Monday, August 29, 2011

My Five Favorite LP Covers

Once upon a time, when you bought recorded music, it came in cardboard packaging measuring 12 inches by 12 inches. This was the main advertisement for the record. On the front side of an LP would be a posed shot of the artist. The back would feature the track listing, maybe another photo or lyrics. With the advent of files for music, the art of the cover has been minimized, although you can still find strong examples of elaborate record sleeves.

Here is a rundown of my five favorite LP covers of all time. I only own three of them on vinyl, but these represent my faves. Not even necessarily the most famous sleeves for each of these artists, but arguments could be made for their iconic stature. Interestingly all five feature the artist and are not abstracts. They are all photographs. Each one is super-evocative of the music inside and the stature of the musicians. The performers themselves may have had little to do with the choice or composition of the art; but each makes for great visual statements about the artists. My selections come from a cross-section of genres, too. It's hard to explain why I am so mesmerized by each of these covers. It helps that the music they contain is undeniable. [Let me start by saying that I will not include my own covers.]

So let's go in descending order...

5. John Coltrane, Lush Life. The casual, monochromatic lavender image of Coltrane is stunning and boy is he about to play the heck out of that tenor. Then there is the free-hand like font of the title and his name. Far out light blue and bold in contrast. Trane, y'all. Trane.

4. Queen, The Game. Like my favorite Stones' LP Some Girls, the music on The Game runs from disco to punk, country to soul; artists stretching out. But this one gets the edge in the cover stakes. Check out the pseudo-50's greaser look the band is rocking... with those awesome anachronistic haircuts. Just like "Happy Days." The cover was used first as a 45 picture sleeve for the lead single, the rockabilly redux "Crazy Little Thing Called Love." Here it gets chromed out. The LP cover actually has a sheen to the material that is lost with digitization, but in person, this cover is stunning and the band looks like a gang you'd want to join.

3. Thelonious Monk Quartet, Monk's Dream. No one artist has ever been more of an iconoclast and an icon for me as Thelonious Monk. This LP plays like a dream and the cover is a kind of reverie, too. Monk is purposefully out of focus, but there is little straight ahead about the man or his music, so it makes sense. His sartorial style is key here, too. That hat, the plaid jacket, the world's greatest goatee, all in profile against a pale teal backdrop. Where on earth was this taken? In the deep end of an empty swimming pool? Like Twin Peaks, perhaps it was all a spooky, irresistible dream.

2. Prince, Sign 'O' The Times. The flamingo-colored cloud guitar. The Cadillac grill with the double bass drums. The expressionistic neon sign backdrop. The curtain has risen on some straight up mess and there is Prince walking toward us and out of focus. He recorded most of this double album on his own and you get the sense that this is how he set up the studio, instruments everywhere, but with the full realization of the stage he will perform his tour upon. We have entered his musical subconscious. Prince dramatically altered his look in 1987, peach and black replacing the signature purple, John Lennon specs in favor of the pencil mustache; but we only glimpse it. We are at the beginning of living in a musical world strictly on the Artist's terms.

1. The Beatles, Rubber Soul. Now, I could have gone with half a dozen of the Fabs' LPs and not gone wrong. But this one is the pinnacle for me. It's the last time we see the group together on a cover unmasked. They are well past "yeah, yeah, yeah" but have plenty of classic cuts ahead. The story is that the slide projector or the screen tilted and stretched out the image. Who cares, the boys look otherworldly, like a four-headed being, individual but united. With songs like "Michelle," "Nowhere Man," and "In My Life" waiting burst forth. Only John is looking dead at us, try to look away. I dare you. The trees behind them, the brown suede jackets add to the warmth. Plus, this is widely considered the first album by a group so famous that they didn't need to have their name on the cover. Sgt. Pepper's may be more iconic or innovative, but this LP cover is more representative of the Beatles as I would always love to remember them.

So that's it. What are your favorites? If anything, I hope this essay increases appreciation for LP cover art. Perhaps you'll go crate digging or sift through your own records to find some wonderful sleeves and even better music inside.

Peace and Disco Beats.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sophisticated Soloing

Good Evening, Soul Citizens.

Lots of music going on in my world right now.

Last night I got to sit in, or rather stand and boogie, with Adam Marsland's Chaos Band for their 2 Nights of 100 Songs at Cinema. The numbers started with Sly Stone's "Hot Fun In The Summertime." I got to sing Sly's parts, righteous. That song was particularly a propos with the heat we've had this week. We followed that with renditions of the Bee Gees' "Jive Talkin'" and "Stayin' Alive" which featured dueling falsettos between Adam and myself. Always fun (hot or otherwise) to get people dancing. Next Saturday's show will be more of the same. Only one cover though. I'm gonna use my own material to get y'all to groove. We rehearse tomorrow night, so we are going to hone the funk. The show overall was a blast. Adam and his group were in good form and I just love Rob Z, Erik Herrera, Brian Whelan, Aimee Lay, Mike Schnee and Dan Janisch when they guest with the AMCB. Especially Dan, who is so elegantly unhinged, doing Van Morrison.

Today, we braved the century-mark heat to record guitar tracks at Karma Frog Studios in Reseda. The studio has A/C to any valley musician's delight. My songwriting partner/lead guitarist, Bryan came in to lay down solos for "So Sophisticated" and "On The Rebound;" two collaborative tracks. "So Sophisticated" is intentionally jazzy and has a solo section that is pure 70's George Benson meets Parliament. "On The Rebound," guitar-wise, lands somewhere between the Jackson 5 and the Allman Brothers. Again, Bryan is doing a 70's thing with real taste. There is going to be quite a bit of country/gospel/funk going on with this record between Bryan's solos and Adam's Hammond organ sounds. Bryan also supplied rhythm guitar for "Saffron Dancer," a tune that we performed live on our tours of the UK, but never got around to recording properly.

The sessions went well and all three of us, producer Adam Marsland included, were pleased with the performances. Our next sessions will have to wait until after our CityWalk show; but we will tackle two more guitar parts and three more lead vocals before we bring in the remaining guest performers to supply horns (sax and trumpet) and backing vocals. We're getting closer.

Lastly, I am going to do a blog tomorrow on my favorite LP covers of all time as I prepare for a shoot with Julie Sullivan-Shuford to promote So Sophisticated.

Exciting times! Stay cool and peaceful.


Don't forget: Norman Kelsey and His Band take to the 5 Towers Stage on Universal CityWalk for a FREE, ALL AGES show at 9 PM, Saturday, September 3!

Friday, August 05, 2011

Ferocious Show at IPO 8/4/11

Last night's gig at Molly Malone's for IPO was a barn-burner. The band (Bryan Farrar on guitar; Matt Soule on drums) was on fiyah! The room sounded really good thanks to a super sound man, Chris. Of course, I have to thank everyone who was in attendance and the organizer of the the festival, David Bash.

I have been associated with International Pop Overthrow since its inception in '98, with a few years off from '02-'04, I think. But it has been a great way to reach music fans of all stripes and last night was no different. We brought the funk, soul and disco to the party. The lineup included some fun co-headliners: Resonant Heads, Morty Shallman. Everyone there seemed to enjoy all of the acts, chalk that up to Mr. Bash's adept curating of the event.

I was particularly pleased with my vocals. Being in the studio has helped me hone in on using my voice properly, rather than the usual show belting and hollerin' I've done in the past. Don't get me wrong, I did some hollerin' last night, too, but with more control, which makes it more fun for me.

We did a bunch of the hits from A Talent For Loving, starting with "Everyone's Ingenue" and ending with the title track. The audience respectfully stayed in their seats, but were all chair dancing the entire show. If you got the IPO program, you saw that, yes, I have given a title to my upcoming album, So Sophisticated. We did the electric debut of a new song called "Huckleberry Finn" especially for the festival as a sneak peak of the material that will be coming your way in November. "Huck" was well-received and the band played the heck out of it. I introduced it as the "dangerous" part of the show. You never know how brand new material is going to go over. I have debuted other songs at IPO with varying degrees of success, but this was a home run. (Thank the Lord!)

The slow jams also went over well. The band brought "Done Lost My Mind" down to a sultry whisper. Very cool.

So here is the set list from last night:

Everyone's Ingenue
Fall Out
Everything My Heart Desires
Huckleberry Finn (debut)
U Had The $
Done Lost My Mind
Supermodels With Gatling Guns
A Talent For Loving

All right. Have a peaceful weekend and watch this space for further LP updates in the coming weeks.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Tales from Karma Frog: Recording Update

Another productive recording day at Karma Frog on Monday. I tracked the master vocals for four songs for the new record. I was very pleased with the performances. My producer Adam, was very supportive and gave me some good coaching along the way. One of the numbers required channeling a bit of James Brown and Barry Gibb simultaneously. That means really getting loose. Like I said, I am thrilled with the results. Preliminary mixes are the business of the next two weeks. We are well on our way with a remake of "Supermodels With Gatling Guns" and one of my collaborations with Bryan Farrar, which Adam is now thinking might make a great single. Plus, Adam threw a whole bunch of Hammond organ onto a handful of tracks. Welcome to 1975.

The other vocals were for the LP's title track, and another big ballad that will take a sonic journey to my sophomore year of high school. Fortunately, the heat didn't bear down on us in the studio, until we took our breaks outside. It was a gorgeous day in Reseda, just hot as blazes.

Following the recording session, I met up with Bryan and Matt Soule to rehearse for tomorrow night's show at Molly Malone's. This will be my first live performance with my band in a year. I have spent the past twelve months guest starring, which is a gas, with Adam's band for his various tribute shows. And of course, I have been writing and recording. But now, it's showtime!

I have lost track of the number of times that David Bash has been gracious enough to present me as a part of his International Pop Overthrow Festivals here and abroad. I am looking forward to the show tomorrow for several reasons: nothing beats live music, I'm debuting a new song and my friends the Resonant Heads are on after me. It's going to be a fun night. I am on at 9:45, but I recommend getting there early to check out the other acts. And of course, stick around for the Res Heads. A Talent For Loving will be on sale at the merch stand if you don't own it. And there will be free glossy IPO programs. Be sure to check them out, they are great souvenirs of the event.

Sunday, I performed a solo acoustic version of Bruce Springsteen's "The Wrestler" at church. Always fun to do something unusual for the good church folk. I also read the scripture from Genesis, Jacob wrestling with God. Get it? I felt the two went well together.

Tonight, I'm taking it easy. I'll practice bass parts and pick out the wardrobe for tomorrow. I look forward to seeing many of you at the show.

Peace and Disco Beats