Friday, January 27, 2012

The Agony of Beatlemania

The Beatles have become part of the fabric of our lives. Ringo has a new CD out, Paul’s getting married and touring, there is a new film about George, no doubt a book about John and classic rock radio has their tunes in regular rotation. As they have moved from superstar to iconic status, the fans have created an insatiable desire for anything “Beatles.”

So it came as no surprise to see their album covers made into jigsaw puzzles. The size of long playing albums led to a creative outburst in the 1960s and ‘70s that lives on today. My collection of covers is worth more than the music they were made to protect. Why else would stores like Urban Outfitters want to sell me expensive frames to hang them on my walls? Or Restoration Hardware sell me a book of covers?

It was a however, a bit of a surprise to get a birthday present of a puzzle based on the cover of “Revolver.” Released in 1966, it was one of the first rays in the dawn of the psychedelic era. It was a transition for them. They mixed the classic love songs (Got To Get You Into My Life) with the political tunes (Taxman), the mysterious tales (Eleanor Rigby) and the whimsical (Yellow Submarine).

And of course the cover was eye catching and so different from early Beatles publicity still covers.

Imagine this cover chopped into 500 tiny pieces. Now think about how many of those pieces are all white. Or white with thin black lines. Or pieces of black lines. Or how many heads of hair (each slightly different) there are. Or how many images there are of John, Paul, George and Ringo. I count about 37.

My plan was to wait until my daughter got home for the holidays and we would knock it out in a few evenings in front of the fireplace. What actually happened was the night before she left she proclaimed: "We haven’t done the puzzle yet." So after several hours of singing along with old Beatles albums (it was interesting that both mother and daughter know all the words), we managed to get the edge together and the top center section of photos. Then my daughter left and it sat there, daring me to finish it.

After several tortortuously slow sessions (one piece an hour), along came the perfect time wasting excuse: The NFL Playoffs. After the better part of four games, I had given up thoughts of tossing it all back in the box and convinced myself that forty-five years after it was created, I could summon the patience and persistence to complete this.

I hit the home stretch during the State of the Union and finally at 2:08 pm, January 25, the last piece went in.

Now I am thinking of which of my “friends” I might pass this puzzle on to and wondering if its creator, Klaus Voorman (another session man with a great backstory) has ever assembled his Grammy award winning cover from 500 pieces. And while enjoying my newly found free time, I am fervently hoping no one decides to give me Sgt. Pepper next year.

Friday, January 20, 2012

David Bromberg: Back with Bang

We interrupt our plans for a year in review for an album in review. David Bromberg, a grizzled veteran who had dropped off the music radar for a career making violins is back with a new album that demonstrates why he was a much sought after session player (guitar, mandolin, fiddles) and is the best mix of rock, blues, R & B and roots music that I have heard in years.

His new album,"Use Me" employed a most unusual concept. He called up his friends and colleagues and asked them to write a song for him (or pick a song) and then produce the recording session for him. Perhaps because he had played with so many of them over the years (Rolling Stone Encyclopedia credits him with 90 albums), they climbed on the bandstand with him. The result is a mix of traditional sounding ballads (John Hiatt on Ride On Out A Ways), political protests (Digging in the Deep Blue Sea with Keb Mo'), country swing (Lookout Moutain Girl with Vince Gill) and the basic blues (Use Me produced by the Butcher Brothers, Phil and Joe Nicolo).

Then there's Levon Helm, Dr. John, Los Lobos and Linda Ronstadt, plus others. But I hope you have the point by now. Instead of Central Casting, he called the Rock and Hall of Fame. The result in terms of music is certainly at the level. It's also a trip down memory lane for him and his partners. In the liner notes he refers to how long he has known Keb Mo.
"In the Jurassic Age, before I stopped performing for 22 years, Kevin, like John Hiatt appeared on shows with me. I am very grateful that I wasn't a jerk to either of them or they never would have worked with me on this CD."

My thanks again to Bob Edwards who took us listeners on a tour of Bromberg's violin store and workshop in Wilmington, Delaware. In addition to describing what was in his safe (the really expensive violins), we heard from artisans and about which kind of horsehair from South America they imported to make bows. The story of how the album got created over almost a year was just as fascinating. The connection with Los Lobos came because both Davids (Bromberg and Hidalgo) had done CDs for children at a company called Rabbit Ears.

My only encounter with Mr. Bromberg came at a concert in 1976 at George Washington University in support of his album, "How Late'll Ya Play 'Til." A friend had gotten front row seats and after one particularly rousing song, he looked down at me and said something to the effect: "What's wrong? Don't you like the music? Why aren't you clapping?"

I shrugged while turning shades of crimson behind the footlights and attempted to join in. As my family and a few friends know, not only can I not carry a tune in a bucket, my sense of rhythm is always a half beat slow. Hence I try to avoid clapping in public. The show did go on and I became a fan even after being skewered by his rapier wit. Back in the day that wit produced such laugh out loud fun songs as Sloppy Drunk and Will Not Be Your Fool as well as great takes on Blues standards. He's mellowed since then but on "Use Me," he's uncorked some fine vintage music.