2019 June 17 • Monday

The 574th Soundtrack of the Week is this mysterious collection of Western Movie Themes by Elmer Duke & His Orchestra.

And it's on orange vinyl!

The concept is exactly my kind of thing. All the melodies are played on electric guitar, sounds like a hollow-body guitar, great tone, some kind of reverb—I bet it's a fantastic amp— and mostly just sticking to the tune but with occasional jazzy embellishments.

The orchestral arrangements are good, heavy on the horns and designed to give the guitar the spotlight.

And the guitar sounds so good I could listen to this all day!

But what the hell is this? At first I thought "Elmer Duke" was a made up name, a combination of John Wayne's nickname and Elmer Bernstein's nickname, as both are famous for Westerns.

And who knows, maybe that's the case. But there is at least one other Elmer Duke record out there, Memories of You, which appears to be more of a romantic music record.

But I haven't been able to find out anything about "Elmer Duke" in general or this record in particular, except that it's apparently from Taiwan.

Let's look at the track listing. You have to look on the record itself as the back cover just has movie stills.

Side A has "The Stagecoach", "For a Few Dollars More", "The Proud One", "A Fistful of Dollars" (just called "Titoli" here), "High Noon" and "El Dorado".

Side B offers "One Silver Dollar", "Johnny Guitar", "The Call of the Par-Awar Hills" (by which they mean "The Call of the Faraway Hills", which is the theme from Shane), "The Appaloosa", "Aluarez Kelly" and "The Legend of Shenandoah".

It's a great selection of tunes beautifully played on guitar with perfectly supportive orchestral arrangements and some occasional keyboard solos as well.
2019 June 14 • Friday

When I was a teenager I used to go to the comic book shop after school pretty much every day. I only regularly read a few titles from Marvel and DC: Spider-Man (Amazing, Spectacular and Web) and The X-Men from Marvel and The Question from DC.

Mostly I was devoted to the titles from First Comics (and a few, like Grendel and Mage, from Comico).

One of the most exciting, and not just because of how much sex was in it but also because of the art, writing, layout and design, was Howard Chaykin's American Flagg!.

One of these days I'll go back and re-read it. I think I have every issue here.

But yesterday's visit to Jim Hanley's Universe—still a fantastic comic book shop despite moving to a much smaller location on 3rd Avenue in Manhattan (very conveniently located near Curry in a Hurry)—resulted in the discovery of a recent Chaykin work, a comic book about the industry itself and the people who mostly suffered in it.

It's called Hey Kids! Comics! and it's fascinating reading.

DC comics is called Yankee Comics here and Marvel is Verve. You'll also see EC Comics, what appears to be The New Yorker and perhaps the New York Times Magazine Sunday supplement.

And of course you'll recognize the doomed creators of Superman and Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Other real-life characters appear as composites, Chaykin says, so beyond that I'm not sure how useful it is to try to figure out who's who. (Frederic Wertham appears as himself.)

But the story is persuasive and damning when it comes to the lack of credit—and money—that Jack Kirby received, after doing more than half of the "creating" work for numerous titles that Stan Lee takes credit for being his sole vision.

One example is a four-panel page. The Kirby character of course draws everything, lays out everything, and each of the four panels is a gem of composition and perspective. He was a greater artist than Alfred Hitchcock but in a less respectable medium.

For the first panel the Stan Lee character's sole input is "Alarms going off". The Kirby character makes this into "That's the perimeter alarm, Ross! Is the Zeta Ziggurat under attack?" "There's certainly something wrong, Melinda. An assailant has smashed our laser array! And is now headed... here!".

For the second panel, the Kirby's character only guidance is "I secretly love you Melinda", which is transformed into "My greatest fears have come to pass! Our deadliest enemy is on our doorstep... and only in this moment do I realize how much I love Tracer Girl!".

The third panel has no instructions, just a coffee mug stain but the Kirby character fills it with action and dialogue on his own.

And finally the fourth panel takes "I'll kill you for this!" and gives the reader "Somehow I knew you had returned, Sebastian. But if you've harmed Melinda, you can believe this is your final resurrection!".

It gets worse. A desperate "Kirby" sells this page of original art for ten dollars and decades later it fetches $25,000 at an auction. Asked if he wrote it, "Lee" says of course, "I wrote everything".

The names are changed but all of this really happened and was documented. Presumably all the other horrors in this book happened too. And it is mostly horrors, perhaps the hardest to take being the spectacle of these superheroes becoming a billion-dollar global phenomenon while their creators get nothing for their contribution other than a life of struggle and humiliation.

(Lichtenstein's fine-art success with plagiarizing comic book panels also gets a mention. Oh, I know, "appropriation" is what I'm supposed to say. But fuck that.)

It's occasionally a depressing and enraging read but it's also so well done and so fascinating that it's ultimately uplifting. And I'm glad to be plugged into Mr. Chaykin's work again after many years.

2019 June 12 • Wednesday

Almost four years ago I bought a really nice copy of Charles Long's The Infinite Brain. I admired the cover a great deal but had to convince myself that I would read it someday.

That day has come!

It has a really good first line: "The voices he heard spoke English, so Andrew Galeko knew that he must be back on Earth again".

It's an old-fashioned sort of sci-fi novel, I guess. I'm not an expert. But it's got more or less stock characters and situations.

But it's fairly complex in its story and construction.

Andrew Galeko is a mid-twentieth century multi-millionaire who funds a private project to build a spaceship to Venus.

He ends up taking off in this ship by himself, leaving behind the scientific genius, Hunter, who invented it. And also this other guy, Carrington, who I already kind of forget what his deal was.

Hunter and Galeko are the two poles of the book. Something goes weird with Galeko's journey, exacerbated by his lack of knowledge of space flight and various scientific principles.

Apparently he gets close to the speed of light and ends up getting rescued by another spaceship from Earth, but a thousand years in the future.

The future's a cool place because of this every expanding group mind that settles conflicts when appealed to and is extremely fair and democratic.

But Galeko's mind is in danger of being taken over by the undying brain of an insane Hunter who dreams of death and destruction and vengeance. The consciousness of a younger, saner Hunter is also in play, trying to help Galeko resist.

The story jumps around in time lines and consciousnesses, with Galeko sometimes experiencing more than one at the same time.

It was an unusual and engaging story, simple but at the same time layered and complex.

2019 June 10 • Monday

The promisingly titled Ishk Ishk Ishk brings us our 573rd Soundtrack of the Week: music by R. D. Burman and lyrics by Anand Bakshi.

Could you have resisted a record with that cover?

The first song on the A Side, “Chal Saathi Chal”, starts out with some yodeling and swings into a lilting groove with tabla, other percussion, strings, guitar and accordion and/or harmonium. Kishore Kumar, the singer, is occasionally answered and joined by a female chorus. Then a solo female singer steps out and they both do some crooning and yodeling. It’s a cool song.

“Achhe Bachche Nahin Rote Hain” has a loping sort of groove and similar instrumentation, though you hear more from the flute and what might be a 12-string guitar.

“Mujhko Agar Ijazat Ho” has a sprightly harmonium intro as well as playing from that instrument throughout, and a laidback, flowing groove.

“Tim Tim Chamka” is the first song here to credit Asha Bhosle as well as Kishore Kumar, though I think that Bhosle was on the first song too. Her voice and an urgently strummed guitar get things going and eventually harmonium and percussion join in. It’s a more sparsely arranged piece with fewer instruments. Kumar comes in about halfway through.

Side two opens with the title track, another one featuring both singers and a buoyant rhythmic feel. There’s more use of the strings here and a rare electric guitar appearance as well as some saxophone playing and even an organ break.

The percussion section gets stronger and more propulsive for “Wallah Kya Nazara Hai”, which adds the chorus to our two singers. Various instrumental voices swirl around while the song itself drives forward and takes several interesting turns.

Asha Bhosle gets a song to herself in the sinuous “Kisi Na Kisi Se”, which seems to be in 12/8 and uses flutes more than the other songs do.

The record concludes with “Bhigi Bhigi Ankhen”, which brings both vocalists together for a song with a different sort of sound in places, perhaps more western-influenced. There’s even banjo in it or something doing a good job of imitating a banjo!

All the melodies and song structures are really good and the percussion playing is sublime.
2019 June 07 • Friday

Here's another Gene Bertoncini record, and a very unusual one: Evolution!.

There's a lot of guitar on here and a lot of other stuff too.

According to the liner notes, Gene plays rhythm guitar and then ovedubs lead guitar on top. It says he always plays his unamplified nylon-string guitar no matter what but also throws in some twelve-string guitar on the tune "Gia's Theme".

But then Bucky Pizzarelli and Ralph Casale are also credited with rhythm guitar, and Al Casamenti with electric guitar.

And there are also Walter Levinsky, Joe Soldo, Don Ashworth and Romeo Penque on woodwinds, Chuck Rainey and John Beal on Fender bass, Dick Hyman and Paul Griffin on organ, Donald MacDonald on drums and percussionists Bobby Rosengarden, Jack Jennings and Phil Kraus.

That's a lot. It's something of a miracle that none of this sounds busy or overloaded. It's very late '60s / early '70s sounding. You're either going to think this is cheesy or you're going to groove to it. Guess which one I did!

I really like it a lot. I will admit that it's not my favorite cover version of "One, Two, Three" (I like The Peanuts' take on that) but the samba interpretation of Simon & Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson is terrific.

My favorite tune on the record, however, is a Bertoncini original called "You Are a Story". It's got a killer pulse and sway as well as a lovely melody.

There's a Bacharach song ("I Say a Little Prayer") and two by The Beatles ("Here, There and Everywhere" and "Hey Jude"),l among others.

Next time I see Mr. Bertoncini, I hope to ask him about this interesting, unusual and delightful album.

2019 June 05 • Wednesday

Hopping on the subway to see qualifying rounds at the US Open for free is a great thing about living in NYC.

Another is being able to see the master guitarist Gene Bertoncini in a variety of intimate settings.

He really is incredible. Just now we're listening to this record that he self-released in the seventies, Bridges, which is a duo with bassist Michael Moore.

The very first track indicates that Bertoncini can do anything. It's an arrangement of Gabriel Fauré's "Pavane" (Opus 50) and it starts out pretty straightforward. Gene's mastery of both jazz and classical guitar playing is well known.

But then halfway through the tones and timbres become electric and kind of grooby and this duo takes Fauré places he probably hadn't been before.

From there they go into a bossa nova groove for Clare Fischer's "Pensativa". It's exquisite.

And then the last track on the A side is the first of three intriguing musical marriages. This first one is Bertoncini's arrangement of a Bach lute suite with the chestnut "How My Heart Sings". It's frankly astonishing how Gene retains the concepts and feel of the Bach piece throughout. It's a seamless transition, perhaps not even a transition but a blending.

Flip the record and you'll hear "Eleanor Rigby". I didn't think I'd ever need to hear this song again, but this is a very exciting take on this piece, with lots of energy and superb execution by both players.

The second marriage is Chopin's "Prelude in E-minor" with Jobim's "Insensatez". Chopin and bossa nova why not? They both create an immediate and very strong mood. Again these two very different pieces seem fused and made into something new together.

For the last tune, we're back to Bach, with Betoncini's arrangement of a "Prelude in D-minor" cross-pollinated with the classic "My Funny Valentine". Moore does some impressive arco playing on this tune and the two pieces go so well together you might wonder why more people don't play them like this.

Though of course nobody else can play like this. That's one reason.

2019 June 03 • Monday

Happy birthday!

The 572nd Soundtrack of the Week is Nora Orlandi's music for Il diario proibito di Fanny.

The "Titoli" theme is a jazz waltz for a combo of horns, guitar, bass and drums, with the horns doing most of the work with this punchy and swinging start-and-stop melody.

"Luna Park" sounds like calliope music with flute and Wurlitzer trading off as the main voice.

And then there’s "Psichidelico", which is a trippy but spacious piece for just organ and percussion.

"Come in un western" does in fact sound just like a spaghetti western cue with the trumpet dominating the first half while twangy electric guitar takes over for the second.

Continuing the western theme is a "Saloon" piece, and that particular piano style has never appealed to me. It’s replaced almost immediately by solo classical piano. Chopin, maybe?

Then there’s a "Shake". I always enjoy these. This one has a typically bouncy beat, cool electric guitar sound and very minimal melodic and harmonic activity.

The "Love Theme" is a gentle piece introduced by flute. It unexpectedly switches to what sounds like solo cello playing a heartbeat motif.

"Atmosfera religiosa" is bells and organ.

The "Luna Park" theme returns as "Valzerina con voce", a lovely song with wordless vocals and accordion.

"Temino popolare" wouldn’t be out of place in a Nino Rota Fellini score.

The female vocalist from "Valzerina con voce" returns in "Paura e sensualità" to add sensuality while other instruments do the fear.

"Tarantella" is a kind of dance, with a marchy feel to it, I guess. This made me think the military was mobilizing to repel Godzilla.

The "Luna Park" theme gets various workouts, as a lounge, as a fox trot, or just whistled, and several of the other cues are repeated in different variations as well.

The CD concludes with the two sides of the single. First the lush, orchestral take on the theme first heard in Luna Park and then a different vocal version of the same, with a 1920s feel and instrumentation, called "Fanny e Michel".