Daily* Deep Track: Blue Jean Committee “Catalina Breeze”

Have you ever heard a song or album that changed your life in the space of a weekend? It’s happened a handful of times in my life. The first time I heard Yes’s powerful “Awaken” at age fifteen, I was transfixed. “Buffalo Springfield Again” knocked me on my side in September of 1995 when I first purchased it. That winter, I received George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass” as a Christmas gift, and it was a game-changer. When I pulled The Zombies “Odessey and Oracle” from the Q106 CD library and gave it a listen in the production studio one weekend in the early 2000s, it tugged at my heartstrings right away.

Now that I’m in that jaded pushing-forty place, for a record to have the same impact, it’s gotta be pretty damn good. I mean, DAMN good. Well, being an unashamed fan of most Yacht Rock-flavored music, I finally discovered one of the subgenre’s benchmark records over the Memorial Day Weekend, and it seems it was just hiding in plain sight all this time. Enter The Blue Jean Committee, and “Catalina Breeze.”

I gave it one listen via a Youtube link (how we all preview music these days). I listened again. I immediately downloaded “Catalina Breeze” so that I’d have it to crank full volume in my car. The Seventies California Vibe is perfectly embodied in the 2:15 title track. You might even argue it’s the missing link between Seals & Crofts and Steely Dan; the puzzle piece that connects Brewer & Shipley to England Dan & John Ford Coley.

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Smiles that scream “simpler times.” We should all try to get to this place once in a while.

I’ve never been to California, and though I’m a child of the Carter administration, I’m far too young to remember the Seventies, let alone to have lived through it. This delightful two minutes is the only time machine I’ll ever need. It’s all there: the blissful harmonies, the gentle Fender Rhodes, the tasteful twin-lead soft-rock solo, and the lyrics conjuring up images of champagne-filled coconuts. That’s two minutes without a care in the world. Two minutes where all your dreams and fantasies come true. Two minutes drunk on champagne-filled coconuts. This is summer sunset music. This is classy dinner party music. This is top-down-in-your-Chrysler Cordoba music. This is The Blue Jean Committee: legends of the Gentle and Soft. It’s a shame they never properly followed this one up.

Pour yourself your favorite drink, put this on your hi-fi, open your windows, and I guarantee wherever you are, you’ll feel that Catalina Breeze on your skin and in your senses.

 

Daily* Deep Track: Brinsley Schwarz “Shining Brightly”

Most of my Daily* Deep Tracks are rooted in a listening experience from the past twenty-four hours. I must honestly admit that today’s occurrence came merely from the fact that the song was stuck in my head for no apparent reason, and just wouldn’t exit my brain. I hadn’t committed the act of physically hearing Brinsley Schwarz’s “Shining Brightly” for at least a month or so, but this one seems to populate my brain frequently.

Brinsley Schwarz, if you didn’t know, were an English group featuring a dude named Brinsley Schwarz on guitar, and another dude named Nick Lowe on bass and lead vocals. Yes, the same Nick Lowe who, much later in the 70s, would crank out tasty power-pop nuggets like “Cruel to Be Kind,” “And So It Goes” and the hilariously gruesome “Marie Provost.” This 1970 version of Nick Lowe seemed to be in thrall to American CSN-esque harmony sounds, with a splash of light prog-rock to flesh it all out (most notably on early tracks like “Lady Constant” and “Ballad of a Has Been Beauty Queen”).brinsley

There’s nothing complicated about “Shining Brightly,” just a catchy sing-along for acoustic guitars, basic percussion and three harmony voices: but that’s precisely the point. It’s so damn catchy, that it really is no surprise that Nick’s knack for seemingly effortless hooks and melodies appeared long before he became a “name” musician. I was quite impressed the first time I heard it, purchased on reputation alone in a long-gone vinyl shop in downtown Gardner, Massachusetts (in a building that’s now condemned, last I knew). I still have the Brinsley Schwarz first-two-albums twofer in my vinyl collection, and upgraded (downgraded?) it to CD a number of years back.

I even listened to Beck’s “Morning Phase” and The Stones’ “Sticky Fingers” in their entirety in my travels today, but it was Nick Lowe and Brinsley Schwarz that kept reverberating in my head. Well-played. (Don’t worry, “Sway,” you’ll get DDT honors someday.)

 

Daily* Deep Track: Santana “Waves Within”

As sunsets go, tonight’s was pretty impressive. Since I was at work until about quarter of eight, tying up a lot of loose ends, I briefly debated a detour over to Portland’s Western Prom to watch the sun go down, but I know I’m big enough a tool that I would have just taken 58 pictures of it with my iPhone just to get the right capture for Instagram. Plus, this week is a busy one, so any time I can grab at home, away from everything and everyone, will be fully taken advantage of.

That said, before the colors of the evening’s sunset truly exploded in the skies west of Portland, I bounced around my collection looking for an album to play when I settled upon Santana’s “Caravanserai.” If I had to name a favorite Santana album, I’d probably start to tell you the self-titled debut, before pulling back on that thought and submitting 1972’s

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Greatest album cover with camels not by the band Camel

“Caravanserai.” This was the Santana Band’s fourth album, and an album that had one foot in two different group eras: this would be the last to feature both guitarist Neal Schon and organist/lead singer Gregg Rolie for 44 years, and the first to really start to explore jazz/fusion textures. This album would act as a gateway for me for the sprawling, decidedly non-commercial Santana releases to follow, like “Welcome,” “Love Devotion Surrender” and “Borboletta.”

I could have picked a number of tracks for today’s DDT, as the first four songs basically act as the album’s opening suite.  “Waves Within,” with its cascades of Hammond, was the track that accompanied the moment when the burnt orange sun aligned with my path of travel, surrounded by dark purple and bluish clouds. The scene matched the music perfectly, in ways I can’t explain. I wish I had been in a position to grab a photo, but there will be plenty more spectacular sunsets as summer approaches.

I then remembered I could just substitute the album cover of “Caravanserai” for the evening’s sunset, and I wouldn’t be too far off. Except for the camels, of course.

Daily* Deep Track: Beach Boys “All I Wanna Do”

It’s pretty easy to pile on Mike Love, perhaps the most vilified performing musician in rock and roll history. He’s sued his own family numerous times, he’s been named as the
“stopper” when it comes to projects like “Smile” or anything involving oblique lyrics and complex musical structure.

To be fair, the Beach Boys probably still exist today as a performing act and business entity because Mike Love didn’t get lost in a haze of substance abuse, and always has had keen commercial instincts: he’s like that radio consultant that predictably says “you have to play the hits and nothing else,” and like them or hate them, they more often than not are right. We can’t have the Beach Boys without Mike Love, and he’s made sure of it.

That said, given all of the evidence floating around, Mike Love seems like the sort of person I’d rather not be around. He is not completely useless, however, as he is out front on some of my all-time favorite Beach Boys tracks, including today’s DDT.

One Beach Boys song that seems to slip on through the cracks in the conversation on Great Beach Boys Songs (see what I did there?) is a transcendent cut from the 1970 “Sunflower” album, “All I Wanna Do.” Mind you, this is not to be confused with the earlier Dennis Wilson-penned track “All I Want To Do” from “20/20,” nor is it the Dennis/Mike co-write from 1972’s “Holland,” “Only With You” (“All I wanna do/is spend my life with you”).

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The Beach Boys, a couple years away from becoming The Beard Boys

I woke up to the strains of “All I Wanna Do” this morning (well, technically I woke up to the damn cat wanting in/out/in/out of the bedroom within an hour of sunrise) as I somehow inadvertently set the song as my wake-up tone on my iPhone alarm.

“All I Wanna Do” is a Brian/Mike co-write, a song shrouded in an ever-so-slight psychedelic shimmer. The key element to this song, at least for my ears, are the ghostly backing vocals throughout. Certainly harmony is a Beach Boys trademark, but there’s a certain something to this particular backing vocal arrangement: When I hear the constantly building backing vocals in Fleetwood Mac’s 1979 hit “Sara,” I can’t help but think this particular track was a direct inspiration to Lindsey Buckingham, who was chiefly responsible for production of the “Tusk” album.

I’m going to see Brian Wilson next month when he plays “Pet Sounds” at Merrill Auditorium here in Portland. Certainly there will be other legendary tracks played: after all he has Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin in tow. I’m not counting on hearing “All I Wanna Do,” as it’s a pretty minor work considering the staggering Beach Boys canon; maybe I’ll hold out hope for a “Sunflower” tour, if Brian et al are up to it.

Daily* Deep Track: Steve Miller Band “Love’s Riddle”

I have a ritual on my 25-30 minute drive into work every day. I flip around the radio to see what my station (and our competition) is up to, drop by the Big Sports Talk station to see if they’re talking baseball (they weren’t today), and then spend a few moments with my own tunes.

I tripped upon a little-known Steve Miller Band track on the way in today. It didn’t match the warm, sunny weather, but I let it play because I hadn’t heard it in a while: “Love’s Riddle” off the forgotten 1972 album “Recall the Beginning… A Journey from Eden.”

If you know me, you know I’ve been a major booster of the early Steve Miller Band: basically the core of Steve Miller, Lonnie Turner and Tim Davis that created five excellent psych-blues-rock albums between 1968 and 1970. Certainly the 1973-1982 “hit years” have their moments as well; some of which I still dig (“Fly Like An Eagle”), and some of which constant radio play has ruined for me (“Swingtown,” “The Joker,” “Rock’n’Me,” and “Abracadabra.” Okay, I never liked “Abracadabra.”)

So, what of that gap of 1971-1972? Steve recorded two albums that, to this day, have never been issued on CD, though they are available to purchase digitally. The first was “Rock Love,” which I’ve listened to a couple times and really didn’t develop a passionate feeling for or against, it’s just kinda “there.”

1972 delivered “Recall The Beginning… A Journey From Eden.” If this album is known for anything at all, it’s where Steve would introduce his “Maurice” character on side one, on this goofy doo-wop mini opera called “Enter Maurice.” It’s a tough listen, honestly. The rest of side one bounces all over the place from there, and is largely forgettable.

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I’d post the cover, but it’s beat up, and I love those 70s Capitol labels

Flip it over to side two, and you’re treated to a side-long suite of elegant (for Steve) mood pieces, ranging from the mournful, autumnal “Love’s Riddle,” to the more upbeat “Fandango,” the elegiac “Nothing Lasts,” and ending with the wistful, nocturnal “A Journey From Eden.” Though “Journey” is perhaps my all-time favorite Steve Miller track, “Love’s Riddle” is the perfect table-setter for the side, drenched in lethargic acoustic guitar, Nick DeCaro-arranged strings, and Steve’s multi-tracked harmonies. When I get into this track, I don’t even notice the slightly dopey lyrics (a Steve Miller trademark).

Most will tell you Steve Miller’s greatest album is 1976’s “Fly Like an Eagle.” I’ll likely tell you his greatest album is 1969’s “Brave New World.” If I were to rank and album side, however, it’s a draw between side one of his debut, “Children of the Future,” and side two of “Recall the Beginning…” which just happen to be the opening and closing parentheses of the true first chapter of his career, and still my favorite chapter.

By the way, Steve, you didn’t have to be a dick to The Black Keys at the Hall of Fame. They didn’t deserve that.

Daily* Deep Track: James Gang “Take A Look Around”

My day was more or less bookended by Joe Walsh. It began this morning, after listening to a bit of my radio station’s morning show, when I settled in to do a little get-ahead work at home and I put on the James Gang “Live In Concert” CD. I picked this up for cheap a couple of weeks ago when I went on a little Bull Moose Music spree, which finally filled the final hole in my Walsh-era JG collection (three studio albums, one live). The other end of the equation was finding out Joe Walsh would play Portland this summer. I really ought to check him out while he’s still alive, well and active.

Of all the phases of Joe Walsh’s career, his James Gang period is still the phase that resonates with me the most. Yes, this power trio cranked out some legendary rockers like “Funk #49,” “Walk Away” and especially “The Bomber,” but they were also capable of creating more atmospheric moments like “Ashes, the Rain and I,” “Tend My Garden,” and today’s DDT, “Take a Look Around.”

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James Gang on the Cuyahoga River, conveniently not on fire that day

“Take a Look Around” was the first impression the listener had of Joe Walsh/The James Gang’s career, leading off their 1969 debut “’Yer Album.” I first got to know it via the double-disc Walsh retrospective “Look What I Did!” which I picked up around age 18 or 19. Being that age, I picked it up because I really dug “Life’s Been Good,” “Rocky Mountain Way” and the two James Gang tunes our local classic rock stations in Massachusetts would play. I would quickly learn there was a lot more to Joe Walsh than the self-deprecating (reformed) partying rock and roller you get from most of his hits.

As trios do, The James Gang did a bit of overdubbing, and on this track Walsh handles organ, piano, and of course guitar. You don’t even hear Walsh the guitarist for the first time on “’Yer Album” until nearly three minutes into the track.  “Take a Look Around” rides along on a constant bed of Hammond organ, and the moment when you finally hear the guitar is as transcendent as a Joe Walsh recording could ever be; it’s like you’ve reached altitude, cruising above the clouds, and that airy haze is pierced with a graceful Walsh solo.

Of course, it’s interesting to hear how Walsh handles this track on the live album: no guitar, just organ, and a straight segue right into the keyboard-heavy “Tend My Garden.” I’ve always been intrigued by power-trio live albums, especially in how they arrange their most complex recordings for stage. Yes, you lose something in the live version here, but it’s honest with no trickery, and that’s to be respected. (Plus, I could listen to a Hammond Organ drone on for an hour and love it.)

I’ve always enjoyed the mellow, slightly brooding side of Joe Walsh. He would explore that avenue a bit more on a few tracks on the next two James Gang albums, and on his excellent “Barnstorm” solo debut album of 1972.

And then in 1983 he would record a song called “I Like Big Tits.”

And that’s Joe Walsh.

Daily* Deep Track: Fleetwood Mac “Although The Sun Is Shining”

May can be a frustrating month on the Maine calendar. Far more frustrating than a snowy March, or a December that just won’t cool down sufficiently for mountain snowmakers. May 2016 weather-wise has been all over the place: gray and 40s for a week, followed by a few warm, sunny days that felt like sweet release from the grips of our wretched spring, then briefly right back into the wind-whipped misery of Miserable Maine May.

I took the “other” way into work this morning as I am occasionally wont to do: an extra mile but less overall stop-and-go often buys me an extra minute or two off my normal commute time. As I was flipping back and forth between the radio and my own tunes, a song came on that was perfect for the moment: “Although the Sun Is Shining” by Fleetwood Mac, from their 1969 album “Then Play On.” It was in the forties, a bit of sun was cutting through the clouds, but you barely noticed because a cold wind was blowing, making the mid-morning temperature feel as if it were in the thirties. Very un-May 16th like, if you ask, well, anybody.

“Although the Sun Is Shining” is written and sung by guitarist Danny Kirwan, described by many as the cool undercurrent to then-band leader Peter Green’s fiery intensity. Both were wonderfully expressive guitarists, with Kirwan always in the shadow of the legendary Green. Kirwan’s songs always had a tinge of melancholy to them, making him a pretty heavy hitter on my gray/rainy/miserable day playlists.

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No penguins anywhere on this album cover

For a very brief time Kirwan was, by default, the de facto leader of Fleetwood Mac, following the departures of founder members Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer within a year. Kirwan essentially set the artistic tone for early 70s Mac albums like “Future Games” and “Bare Trees.” This role would prove to be too much for him, and he end up getting tossed from the band following a backstage guitar-smashing incident following a heated argument with early 70s member Bob Welch. He would record a few solo albums before drifting into a life heavily affected by mental illness. He is still alive, but no longer involved in music.

The rest of this week looks like it’s going to finally warm up again, thankfully. I love my sad bastard music, but sometimes you just want to crank Asia with the windows down and the sun out.

No, you really don’t. But sometimes you do.