Archive for May, 2009

Global Beat, KFAI 05/27/09

May 27, 2009

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On today’s edition of Global Beat (sitting in for Doug Cain) we heard new music from Caetano Veloso, Ceu, Vieux Farka Toure, and an amazing group of street musicians from the Congo called Staff Benda Bilili who have just issued their first album on Crammed Discs. Plus, can I say it?: lots, lots more. The program is available for streaming for two weeks at the KFAI site here. Complete playlist follows the break.

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More Olga Lehmann

May 22, 2009

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Olga Lehmann could have considered creating record covers for UK label Argo in the mid 50s as a sideline to her bustling career as a set designer for the stage, costume designer for film and book illustrator. It’s clear, however, that whenever she received an assignment from Argo it became an all-encompassing project: whether it was illustrating Dylan Thomas’ play for voices Under Milk Wood or music from Calypsonian Edric Connor (one example above), Lehmann took it upon herself to fit entire worlds into the 12 x 12″ format. No minimalist she.

Many thanks to Olga’s son Paul Huson for providing artwork for several of her LPs, and alerting me to the fact that her Wikipedia entry has been significantly upgraded and now includes a very detailed timeline of her marvelous career.

78 RPM Record Labels

May 18, 2009

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Joel Slotnikoff of St. Louis, who curates one of the web’s first and still ongoing music sites, Blues World, has been putting together quarterly auctions of original pressings of jazz, blues, R&B, gospel and hillbilly 78s for 12 years running (his most recent just closed on Friday). A typical auction lists about 2,000 titles and of late Joel has been posting scans of some of the more rare and unusual labels, a small selection of which are shown above.

(related posts: 78 RPM Record Labels part 2, 78 RPM Record Labels part 3, Vintage Jazz Record Covers, More Vintage Jazz Record Covers, BYG Actuel Jazz LP Covers, Brazilian LP Covers, More Brazilian LP Covers, Reggae 45s, Reggae 45s Part 2, LP Cover Bonanza, Record Covers: Global Tour, Asian Pop Record Covers)

Cadillac Records (2008)

May 13, 2009

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The music of Chess Records from the 50s and 60s is some of the most incendiary in our history but very much of its time. People today may hear a Little Walter song or a Muddy Waters song and not be able to respond to it. The records were almost primally raw and really have no modern equivalent. The gift that Cadillac Records gives us is that it returns the context to this music. In an early scene when Muddy Waters and his band tear into 40 Days and 40 Nights it’s positively thrilling, just as it would have been in 1956.

Plenty of people on IMDb and elsewhere have complained about the historical inaccuracies in Cadillac Records. (In the entire history of movies I’d like to know which films “based on a true story” did not contain conflations of characters, chronological errors, and/or outright lies, in the interest of creating a saleable product… that’s right, there aren’t any.) Cadillac Records inevitably compresses events, gets details wrong, and does without some individuals (no Bo Diddley, no Phil Chess, no Marshall Chess). Yet writer and director Darnell Martin somehow is able to fit in the stories of five outsized personalities (Muddy, Walter, Howlin’ Wolf, Chuck Berry and Etta James), each a towering figure in American music, and remind us honestly why these people are important.

Musical biopics are an especially tricky business. Casting becomes ridiculously critical (who, I ask you, who is going to play James Brown? No one on earth is up to that. If it’s Spike Lee on the line, don’t pick up), and along with its beautiful set and costume design, Cadillac Records comes up a winner here pairing sure bets like Adrien Brody and Jeffrey Wright along with riskier picks like Beyonce and Mos Def. Everyone hits grace notes with their characters, including Columbus Short as the brilliant, doomed Little Walter. Having Willie Dixon (Cedric The Entertainer) as the narrative voice is spot on, and having Muddy Waters as the central thread of this story is not only inspired, but feels exactly right. Jeffrey Wright, asked to sing as well as act this titanic figure, plays him shrewdly, never pushing too hard, but always aware of his power. And miraculously, the rest of the cast rises to his level.

Asian Pop Record Covers

May 10, 2009

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While I troll for reggae 45s by The Melodians on eBay, I’m regularly finding vibrant looking records from the prolific 60s Chinese pop group Maurice Patton and The Melodians. The covers are typically dynamic, colorful, and often feature pretty girls dancing “a go go.” Not the type of product you’d expect to see coming from the regime of Chairman Mao, the Melodians were based in swinging Hong Kong. Patton & The Melodians were just one facet of the massive world of 60’s Asian pop. For a far deeper taste, check out David Greenfield’s incredible gallery of Asian Pop Records, from which the covers shown here are but a small sample. Featuring meticulous scans of hundreds of rarities from Ismail Haron & The Guys, Agnes Chan (Will The Circle Game Be Unbroken in “Stereomono”), Chan Pao Chu, Chang Siao Ying, Lotus Liew (“Miss Singapore Runner Up 1967”) and many other artists from Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Japan, the site is more evidence of the explosion of pop music around the globe in the 1960s.

(related posts: Vintage Jazz Record Covers, More Vintage Jazz Record Covers, BYG Actuel Jazz LP Covers, Brazilian LP Covers, More Brazilian LP Covers, Reggae 45s, Reggae 45s Part 2, LP Cover Bonanza, Record Covers: Global Tour)

Lady Of The Night (1925), interrupted

May 4, 2009

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Of course all praise to TCM for their early Monday morning series of silent movies. The recently aired Lady Of The Night features Norma Shearer in two roles: as the fortunate daughter (Florence) of the local judge who goes to an elite private school, and as an orphan (Molly) who is sent to reform school. They of course both grow up to resemble Norma Shearer (who is a powerhouse silent actress – I’d only previously seen her in talkies) and both fall in love with the same man, handsome young inventor David. (The ostensibly more naughty Molly struts around for most of the movie sporting one of the more absurd and impractical pieces of headwear ever seen in film, putting me in mind of Róisín Murphy’s sad/hilarious video from a couple of years ago.) David’s been seeing the streetwise Molly but when he presents his new safe-cracking invention to the judge (instead of crooks, at the behest of good-hearted Molly, and against the wishes of her squirrelly fiance “Chunky” Dunn) he falls for Florence. Inevitably Florence and Molly learn of each other (the scene in the car where they are both in the same frame still dazzles to this day) and Molly heroically surrenders David to the saintly Florence… at least that where it seems to end, but my DVR recording of it ended at the hour mark, a minute or two before the conclusion! Not available on DVD at this time, apparently I’ll have to wait until TCM gets around to showing this little charmer again and pad the timing by a few minutes. (Feel free to chime in with “spoilers” – knowing Hamlet’s going to die doesn’t ruin the play, after all.)