Van Dyke Parks - Discover America (1970)
Dad seems to have rediscovered the work of prolific yet enigmatic songwriter Van Dyke Parks recently. Parks, who is now 70 years young, will actually release his first proper solo album in 24 years this month.
That new record is titled Song Cycled
, an allusion to his debut solo album Song Cycle
which I reviewed last year. Song Cycle is often referred to as a masterpiece – it’s folksy and tuneful, but abstract enough to let you know that there’s a whole lot more going on than just a guy making a record. For Van Dyke Parks, music is an intellectual process.
That can be off-putting for some. We all love a good head-scratcher, but nobody want to see Captain Beefheart play the Super Bowl halftime show. Actually, that sounds kind of awesome...
I have to admit – Song Cycle did seem a bit too heady for me at times. Parks clearly has a vast knowledge of the history of music, but is also able to distill it with his own very specific and singular vision. This sometimes felt a little heavy-handed.
So it took me a while to move on to Parks’ second album, Discover America. With such a grandiose title and my Song Cycle experience still fresh in my head, I figured I’d be in for a album that would be, quite frankly, exhausting.
Boy was I wrong.
Discover America may be as intellectual a pursuit as Song Cycle, but it doesn’t FEEL like it. Perhaps it’s the easy-going feel of the Trinidad-ian calypso music he integrates into the album, or that his references to Bing Crosby, Jack Palance, and the Mills Brothers aren’t lost on me. Whatever it is, I liked Discover America upon first listen.
And so will you. It's catchy, intelligent, and WAY ahead of its time. I could have told you that this song was from brooklyn art-house band Dirty Projectors, and you might have believed me.
[ mp3 ]: Van Dyke Parks – Occa Pella
And, as a sucker for strings, the short but beautifully orchestrated "The Four Mills Brothers" is a joy.
[ mp3 ]: Van Dyke Parks – The Four Mills Brothers
And there's plenty of whimsy (and steel drum !) in this one:
[ mp3 ]: Van Dyke Parks – Be Careful
And this one's just awesome:
[ mp3 ]: Van Dyke Parks - FDR in Trinidad
Overall, this album is a real stunner. I can't suggest it highly enough.
5 / 5 DADS
5 / 5 SONS
Rick James - Street Songs (1981)
I was twelve years old and all I wanted was a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. Donatello, to be specific. He was the one with the purple mask who fought with a long stick, called a "bo." He also was supposed to be the most intelligent and thoughtful ninja turtle, and was also responsible for designing their technology, a la Panthro and the Thundercats. Like all Miss America contestants, I was a nerdy kid, and Donatello had me at "cowabunga."
The Donatello action figure in question retailed at Kay-Bee Toys for $5.99. As a twelve year old, money was still hard to come by. I relied on a fledgling lawn-care company called S&N Landscaping that I had started with my brother for all of my coin. At five cents per fallen pinecone plucked from a lawn, S&N remains to this day the most successful business I've ever started.
My father was with me as I admired Donatello from the cramped aisle full of Transformers, GI Joes, and Starcom figures. I held a ten dollar bill tightly in my fist, buried warmly in the pocket of my Philadelphia Eagles Starter jacket.
"It's going to be close to seven dollars with the tax."
"I know, Dad."
"Well, if you want him, get him. But seven dollars is a lot of money."
"I know, Dad!"
"I just want to make sure that you've thought about this and this is what you want to spend your seven dollars on."
I still own Donatello. His right foot was gnawed off by our small-skulled dachschund somewhere in my teens, but the turtle lives. He will soon be inherited by my young nephew, who is part of a new generation of Ninja Turtle fans. Twenty years after my dad made me ask if the $5.99 was worth it, I can honestly say - it was.
So, Dad. How much did you pay for this Rick James album?
- N.W.[ mp3 ]: Rick James - Give It To Me Baby[ mp3 ]: Rick James - Superfreak
1 / 5 DADS
3 / 5 SONS
Neil Young - Trans (1982)
When I posted about Trans a few years ago
, I was kind of lukewarm about the album. I assumed that Neil was just playing around with genre, trying to find out what an electronic sound could do for his songs. I did love the robot voice on Transformer Man, that's for sure.
However, after reading his autobiography last month, I found out that there's a lot more to this album than I previously thought.
Neil's son Ben Young was born with cerebral palsy. In the early eighties, Neil was having a hard time communicating with him - the disease was affecting Ben's ability to speak. So Neil was experimenting with electronics at the time, seeing if they would give him any advantage in talking with his son. In his book he talks about how Trans has to do with how we communicate in an increasingly digital world.
This album lies smack dab in the middle of the lawsuit Geffen brought against Neil for producing albums that were "unrepresentative of Neil Young." I totally get their case, but doesn't that seem like exactly what went wrong with music labels? I truly believe labels should serve the artists and not the other way around. Especially with voices as distinctive as Neil. But those are thoughts for an (even) more boring blog. Here, just listen to this awesome weirdness:[ mp3 ] Neil Young - We R In Control
The robot voices in "Computer Age" are just out-of-their-mind. It's really something to be heard. I think what's so weird about it is that Neil's voice is so distinct and human on its own. To process it like this seems antithetical to what makes it attractive in the first place. Also, vocoder sounds insane, but it sounds the MOST insane at high pitches.[ mp3 ] Neil Young - Computer Age
Also, do yourself a favor and go check out my original post to listen to "Transformer Man." It's awesome. It's an awesome song. It's the kind of song you'd remember for the rest of your life if you heard it when you were 10 years old in your Optimus Prime pajamas. You'd love it.
3.5 / 5 Dads
4.5 / 5 Sons
Neil Young - American Stars 'N Bars (1977)
Stars 'N Bars kind of snuck up on me. Maybe it's the album art that I found so very NOT-Neil, but I always thought this was one of his mid-eighties albums. You know, the ones he made just to mess with his record company. Not the case at all.
Turns out Stars 'N Bars actually has some really really solid songs. Apparently it was recorded in four different session spanning a few years. Some with Linda Ronstadt, some with Nicolette Larson, but Crazy Horse all the way through. It's criticized as being "all over the place," and often called "unessential."
I couldn't disagree more. There's a lot of value to be had on this record. Obviously the cornerstone is Like a Hurricane, a fan-favorite which Neil still plays at concerts (hoping to hear it Monday at the Barclay's Center.) And yes, that song is amazing.
But don't disregard the rest of this album.
Besides Hurricane and the plaintive, seven-minute long Will to Love, the rest of these songs are short - most less than four minutes. And a short song in the world of Neil Young is often a great thing.
I find listening to this album all the way through really enjoyable. "The Old Country Waltz" is a great lead-off track, with sweet backing vocals from Larson and Ronstadt, not to mention a pretty rad fiddle part.
From there, it's a nice mix. The thumping "Saddle Up the Palomino," the light, rolling "Hey Babe," and then what might be my favorite track, "Star of Bethlehem." It's actually really nice to hear these songs demonstrate a range of styles while still within the familiar sonic world of Neil. It's like looking at a family of siblings where every kid looks different, but they all share at least one feature with another.
So smush your face down on your desk a la Neil on the album cover and enjoy "American Stars 'N Bars." That's what I'll be doing this afternoon.[ mp3 ] Neil Young - The Old Country Waltz[ mp3 ] Neil Young - Star of Bethlehem
4 / 5 Dads
4.5 / 5 Sons
Neil Young - Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (1969)
I've already written a little something
about Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, which remains one of my favorite Neil albums of all time. His first with Crazy Horse, it's a fitting place to start off the WEEK OF NEIL.
The first Neil Young song my dad every played for me was "Cortez the Killer," which I think is a really ballsy choice on his part. It's like introducing someone to sushi by giving them raw eel. Thank god I loved it. (The song, I mean. I still hate eel. They're the snakes of the sea. Why woud you eat that?)
Obviously Cinnamon Girl
and Everybody Knows This Is Nowher
e are highlights, but if you spend enough time with this record, you realize that every single one of the tracks has something worthwhile in it. Whether it's the haunting violin in Running Dry (Requiem For the Rockets)
, or the warbly vocals of Cowgirl In the Sand
, the epic guitar in Down By the River
, or yes, the killer riff in Cinnamon Girl,
it's hard not to listen to this thing all the way through once you start.[ mp3 ] Neil Young - Round and Round (It Won't Be Long)[ mp3 ] Neil Young - Running Dry (Requiem For the Rockets)
Needless to say, this one gets five out five for both me and my dad. As will most of Neil's stuff. Buy this album here
5 / 5 DADS
5 / 5 SONS
I've got tickets to see Neil Young and Crazy Horse this coming Monday with my dad. Neil is the patron saint of DadsRecords.net. He's my dad's favorite artist and one of my favorite too. Needless to say, I'm pretty excited about this.
So, in honor of Neil and my dad, this week is going to be to NEIL YOUNG WEEK on DadsRecords.net. That means all Neil, all the time. At least until Monday. Consider yourself warned.
I just finished Neil's autobiography, Waging Heavy Peace
, and one thing that he kept repeating was, "you can't tame the Horse." Basically saying that when working with Crazy Horse, Neil cannot dictate where things are going. Instead, he must follow the muse. This probably accounts for their recent album, Psychedelic Pill, leading off with a track that's over twenty-seven minutes long. And probably has something to do with the almost seventeen minute "Ramada Inn."
I'm sure we'll hear a lot of the new album, but I'm confident there'll be some old ones in there too.
Buy the new album here
Preview the new album here:
David Lindley - El Rayo-X (1981)
David Lindley! Nice vest! - Me, just now.
David Lindley has one of those names that would fit both a rock star and a professor at a liberal arts college. This David Lindley is a rock star, although far from a typical one.
Perhaps most famous for his guitar work and vocals in Jackson Browne's "Running on Empty," Lindley's career has included a little bit of everything - from session musician to band leader to scoring films, the man has a rich tapestry of accomplishments Lindley is well known for being able to play most anything with strings. Lindley can play guitar and bass, sure, but also mandolin, hardingfele, bouzouki, cittern, bağlama, gumbus, charango, cümbüş, oud, weissenborn, and zither. I think my favorite is the charango, because it's made out of an armadillo. I saw a flattened charango in Florida once. I didn't want to touch it.
El Rayo-X was Lindley's debut album as a solo artist, and not unlike Nils Lofgren's
solo debut, it delivers in very unexpected ways. Take it for a spin, and you'll definitely recognize a tune or two. How about this FM radio classic:
[ mp3 ]: David Lindley - Mercury Blues
The song was originally written in 1949
, and has been covered since by Lindley, Steve Miller, Dwight Yoakam, even Meatloaf. Oh, and it was retrofitted for Alan Jackson in these ubiquitous commercials
from the nineties. The song was a hit for Lindley, but there are plenty of other tracks on this record that I think are worthy of a listen. Especially the lead off track, "She Took Off My Romeos," which sounds like Warren Zevon opening for Jimmy Buffet (has that ever happened?)
[ mp3 ]: David Lindley - She Took Off My Romeos
Just so you know - "Romeo" is a brand of slip-on shoes. An appropriate opener, since you should listen to the rest of the album shoe-less and patio-perched, and preferably with beer in hand. My other favorite is "Quarter of a Man," which is a little bit lower energy than the rest of the record, but altogether groovy.
[ mp3 ]: David Lindley - Quarter of a Man
Maestro work from a rock'n'roll journeyman. If David Lindley is the Wallace Shawn
of rock, then this is his "My Dinner With Andre."
Van Dyke Parks - Song Cycle (1968)
“What ever happened to Van Dyke Parks?”
While that sounds like a great title for a documentary or biopic about the enigmatic Van Dyke Parks, it’s actually what my dad keeps asking me every time I see him.
You see, my dad has been enjoying this little project of mine because it’s getting him to dig back into some of the more obscure sections of his record collection. And Van Dyke Parks was one of his favorite pulls - a highly respected artist and producer, someone who continues to influence music to this day, and most importantly - someone I had only vaguely heard of.
If you do a Van Dyke Wiki
, you’ll see that, in fact, a lot has happened to Van Dyke Parks. He's music’s equivalent to the Dos Equis guy – quite possibly the most interesting man in the world. Born in the South, he started as a child actor, starring in some TV shows and a Grace Kelly film. Then, music took over, and by the age of 21, he had a contract with MGM. From there, a friendship with Brian Wilson lead to him being heavily involved in the masterpiece, Smile, followed by his own solo debut – Song Cycle – in 1968.
Parks dropped five solo albums from ’67 to ’89, but just as importantly, established himself as a producer, a role he still plays today. Parks has collaborated with Phil Ochs, U2, Randy Newman, Nilsson, Bonnie Raitt, Dangermouse, The Thrills, Joanna Newsome, Toad the Wet Sprocket – he’s even worked very closely with Silverchair. Yes, that SILVERCHAIR
Song Cycle was his 1968 debut. Famous for its expensive production, the album reportedly took three years to sell enough copies to pay for its original studio costs. So it wasn't a hit, per se, but over the years this record has become known as one of those "influential" works. (There's a "331/3"
written about it, so you know it's important.)
The reason I find this album worthy of posting about right now is because this album seems to 'take place' in Southern California, and I recently travelled out to Los Angeles for work. SoCal weaves itself into this song cycle, lending a sense of folksy Americana into the songs that comes off genuine instead of ironic. Parks sings about Vine Street, Siverlake, and Laurel Canyon, and as I drive around
I'm actually writing this from Los Angeles, having moved out here for work. And this album is all about SoCal - songs about Vine Street, Silverlake, and Laurel Canyon give me a sense that these places (so new to me!) actually have a long, rich history of people discovering them. The Alabamian protagonist of "The All Golden" comes to LA and keeps an apartment in Silverlake, probably back before it was cool.
[ mp3 ]
: Van Dyke Park - The All Golden
And "Laurel Canyon Blvd.," (which I've driven down, by the way!) contains some pretty solid violin, which always gets me.[ mp3 ]: Van Dyke Parks - Laurel Canyon Bvld.
Sure, I may be a stone's throw away from Laurel Canyon, with the western sun setting at my back, the Spanish telecast of the Dodgers game playing softly in the background. It's all very new to me. But if I put this record on and close my eyes, I'm back in my dad's TV room, and I swear I can see him smiling out of the corner of my eye. It's almost like being home.
Read Pitchfork's review of the reissue HERE
I started this site a few years ago with the idea that it would catalog my dad's record collection as seen through my eyes. A virtual imprint of the real thing, a tool to share music history and the act of passing said history down from generation to generation.
With limited technological skills (and a very limited budget), this site is utilitarian in its design. More of a blog than a true representation of his record collection, it feels very close to what I originally envisioned. Close enough. I'll take it.
But oh. This
is what I wanted it to be. What an incredible design and what a great way to present an album collection on the web. Whomever designed this virtual interpretation of John Peel's record collection deserves a Nobel Prize. I don't care how many fresh-water wells someone has dug, or land mines they've detonated, or immunizations they've given to migrant farmers. This has changed the world. Bravo sir or madam, bravo.The Space
[ found via Gizmodo
Jim Kweskin and the Jug Band – Best Of (1968)
Jug bands! Right? Okay, so they’re not for everyone. Especially these days – there probably aren’t too many jug bands showing up on America’s Got Talent, or climbing the iTunes charts. When was the last time you went to get a beer and slid that quarter into the juke box, turned around, and exclaimed “God I love this bathtub bass line!”
But, in the mid to late sixties, jug bands were actually…a thing. Like, there was a jug band scene. It mostly evolved from traditional Appalachian folk music, and there was a little jug band revival that people got really into, the way we all got into swing music in the late nineties.
Remember that? The Cherry Poppin’ Daddies (gross), Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, and the Squirrel Nut Zippers? What was that all about? That movie Swingers? Big hats? Skanking?
So the whole swing thing came and went pretty quickly, but in the sixties, there was a folk revivalist movement that was a pretty big deal. Jim Kweskin is often looped in with that movement, but he wasn't doing jug band music just to take advantage of the craze. He's more like Brian Setzer - who was roped into the whole swing revival but really had making music like that his whole career.
Kweskin had been around doing jug band music longer than some of the bigger, more popular Appalachian folk bands (like the Lovin’ Spoonful, for example). Born in Stamford, CT, he jumped around Boston playing folk clubs and coffee houses. He quickly became a fixture on the jug band/folk scene, and a by 1963 he had put together an all-star band of folk artists. Thus was born the Kweskin Jug Band.
I know there’s nothing too sexy about jug band music, but if I can sell you at all on this record; it’s really fun. Kweskin definitely knew how to keep it light. He wasn’t interested in revivalism and this isn't Appalachian folk paint-by-numbers. Instead, he uses the genre as a touchstone and rolls out the fun from there. [ mp3 ]: Jim Kweskin & the Jug Band – Jug Band Music
Also worth nothing is that a lot of this kind of folk music was seen as a part of the anti-war movement. But Kweskin didn’t insert Vietnam into his music. He was a-political, and the music was just about having a good time. A little escapist, yes, but sometimes that’s exactly what music should be. There’s not many songs that as carefree as the Boodle Am Shake: [ mp3 ]: Jim Kweskin & the Jug Band – Boodle Am Shake
Also, I kind of love this answer to Bo Diddley’s “I’m a Man.” [ mp3 ]: Jim Kweskin & the Jug Band – I’m a Woman
All in all, it's hard to listen to this record without trying to place it within the mid-sixties folk revivalist movement. But if you can pretend you're in someone's backyard in West Virginia (but not in a sad Winter's Bone kind of way), then this record is a party in a cardboard sleeve. Enjoy!
3.5 / 5 DADS
4 / 5 SONS