Monday, March 17, 2014

Gary Higgins - Red Hash (1973 us, neat rough acid folk rock)

Red Hash was originally released on Higgins' Connecticut-based Nufusmoon Records. Around that time, he was busted for possession of marijuana and spent two years in prison. In his absence, the album sank into oblivion. Mastered from the original tapes with new photos and artwork from Higgins' archives as well as a lyric sheet and two bonus tracks, Red Hash is now available to a wider audience.

It's been a good couple of years for once-lost folkies. Comparing Higgins to other formative players in the midst of rebirth, he's darker than Vashti Bunyan or Incredible String Band, less outer-realms and more melodic than Simon Finn. His work could, more or less, be compared to Skip Spence's Oar dressed up like David Crosby. On Red Hash, his guitar and soulsick (but often uplifting) voice are accented with rich cello, piano, organ, mandolin, flute, and bass. The sounds are melancholy but never unaccessible: This is folk both your uncle and WFMU will (and do) love.

Coming first, "Thicker Than a Smokey"'s the strongest composition, a perfect blend of wanderer sadness, transcendent vocals, jangling instrumentation, dour melodies, and a libretto that feels like a Beatnik "Advice to the Graduate". Like many of Higgins songs, "Thicker" deals with a journey. Beginning with the queries, "What do you intend to do young man? Where do you intend to go?," he delves out homespun advice ("If you travel with a spider/ In your duffle bag/ With you good weather goes") and personal anecdote ("It's often that I wish to leave myself/ Buy some fancy clothes...") in a way that connotes something cyclical or unending.

Higgins' major themes are travel and lonesomeness. "Telegraph Towers" finds the protagonist "sailin' for home"; only the blowing wind makes him feel like he's not alone. In "I Can't Sleep at Night" he's afraid of shut-eye because it might mean death (he smells it everywhere). The mournful "Windy Child"'s downcast sing-along weds flute, cello, and Higgins' minor chords to "You were the sun/ And I was the morning dew... / You were always bigger / you were always brighter than me." The parlor fare of "Looking For June" has Higgins joined on vocals with upfront piano for a tale of a solo desert wanderer meeting with camels and the pope (check out the subtle, Eastern vibe).

Secondary lyrical fixations include animals, which often signify a lighthearted turn that under closer scrutiny isn't so joyful. There are plenty of birds (and the skies in which they fly), including a cuckoo in the track of the same name. Honing in on Trout Mask Replica, "Down on the Farm"'s comic protagonist milks a bull instead of a cow. There's also the gently humorous love ballad, "Stable the Spuds", but before getting too cozy, note the creepy piano, which trills like descending ice cubes.

The most beautiful work outside of "Thicker than a Smokey" is "Unable to Fly", which is traditional-sounding and pastoral, as if performed by Elliott Smith. (In parts, Higgins adopts a falsetto that sounds torn from Either/Or.) It retells a quest to reach the sun via an Icarus-type flight, but the hero's sent off in a wooden boat (carved by his father) to sail alone on the sea (as instructed by his mother). Before going, he turns in time to see her spread her wings "to greet the sky so blue" and fly away. Addressing a lover, he's bummed that know that knows where he's supposed to go, "You no longer care to know." He then flies, "In the golden light of your stare."

Red Hash proper consists of 11 pieces and ends with the aforementioned (Revelations-inspired?) dream quest, "Looking For June". Unfortunately, as it often goes with these sorts of reissues, the two bonus tracks aren't as powerful as the others. "Don't Ya Know" is an early 80s home recording heavy on the blues and lines about drinking whisky and playing guitar and being a long-hair. (Remember the Five Man Electrical Band via Tesla? that kind of thing...) The more ambitious "Last Great Sperm Whale"-- a 1975 studio track with bluesy slide guitar and tinny drums-- tells the story of recently freed whale who goes on an oceanic tear until he's recaptured and killed. Likely coming on the heels of Higgins' release from prison, it's a fitting allegorical finale to the reissue, but stylistically it creates a disjunct from the original Red Hash track list.

A more fitting end: Last weekend I was at a pot luck and the host put on Red Hash. The first few strums of "Thicker than a Smokey" cast a lovely soporific feel over the room before I realized what it was. Commenting on it to my friend, he mentioned that from the pictures accompanying the music, it seems Higgins possesses a certain aura of calm (and there really is a tawny haze around his head in one of the pics). It reminded me of his Tonic performance. After Higgins completed his one-song set, Chasny told the crowd to buy Higgins a beer, but once he finished, he walked back to the bar, somehow ducked out of my sight, and blended silently back into the audience before I could attempt to fulfill the request.
by Brandon Stosuy
1. Thicker Than A Smokey - 3:38
2. It Didn't Take Too Long - 4:02
3. Windy Child - 3:31  
4. Telegraph Towers - 2:56
5. I Can't Sleep At Night - 3:52
6. Cuckoo - 2:10
7. I Pick Notes From The Sky - 4:45
8. Stable The Spuds - 5:22  
9. Down On The Farm - 3:08
10.Unable To Fly - 4:12
11.Looking For June - 3:51
12.Don't Ya Know - 3:36
13.Last Great Sperm Whale - 5:21
Music and Lyrics by Gary Higgins 

*Gary Higgins - Guitar, Drums, Vocals
*Dave Beaujon - Bass
*Maureen Wells - Cello, Vocals
*Jake Bell - Guitar, Vocals
*Paul Tierney - Mandolin, Flute, Vocals
*Jerry Fenton - Piano, Organ

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The Master's Apprentices - The Master's Apprentices (1966-68 aussie, fabulous garage beat roots 'n' roll, 2009 double disc digi pack edition)

The Masters' story began in the South Australian capital of Adelaide in early '65, with The Mustangs, a dance band formed by four Adelaide teenagers: Mick Bower, Brian Vaughton, Gavin Webb and Rick Morrison. The Mustangs were a typical example of an early-60s instrumental band, playing the obligatory Shadows and Ventures covers. The cataclysmic visit by the Beatles in 1964 rendered all that passe overnight. The Mustangs were canny enough to realise that the surf/instrumental craze was past its 'use-by' date, and they decided to change their style to incorporate the new "beat' music, so they placed a "singer wanted" ad on the noticeboard at a local music centre. On his third (and last) visit there, the ad was spotted by a young would-be bass player called Jim Keays, whowas taking lessons from musician and guitar teacher John Bywaters (who was a member of one of Adelaide's most popular and accomplished beat groups, The Mustangs began to established themselves on the dance circuit around Adelaide, in suburban halls and migrant hostels. 

They built up a strong following with the local teenagers, many of whom were, like Jim, migrants from the UK (Adelaide was a major destination for UK migrants in the 50s and 60s. Their audiences were also an important influence for the band - some of these kids were very recent arrivals, who had seen the top UK bands in action only weeks before, and they had a strong effect on the band's "look", since they were directly in touch with current 'mod' fashions, a trend which was still not very well known in Australia. The next step was a name change, and because they regarded themselves, at least for a while, as apprentices to those musical "masters" like Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, their new name (suggested by Bowers) paid homage to these heroes. They decided early on to dispense with the apostrophe.

Towards the end of 1965 they found their home-base at an Adelaide club called The Beat Basement. Before long they were they regularly packing out the club, and they graduated from the less prestigious spots to the prized Saturday afternoon residency. They also became a prime attraction at theOctagon Ballroom in the Adelaide suburb of Elizabeth (The Twilights' home turf) which was located near another large migrant hostel. Keays recalls that the regulars included two young Scots migrant boys, John "Swanee" Swan and his brother Jimmy Barnes. The band also played at a dance in Salisbury, promoted by a young Doc Neeson, later the lead singer of The Angels......
Disc 1
1. But One Day (M.J. Bower) - 2:39
2. Wars Or Hands Of Time (M.J. Bower) - 2:52
3. Dancing Girl (Ellas 'Bo Diddley' McDaniel) - 3:13
4. 1 Feel Fine (John Lennon, Paul MccCartney) - 3:23
5. My Girl (William 'Smokey' Robinson, Ronald White) - 3:23 
6. Undecided (M.J. Bower, Rick Morrison) - 2:28
7. Hot Gully Wind (M.J. Bower) - 2:51
8. Theme For A Social Climber (M.J. Bower) - 1:54
9. Don't Fight It (Wilson Pickett, Steve Cropper) - 3:04
10.She's My Girl (M.J. Bower) - 2:24
11.Johnny B. Goodc (Chuck Berry) - 2:46
12.Buried And Dead (M.J. Bower) - 2:41
13.Living In A Child's Dream (M.J. Bower) - 2:42
14.Tired Of Just Wandering (M.J. Bower) - 2:21
15.Elevator Driver (Max Ross, Brian Cadd) - 2:21
16.Brigette (Doug Ford, Jim Keays) - 2:26
17.Four Years Of Five (Jim Keays, Peter Tilbrook) - 2:33
18.I Feel Fine (John Lennon, Paul McCartney) - 3:03
Disc 2
1. Blast Off 0:17
2. Inside Looking Out (J.A. Lomax, E. Burdon, C. Chandler) - 3:31
3. Black Girl (In The Pines) (Huddie Ledbetter) - 3:57
4. Bye Bye Johnny (Chuck Berry) - 2:08
5. Dear Dad (Chuck Berry) - 1:41
6. Poor Boy (M.J. Bower, Jim Keays) - 3:05
7. Bye Bye Baby (Bower, Morrison, Keays) - 2:23
8. Wild Wild Party (M.J. Bower, Jim Keays) - 2:27
9. Got My Mojo Working (Preston Foster) - 2:56
10.Not Fade Away (Buddy Holly, Norman Petty) - 1:53
11.Bright Lights, Big City (Jimmy Reed) - 2:17
12.Little Girl (Van Morrison) - 2:04
13.Around And Around (Chuck Berry) - 2:57
14.It's Gonna Work Out Fine (Seneca, Lee) - 2:25
15.Cops And Robbers (Ellas 'Bo Diddley' McDaniel) - 3:33
16.Dimples (John Lee Hooker) - 3:29
17.Just A Little Bit (Bass, Brown Thornton, Washington) - 2:07
18.Mama, Keep Your Big Mouth Shut (Ellas 'Bo Diddley' McDaniel) - 2:58
19.Don't Bring Me Down (Johnny Dee) - 2:05
20.Hey Bo Diddley (Ellas 'Bo Diddley' McDaniel) - 3:51
21.Road Runner (Ellas 'Bo Diddley' McDaniel) - 2:55

The Master's Apprentices
*Jim Keays - Vocals, Harmonica
*Mick Bower - Rhythm Guitar, Vocals
*Rick Morrison - Lead Guitar
*Gavin Webb - Bass
*Brian Vaughton - Drums
*Steve Hopgood - Drums (Disc 1, Tracks 4, 5, 8, 9, 13, 14, 15, 18)
*Tony Sommers - Lead Guitar (Disc 1, Tracks 4, 5, 8, 9, 13, 14, 15, 18)
*Peter Tilbrook - Rhythm Guitar (Disc 1, Tracks 15-17)
*Doug Ford - Lead Guitar (Disc 1, Tracks 16, 17)
*Colin Burgess - Drums (Disc 1, Tracks 16, 17)

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