Rotary Connection

Rotary Connection

Thanks the production work of Charles Stepney & the proto-Hendrix guitar playing of Phil Upchurch, & the soaring voice of Minnie Riperton – Rotary Connection emerged as one of the best experimental soul/psychedelic groups of the 60s. Think Mamas & Papas with Jimi on lead guitar. Their albums mixed originals with sublime covers of songs like Tales of Brave Ulysses, Lady Jane. 

In an mp3 collection I have Rotary Connection: First (1967); Aladdin (1968); Peace (1968); Songs (1969);  Dinner Music (1970); Hey, Love (1971) As well as solo lps by Minnie Ripperton: Come Into My Garden (1970); Perfect Angel (1974);  Adventures in Paradise (1975); Stay in Love (1977).

I had their first & Songs as lps while I was living on the east coast. My friends didn’t like them that much but I was amazed by their first & by Songs – both which I discovered in remainder bins – Cape Breton wasn’t a market for experimental soul/psychedelic 🙂 

The others I found 2nd hand when I moved to Toronto or eventually downloaded. Peace is one of my favourite Christmas albums. It is a very urban soul take on Christmas – the opposite of the Phil Spector holiday album. Sidewalk Santa should be a classic & the guitar work on Silent Night is breathtaking. I you are tired of syrupy Xmas music get this if you don’t have it.

Minnie Riperton was a studio background singer for a few years before Rotary Connection – Charles Stepney utilized her stratospheric voice on several Ramsey Lewis lps (also worth checking out) & produced her first solo lp – Come Into My Garden. It presents her as a ballad singer & sometimes drowns her in distracting orchestrations. 

She stepped away from the industry for a few years to raise her children & made an unexpected return with Perfect Angel (1974) – full of warm, accessible soul-pop – adult contemporary. Adventures in Paradise (1975) – is a more sophisticated lp with denser lyrics about love & sense of self. On Stay in Love (1977) she moves into a soft disco sound (as hoped to bpm diva) that is sexy, soothing & romantic. All worth having. 

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Ronstadt Round-Up

Linda Ronstadt, as much as Janis Joplin, paved the way for females who rock – not that Aretha didn’t pave the way too but soul is very different genre. In my collection I have as mp3 Stone Poneys – Evergreen Vol.2 (1967), Different Drum (Michael Nesmith) Stone Poneys III (1968), art folk. Solo: Silk Purse(1970) country, Linda Ronstadt (1972)   country rock – I Fall To Pieces;  Don’t Cry Now (1974) Desperado – producer Peter Asher; Heart Like a Wheel (1974) Asher You’re No Good; Prisoner in Disguise (1975) Tracks Of My Tears; Hasten Down The Wind (1976) ‘That’ll Be The Day’; Living in the USA (1978): Alison; Mad Love (1980)

The early Stone Poneys are adventurous, the sound is interesting & the material is smart. The band resented that she wanted to the call the shots & so it broke up. I love Hobo on III. Her solo career started off a little unsure as she explored country, country-rock & her voice in incredible but often the material & production reined her in – she did work with studio musicians who became the Eagles. 

But when Peter Asher took over the production her career soared. With songwriters like JD Southern, Jackson Brown, Laura Nyro, The McGarrigle Sisters & even Elvis Costello – she was amazing. I particularly loved ‘I drove past your house lates last night just to see if you were there’ Perhaps the bursty song about stalking & romantic obsessions I can think of. Her work with Nelson Riddle bored me – the songs were too tidy for me. Her Spanish language work is sublime but also was too smooth for me.

I added some other prime female vocalists to the mp3 CD. Smith: A Group Called Smith (1969) lead singer Gayle McCormick sings the shit out of Baby, It’s You. The group fell apart, she did a few solo lps but never really hit the charts again. Here too is Grace Slick’a Dreams (1980) – an unexceptional lp by one of the most exceptional pop voices ever.

The first Pretenders: The Pretenders (1979): with Tattooed Love Boys. This is a stunning lp of powerful raw songs & Chrissie is amazing, as she is on every Pretenders lp. What can one say about Marianne Faithful? Here is Broken English (1979), a remorselessly angry lp with eviscerating songs that quickly reestablished her as a major voice not merely some quiet nostalgia act. 20th Century Blues (1996) is a fine set of ‘cabaret’ & rock with songs by Brecht etc. 

Finally – a couple of more ‘modern’ singers: Grace Jones: Nightclubbing (1981): featuring Walking In The Rain – this was Grace’s step out of disco into alternative. Iconic songs, great engineering & a classic. After the end of the electrodance group Yaz, Alison Moyet launched her solo career with  Alf (1984) a set of sometimes over-dramatic songs that clearly opened the door for Adele. I love this lp.

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MMMostly Jazzy

Working though the M’s in my jazz collection with a part of stand-alones by Medeski, Martin & Wood: keyboards, drums, bass. It’s A Jungle (1993) (Coltrane, Monk), Shack-man (1996). Fun organ based smooth jazz – the organs sound is breathy as opposed to Jimmy Smith’s. The group aims for a funky jazz vibe & are fun but two cds was enough for me.

Next is Pat Metheny. I have as either stand-alone or mp3: Water Colors (ECM 1977), American Garage (ECM 1979) Rejoicing (w Charlie Haden) (ECM 1984), One Quiet Night (2003), The Way Up (2005). He has played as sideman with endless others. His guitar playing is often subtle, somewhat in the Wes Montgomery style but not as relaxed. These are all excellent & any lp he plays on is worth having. One Quiet Night is a relaxing, romantic acoustic set. 

Rounding out the mp3 collection is Egberto Gismonti, (Brazil) – Magico 1979 (w Charlie Haden). Another amazing guitar player – inventive, smooth & worth tracking down. Some George Benson:  The Other Side of Abbey Road (1970), White Rabbit (1972). I suspect Abbey Road is one of the most covered Beatles lp – I have at least two other complete track-by-track set of jazz covers of it. Benson is a guitar player with a great pop singing voice. White Rabbit is a set of pop covers, or rather interpretations, fun but not as interesting as Gabor Szabo. 

Art Pepper: New York Album (1979) Pepper plays a vibrant sax  & this is an excellent set, s bit romantic but solid jazz – none of the pop cover stuff. Charlie Hunter Trio: Bing Bing Bing! (1995) funky jazz with a great guitar sound – here the trio is more like a sextet with horns added to the sound. Finally some Mahavishnu Orchestra: Inner Worlds (1975); Noonward Race (1972 Live at Mar y Sol Festival) – this live track is a race that left me breathless & glad that I had hunted down this live set.

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The Rolling Stones 2

After the death of Brian Jones the Stones moved in a slightly different direction as they adjusted to a new guitarist. Then when this hit the 80’s they seemed to get lost & their lps became more aimless – shall we say, uninspired attempts to remain relevant.

As either stand-alone or mp3 I have Let It Bleed (1969), Sticky Fingers (1971), Exile on Main Street (1972), French EPs, Goats Head Soup (1973), It’s Only R’n’R (1974), Black & Blue (1976) Some Girls (1978) Deluxe Edition, Emotional Rescue (1980), London Singles Collection (2002), Blue & Lonesome (2016).

Bleed & Fingers are well focused & have some of the best writing of their career. Richard’s guitar work is often amazing & I find myself going back to these lps with great pleasure. The set of French EP’s – as you might guess, were released in Europe & each had 3 songs on them – the mixes are different from the lps versions. They ended with the release of Exiles. The London Singles Collection – 3 cds that ends with Sympathy for the Devil. The singles were mixed for radio & the sonics are different & in some cases totally different from the lps versions (Honky Tony Women) – some were never on lp (We Love You/Dandelion) well worth having, whereas the French EP’s are for fanatics lol. Blue & Lonesome  (2016) is their last new release – they return to their roots with a fine set of blues. 

Rounding out the mp3 collection are The Troggs: Trogglodynamite (1967) best known for Wild Thing The Trigs never made it big in the USA but were relatively popular in Britain. Solid bar band stuff. The Rumour was Graham Parkers backup band for many years I did some recording with out him: Max (1977) is an excellent set that shows the band didn’t need him. 

The Beach Boys: Smiley Smile (1967) – more a cult favourite & the studio sessions that nearly destroyed the band. Sweet & sonically dense. Wolf Call! is a fun compilation of various rock-a-billy songs. Rock-a-billy being another of the prime influences on British rock. As are The Esquires: Very Best of  (2012) with funky songs like Get On Up, this is the sort of funky sound the Stones tried to achieve but failed. 

Secos & Molhados is an innovative Brazilian glam-rock band that defies real definition. YouTube videos are wild, the music is tight, rocky, experimental & fun. I have A Volta do Gato Preto (1988). Finally U2’s Songs of Innocence (2014). not one of my favourite bands but they were forcing this lp free on anyone, even those who didn’t want it I opted take it lol. Solid rock but unexceptional.


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The Rolling Stones 1

There was always this argument: who is better The Beatles or the Stones? These were the only two bands pitted this way – there was never an argument: who is better Herman’s Hermits or The Yardbirds? I doubt if The Beatles or The Stones really cared – who was selling most was probably, their concern, if they had any at all. Looking back now I see The Stones had a darker & more sexual sound. The Beatles were lighter & more playful. One would never mistake one for the other.

On shelf as stand-alone or mp3 I have England’s Newest Hit Makers (1964), 12 x 5 (1964), Out of Our Heads (1965), December’s Children (1965), Aftermath (1966), got LIVE if you want it! (1966), Between the Buttons (1967), Satanic Majesties Request (1967), Beggar’s Banquet (1968), Ya-Ya’s Out (1970). 

The other argument was: which is the best Stones lp before 1970? Their material progressed from lp to lp as they went from covers to original songs. I find it impossible to pick a favorite lp – even  favorite song – my favorite moment, however, is Keith’s guitar break in Sympathy For The Devil. Buttons was perhaps their most radio friendly & I did love it. The reviled Majesties is excellent but certainly not Satanic nor as compelling as Banquet.

Rounding out one of the mp3 cds I added: John Mayall with Eric Clapton (1966), A Hard Road (1967), Jazz Blues Fusion (1978) – Mayall is a traditional blues player who was very influential but never really tried for radio top ten. Clapton went on to bigger fame & the Stones replaced the deceased Brian Jones with Mick Taylor – who was one of Mayall’s lead guitarists.

How could I resist Marianne Faithful’s Best (1987) – a sweet collection of her sweet nearly folksy early work. If you only know her later work (Broken English) you will stunned by the purity of her voice. Finally is the soundtrack from Performance (1970): A film starring Mick Jagger as a reclusive rock star caught up in gangsters. Great music & let’s face it Jagger was never reclusive.

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Samuel Amidst the Russians

By Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875 – 1912) a London born, mixed-race composer – referred to as the “African Mahler” – I have Uncovered Vol 1(Piano quintet etc); British Light Music: Suites: Hiawatha, Othello. I don’t recall how I came across Coleridge-Taylor but I was happy to discover him. Can you name any black, classical composers? (Maybe Beethoven – whom Coleridge-Taylor believed was black?)

The fact that one set of his suites is labeled as part of the British Light Music reflects that he wasn’t a Mahler after all but more in line with Elgar, one of his  mentors. Pleasant & non-demanding to the listener this is good, easy listening classical music but lacks personality. 

Maybe if I hadn’t plunked him down in the middle these Russians composers Samuel may have fared better 🙂 On this mp3 cd collection I added: Mussorgsky (Russian): Pictures at an Exhibition, performed by the Trio Solisti (cello, violin, piano) – I have countless versions of Pictures – orchestra, organ, piano duo, jazz – this is a chamber music version & is excellent; Rimsky-Korsakov (Russian) Overtures & Suites: includes Snowmaiden, Christmas Eve – some of these are lush, patriotic, romanic & epic. 

Borodin (Russian): although he regarded medicine and science as his primary occupations, his music is what he is remembered for. Here I have his masterful String Quartets. I love string quartets & these are somber, melodic & sonorous (in a good way). Finally by a master of the romantic style is Tchaikovsky (Russian) with his Liturgy of St. John. These are elegant, almost meditative as he tones down his usual melodramatic hyper-romantic style. I was saving opera for my ‘old age’ but it seems religious choral work fulfilled that aim. Much of it is written with deliberate sonic scale to subtly draw your ears in – which contemporary beta beats music does.

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Layers of Lavender Power

It’s almost as if Orville Peck or Lil Nas X invented lgbtq pop but the history stretches back to Johnny Ray, all the’s changed is it is easier to be out. The road for Orville was paved by rockers like Tom Robinson. Tom Robinson Band’s ‘Power In The Darkness’ (1978) was released the year I moved to Toronto. I also have Two (1979) & his solo: North by Northwest (1982) – on a pair of mp3 cd’s. Tom was an openly gay rocker in the Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson vein. Politically charged & musically dynamic & unequivocally resolute in his stance.

Songs about queer bashing, the complex search for acceptance & love. One – Glad To Be Gay became almost the Queer Nation’s international anthem with its sing-along, music hall chorus. I say almost as he never had the diva appeal of Ross’s I’m Coming Out.

I was thrilled at the time & for the most part the music has stood the test of time. I remember one reviewer saying something to the effect: ‘Robinson’s new album is excellent except his gay lyric is distracting’ I’ve ever read a review of any ‘straight’ perform like Springsteen of Sting in which it was said ‘his heterosexual lyrics are distracting.’ Robinson is still around & after his band broke up he moved into a more folksy direction.

Paving the way for Robinson was Jobriath, who died at 32 in1983. In this collection I have Pidgeon (1969), Jobriath (1973), Creatures of the Street (1974) & As The River Flows (2014) – a compilation of unrelated tracks. I’d read a review way back when I was living in Cape Breton but finding it was impossible. So when I finally had high speed I did a search for some of his recordings.

He was also openly gay from the get go. His voice reminds me of Mick Jagger. The first lp is a rock, by 73 he starts becomes a mix of Bowie & Reed. The music is a touch of music-hall, rock & the lyrics are bitchy. Creatures is a clear influence on Bowie’s Aladdin Sane. As often happens his label wasn’t happy with his direction & held back much of his later work well after his death. This is a biofilm that needs to be made.

A group that was influenced by both Robinson & Jobriath is Bronski Beat: Age of Consent (1984) which rode the wave of electronic dance music by the likes of Duran Duran, Pet Shop Boys. The many mixes of Small Town Boy packed dance floors around the world – who knew a song about queer bashing was danceable? The album is good with an eclectic mix of songs. Summerville’s falsetto is sweet & his uses it well on his solo lp ‘Suddenly Last Summer (2009)’ on songs like People Are Strange! 

I balanced the queer content with some other performers who also packed dance floors: Canada’s own Mitsou: El Mundo (1988) – Mon Cowboy was inescapable for sometime partially thanks to CanCon rules combined with great videos. Elton Motello brought an art punk energy to both Victim of Time (1978) & Pop Art (1980). Jet Boy Jet Girl let us pogo under disco balls. Then there was Cory Hart: First Offense (1983) Sunglasses at Night is a CanCon classic & his boyish good looks worked their way into many a jack-off fantasy.

Finally, rounding out the Robinson cds are Eddie & The Hot Rods: Teenage Depression. (1976) – high energy, punk attack that has smart pop hooks & an  angst that was universal. This is a re-release with dozens of bonus tracks. Their ‘Kids Are Alright’ is dynamic & angry & does The Who proud.

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Robbie Robertson

Next under ‘R’ is Robbie Robertson. I have as mother stand alone or mp3 his first from (1987); Storyville; Contact From Underworld of Red Boy (1998); How To Become Clairvoyant (2011); Sinematic (2019). These are adult-contemporary, as opposed to hit parade top-ten. I was obsessed with the 1987 lp & was amazed that he didn’t sound like The Band – lol. The album has a deep bass resonance I love. The songs are spiritual, emotional, a bit over-the-top but I loved the epic reach of the lyrics & the signing. I always play this one twice when I I listen to it.

The others don’t have the same sonic depth but are fine as explores his native roots, the plight of his tribes. Red Boy is an excellent mix of electronica, sampling & the bonus cd of remixes is worth tracking down. The later lps are more social commentary & not as epic as the first but they are worth having.

Rounding out the mp3 collection I added Hopkins-Bradley: Folk Rock Essentials. Early 70’s & pleasant but I can find nothing about this band expect that they released two lps. For a sonic break I added ABC: Lexicon of Love (1982) – this is a stunning albums. Trevor Horn’s production work is epic & the songs are amazing. It easily transcends its disco roots & is one of the best 80’s lps.

Another singer who stepped away from his band – Talk Talk, is Mark Hollis. I have his self-titled & only lp from 1998. By the time he left the band it has moved from synth pop to a spiritual ambient jazz that defies category. His solo lp continued in that direction & is meditative, thoughtful & blissful

The Specials spun of Fun Boy Three. Here I have their 1st (1982) , Waiting (1983). Like Robertson they changed direction from their origins into a more stripped down sound, percussive inventive. On the second they add cellos, horns & become even moodier.

Finally one of the 60’s super-groups Vanilla Fudge released a ‘new’ lp in 2015: Spirit of ’67 one which they covers songs like The Later, I Heard It Through The Grapevine. It lacks that stretched out sensibility of songs like Season Of  The Witch but is a solid, muscular rock lp that doesn’t besmirch their reputation but doesn’t add anything to it either. Perfect for nostalgia cultists like myself.

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Emergency Birds

On a couple of mp3 cd collections, as well as some stand-alones I have a fair bit of John McLaughlin.

Before John McLaughlin arrived on the US jazz scene he had released Extrapolations (1969) & was featured with Tony Williams’ Lifetime on the riotous Emergency (1969) two aggressive but straight ahead recordings that attracted the attention of Miles Davis who featured him on the monumental Bitches Brew (1970), Live Evil (1971) & several other Davis lps.

Davis inspired McLaughlin to create the Mahvishnu Orchestra that defined jazz-rock with an amazing series of lps: Inner Mounting Flame (1971), Birds of Fire (1973), The Lost Trident Sessions (1973 -1999), Between Nothingness & Eternity (1973 live), Apocalypse (1974) London Symphony, Visions of the Emerald Beyond (1975), Inner Worlds (1976). In midst of which he recorded Love Devotion Surrender (1973) with Carlos Santana.

I love all of these jazz-rock lps. Most of which have been re-released with bonus tracks. As his Mahavishnu moniker indicates there is a more of eastern mystical influence but it doesn’t turn into proto-new age mush. My favourite is Birds of Fire. All are excellent. The Tony Williams is an energy rush that is also another highly influential lp & Williams drumming is epic.

He unplugged with Shakti (1976), A Handful of Beauty (1976), Natural Elements (1977) – turning his focus on an East Indian world music fusion. He remained unplugged with Passion Grace Fire (1983) in acoustic trio. Que Alegrias (1992) saw him return to his trio roots. After The Rain (1995) is fine tribute to John Coltrane.

Rounding of the cds is some by jazz violinist Jean Luc-Ponty: More Than Meets The Ear (1968)/ Aurora (1976)/Imaginary Voyage (1976), Jean was featured with Chick Corea’s Return To Forever & also worked with Frank Zappa! More Than is traditional while the later two are immersed in jazz-fusion. Sweet but perhaps a little too mystical.

Finally some Larry Coryell: Spaces (1970) that features him with McLaughlin, Spaces Revisited (1997); Monk ‘Trane Miles & Me (1999). Coryell us another of the jazz-fusion explorers & produced lots of great stuff before moving on, or perhaps that’s back, to a more conservative sound. Spaces is great, the Monk set offers good, solid explorations of jazz greats.

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Around World Music

By Rip Slyme, a Japanese hip hop group I have Good Times (2010) a hits compilation. Think Beastie Boys in Japanese. Densely layered, sampled, bouncy & fun. Lyric content? Who know? The vocals are strong, emotional & hit that hip-hop rhythm. Having to identify with the lyrics is a blessing as it allows the vocals to be yet another layer to the sound not a layer of meaning that distracts from the sound. I ‘discovered’ them while researching Japanese pop for one of the characters in my novel Picture Perfect. This is hip-hop & not J-Pop.

I saw a Señor Coconut video & loved the playful surrealist images. Turns out this is actually one of several names for German electronica composer Uwe H. Schmidt, now living in Chile. Around the World (2008) is a sweet set of Latino. techno pop jazzy Latino music – elevated lounge music for today’s hipsters. I love it even though I’m no hipster. 

By Chieko Kinbara, the Japanese violinist, I have ‘A Espera’ (2002) a soothing Enya-esque set of song, relaxing without being Celtic or boring. Thanks to some electrobeat & ethereal vocals in what I presume is Japanese. Another I discovered in research for Picture Perfect. Too serene for the character in the novel though.

Alyans is Russian synth pop/rock band. I have Скачать и слушать На Заре (1987) 2000, «Сделано в белом» (1992). Another YouTube discovery after seeing a video of theirs & deciding I needed some Soviet pop in my collection. Think Bauhaus, Erasure but more somber with excellent synth work & broody vocals, & eyeliner. Who knew the Soviets even allowed such dangerous music. Three guys on keyboards & best of all you don’t need to understand Russian to enjoy the vibe. 

 Jeremy Dutcher: Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa (2018) Canadian Indigenous tenor, composer, musicologist, performer and activist. Add two-spirited as well. This is an amazing, dense, modern album that defies categorization. It won awards for best native aboriginal music but this is bigger than that as it straddles pop & classical & demonstrates that there is an accessible Canadian avant guard. 

 Finally by Sasanomaly, a Chinese water/performer I have Obake to Omocha Bako (2015) Similar to Chieko Kinbara this is gentle electrobeat that is not as ethereal but even not knowing the language it has a pleasant emotional pull. Goes against the grain of most JPop hyper bounciness. Similar to Troye Sivan.

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