Keep or Cull – Jonah Jones’ Along Came Jonah

Born in 1909, Jonah was nearly sixty when he landed at Motown for a couple of LPs in the late 60s, starting with this one.

IMG_20200318_130341You might think, based on that title, that he does Along Comes Mary, a top ten hit for The Association.

He does not.

Instead, the jazz trumpeter does a mix of then-contemporary pop hits, jazz standards, and a couple of Motown songs.

And the results are… well, pleasant enough.

For example, here’s his take on My Girl.

 

Nice, but not revelatory.

The same is true for the rest of the songs.

IMG_20200318_130405On For Once in My Life, Jonah (who sings it) and the backing musicians slow the tempo down a bit, leaning more into the reflective nature of the lyric, and thus giving it more of a lounge sound.

On Love is Blue, Jonah does his best impersonation of Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass.

On I Say a Little Prayer, the band starts with a little allusion to Walk on By before he comes in for a measured take on the Bacharach classic.

And on The End of Our Road, he and the backing musicians, likely the Funk Brothers, very nearly veer into the kind of funk that Jr. Walker traded in, although the results here are cleaner and brighter.

In many ways, it is the epitome of a sixties album in that it gives you a survey of the current scene in a way that is clearly meant to appeal to nearly anyone.

But despite the sweetness of Jones’ tone, which does hearken back to the swing era, and the 60s arrangements, not much really stands out.

And what does is more for novelty sake, such as the string laden stroll through the Beatles Michelle, which closes out the set.

You get the sense that someone wanted Jones to be hip, but not too hip, and faithful to his legacy, but not really draw on it to his benefit.

So it never really comes on.

And that makes it a cull for me.

 

Scott Walker – The Plague

The plague Walker is referencing is the plague of desire.

Of wanting and needing.

But in these times, it is hard not to hear ‘every day I’ve got to fight the plague’ as summarizing our lives now.

Oddly relegated to a b-side back in the day, the song is a stunning what if, suggesting Walker could have pursued a heavier, almost rock, sound slightly in keeping with his contemporaries.

And yet, it does point the way to something like Cue, which appears to be about a pandemic, and is far, far more bleak, and bleakly funny, than The Plague.

If you are ever sourcing music for a horror film, you could do worse than to incorporate this at a key moment…

Keep or Cull – Silver Convention

Today, kids, we are putting on our dancing shoes and heading for the Silver Convention, which sounds more like a gathering of cutlery collectors than a band name.

For a brief moment, the group, which essentially started as a studio project conceived in West Germany by the writing/production team of Sylvester Levay and Michael Kunze, ruled the airwaves and the discos with a couple of really, really big hits.

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Their first hit, Save Me, was popular enough in the UK that Levay and Kunze had to put a group together, with Penny McLean, Ramona Wulf, and Linda G. Thompson serving as the Silver Connection despite the fact that different singers, including Roberta Kelly, who went on to score a few disco hits herself with Zodiacs.

But it was Fly, Robin, Fly, a song so lyrically concise at just six words that it made The Ramones seem prolix by comparison, that went to number one on the Billboard charts in late 1975.

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I won’t deny that Fly, Robin, Fly is wonderfully sublime in its very simple way, and it is kind of perverse that a song that is little more than a five-minute vamp with exhortations for a robin to fly up to the sky managed to soar up the charts.

But a little of that goofy charm goes a very long way.

Especially over the course of a long-playing record.

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Take Tiger Baby, which runs 4 minutes and change but has twice as many words as Fly, Robin, Fly but probably half the inspiration, and a tiger growl that sounds like someone snoring.

But listening to these songs, you kind of understand why there are stereotypes about German engineering because the disco grooves have a crispness, a preciseness, that makes them get over despite their rigid adherence to formula.

Once in a while, Kunze and Levay trade the disco for the bedroom, slipping into something comfy like Please Don’t Change the Chords of This Song, which you may have noticed packs more words into its title than Fly, Robin, Fly does in its five-minute run time.

But for the most part, they are content to knock out string-laden dance songs so inscrutable, it seems churlish to ask questions like what the ‘it’ is in a song like I Like it.

If you like disco and songs that don’t demand much of you beyond dancin’ and lovin’, this has certain bubblegum charms.

But outside of those contexts, the Silver loses some of its luster.

So this and the album that featured their other monster hit, Get Up and Boogie (that’s right!) are culls for me.

Keep or Cull – John O’Banion

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Thrift stores are kind of great fodder for a blog about albums.

In part because LPs tend to be priced so affordably that if you see something you don’t know, you have incentive to try it since it isn’t a huge drain on your wallet.

I had no idea who John O’Banion was before seeing this in a goodwill bin.

Based on the cover, I’d have guessed vaguely country or singer-songwriter, but nope.

Most of the songs on this 1981 Elektra album were written by Joey Carbone and/or Richie Zito.

Although Zito has worked with folks like Neil Sedaka and Elton John, he scored his biggest success producing sleek radio pop rock for folks like Heart, Eddie Money, Bad English, and Cheap Trick.

Carbone’s credentials range from session work for Rod Stewart and Cher, to music director for Star Search, to crafting the theme to It’s Gary Shandling’s Show.

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The album is very much an early 80s pop rock album.

In fact, the very first song Love You Like I Never Loved Before sounds very much in the vein of Huey Lewis and the News’ If This is It.

Many other songs vaguely remind me of Foreigner, but not quite with that band’s signature hooks, although O’Banion does sound slightly like Lou Gramm.

One or twice, the album veers more toward pop, like the vaguely post disco champagne fizz of If You Love Me or the romantic balladry of Love is In Your Eyes.

There is even a cover of Walk Away Renee that reminds me of the contemporaneous TV theme work of Mike Post, which is to say that the bittersweetly baroque 60s song becomes a bit bombastic.

Love You Like I Never Loved Before – one of seven songs with the word love in the title – was a top 40 hit, but that was about it for his chart action in the US.

He acted a bit, recorded a bit more, and died just a few days shy of his 60th birthday in 2007.

That story is kind of sad.

But this album doesn’t really resonate with me.

It is well crafted, but nothing really stands out or transcends the formulations of radio friendly pop rock.

And so it’s a cull for me.

 

 

 

A Girl Called Eddy – Been Around

‘Girl, where you been?’

That is the question people have been asking since Erin Moran (no, not that one) dropped her first full-length under her A Girl Called Eddy nom de plume.

Fifteen years and change later, she has finally released her follow-up, and it was almost worth the wait.

I mean, it is an absolutely stunning set of Brill Building-inspired brilliance tempered with that early 70s singer-songwriter bittersweetness that rose from Laurel Canyon.

And the words ‘Girl, where you been?’ are the first you hear on the album’s gorgeously sumptuously melancholic opener, Been Around.

It’s a slow, considered taking of stock, one that you could imagine coming from everyone from Carole King to Aimee Mann.

And yet, it doesn’t quite sound like anyone else.

It does, much like her first album, sound like something from a time before now.

Something overlooked back in the day.

Something that has, indeed, been around.

Which may be why the song is content to take its time, to keep building up, to offer truisms and observations about how even when you are broken,  you can still turn a situation around.

‘If losers never quit then I’m thoroughly equipped to keep on,’ she sings, in a way that suggests you can too.

I hope she does.

And that it doesn’t take another 15 years what she’s been up to and where she’s been.