Monday, July 27, 2009

The Beatnuts - Watch Out Now b/w Turn It Out

The Beatnuts - Watch Out Now b/w: Turn It Out

Side A:
Watch Out Now (clean)
Watch Out Now (real)
Watch Out Now (instrumental)

Side B:
Turn It Out (feat. Greg Nice) (clean)
Turn It Out (feat. Greg Nice) (real)
Turn It Out (feat. Greg Nice) (instrumental)

It's sunny sunshine summer time and this morning I woke up whistling the super catchy flute hook from a favorite summer record of mine: "Watch Out Now" by The Beatnuts. So I figured I should dig it out and post it up.

In the hip hop halcyon days of the 90's, The Beatnuts were more known as producers, DJ's, and crate diggers than rappers or lyricists. They built a solid rep for their production skills working with Chi Ali, Common, Fat Joe, and Pete Nice before dropping their debut in '94. But they didn't score a hit on their own until '97 with the classic east coast track "Off the Books", featuring the debut of Big Pun. Two years later, The Beatnuts hit us with "Watch Out Now", maybe one of the most fun hardcore rap songs ever, with one of the most fun flute hooks ever. So fun, in fact, that J-Lo sampled it for "Jenny From The Block" and scored a big hit with it.

The Beatnuts grabbed the sample in question from band leader/musician/engineer Enoch Light's 1975 disco track "Hi-Jack". Light was something of an eccentric, making music for older folks and pioneering the use of 35mm film as a recording medium. According to Wikipedia, he also invented the gatefold album cover, due to his rambling descriptions of his tracks. All I can say for sure is that his flute hook from "Hi-Jack" is fun to whistle and gets lodged in your head quite easily. Enjoy!

PS: If you're put off by colorful languange and adult themes, I'd steer clear of this one...

The Beatnuts - Watch Out Now

Enoch Light - Hi-Jack

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Singles for a Sunday

Cartoone - Knick Knack Man

Side A: Knick Knack Man
Side B: Mr. Poor Man

Atlantic Records, 1969

Abaco Dream - Life And Death In G&A

Side A: Life And Death In G&A
Side B: Cat Woman

A&M Records, 1970

Happy Sunday! I've got a bonus double shot of singles for you all on this fine Sunday afternoon...

First up is Cartoone. Cartoone were caught up in the late 60's London pop-folk craze...and they weren't very good. The bulk of their S/T debut was rather limp, notably only for the presence of Jimmy Page's playing. But if you're looking for some Zeppelin or even some Yardbirds riffage, best look elsewhere. Cartoone is content with being plush and soft rather than rough and tumble. The only track I'm going to bother with off this single is "Knick Knack Man", what with "Mr. Poor Man" being pretty unremarkable.

"Knick Knack Man" starts off with a pretty great whistled melody and soon you get the requisite harmonies of the genre. In all, the song has a general Beatles-esque feel to it. The harmonies, gentle strumming, and the lead vocal echo Cat Stevens' particular brand of folk which I reallllllly cant stand. But here it somehow works for me. Maybe the subtle soul influence in the singer's inflections or the melody or maybe I'm just playing the tough guy role and, deep down, I really like this pappy, fruity, pillow soft "rock". Let's hope its a fluke and not a trend.

Cartoone - Knick Knack Man

So, lets dispense with the soft, emasculating, twirling in the fields pop-rock and grab a hold of some funk. This is an interesting record, "Live and Death in G&A"'s songwriting credit is given to Sylvester Stewart and its generally held that this is Sly and The Family Stone trying out some more creatively risky material away from the prying eyes of record executives. This defines the coke fueled speed funk bass playing that Larry Graham is revered for. His pace pushes this track like a downhill locomotive. The bass groove is foretelling, almost note for note, of the Jimmy Castor Bunch funk classic "It's Just Begun". What a great great great song.

The B side is even more amazing to me. The songwriting credit goes to one Eric Siday, a composer of jingles and commercial music. He was also one of the earliest adopters of Moog Synthesizers and this song showcases them brilliantly. With a live drummer pumping out an almost no-wave/ESG/Gang of Four beat, "Cat Woman" sounds like something out of New York in the early 80's, with layers of odd vocals and gobs of funky Moog sounds. This record freaks my dog out.

Abaco Dream - Life and Death in G&A

Abaco Dream - Cat Woman

BONUS! Jimmy Castor Bunch - It's Just Begun

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Nina Simone - It Is Finished...1974

It Is Finished...1974
Nina Simone
RCA Records, 1974

Track List:

Side A:
The Pusher
Com' by H'yere-Good Lord
Funkier Than a Mosquito's Tweeter
Mr. Bojangles

Side B:
I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl
Let It Be Me
Obeah Woman

Nina Simone was a legend. One part activist, one part artist, Simone took the kinds of risks and stances during and after the civil rights movement that seem so rare these days. Her stage shows were the stuff of legend…flying from full blown howl to dead silence, incorporating poetry and monologues, and always displaying her commanding presence. She equated her performances to “mass hypnosis” or if you’re feeling corny you could say she put a spell on the audience. Jesus, that was a terrible joke. Anyhow, The High Priestess could rock a clapping, soulful gospel jam or whisper her way through a sultry jazz ballad, all while showcasing her considerable chops on the piano and captivate the listener all the while.

“It is Finished…1974” was her final album for RCA and for all intents and purposes was to be her final album ever. Simone had grown disillusioned by the record industry and the USA in general and was about to commit herself to a self imposed exile. But before that, she was able to drop this final gem in our laps. Partially recorded live @ Philharmonic Hall in NYC, “It is Finished…” showcases Simone’s live skills. “Com’ by H’Yere – Good Lord” (or kumbaya, for the campfire inclined) has her rollicking in a spiritual mood. Contrast that with the bombast and anger on the next track, “Funkier Than a Mosquito’s Tweeter”, and you get the feeling of being on a rollercoaster. “Funkier…” is a pure groove…it contains one of the best B-Boy drum breaks I’ve ever heard and Simone’s vocal turn is all venom and hiss, her delivery pushed by some brilliant percussion throughout. On her standard, “I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl”, you get to see some of Simone’s playful side and her great use of silence as she stumps her bandmates with a little stop in her piano line…It’s a fun version of her classic, fun being something that Simone was rarely accused of being. Then, with some ominous piano rolls and a sitar, Simone then haunts her way through Exuma’s “Dambala”. The raw, stripped down arrangement exudes a vibe not unlike a voodoo curse. Simone condemns you to your grave with such ferocity that you feel the dirt. Definitely spooky, evocative, and indicative of Simone’s ability to rapt a live audience. The first time I heard this version of “Dambala”, I got goose bumps for sure.

Legendary/Tragic Aspect: Nina Simone got pissed at two of her neighbor kids making too much noise and fired off a round of buckshot at them.

Availability: Easy to Find

RIYL: Music.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Jimmy Smith - The Cat

The Cat
Jimmy Smith (Arranged and Conducted by Lalo
Verve Records, 1964

Track list:

Side One:
Theme From Joy House

The Cat
Basin Street Blues
Main Title From "The

Side Two:
St. Louis Blues
Delon's Blues
Blues In The Night

So, Michael Jackson died while I was off. I've been seeing quite a bit of backlash against the coverage of Michael's death and I'm pretty tired of it as well. But I understand it. For about a decade, Michael Jackson may have been the single most recognizable and popular human on the planet. He reached Muhammad Ali, Pele, or the Pope type of fame. They interviewed a guy on TV who emigrated to Los Angeles from Africa in the 1980's just to be in the same city as Jackson. So imagine the kind of pressure Michael must have felt throughout his life. The expectations he shouldered were immense. He seemed like he felt he had to be perfect. You could see his attempts at gaining perfection in his face, through surgery...his records, through his choice of producers...his children, through a painstaking selection of donor wives...the guy was obsessed with meeting some impossible level of perfection that was by all standards, insane.

What does Michael Jackson have to do with
The Cat? Well, the first time I laid eyes on this record I thought there was no way it could live up to the expectations of perfection that instantly materialised in my head. Jimmy Smith is roundly considered THE jazz organist. His skills on the Hammond are legendary, he made the instrument a band unto itself. Check out The Sermon or Live at the Root Down if you require proof. Dude killed it, but Jimmy is only half of the awesome that ballooned my expectations. When I saw that the record was arranged and conducted by the awe-worthy Argentine Lalo Schifrin I nearly buckled. Schifrin became well known for his ultra hip film/TV work (Bullitt, Cool Hand Luke, Magnum Force, Mission Impossible) and pairing him with Smith seems so right.

And right it is. I LOVE this record.
Schifrin lulls you in to complacency on "Theme From Joy House" before giving you a full blown, angular blast of horns to announce the big band's arrival. From there, its all quick cuts and horn splashes pushed by Grady Tate's sublime drum skills. It's a picture postcard from the swingin' 60's. All Hugh Hefner, martini's, slim suits, and beehives. Its a record that you could play in its entirety in a bar and people would love you for it. Its the theme music in all of our heads when we put on a crisp suit(or killer dress) and stroll through the crisp fall air. In New York. With Russian spies chasing you. It matches your expectations brilliantly and, at points, exceeds them. Wish we could say the same for Michael Jackson...

Legendary/Tragic aspect:
Schifrin's working score for The Exorcist was tossed in to the parking lot of Warner Bros after it was rejected as "too scary". (thanks, Wikipedia!)

Availability: Easy to find

RIYL: Film Scores, Organs, The Early to Mid 60's, Madmen, Jazz, Clint Eastwood