Sunday, February 13, 2011

An Anniversary and Baby Pics

A notable anniversary passed on February 9th that I forgot to commemorate. February 9th marked GNABB's 3rd year anniversary. I know the frequency of the posts has fluctuated from time to time, but I thank my loyal reader(s) who continue to check back here regularly and comment (or just read).

Here's February's cuteness quota...

ABOVE: That whiteness in the background is in fact snow in San Antonio.

ABOVE: Baby and Winston engaged in intense battle over the prized ball

ABOVE: She loves this stupid ass ball machine. Loves it. Over and over and over again.

ABOVE: She's already racked up a high cell phone bill

ABOVE: She really enjoys taking objects out of where they need to be. Laundry from the laundry basket, books from the bookshelf, CDs from Daddy's cases, etc.

ABOVE: Dez sledding down the street on snow day

Friday, February 11, 2011

Have You Ever Heard of Shuggie Otis?

Here's another unsung music great that I have discovered recently. Shuggie Otis was a child prodigy of sorts, the son of R&B pioneer Johnny Otis. By his mid-teens he was playing guitar on Johnny's recordings and had become a much sought after session player. Much like Terry Reid, Otis is also a mysterious figure who was criminally under-recorded. He only recorded three records of his own (and one duet record with Al Kooper) in the early to mid-70's, and then dropped out of the music scene, other than participating in the occasional session here or there. Supposedly he has a new record out later this year, but we'll see.

By his teens, he was being praised as a rising guitar great, and he was also an accomplished multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, producer and singer. Al Kooper was the first to give Shuggie top billing, teaming with him for 1969's Kooper Session Featuring Shuggie Otis, Kooper's follow-up to his legendary Super Session with Mike Bloomfield and Stephen Stills. It is a decent blues-rock set and features some fine playing from Shuggie. But he came into his own with his 1970 debut, Here Comes Shuggie Otis. While most of it is fairly straightforward blues or R&B influenced rock, the instrumental suite "Oxford Grey" is a dizzying blend of musical styles, jumping from blues, to funk, to baroque, to psychedelic...with Shuggie playing funk electric one minute, and delta slide acoustic blues the next. It is a tour de force showpiece heavily influenced by late period Hendrix. That and the psychedelic influenced "Jennie Lee" are worth the price.

His follow-up, 1971's Freedom Flight, was an impressive step forward, finding Shuggie creating an impressive mishmash of rock/blues/soul/funk/jazz. The title track veers convincingly into Miles Davis-fusion territory, a 13-minute journey that compares favorably with Miles's moody In a Silent Way. This record also features Shuggie's most famous tune, the R&B/psychedelic gem "Strawberry Letter 23," later covered and made a huge hit by the Brothers Johnson.

ABOVE: Here is his most famous tune, "Strawberry Letter 23." Some dude on YouTube made a nice tribute video to go along with the song with some fun Shuggie facts.

Shuggie took several years to craft his next record, the remarkable 1974 release and cult classic Information Inspiration. He wrote and arranged the entire record, playing every instrument except the horns and some strings. This record is why we still talk about Shuggie. It takes the rock/blues/soul/funk/jazz/psychedelic mix of the previous record and turns mere disparate influences and elements and then blends them into a seamless new whole. There are no hits here, the record works as a whole piece, a psychedelic soul masterpiece. It was also the last record he put out. He retreated into family life and only appeared as an occasional session musician, turning down offers to tour as the guitarist for the Rolling Stones and to work with Quincy Jones. Apparently he is readying a new self-produced and self-recorded album for later this year. An infectious Shuggie R&B single with a killer guitar solo popped up on iTunes last year called "If You'd Be Mine." So perhaps we have not heard the last from Shuggie Otis.

ABOVE: I love this tune "Aht Uh Mi Hed" from Inspiration Information. It is indicative of the fusion of soul and psychedelia that is all over this great record.

Recommended listening: hunt down Information Inspiration. Killer soul/rock record with confidence and talent oozing from every track. Unfortunately, it is the only one of Shuggie's records that is not available on iTunes, so you will have to find the real thing. A remastered version was released a few years back that included some tunes from Freedom Flight as bonus tracks (including "Strawberry Letter 23.") That is the one to get.

ABOVE: Get Inspiration Information

Saturday, February 5, 2011

For Your Reconsideration, vol. 1

Have you ever had a record or seen a movie that you thought was great, yet it was critically panned or dismissed by the masses? I guess that is as good evidence as any that art and entertainment is a subjective endeavor. For me, Exhibit A has to be The Rolling Stones's 1983 Undercover. I've been a huge fan of this record since its release (yes, I was following The Stones when I was 10), and recently in conversation with my fellow music obsessive Big Jim, I have found another ardent admirer. To be fair, critical opinion on Undercover is more split than universally bad. The All Music Guide gives it a favorable review, as did Blender and the rubber stamp that is Rolling Stone Magazine. But many other critics hate the record, such as the Dean of Rock Critics himself, Robert Christgau, who asks "What do people hear in this murky, overblown, incoherent piece of sh*t?...[It is] their worst studio album." Ouch. (Although it is funny that Christgau loves the even more panned follow-up Dirty Work, and even wrote a pages long review explaining why it is a masterpiece. That is why music criticism is so much fun. I hate Dirty Work, by the way.)

ABOVE: 1983's Undercover

The reasons many critics hate Undercover is telling, though. The reviews aren't the usual complaints regarding subpar Stones material (uninspired, auto-pilot, recycled riffs, etc.) The complaints regarding Undercover are that it is unusually "violent," "misogynistic," "mean" - even for Stones standards. Stephen Thomas Erlewine, who gives the record a positive review, says that "it's teeming with sickness, with violence, kinky sex, and loathing." And I say, so what? This is the Stones. Aren't these the qualities that made them such a fascinating antidote to the Beatles in the 60's in the first place?

One way to view Undercover is as a knock-out brawl between Mick Jagger and Keith Richards over the very soul of the band. One of the elements that makes late 70's/early 80's Stones so interesting is Mick's desire to modernize and experiment vs. Keef's staunch conservative insistence that the Stones not lose that nasty, Chuck Berry-inspired riffology. Mick and Keith fought bitterly throughout the 80's, and it really starts here. The anger spills out all over the songs - "Tie You Up (The Pain of Love)," "Too Much Blood," "Pretty Beat Up," "Too Tough," "It Must Be Hell."

Even detractors admit that the single "Undercover of the Night" is pretty remarkable. With its percussive overdubs, insistent dance floor bass line, phased and slashing guitars and Mick's inspired, politically charged lyrics, it stands out as one of their greatest songs, in any era.

ABOVE: Here's the song "Undercover of the Night"

The other highlight is "Too Much Blood." Here and with "Undercover of the Night," Mick wins and the band really stretches out in exciting ways. The song is both ridiculous and infectious. Six minutes of a throbbing bass line, punchy horns, and jittery guitars punctuated with Mick's alternating shouts of "I wanna dance! I wanna sing!" and his hilarious spoken word musings, deliberately delivered in a thick accent, on the violence in today's culture. ("Did ya ever see the 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre'? 'Orrible, wasn't it? Is that really true? You people down in Texas, is that really true what you do down there, people?...Oh don't saw off me arm! Don't saw off me leg! Oh!! Oh!! There's a bloke running around with a fucking chainsaw...When I go to the movies I like to see something more romantic, like 'Officer and a Gentleman' or something, something you can take the wife to, know wot I mean? I wanna dance!! I wanna sing!! Make some loooooove!!!!") Yeah, Mick.

ABOVE: The very 80's music video for "Too Much Blood." Awesome at around 4:20, when Keith tries to kill Mick with a chainsaw.

I even like the minor hit "She Was Hot," in the classic Stones sexist tradition with groovy Chuck Berry-like riffs. It has some real humor to it, and does groove.

ABOVE: Mick and Keith. One of the great love/hate relationships in all of rock.

I am not saying that Undercover is in the same category as the very best Stones records. It is not Beggar's Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street or even Some Girls, but I would put it in that second tier just below.

I think Undercover is notable because it was the last time that it really mattered to the Stones. This was the last time they were trying to progress as a band. By the next release, the horrible Dirty Work, Mick had lost the power struggle and given up. They have released records since (and I like some of them, especially some moments on Voodoo Lounge), but the records after 1983 are no more than pure product. I like this record because it did matter, and as Erlewine states in his review, "It's a fascinating record, particularly because much of its nastiness feels as if the Stones, and Jagger and Richards in particular, are running out of patience with each other."

How about you, dear readers? Any music or movies that you feel deserve a reassessment?

**** out of *****