Exploring the Wall of Brian

You don’t collect 1,300 CDs, 1,200 records, piles of cassettes and hundreds of 45s without chasing a bunch of tangents. Months, even years, spent on jags of listening to country blues, Chicago blues, Motown, Memphis soul, bluegrass, punk, honky tonk, psychedelic and garage rock – anything but opera.

U-turns come with the territory, as you find yourself listening to bands once sneered at. Which is how I find myself downloading Grateful Dead torrents and debating to myself (for chrissakes, I’m not going to do it in public) whether 1970 was better than 1972. And then having no defense when the tolerant woman I married says, “Do you really need another ‘Playing in the Band?’”

“But they’re from different concerts …” ” I pathetically reply, knowing a well-made point when I hear one. Shamed but inspired, I delve into the shelves lining the wall near my desk, pulling CDs and vinyl not often played but mostly well remembered.

Most every album in the stacks has hit me in some way or at some time over the years. Sure, I’ve got my Stones, Doors, Cream, Clash, Pistols, Nirvana and many more that any music fan hears. This blog may cover those if the mood strikes, but music less-often heard will be its main focus. New or old, known or unknown the albums written about will share this: they move me, man. So here are a couple that do just that.

MIRACLES, Colony Collapse (Creative Capitalism, 2009) — Keyboards, drums and bass — who needs anything more when they combine for something this propulsive and throbbing. Synths, from singer Adam Stolorow, kick off most songs, but Baxter Holland’s bass bounces and pounces around the keyboards, with drums skittering and crashing around both. It’s atmospheric and proggy but not celebral and distant.

“Pioneers” begins with a hard, wobbling organ sound, then drums dance in, setting the table for Stolorow’s declaration that “we’ll call ourselves the first ones.” “Two of a Kind” is gentler, with Stolorow’s plaintive voice out front, matching the open spaces of the music and Holland’s Joy Division-like bass. An echoing, speedy keyboard pulse fuels “Hunting Without Heads,” while a droning synth and monstrous bass bring the thunder to “Spells.” Fast or slow, all of it on Colony Collapse goes straight to your skull and down to your feet.

THE ALADDIN RECORDS STORY (Capitol 1994) — History lessons are rarely this much fun. During its 16-year run from 1945 to 1961, the Los Angeles independent label danced in step to — and pioneered — the rhythm and blues of the times. Deep blues, doo wop, jazz, horn-driven big band, sweet vocal groups, the stirrings of soul, racing rock ’n’ roll and more filled Aladdin’s roster as black music moved from big band to small band jump blues and on to rock and soul. This 53-song collection, out of print for years, recently became available by download from iTunes, Amazon and other sites. Here are a few favorites but it’s all good.

Blues: Gatemouth Brown’s sad, swinging “Guitar in My Hand”; Aladdin regular Lightnin’ Hopkins’ stinging “Shotgun Blues”; the sultry “Drifting Blues” of Charles Brown; the ever-smoky sounds of Floyd Dixon on “Telephone Blues” and “Call Operator 210”; and the raunchy delight of Piano Red’s “Dirty Mother Fuyer.”

Jumping R ’n’ B: “Chicken Shack Boogie” by Amos Milburn, “Dad Gum Ya Hide Boy” by Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five, “Be Baba Leba” by Helen Humes and the Bill Doggett Octet, “Flying Home” by Illinois Jacquet; and “I Got Loaded” by Peppermint Harris.

The singers and vocal groups: The nasally, ever-rocking Shirley and Lee “Let the Good Times Roll” and “Feel So Good”; the Five Keys, smooth and bluesy with “Too Late” and “The Glory of Love” and jumping on “Hucklebuck With Jimmy” and “I’m So High”; Gene and Eunice’s “Ko Ko Mo (I Love You So)”; Marvin and Johnny’s “Yak Yak” and “Smack Smack”; and Thurston Harris’ classic “Little Bitty Pretty One.”

Blow, man, blow: Before guitars conquered the world, saxophone was out front leading the charge. So here there’s the “Way Down Boogie” of Jimmy Binkley (with vocals by Harold Burrage); “Rockin’ at Cosmo’s,” a fine slice of New Orleans by legend Lee Allen; and “King Kong” by Big “T” Tyler. Those stand out but saxes rip, snort and wail all over this collection.

Whether by big name or no name, Aladdin’s story is a fine chance to hear what all the honking and shouting was about as the blues had a baby and named it rock ’n’ roll.

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One response to “Exploring the Wall of Brian

  1. Let me be the first to say, looks good and looking forward to future musings, ramblings and highly opinionated comments. And yes, for some of us, Ian Hunter is one of the Gods!

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