Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Day 16: Nat King Cole "Live at the Circle Room" Larry McCray "Born to Play the Blues"

Today is representative of just taking CDs home because I could. I knew I had to have some Nat King Cole and I in theory liked the blues, so home came these two different CDs.

This mentality is the chief contributor to the nature of the Albatross. I don't know if I ever honestly had the intention of listening to either of these CDs, but they were free and I had plenty of space in the Bus, so home they went.

There have been culls in the past, and somehow neither of these CDs were removed regardless of not having listened to them or even having the honest intention to do so. How could I get rid of a Nat King Cole album? And I had no idea what the blues CD sounded like, and didn't have the time to listen to it, so it got a stay too.

Well, today the CDs are redeemed as I at the very least give them the listening they deserved years ago.

Nat King Cole Trio
Live at the Circle Room
Right off the bat, I'm stunned at how many of these CDs are expensive now. This one new is almost $40, used $10.

This is a live broadcast of a radio program, apparently. There certainly isn't any of that "24 bit remastering" going on here. The recording is presented hiss and all, with all the clanking and chatting of the attendees in the background as well.

Wait, I have to stop here and make sure I just heard this set of lyrics right...

"Baby let bygones be bygones / I'll punch a hole in your nylons / because if you can't smile and say yes / please don't cry and say no."

I'll admit, I'm a little disturbed.

Anyway... this also has the announcer on the recording, something I looked for in my collection. I've been mentioning this and trying to figure out exactly what it is I expected to do with the recordings that had narration on them... honestly, I don't know.

The Singles buyer at the store would make mix tapes of top singles for in-store play every now and then, but, even better, he would make 'mix tapes' for other workers and each one of them was coveted. He had a knack for taking other tracks and mixing the music and sound effects in fairly awesome ways. He was doing mash ups long before the internet made me aware of them again. I'm not going to say 'before anyone else,' just before I knew of anyone doing them. The hands-down favorite was when he took the Star Wars book on tape from the moment Luke Skywalker destroys the Death Star and had that fade into the song Cocaine by JJ Cale. I have to admit I do pale imitations of those mix tapes now when I make a CD for someone, but his were absolute master pieces. To this day, I can't watch Star Wars without humming Cocaine at the end or hear Cocaine without thinking of Star Wars. So I guess my obsession with gathering these announcers was to emulate the master of mix tapes, our Singles buyer.

There is no drummer in this trio, just piano, bass, and guitar.  It's pretty much as you'd expect, Cole's voice is smooth and pleasant, the playing good. A trio of this nature doing the usually bombastic Basie piece One O'Clock Jump is a little strange. He repeats My Sugar is So Refined and Oh But I Do...I wonder if it's because he feels like no one is paying attention anyway - you can hear the crowd noise picking up in the background. A ringing cash register has become the replacement percussion.

I find myself trying to pick out conversations on the headphones, especially during the instrumental parts.

Larry McCray
Born to Play the Blues
Right off the bat there are two flags while I wait for this one to download. First, I'm always a little uneasy with blues artists who want the blues. I know this is an ambiguous point, but I prefer my blues to be a completely shitty situation that the singer doesn't want but what can they do, they got the blues right down to their bones.

Second is the Flying V guitar on the back cover. I can't help but associate that with cheese ball rock from the 80s. Let's see how this goes...

Well, after the initial fake out of the opening of the title track that, for a moment, led me to believe that it was going to be just him and the guitar, which would have been awesome, the 'big blues' sound isn't that bad, really. No horns so far, but a big Hammond B-3 sound and drums that are too closely miced.

There's a nice write up here in the liner notes, about McCray working the GM assembly line in Michigan while playing blues on the side before he 'made it', from Niles Frantz of WBEZ Chicago/FM...the station that This American Life comes from. That doesn't really have anything to do with anything, except now I have a kind of nerdy Ira Glass in my head telling me hard knock stories of the blues. I have to say, awesome. I would pay good money (or bad, I don't care) to watch Ira Glass, Bluesman.

See this is what I'm talking about, I Feel So Damn Good (I'll be Happy When I Got the Blues). I mean, I get it, he's so used to being down that he feels uncomfortable feeling up, but it just doesn't have the same pain-induced ring of someone down wanting to be up--fantasizing about driving big ol' Cadillacs instead of fantasizing about when he'll be bummed again. I guess there's a chance he spent a fair amount of time building Cadillacs, sort of would suck the joy out of that...

All in all, this kind of blues, the self labeled 'rock-blues,' takes too much pain to mention the blues. I Was Born to Play the Blues, I Feel So Damn Good (I'll be Happy When I Got the Blues), Same Old Blues, Worried Down with the Blues. Blues has never been shy of putting 'blues' in the title, but in rock-blues it always seems forced.

An interesting reversal from Stormy Monday, considering that Monday is going to be the traveling bluesman's day off after he gets paid, so it's a Sunny Monday. Nice take.

I'll grant that my 'complaints' amount to complaining that it's not exactly the flavor of Ben & Jerry's you like...it's still pretty good. If they were playing at the bar, I'd buy another beer and hear their second set.

One of the things you can hope for from this kind of blues albums is a good road song, and I Wonder is shaping up to be one, with it's opening guitar figure. That's key to a good road song, a good opening figure.

I like these little shifts that happen in the narrative, "You made me turn my back on my very best friend / and while my back was turned you were messin' around with him." I'm sure there's a term for that, where one turn of phrase is then turned to mean another one. I just don't know what it is, I just like it when I see it.

Awesome. Twice I dated a woman across a river, I could have used a song called That Woman Across the River...

I like it when the day's random selections have something line up, like songs about shoes or in this case, sugar based puns in songs about one's 'baby.'

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