Yep, still here.
Been a while since I posted, I know, and as much as I’d like to call it a “Spring Break”, it really wasn’t. It was more like my head getting in the way of my ears (and fingers, as it were). Life simply got in the way.
I’ve been unemployed now for over a year – just hit 16 months, actually – and the doldrums firmly took over. The soul-sucking job hunt (if I hear “over-qualified” one more time…), the fruitless attempts at entering a different line of work (if I hear “under-qualified” one more time…), the joys of unemployment insurance, and a do-nothing, virtually incompetent Congress intent on eternally freezing extensions and insisting the unemployment rate is forever at a “new low” (yet I know five people in the same boat, and they know five people, and so on…); it all just sapped my creative flow.
But, what did not weaken was my thirst for music. Now, granted, I can’t just buy anything on a whim like I used to – at least not until gainful employment re-enters my life – but I have been revisiting and rediscovering old “friends”, along with some new ones (new to me, anyway).
The one indulgence I budgeted for was the recent spate of Led Zeppelin reissues. I opted for the 2 CD Deluxe Editions, since I am not a vinyl regressor, and the term “high resolution” when being ascribed to “Classic Rock” is an oxymoron akin to “Jumbo Shrimp”. I have read both glowing and harsh reviews, and personally lean toward the glowing end of the spectrum. I think the sound of the albums proper are the best we’ll ever get out of those old tapes – and in the case of Led Zeppelin III, so vast an improvement that it reversed my previous ho-hum opinion of the album in one revealing listen. The bonus concert appended to Led Zeppelin I is horrible in sound and adds virtually nothing to the proceedings. The bonus disc of Led Zeppelin II contains interesting alternate takes (“Ramble On” is probably the best of the lot, while “La La” is blah blah), though I’ve yet to afford them multiple listens. Again, Led Zeppelin III is the surprise winner for me, with a bonus disc of almost a complete alternate album, some takes bettering their original counterparts, an electric forerunner to “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” (“Jennings Farm Blues”) and a superior “Keys To The Highway/Trouble In Mind” that could have easily replaced “Hats Off To (Roy) Harper”.
I’ve also been (re)discovering the Average White Band. After reading about their upcoming UK complete albums set, I ventured over to Spotify to try and flesh out my AWB knowledge, which currently consumes one unit of space on my shelf in the body of their 2 CD Definitive Groove collection. What I’ve fallen in love with – yes, LOVE – is their under-appreciated late-’70s/early-’80s output, from roughly Warmer Communications through Shine (though I could encompass large swaths of Soul Searching and Benny and Us too). My personal favorite is the self-produced, Bahamas-recorded Feel No Fret, which adds a contrasting loose, palpably Caribbean vibe to their tight, above-average white funk. (Side note/request: I really hope Demon/Edsel gives their catalog a minty-fresh, quality remastering for the upcoming box – the 2009 reissues I’ve heard are all over the place sound quality-wise, with some horrible, heavy-handed noise reduction applied to many tracks on the AWB and Cut The Cake albums. Can’t blame the quality of the master tapes, as the mid-’90s Atlantic/Rhino remasters are pretty much across-the-board very good to excellent.)
Little Feat is another band that largely passed me by, but again, the release of their own complete albums set in Europe and the accompanying fanfare led me to Spotify to correct that oversight. And what I discovered was the more founder/guru Lowell George ceded control of the band’s direction, the more I loved their output. The sweet-spot for me lies between 1974’s Feats Don’t Fail Me Now and 1977’s Time Loves A Hero, though you could tack on the Billy Payne-led tracks on Down on the Farm and Hoy-Hoy‘s “Gringo” for good, smooth-yet-funky measure. Now I know why I loved Robert Palmer‘s early albums (especially 1976’s Some People Can Do What They Like) so much – this was largely his backing band.
Ned Doheny is an almost mythical figure in the annals of Southern California rock music – his surname alone graces a mansion, a road and a beach in the Golden State. With a promising start as the first signed artist to David Geffen’s legendary Asylum Records (eventual home to The Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, and even Bob Dylan for a short time), his albums generally did not sell. But I discovered his second and third albums, 1976’s Hard Candy and the 1979 Japan-only release Prone years ago, and apparently his contemporaries took notice too, as Doheny-written tracks were subsequently recorded by Average White Band, Chaka Khan and others. Chicago-based reissue label Numero Group has attempted to put his career in proper prospective with Separate Oceans, a collection of key album tracks and 11 previously unissued demos. Personally, I feel Hard Candy and Prone in full are a better representation of his largely unsung talents, but Oceans is an enjoyable listen nonetheless, and kudos to Numero for injecting such care and attention into this relatively fringe artist.
So, there you have it: the sounds of my recent funk, which included some actual funk. My goal is to continue updating this blog at least once a week from here on out. Hopefully, the next extended break is due to actual, honest-to-goodness employment getting in the way…