Linda Cohen – Leda, 1972

Gorgeous minimal classical guitar on the first of three full-lengths from the largely self-taught Linda Cohen. Her fingerpicking pulls from folk, baroque, and blues, and given that she opened for Joni Mitchell, John Fahey, and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott at Philadelphia’s Second Fret in the late 60s, I would imagine these were influential artists for her. Though she was an active musician through much of her life, Cohen was most passionately a teacher, teaching classical guitar for 35 years at the Classical Guitar Store in Philly, where she was a fixture in the music scene. Her life was sadly cut short by cancer in 2009.

Leda is an exercise in restraint. Meticulously fingerpicked, just barely fleshed out with synth, theremin, celesta, tapes, and percussion. Much of the additional instrumentation is so subtle that it might not register without headphones–this is very much acoustic guitar music. Warm with room tone and (at least on this rip) crackling vinyl pops, it’s also prime cold weather, indoor listening. It includes instrumentation and effects from Charles Cohen (no relation), among others; with cover art by Milton Glaser. Sparse and masterful. Thank you Chad for the tip!

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[Mix for NTS Radio] Getting Warmer Episode 11

My newest mix for NTS Radio was inspired by spring, melodrama, seasonal affective disorder, women looking at men with suspicion, heartbreak, long hair, and Ennio Morricone. If you like it, you can download an mp3 version here. Thanks for listening!

Tracklisting:
1. Beverly Glenn-Copeland – Ever New
2. Arthur – Valentine Grey
3. Linda Smith – I So Liked Spring
4. Sammi Smith – Help Me Make It Through The Night
5. Connie Converse – How Sad, How Lovely
6. Connie Francis – Vaya Con Dios
7. Dusty Springfield – The Windmills of Your Mind
8. Shirley Collins – Adieu To Old England
9. Judee Sill – Lady O
10. Barbara Moore – Drifting
11. Claire Hamill – Speedbreaker
12. Renée Fleming – The Trees on the Mountains (comp. Carlisle Floyd)
13. Joyce Heath – I Wouldn’t Dream Of It
14. Bessie Griffin & The Gospel Pearls – I Believe
15. Patsy Cline – Sweet Dreams
16. Elena Ledda & Mauro Palmas – Sett’ispadas
17. Hollins & Starr – Cry Baby Cry

Dorothy Carter – Waillee Waillee, 1978

Guest post by Peter Harkawik

I was recently digging through sidebars on musical sculpture, when I stumbled upon two enchanting private press albums by the late Dorothy Carter—mystic, free spirit, wizard of the strings. According to a tribute by her bandmates The Mediæval Bæbes, Carter was born in New York in 1935, studied at Bard and the Guildhall School of Music, and in her later years toured Europe, playing festivals, cabaret, and at least once, a concert in a cemetery. She reportedly lived in a drafty loft in New Orleans, where she collected giant zithers, hosted salons, and played her brand of medieval folk music wherever she could. By another account, she “lived in a commune, worked on a Mississippi steam boat as a ships boy, raised two kids and ran away to a Mexican cloister with an anarchistic priest.”

Somewhat more secular than her 1976 debut Troubador, Waillee Waillee alternates between darkly enigmatic, inward melodies, and jaunty, exuberant hymns. Songs like “Along the River,” while populated with some familiar folk imagery—woodland creatures, mollusks, and rosemary bushes—are absent of the studio chicanery that so often accompanies it. Flutes, maracas, and tambura, some played by new age pioneer and instrument-builder Constance Demby, join Carter’s expert plucking and hammering to great effect. Her vocals might draw comparisons to Karen Dalton, Bridget St John, or perhaps Linda Perhacs, but here, in the service of her wistful paeans to nature, they stand alone. On the album’s haunting title track, Carter croons, “When will my love return to me?” with uncomplicated sentimentality, like a forlorn lover trapped in a block of ice. “Dulcimer Medley” and “Celtic Medley” are sprightly instrumental ballads that would not be out of place in a scene from Barry Lyndon.

For me, the standout on this album is “Summer Rhapsody.” Seven minutes long, expansive and majestic, it begins with a rumble like a jet engine, building to a crescendo of feverish dulcimer. It’s here too that the recording really sparkles, as though the dulcimer’s harsh textures are pushing the tape to its very limits. While it might sound like a hurdy-gurdy, the corpulent drone is produced by a steel cello, an instrument resembling the sail on a medieval cog. Here we see the fruits of Carter’s decades-long collaboration with artist Robert Rutman, who, like Walter Smetak, Ellen Fullman, and others, pioneered a hybrid art that was neither purely aesthetic nor musical. It was with his group the Central Maine Power Music Company, formed in Skowhegan in 1970, that Carter first toured, playing unconventional shows in New England planetariums, sculpture gardens, and museums.

Part of what’s so incredible about Waillee Waillee is that as much as it is a psych-folk record, it is also completely at home with the experiments of Terry Riley, Charlemagne Palestine, Yoshi Wada, Pauline Oliveros and Laraaji. Carter was a fascinating figure whose devotion to her chosen instruments was legendary. I hope you enjoy this record as much as I do.

Daniel Lentz – On The Leopard Altar, 1984

Such a cool record. This was Daniel Lentz’s first album and was one of the seven releases on the short-lived Icon Records. Though Lentz’s background seats him pretty squarely in the realms of academia, On The Leopard Altar avoids much of the dryness that I associate with minimalism–it’s more generous, unafraid to lean into pop sensibility and pleasure. (Fittingly, he went on to make two records with Harold Budd.) “Lascaux” is a gorgeous nine minutes of 25 tuned wine glasses resonating in and out, with nothing added but reverb, and it acts as a new age drone meditation piece, with glasses serving as both shruti box and chimes. “Requiem” attempts to capture the experience of hearing a lone singer in a large, empty cathedral, with big church bell tolls, rolling keyboard chimes, a vocalist bathed in Julee Cruise-esque reverb, and a few pretty incredible overtone moments. The gorgeous title track is very warm, present vocals delivered with a choir boy-esque straight tone purity, over rolling keyboards and (I think) more wine glasses. On “Is It Love” and “Wolf Is Dead…” we hear more typically minimalist long-form weaving of gamelan-inspired rhythmic pulses in the vein of Reich and friends, and vowel-based vocal pulsing in the vein of Monk and friends, but even these are structured in ways that suggest a pop sensibility.

Roberto Mazza – Scoprire Le Orme, 1991

Lino Vaccina and Vincenzo Zitello collaborator. Bardic harp, oboe, and synth all composed and played by Mazza. I hesitate to call Scoprire Le Orme (roughly “discover the footsteps”) minimal, though it does get thrown around as such–it feels denser and warmer than what I typically associate with Italian minimalism. To me it feels like far eastern baroque; very courtly–my guess would be that Mazza tuned his harp to scales more typically associated with instruments like the koto or even the sitar. There’s a dusty exotica sentimentality that reminds me of Finis Africae. A lot to love here. Hope y’all are having a very harpy winter.

dip in the pool – Silence, 1986

Debut from Japanese duo dip in the pool. Fairly minimal, often baroque-leaning synth and voice arrangements, with heavy, widely spaced drums that, in such a synthetic context, take on a cyber-medieval quality. Standouts are the title track and the stunningly beautiful “Rabo del Sol,” the video for which is previewed below–it comes from their 1991 laserdisc release of music videos. Both tracks evoke a similar mystical gravitas, a perfect vessel for Miyako Koda’s straight-tone vocal sobriety. (Interestingly, though a handful of tracks pick up to a spronky trot–like “Hasu No Enishi” and “View”–and feel like obvious video game scores, it was a slower, more ceremonious track called “Ismeel” that was later used in the PlayStation game Omega Boost.) Silence, which was released elsewhere as a self-titled, features production by Seigen Ono and Masahide Sakuda. The duo recently released a collaboration with the Visible Cloaks geniuses on RVNG, and unsurprisingly, it’s very good.

[Mix for NTS Radio] Getting Warmer Episode 6

Listen to my sixth episode of Getting Warmer for NTS Radio below. I thought a lot about musical migration as I was making this: cross-pollination as a result of colonialism; exotic fantasy, escapism, and essentialism; and Brazil, both as a place of origin and as a source of inspiration. If you like it, you can download an mp3 version of it here. Enjoy!

Tracklisting:
1. Carpenters – Invocation
2. Fé De Sábio – Crepúsculo
3. Isabelle Antena – Otra Bebera
4. Yellow Magic Orchestra – Shadows On The Ground
5. The Beach Boys – Til I Die (Alternate Mix)
6. Caetano Veloso – Gua
7. Mudd – Summer In The Wood
8. Orchestre Raymond Droz Avec Pierre Cavalli Et Son Orchestre – Passarinhos
9. Light House – 南太平洋
10. The Coconuts – If I Only Had A Brain
11. Googoosh – Sahel Va Darya
12. Brenda Ray – Another Dream
13. Miharu Koshi – 逃亡者
14. Nightingales Recorded by Jean C. Roché – In A Waste Ground Beside A Stream In Provence, June
15. Mariko Fuji – 雪
16. Aaliyah – At Your Best
17. Mike Oldfield – Into Wonderland

Scott Walker – Scott 4, 1969

Very deep love for this record, and a very big crush on Scott Walker (no, not that Scott Walker). Walker’s career has been wholly singular, and it’s impossible to accurately describe him, his work, or the thematic ties between such seemingly disparate records–the only way to make sense of it is to listen to it. Walker started out in an LA-based pop trio called the Walker Brothers, though confusingly Scott Walker was born Noel Scott Engel, another member of the group was named John Maus (no, not that John Maus), and all three used Walker as their stage names—though for Scott, it bore out over a long and strange career. The group attained enough chart success in the UK that they were briefly considered a sort of inverse Beatles export, with screaming mobs of fans and a Tiger Beat cover to prove it.

As their brief window of fame closed, Scott Walker had embarked on a series of solo records, all called Scott, and all vessels for dark, heavily orchestrated and meticulously arranged pop. Though the music felt traditional and baroque enough to be almost regressive—this was the 60s, after all—the subject matter of the songs was dark and heavily referential. Walker wrote about Joseph Stalin, venereal disease, poverty, addiction, child abuse, and Bergman movies, and he sung the songs in a theatrical, almost Sinatra-esque baritone that belied their subject matter. The joke was always on us: Walker was able to pass off drippingly sentimental delivery as sincerity while barely masking his biting cynicism. His music appealed to the elderly, to the suburban, to those who wanted to cling to tradition as the world and its sounds were being lit on fire. Walker was the Carpenters’ evil twin, with a similarly surgical approach to arrangement and production, and the Bacharach pedigree to back it up. Bowie was a huge fan. I imagine that Van Dyke Parks, sharing a penchant for thematic exploitation of traditional orchestration, was also a fan. Leonard Cohen too.

But for Walker, the real god was Jacques Brel, Belgian master of theatrical showmanship and literary lyricism, and arbiter of chanson as the world knew it. Brel paved the way for Walker’s Trojan horse smuggling of a tortured psyche under a palatable, market-friendly facade. Walker covered Brel nine times on the first three Scott records, with 4 serving as his first entirely self-written release, and it was arguably the best and strangest of his 60s releases. Despite the weight of Walker’s persona bearing down on it, 4 attains glimpses of very direct beauty—the weightless “Boy Child” comes to mind—and it readily winks at Morricone’s spaghetti Americana. Yet when 4 failed to chart, unlike all his prior releases, Walker asked his label to delete it from their catalog, tried to swing more commercial, failed, and churned out a slew of half-hearted records just to get out of contract. He then all but disappeared for twenty years, reemerging in 1995 with the left-field Tilt as challenging and abstract proof that he had finally allowed his inner demons to break from the confines of polite genre. 2006’s even more mutinous The Drift was my introductions to Walker when I was 16—at the time, it was the most explicitly avant-garde record I had ever heard—so I can’t listen to Scott 4 without hearing the early inklings of sonic assault, and I love it.

Roedelius – Wenn Der Südwind Weht, 1981

Hard to pick a favorite release from Hans-Joachim Roedelius, who’s contributed to 92 different releases, according to Discogs. Though most famous for co-founding Cluster and Harmonia, he’s been even more prolific as a solo artist. Wenn der Südwind Weht (“When the South Wind Blows”) was his seventh solo release, though he followed it up with a casual 35 more full-lengths, most of which I still haven’t heard. Of his earlier releases, this is both my favorite and the most exemplary of signature Roedelius. The most remarkable moments are when synthesizer acts as a vessel for his pastoral sensibility, with unabashedly sentimental lines of synthetic oboe, clarinet, organ, and something theremin-like sitting on top of rolling piano chord pulses muffled in golden-warm reverb. The title track, “Veilchenwurzeln,” and “Mein Freund Farouk” are the best instances of this kind of classical miniaturism–they’re what make this record feel like a favorite sweater–but in very German tradition, a handful of the other tracks meander into more shivery, drawn-out synth meditations (and that’s certainly a good thing). Ideal rainy day music.

Elicoide – Elicoide, 1987

The first of two releases from the mysterious Franco Nonni (keyboards) and Paolo Grandi (strings). They released a second album in 1990 with a larger ensemble (does anyone have this lying around?), and then Nonni went on to become a psychiatrist (cool reason to break up a band). This seems to get tossed around in progressive rock and jazz circles, though to me it’s neither. I’d call it squarely fourth world (cringe term), with a dip into murky synth drone (“Interludio con Dedica,” “Linfoceti”) and some moments of brassy baroque-isms (title track). For me, the album peaks at its bookends: “Mitochondria” and “Mitosi” are sublime, drawn-out meditations that build and bubble, leaning heavily on what sounds like a synthetic gamelan ensemble and smoothed out around the edges with strings. Ideal for fans of Jon Hassell, Yas-Kaz, and Hosono’s more ambient works. If it’s for you, it’s definitely for you.