Terry Callier – Occasional Rain (1972)

Terry Callier
Occasional Rain
Cadet Records, 1972
This reissue, 2008 Verve (B0011107)

 1. Segue No. 1 – Go Ahead On
2. Ordinary Joe
3. Golden Circle
4. Segue No. 5 – Go Head On
5. Trance On Sedgewick Street
6. Do You Finally Need A Friend
7. Segue No. 4 – Go Head On
8. Sweet Edie. D
9. Occasional Rain
10. Segue No. 2 – Go Head On
11. Blues For Marcus
12. Lean On Me
13. Last Segue – Go Head On

    Bass – Sydney Simms
Contralto Vocals – Shirley Wahls
Drums – Robert Crowder
Engineer – Gary Starr
Guitar – Terry Callier
Harpsichord, Organ, Producer – Charles Stepney
Piano – Leonard Pirani
Soprano Vocals – Kitty Haywood, Minnie Riperton

Recorded at: Ter-Mar Recording Studios, Chicago, Illinois.


This Sunday past I heard from a friend that Terry Callier had passed away at his home in Chicago.  I don’t know why or how when some performer’s leave us, they leave behind a bigger sense of loss than others.  Maybe it’s because with Terry there was always the feeling that he still had a lot more to say, and maybe the assumption that he would just keep on saying it at his own leisurely pace.  The news is too sudden for me to digest fully.

Whenever a person hears a Terry Callier record, they ask themselves how it is that they had never heard him before that moment.  Of course there are plenty of artists who never got their due during their lifetime, but it is hard to fathom how Terry’s early records could have been eclipsed by so much pedestrian music of lesser quality at the time.  At least his story had happier ending, with his work finding recognition many years later and drawing him out of musical retirement to make a handful of satisfying records.  Not to diminish his second flowering, but his albums on the Cadet label will always be the ones many of us cherish the most.  There just hasn’t been anything quite like them before or since.

Although I have tended to favor “What Color Is Love”, probably because ‘Dancing Girl’ was the first of his songs I ever heard, the album Occasional Rain (which preceded it, but only slightly) is really every bit it’s equal, and set the tone for the rest of his career.  How could any artist put out two records of this astounding caliber in the same year?  This one has almost a concept-record feel to it due to the songs being strung together by acoustic guitar/vocal segments of folk blues (“Go Head On”) that recall Terry’s coffee-house days (captured on the album “The New Folk Sound…”)  His voice still has the heavy vibrato, a common enough trait among folk singers of the 60s, but the similarilty pretty much begins and ends there.   The Cadet recordings show the flowering of Callier’s participation in Jerry Butler’s songwriting workshop in Chicago.   The song “Do You Finally Need A Friend” actually debuted the previous year on the fantastic “Jerry Butler Sings Assorted Songs With The Aid of Assorted Friends and Relatives” (Mercury ST-61320) on which he also appears uncredited along with Curtis Mayfield.   Butler also has a writing credit on  “What Color Is Love” and workshop members Larry Wade and Charles Jones contribute to that album as well as this one.

Looking at those album credits I got to thinking that we should just be grateful we had Terry Callier walking amongst us mere mortals for as long as we did.  Jumping out off the page were two names of his colleagues who left us far, far too young. Keyboardist, producer and arranger Charles Stepney, who would later work with Earth Wind & Fire on their most interesting records and was also a  founding member of The Rotary Connection, died in his 30’s from a heart attack.  And then there is fellow Rotary alumnus Minnie Riperton, who I had never really noticed in the credits until Sunday, and who sings beautifully as always in Stepney’s choral arrangements.  She died in her 30’s from breast cancer.  Another Rotary Connection member, Shirley Wahls, also sings on the record.  Phil Upchurch, one of Cadet’s ubiquitous session players, is absent from this session but would play on Terry’s two following efforts with great results.

Stepney deserves massive amounts of credit for the power of this album and Terry’s other Cadet recordings.  And he has received that credit, especially from Terry himself.  If you need convincing, you can check out earlier versions of some of these songs on the collection “First Light.”  Those versions are impressive because they show the intensity of Callier’s songwriting and highlight (by virtue of his absence) just how much Stepney helped him realize his musical vision.  “Occasional Rain” is the most ‘produced’ of his three Cadet albums, but that isn’t a negative in this case because these are artists on the same wavelength.   (Contrast this with the desultory rerecordings of some of these songs on the Electra release “Turn You To Love.”) The psychedelic baroque-pop of Ordinary Joe probably has Stepney’s “producer’s stamp” most clearly on it, opening the record with strong stylistic overtones of Rotary Connection and mixed as if it could be a huge hit.   But this was no ordinary song, and too extraordinary and unclassifiable for mass consumption even in an era of relative experimentation in popular music.  Groovy harpsichord and some churchy organ; that infectiously catchy melody – how could this song NOT be huge in a fair world?  Maybe it was the brilliant lyrics and vocal delivery that swings from soul, to scat singing, to a blues shout.  It was just too real for the radio.  As a lyricist-poet Callier had a special talent for oscillating between earthy grit, tender nuance, and cosmic musings, sometimes all in the same song.  The intimacy of “Golden Circle,” the darker burned-out realism of “Trance On Sedgewick Avenue” – Terry could make ordinary moments into something transcendent, then turn around and translate the abstract and spiritual into familiar, achingly human terms in the next tune.    And it is no hyperbole to call him a genuine poet.  You could try just reading the words to “Occasional Rain” to a room full of people and hear their cadence, see how they work as compositions even separated from the music:

There was rain today
And crystal blue was hidden by a cloudy gray
A sudden shower come to chase the sun away
Occasional rain
Damn the weatherman
He seems to work against me any way he can
And he’s been dealing tear-drops since the world began
And occasional pain

And blue you, don’t believe I’m talking to you

The light is shining through you- still you will not see
Blue you- think I’m trying to undo you
When I only want to seek the Truth
And speak true

I can’t tell you when

But someday soon we’ll see the sun re-born again
And there’ll be light without as well as light within
And occasional rain 

Fucking brilliant, isn’t it?

The record closes with the majestic “Lean On Me” that is arranged like a series of crescendos leading to one massive climax.  It is kind of ironic that this record was released the same year as Bill Wither’s massive hit of the same title and of similar sentiments.

Speaking of which, the irony did not escape me of listening to this record over and over while the entire northeastern seaboard of the US was being drenched by a hurricane.  It also struck me how listening to Terry Callier is like being sheltered from the storms of the world.  His work had a certain warmth in common with other writers from the frigidly cold metropolis of Chicago, placed at the crossroads of Memphis and Detroit, New York and L.A., always a few steps removed the hype and the drama, and always carrying himself with grace.

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Jimmy McGriff – Countdown (1983)

Jimmy McGriff
1983, Milestone  (M-9116)

1. I’m Walkin’ (Domino and Bartholomew)
2. Holly (Jimmy Mcgriff)
3. Down For The Count (Frank Foster)
4. Blow Your Horn (Benny Green)
5. Since I Fell For You (Buddy Johnson)
6. Shiny Stockings (Frank Foster)

Clifford Adams, Jr – trombone
Marshall Keys – alto sax
Arnold Sterling – alto and tenor sax
Jimmy McGriff – organ
Melvin Sparks – guitar
Vance James – drums

Produced by Bob Porter
Engineer – Rudy Van Gelder
Recorded on April 27 and 28, 1983

Vinyl ; Pro-Ject RM-5SE turntable (with Sumiko Blue Point 2 cartridge, Speedbox power supply); Creek Audio OBH-15; M-Audio Audiophile 192 Soundcard ; Adobe Audition at 32-bit float 192khz; Click Repair light settings; individual clicks and pops taken out with Adobe Audition 3.0 – resampled (and dithered for 16-bit) using iZotope RX Advanced. Tags done with Foobar 2000 and Tag and Rename.

Organ combos are often a whipping-boy for jazz purists.  Seated behind an instrument with limited emotional range, organists were perhaps in the forefront of artists who extended the jazz tradition of dipping into the “great tradition of popular song” of Cole Porter or Gershwin and looking to the contemporary hit parade to produce jazzed up versions of Carol King, Burt Bacharach, Ray Charles or funkier fare like Sly Stone and Motown, earning the ire of critics who lambasting this ‘pandering’ to commercial trends.  By the nineteen-seventies the funky soul-jazz record was so ubiquitous that it seemed like a handful or artists were able to crank them out quicker than hotcakes from a griddle and with about as much variety.  Even if I personally love most of this stuff, I acknowledge that, as one of my friends Stumpy McFinn (a pseudonym) put it regarding his own feelings for these records, “A little goes a long way.”

So as the golden age of soul-jazz and jazz-funk faded away, where did it leave some of the people who made a healthy livelihood from it and left us some great records like “The Worm,” “Electric Funk,” and “Groove Grease”?   With a recording date of 1983, I braced myself for lower expectations when I picked up this record cheap as dirt, and instead found myself liking it quite a bit.   Relieved not to find McGriff trading in his Hammond for a Fairlight synth or strutting around the stage with a “keytar,” he instead retrenches his roots more than he’d done since his days on Sue Records.  The repertoire is anything but contemporary, leading off with a New Orleans stroll by way of Fats Domino’s hit “I’m Walkin'”, whose vamp outro might be the funkiest thing on the record.  The album embraces a big band sound with small group arrangements, written in a way to create aural illusions that, as McGriff said to the Newark Star-Ledger reporter whose story comprises the liner notes, uses “close harmonies and voicings to make you hear some things that aren’t really there.”  Two selections are Frank Foster tunes from the songbook of the Count Basie Orchestra, “Down For the Count” and “Shiny Stockings,” and the slow blues “Since I Fell For You” has me wanting to burst out into the lyrics —

You made me leave my happy home
You took my love, and now you’re gone
Since I fell for you 

The sideman on this date all hold their own but the potential show stealers are guitarist Melvin Sparks and trombonist Clifford Adams (member of Kool & The Gang and a presence on some of my favorite soul-jazz efforts from the likes of Charles Earland and Lonnie Liston Smith).  Adams gets to trade riffs with saxophonists Marhsall Keys and Arnold Sterling on “Blow Your Horn,” the most driving tune here which also happens to have been written by legendary trombonist Bennie Green.  Drummer Vance James is a no-frills player who holds down the shuffles and the swing with aplomb; he also played on records by frequent McGriff collaborator Hank Crawford during the 80s and 90s.  The sound on this record is wonderfully full-bodied, with Rudy Van Gelder behind the board, and “production” limited to a splash of reverb on the horns.  There may be no surprises or blinding flights of inspiration on this album, but there are no gimmicks either.  A solid low-key listen for a lazy Sunday like today.

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Re-ups Pt 2 – Oct 13


Marcos Valle – Samba Demais (1963)
Gato Barbieri – Bolivia (1973)
Pinduca – Muito Pinduca (1979)
Candeia – Candeia (1970)
Elis Regina – Como E Porque (1969)
Doug Carn – Infant Eyes (1971) 

Some fixed links for the next batch of RE-UPS!
Most by request, a couple by design.  I have so much stuff to post about that isn’t here yet, but it’s good housekeeping to fix the old stuff too.  The Pinduca collection reminds me I have a bunch of his stuff on the burner along with Verequete, Aldo Sena, Antônio Vieira and other stuff.

Silvio Caldas – Madrugada, 1935 – 1938 (1968 LP)

Silvio Caldas
LP released 1968 on Imperial (IMP 30107)
Recordings, 1935-38

A1         Chão De Estrelas     (1937)
A2         Arrependimento         (1935)
A3         Arranha-Céu         (1937)
A4         Inquietação         (1935)
A5         Madrugada         (1936)
A6         Minha Palhoça         (1935)
B1         Quase Que Eu Disse     (1935)
B2         Pastorinhas         (1937)
B3         Confessando Que Te Adoro (1937)
B4         Professora         (1938)
B5         Choro Por Teu Amor     (1937)
B6         Nunca Mais         (1936)

This post is dedicated to minha sereia no outro lado do mar, Marta.  Veja que tô em baixo tua janela.

Needledrop info: Vinyl -> Pro-Ject RM-5SE turntable (with Sumiko Blue Point 2 cartridge, Speedbox power supply); Creek Audio OBH-15; M-Audio Audiophile 192 Soundcard ; Adobe Audition at 32-bit float 192khz; Click Repair light settings; individual clicks and pops taken out with Adobe Audition 3.0 – resampled (and dithered for 16-bit) using iZotope RX Advanced. Tags done with Foobar 2000 and Tag&Rename.

I have a recurring dream where I am walking the streets of Santa Teresa alone at night.  It’s late and there’s nobody really around, just a few stray couples in the scattered restaurants and cafes. Sometimes I am following the old trolley rails, the bondê that still runs there, and sometimes just walking freely, but always climbing and descending, climbing and descending the old hills of that neighborhood.  I drink deeply of the bucolic air, a few degrees cooler and more refreshing here than elsewhere in the city, and as I turn a corner I hear a faint trace of a song.  In those hills on an otherwise silent evening it is difficult to gauge the providence of such sounds, how near or how far their source, and this  uncertainty is only amplified in dreams. But the wind carries the notes of a flute from some stray window, balanced above a slowly strummed guitar  and a muted cavaquinho.  The road twists around further and I am greeted by one of Santa Teresa’s breathtaking views, an ocean of city lights undulating below me, crowned with wisps of cloud blown in off the sea and backlit by moonlight.  An then, overpowering all of it, soars the voice of Silvio Caldas, that vozeirão, and the words of Orestes Barbosa like a broom sweeping me away on their Chaõ de Estrelas.

This LP is a late-60s compilation of classic recordings originally on 78 rpm discs.  As was typical for the Imperial label, the jacket contains no useful information whatsoever, but I’ve cobbled together the most likely recording dates of the songs by consulting the Dicionário Cravo Albin da MPB.  Caldas recorded many of these songs multiple times but these all seem to be the original versions, with quite a few of them being the A and B sides of the same 78.

Silvio Caldas is most usually thought of as the godfather of seresta or serenata, a genre of music whose Iberian name is a linguistic cousin of the English “serenade.”  Seresta is indeed music meant to be played late at night beneath the window of would-be lover, sung with voices pregnant with unironic romanticism and copious amounts of vibrato.  As a genre it is also related to the modinhas, lundus, and choros that also play a part in the origins of samba, and all of which are felt in the repertoires of the other big stars of Brazil’s “Golden Era” like Francisco Alves and Orlando Silva.   But although he is immortalized as “O Serresteiro” (incidentally, the name of an LP on the Recife-based Mocombo label that I stupidly passed up buying once…), Silvio was also an ace at singing sambas and marchinhas.  This brief little LP collection represents those styles well here too.  The immortal sambista Noel Rosa contributed the upbeat Pastorinhas, and Ary Barroso wrote the philosophical paean to romantic suffering and equanimity, Inqueitação.  The lyrics to Inquietação are brilliant, but it’s the partnership between Caldas and Orestes Barbosa for which most people remember Silvio the Seresteiro.  Orestes Barbosa was an established poet, writer of crônicas, and critic back in the days when those roles didn’t exclude active participation in popular music.  He wrote a an enormous amount of song lyrics, collaborating with the likes of Noel Rosa, Francisco Alves, Hervé Cordovil, and others.  But it is the stunning Chão de Estrelas with Silvio Caldas that most people associate with his name today, and at the time it even drew compliments from modernist poet Manuel Bandeira.   The song has been rerecorded countless times from artists as diverse as Maysa to Os Mutantes.  It has that rare perfect fusion of melody and words that is instantly recognizable in anyone’s interpretation.  It’s worth noting that the lyrics are truly written as poem, without a single line or stanza repeated throughout.   Unfortunately the only other collaborations from the pair featured on this collection are “Arranha-céu” and “Quase que eu disse.”

The production on these old records from the 30s was incredible as well.  In an interview at SESC during the 1990s, Silvio went on a bit about the luxuries afforded to artists in modern recording studios, and how back in his day they had none of that.  It was a bunch of people crammed into a tiny little room and arranged around a single microphone.  Then it is all the more impressive that the results usually had such a great balance of instruments and voice.  The version of Chão de Estrelas here not only sounds great but has an especially effective execution, with all the instruments taking their lead from Silvio’s vocal and guitar, at times dragging the beat and giving the arrangement an unhurried feel that I haven’t heard on any subsequent recordings (including Silvio’s) that tend to play it with straight meter.   Some of the tunes here have piano as well.  Sometimes it sounds like they had to put the piano in the hallways outside the sound booth, which may well have been the case! On other tunes like Arranha-céu the piano is up front in the mix.  Another arrangement I love comes early in the collection: Arrependimento (Silvio Caldas – Cristovão de Alencar), which is driven along by pandeiro, the only percussion instrument to feature on most of these recordings.  The aural gooseflesh moment comes about halfway through, when Silvio sings “ai, meu deus” before a slight pause in the music after which the full band comes back in with exquisite vocal harmonies to sing the next verse.  These ‘época de ouro’ songs were almost didactic lessons in musical and poetic economy, little essays packed into three minutes or less.

This needledrop was done close to a year ago when my setup was different, and as tempting as it was to start all over with my improved system, I just don’t have time.  Although my current soundcard has a lower noise floor and the capacity for a higher sampling rate, the nature of the source material is such that I think it would be a case of diminishing returns — this is, after all, an LP that used 78s as their source material and is quite noisy to begin with.