WHAT I’M SPINNING NOW

SpinningClassifiedBaja

My New Orleans friends Adrienne and Bill gave me this album for Christmas but I’ve just had a chance to spend some serious time listening to it.  I knew it would be cool, because Adrienne and Bill know what’s cool when it comes to New Orleans music.

Dr. John called James Booker “the best black, gay, one-eyed junkie piano genius New Orleans has ever produced.”  He was a virtuoso keyboardist who combined a lot of traditions, stride, Latin, classical, jazz, gospel, blues, into a distinct style that’s still recognizable as a variant of a traditional New Orleans musical gumbo.  He sometimes added plaintive vocals to his recordings.

Booker died at the age of 43 in 1983 — this album contains his last commercial recordings.  They’re strange and spooky and wonderful — something in that gumbo you haven’t tasted before and can’t quite put a name to.

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WHAT I’M SPINNING NOW

SpinningDickDaleSinglesBaja

Few things make me as happy as surf music, the shittier the better.  I once saw Dick Dale play at the beach in Ventura, California and that made me unreasonably happy.  Dick said, “I always use the thickest strings I can find for my guitar to get this sound — I’ve cut my fingers to ribbons for you.”

Thank you, Dick.

WHAT I’M SPINNING NOW

SpinningRockNRollBaja

This is a very enjoyable album.  You might argue that some of the mixes are a bit too Spector-ized — a bit too mushy — but Lennon’s voice cuts through them like a knife, full of his joy in these basic rock and roll numbers.  I’m especially fond of his version of “Stand By Me” — I remember dancing to it on a juke box at McManus’s Irish pub on 7th Avenue in New York, with my girlfriend of the time, back when I was young, and thinking, “This is our song.”

As far as I’m concerned we’re still dancing to it, and it’s still our song, and John Lennon, long dead, is still singing it just for us.

WHAT I’M SPINNING NOW

SpinningDreamWithDeanBaja

More Record Store Day booty — a repressing of Dream With Dean, and it’s pretty dreamy, with Dino singing in such a laid-back style that you think he might drift off to sleep at any moment, though that would not be cool, and Dino is impeccably cool here.

Backed up by a jazzy quartet featuring the impeccable Barney Kessel on electric guitar, the song selection is excellent, the interpretations quiet but emotionally convincing.  It’s hard to think of any singer today who could pull off an album like this — getting the job done in spades without seeming to work at it at all.

We’ve all heard “Blue Moon” a million times, but when Martin just lets it roll off his tongue here, it sounds brand new, matter-of-factly perfect.

WHAT I’M SPINNING NOW

SpinningRootsBaja

Record Store Day booty — a new pressing of the Everly Brothers 1968 album Roots.  This is a pretty good record, though many tracks are spoiled by too much reverb on the brothers’ vocals, which makes it hard to appreciate the exquisitely precise blend of their voices singing in harmony.  The standout track is “Sing Me Back Home”, where the harmony parts are clearer in the mix.

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WHAT I’M SPINNING NOW

SpinningPointOfNoReturnBaja

This album, from 1962, was the last one Frank Sinatra made for Capitol Records. He had already announced his plan to leave the label in order to start his own, Reprise Records, and had begun recording tracks for release on Reprise, but he still owed Capitol one last LP under his old contract, and this is the LP he delivered, recorded in just two days.

MobileFidelitySinatraBoxSet

Its reputation has suffered from being considered a perfunctory effort by Sinatra done for contractual reasons only. It was left out of Mobile Fidelity’s legendary audiophile vinyl collection of Sinatra’s Capitol albums (above), and it’s relatively hard to find as a used LP, except in an abridged version issued later by Capitol as a low-budget title.

PointNoReturnMobileFidelityCover

Mobile Fidelity has just rectified its questionable decision to leave it out of its Sinatra box by issuing a fine 180-gram vinyl pressing of the complete album. It’s not one of Sinatra’s greatest Capitol LPs, but it’s hardly a negligible effort, either.

Frank Sinatra Alex Stordahl 1947 Baja

Interestingly, Sinatra got Alex Stordahl (with Sinatra above in 1947) to arrange the numbers on Point Of No Return.  Stordahl, known for his swirling, sentimental (some might say syrupy) sound, had been Sinatra’s principal arranger during his years with Columbia.  The Stordahl sound worked well with Sinatra’s voice in his boy crooner phase, and Stordahl arranged Sinatra’s first sessions when he moved to Capitol, but Sinatra was reinventing his artistic persona at that point and quickly moved on to other arrangers who had a hipper, jazzier vibe — Billy May, Gordon Jenkins and, most notably, Nelson Riddle.

So it was undoubtedly something of a sentimental gesture by Sinatra to bring Stordahl back for his last recordings at Capitol, ending up where he had started off, so to speak, completing a circle.

SinatraRecordingStudioBaja

The album he and Stordahl created, however quickly, is quite fine.  Neither is going for big effects here, for anything profoundly expressive, but the craft of both men was such that they simply couldn’t just toss something off heedlessly.  These are good, solid interpretations of good, solid songs, inflected with Sinatra’s musical and emotional genius.  It’s by no means unworthy of the great body of work Sinatra created at Capitol, which remains one of the glories of our civilization.

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I would be remiss not to note that Point Of No Return has the coolest Sinatra album cover of all time — a Mad Men era illustration of the singer standing in front of the Plaza Hotel in NYC, next to the Sherman statue, in the rain, wearing a belt-less tan 50s type trench coat and a Stetson Nobel, smoking a cigarette.  Like the title of the album, it has a melancholy, valedictory feel.

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