Love is the Song We Sing: San Francisco Nuggets 1965-1970
Forty years ago this month, presumably, the flower children were blooming, Haight and Ashbury streets were paved with Owsley's finest blotter, and the twinkle in Bill Graham's eye had grown into a full-fledged psychedelic supernova that turned San Francisco into the organic ground zero for peace, love and music that the Woodstock Festival, two years later, would be a pale replica of in comparison. The same "they" who insist that anyone who remembers the '60s wasn't really there have also been heard to say that by the time the Summer of Love hit the news, the real scene in San Francisco was well over. Whether or not that's true, the stalwart pop culture archivists at Rhino have released, in honor of the storied Summer of Love, a follow-up to its essential Nuggets psychedelic and garage rock box sets -- a four-CD collection of Bay Area releases from the latter half of that decade that is guaranteed to make you smile on your brother.
The difference between this collection and the canonical Nuggets is, of course, the refined focus. Some tracks and bands make appearances on both the original Nuggets and on Love is the Song We Sing, like the Count Five's jangly garage-rocker "Psychotic Reaction," the Beau Brummels, Blue Cheer and the Mojo Men. Where Nuggets was a compilation of delightful, rocking obscurities, part of what makes this set more intriguing -- or at least more cohesive -- is the way familiar names are presented. The first disc, "Seismic Rumbles," has a straight-up blues-rock track from the Warlocks. Discs three and four follow it up with two recordings from the Grateful Dead, the band they'd become when the decade entered its latter years. Familiar songs from Jefferson Airplane share space with tracks from the Great Society, singer Grace Slick's first band. Santana, Big Brother and the Holding Company and the Steve Miller Band share space with crypt-dwellers like the heart-wrenching soul shouter "I'm A Good Woman" from the Generation. Also included is the curiosity "Suzy Creamcheese" by an act called Teddy and His Patches, which copped the same monster-movie dialogue Frank Zappa did for his own songs using that character, but apparently with no knowledge of the contemporaneous band. What a collection like this serves to do is show who the bands that did break through to national airplay were listening to, and how they may have influenced or fed off of each other -- a chronicle of something real, a slice of musical time. It's perfectly bookended by two versions of "Let's Get Together," the track from which the collection took its name; the original, folky, soulful version by Dino Valenti and then the more familiar stoned-out, singsongy take from the Youngbloods.
All in all, the result is a well-crafted snapshot of a fertile and organic scene at a time when an individual city could, by virtue of its own unique attributes, become a breeding ground for teeming creativity, growing roots, history and identity.
S.O.S: SAVE OUR SOUL
Lately, it seems that classic soul music is everywhere, from the fingersnap heard 'round the world when Stax Records relaunched (albeit, as the new vehicle of outside investors including Justin Timberlake) on its 50th anniversary (earlier this year) with a new two-CD set and a huge shindig in Memphis to the slick vintage R&B sounds that made petulant British songbird Amy Winehouse's American debut record a platinum-seller. Let's not forget Dreamgirls' Oscars sweep either.
Enter 25-year-old blue-eyed, redheaded Louisiana native Marc Broussard and his album of late '60s and '70s soul ballad covers. Broussard has already proven his formidable vocal chops with a pair of albums of poppy R&B, and when he wants to, he can channel Bobby Womack's buttery tenor startlingly well -- as he indeed does on the wistful, very dated ballad "Harry Hippie" on S.O.S.
Does Broussard shine like a footlight at the Apollo on S.O.S. ? Definitely. Is the band note-perfect and faithful to the original arrangements -- not to mention smoking? Yes, indeed. The only thing that gives us pause here is that with his meticulously authentic takes on well-known tunes like Allen Toussaint's optimistic "Yes We Can" and Otis Redding's "I've Been Loving You Too Long" is that, well, the songs were done already, and done masterfully, and they're etched permanently in most people's minds already. Bands like the Detroit Cobras dig deep into the used-record bins to find semi-obscure gems to infuse with Motor City menace as their stock in trade; acts like Cat Power hire a Hi Records horn section to warm up an album of originals drenched in Southern soul, and both bands give us something new. Broussard's own composition on S.O.S. , "Come In From The Cold," is so tender and genuine, that a whole album of originals in that soulful vein would have been much appreciated.
Sunrise on Bourbon Street
In New Orleans, very little is what it seems on the outside, and trombonist Rick Trolsen's latest offering is no exception. An album of trad-jazz favorites seems reasonably straightforward, until you realize this is Trolsen, one of the finer trombone players in a city that probably has the highest demand for them in America. As a member of Bonerama, he's instrumental (ha) in its exuberant reimagining of the very traditional instrument into a bombastic brass-rock machine. On Sunrise on Bourbon Street, he's brought that delightfully skewed perspective to the canon.
Some of my favorite tracks on Sunrise on Bourbon Street are the ones in which he uses other outside-the-box players to flank him. The Irving Berlin classic, "Puttin' On The Ritz" -- a clunker which, if anything, brings to mind Gene Wilder dancing in tails with Frankenstein's monster -- is reworked as a sly, understated deconstruction, opening with nothing but James Singleton's string bass plucking out the melody, wonderfully cool, spare and slinky. The classics stay classic and true but never tired: Trolsen plays "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" low, muffled and beautifully sweet, and his takes on Jelly Roll Morton, Cole Porter and Kid Ory are equally respectful but fresh. The real gem, however, is the solitary original, the title track for which he brings in fellow jazz scholars and deconstructionists Matt Perrine on tuba, Tom McDermott on piano and Ronnie Magri on drums for a lurching, dizzy dirge that is the perfect evocation of a queasy early morning after a long night in the Quarter.