The Natch’l Blues

Interesting/relevant thing of the day: “natch” as a slang word has been around since at least the 40s (apparently if I read more comics I would know this). All this time I’ve been associating it with annoying modern abbreviations like “obvi” and “hilar”…I guess on some level that means there’s not much difference between awful internet slang and Harlem jive talk.


Anyway, here’s a supremely cool record I bought this past week: Taj Mahal’s 1968 album The Natch’l Blues.

(Actually, I got it for my dad’s birthday, but in between the purchase and the gift-exchange, I happened to get really attached to it. Oops.)

In fact, this album is so cool I decided to revive my short-lived ‘Album of the Week’ tag, because I’ve definitely been listening to it nonstop since Sunday.

The album cover is what first caught my eye, Taj’s moonish mask of a face staring back at me from the records section at Green Apple Books. It looks like it was meant to be framed (unlike the CD version, which scraps the border in favor of a darker cover, probably because the original layout didn’t look as good in a 5×5 inch plastic case). In any case, it’s super intriguing. As soon as I saw it, I immediately snatched it up…although I don’t think many people come to Green Apple with the intention of scouring the bottom-row blues music stack. Even if my dad already had this one, I would totally buy it for myself based on the album art alone.

I came home and put it on the record player to make sure it played ok, and proceeded to melt into a puddle of sweet, sweet blues. If you only listen to one (ok, make that two) songs from this album, let them be “Corinna” and the closing number “Ain’t That a Lot of Love.” While definitely rooted in blues, I love that the songs are infused with a healthy dose of soul and 60s pop, too. A lot of Taj Mahal’s stuff crosses over into various other genres (see Kulanjan), and this album is proof that he was doing it from the start.

Anyway, after listening to the whole thing, I was secretly kind of hoping my dad already had the album so I could keep it. Turns out he didn’t (shucks), and actually he’d been looking for it for a long time! So now he has one of his faves, and I have another record to keep an eye out for.


In other news, Happy George Day! Here’s a collection of photos from when George had a perm, because why not??

Is this a freaky dream?

I know I’ve already shared this via Twitter, but it’s one of my favorite things of all things, so I have no shame in posting it everywhere:

Ahah, the booty shake at the end is the icing on the cake. Confirmed: Mick Jagger and David Bowie can literally do whatever they want. I like to imagine that one day Bowie was like “Hey Mick, let’s record this song!” and then they set up some cameras and made the video how we used to make ours in high school, with the song playing quietly from a CD player in the corner and absolutely no one else around. I’m just going to pretend that that’s how it happened…don’t try to convince me otherwise.

(Equally important is this version, with “Dancing In The Street” replaced with “Cotton Eye Joe.”)

On a related note, our most recent album was The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, which I think wins for best album title and also best album ending (those strings!). I must admit that during the first listen we were in lousy moods (mostly owing to failed tabla re-heading attempts) and then didn’t listen to it again for a while. But then we did, and it instantly became 1000x better. It was also the soundtrack of our drive from SF to SLO last weekend…awesome for driving down 101 at night after a long day of work. Although “Five Years” got stuck in my head for about a week, “Starman” is my current favorite song to belt out at random times:

Anyway, this has been another classic case of “Why have I never listened to this before??” I mean seriously, who goes this far in life without listening to a full David Bowie album? We’re now on the hunt for more of his stuff, specifically Station to Station and Hunky Dory.

…it is quite freaky, isn’t it?

Angels wanna wear my red shoes

So, it would appear that our Album of the Week became more of an Album Every Two Weeks, which then turned into more of an Artist of the Week…which I am not opposed to.

To catch y’all up, last Saturday we took a trip to Rasputin in Berkeley and couldn’t decide between two Elvis Costello albums: My Aim Is True and This Year’s Model. So we chose both. We realized that the main reason most albums are on our list is because they are by artists we haven’t listened to. So why stop at one record?

We also found some other awesome albums over the weekend. In Berkeley we picked up Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust (etc.) and Kishi Bashi’s 151a (which I was SUPER excited to find). Then we stopped briefly at the Alemany Flea Market (more on that below) and then finally went to the Genco household and brought back Joni Mitchell’s Blue and Derek and the Dominoes: Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.

But anyway, back to Elvis.

[Side note: I really love these album covers for some reason. There’s nothing too special about them…maybe it’s the old-timey, Buddy Holly look that I just think is so cool.]

Turns out Alex prefers the 50’s-flavored My Aim Is True, while I like This Year’s Model  better (*dat organ*). Either way, I realized after the first few listens that Elvis Costello is a lot more punk than I originally thought. A lot of those catchy upbeat songs are actually pretty dark and cynical. Plus, “Alison” sounds like a pretty love song but is quite bitter/sad (some people interpret the classic “my aim is true” line to mean the singer’s aim with a gun??). Tricky for someone like me who often doesn’t pay attention to lyrics, haha.

I think the best word to describe both of these albums is solid. Unlike Rumours, I wouldn’t call every song a hit. And unlike Dirty Mind, I didn’t immediately latch on to a lot of them. It took a few listens to get really into it. But each song, on each album, is just incredibly solid. We’ve listened to these albums every day this past week, and I just keep getting more and more fond of them.

A lesson learned this time around: just because it’s a classic/popular album does not mean you will be able to find it in record stores. It’s obvious that these are records people want to hold onto. So, of course they’ll be hard to find in used record bins. Buying reissues is all well and good, but I refuse to do it. I’m not going to pay $30 for a brand new record when there are used gems to be found in a dusty crate somewhere. That’s what makes the search fun! Case in point: when we went to the (rainy) Alemany Flea Market, we came across a whole bunch of 60s and 70s records that a talkative boomer was selling for $1 or $2 apiece. So in addition to an imported version of Janis Joplin’s Pearl and CSNY’s Deja Vu, we also got some free stories about the 60s.

So continues the search. We’ve now got a couple weeks’ worth of albums lined up, but I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of heading to Haight and seeing what I can find.

Next up…Bowie!

That falsetto though

Many of my favorite people (musical and otherwise) cite Prince as a huge inspiration. As in, “I based most of my songwriting career off of this artist” and “He changed the face of pop music forever.” Yet somehow, before this week, I had never listened to a full Prince album all the way through. Not acceptable. So obviously “a Prince album” was moved to the top of our Album of the Week queue. But which one? Purple Rain was a bit of an anomaly because it’s a soundtrack, and we wanted something relatively early in his career, and…let’s stop making excuses, it was the cover. It was the album cover all the way that made us pick Dirty Mind.

Unexpected bonus: when we picked up the record at Rasputin in Mountain View, we found this poster included:

It looks great in our living room.

The goal of these ‘Album of the Week’ (or Every Other Week, or whatever it turns out to be) posts are not so I can write album reviews. I actually really dislike the idea of doing album reviews, I guess that’s because I’m selfish and would rather make these posts more about my personal experiences than providing any sort of useful information.

So instead, I will focus on why we chose the album, how we obtained it, and what it was like listening to it for the first time. In this case, we popped on the record right after getting home from a weekend of beer-adventuring in Sacramento, and proceeded to boogie all the way through Side 1 while preparing a meal of Trader J’s tortellini and peas. Question: did Dirty Mind define the sound of the 80s? This album is from 1980 and while parts of it are distinctly disco-influenced, the rest is just SO SYNTHY AND FRESH. Makes you think about how much less fabulous the 80s would’ve been without Prince. Side 2 was spent eating the aforementioned tortellini and peas, punctuated by sudden, spastic head-bobbing and bouts of uncontrollable dancing.

A select few favorite parts:
Unfortunately there’s a severe lack of Prince songs on YouTube (copyrights and whatnot), so to listen to these I suggest just getting the album! It will be worth whatever you spend.
When You Were Mine. The backing vocals in this song are so OK Go (or should I say, OK Go backing vocals are so Prince). I’ve known for a long time that Damian Kulash is a major Prince fan (a relevant NPR article), so I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to listen to the man himself.
The transition between Uptown and Head. Uggghhhh, so SWAG.
Sister. This song reminds me of a Spencer Owen song, except it’s about incest. So there you go.

We’re off to find another album this weekend. Recommendations wholeheartedly welcomed.

No, that’s all true.

This past week, Alex and I developed an obsession with obtaining the album Rumours. For several reasons:

1. We both separately read the same Reddit thread, which was about albums you can listen to without skipping a single track. In addition to Graceland (I mean, duh), Rumours was at the top of the list. We realized we’d both never listened to it, despite knowing about half the songs for one reason or another.

2. One of my coworkers was raving about a Fleetwood Mac concert she’d gone to a couple years ago, and how Lindsey Buckingham was the sole reason for her wanting to learn guitar.

3. Fleetwood Mac also popped up in our trivia night (which we won, btw) and in a recent SNL skit in which Paul Rudd and Vanessa Bayer impulsively dance every time “I Don’t Want To Know” comes on.

How coincidental! After all this in less than a week, we decided we needed to own Rumours. And yes, I know it’s very easily done on YouTube or iTunes, but something about listening to an album for a first time on vinyl makes it so much more enjoyable. We’re not music snobs, I swear, it’s just that we happen to own a record player and live down the street from several record stores, so why not make the effort to listen to these albums in their original form?
Friday night we stopped at Amoeba and Rasputin, but neither had it on vinyl (weird, right?). We searched the new arrivals, the bargain sections, the new sections, and even the bins underneath where all the duplicates/hidden gems go. The next morning we went to Recycled Records and also had no luck, although Alex did get a Vangelis and a Donald Fagen album. After a short break of discouragement, we ventured into the Lower Haight to try out Groove Merchant (really cool place, but alas, still couldn’t find it) and Rooky Ricardo’s, where we finally had success. It was a fun adventure in record-hunting, and also just made it that much more rewarding to finally put the needle on the record.
And in case you also haven’t heard the album, it’s great. “Second Hand News” and “I Don’t Want to Know” make me want to dance every time I hear them. “Never Going Back Again” is my new favorite song to play on guitar. “You Make Loving Fun” is secretly my favorite. I read that Rumours was meant to be “no filler,” meaning every song could hold its own as a single. They definitely pulled it off.
Lesson learned: there are still so many classic albums out there that have gone unheard, by us and by plenty of other people. Our new goal is to unearth some of them, make good use of our record player, and share some of the results (via this blog). It’s also probably going to come in handy for trivia!
[Another lesson learned: if there’s a classic album from the 60s or 70s that you’re looking for, you will almost certainly find it at your parents’ house, which we discovered when we went to the Genco house today. We now have 2 copies of Rumours.]

A relevant clip to end this post: