Thursday, April 26, 2012

Forgotten Music Thursday: Mom's Apple Pie - Mom's Apple Pie #2 (1973)

The ten piece horn-rock ensemble, Mom's Apple Pie, is remembered by record collectors more for the famously obscene cover from their first LP (1972) than they are for their music.  Let me be as delicate as possible. The artwork featuring the sexually explicit, steaming apple pie "Mom" is holding can be seen on the group's Wikipedia page and elsewhere on the Internet.  The cover of the Ohio band's second album (1973), shown here, is far more tame and mundane.

Horn bands were still all the rage in '72 and Mom's Apple Pie tried very hard to cash in. The large outfit started making some noise and they were eventually able to open for big names such as The Doobie Brothers and David Bowie. They were signed to the late Terry Knight's record company, Brown Bag Records.  He was best known for previously producing Grand Funk Railroad and Bloodrock.

The horns usually played only as a unit and hardly ever took a solo.  Their two lead singers, Tony Gigliotti and Bob Fiorino, were similarly styled, full-voiced tenors and they sounded as if the vocal trio from Three Dog Night were fronting Chicago.  Their songs were mostly self-written and revealed some obvious talent even though their lyrics weren't particularly deep and their arrangements lacked the adventurousness of the highly successful Windy City septet. An even better comparison might be Lighthouse ("One Fine Morning" and "Pretty Lady").  If you're familiar with them you'll understand Mom's Apple Pie.

I’ve owned Mom’s Apple Pie 2 since it's release but I probably haven't given it a spin in over thirty years so, while looking for inspiration for today's post, I pulled it out for a listen. The platter sounds exactly how I remembered it: pleasant, if not arty, and too middle-of the-road to be engulfed by the controversy over the cover. The music press wrote far more about that scandalous pie than they ever did about the notes that sprang from the grooves of the record so, unfortunately, the cover became an albatross that contributed heavily to their becoming a lost band of the classic rock era.

Learn more at the Mom's Apple Pie website.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Santana - Abraxas (1970)

Unique is a unique word and it's commonly misused. It means one of a kind, so when people say "very unique" or "most unique" the word is improperly employed. However, if an additional superlative was ever needed to describe an album of music it would apply to Santana's outstanding second LP, Abraxas, released in the fall of 1970. With deep apologies to Los Lobos, Los Lonely Boys, Richie Valens, and every other Santana record ever made this album has to rank as THE single greatest Latino-rock release of all time. It's also one of the greatest rock albums recorded by anyone, anywhere, anytime.

In hard rocking 1970 this platter didn't just blast away at you. It's colorful and often intricate arrangements fused rock, salsa, and jazz together and was presided over by nominal leader, Carlos Santana, who quickly became one of the best rock soloists on the scene. Santana didn't just jam. He played melodies too and the group's percussionists were among the best in the business. Congas, bongos, and timbales are everywhere.

The disc's outstanding track is the subtle but exciting "Samba Pa Ti," one of the most tasteful guitar instrumentals ever put on vinyl. It's a tune that helped me understand the meaning of virtuosity. "Black Magic Woman" was the radio hit and a top selling single. "Hope You’re Feeling Better" is the hardest rocking entry and it's the closest thing on the disc to straight ahead rock 'n roll. It could have been a hit too. The album opener, "Singing Winds, Crying Beasts" is mysterious free form music that sounds like a band being blown about in the wind and it is completely unclassifiable to a specific genre. "Oye Como Va," "Incident at Neshabur" (another instrumental), and "Se a Cabo" couldn't be more different from each other, meaning this album never runs out of fresh ideas.

Carlos Santana received most of the attention but the San Francisco sextet was full of outstanding sidemen who contributed just as much to the affair as he did. It's hard to believe that keyboardist Gregg Rolie who played on this album, and Neal Schon, who joined the band after Abraxas was completed, later left to form Journey.

The LP's title comes from Demian, a novel by Herman Hesse, and is quoted on the back cover.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Baseball Project - Volume 2: High and Inside (2011)

The Baseball Project is a quartet consisting of four rock music veterans, all of whom have staked out a nice reputation for themselves in other bands. The starting lineup is Steve Wynn, founder of the 80s band, Dream Syndicate, his wife, drummer Linda Pitmon, and recent free agent, Peter Buck of R. E. M. The clean up hitter is Scott McCaughey of The Minus Five who later became an unofficial member of Buck's late, great band during their final years together. The four assembled for this side project because McCaughey and Wynn, two huge baseball fans, decided to start a band with a unique concept. All of the songs would be about their favorite sport.

Volume 1, Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails, was released in 2008 and Volume 2, High & Inside, was released last year. Of course, dedicated baseball fans with knowledge of the sport's rich history will appreciate these two albums more than anyone else. However, because the songs are also history lessons and commentaries on life it's possible that others will find something to enjoy while listening to them too.

These four are all seasoned major leaguers so the music is top notch. Volume 2 is tightly arranged, well played, modern rock, and if you ignore the lyrics the thirteen song set can be enjoyed simply as good, alternative rock music. There are guest appearances by Steve Berlin of Los Lobos, Ben Gibbard, lead singer for Death Cab for Cutie, Craig Finn from The Hold Steady, and Ira Kaplan of Yo Lo Tengo.

Lyrically, a couple of songs are on the campy side. "Don't Call Them Twinkies" is about The Minnesota Twins and "Panda and The Freak" celebrates baseball's obsession with nicknames. The title references Pablo Sandoval and Tim Lincecum of the San Francisco Giants. Those tracks are offset by more serious fare. Several songs are about players who fell on hard times. "1976" is the sad story of the late Mark "The Bird" Fidrych who had one sensational rookie season. The following year injuries ruined his career and in 2009 he died in a freak accident. "Tony (Boston's Chosen Son)" is about the late Tony Conigliaro, another ill-fated star whose career was derailed by a bean ball that severely diminished his eyesight. He died young too, the victim of a heart attack. "Here Lies Carl Mays" is a tale about the pitcher who killed hitter Ben Chapman with a pitch to the head in 1920 before batting helmets were required. Regrettably, Mays showed very little remorse and he was reviled throughout the major leagues for the rest of his life.

There have been some very successful rock concept albums released over the years but very few concept bands who have left a positive lasting impression. The latter tend to be novelty acts with short life spans, and despite the the quality stuff on Volume 2, I believe The Baseball Project is no different. However, the band members all have substantial talent and Buck is a future hall of fame member. If they choose to remain together as a unit they can continue to be successful because all involved have displayed their ability to expand their horizons beyond their current narrow song cycle.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Is Jazz for Everybody?

It's indisputable that the musical genre known as jazz was invented by American Blacks in the deep South around a hundred years ago, mostly in and around New Orleans. As a music fan who likes some jazz I thank them for doing so. However, a long standing debate has apparently gained new momentum and it is this: should jazz be considered Black music? I pose the question because there has been increasing talk about renaming the genre Black American Music as this article from The Philadelphia Inquirer indicates.

Yes, the contributions Blacks have made to jazz are well documented and all music fans have benefited from their efforts, but Whites have also played a key role from the very beginning. As early as the 1920s cornetist Bix Biederbecke became one of the new music's premier soloists. The late thirties and World War Two was the time when swing was at its peak of popularity. It was the only time in history that jazz was also the country's most popular music. Institutional discrimination allowed the White swing bands to dominate record sales, concert ticket sales, and radio play. Jazz big bands led by Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Woody Herman, and others were all the rage, usurping the limelight that should have also included Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Jimmy Lunceford, and more. Post-war, the list of Caucasian names is also impressive. Among them are Chet Baker, Dave Brubeck, Gerry Mulligan, and Stan Getz. They shared the glory with Thelonoius Monk, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and more.

Black Americans have also had a hand in the development of rock 'n roll and it's often been said that Ike Turner recorded the first rock song ("Rocket 88"). Rock can be traced back to the same roots as jazz with a huge assist from Irish folk music (something that's worthy of a whole separate discussion) and, while White people had the upper hand in popularizing it, there were major black pioneers such as Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, and Little Richard Penniman. A decade later Jimi Hendrix became, according to many people, the greatest rock guitarist who ever walked this planet.

There have been White rappers (Vanilla Ice and Eminem), Black country singers (Charley Pride), Black pop-balladeers (Johnny Mathis) and White R & B bands (The Average White Band).

I acknowledge that Philadelphia pianist Orrin Evans, who is the featured musician in the Inquirer's article, does not advocate that jazz shouldn't be for white people too but he does lament the lack of his peers attending his concerts. It's Evans' belief that jazz needs to be marketed better to Blacks and that renaming it may attract them to the music.

In response to the original Inquirer article a letter to the editor asked if opera should be renamed White Italian Music because men from that Mediterranean country invented it. I'm sure that reader knows that Black women such as Marian Anderson, Kathleen Battle, and Leontyne Price had great careers in the genre.

It almost sounds trite but John Lennon once said, "Music belongs to everyone. It's only publishers who think that people own it." While Lennon's statement can be viewed as a naïve hippy sentiment it's also true. He was a man who loved music made by African Americans. The Beatles covered Motown, Penniman, and Berry and they practically made the late Billy Preston part of the band during the Let It Be sessions. My point in all of this is that the man from Liverpool was correct. Music does belong to everyone.

The African American people have always been acknowledged as the procreators of jazz. Jim Crow and its associated appalling social and legal mandates meant that this classy cultural phenomenon needed a great assist from other people in order to spread their art to the masses and that is why the genre is not owned by one race or ethnic group. Isn't it enough that many Americans loved jazz enough to spread the word and keep the music alive?