This album from 1958 had a profound influence on a great many people involved with the “folk revival” in the United States during the 1960s. Elizabeth Cotten played finger-style guitar and banjo that brings to mind her much better-known contemporary, Mississippi John Hurt, rooted in cross-picking patterns related to ragtime. Cotten, like Hurt, had basically quit playing for decades before being “rediscovered” and encouraged to take up her instrument as a full-time musician. Her influence is heard in early Bob Dylan, in Taj Mahal, in some of Jerry Garcia’s more interesting work, and especially in John Fahey. Her recording of the tune “Vastopol” (a corrupted spelling of “vestapol”, the name for an open-D or open-E tuning often used in blues) could have been played by Fahey, who did in fact record the same tune. Cotten was an amazing guitarist and a bad-ass banjo picker, although her voice was less immediately likeable than, say, the soothing timbre of John Hurt. But her voice`s imperfections are also its charm.
I first heard of Elizabeth Cotton when I was sitting around strumming somebody else’s acoustic guitar after a soundcheck, playing John Hurt’s song “Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor”. I had learned that tune off a record I bought in a store in Kentucky that was closing out its vinyl cellar (an album I will most likely share here very soon). Somebody in the room asked what song it was and a minor debate ensued. On telling them it was a Mississippi John Hurt song, the owner of the guitar insisted it was an Elizabeth Cotton tune, “Freight Train.” Now, Freight Train is about as close to a “hit” song as any finger-style acoustic music could get, but at that point in my youth I was not familiar with it. And now it is obvious to me that, although it has some significant variations mostly in the rhythm, John Hurt basically stole his tune from her. It’s not big deal, since Cotten’s is still the more famous of the two songs. But Cotten herself is less known than Hurt. Why is that?
While not discounting the fact that Hurt left much more of a recorded legacy, the fact of Cotton’s gender is an obviously important factor. Notable exceptions like Memphis Minnie and Sister Rosetta Tharpe notwithstanding, the blues has always been a masculine (and often machista or misogynicstic) music genre. In any popular music women tend to be valorized for aesthetic beauty in terms of an agreeable or powerful voice and countenance and not for their instrumental prowess, even when they possess both all of these.
The scenario of Cotten’s discovery speaks volumes about the dynamics of race and sexuality in the music business, in the folk revival, and in US society at the mid-2oth century. She taught herself guitar by borrowing her brother’s instrument on the sly until she was able to manage to get her own. She only performed with her siblings in private settings for the first part of her life. She made her living working as a maid, housekeeper, and domestic servant, and was working in that capacity for none other than the Seeger family when she randomly picked up a guitar one day and began singing old songs to a young Peggy Seeger. Thus began her “rediscovery” and, essentially, patronage by Pete and Mike Seeger and the Folkways label who released her two studio albums in the late 50s and early 60s. In the final decades of her life she was able to make her living full-time as a musician, bought a house, and received accolades and awards for her cultural contributions. But she played her music to an audience composed mostly of white, educated young people who were as culturally removed from her own life experience as you could get. This is not to minimize the accomplishments of the civil rights alliances that crossed class and racial boundaries, nor the opportunities Cotton eventually had to live a reasonably comfortable life as a musician. But the question that nags at me is – How many other Elizabeth Cotten’s were out there, women who played and sang enchanting music but put it aside for pursuits “proper” to the fairer sex, who were never in the lucky position of being “discovered” by important cultural aristocrats like the Seeger’s? It’s an unanswerable question. Recording opportunities in her day required capital, technology, recognition. Thank the gods for music scholars and researchers like Seeger, Alan Lomax, and others who combed the United States hoping to document what they saw as “vanishing” traditions. But they could never capture it all, and our collective musical memories still largely depend on the contingencies of chance and positionality.
Freight Train and Other North Carolina Folk Songs and Tunes
Originally released in 1958
CD reissue, Smithsonian / Folkways (SF 40009)
1. Wilson rag 1:40
2. Freight train 2:46
3. Going down the road feeling bad 2:12
4. I don’t love nobody 1:14
5. Ain’t got no honey baby now 0:57
6. Graduation march 2:32
7. Honey baby your papa cares for you 2:15
8. Vastopol 2:10
9. Here old rattler here / Sent for my fiddle sent for my bow (Sent for my fiddle sent for my son) / Georgia Buck 3:48
10. Run…run / Mama your son done gone 2:18
11. Sweet bye and bye / What a friend we have in Jesus 3:02
12. Oh babe it ain’t no lie 4:43
13. Spanish Flang Dang 2:51
14. When I get home 2:22
Elizabeth Cotten – Freight Train and Other North Carolina Folk Songs and Tunes (1958) in 320 kbs em pee three
Elizabeth Cotten – Freight Train and Other North Carolina Folk Songs and Tunes (1958)in FLAC LOSSLESS AUDIO format
This one goes out to Agnieszka in Atlanta, may this record steam your windows up babe.
1975 Cat Records (CAT-2605)
1 Rockin’ Chair (Reid, Clarke) 3:25
2 Move Me, Baby (Alaimo, Casey) 4:55
3 He Keeps Something Groovy Going On (Reid, Kitts) 3:02
4 Let Them Talk (Thompson) 2:55
5 For Your Love (Townsend) 2:58
6 It’s Worth the Hurt (Reid) 2:21
7 90% of Me Is You (Reid) 2:52
8 It Keeps on Raining (Reid) 3:09
9 He Doesn’t Ever Lose His Groove (Hale) 2:59
10 Your Love Is Worse Than a Cold Love (Reid) 2:44 [single, CD bonus cut]
Something So Right
1976 CAT Records (CAT-2608)
1 Something So Right (Simon) 5:24
2 Tears on My Pillow (Lewis, Bradford) 4:00
3 Love Without Sex (Reid) 4:50
4 Mr. Everything (Reid) 3:42
5 Iron Woman (Reid) 4:12
6 Damn Right It’s Good (Reid) 4:00
7 Let Nature Take Its Course (Reid) 3:30
8 I’ve Got Nothing to Lose But the Blues (Reid) 4:42
Florida-native Gwen McCrae is best known for disco club rug-burners from the early 80s, but her first few long-players were cut for the southern soul label CAT records (subsidiary of TK Productions). And Southern Soul doesn’t get much better than this. It was hard for me to believe that the first of these, ‘Rockin’ Chair’, was not conceived as a cohesive record but as a collection of previously-released sides and some new material hurriedly assembled to follow up on the enormous success of that boisterous single. Let me be your rocking chair, indeed. There is not a dull moment on this record but by anyone’s reckoning “90% of Me is You” stands out in jaw-dropping soul-dripping sonic viscerality. An earlier 1973 single that did not appear on the album, “Your Love Is Worse Than a Cold Love” is a blistering anthem for anyone who has found themselves loving somebody who doesn’t know what or who they want, perhaps dividing them with someone else, and all the ambiguity, frustration, and tension that ensues. Just a beautifully perfect soul cut.
‘Something So Right’ is a much more downbeat, mellow affair that was put together in a more traditional way as an album. Two cover songs — the Paul Simon title cut, and Little Anthony & The Imperials “Tears on My Pillow” – open the album. Following that is the revolutionary “Love Without Sex” which, while written by a man and not nearly as flamboyant as Betty Davis’s work, is still a pioneering cut as far as articulating an assertive female sexuality in an industry and society dominated by men. It’s also a bad-ass song. The track “Mr. Everything” may have been written by producer Clarence Reid but it owes a flute chart to Isaac Hayes “Rock Me Easy Baby” released the same year (it could perhaps have flowed the other direction, I am not sure of the exact release dates..). The fine liner notes from Tony Rouse in this CD reissue argue that “Something So Right” is Gwen at her best, yet I still find the hodge-podge of the “Rocking Chair” LP to be a more exciting listen, especially when the non-LP singles are included with it as on this collection. Both albums are stunning and phenomenal, so much so that they testify to the injustice embedded in the politics of the record industry and its dependence on sexual and economic inequality that would keep an artist like Gwen McCrae from having – without one exceptional exception – much chart success and being lauded as the soul sensation she should have been in the 1970s. Don’t miss this one, most of the world did the first time around.
People keep asking me when this one is coming, and since it is my birthday today, I feel like giving back to the world. I could ramble on and on about how incredible this album is, or I could let it’s mysterious majestic funk speak for itself. The culmination of the preceding two albums’ forays into hermetic mysticism, alchemy, umbanda, and futebol, this album is a magnum opus and also something of a swan song — Jorge Ben would never again come anywhere close to making an album this good! I was astonished to learn last year that it has been out of print for a while. I have the old ‘Samba & Soul’ series pressing, and shared it once around the corner. I am fairly certain it has been here before too. This album is essential, essential, essential listening! And on this record, we get full musician credits:
On a good day I can see Babylonia outside my window. Its fires died out long ago like dozens of other sugar mills in this area. In the evenings the sweet acrid sent of burning cane mixes with the wood fires in the furnaces baking bricks out of the red clay soil, drifting from miles away into my house. Through my windows. Mingled with the scent of burning trash from close by. One kilometer up the road, the vast pit of scooped earth that births those bricks, the eroded remains forming mock desert formations sculpted in red clay. Red clay. When taking the bus back from the city after going to see my doctor, they are garnished with diesel fumes and singe my nostrils. I think of the old men and women who have to travel to the city for medicine and whether the ride might not be worse than simply staying home.
Quickening pulse on winding streets. Every third block an evangelist church with handfuls of people praying for my soul. Lá em baixo, lá em baixo. Seven roads, seven crosses, seven doors. Waiting, the sky is open. Angels, demons, heroes, villains. We are never one of these alone, we are all of these together. Senti sua falta.
Henryk Górecki – Symphony No.3 Opus 36
Nonesuch Records 1992
Dawn Upshaw – soprano
David Zinman – conductor
01. I. Lento – Sostenuto tranquillo ma cantabile – 26:47
02. II. Lento e largo – Tranquillissimo – 09:44
03. III. Lento – Cantabile-semplice – 17:10
One of the most gorgeous pieces of music I’ve ever heard. And this recording of it shot to the top of the classical charts.
Henryk Gorecki – Symphony No.3 (1992) in 320 kbs em pee three
Henryk Gorecki – Symphony No.3 (1992) in FLAC Lossless Audio
Monna Bell y Aldemaro Romero “La Onda Nueva en Mexico” Released 1970 on Discos Musart Reissued on VampiSoul, 2007 (Vampi CD 087)
01 – Que Bonita Es Mi Tierra (Ruben Fuentes)
02 – La Bamba (Arr. Tony Lucio)
03 – Cucurrucuccu Paloma (Tomas Mendez)
04 – El Balaju (Andres Huesca)
05 – Cielito Lindo (Arr. Tony Lucio)
06 – La Bikina (Ruben Fuentes)
07 – Guadalajara (Pepe Aguilar)
08 – Xochimilco (Ma.Teresa Lara)
09 – El Jarabe Loco (Arr. Garcia Peña)
10 – La Malagueña (Elpidio Ramirez, Pedro Galindo)
11 – La Negra (Ruben Fuentes, Silvestre Vargas)
12 – Tres Consejos (Fuentes, Cervantes)
A Venezuelan arranger, pianist, and conductor welding his country’s joropo with Bossa Nova, roping a Chilean singer as a collaborator in his schemes, and recording an album in Mexico City with a repertoire of jazzed-out Mexican compositions, shake well and add a sepia-toned album cover depicting the entire ensemble as Mexican revolutionaries. What’s not to like about this? Apparently the Mexican government of 1970 didn’t like it much as they basically squashed the album’s chances of reaching much of an audience by ‘strongly encouraging’ radio DJs not to play it. Eventually it saw a reissue with a less “controversial” front cover but by then the moment had passed.
Aldermaro Romero, a contemporary of the much weirder oddball conductor Esquivel, had come into international claim with his “Dinner in Caracas” album in the 50s. There he was credited as the catalyst for the Onda Nueva sound, a blend of traditional Latin American rhythms and melodic figures with pop music, bossa nova, jazz, and lush orchestrations. Monna Bell (born Nora Escobar) had made her name as a singer in Spain with a bunch of records, before relocating to Mexico sometime around when this album was recorded, where she would live until her death just a few years ago. The taste for Bossa Nova in Mexico City had led a lot of Brazilian musicians to take refuge there (as talked about a bit in this Carlos Lyra post) by the end of the 1960s. Monna Bell had been turned on to the new beats, as proven in this 1964 film clip from the film “Buenas Noches, Ano Novo”, in which she sings ‘Desafinado’ flanked by dancing white women who successfully hypnotize two flabbergasted black men with their circular hip swinging and willow-tree-swaying-in-the-breeze arm movements.
This videoclip has nothing at all to do with this album, but wasn’t it fun?
The original album liner notes in Spanish provide a somewhat lofty and all-over-the-place context for the emergence of these new musics through the vehicle of “transculturation” (an idea and term coined by Cuban anthropologist Fernando Ortiz in the 30s and virtually ignored by Anglophone academics until recently). La Onda Nueva en Mexico embodies these lofty ideals quite perfectly, blending the diverse elements with enough subtlety that its uniqueness is almost masked by its naturalness. Some of the musicians playing on it include: Victor Ruiz (bass), Alvaro López, Salvador and Félix Agueros (drums, percussion), Julio Vera (congas), Los 4 Soles y Gasparin (vocals), Enrique Sida and Jaime “La Vaca” Shagún (trombones), Tomás “La Negra” Rodriguez, Armando “El Kennedy” Noriega and Rodolfo “Popo” Sánchez (saxophones), Ramón Flores and Chilo Morán (trumpets), Pablo Jaimes, Jorge Ortega, Enrique Neri, and Aldemaro Romero (electric and acoustic piano). Gualberto Castro sings with Monna on “El Balajú”. Since only 3000 copies of this gem were originally pressed, good luck finding an original on vinyl (although there was a repress later in the 70s, with the aforementioned different cover). So, kudos to VampiSoul for making this one available to the world again, and enjoy La Onda Nueva en Mexico.