Nina Simone – Live at the Village Gate 2014 repress

Silence is not always golden but in my case it was. I’ve been using most of my writing time for my weekly review column on www.watkykjy.co.za. I haven’t posted anything music related in a while on this blog. I’m not apologizing. Life happens and on this blog I don’t have timelines or deadlines. I just write whenever I’m inspired by an album or artist or whatever else comes my way. I’ve been listening to quite a lot of Nina Simone lately – on my own and with friends. I also bought two of her vinyl a while ago from Mr Vinyl. I’m not an aficionado on jazz at all and neither do I know her music extremely well. I am just curious as to why I love it so much. So this is probably more of an attempt to get answers for myself than an actual review. It may end up as one though. Who makes the rules, right?

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So who was she? She wasn’t just a singer, pianist and songwriter but also a civil rights activist. Many of her songs are unapologetic political and when they’re not you can hear a kind of strength projected that can only come from someone who’s experienced some form of hardship in their lives. The rest of her songs are mostly about love – which is probably a hardship in itself. Lol! She was born Eunice Kathleen Waymon in Tyron, North Carolina. Her mother was a Methodist minister and a housemaid. Her father was a handyman. The sixth child of eight children and as one can expect they were very poor. Like most black children in those days she performed at her local church. Her concert debut was at the tender age of twelve years old. A classical recital. During her performance her parents were forced to move to the back of the hall to make way for white people. She refused to continue the recital until her parents were moved back to the front. And so the seeds of injustice were planted in her young mind. Later in life she would use her fame to try and eradicate these wrongs by writing and performing several anti-racist and pro civil rights songs. She performed at many civil rights meetings as well.

Nina Simone’s musical style is quite complex. I find myself a bit overwhelmed as I try to classify it. You can hear the gospel influences first and foremost, but then you find an overpowering classical influence. After all, she was classically trained. The most obvious elements of her music are jazz and blues influences and she also explores folk and African music. But her soulful contralto voice is the most distinctive part. It’s haunting and melancholy and it can’t be copied. It’s one of a kind. Her very presence on stage, and her ability to connect with the audience was always second to none.

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So the vinyl I’m listening to right now is Live at the Village Gate. The album was recorded in 1962. It was her third live album on Colpix records. It was recorded live at a nightclub in Greenwhich Village, New York. She was still young and the way in which her vocals blend in and flow with the piano is especially noticeable on this album. It is simply an amazing recording that reflects the era in which it was recorded and the atmosphere of the nightclub. No recording gimmicks. If you close your eyes you’ll find yourself magically transported back in time. Sitting in the audience all suited up with a cigar and some champagne. Next to you, a stylish dressed woman – smiling at you as the grooves slowly seduces both of you.

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Listening to this album on vinyl is just pure magic. Just in time is not only one of her well known songs but it has been immortalised in popular cinema culture. It features in the movie Before Sunset (2004), the sequel to Before Sunrise (1995). The film picks up the story in Before Sunrise of the young American man (Ethan Hawke) and French woman (Julie Delpy) who spent a passionate night together in Vienna. Their paths intersect nine years later in Paris, and the film takes place in real time as they spend an afternoon together talking. Hawke’s character is supposed to catch a flight back to the United States but gets drawn into the conversation with Delpy, at first very civil and superficial but then they get more and more honest about their feelings for each other until they end up in her apartment listening to this very album, and of course he misses his flight. Nina Simone will do that to you:) They couldn’t have chosen a better song. It’s extremely sexy but at the same time it has a certain quality that leaves you vulnerable. It’s absolutely timeless.

He was too good to me is one of the most beautiful love songs Ive ever heard. If songs lasted an eternity you would get lost in this song and never find your way back home. Luckily songs only last a few minutes.

On Bye Bye Blackbird the jazz takes over entirely with an extended jamming session – taking you by the hand and pulling you into a Nina Simone standing-in-one-place kind of dance.

On songs like Brown Baby and If he changed my name it’s just her and the piano. The melancholy is at times almost tangible.  Not many artists will have the gall to do it in the first place, never mind the ability to sound that good with just the nakedness of one voice and the minor assistance of the piano. It would be too daunting. Nina Simone pulls it off as if she invented it. Well, she did!

On Children go where I send you her gospel revival roots are exquisitely revealed. You can picture her standing right in front of the church raising the spirit of the churchgoers as the music snowballs into tribal and spiritual reverence and eventually hallelujah ecstasy.

But there is also a lot of folk music on this album. Like Zungo for instance. It’s a Nigerian chant written by Michael Babatunde “Baba” Olatunji which she effortlessly weaves into her jazz repertoire. Africans are used to it but it must have sounded outlandish to the New Yorkers back then. Her rendition of the folk song The House of the Rising Sun (made popular by the Animals) is done in true Nina Simone style. Jazzy and probably the most passionate version of the song ever recorded.

It’s pretty obvious why I love her music. Rest in Peace Nina Simone.

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Check out this vinyl, it’s a European reissue (VP80041) pressed in 2014. It has three bonus tracks on that’s not part of the original pressing namely Black is the colour of my true loves hair, the Other Woman and Summertime.

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Check out Mr Vinyl’s stash at http://www.mrvinyl.co.za/

The King lives on!

Blues fans all across the world are still mourning the passing of B.B. King. Such a strange feeling, when someone larger than life passes on. Most of us never knew or met the man. But he spoke to us – through his music.

I bet you can find the King’s influence in the music of many artists across the different genres: pop, R&B, hip hop and rock music – and without a doubt in the offerings of a wide variety of blues artists who grew up on his music. Though his guitar playing was never technically brilliant, B.B. King’s songs are all heart. Feeling. Soulful substance over form. Impossible to copy. The stuff myths are made of. Why else would guitar players, with more technical finesse, try to copy his simple style over the years? Stop reading – go put on some B.B. King right now – close your eyes and just feel the music.

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Goose pimples, right? Such a typical human trait though. We don’t know what we have until it’s gone. Eric Clapton’s short but heartfelt video clip on his facebook page – the morning after the King died – made me realise that the spirit of the blues feigned immeasurably when he left the planet. God, I wish I could’ve put the brakes on death. For the King’s family and friends mostly. That’s why we get the blues, man. When inevitability brings you to your knees. All you can do is turn up the music and throw yourself at the loss, the pain, the heartache or whatever makes you blue. Not because you love being blue. Hell no. But you realise you’re human. You feel it in your soul, find yourself in the moment and the only way through it is to enjoy the good things in life even more. Joy, love, friendship, music, good times…it’s a strange balance…like in the blues songs of old – the worldly things cause us trouble – but the simple things bring us salvation, brothers and sisters. That’s the blues for me, man. Finding balance in this hard old world.

The King’s death gave all of us the blues. The worst kind. But his spirit lives on in his vast discography of music, filmed live footage and anything you can lay your hands on or download. Fans can still enjoy every minor pentatonic scale, the notes he immortalised in an “out of key” fashion, his simple but profound lyrics, his regal vocals, and his mere presence and aura on stage. So choose your method of resurrection. Me? You should know my poison by now.

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In the eighties four Irish lads from Dublin introduced me to the King. Of course ‘When Love Comes to Town’ didn’t teach me the blues. I was too young. But I knew they wrote the song for someone iconic. I guess it was only in the early nineties that I began to slowly discover the genre. A friend of mine’s father had a pretty decent vinyl blues collection back then and we home taped some serious vintage blues on cassette. John Mayall, John Lee Hooker, Eric Clapton, Chuck Berry and the King. Add a little curiosity – cheap cigarettes, reefer and even cheaper ‘liver hating’ whiskey. The end result: the kind of legendary good times you can’t help but reminisce about when you listen to them good ole tunes. Jesus, and those were epic times.

We collected the Blues Collection magazines and CD’s sold by the local stationary franchise at the time. Some blues education before the days of google. Just a year before all this, Eric Clapton’s Unplugged album introduced the blues to Generation X, so mainstream media played it’s part too I guess. In those days, they played some pretty great music. Not just shite like today. But did we really understand the blues then? Probably not.

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When the millennium turned, one of the blues albums that shone its light for me, when hard times came knocking, was B.B. King and Eric Clapton’s timeless collaboration: Riding with the King. By the time this album was released I was qualified to sing the blues…my right of passage fatefully handed to me – and without question I obliged.

So enough of the deep shit…..way too deep man…even for me. But I think it’s justified for the King, not so? Let’s move on to specifics though. So guess what? I found this classic on Mr Vinyl’s website. (http://www.mrvinyl.co.za). There’s been several pressings since the first pressing in 2000 but this one is a WEA International 2011 180g re-issue – pressed in the Netherlands. Kinda strange because this double LP is supposed to be part of a Box Set styled “Clapton Blues” which includes no less than 3 albums (5 LPs). Go check it out if you’re a vinyl junkie. And yes I checked all the different identification numbers! The deciding number was scratched on the vinyl itself….

Don’t think that because it’s a newer pressing that it’s easy to come by. Save yourself the wait, the trouble and the cost and buy it if you want it. Blues vinyl (in general) is not easy to find. In particular the King’s vinyl. Vinyl dealers don’t stash thousands of copies of  a specific newer pressing and definitely don’t have thousands of copies of a specific older pressing lying around. The market is way too small for mass sales. You can, however,try to negotiate with Mr Vinyl to see if they can get this pressing for you from the suppliers.

In terms of sound, most audiophiles agree that older pressings sound better, however there’s no hard and fast rule (and too many variables) to compare the two “mano e mano”. I just had to use a Ford Fairlane reference somewhere. However, my experience is that more often than not the older pressings sound better. In this case, most of the information available point to the 2011 reissue being the better one. The reason? Mastering was done at Bernie Grundman Mastering studios in Los Angeles by Chris Bellman and pressed on the finest grade European vinyl.  So all in all at R310 the price is quite reasonable – considering it’s a double album. That’s the only thing that got to me is the fact that there’s three songs on each side. So I wouldn’t recommend playing it while you’re having a braai outside. Treat your friends to an in depth listening experience in front of your sound system. You’ll be turning these babies over quite often.

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Ok I need to say a little something about the album. The two blues legends performed together for the first time in New York City in 1967. Thirty years later they recorded the song “Rock Me Baby” for Clapton’s duets album, Deuces Wild. But Riding with the King was the first collaborative album by Eric Clapton and B.B. King. It’s a very polished blues album – the only real critique blues aficionados expressed in respect of the album. But who gives a howling Lucille about them? The offering won the 2000 Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album. The album reached number one on Billboard’s Top Blues Albums and went double multi-platinum in the USA.

The album contains five “vintage” King songs “Ten Long Years”, “Three O’Clock Blues”, “Help the Poor”, “Days of Old” and “When My Heart Beats Like a Hammer”. It also includes several covers: Big Bill Broonzy’s “Key to the Highway” which Clapton recorded with Derek and the Dominos in the early seventies, Maceo Merriweather’s “Worried Life Blues”, Isaac Hayes’s composition “Hold On, I’m Coming” and “Come Rain or Come Shine” from the 1946 musical, St. Louis Woman. The album’s title track, “Riding with the King”, is a John Hiatt composition inspired by Elvis Presley. The rest of the songs were written especially for the album. Go check it out again or if you haven’t heard it go experience it for the fist time. Choose your own method of resurrection!

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It’s no small wonder that my favourite songs on this album have always been and always will be the B.B King originals. The King is alive and well when I put the needle to this record, man. And I intend to keep him alive for all of my days.

Goodbye everybody,
I believe this is the end.
Oh, goodbye everybody,
I believe this is the end.
I want you to tell my baby,
Tell her please, please forgive me,
Forgive me for my sins.

(Three O’ Clock Blues)

Rest in Peace, King of the Blues

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Check out Mr Vinyl’s stash at : http://www.mrvinyl.co.za

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti 40th Anniversary Edition on 180g Vinyl

 

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My first blog post with two of my favourite things in this world as subject matter. Led Zeppelin and vinyl. How on earth am I going to keep this short and to the point? Not to worry. To limit my obsessive old school rants and to embrace today’s modern commercial music I have arranged with Mr Vinyl, without a doubt the most professional online vinyl store in the business, to sponsor a few black circles now and then. The only problem is that I have free reign to choose the artists (*drum roll and the sound of crickets at night* ). Who am I kidding? It may only help to invoke my inner analogue muse. My first choice had to be Led Zep. Not just any album but the iconic Physical Graffiti, their sixth studio album, released on 24 February 1975. In 2014 the band launched an extensive reissue program of all nine its studio albums, each remastered by Jimmy Page. They also decided to open their vaults and share dozens of unheard studio live recordings. The remastered version of Physical Graffiti was released last month on the 40th anniversary of its release.

Before I drill down into specifics, its only fitting that I explain my love for the band first. Led Zep was a constant throughout my life and now I guess it’s my fountain of youth. Of course this is true of music in general, but Led Zep is different somehow. It embodies the memory of magical days, the past and present friends I hold dear, the women I fell in and out of love with, the good times, the heartache and the disappointments. The magic endures, especially when I visit the familiar places of yesteryear. Urban jungle or seaside drive, West Coast holiday town or desolate road – with Led Zep in the background, a trip becomes a journey. I don’t hear old seventies music. I hear a force majeure – the celebration of opposites and synergies. Mysticism, love, chaos, freedom, sexual bravado and brotherhood. It’s a kind of explosive transcendence guided by thundering drums, groovin’ bass lines, howling vocals and raunchy geeetar. I know its a great day when I listen to Led Zep and it sounds new and fresh to me. Even more so when I take one of their records out of its cover, slide it slowly out of the inner sleeve, place it on the platter,watch it spin for a while before the needle gently hits the record….and instantly I’m immersed in music…space and time…just… disappear.

20150303_193321In the nineties Gen X’s portal to the world of Led Zep was mainly through the Remasters Double CD released in 1990 (the mastering was also supervised by Jimmy Page). At every party in high school this CD was in the stack next to the CD player. I also remember watching the film The Song Remains The Same on video in the wee drunken hours while discussing politics,religion and other weird topics with friends. But very few Gen X kids collected entire discographies of bands. I remember Led Zep I-IV being on sale for R40 a CD at local music stores. For most of us this limited exposure was sufficient to call ourselves fans. Of course when MP3’s invaded the scene in the previous decade I downloaded more albums – but still not to the point of consciously wanting to absorb everything they’ve ever recorded. No, this was a fate bestowed upon me just over a year and a half ago when I became a vinyl addict. I have most of the studio albums in older press format – but sadly not this one yet. With the increase in vinyl collectors the past few years they’ve become hard to find.

20150303_202258 In 1973, after a year of touring around the world in their private jet, living it up in excess with groupies and copious amounts of drugs, Led Zep began recording ‘Physical Graffiti’ at Headly Grange in East Hampshire. However, it was brought to an abrupt halt. John Paul Jones needed some downtime. The constant touring and ‘living on the edge’ lifestyle took its toll on Jones and his family. So the band went their separate ways for a while. The renewed creative ideas that led to the recording of the album were born out of three months of downtime and soul searching.

Led Zep wrote eight new songs for the album but it was too long for the typical length of a single LP. ‘In My Time of Dying’ and ‘Kashmir’ may have been the culprits. The former was first recorded by Blind Willie Johnson in 1927 but “reinterpreted” by Led Zep. It’s an extremely haunting blues version and just over eleven minutes long. The arabesque and mystical anthem ‘Kashmir’, in turn, is just over eight minutes long and took almost three years to complete. It’s one of their most successful musical statements ever. From a modern perspective, the freedom they enjoyed to record albums sound almost made up – but it’s how they did things back then. The band decided to make ‘Physical Graffiti’ a double album by including unreleased outtakes from earlier recording sessions. No doubt this album is the last of the epic Led Zep studio albums. Before the entire empire began to unravel. If you don’t know the history you can start by reading ‘Trampled under Foot’ written by Barney Hoskyns. I promised to keep it short so I’m moving on.

20150303_193120The rest of the “new songs” like ‘Custard Pie’, ‘In the Light’ and ‘Trampled under Foot’, for instance, are all great songs but in my view the inclusion of the outtakes of previous albums in ‘Physical Graffiti’ led to its ultimate success. Jimmy Page admitted this in several interviews. The album represents quite a few years of creative development – a mix of blues,bluegrass, country, rock, reggae and middle eastern influences. It almost sounds like a greatest hits album. And this is how Gen X got to know Led Zep – diverse and already fully developed. My favourites are the outtakes from their 1973 album, ‘Houses of the Holy’. The title track intentionally left out to be used on the ‘Physical Graffiti’ album is pure classic Led Zep. The acoustic blues song ‘Black Country Woman’ was recorded outdoors in Mick Jagger’s garden – the recording engineer accidentally recorded an airplane flying overhead and you can hear Robert Plant laughing and saying “nah leave it”.Sigh…Artistic Freedom. And then ‘the Rover’, one of those typical wandering free spirit Led Zep tunes, with insane drumming and a killer riff.

The first thing people ask you when they hear you collect and listen to vinyl is“do they still make them?”. Oh yes, and boy do they still make them. I am a fan of the older pressings but when you’re looking for new music or you absolutely love a band (or many of them) or you struggle to find the older pressings, the “new” 180g pressings can give you just as much listening pleasure. There is a whole debate around which of these sound better. In laymen’s terms the “new” 180g vinyl is thicker and heavier then the older 120-140g pressings and it’s less prone to become warped over time. One would think that the new pressings would always sound better but that’s not always the case. The sound quality really depends on the original recording, the mastering and how the record was pressed. Of course the manner in which you looked after an older pressing over the years makes the world of difference.

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The 40th Anniversary Edition of Physical Graffiti was released in three editions:

  • The 2 LP Normal Edition replicating the original album,
  • The 3 LP (Deluxe Edition) containing the original LPs plus one vinyl containing unreleased studio outtakes.
  • And then for the serious collector the Super Deluxe Edition Box Set complete with the three LPs mentioned above, three CDs and a hardcopy book.

I play tested the normal edition remaster – what a joy it was opening the album jacket. It looks exactly like the original, consisting of the outer cover, two inner sleeves and a middle insert cover. The inner sleeves has various objects and people on each window. The middle insert cover is white with details of the album track listings and recording info. The windows on the outer cover is cut out, so when the middle cover is wrapped around the two inner sleeves and inserted into the outer cover, the title of the album Physical Graffiti becomes visible. I absolutely love this kind of artwork. It makes me feel like a kid in a candy store while unwrapping Christmas presents.

I may not be the ultimate audiophile but this album sounds superb on my system. I also have Led Zep I and II of this remastered series and its really mastered and pressed with quality in mind. In good time I will include most of the 3LP Deluxe versions in my collection as well.

If you learn to pace yourself collecting vinyl is the best hobby in the world. If only I can figure out how…….

If you want more detail check out the Mr Vinyl website: http://http://www.mrvinyl.co.za/shop/preorder-led-zeppelin-physical-graffiti-2015-remaster/

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