Friday, August 20, 2010

Album Review by Michael Fremer

Projections (reissue)
The Blues Project

Verve/Folkways/Sundazed LP 5317 LP
Produced by: Tom Wilson
Engineered by: Val Valentin (director of engineering)
Mixed by: N/A
Mastered by: Bob Irwin
Lacquer cut by: WG at Nashville Record Productions



Sundazed Issues Rare Mono Mix of Blues Project Classic

by Michael Fremer
August 01, 2010

The forced revisiting of old, long neglected favorites is one of the great benefits of reviewing reissues. I hadn’t played this chestnut for years, maybe decades and never in the mono mix since by then stereo ruled—at least for me and a small minority of other kids.

I was obsessed back then to find the stereo mixes of everything, not realizing that mono was better for many recordings, like the early Dylans, Stones and Beatles albums, among others.

It wasn’t easy finding stereo releases of rock records in the early to mid sixties. Even at Sam Goody's in Valley Stream, where I used to drive to from Queens as soon as I got my license, didn’t have such a great selection of stereo rock releases. Those that they did have were all segregated in an obscurely placed bin.

I found this one there in stereo in 1966 and so never heard the mono mix. The weird thing is, I just went to look for the stereo original that I know I had and it wasn’t there. It could have been misfiled, which means I may not find it for years. So I can’t compare this to the stereo original. How many times have I seen the stereo original at record conventions for a few bucks and not picked it up because I thought I had it? Don’t ask!

In any case, this Sid Bernstein managed band (well, at least he wrote the liner notes that spelled “Ithaca” “Ithica”) brought Al Koope to the attention of many rock fans (well his face, anyway since no names are included on the jacket), though of course by then he’d played organ on Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited due to a combination of being in the right place at the right time (he was invited to observe by then-producer of the album Tom Wilson who went on to produce this album but not the Dylan album) and Balls with a capital “B.”

Dylan wanted an organ part “Like a Rolling Stone” and Kooper fibbed that he had one. Dylan loved what he came up with and the rest is history of which 100% of kids who bought this album were unaware.

When this, their second album was recorded, the band consisted of Danny Kalb (guitar), Steve Katz (guitar), Andy Kulberg (bass, flute), Roy Blumenfeld (drums) and Kooper on organ and most vocals. For some of us from Queens (Kooper grew up literally around the corner from me), it was clear that these boys had “Yiddische kups” or as Jaime Pressly so famously said it on The Howard Stern Show a few years ago, they had been “slapped a Yarmulke.” This made many of us very proud.

The eclectic album features a catchy hard-blues opener, a dramatically tuneful “Steve’s Song” (by Katz) that resembles something Tim Buckley might have penned, a decent cover of Chuck Berry’s “You Can’t Catch Me,” and a long, extended Kooper blues extravaganza pulled from Muddy’s “Two Trains Running” that these young suburbanites pull off surprisingly well thanks to Kalb’s guitar wizardry and Kooper’s soulful singing.

Side two follows side one’s formula starting with another uptempo blues romp, “Wake Me, Shake Me” arranged by Kooper followed by Bob Lind’s tuneful pop confection “Cheryl’s Going Home.” But then the group hits a breezy, jazzy stride with Kooper’s “Flute Thing,” which holds up remarkably well all these years later and presages his turn to jazz with Blood Sweat and Tears. Speaking of which Jimmy Reed’s “Caress Me Baby” sounds like it informs “Something’s Going On” from the first BS&T album. The closer “Fly Away,” another Reed tune is done as a folksy, jazzy shuffle with a lonesome echo drenched harmonica part.

This is a relatively long and ambitious production packed with good tunes and even better playing. Few albums from that period were as eclectic, with nods to jazz, blues, folk and even early psychedelia. As for the production, well, it’s not great and nothing Sundazed could do would make it better. The sound is kind of hard and high frequency limited with a slightly metallic aftertaste, though a few tunes are better than others and overall it’s not offensive sounding.

I can’t remember the stereo mix but the mono works really well to fill out and strengthen a somewhat weak recording. If you remember this and you copy disappeared in a cannabis haze or your roommate or ex-wife took it, you’ll enjoy the reconnect. If you’re too young for that, you might enjoy hearing when youngsters could really play the blooze.

Thanks to Michael over at  for the exclusive rights to reprint this material.

Copyright © 2008 & Michael Fremer - All rights reserved Reprinted by Permission

Music News & Notes

Elvis Receives Five More RIAA Certificates

Five, count them, five more RIAA gold and platinum records were presented on August 14 during Elvis Presley Week in Memphis. The certificates were earned over the last year but were officially given to the estate of Presley during the annual week saluting his life and career. The presentation was part of Conversations With Elvis at the Orpheum Theater.

The new certificates were for:

•Aloha From Hawaii Deluxe Edition DVD received multi-platinum certification (4X)

•Elvis '68 Comeback- Special Edition DVD received multi-platinum certification (2X)

•50 Greatest Love Songs received gold multi-disc set certification

•The Essential Elvis received gold multi-disc set status

•Blue Christmas received platinum album certification

Presley had previously earned 151 other gold, platinum and multi-platinum awards from the RIAA.


Third Man Releases Two New Conan O’Brien Albums

Conan O’Brien and Jack White’s Third Man Records are releasing not one, but two new pieces of vinyl that the comedian made on a June stopover in Nashville. The label has announced last Wednesday that “Conan O’Brien Live at Third Man” and a spoken-word 7-inch recording “And They Call Me Mad?” are now available at Third Man’s website.

The rockabilly-flavored live show includes a duet with White of Eddie Cochran’s “20 Flight Rock” while the 7-inch is a spoken-word improvisation of the Frankenstein legend. The B side is White’s interview of O’Brien.

O’Brien has spent the summer on his “Legally Prohibited From Being Funny On Television Tour” and his new show on TBS kicks off in November.


Eric Clapton to Release New Album Clapton Sept. 28

Eric Clapton is scheduled to release his 19th solo album, simply called 'Clapton,' on September 28, 2010. It' will be his first solo album since the 2005 CD 'Back Home.' The 14-track set was co-produced by Clapton and his longtime collaborator Doyle Bramhall II. J.J. Cale also joins Clapton on the album as does legendary drummer Jim Keltner. In addition, there are guest appearances from Sheryl Crow, Derek Trucks, Steve Winwood, Wynton Marsalis, and Allen Toussaint.

Clapton and Crow have often teamed up on stage at various performances and reportedly had a personal relationship at one point. Clapton and Winwood were both in the band Blind Faith and recently did a string of dates together. Derek Trucks Band has also toured with Clapton and performed at his annual concert to benefit the Crossroads Treatment Center he helped found in Antigua.

The record mixes covers of older and obscure traditional and country-blues songs as well as a handful of new original tunes penned specifically for the album.

"This album wasn’t what it was intended to be at all," he said. "It’s actually better than it was meant to be because, in a way, I just let it happen. It’s an eclectic collection of songs that weren’t really on the map—and I like it so much because if it’s a surprise to the fans, that’s only because it’s a surprise to me, as well."

Lovers of Covers

Iconic Rock ’n' Roll Images

By Ann Taylor (Aug 19, 2010)

Photo by Laura Brown

Before MP3s, CDs, cassette tapes, and even 8-tracks, there was vinyl. And during the reign of vinyl, album covers were high art, often rivaling the very music they encased.

Annie Liebovitz, Robert Mapplethorpe, H.R. Giger, even Andy Warhol have put their hand to the design of album covers, the large format providing a perfect canvas for some of the most well-known images in the world.

But one of the most lasting impressions has been left by Storm Thorgerson, the man behind Pink Floyd album covers since 1968 — including the iconic Dark Side of the Moon — as well as covers for Led Zeppelin, Peter Gabriel, Steve Miller Band, Black Sabbath, and the Cranberries, among others. Currently showing at the San Francisco Art Exchange’s Lovers of Covers show are more than sixty prints of his celebrated works and several originals.

While Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon cover is undoubtedly Thorgerson’s most famous work, and perhaps the most famous album cover of all time, it is not particularly representative of his typical visual style — Lovers of Covers allows viewers to see that work within the broader context of Thorgerson’s overall ouevre.

Typical of Thorgerson’s work is a surreal, dreamlike quality as well as odd juxtapositions of objects in expansive landscapes, creating quite dramatic compositions, such as the cover for Disco Biscuit’s Planet Anthem. Four women, carefully wrapped in brown butcher paper and tied with string, are ranged across a sandy beach. Like packages of meat at the supermarket, their wrapped forms are inert yet promising, set off dramatically against a cloudless sky as a white sheet floats gently in the breeze.

Along similar lines is the art for The Cranberry’s Bury the Hatchet album, in which a lone naked man cowers in the desert, tiny mesas visible in the far distance behind him, a giant eye staring at him from above. The flatness of the desert and the expansiveness of the clear sky emphasize his nakedness, his vulnerability to the all-seeing eye. These Magritte-esque images seem to tap into nightmare worlds, framing them in desolation and unexpected blue skies.

Even Thorgerson’s more simple images reflect an unexpected complexity and masterful composition. The cover for Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma, for instance, looks, on the surface, like a picture of the band members casually relaxing in a doorway — scruffy, barefoot rock ’n’ rollers sitting around on a warm summer day. Yet, a second look reveals that the frame to the left of guitarist David Gilmour, who is slumped on a stool in the foreground, is a repeat of the same scene, stretching on into infinity like a reflection of a reflection in a mirror.

An even closer examination discloses a subtle change in each subsequent reframing of the scene: the band members are switching positions. Roger Waters now sits slumped on Gilmour’s stool, Nick Mason has taken Waters’ old position on the floor with knees bent, Richard Wright assumes Mason’s former standing pose with arms akimbo, and Gilmour now scissors his legs in the air in the background, where Wright is in the larger frame. And so on. It is little surprises like these that make even the mundane remarkable in Thorgerson’s work.

However, his covers are not just interesting but empty images; they also tend to point to an idea, a story, or even a joke (see the Steve Miller Band’s Let Your Hair Down, Baby cover). Most, if not all, of Thorgerson’s breathtaking compositions are backed by thoughtful concepts, and depict visual representations of those concepts, such as the artwork for The Mars Volta’s Frances the Mute album or Pink Floyd’s Delicate Sound of Thunder — you can read about them for yourself at the show.

Forty years of rock ’n’ roll history is bound up in stunning visuals in Lovers of Covers, reminding us of the power of the image even in the world of music. This show is not to be missed.

San Francisco Art Exchange
Through September 15th
SF Station: Lovers of Covers