Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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2021 January 29 • Friday

Here's one of the odder items in the Gutbrain surf music collection: a 45 rpm single called Surf by French clarinet player Maxim Saury.

There are two numbers on each side, all of which are also part of an LP called A Mezzeluci.

(While I wouldn't mind owning this LP, it is at present a little too expensive.)

The four songs in question are "Surf City", "Blue Velvet", "Then He Kissed Me" and "Surfer Girl".

So that's about a 50% surf quotient. The feel of the music isn't very surfy. There's no guitar, which makes a surf sound pretty hard to achieve.

But it's pleasant listening, even if the arrangements are fairly straightforward. It's certainly a nice artifact to have!

2021 January 27 • Wednesday

I'm not the only one interested in old paperback books and monster movies. There seems to be a pretty robust community of people who are interested in yesterday's genre fiction ephemera. The artifacts in question are as often distinguished by their quality as by their location on the spectrum of sleaze and prurience.

Your time is valuable, of course. Mine, not so much. I can read and watch whatever and muddle through to the end or, in drastic cases, bail out.

If you're looking for some suggestions, however, there are actual fanzines devoted to this kind odf thing.

One of the better ones is called "bare•bones". A recent "Best of" collection recently provided me with some diverting and educational reading.

Highlights included a survey of the Richard Stark "Parker" novels (which only goes up to Backflash, as that was the most recent volume at time of writing), which made me want to re-read them all again, an article on Ann-Margret movie tie-in books, a piece about the author known as Trevanian and some dizzyingly deep dives into some impressively obscure areas: the Dark Shadows novels (34 of them!), annotated indexes to Saturn Science Fiction and Web Detective Stories magazines and much more.

Enthusiasm tends to be contagious and the fanzine is one of the most enthusiastic forms, if not the most enthusiastic form of communication that we have.

Certainly the excitement, delight and curiousity experienced and expressed by the various "bare•bones" contributors infected me as well. I'll be taking some of their recommendations soon as well as reading some more of their zine.

2021 January 25 • Monday

It's time for an unusual oddball release. The 657th Soundtrack of the Week is Pot-Boilers: Ron Geesin Soundtracks to Stephen Dwoskin Films 1966 – 1970.

This is a recent release from Trunk Records, one of our favorite labels. Founder Jonny Trunk notes Geesin's activities in traditional jazz, electronic music experimentation, library music and various other fields not necessarily having to do with music. Geesin also worked with Pink Floyd.

The first piece, "Chinese Checkers", leans heavily on the banjo, though the instrument is not played in the ways with which most people are familiar. There are some other sounds that come and go and many of them are most likely created by tape manipulation. It's a spacious piece, relaxed, mesmerizing and with definite shapes and directions.

Next up is "Moment", which is entirely a throbbing and sustained electric sound, a gentle sort of noise, more or less one pitch, though there are some subtle variations in there.

Flip the record and you'll hear "Pot-Boiler" first, another banjo and tape recorder creation, building on what Geesin had discovered in the process of making "Chinese Checkers". Assuming, of course, that this is the chronology. Whatever the case, "Pot-Boiler" sounds more ambitious and more assured and also gets a lot of mileage out of a cymbalom or the inside of a piano or both.

"Alone" is a very minimalist and tenebrous cue, consisting of only one low note that gets struck (or somehow sounded), resonates and bends up slightly at the end of its duration. This is perhaps done with tape recorder. Perhaps the tape is also slowed done and/or otherwise altered to create either the low frequency or the bend or both. Either way it's agreeably hypnotic and probably worked well in its cinematic context.

Startlingly familiar piano playing is a shock to the ears when you leave "Alone" to enter "Feet". It's a bit silent movie-ish, a bit stride and all kind of frantic and slightly crazy sounding.

2021 January 22 • Friday

As awful as 2020 was, it had its pleasantries, at least for me. There was an awful lot of sitting in a rocking chair and listening to records. I hope to continue this particular activity for the rest of my life.

The records in question were often soundtracks, as you might expect, but I also started to delve into 1950s and 1960s jazz guitar, starting with a focus on Howard Roberts and working backwards from there, checking out Mundell Lowe, Sal Salvador, Joe Puma, those sorts of things.

It's a fascinating field and we're nowhere near done with it. It seems that Julian Lage has been doing something similar. The new Julian Lage custom guitar from Collings was apparently inspired by Lage's interest in jazz guitarists from that era, in particular their sound and in even more particular the pickups on their guitars, which of course have quite a bit to do with the sound.

And so the Collings Julian Lage guitar, which looks quite nice and also quite Gretschy, was built around particular pickups.

Even if I lived another hundred or even two hundred years, I would never have Julian's facility and musicality and all around positive energy, but I could imagine having one of those guitars. At this precise moment I've invested all of my guitar money in a custom aluminum guitar from Electrical Guitar Company so, alas, I shan't be getting one anytime soon.

Soundtracks and mid-century jazz guitar... what's missing?

You guessed it! Surf music and rock and roll instrumental records, which almost invariably seem to be guitar-centered.

So I listened to a lot of those and even ordered some records from some faraway places such as Japan and Finland and even Canada.

I think that Finland's The Quiets is perhaps my favorite of the second wave, that is, not a band from the '60s but of the bands that loved this music and decided to play it as well even though it was the '80s or '90s or whatever.

Current favorite band of this sort of right now is The Surfrajettes, who I believe are based in Toronto. I have their records, their poster and their t-shirt.

But perhaps the most unusual record from this particular zone is this one from the Russian Melodiya label, which I had previously only associated with Glenn Gould bootlegs.

It's called Singing Guitars, translated from the Russian.

It's a very cool cover and a very cool 10-inch record.

It alternates Russian vocal numbers with (presumably) Shadows-inspired instrumentals such as "Apache".

I don't know much about it except that it was priced at one ruble and thirty kopeks when it came out. The price is printed on the label in the center of the disc!

The importance and influence of The Shadows seem to be known only to a relatively small group of people but this record is, in and of itself, a remarkable artifact that testifies to their reach.

That's how it seems to me, anyway.

2021 January 20 • Wednesday

On a whim and while riding a wave of supporting our local independent bookstore (Park Slope's Community Bookstore), I thought what the hell, and added Fear, Dario Argento's autobiography, to an order I was placing.

Argento was an important figure for me when I was dreaming of going to film school, going to film school and then dropping out of film school. Youth, in other words. Adolescence and its radioactive half-life.

These days, as the middle-aged father of a teenager, Argento is more of a curiosity than an inspiration.

I'm sure that Suspiria is still great and Deep Red is still too long but has some interesting scenes and a great soundtrack. His first three movies are probably still worth a look for some of the visual elements and the Ennio Morricone soundtracks. I bet I would still enjoy Phenomena.

After reading his autobiography, I'm curious to revisit some of the other movies. Is there anything good about Tenebre other than a technically impressive crane shot? Is Inferno as bad as I remember it? (This is actually a question that's come up several times over the last few decades. It has at least a few times led me to rewatch the movie and the answer has always been yes.)

And then there are the later works that I never saw. I did, at some point, watch the third movie in the Three Mothers trilogy, and thought it was absolutely terrible, just completely worthless.

So that doesn't really bode well for the other stuff that Dario has been up to in the last twenty-five years or so, but who knows, maybe I'll take a look at something on a rainy day.

The autobiography is a light read. It's interesting to learn about his unusual childhood, with show biz-connected parents and a teenage decampment to Paris, which led to educations in both film and sex.

Also of note is his first career as a film critic for a newspaper.

Of course we hear a bit about the relationships he had with the mothers of his two daughters, as well as the lives led by Fiore and Asia Argento.

And naturally there are the famous people that cross paths. But nothing is really gone into in depth. There are a couple of anecdotes about his collaboration with Bernardo Bertolucci and Sergio Leone for Once Upon a Time in the West, but that's it.

There's about an equal amount of time given to Morricone, just a few sentences.

Discussing the movie Trauma, Agento writes, "Piper Laurie had already starred as a sadistic and possessive mother in Carrie (1976) by Brian De Palma, a director who often referenced me in his work, so now it was my turn to return the 'favour.'"

I find it highly unlikely that De Palma has ever "referenced" Argento in any of his films and it's strange that Argento doesn't mention that Trauma was the first time he worked with composer Pino Donaggio, who scored Carrie and other De Palma films. And casting Piper Laurie in a movie almost twenty years after she had been in a De Palma movie doesn't seem like much of a tribute either.

Like most of the book, this small excerpt lacks both breadth and depth. It's more dubious than most of what you can read in Fear, though. While this De Palma connection seems fairly implausible—I would imagine Argento being more influenced by De Palma than vice versa—the bulk of what Argento writes seems reasonable enough.

Other items of interest include Argento wrestling seriously with suicidal urges around the time of Suspiria, his relationship to drugs (daily pot smoker for about forty years) and food (celiac and, for quite some time, vegetarian), behind the scenes of film production and tussles with actors, crazed fans and other antagonists, including at one point the police (when he's arrested on false hard drug charges). (

So this is a book for Argento fans and horror movie afficionados, definitely not for the casual reader.

The first line is "For some months I have been living at the Hotel Flora in Via Veneto".

2021 January 18 • Monday

The 656th Soundtrack of the Week is an interesting collaboration: music by Henry Mancini and lyrics by Rod McKuen for the movie Me, Natalie, which starred Patty Duke and also happens to be the first movie Al Pacino was ever in.

It opens with "Natalie", in which Mancini's swaying, velvety orchestral wizardry backs up a smooth, gentle yet emotional vocal turn by McKuen himself. It's one of Mancini's great melodies.

The second track heavily leans on that L.A. jazz chorus concept that I really don't like very much. They sing without words and it's a good tune with a nice groove, called "Free!", sort of a pop bossa swing thing with some nice saxophone playing. Listen closely and you'll hear a figure that anticipates Mancini's theme for Silver Streak.

The same orchestra and chorus return in the next cut for "Sequence for Uncle Harold (Includes 'Natalie')", a more soundtracky arrangement of McKuen's opening number, again with a lovely groove and nice string arrangements as well as an intriguing keyboard part—clavinet? harpsichord? something else?— but also the wordless vocal group.

Probably whenever you see a soundtrack record from the 1960s that has an instrumental track called "A Groovy Mood", you should just get it. The mood on this one is quite groovy, with a massive organ—Hammond? Wurlitzer?—swinging hard with terrific backing from bass and drums. I'm guessing it's Shelly Manne on the kit.

Then we get the promisingly titled "Off-Ramp to Nowhere", performed by The Die-Hard Trippers and with vocals by Alan Braunstein. This is a fairly straightforward acid rock blues number, fairly raw in comparison to the rest of the music here but not particularly special in any way. Presumably this is source music for a club scene or something.

Side A ends with another instrumental, "Theme for Losers", a sensitive and plaintive piano number that sounds very much like a love theme and is pure Mancini magic, with pillowy strings and gently strummed guitar.

Flip the record over and we get another Rod McKuen vocal number, this one called "We". It's an uplifting and hopeful song with inspirational lyrics about seeing the sun rise in the morning and taking your own road in life, etc. It's another lovely song, similar to "Natalie" as well as the "Theme for Losers".

Another instrumental, "W. A. Mozart, I Love You", comes next, and it's a peppy, chirpy and brisk piece whose good cheer is irresistible. Just when you think you know it, it goes into an acid rock break beat section with a somewhat frenzied flute solo!

"In and Out of Love Montage (Includes 'Natalie' and 'We')" credits the orchestra and chorus but there's no singing on it. Other than that, most of it sounds like you'd expect, though it has piano as the main voice for the first part and then that harpsichord-like keyboard as the main voice for the second part with a bit of celeste or glockenspiel thrown in as well. The conclusion of the piece is all about the strings and ventures into some moodier and more ominous-sounding places.

The very short cue "Bench Warmer" is a bouncy and swinging number with some wailing electric keyboard playing. Is it a Continental or some other organ? It's hard to tell whether the melody is played just by horns or whether it's a combination of horns and voices.

Finally there's "Dear David (Includes 'Natalie and 'We')", which features some of Patty Duke's dialogue from the film, in which we hear her voice reading the text of a letter her character has written to another character named David. The sung vocals are handled by the jazz chorus.

2021 January 15 • Friday

Today's the day!

The latest Gutbrain Records release, Bob Davoli's Wistfully Yours, is out!

You can order it here.

This is the single CD version, which has 15 songs on it.

Coming soon is the 37-song Deluxe Version.

Both will be available on CD and vinyl but Wistfully Yours premieres today as a digital download.

All proceeds will be donated to Food Not Bombs!

2021 January 13 • Wednesday

I found the 1963 movie The Wheeler Dealers to be charming and genuinely funny. It's not making a big deal about anything but it succeeds as a light romantic comedy that nimbly skips around and genially pokes at this and that target.

It's even possible to make the case that it's trying to be a somewhat feminist movie.

You could also see it as an antecedent of Coogan's Bluff and Billions.

But what you really need to know about it is LIMITED FARM BILL FAVORED! Twice!


2021 January 11 • Monday

For the 655th Soundtrack of the Week we return to one of our favorite composers, the great Les Baxter, and one of his more unusual assignments, the music for Alakazam the Great.

This was a Japanese animated movie from 1960 that got a US release after some editing and, of course, dubbing the voices into English.

Those voices included Jonathan Winters and, in the lead role, Frankie Avalon.

Avalon is credited only with "singing voice" on both imdb and wikipedia but on the record all of the songs have vocals by Bobby Adano.

Is it just Adano on the record but Avalon in the movie? I have no idea. I apologize in advance if you lose sleep over this mystery.

But there is the music to consider. Les Baxter receives sole credit for each piece but surely the lyrics must have come from somewhere else, presumably from whoever wrote the English-language version? Or perhaps not. Maybe Mr. Baxter was brought on board to do everything. I just don't know of any other examples of him writing lyrics.

The first track is called "Introduction" and it has a lush and dramatic orchestration that serves as background for expository narration. In fact you can barely hear the music under the talking.

But it's over with fast and then we're in the very swinging "Aliki Aliko Alakazam", which could have been used as an arrangement for a Sinatra session. It's certainly up there with Nelson Riddle and his peers. In addition to singing there's also some whistling.

This is followed by another bit of spoken narration that sets the narration to another very swinging tune, "Ali's Song", which again reminds me of Sinatra sessions circa his move from Capitol to Reprise.

The narrator checks in again and then we have the instrumental "Magic Man", which has more of a rock beat to it while combining elements of big band/orchestral sing and some of Baxter's skill with exotica. The piano playing is particularly good and I have to wonder if it's Mr. Baxter himself.

Again a little bit of speaking about what's happening in the story and then we get "Hey, I'm in Love Again", which is a fairly corny song, reminiscent of "Aliki Aliko Alakazam" but with a croony section added and some good use of electric guitar and percussion.

After another check-in with our raconteur we get the last tune on Side A, "Magic Man", another foot-tapping swinging piece with great drumming.

The B side starts out with our narrator, of course, explaining that one of the characters, feeling lonely, asks bluebirds for help and that gives us our first real shift in mood, the poignant and richly textured "Blue Bird in the Cherry Tree", which combines Baxter's knowledge of instruments from other countries with writing for strings that's up there with Henry Mancini.

A test of courage, we're told, involving a waterfall, comes next, with the perky and pleasingly syncopated "Under the Roaring Waterfall", which gives Mr. Baxter the most room so far for flexing his exotica muscles. and also quotes "Aliki Aliko Alakazam".

Then there's an instrumental version of "Blue Bird in the Cherry Tree", very much a feature for the strings and more subdued than the vocal version.

"Alakazam Ballet Fantasy" is probably pretty self-explanatory but get a spoken intro about the hero trying to find a secret passage. It's another shift in the music, now more like dramatic underscore than anything else on the record, and a good demonstration of Baxrter's composing and arranging chops. The music is similar to Tchaikovsky maybe?

And then we come to the end and "Finale", preceded by one last bit of narration that includes a triumphant declaration of the title. The music itself revisits the various themes we've heard before while ending on an energetic and amusing note.

2021 January 08 • Friday

There's a sub-genre of music that's basically soundtracks for movies that don't exist. Running parallel to this are recordings of what soundtrack fans generally refer to as "crime jazz", which I suppose speaks for itself. The Man with the Golden Arm and Peter Gunn might be the first examples that come to mind of crime jazz soundtracks and "crime jazz" would be a non-soundtrack jazz record that reminds listeners of that kind of soundtrack music.

On April 8, 1960, Irving Joseph conducted a recording of a dozen of his original compositions, creating a concept record of "crime jazz", music that was supposed to be in exactly that vein. Whether it qualifies as a soundtrack for a movie or television show that doesn't exist is, I suppose, up for debate if that's your idea of a good time.

Nat Hentoff wrote liner notes which explain. "It tries to get at the marrow of many of the pervasive themes that have become institutionalized in film and TV treatment of hoods, jails and cops," he writes. "Irv Joseph has utilized his considerable training and experience in music to create new settings in which the emotions become even more charged with the imminence of a shot in the night and a fist in the teeth."

Hentoff writes a short paragraph about each piece on the record and frequently references crime books: "Robert Neese's Prison Exposures, James Horan's The Mob's Man and (with Harold Danforth) Big City Crimes and Ed Reid's The Mafia.

History and current events get their mentions as well.

It's a very interesting record even before you listen to it. It gets a lot more interesting when you hear it, however. It's called Murder, Inc..

The record starts with "Prison Break", which kicks off with timpani and sharp menacing statements from horns as well as a couple of other instruments. The timpani start going nuts bending notes. Guitarists Art Ryerson and Bucky Pizzarelli make some sparse, subtle and interesting contributions. The timpani freak out is courtesy of percussionists Eddie Costa and Phil Kraus, while Osie Johnson is behind the drum kit, at times keeping a deep groove going with bassist Milt Hinton. The other musicians on this, as well as “April in Brownsville”, “Double Cross”, “Crime Wave”, “The Big Six” and “We the Jury” are Danny Banks on baritone sax, Phil Bodner on alto sax, clarinet and alto flute, Jimmy Maxwell on trumpet, Tommy Mitchell on bass trombone and Bernie Leighton on piano.

The second tune, “State’s Evidence”, is a more swinging affair with a breezy jazz feel and relaxed trumpet slowing but with very dark and heavy sounds from the rest of the ensemble and, once again, very sparse and subtle use of electronic guitar. Again it starts with timpani, which I love. From the sound of it, I wonder if one of the guitarists is playing bass guitar. That would fit.

This second piece is performed by the second (of two) ensembles on the record. On “State’s Evidence”, as well as on “Murder Inc.”, “The Contract”, “Stool Pigeon”, “Bad Day in Brooklyn” and “Third Degree” you’ll hear Saul Schlinger on baritone sax, Phil Bodner on alto sax, clarinet and alto flute, Lou Mucci on trumpet, Tommy Mitchell on bass trombone, Dick Hixon on bass trombone, Moe Wechsler on piano, George Duvivier on bass, Osie Johnson on drums, Art Ryerson on guitar, Barry Galbraith on guitar, Eddie Costa on percussion and George Devens on percussion.

“Third Degree” starts with some fast-paced and frantic piano playing that’s also dense enough that it sounds at first like two people, but it’s just one very accomplished pianist who literally has his hands full. The piano also gets solo breaks where it spins off into these jagged, stabbing, ascending and descending lines and runs. Again some of the electric guitar work sounds like electric bass guitar.

Osie Johnson and George Duvivier get “The Contract” going with a swing beat and walking bass line. When the rest of the band comes in, including some excellent vibes playing by, I presume, Eddie Costa, we’re back in more familiar territory of the Elmer Bernstein or Henry Mancini variety. The deep and low guitar sounds and perky wood percussion instrument (marimba?) give it a touch of the unusual, however. There are even some guitar breaks in this one and the instrument has a tone that I don’t think I’ve heard before, whatever kind of guitar it is. It would be so great to know not just the model of guitar but also the amp.

Jazz ostinati kick off “We the Jury”, which also features great vibes playing, probably courtesy of Eddie Costa again. The way the electric guitars work with the reeds here is particularly good. There’s also a really nice clarinet solo and, at the end, a trumpet solo as well as effective use of muted vibes.

Another ostinato approach makes up the bulk of “Crime Wave” and it’s particularly relentless while also being swirling and hypnotic. This is some kind of crime jazz minimalism but it’s kind of a short and noisy piece. It ends with whistles being blown and horns being blared and has some memorable guitar strumming.

Side 2 starts with “Stool Pigeon” and is a fast jazz piece with some remarkably intricate writing and arranging as well as some urgent guitar playing.

“Bad Day in Brooklyn” is the most straightforward tune so far, with some familiar harmonic movement and an inside approach to soloing from piano, vibes, guitar and drums.

For the title track we’re definitely back in the musical world that Elmer Bernstein created for The Man with the Golden Arm and explored further in the music for Johnny Staccato. Maddeningly repetitious and aggressively pulsating rhythmic lines while lyrical figures stretch out above them, occasionally allowing for some instrumental breaks from other members of the ensemble.

There isn’t a lot of mellow on this record but we do get a more relaxed piece in “The Big Six”, still a moderate tempo swing piece with some sharp and angular writing but certainly by comparison a more easygoing number. There are good solos from the flute and bass clarinet.

Vibes kick off “Double Cross” with something that sounds a bit similar to a hopped-up version of “Fever” and then we get some vibes soloing on top of just upright bass accompaniment. Then the bass drops out, a bit of electric guitar adds some percussive sounds, the guitar leaves and bass and drums come in, soon to be followed by the rest of the ensemble. It’s definitely a feature for the vibraphone, though. It plays throughout.

More startling bass (?) guitar work is heard up front in “April in Brownsville”, another relatively relaxed tune, this one bluesy and with a touch of Mancini to it.

Interestingly, it seems that this record was reissued as a surf record called Hang Ten, ostensibly by The Wedges.

It's the same music but not in the same sequence as Murder, Inc. and of course with the names of the tunes changed to make them sound like surf music. Anybody buying this record hoping to hear actual surf guitars and drums would be, well, probably disappointed, good record though it is.

A few of the pieces from the Murder, Inc. record also, it seems, ended up on an album called Comic Book Heroes, supposedly performed by The Capes & Masks but actually another Irving Joseph project. It's available on his Bandcamp page.

2021 January 06 • Wednesday

As 2020 was coming to an end I read a novel first published in 1899. It's rare for me to read something of that vintage unless it's, say, Sherlock Holmes or Edgar Allan Poe or something like that.

But Mollie E. Moore Davis's The Wire-Cutters is considered the prototype of the Western genre, predating other novels, such as The Virginian by Owen Wister, which are usually cited as the "first" such thing. So that drew me in.

Davis was a journalist as well as a fiction writer and she lived in the places described in this book. Not just the places but also the people are described with vivid and precise detail that the story really feels alive and real despite some very difficult to believe, border-line "fantastic" elements and some broad-stroke melodramatic plot movements—although of the sort that I find immensely enjoyable. If I want realism I'll take a walk around the block.

The parts of the story that take place in Texas and deal with a "fence-cutting war" (based on actual events), however, don't strain credulity whatsoever, despite having a very clear white hat/black hat split between obvious hero and obvious villain.

As in most (all?) classic Western stories, due process is at the heart of the conflict. In this case it has to do with grazing rights for cattle and access to both grass and water.

Some private land ownders quite legally and properly fence off their land so their cattle are taken care of. Others quite illegally and improperly fence off land that doesn't belong to them—it might be public land or someone else's privately owned land.

The responses to this are similarly bifurcated. Our hero issues a hard no on a night-time raid but goes in broad daylight to confront one of the law breakers, attempts to reason with him, and then destroys his fences in plain sight while being fired upon and refusing to fire back. Such is virtue.

The villain, on the other hand, corrupts the townspeople and rides by night to assault, well, pretty much anyone, anywhere, for any reason, even going so far as to destroy a public spring out of spite.

There's a lot more going on here than this "tragedy of the commons"-inspired storyline might indicate. The novel starts as a Southern plantation/Civil War story, moves on to the Western, slips into a courtroom drama, and ends as a romance. It's fascinating and the smooth and steady pull of Davis's writing is irresistible.

The attention she gives character and custom, particularly involving community affairs (the church, the post office) and superstition is unsually good.

Consider this scene, which in context is almost unbearably exciting. Our hero, Leroy Hilliard, is currently being framed for the murder of Jack Ransome, brother of Margaret Ransome. Hilliard himself has been like a brother to both Ransomes and this particular injustice is thus especially cruel.

The entire community is at church for a New Year's Day service—another exquisite detail is the excitement caused by the arrival of Baptism in this region—and everyone there is, of course, gossiping about how Leroy killed Margaret's brother and what's going to happen as a result.

Margaret, of course, doesn't believe the vicious rumors for even a moment.

"Believe it!" echoed Margaret scornfully. "If there is any one on these grounds who wants to know what I think of such a monstrous story, I will show him! She quitted the women and walked rapidly over to where Hilliard stood. It was an unheard-of thing for an unmarried woman to cross the invisible line of demarcation between the women's or family side of the churchyard and the men's lounging place until after the second sermon. Everybody, therefore, turned open-mouthed at this flagrant violation of etiquette. There were some men present who expected nothing less than a scathing denunciation of the supposed assassin from the lips of his victim's sister. These pressed forward to listen; others held back, apprehensive of they knew not what; all were only the more bewildered when she put out her hand and spoke a few cordial but commonplace words of greeting in a clear unembarrassed tone. Only the women understood her action.

This might not seem like much just on its own like this, but when you reach this scene in the book, it's amazing. This is because of how fully and adeptly Davis has presented the reader with a portrait of an entire world and its people.

So, recommended for sure, if it's in your zone. Be warned, though, that this book is from 1899 and partly takes place in Southern plantations before, during and after the Civil War. There are slaves and there are words, descriptions, speech and events that will probably be intolerable for some, regardless of context or intent.

It remains only to mention how I came to read this book in the first place.

I was watching the Howard Hawks movie of The Big Sleep and finding it kind of boring, to be honest. It's a neat story and all about how William Faulkner and Leigh Brackett took alternating chapters of the book and turned them into a screenplay but the movie unsurprisingly lacks cohesion and is closer to incoherence than it should be. Just one of them should have written it and it should have been Brackett.

So I had been watching it just hoping to see a newspaper with the headline NEW TAX BILL MAY BE NEEDED or perhaps LIMITED FARM BILL FAVORED but they were not in evidence. At least, not in the first half. I didn't actually make it all the way through.

My second favorite thing to look for is what books might be in the backgrounds of scenes and, sure enough, this is where I first heard of The Wire-Cutters.

Of course I'd also like to know whose portrait that is on the wall.

2021 January 04 • Monday

The Sandals' music for The Endless Summer is one of our favorite soundtrack albums but we also really love their sophomore effort, The Last of the Ski Bums. And so it's our 655th Soundtrack of the Week.

The record opens with "Winter Spell", a dreamy and floaty song which has a lovely blend of acoustic guitar and organ.

Then we get a vocal number with a country rock shuffle groove, "Ski Bum", probably something that accompanies the opening credits. "Cheese and crackers / Cool red wine / Back seat living / Suits me fine."

"Children of the Sun" starts out with resonant strumemd acoustic guitar chords. A bit of dissonance and bowed upright bass comes in and then what sounds like tablas. Electric guitar and organ eventually join and the tuen has an expansive and pleasantly sedate psychedelic sound.

The organ kicks off "Agunus Night", which might remind you of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps". Certainly the electri guitar, bass and drums are in that zone, but then there's an uenexpected shift to acoustic guitar and tabla and, later, another organ break. These different approaches are smoothly alternated and the resulting number is really cool and interesting.

Folky/baroquey acoustic guitars open "Yellow Night", another dreamy instrumental. The groove gets heavy at the end.

The last tune on the A side is a gritty country acid rock piece, the amusingly titled "Soul Something" which has some really cool-sounding keyboard playing in it as well as lots of lead electric guitar. Really love the bridge in this song.

Flip the record and you're "Coming Down Slow" with a flurry of a drum intro and then a floaty and swinging instrumental that's really catchy and shows, I think, some Booker T & The M.G.'s influence. Interestingly, after a high-energy opening the music falls through a trap door into a surprise space where everything gets slower and sparser. and then gradually builds in intensity.

"Summer's Gone" is a very wistful tune that features harmonica and in parts has a "House of the Rising Sun" feel.

Frantic bongo playing provides the introduction to "Return from the Casino", which has a very spacey and free-floating feel to it, with resonant cymbal crashes, vibrating long tones from the organ and electric guitars. Then the acoustic guitar sets the pace with an attack-heavy flurry of strumming and plucking. Tablas come in, too, and the effect is very exciting. It ends with an electric psycheelic freak out.

"Flowers To Dance On" has kind of a Byrds feeling to it and shines a spotlight on the guitars and keyboards. It's the only number written by the keyboard player in the band.

Then we're back in wistful territory with "Water and Stone" and acoustic guitar and harmonica. There's a great watery-sounding solo from either electric guitar or keyboard; not really sure which it is.

The record comes to an end with "Porsche", a bouncy keyboard-driven song whose melody is a bit like "Eleanor Rigby". Typically, the band likes to balance this groove with a stark contrast in rhythm and feel. They're full of surprises! Some really good guitar and organ soloing here as well.

2021 January 01 • Friday

Happy New Year!

We often look back at the year that just ended. Go ahead and do it. We dare you. We found it easier to look a little further back. A lot further. Before freaking World War 1, in fact.

Here's the April 1913 issue of Pearson's Magazine

It's not the oldest such thing that we own, but it's one of the oldest.

Much of the contents looks interesting, even if only in a time capsule sort of way.

But the cover story intrigued us. "Napoleon Prince, Cleverest Rogue" sounds pretty good. Inside you'll find this character starring in a story called "The Second Affair in Balukia", written by May Edginton.

It is apparently the second (at least) story featuring this cleverest rogue and only a mild compulsion to begin at the beginning has so far prevented us from reading it.

A little surfing has led us to a collection of Napoleon Prince stories and we look forward to the full treatment.