Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Southern Comfort from Area Code 615

Now for something a bit different . . . I've been pretty California-centric in my selections to date on this still very young blog, but that's not my intent. Sure, most hippie-country music came from the West, but there are a few excellent exceptions that we'll explore in time. Today we're gonna check out the crack studio cabal from Nashville that recorded two albums under the name Area Code 615. The reference, as you can see from the above picture above is to the geographic locality of Nashville. These guys ruled the Nashville studio scene in the 1960s and 1970s and here we see them branching out in a rockier style.

They even played the Fillmore in San Francisco for all the longhairs, despite their cleaner-cut looks and tight instrumental playing. But don't be fooled, this stuff is heavy. The first album had a smattering of cover songs and a few originals, while the second album is more experimental and finds the studio band exploring some more R&B textures with no shortage of interesting drum parts. Who ever said country couldn't be funky too?

Area Code 615 - Southern Comfort
Area Code 615 - Ruby
Here are two great original tunes from their first album. Southern Comfort is kinda a signature tune for them with some excellent soloing and great band cohesion. Ruby just flat out ROCKS! This is like AC/DC from the South.

Area Code 615 - Hey Jude
This is the best cover they've done in my opinion and even rivals the original in terms of building emotion throughout the length of the song.

Area Code 615 - Stone Fox Chase
Area Code 615 - Devil Weed and Me (Buffalo Herd)
Here's where my Soul Spectrum and WW&W interests converge. It's country and funky. Not sure there are any other bands that can come close to this combination of sounds. But feel free to make some suggestions as I'd love to here them.

When the band played the Fillmore in San Francisco in 1970 they got Linda Ronstadt to join them on stage for a couple numbers. She returned the favor and had them back her on a few tracks from her 1970 album "Silk Purse". I picked a couple tracks from these sessions to fill out this post.

Linda Ronstadt - Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?
A countrified take on this classic Goffin/King tune and check out that phased-out pedal steel!

Linda Ronstadt - Long Long Time
Linda doing her torchy thing on this tasteful arrangement from the AC 615 boys.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Soundtrack to Laurel Canyon

I'm still kinda trying to figure out where this blog is heading, but for now I'm just letting it take me where it will posting about tunes that I've been listening to that fit the basic format here. I found this article the other day online about Laurel Canyon and a couple of books published in the past few years that cover that scene. I went and picked up Michael Walker's book "Laurel Canyon." I'm digging it so far and I can see some future Laurel Canyon related posts touching on such canyon luminaries as The Turtles, John Phillips and Chris Hillman.

Today we have three bonus tracks from the remastered version of Crosby, Stills & Nash's first album. This might as well be THE Laurel Canyon album. The story goes that Mama Cass matched the disgruntled Hollies' singer, Graham Nash, with the recently formed duo of David Crosby and Stephen Stills and the rest was hippy-dippy three-party harmony. Their first album is classic and needs to be in everyone's collection, but these bonus tracks are also pretty great and worth your attention.

Crosby, Stills & Nash - Song Without Words (demo)
This one is an early demo of a song that ended up on Crosby's first solo album.

Crosby, Stills & Nash - Everybody's Talkin' (previously unreleased)
Cool version of a classic and the only other cover, aside from Joni's "Woodstock", on the album.

Crosby, Stills & Nash - Teach Your Children (demo)
This is a demo for the song that would come out on the super-group's next album "Deja Vu"

Friday, December 5, 2008

An Unlikely Reunion . . . Byrds 1973

I've only recently come to appreciate The Byrds for all of their greatness. Like many other musical re-discoveries I came in through the back door. First it was because of Gram Parsons and his hijacking of their 1968 album "Sweetheart of the Rodeo". Then it was my discovery of Gene Clark (pictured left) who was the first Byrd to embark on a solo flight. And most recently its been because of David Crosby who's 1970 solo album "If Only I Could Remember My Name" has been blowing my mind as of late. But here I am now taking some cautious, yet curious steps deeper into Byrds territory.

I remember finding their 1973 reunion album in a Brooklyn record store for the low price of $3.99 and upon checking the album details I noticed the following details:
1. Produced by David Crosby
2. Two original Gene Clark tracks
3. Two Neil Young cover tunes

This is what had to say about it:

"Much of the original material, especially David Crosby's, sounds like cast-offs from their other projects. And what sort of a Byrds album features two Neil Young covers and not a single Bob Dylan tune? . . . But for the most part, Byrds sounds like a competent but unexciting country-rock band going through their paces, rather than the work of one of the best and most innovative American bands of the 1960s."

But I beg to differ. Yes, this is an album of the former Byrds doing their solo thing, but with the added bonus of these country-rock pioneers coming back during the sounds' hey-day to show the youngins (read: The Eagles - not the similarity in names) how it's done. You have the early seventies production and all of the advancements that each of the individuals made in their own careers, plus you get these great songs with those heavenly Byrds harmonies! Upon listening to the album I found the whole thing to be pretty darn good barring Roger McGuinn's contributions and one of Crosby's tunes (the other is a different version of "Laughing" from his solo album I mentioned earlier). But two of the great assets to the album are the Neil Young cover tunes performed by none other than Gene Clark. Not only do you get the Byrds doing Gene Clark, but these are two of my all-time favorite Neil Young tunes. Contrary to the Allmusic review I feel that covering Neil is kinda like the evolution of covering Bob Dylan and it seems like the Byrds intended it to be that way, seeing as these two songs are the only ones not written by Byrds members. Dig it.

The Byrds - Cowgirl in the Sand
The Byrds - (See the Sky) About to Rain

Monday, December 1, 2008

Still Willin'

I finally got the double-disc "Untitled/Unissued" set by The Byrds and within is their studio version of "Willin'". I haven't waded through the whole set yet, but I have been enjoying me some Byrds lately. Coming up soon are some select cuts from their 1973 reunion album.

The Byrds - Willin'
A much different take here than the Little Feat and Linda Ronstadt versions, but nonetheless classically Byrds in treatment. The vocal here is by Gene (not Gram) Parsons, who had a knack of joining the band that Gram Parsons was just exiting from (Byrds & Flying Burrito Brothers). Gene was the Byrds' drummer from 1968-1972.

This song is a great road song, but its also a classic drug song. I was trying to find the scene from the first season of "Strangers with Candy" where Jerri goes on a a narco-binge before an important test. The psychedelic trip-out scene shows them injecting an acid sugarcube with heroin and then rolling Jerri up into a giant joint as someone else "smokes" her. I couldn't find that scene, but I did find this one, which is from earlier in the episode (I think).

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Welcome to Weed, Whites & Wine

Welcome to my first spin-off blog! I pretty much like all kinds of music, though I hardly ever listen to Classical, but one strain of music that I have become more and more obsessed with in the last several years is a style that Gram Parsons dubbed "Cosmic American Music." I don't want to demystify Gram's rather undescriptive term too much, but the kind of music we'll be highlighting here is a little bit country, a little bit rock n' roll, a little bit folk, but all pretty modern, like 1965 and onwards. We're not focusing on roots here. We're focusing on exciting new hybrids that emerged from the 1960s generation's rediscovery of traditional styles like Blues, Country, Gospel and R&B. And this won't be limited to just "American" artists as I have a particular soft-spot for countrified British rock as well, ala Ronnie Lane & Slim Chance (sorry, the song links are dead on that post - stay tuned for more Ronnie).

This inaugural post is the inspiration for the blog's title, taken from the Lowell George song "Willin'". Little Feat recorded the song as "Willing" for their debut album and then re-recorded it for their sophomore album. I would have to say that most times a song is re-recorded by the same band the second version generally pales in comparison, but in this case Little Feat's second take on the song produced the definitive version though many other artists have taken a go at it. Here we have Lowell's good friend Linda Ronstadt doing a faithful cover version of this classic road tune.

The reason I named the blog after this song is because it is the ULTIMATE road-trip song. It merges the freedom of cross-country travel with the longing for permanence, a place to settle down. It describes the best parts of long drives as well as the worst. It taps into the great American tradition of road songs, but injects it with some hippy-era indulgences. It's been covered by every country-rocker from The Byrds to David Allan Coe and Steve Earle. It is truly a "Cosmic American Classic."

Little Feat - Willin'
This is the second version of the song from the band's second album, "Sailin' Shoes." The production on this version is cleaner and the piano line is more prominent than in the earlier version.

Linda Ronstadt - Willin'
Linda's version follows pretty closely the blueprint of the previous version. I like to imagine Linda behind the wheel of a semi-truck "smuggling some smokes and folks from Mexico," which happens to be my favorite line from the song.

Little Feat - Willing
The original version of the song still holds a special place in my heart. I like how the soaring chorus from the later version of "Weed, Whites & Wine" started off in its original version as a plodding, descending laundry list before triumphantly declaring ,"and show me a sign and I'll be willing).

I know that the early 70s were different times, but I cannot imagine long distance driving while ingesting all three of the song's crucial ingredients. Maybe one or two of them at any one time would be fine for me. I imagine the impressionable Little Feat fans found that driving under the influence of Weed, White and Wine frequently resulted in another "W", Wrecks!

VIDEO: Little Feat - Willin'

VIDEO: Linda Ronstadt - Willin'