Letting the Inmates Run the Asylum (07/23/99)
Graham Parker, Loose Monkeys (Razor & Tie 1999) - Leave it to iconoclast Graham Parker to steer an erratic course. Loose Monkeys features 20 songs, loosely titled as "Spare Tracks and Lost Demos." Drawing primarily from the period before the excellent Mona Lisa's Sister (1988), the new album is one of Parker's strongest releases in the past several years, yet is available only over the internet.
Now with some 20 albums to his credit, Parker began as one of the angry young men in late 70's England with such albums as Howlin' Wind and Squeezin' Out Sparks. While Parker is known as a gifted songwriter and performer, he also has a legendary temper, having destroyed relations at numerous major labels during his career.
Which leads to Loose Monkeys. Parker introduces this material as follows: "People often ask me the question, 'When are you going to release the aborted Atlantic album?' For those of you who don't follow the intricate details of my professional history, I signed with Atlantic Records sometime in 1986, only to extricate myself from the contract's stifling confines less than a year later."
Tracks 1-3 are the demos that Parker submitted to land his contract with Atlantic, and include a cover of "There's a Ghost in My House," a late 60's UK hit for R. Dean Taylor, re-recorded by Parker with Brinsley Schwarz. Tracks 6-16 also come from the Atlantic sessions, and include terrific versions of "Everything Goes (Version 1)" and a song written for Parker's daughter, "Natalie."
Continues Parker, "Naturally, as the Atlantic staff showed no enthusiasm for the songs I reluctantly submitted, and my meetings with Ahmet Ertegun, the top cat at the label, grew increasingly strained and confrontational, I, being (as history will tell you) a rather surly little fellow, began to get really pissed off. Both sides dug in intractably and the only way out was out." After being released, this material disappeared for the next decade (bad career move, but then, principle always came first for Parker).
The remaining tracks are also solid, and include "Still Got My Faith," recorded for Graham Parker's Christmas Cracker in 1994-95, and "Guillotine of Guadeloupe," recorded for the Acid Bubblegum sessions and recently added to Parker's live repertoire.
Parker's one hard guy to figure out, as Loose Monkeys can only be purchased over the Internet from the Razor & Tie website. Further, the liner notes aren't included with the album: instead you need to go to Graham Parker's website.
Yet Loose Monkeys remains a compelling slice of Graham Parker, with solid songs and invigorated playing. The late 80's/early 90's were a strong period for Parker, including Live! Along in America, the critically-lauded Struck by Lightning, and his major label swan song, Burning Questions. Add Loose Monkeys to this era: Parker should put this out in record stores, and not hide it away on the Net.
Chet Atkins & Doc Watson, Reflections (Sugar Hill Records 1999) - Reflections is a sweet one-off recording from 1979 that is being released for the first time on CD. With 10 tracks, and a pleasing 27-minute duration, Reflections is one of the most accomplished folk/bluegrass albums of the year.
Doc Watson is traditional music's foremost goodwill ambassador, with 50 albums to his credit. Blending folk music with bluegrass, country, and gospel, he has been termed "as progressive as anybody I've ever heard" by fiddle player extraordinaire Mark O'Connor.
Chet Atkins has a storied pedigree in Nashville as a performer, producer, and talent scout, having rubbed shoulders with such country legends as Marty Robbins, George Jones, Tom T. Hall, and Dotti West.
Chet and Doc grew up not far removed from each other in the Great Smoky Mountains, where both were heavily influenced by the legendary guitarist Merle Travis (Doc named his son Merle and Chet named his daughter Merle).
Chet and Doc got together in Room 206 of the Spence Manor Hotel in Nashville on September 24, 1979, to pick, play, and explore each other musically and socially. The next day they went into the Music City Music Hall in Nashville to record Reflections. Joining them were Jerry Shook on rhythm guitar, Michael Coleman on electric bass, and Terry McMillan on percussion.
The undisputed stars on Reflections are Doc and Chet, sharing lead acoustic guitar and vocals. Listen for the humorous "Me and Chet Made a Record," the joyous "On My Way to Canaan's Land," and the hot picking of "Tennessee Rag/Beaumont Rag."
This music (originally released on vinyl by RCA) sounds as fresh as if it were recorded yesterday. Chet and Doc have easy and amiable personas which blend effortlessly on the album. One of the most surprising albums of the year, Reflections deserves to be enjoyed by a new generation.
Vince Bell, Texas Plates (Paladin 1999) - Texas singer/songwriter Vince Bell continues his near-miraculous comeback with Texas Plates. With his warm, earthy voice, and down-home storytelling style, Texas Plates is like the return of a long-lost friend.
And Bell's comeback is spelled with a capital "C." After extensively working the Lone Star State in the 70s with such fellow musicians as Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Nanci Griffith and Lyle Lovett, everything changed in December 1982 when Bell's car was hit by a drunk driver going more than 65 miles an hour.
Bell suffered massive injuries, including a severe head injury which produced a month-long coma. It took Bell a decade to reclaim his identity, his music, and his career. Bell tells the story in his 1998 autobiography, "One Man's Music."
Bell's first album after the accident was the somber yet critically-acclaimed Phoenix (1994). On Texas Plates, Bell provides vocals, harmonies, and guitar, and is joined by Pat Bergeson on harmonicas, Pat Buchanon on guitars and sitar, and Robin Eaton on bass and guitars. Also appearing are guest vocalists Kami Lye, Maura O'Connell, and Alex Eaton.
With songs like "Push Comes to Shove," "Best Is Yet to Come," and "Poetry, Texas," Bell shows that he's in a solid pocket: earthy voice, strong tunes, and a heartfelt delivery. For a countrified rock sound, with a little Delta coloring (like John Mohead), try Texas Plates.
- Randy Krbechek © 1999
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