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The Rock Machine (Still) Turns You On


There is a fascinating column in the pages of R2 magazine (the former Rock ‘n’ Reel) called “It started with a disc”. The idea is that the magazine’s contributors write about the record or CD that started their love affair with music. For me it would probably have been Pat Boone’s “Speedy Gonzalez“. But that is another story. This is about an album I had many years later when I was in my teens which helped cement my fanaticism for music. The Rock Machine Turns You On was originally released in 1968 but probably bought by me a year or two later.

The album was remarkable on three levels. First, it only cost 75 pence (around $1) which at the time made it one of the cheapest LPs (long player for the young among you) available. Second. it was arguably the first rock compliation ever made, bringing together…

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Gourd banjo and hambone – great stuff

Markus James (r) and Calvin Jackson (l)

Missa Luba: An old friend rediscovered

Record Store Day 2017 and what should I come across in my local Oxfam bin but a copy of an album I have not heard since the early 1970s — “Missa Luba”, sung by Les Troubadours du Roi Baudouin.

7630659The singers’ name should give you a hint about this one. Baudouin was king of Belgium in 1958 when this music was first produced and when what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo was a Belgian colony. The music is a Christian mass sung in Congolese style.

The “hit” from this piece of musical joy was “Sanctus”, a Bantu-inspired farewell song that was used in Lindsey Anderson’s magnificent 1968 movie of youth rebellion “If…”. That alone made it cool for my generation. But Wikipedia reminds me of other claims to fame:

The Gloria featured in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964)….  The Clash refer to the recording in the lyrics of “Car Jamming” on their 1982 album Combat Rock… The cover of the Troubadours’ album appears briefly in the Stanley Kubrick film A Clockwork Orange (1971) as Malcolm McDowell’s character, Alex, strolls through a record shop.

Pasolini, If, The Clash,  Kubrick, A Clockwork Orange — say no more.

Listening to it today, I suppose there are some issues for the politically correct. It was put together by a colonial priest, Father Guido Haazen, whose job was presumably to preach Christianity to Africans under European rule. But it is a celebration, nonetheless, of Congolese culture and in an age when World Music is embraced in every bit of its seemingly infinite glory, why not?

The music itself — and this album was produced in 1963 after Congolese independence – is uplifting. It is a series of African folk styles, including rhythmic dance music, accompanied by log drums but following the general course of the Catholic mass.  Have  a taste:

Eric Bibb sings “Migration Blues” for refugees everywhere

“Migration Blues”, a new album from veteran bluesman Eric Bibb, uses the sounds of the American South to tell the tale of everyone from 1920s farmers fleeing the Dust Bowl for imgresCalifornia to refugees crossing the Mediterranean to Europe in the 2010s.

Along the way are Mexicans seeking a future in the United States, families moving from land the government has just seized for corporate expansion, and a Cajun jig reminding listeners of the expulsion of French Canadians south down the Mississippi.

“We are all linked by one migration or another. We are all connected to migrants,” Bibb told me from his home in Sweden, ahead of the album’s release by Dixiefrog Records  on March 31.

“The hysterical reaction against migrants is really hard to understand. Have we really forgotten our history?”

The album’s most contemporary subject is to be found in “Prayin’ For Shore”, a blues about the plight of millions of Syrians and others who have fled civil wars in the Middle East on sometimes fatal journeys to Europe across the Mediterranean.

“In an old leaky boat, somewhere on the sea/trying to get away from the war/Welcome or not, got to land soon/Oh lord, prayin’ for shore,” run the lyrics.

The song, Bibb writes in an accompanying booklet, is about remembering the drowned.

But the fleeing migrants of today are nothing new.

For Bibb, an African American, another key moment in history was “The Great Migration” of millions of southern blacks away from America’s segregated South. By some estimates, more than 6 million left the rural areas for industrial places like Detroit, New York and Chicago between 1910 and 1970.

“(They were) not just looking for jobs but fleeing racial terror,” Bibb said.

Such a point is made in his mellifluous rendition of “Delta Getaway” about a man fleeing a lynch mob to Chicago, with the lyrics,   “Saw a man hanging from a cypress tree/I seen the ones who done it/now they coming after me”.

The album is being released as anti-immigrant politics is on the rise across much of the world, including the United States where U.S. President Donald Trump wants to build a wall on the Mexican border to keep out immigrants.

Bibb said it was all laid down and finished before Trump’s election, but that he was nonetheless “astounded by the synchronicity of it”.

Most of the songs on the album are Bibb’s, although he offers covers of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land”, originally an angry riposte from the dispossessed, and Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War”, about the merchants of destruction.

Bibb said that apart from “Prayin’ For Shore”, his favorite composition on “Migration Blues” is “Brotherly Love”. Bibb said it reflected his personal belief.

It offers more hope for the future, one in which people can live in peace.

(This is an edited version of a story I wrote for my main employer, Reuters)

Valerie June plays Lead Belly’s ‘Goodnight Irene’ | Smithsonian Folkways

UnknownValerie June interprets ‘Irene (Goodnight, Irene),’ one of Lead Belly’s signature songs, prior to the Lead Belly at 125 all-star tribute concert at the Kennedy Center in April 2015.

Source: Valerie June plays Lead Belly’s ‘Goodnight Irene’ | Smithsonian Folkways

Chilli Willi and the Red Hot Peppers: A second chance to hear what we first missed

There are few people reading this who will be familiar with Chilli Willi and the Red Hot Peppers. They were British, lasted only between 1972 and 1975, had about 400 gigs3003a150756bf16a840967062067da26 and just two albums. Their main claim to fame is that they were linked through members with Brinsely Schwarz, itself a relatively obscure British pub rock band known mainly to Brits of a certain age.

Perhaps this album will change that. It should. The two CD, 44-song anthology will be a thrill to anyone with a soft spot for the Grateful Dead and their ilk. It is a series of rags, country boogies, American 1960s/70s country rock that sound as if they should have come from Palo Alto rather than the scruffy pubs of London’s Balham.. It may have something to do with the fact that co-founder Martin Stone spent some time in later ’60s San Francisco.

You get the feel right from the start with “Living Out Of My Suitcase”, a paen to bands without work and homes (with a Ry Cooder-ish slide). Skip forward a few tracks and you have “Fiddle Dee”, a raw banjo/fiddle affair that you might hear at the Old Fiddlers Convention in Galax, VA, but was performed in the back room of some London dive.

The U.S.-West Coast sound come through beautifully on “Desert Island Woman” (although I do have to wonder how many mangoes there were in grungy Britain at the time).

It is not clear why the band did not make it. One reason may have been that the kind of Americana being offered at the time was not a crowd-pelaser in Britain. This was the period wedged into the outgoing prog rock and the about-to hit punk rock. My own love of Americana (Little Feat aside) only began when I crossed the Atlantic for a few years. I would not have been impressed going into a pub in 1974 and hearing this.

But I would now. This anthology is great listening. A real second chance to hear something that was missed at the time.

New sounds: Torgeir Waldemar

First off a confession. I know little about Torgeir Waldemar. The press blurb says he is Norwegian and that while he has cultivated a pure, acoustic sound before we are not getting a bit more rock on his new album “No Offending Borders”,  due out on March 17.

I do know that I listened to the track “Bottom of the Wall” and liked it. Here it is: