down and dirty old-school R&B

May 28th, 2010

money (that's what I want)
a reissue of an early Tamla record

You know I love soul. I love Motown’s soul pop sound. I love Stax’s hard driving soul and soul-funk. I’m into Dusty’s blue-eyed soul and some of that Northern Soul sound.

But sometimes I want that other stuff, that down and dirty rhythm and blues, with sauntering bass lines and tight-but-rough horn lines. With swinging drums and voices that tell you they know a little something about the world. That music that makes you feel like dancing, like swaggering. The stuff that transports you to dank and smokey juke joints somewhere in the Deep South, many years ago, when things were better, but things were worse.

I love “Down Home Girl” which comes from a great collection of music by famed producer team Lieber and Stoller. I’m not quite sure how two Jewish guys from New York produced such a fantastic R&B record, but here it is.

Alvin Robinson – Down Home Girl (mp3) (buy)

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OKeh was a pretty important label in early R&B and there are some excellent collections of their material out. From Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You” to absolute winners like Big Maybelle, who recorded “A Whole Lot of Shakin’ Goin’ On” two years before Jerry Lee Lewis had a hit with it. Check out “New Kind of Mambo” and see if you don’t want to move a little bit.

Big Maybelle – New Kind of Mambo (mp3) (buy)

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Early in Motown’s history, before they became Detroit’s hit factory (complete with a quality control department) and became synonymous with a type of soul pop, they dabbled some in rhythm and blues. Released on Tamla (a Motown subsidiary) in September 1960, this Smokey Robinson & Berry Gordy-penned number broke the top-30 on the R&B charts, qualifying it to be one of Motown’s earliest hits. Still it remains obscure—and awesome.

Singin’ Sammy Ward – Who’s the Fool? (mp3) (buy)

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“bury me”: three views of folk through death obsession

May 17th, 2010

joe pug
Joe Pug by Adrian Bischoff

Certain phrases skew themselves toward certain types of music. “I Will Follow” has a tendency to be in pop music–think Little Peggy March’s “I Will Follow Him” or Death Cab for Cuties’s “I Will Follow You into the Dark”; for whatever reason, “Bury Me” has a tendency to be in folk music. Perhaps its the genre’s overall fascination with death. Death and bad-man ballads are common in traditional folk music from the American South, a tradition that carried into country, bluegrass, folk-revival and the various forms of music that have roots in that music. “Folsom Prison Blues” and “O Death” are just two of many examples.

So perhaps its just in folk music’s DNA to look toward death. The idea of death and requests about one’s burial aren’t exclusive to folk music, of course, but many folk songs, including the three below, have these as common themes.

’60s folk revival revival:

I loved the live version of this song so it was one of the first I listened to when I got Joe Pug’s (myspace) latest release and first full length, Messenger. The record version doesn’t disappoint and I think it stands as one of Pug’s greatest lyrical achievements since “Hymn #101″.

Sitting solidly within the tradition of the folk music revival, and particularly Dylan’s early work, I would call Joe Pug folk music revival revival (but I’m silly).

Joe Pug – Bury Me Far (From My Uniform) (mp3) (buy)

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Old-timey ballad:

One of my favorite songs, this comes from Lomax’s 1958 recordings from the Ozarks. Almeda Riddle has a classic voice; perhaps that’s understating it: Almeda Riddle has a perfect old-timey ballad voice. This song, which came from a broadsheet, has a classic tune and is dripping with melancholy both lyrically and musically.

This song sits solidly within old-timey balladry and, as I mentioned, is a perfect example of the style that was common and appreciated.

Almeda Riddle – Bury Me Beneath the Willow (mp3) (buy)

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Country singer-songwriter:

Otis Gibbs (myspace) is an artist that I came across when I was DJing at KZSU. This song is a nice waltz that really hits its stride in the chorus, where the melody is backed with lush and lovely harmonies.

His style is a bit hard to describe, drawing on elements of country, particularly classic country, but also displaying elements of modern folk singer-songwriter music and old-time dance music. In the end he creates something that is thoroughly not Nashville, not pop country, but still identifiable as country.

Otis Gibbs – Bury Me on a Rainy Day (mp3) (buy)

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Bonus (cowboy ballad):

Bury Me Not on the Lone Prarie is a cowboy song that’s been recorded by the many artists including the Carter Family and Johnny Cash. This is a lovely version from a collection of old-time music.

Fields Ward – Bury Me Not on the Lone Prarie (mp3) (buy)

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