Olson, then the Jayhawks’ co-leaders, are part of McKee’s backup band this go-round, and also contributed one of the songs. The album was produced by George Drakoulias, who’d vaulted into fame of sorts by working with the Black Crowes a few years earlier. Drakoulias also produced my two favorite Jayhawks albums, Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow the Green Grass, which bracket You Gotta Sin in time.

I got the McKee album very soon after it was released in the summer of 1993. Alas, it’d been put to pasture by the time those Jayhawks releases were added to my collection a couple of years later; I guess it was already too late to make the connection. That’s true no longer, though–I’ve played most of the songs from You Gotta Sin several times over the last week, so now I’m here to share a few highlights.

Leading off is the single that didn’t go anywhere, “I’m Gonna Soothe You.” That was a collective mistake on all our parts.

“My Girlhood Among the Outlaws” wouldn’t have been out of place on Hollywood Town Hall–it’s got some signature Louris licks–had they allowed McKee to take over the mic for one song.

The album was also an excuse to reunite with Marvin Etzioni and Don Heffington, two guys from the first iteration of Lone Justice (Etzioni has co-writing credit on three songs here). “Only Once” almost feels like an outtake from Lone Justice.

McKee also covers a couple of Van Morrison tunes: “My Lonely Sad Eyes,” from his days in Them, and Astral Weeks‘s “The Way Young Lovers Do.” The latter simply swirls around you.

In summary, mea culpa. I suppose now it’s time to seek out the albums in McKee’s catalog I’ve missed over the years…

Forgotten Albums: Marti Jones, Match Game

I first encountered Marti Jones toward the end of 88, when her third album Used Guitars popped up at Record Service. I’d guess a Rolling Stone blurb or review pushed me over the edge to purchase it. It’s a nice record, but it’s her second release, 86’s Match Game, getting the microscope today.

I scooped up my copy of Match Game from a cut-out bin in 90 or 91, one time when Greg and I were out dumpster diving. It’s got 12 tracks; as with all her other disks, production, along with plenty of guitar and background vocal work, is being handled by eventual husband Don Dixon. It’s become the album of hers I’ve played most often and like the best.

At this stage, Jones was almost strictly a singer, as opposed to singer/songwriter. She’d increasingly contribute her own material on subsequent albums, but here, we’re pretty much relying on Marti and Don to choose tunes that suit her lovely, almost-smoky alto (she has co-writing credit on just one track). It’s been great fun checking out original and/or alternative takes of the songs on Match Game. Jones and Dixon usually don’t give us radically different arrangements, but they’re invariably tastefully done. I’m excited to share my discoveries with you today–let’s get it rolling.

The lead-off track was written by Reed Nielsen, of one-hit wonder Nielsen/Pearson band fame. When I first heard Marti sing “We’re Doing Alright,” soon after I bought the disk, it felt familiar. Turns out there were at least two other versions recorded around the same time as hers, by Van Stephenson and Kenny Rogers, but I don’t know I would have heard them in 86-87 (the Stephenson was a non-charting single, so who knows). By the way, Darlene Love is doing backup here (well-known musical folk making appearances turns out to be a recurring theme).

Next up it’s a little something from Dwight Twilley. As best as I can tell, Twilley didn’t record “Chance of a Lifetime” himself until his 2004 release 47 Moons. This is one of six tracks on the album that has Mitch Easter contributing on guitars.

This might be the best piece on the whole disk. “Just a Memory” was written by Elvis Costello–it was originally the B-side to a UK single from Get Happy!! And look who’s contributing in addition to Jones and Dixon: Marshall and Robert Crenshaw, T-Bone Burnett, Paul Carrack, and Anne Richmond Boston. Absolutely gorgeous.

Speaking of Crenshaw, here’s a cover of the lead single from Field Day. While I can’t say it’s an improvement, Jones does “Whenever You’re On My Mind” justice.

Jones and Dixon really knew how to dig around and root out quality songs. “It’s Too Late” is a cover from the well-regarded 79 eponymous comeback LP by Britain’s The Searchers. Wasn’t familiar with it ’til now, but I just went and placed an order for the CD that couples it with another album they recorded for Sire the following year. We’ve got the Crenshaws again here, and Richard Barone of The Bongos provides some backup vox. One of my faves on the disk.

Jones ends with what initially feels like an odd choice: “Soul Love,” from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. She really smooths out Bowie’s edgy vocals, though, and makes it her own.

Alas, Jones never did break through. She’s done just a little recording since the mid-90s, and has mainly focused on her painting.

One last note: I skipped over a favorite track from Match Game today, one that appeared on a mix tape I made in 91. Expect a write-up of that cassette in the not-terribly-distant future.

(This post first went up just before intended, so if you’re an email follower, you received a not-quite-finished version. Apologies.)

Forgotten Albums: The Reivers, End of the Day

The Reivers have received mention a couple of times already in this space, due to appearances on a couple of mix tapes I’ve reviewed. The first detailed how I came to learn about them and the subsequent quest for their back catalog on CD; the second featured one of the songs on today’s Forgotten Album, their 89 release, End of the Day.

The band came out of the Austin music scene of the mid-80s. Their first album, 85’s Translate Slowly, was released under their original moniker, Zeitgeist. Threat of legal action by another music group with that name led them to re-christen themselves as the Reivers. Translate Slowly impressed enough for them to get a major-label deal from Capitol, and the label put Don Dixon behind the board on 87’s Saturday. It’s a fantastic album; I’ll probably write about it someday.

Unfortunately, Saturday didn’t sell all that much. While I suspect there some pressure to produce some hits on the followup, lead guitarist and chief songwriter John Croslin was allowed to serve as co-producer. End of the Day is every bit as good as Saturday, but it stiffed in stores, too. They got dropped by Capitol and the albums went out of print quickly. The Reivers landed at DB Records, in Atlanta, and recorded one more album, Pop Beloved, in 91. It’s another awesome record–more on it another day, too–but the Reivers called it quits not long after it came out.

Today, it’s a quick tour of five of End of the Day‘s tracks. Not all of the twelve are available on YouTube, and several of those that can be found come from a video shot at one of their shows, probably shortly after Pop Beloved came out. I’m limiting myself to linking to just one of them. We start with a not especially high-fidelity capture of the album’s opener, “It’s About Time,” but it’s what I’ve got to offer.

Next, track 2, the ultra-charming “Star Telegram,” which was on the tape I wrote up back in May.

Here’s a surprise. “Lazy Afternoon” originally appeared in the 1954 Broadway musical The Golden Apple. It’s been sung by, among others, Kaye Ballard, Shirley Horn, Helen Merrill, Regina Belle, and–perhaps most notably–Barbra Streisand. The band, featuring guitarist Kim Longacre on vocals, gives it anything but the typically languid treatment, and it totally works. Crank it.

“Almost Home” was covered by Hootie and the Blowfish on their 2000 release Scattered, Smothered, and Covered. (The album also features a cut from Translate Slowly.) I can definitely envision Darius Rucker and company taking this one on.

The album’s final track is one of its best, the title song. “End of the Day” made an appearance on another of my mid-90s mix tapes. If you watch the video, you’ll see the picture below change to one of the band taken when they reunited briefly six years ago.

Lots of bands wind up not being viable commercially, but Croslin, Longacre, bassist/violinist Cindy Toth, and drummer Garrett Williams sure recorded a lot of tunes I really appreciate.

Forgotten Albums: Texas, Southside

By the end of the 80s, the easiest way for a new(-ish) act to grab my attention–and my dollars–was for it to feature a female vocalist. I’m repeating myself, but at this point on the solo side I was into Suzanne Vega, Tracy Chapman, Toni Childs, Marti Jones, Sinéad O’Connor, Basia, and Jane Siberry, among others (looks like I need to do a Marti write-up someday!). Women-led groups may have been a little sparser in my collection (10,000 ManiacsLone Justice, Cocteau Twins, and ’til Tuesday were there, but it was still a while before fave shoegaze acts like Lush and My Bloody Valentine appeared on the radar). Here’s another that popped up just before the 90s hit.

Somewhere around the time fall classes began again in Illinois I started seeing a video supporting a fivefour-some that featured Sharleen Spiteri, a guitar-slinging 21-year-old brunette with a powerful alto. “I Don’t Want a Lover” doesn’t exactly strike me as late 80s VH-1 fare now, though odds are that’s where I encountered it.  It wasn’t long before I secured a CD copy of Southside, the debut disk from the Glasgow-based Texas and stuck it on a cassette for trips in the car.

“I Don’t Want a Lover” went Top 10 in England and reached #77 in their only US Hot 100 appearance (it debuted on the 9/9/89 chart). I’m bummed that the video I saw thirty years ago isn’t available on YouTube, even if it is just a performance clip. Still the best song on the disk.

 

The next two selections follow a similar formula: two rounds of verse/chorus, solo, bridge, return to the chorus to the fade-out. “Everyday Now” and “Thrill Has Gone” were the third and second UK singles, respectively. Nice to see a real video for “Thrill Has Gone,” which had just the right amount of country vibe for me back then.

 

 

My second favorite track then was and probably still is “Fool for Love.” Our narrator’s letting her former lover know of his new status, and maybe the reasons why.

 

They chose the right song for the closer. “Future Is Promises” is a slower, more somber piece about trying to pry away a girlfriend’s boyfriend. The bridge expresses equivocation, though: “Take the chance and make the move/But don’t think that I will approve/For once I’ve finally realized/Being with her wasted your life.”

 

Southside is one of the CDs I moved over to my office several years ago in a spasm of reorganization, right around the time I brought a bunch of disks home from my parents’ house after cleaning it out. I don’t listen to it all that often anymore, but still think it’s a solid offering. Over the next four or so years, I picked Texas’s follow-up albums Mothers Heaven and Rick’s Road; neither wound up appealing the way Southside did.

And I think that was pretty much it for Texas on this side of the pond. Over in Britain, however, Spiteri and company became stars with their next two releases, White on Blonde (97) and The Hush (99). Both went to #1 there, each spawning multiple Top 10 singles. I’ve got a feeling I know what I’m going to be checking out this afternoon.

Forgotten Albums: Marshall Crenshaw, Good Evening

Late June of 89 found me back in Kentucky for several days. I had no teaching or class duties that summer, so there’s little doubt I would have headed home to see Dad for his birthday on the 25th, a Sunday. By the end of the following week, I was back on the road, but before returning to IL, I made a two-night stop in Louisville to see various friends.

Mark H and Lana had driven over from St. Louis for the weekend so that Lana could visit with family in the area; Mark broke away from that to hang out with me for a couple of days. Along the way, we met up with two of my long-time pen pals.  Becky still lived in town, in between her junior and senior years of college, so we got together with her one evening. The next day, we were with Kristine and her husband—by this point she was in vet school, spending the summer in Louisville doing training at a clinic. The four of us spent a muggy afternoon at Churchill Downs, where the highlight of my limited horse-betting career occurred. One race had a small field, five or six horses, one of which was a prohibitive favorite. Mark and I quickly calculated that if we bet on each of the other horses to win, we’d make okay money so long as any of those non-favorites crossed the line first. Needless to say, our gambit paid off—we’d have done better if we’d been disciplined enough not to make a couple of side bets, though.

The trip wouldn’t have been complete without a stop at a record store, of course; it was that weekend that I learned Marshall Crenshaw’s fifth album, Good Evening, had hit the stores.  Mark always carried his boom box with him, so I got to listen to it in our hotel room the night I bought it.

I noticed two things right away. First, the title—was he telling fans this was the last record he was doing for Warner Bros? (It was, as it turned out.) Second, Crenshaw had a hand in writing a much lower percentage of the material on Good Evening (only 50%) than any other of his records. That also spoke to me of an unsettled situation with the suits—was the record company pushing that on him in hopes of spurring sales?

The production, from David Kershenbaum and Paul McKenna, is plenty slick, but I’ve wound up enjoying most of the songs on this album over the years. It’s time to take a listen to a few.

The opening track, “You Should’ve Been There,” got things off to a good start. It’s one of two songs on Good Evening that Crenshaw co-wrote with Leroy Preston, formerly of Asleep at the Wheel. And it’s got Wisconsin’s BoDeans doing backup vocals.

 

Crenshaw tended to have excellent taste in what he chose from other songwriters. Here’s “Valerie,” a fun Richard Thompson tune.

 

A  couple tracks later, we get some John Hiatt: “Someplace Where Love Won’t Find Me.”

 

On balance, it wasn’t a bad call to use outside material, as two of Marshall’s own contributions are my least favorite songs on the disk. However, he did write the very good “On the Run,” and he made a good call in playing it on Letterman (though I kinda doubt it happened in 91, since he released Life’s Too Short that year).

 

Whoop! Whoop! Danger, Will Harris, danger! We have a Diane Warren sighting! What did I say about good taste in choosing others’ songs? Here’s the most prominent signal of record label involvement on this project; I wonder if there were expectations of releasing it as a single. Actually, I think Marshall does a fine job with “Some Hearts”—certainly a hundred times better than Carrie Underwood did when she made it the title song of her first album.

It feels like many of my posts right now are circling around just a few artists. It’d be remiss of me not to mention that Syd Straw is one of the two female backup singers here.

 

Good Evening ends with my favorite, a cover of Bobby Fuller’s “Let Her Dance.” Just a great, great tune, and Crenshaw does it complete justice. Twenty years later, it was fun to hear the original come on at the end of Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox. And somehow it took me all these years to learn that Phil Seymour has a cool version of it as well.

 

All told, Good Evening was not Crenshaw’s best, but there’s plenty worth hearing every so often.

 

Forgotten Albums: Peter Case, “The Man with the Blue postmodern fragmented neo-traditionalist Guitar”

So I think the story goes this way, not that it’s all that.

Around June 87, Marshall Crenshaw comes out with his fourth album Mary Jean & 9 Others. Huge Crenshaw fan that I am, I probably buy it the day it comes out. I like it pretty well but don’t think it’s anywhere as good as his previous effort, Downtown. A few months later, I’m over the Champaign Public Library, where I know they carry a subscription to Stereo Review. The October 87 issue reviews Mary Jean. Steve Simels is a big MC promoter, but he’s not too impressed with the effort this time: “Only an odd cover, Peter Case’s ‘Steel Strings,’ makes any impression at all.”

I’ve seen Case’s eponymous debut album, which came out about a year earlier, on display at Record Service. I now do a little digging, read good things, and soon make a purchase. It’s very, very good, and I even think I prefer the original version of “Steel Strings.” At this point I’m not aware of Case’s history with the Nerves and the Plimsouls, but this disk definitely puts him on my radar (where he winds up staying for around fifteen years).

Fast forward to the early summer of 89. Now I’m cruising the Urbana Free Library, thumbing through their CD collection, and I espy Case’s second album, which had come out mid-April and has a crazy-long title. I check it out and ask my officemate Paul to put it on tape for me. It’s not as immediately winsome as Peter Case, but there are plenty of tracks that come to grow on me. The musicianship is decidedly fab: David Lindley and Jim Keltner play on several tracks, as well as David Hidalgo of Los Lobos. Now thirty years on, I get the chance to talk up some of these tunes.

Leading off is “Charlie James.” The liner notes credit authorship to “Traditional,” which certainly feels applicable. A tiny bit of research on YouTube took me to a version by Texas bluesman Mance Lipscomb.

 

My college had a four-week May Term at the end of the academic year. My first year I took a topics class in literature focusing on short fiction. We spent one chunk reading several stories by Anton Chekhov. I’m pretty certain we covered Chekhov’s gun principle in that segment of the class, and it stuck; I was reminded of it when I saw a production of The Three Sisters, put on by the drama folks at the University of Kentucky a year or so later.

All of this came back to me again when I first heard Blue…Guitar‘s nominal single “Put Down the Gun,” a plea to a friend to calm down. Case definitely had read his Chekhov (even sticking his reference in the third verse).

 

When we were packing for my sabbatical year in upstate New York in 2004, I included a couple hundred CDs to play on the boombox we would use for a stereo. One of them was Blue…Guitar. (I’d bought a copy at Record Swap shortly before I left C-U. If I’m reading the sticker correctly, looks like it showed up there in April 92, which means I got it around the time Case’s third solo disk Six Pack of Love was released.) One fall evening, maybe around the time Ben was about to turn four, Martha was out somewhere and I stuck this on. The fourth track, a Cajun-influenced number called “Travellin’ Light,” comes on, Ben and I bounce around a little to it, but then he asks what the song is about. Maybe he’d caught the phrase “mixed-up kid” from the lyrics? I don’t remember now exactly how I put it–something about a young man who was wandering around without a home–but Ben was horrified. His face scrunched up and he started crying. Seeing that moment of empathy from one’s offspring, especially one so young…touching.

 

But track 5 is the piece on the album most likely to make me cry. Poor Old Tom had joined the Navy just about the time that Kelly and Sinatra were living it up in On the Town, but Tom never got the chance to trip the light fantastic. I’d love to know if Case had met someone like this, a homeless vet who’d been jailed and institutionalized, chewed up and thrown away. Regardless, it’s masterful; in June 2017, Case did a benefit for folks like Tom in his home turf of upstate New York.

 

I don’t have anything to say about “Two Angels” except that it’s a pretty ballad with Benmont Tench playing organ and it might be worth three minutes of your time today.

 

The penultimate song, “This Town’s a Riot,” showed up in a mix tape post three weeks ago. You can find it here if you like.

I was fortunate to see Case in concert once. James and I took him in at a bar near UK’s campus in early June 2000. He was touring in support of his most recent release Flying Saucer Blues (one of my favorites). It was just Case on guitar and an accompanist on violin. A true showman, he definitely knew how to play the crowd. I don’t remember much of the playlist now, but I feel certain he played Blue…Guitar‘s closing track, “Hidden Love.” This one might be in my all-time Peter Case Top 10; it wound up on another of my mix tapes somewhere along the way.

 

When he turned solo, Case left the rock and pop of his earlier days behind and concentrated on folk and blues (I generally like his folk-oriented stuff much more). Guess he wound up being a cult favorite of sorts, but I’m happy to be a member.