‘Love Letters Straight From Your Heart’ The Twenty Best Records For 2012!

It was Oklahoma City, It was on a Christmas day, there was a whole car load of groceries come with a note to say. “Well, you say I’m an outlaw, you say I’m a thief, here’s a Christmas dinner for the families on relief.” Yes, as through this world I’ve wandered, I’ve seen lots of funny men, some will rob you with a six-gun and some with a fountain pen. And as through your life you travel, yes, as through your life you roam, you won’t never see an outlaw drive a family from their home. Pretty Boy Floyd – Woody Guthrie

A marathon of writing and I’m bloody tired! But it’s the good tired; it’s Christmas Eve and I’m listening to the Best Music I could find for 2012. Am exhausted, but will squeeze out a few more sparks. My inspiration comes from staring at a pic of Stanley Killar (he’s probably not with us anymore), who collected so many records they filled up his entire house. Stanley Killar had ninety thousand 78s and LPs; it’s because of the collecting zeal of people like him, we’ve managed to salvage much of our American musical heritage.

A second source of inspiration, to prop up my sagging mummy-like carcass, is Nick Cave’s The Kindness of Strangers, which is a serial killer pop song, just what we need to comment on these troubled times. Who is Richard Slade? Well, I suppose he’s the killer. A gloomy dirge finds poor Mary Bellows a victim of this nasty chap. Cuffed to the bed, a rag in her mouth, a bullet in her head. Mary Bellows just wanted to enjoy a vacation excursion to the ocean, but she meets up with a devil, Richard Slade. The gloomy dirge grinds us through the murky mud, when the detectives arrive at a dingy hotel to inspect the crime scene…

My third source of nutriment comes by way of Woody Guthrie’s Pretty Boy Floyd. The song gives me chills as I suspect Charles was murdered, shot in the back by an FBI sharpshooter at the behest of a supposed American hero, G-Man Melvin Purvis. Well, I needed to get Pretty Boy’s sordid tale a little straighter, so I found Pretty Boy by Michael Wallis at Book People. Is Woody’s claim that he gave to those who lost their homes true? Well, don’t know yet, but will be reading for the answer. Do know, however, tis the greatest folk song ever written! Or is it Puff the Magic Dragon? Let’s get with it (G-Men on our tail)!

1. & 2. The Return Of The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of – Yazoo Records (2012)

This will take years and years of study to get a grip on what Yazoo has accomplished with this 2 CD project. I have Volume I of The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of, and I’m still working on it; so many aural treasure by way of 78s that each have an important story to tell, that must be heard, if we want to learn what’s behind American music.

The time period covered is the 1920s and many of the artists included are from rural parts of the country. Some of the sides are country fiddle music, break-downs and what not, which are fresh sounds to my ears. I suppose this is musicology, yes this is musicology, history, and sonic archaeology. Thank God this music hasn’t been lost! And then the labels, that pressed the 78 RPM vinyl, are pertinent stories in American business; there’s Vocalion, Paramount, Okeh, Gennett, Brunswick, and Broadway.

stuff dreams made of

46 sides on two CDs. Fantastic liner notes that tell you how radical 78 collectors rampaged the country high and low searching out these gems, that considered to be trash by many. Charley Patton records are especially relished as collectors items. Track 9 is Charley’s High Water Everywhere Part I and track 22 is Some These Days I’ll Be Gone. The Mississippi Delta Blues of Charley Patton is where it begins for Blues, according to some music historians. Track 19 is Robert Wilkins’ That’s No Way To Get Along, of Rolling Stones fame. Get it while ya can!

1. & 2. (also) He Is My Story The Sanctified Soul Of Arizona Dranes Michael Corcoran (Book) – Christopher King (CD) Tompkins Square (2012)

This is my Number One choice for Record of the Year; but it’s a special split deal with The Return of Stuff. Both have books too, which boasts their status a great deal. I must confess ignorance regarding Arizona Dranes, but I have to admit, that’s just the point. Because of Michael Corcoran’s concerted effort to research this early gospel star, we’re now assured her memory will not fade away.

I take a liking for curious sojourns into the 1920s anyway, so this is nothing but fun for me. I want to know everything I can about Okeh Records from Chicago; how the records were made, the studios, the jazz greats, such as Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five, and most of all, I enjoy listening to these sonic gems of Americana. They could easily have been lost to the mists of time; I’m listening to Track 6 It’s all Right Now on my imac as I type. Truly a miracle!

Breaking down this music is a little tricky for me. I’ll need to study a great deal more; this is a little like discovering the tomb of the Egyptian boy King Tut. You don’t want to be hasty in your assessment of what you have. You do know it’s great, however, and it’s preserved for all to hear now. Don’t You Want To Go? plays now, and I’m seeing the light. The rinky-tink (barroom) barrel piano is oddly jazz-like to me, improvisation against the rants and raves of soul saving words. Still this is unusual, back to the drawing board. Thanks, Michael Corcoran! It deserves a Grammy for Best Historical Record (got the Cap’n Grammy nonetheless)!

Woody At 100: The Woody Guthrie Centennial Collection – Smithsonian Folkways Recording (2012)

I don’t have enough money to get the entire box set, so I’m adding songs on until I get everything. Just focusing on individual songs or getting on the internet and reading up on his life. The ending gets tragic, so this makes me thankful, while Woody was still good he carefully collected his songs and recorded most of them. Most are just Woody singing meaningful lyrics against the proper strumming of his acoustic guitar.

I got This Land Is Your Land: The Asch Recordings Vol 1 (1997), so I’ve got a good deal of the songs. I’m currently obsessed with the song A Picture of Life’s Other Side, which i consider to be nearly perfect. You see, Life has two angles to it, the good and the bad, you might say. It can even occur within the same family. The poor brother kills the rich brother in this one. The chorus is stirring with a baritone and a woman singing harmonies join Woody in strains of social estrangement, as it were.

Needless to say, Guthrie’s influence is still being felt. I’m not anywhere close to gettin’ a grip on his catalog. I like to study history at the same time as I’m listening to his songs, such as the Dust Bowl, or the Great Depression, claims that Woody was a major Communist, or I like to look at the spurt of violent outlaws rampaging the countryside, such as Pretty Boy Floyd or Bonnie and Clyde. This collection will help in preserving his memory, which aint going anywhere; he’s an important figure in history; I figure Woody is the ‘Collective Conscience of America,’ how’s that fur a dollar phrase!

Psychedelic Pill Neil Young – Reprise (2012)

Watched Twisted Road first today. Good film footage with good songs. First time I’ve ever seen this done! Let the Good Times Roll. Grateful Dead concert clips. Wooden Indians in the back of a pickup truck. Related to the song? Sometimes. Roy Orbison an early inspiration. Bobby Dylan goes electric on Like a Rolling Stone; must have made a strong impression on a young Neil Young. Hippies in a ritual mating dance! Neil induced some of this.

Driftin’ Back my favorite. Neil’s whole life; kaleidoscopic patterns, geometric menageries. Young young with long hair; open jam, wide open with free-form leads all the way back to the times of Jesus. Patterns, colors, and dreams, colliding memories. Idle reverie, no thinking, just floating free form unhinged subconscious self-reflection and reconstitution of self. Monotonous drone of drums, sparking rhythm guitar, the pick up of lead guitar, Fender or Gibson against neon rectangles or triangles floating through space for all time.

Psychedelic Pill, Roaring Twenties against flanging, shimmering guitars, dancin’ up a storm, spinnin’ record turns into trippy patterns again. What’s Ramada Inn about? More travel footage and family footage of his childhood. Flip over to She’s Always Dancing; beautiful girls in boxes, what’s that about? Young gives us so much to listen to, but at the same time, so much to look at too! Never been a package quite like this. The playing and sound mix may be Neil’s best yet! The gorgeous swaying Hawaiian girls don’t hurt anything, either!

Marley (Soundtrack) Bob Marley & The Wailers – Island/Tuff Gong (2012)

Marley will open your eyes; after seeing it three times, I finally purchased it on itunes. I wanted the soundtrack’ but it was $15 and I could get the documentary for $10, so what the hell, I absolutely had to have it. I mean, I need to memorize every frame, every song, ya know. I lived through this, had all of Bob’s albums on vinyl, but Kevin Macdonald did such a great job. The visuals, colors of Jamaica help to balance the vast sprinkle of Marley’s repertoire. Nice to have early ones, like Judge Not and The Wailers first single, Simmer Down (1964).

Neville Livingston explains the difference of Ska from Reggae, and it finally starting to sink in. In part, the drums hit the offbeat, the bass is the backbone, and Reggae is more spiritual than Ska, absorbing the beliefs of the Rastafarians.Reggae combines the sounds of Funk, Rhythm and Blues, and Soul. These guys invented it, so much of this is ineffable. Good footage of Wailers producer Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, who is responsible for perfecting their sound. The treatment is good, but requires lots of serious listening sessions; lots of reverb and echo in the studio, along with wah wah guitar gets you closer to Reggae’s essence. Still there’s more, my friend?

Did Bob Marley turn into a God in the later 1970s? Well, frankly, yes he did! I remember feeling this was a truism, when listening to Kaya at my South Austin pad. Roots, Rock, Reggae will convert you to this truth. No Woman, No Cry will seal the coffin of GodShip. Ugh! The part when he gets shot will bring him back to earth and mortality. Bob’s records sold unbelievably well, but he was always generous with poor people. Bob conquered Europe, Africa (Rhodesia), and then finally America (Madison Square Gardens), which had previously eluded him. The ending when he gets cancer is sad, but his music will live on forever. Time to spin some more tracks!

Appia Kwa Bridge Ebo Taylor – Strut (2012)

I asked a clerk at Waterloo Records (I forgot to get his name) what was the best release this last year for World Music. He answered without hesitating, Ebo Taylor’s Appia Kwa Bridge. Therefore, I purchased it. Wasn’t disappointed either. Ebo Taylor is from Ghana, so many of these sounds fare from West Africa. Lots of horns and drums, some jazz elements, and chant-like vocals. Nice booklet with photos of Ebo in his Ghana setting; there are full credits for musicians on the 8 songs. How ’bout that tenor guitar solo by J. Whitefield on the title track, Appia Kwa Bridge! A beautiful recording too; they used Lovelite Studio in Berlin. Listen to the many percussion instruments used on Nsu Na Kwan; get this platter soon or remain in ignorance your whole life!

Rework (Philip Glass Remixed) – Orange Mountain Mix (2012)

Beautiful record that will reward you countlessly. I’d advise you to listen to Philip Glass’s original recording up against the remix, then you’ll see what you got. I did this with Rubric and it helped me see the light.

Killing Them Softly (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) – Lakeshore Records (2012)

Soundtrack a little better than the picture. Outstanding blend of penny arcade tinker box classics, rockers, and industrial noise ambience, such as the first track, Moon Dance by Carl Stone. Wish I couldn’t remember when this pipes through the cheap speakers of Cinemark. I do recall the vicarious drug scene when Russell shoots some Horse, with The Velvets Heroin Live bleeding through the nebulous ether of cold-stare, white light needle that is zonk city incarnate.

love letters

Reading a yellowing paperback copy of Blood and Money by Thomas Thompson with Killing Them Softly waftin’ in the twilight aural-scape. Only way to go! The Man Comes Around (James Wilsey)a nice reverbie western against gruesome B & M text. The facial features were mostly intact, save for an abundant growth of black mold that had crept resolutely over the cheeks and nose, as in a masquerade. The nose itself was dehydrated and beginning to crumble. On the torso, almost graceful trails of blackish-green mold grew, easily brushed aside, like an offending cobweb.

The movie may be forgotten, but at least I discovered George V. Higgins’ Cogan’s Trade. Well, I do remember, It’s only a Paper Moon begins to play after Cogan hits Frankie. Odd choice, but it works for me with the irony of Cliff ‘Ukelele Ike’ Edwards crooning away as Cogan flees the scene of a solitary car with a cadaver inside killing time. Few people saw the mobster flick, but I thought it was one of Brad Pitt’s best roles, harkening back to Seven, which was also most memorial. Perhaps the DVD/cable TV release will be kinder to the picture. In the meantime, the soundtrack is phantasmagorically marvelous! Moreover, time to resurrect George V. Higgins big time! Don’t let him die again, even if you don’t get around to reading The Rat On Fire (you’ll regret it anyways, for the rest of your days without popping up daisies, if ya get me drift).

GRRR! The Rolling Stones – ABKCO (2012)

Having this 3 disc lying around is like Scrooge’s ghost of Christmas’s past paying him a friendly visit. I was just 9 years old when the Stones put out their first records. I learned ’bout black blues and shuffle rock ‘n’ roll via these scruffy boys. What’s the key to these Cats Nine lives or more? They respect tradition, but redefine it while winking a canny eye towards Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, and Bo Diddley.

Disc 1 is high school, disc 2 is college, and disc 3 is graduate school. When Brian Jones died in 1969 The Stones changed seriously. Brian was the George of The Stones. They didn’t get worse, but lost their eastern karma of musicianship. That little dose of extra scratchy noise was Brian making the song more interesting. Ends with Beggars Banquet. My favorite tune on platter 3 is Waitin’ On a Friend; musicians as good friends? That’s the way it ought to be!

Murder Ballads (Remastered) Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Mute Records (2011)

This is ’bout the best thing I’ve ever heard in my life! Murder Ballads originally was released in 1996, but was remastered in May of 2011. I just heard of it a few days ago, so I included on my least anyway out of guilt, since I don’t know where I’ve been for sometime! Need to make up for lost time somehow, someway. Murder Ballads is Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds most successful record to date; I see why, it’s literary and beautifully, hauntingly lyrical.

Partially forged from the ghastly chronicles of the times and partially eked out of the vivid (and piercing) imagination of Nick Cave, these grisly ballads are instantaneously classic for the subterranean bards of the Underworld, where the slimy creatures of Hades dwell (a long time ago), boiling in their own green bile juices. Where the Wild Roses Grow (featuring the whispery vocals of Australian pop singer Kylie Minogue) gives homicide a good name, with it’s Irish folk song skin and the tragedy of a maiden singing from the grave, after the unfortunate incident already reached the bridge of no return.

Would have made it number one, but after all this came out in ’96. The first 3 songs, Song of Joy, Stagger Lee and Henry Lee, are perfection, but don’t have particularly nice outcomes, where people live happily ever after. Wikipedia counts the death toll of Murder Ballads at 65, with an average of 6.5 deaths per song. Is Nick Cave uttering gloomy incandescent canticles regarding the likes of Henry Lee Lucas, Otis Toole, or Hitchcock’s Ed Gein? I don’t think so, but don’t be surprised if moldy news print headline prints flash before your frozen with fear Eyes Wide Open! Huh? Fiction or nonfiction is your job.

Lux Brian Eno – Warp (2012)

Lux is Brian Eno’s latest ambient effort. Four movements (each movement has 3 parts) take up 75 minutes of time to hear it in its entirety. They call it a sound art installation, since it was created for the Great Gallery of the Palace of Venaria in Turin, Italy. Brian intended for the sounds to fit that particular space. The context of this is unknown to the common listener, but can be amply imagined by an ambitious spirit.

A good stereo will help. I have Insignias with a sub-woofer and it’s not too bad. The 4 Lux movements provide good background texture for my writing projects, giving me lots of reflective mood and not interfering with my concentration. I can see how they would be an aid when viewing a work of art; the tones are pillows of soothing sound, that allow you to embrace the abstract, and to reject the corporeal warfare waging within the weakness of transient flesh passions, that are the enemies of art.

A breakdown of the Lux movements is an exercise in futility. It just morphed to Lux 2 and I hardly noticed. Electronic piano notes bounce freely through aural space and touch your senses so that you project visually; maybe the 1969 moonwalk comes to mind, I can not say for sure. Other ambient projects, such as Music for Films or Music for Airports have more variance in soundscapes. The Lux ambients are clustered closer together; less intrusive, possibly so you’ll pay attention to the visuals of the art you behold. I use them in the same way; it’s a miracle come true!

El Camino The Black Keys – Nonesuch (2011)

What’s up with all these Camino pics in the fold out jacket? I didn’t much take to this record at first, but it’s growing on me. I like the way Danger Mouse produced it, you can hear the instruments distinctly and there’s gobs of dynamics. Not strictly rock, but rocking pop. Gold On the Ceiling will knock your block off. Hope they get a grammy. Songs with actual hooks; been a while. I need to learn some productions tricks from El Camino; doesn’t hurt to have strong songwriting neither.

Unorthodox Jukebox Bruno Mars – Atlantic (2012)

What’s that young cat’s name? Oh yea, Bruno Mars. Oh yea, he’s extremely famous now, all over the charts in the wink of an eye. I’m glad I manage to include some contemporary recording artists on my Best of 2012 list. Yea, I’m not faking it, Bruno makes a hell of a pop record. I suspect Young Girls will be the next single to chart at the top. This sophomore effort shows he’s no One Hit Wonder! Instruments are clean and clear; perfect for smart electronic device technology (coming from the Age of the Dinosaur Eight Track Stogy-Asaurus Period of audiophiles – extinct now, of course!)

The Lumineers – Dualtone (2012)

It’s taken me some time to come to an appreciation of The Lumineers. I believe I arrived now. They’re getting more popular with the public now. The single Ho Hey is number 3 on itunes today, the album is number 5. Ho Hey is number 3 also on The Billboard Hot 100. This is impressive for a new band. Ho Hey is number 6 in the Pop Song category. Charts are not everything; scratch that, yes they are! I’d dismiss this band had they not charted.

Alright, Ho Hey is catchy, bouncy little pop song; I can see where young people returning home from college for the holiday will be singing along with their ipods, anticipating holiday jubilation. I bought into the same ritual (many moons ago) with songs like Judy in Disguise. My favorite is Flapper Girl for its suburban charm; a simple arrangement, the instruments don’t collide, the piano is the most important sound.

I got to meet Judyth Piazza, the chief editor of NewsBlaze and the CEO of theSOP, in Houston this past fall.

Enjoy the Company The Whigs – New West Records (2012)

I discovered The Whigs last summer; had to include em on my list. Garage Rock is my category I know the most about. Favorite is Rock and Roll Forever with ample slams of treated, stacked, fuzzy guitars; how I’d like it to have been in my heyday (mid-1980s).

Dogs Eating Dogs EP Blink 182 – Self-Released (2012)

Just got the EP the other day, so I’m still processing it. Never heard Blink 182 before but am digging them now. Boxing Day must be the hit here. Will shut up and give this a serious listen. Charting too, I’m seeing.

Sunset Strip To Haight Ashbury (The California Scene In The ’60s) – Rhino (2012)

I’ve been rotating this eclectic mishmash of Beautiful People staples, since I purchased it at a Starbucks (the distributor for the Rhino platter) on Richmond Rd. in Houston, Texas on October 15th. I got to meet Judyth Piazza (CEO of theSOP and senior editor of NewsBlaze) and Leon in the fall and had an especially pleasant and rewarding trip (such as our visit to the art treasure-laden Menil Collection) , visiting with them. I’ve had most of the 18 cuts at one time or another in my life, but having them together in one package is mind blowing, like spending an entire day at Oat Willie’s Campaign Headquarters at their 1606 Lavaca Street location (see page 120 in Lost Austin by John H. Slate).

My faves, in part, are White Bird by It’s A Beautiful Day, which I actually saw performed at The Armadillo World Headquarters, Canned Heat’s On the Road Again, Iron Butterfly’s Theme (bassist Lee Dorman just died Friday -12/21/2012), and Country Joe & The Fish’s Who Am I, which I haven’t heard since the days of it’s release. The Joe McDonald is a plaintiff anthem of subtle protest and self-reflection, unlike any I’ve ever heard before. The meandering lyrics take you inside Country Joe’s mind, wondering if he can make any sense of this crazy world he didn’t create.

sunset strip

Ram Paul McCartney & Linda McCartney – Concord Music Group (2012)

This reissue is a beautiful package and has quite a few new songs not included back in May of 1971. Like Another Day, which was my favorite song back in the day. Ram is Paul’s best solo album, which most will agree with. In those days I smoked a lotta pot, and Ram is a total cannabis record, you old timers will have to agree. No no no no I don’t smoke it no more, but don’t have to, residual smoke blows off the record grooves. Dear Boy catchiest track; purest nostalgic LOVE won’t take no for an answer. Thanks Sir Paul!

Tomorrow Never Knows The Beatles – itunes (2012)

This itunes Fab Four hits re-packaging was issued to little fanfare in late July, but I played the Devil’s Advocate and embraced it with quite a great deal of vivacious verve or fiery fanaticism (depending on what Thesaurus you’re looking at)! I don’t see any thematic thread that binds this particular set of songs, but for me, it’s a clever song order. I was especially pleased with the inclusion of Track 6, which was I’m Down; I don’t recall ever seeing Paul’s rocker of a shouter on any LP collection.

I’m Down was performed at the historic Shea Stadium show, with the fans screaming madly and The Beatles sweating profusely, but playing up to par in their pin-striped suits. Good to see the rockin’ version of Revolution on here too (if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, your not going to make it with anyone anyhow). At times, I’ve thought of Hey Bulldog as my favorite Beatles song, as a solution for my loneliness, and I still believe this after adding Tomorrow Never Knows to my already corpulent Beatles chest.

Blak AND Blu Gary Clark Jr. – Warner Brothers Records (2012)

I just heard Gary Clark Jr. for the first time, two weeks ago when Waterloo Records was spinning his new Warner Brothers record, Blak AND Blu; I bought it on the spot! I’m still acclimating myself to the 15 tracks. I’ve been reading up on what Gary’s been up to and since I’m from Austin (even dating back to the glory days of Antones, when it first began), I have a good idea where he’s coming from. I’m a little disappointed in the confusing, amorphous production value, where you have to dig deep to find the pure blues/rock song. Too many interfering tones, on say, Glitter Ain’t Gold (Jumpin’ For Nothin’).

john the author
This is yours truly holding some of my favorite records and books of 2012. Photo by my sister, Terry Kays.

Fingers a bleeding. Editing skills out the window. Poetry and melody informs my arthritic digits. Am I living in the 20s, the 30s, the 60s, or am I here now? Neil lives that way too. Great tunes never leave us. I’m more about the past then the present. Digital technology brings the past back to life. YouTube of Canned Heat performing On the Road again is precious. 78s still with us and the roots of gospel, thanks to those brave souls who are willing to do the work, combing archives and places where these memories wern’t tossed out with the trash. There’s greatness in the present also. But applying the past to present productions is our key that unlocks how modern day hits will be forged. In a confusing phrase, we experience the splendors of the future by looking in our collective rear-view mirrors! Nothing is original! Never throw away Art, also (last maxim before I turn into a Xmas Pumpkin)!

Come take him by his lilly-white hands, come take him by his feet, and throw him in this deep deep well, which is more than one hundred feet. And the wind did howl and the wind did moan. La la la la, la la la lee, A little bird lit down on Henry Lee. Lie there, lie there, little Henry Lee, till the flesh drops from your bones, for the girl you have in that merry green land, can wait forever for you to come home. And the wind did howl and the wind did moan. La la la la, La la la lee, a little bird lit down on Henry Lee. Henry Lee – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds