Tuesday, January 28, 2003

MAKING ART OUT OF A SLOW NIGHT AT HOME
Lane Steinberg was once in a band called The Wind. I also knew him as manager of Water Music, a recording studio in Hoboken. I don't know him at all anymore, however CB of Hoboken sent me this installment of Lane's ongoing series THRIFT STORE RECORDS & CHEAP RED WINE. It is lovely, inspired stuff - heartfelt, informative and proof that creativity can be born from the most modest of inspirations.

THRIFT STORE RECORDS & CHEAP RED WINE #3

The Record: Herman's Hermits - "Blaze" - 1967 (MGM) - $2.00 (right)

The Wine: The Evans Wine Company, King's Valley Cabernet (Australia) 1998 - $5.00 (discounted)

I've always read how this was the "serious" Herman's Hermit's record, so I always kept a mental note to pick it up. Finally, I saw a so-so copy at the Salvation Army in Jamaica, N.Y. I always try to convince these people that they're charging too much for records. $2.00? Who are they kidding? The majority of their selection has been on display for years. Mostly lots of poor, scratched classical and Latin records. The best thing I've ever found here was a mint copy Spanish-language cast album of "Annie Get Your Gun". Trust me, one hasn't lived until they have heard "Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better" sung in Spanish.

This Herman's Hermits record must have been part of a new shipment, though I couldn't find any other records around it that were stylistically related. Probably a mistaken Christmas gift from long ago. As usual, I make my stink at the register about the price. The nice overweight Spanish lady with the dice earings and the gold teeth, points to the sign: "Records: $2.00". Then she waves her hand, "I sorry. Me no make-a the price". Probably, the price will never go lower. They'll just get rid of records altogether. The Salvation Army is some racket.

But I'm pleased to report that tonight we have a winner in the grape department. More damaged-label sale stuff at the snobby wine store. Five bucks a pop, enter at your own risk. The selection seems to change every few days, and things I intend to buy disappear. Sometimes there are three or four bottles of the same wine and sometimes, like with tonight's selection, there is a single sample with a ripped label. This had a beautiful nose the second the cork came out. Nice, sweet blackberry jam tones. Very strong smells! The taste right out of the bottle did not disappoint either: lemon peels, wildflower honey. I got really lucky this time. I tried to do some research on this wine on the internet but came up empty. So many bottles by so many different wineries. Like hunting down LP's in thrift stores, no matter how much you think you know, there's always stuff you've never seen hide nor hare of before. I'm in a real cabernet mode these days. Good cabernet sauvignon can be pushed in any direction the winemaker wants. This one is lighter than most I've tried, both in taste & color. Most classic Bordeaux is a blend that predominantly features cabernet. This is surely God's grape.

The LP is not in as bad shape as I thought. A wipe of the Discwasher revealed no scratches under the dirt. I love these old MGM labels. They're so forbodding to me, with a picture of the same MGM lion that greets us before all the old movies. Would be kinda cool if he actually roared on the label as well. This and the old United Artists label always used to creep me out as a kid. I'm always reminded of all these dark, heavy sountracks in my parents' collection. The first song on this is called "Museum". The credit says the composer is "Leitch", so I'm assuming it's by Donavan, especially because the record is produced by Mickie Most. The first line is double-tracked Herman (Peter Noone) singing , "I drink sweet wine for breakfast". Good for Herman0.. Or Donavan. I like certain sweet wines, especially Port, but drinking a sweet wine for breakfast smacks of alchoholism to me. I realize that wine is a slippery slope. Like pot, this is a gateway drug. Probably I'll be writing
"Thrift Store CD's & Rotgut Vodka" in a few years.

Ha, this record is fucking good. Either that, or it's exactly what I'm in the mood for. Very unpretentious. Not what I expected. It's very simple for 1967. Not a backwards guitar in sight. I've heard that Herman & the boys had a big hand in creating this this one. Like the Monkees' "Headquarters", this was the record where they insisted they play and write the majority of the material themselves. The second song is a cover of Graham Gouldman's "Upstairs, Downstairs". The Hermits already had a hit with Gouldman's "No Milk Today" on the previous LP, so I suppose they tried to get twice lucky. I love the original on the Graham's "Graham Gouldman Thing" solo LP, but this stands its' ground. Noone is a GOOD singer. He's very economical, but his pitch is excellent and he has great phrasing. A very clean singer. Almost like a clearer, less vibrato-laden Robin Gibb.

This is also very good wine. I've always wanted to go to Australia. Australia always seemed to me the place where someone could make a new start in life. Something very remote, yet very familiar about it at the same time. After staying open for about a half an hour the honey smell from this wine is ridiculous. This is one of the reasons to get into wine. These kind of smells are just totally intoxicating, mystical. It's amazing how wine is made from grapes, and how the smells and tastes suggest a million things, but rarely what one associates with the fruit of its origin.

The third track on this LP is one of the group composed numbers, "Busy Line". An innocuous bit of fluff, but the middle eight is very sophisticated and the second time it comes around there is a very songwriterly key change on the last bar that leads into the last verse in the new key. Like Irving Berlin was passing by and pitched in an idea for that little part. The instrumentation is very sparse, but the earnest qualities of the song are well served. The next song, "Moonshine Man" sounds like it came from some 60's LA Byrds knockoff band. There is nothing English about this cut. There is a vague "Taxman" thing happening in the bass, but it sounds like it crossed the Atlantic before it hit tape. There is a line about drinking homemade wine and I assume the song is about a bootlegger. I drank moonshine once. It was pretty nasty, but it tasted like nothing I ever tasted before or since. Sort of like Southern Comfort, but much, much stronger.

After the honey scent starts to fade, I'm noticing a faint aroma of violets. Am I in love? People often talk about good wines as having balance. This has so many competing, yet muted flavors of sweet, tannic and sour. Verry little oak here, though. My wine friend, Jay, tells me that an oaky taste is an essential component of really great wines, that the barrels they are stored in add to the complexity. I'm probably just a vulgar neophyte, but over-oaked wine tastes disgusting to me. I'm probably connecting with an unfortunate experience I had with Jack Daniels in my youth, and every time I taste that smokey flavor in a drink, I get nauseous. He says I'll grow into it.

The second side of the disc bolts from the gate. The first song, "Don't Go Out Into The Rain" is just bass, guitar, drums and a sparse string arrangement. Very inspired call & response vocals. Great, melodic hook. The acoustic guitar sounds a tad distorted in places. Mickie Most was legendary for cutting his tracks to the brink of breaking up. The next track, "I Call Out Her Name" is another Byrdsy thing. The influence is sort of like "I've Just Seen A Face" fitered into the West Coast and back into England. Weird. Very reminscent of "Time Between" from the Byrds' "Younger Than Yesterday". Next, a very sweet tune, "One Little Packet Of Cigarettes". The vocal is almost whispered. All these songs have the beautiful sound of an acoustic basic track compilimented by colorful string charts. I could picture the Harper's Bizarre doing this cut. On the next track, "Last Bus Home", the added electric guitar adds much color by contrasting the acoustic sound of the previous tunes.. Again, very cool background vocals and inventive harmonies. They sound like they're having genuine fun throughout this LP. But all this just sets the stage for the last cut, which is about as balls-to-the-wall as Herman's Hermits could ever hope to get. "Ace, King, Queen, Jack", like the previous song, is written by someone named "Cowap", but sounds more like a Graham Gouldman raveup. It's actually a total Yardbirds rip, circa "Roger The Engineer" (and what an album that was!). The bass is intentionally overdriven & distorted, like they were shooting for the sound on the Yardbird's "Lost Woman". Yet Herman, like Keith Relf, is laying back and understating the vocal. Cool as ice. I love this stuff. Classic line: "I called her a trollop/She gave me a wallop". Herman's Hermits? Is that who I'm listening to? They should have made at least two or three even greater albums after this one. They were just getting started.

OK, I was good tonight. I left a little less than half the bottle. My wife thinks I'm imbibing a bit too much. The AMA says two glasses a day will do me well. I cut out the articles and show her, but she just looks at me & makes a face...

Lane Steinberg, 1/03

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