29 May 2017, The Allman Brothers Band, Eat a Peach 2xLP

The Eat a Peach double LP from the Allman Brothers is hot. Too hot for the unattenuable preamplified analog signal going into my turntable’s built-in analog-to-digital converter and out via USB. This is no good. I can’t have my archival recordings clipping. I even tried a quieter stylus, but that only brought the level down a little, and it was still clipping in Audacity and Ableton. Now I’m bypassing the turntable’s ADC and sending the analog signal from the turntable into my Tascam audio interface, but this brings me back to the several problems I was trying to avoid when I decided on the turntable with the built-in ADC with USB output. I won’t go into those problems now, but the upshot is that unless Eat a Peach is an anomaly gainwise, I may be back on the market for a turntable and/or an audio interface better suited for both attenuating and boosting a stereo signal.

Eat a Peach is among a selection of Allman stuff I keep around because my dad likes it. Or liked it. Or owned it, anyway. As a kid the artwork inside the gatefold sleeve was more interesting to me than the music, and I don’t have distinct memories of the record playing, only pulling it off the shelf to look at the fantastically sized fruit in the flatbed and the naked lady in the sky. My dad was playing mostly classical on vinyl by the time I was old enough to dig through the stacks, since most of the new stuff was coming into the house on tapes and later CDs. By that time maybe The Allman Brothers seemed to my dad like a throwback to a more freewheeling time in his life. Even though it’s lyric-less, I bet he played “Little Martha” when he was courting my mom.

When I put the record on today, I expected more blues than country, but even more than either of those influences I heard a jam band like the ones I avoided in the 1990s. I should have known since the second side of each disc is taken up by what is presumably an excerpt of a much longer “Mountain Jam.” The jam is bluesy, but it’s also prog-y and fusion-y and not very country. Dicky Betts gets his down-home licks in elsewhere on the first sides of the discs, and that’s something to look forward to when you’re jammed halfway up the mountain on one of the flipsides. If you’re like me, during the 19- and 15-minute mountain jams, you look over at the turntable to see how far from the runout grooves the stylus still lies.

The C side (Side III on my copy) is where the blues really come to the fore. “One Way Out” is a cover of a Sonny Boy Williamson tune and is particularly good. “Blue Sky” meanders back into jam band territory with a strong country feeling, but it also features some impressive soloing from composer Betts. As is typical of the genre (these are the archetypes, after all), the soloing goes on far too long before the vocals kick back in and the song wraps up. Then the pleasant little aforementioned instrumental interlude bearing my mother’s name, and then Side IV is the also aforementioned long-form “Mountain Jam (Cont’d).” This one starts out with some cool bass solo work and has Betts playing some dissonant notes that give his guitar solos an atonal feel in places, which I respect for making me feel uncomfortable when I wasn’t expecting anything unusual.

Author Denis Johnson died a few days ago, and I probably should have written about him instead of Allman, but Johnson’s best known book’s title is an allusion to a line from a song by Lou Reed, the subject of my first rock ’n’ roll eulogy, so I’m taking that as a sign to stay in this lane. Gregg Allman died a couple days ago, and now he and Brother Duane play songs on another plane. Eat a Peach. Play it again.

WGRS Mixtape 2 on SoundCloud

That's all, really. You can now listen to the second Warm Glow Record Show mixtape on SoundCloud. Stay tuned for the rest of them!

WGRS Mixtape 1 on SoundCloud

I'm moving it all over to SoundCloud, and that's a good excuse to recycle stuff, right? Plus I'm cooking up something interesting, and I need a little time away from writing little pieces of music appreciation to do it. For now, click play and relive WGRS's early days.

7 May 2017, No. 250, Commodores, “The Assembly Line”

Without such subversive lyrics, No. 250 wouldn’t have made the list. Usually my ears perk up at the sound of ill synths and slick grooves, but “The Assembly Line” from Commodores has only big horns to recommend it musically—unless you like churchy music. Gloria Jones of “Tainted Love” fame takes co-writing credits for “The Assembly Line,” and she got her start singing in church, so that feeling makes sense here. Pam Sawyer is the songwriter credited first on this tune, and she co-wrote a bunch of songs for Motown in the late 1960s and all through the ’70s—“If I Were Your Woman” (Gladys Knight and the Pips), “Love Child” (Diana Ross and the Supremes), and “Love Hangover” (The 5th Dimension, though Diana Ross’s version is the one).

Sawyer and Jones want us to know culture is a factory. Clearly it was a fresher metaphor forty years ago, and a more relevant one, given the decline in manufacturing in the U.S. in the intervening years. Especially relevant for a Detroit-based record label whose very name is an allusion to the motors that made the town famous, rolling off the assembly lines gleaming, identical, and ready to combust.

The first verse is a pat second-wave feminist interrogation of binary gender stereotypes: Why can’t boys cry? Why can’t girls play football? We’ve made plenty of progress in challenging those kinds of assumptions, but there are still pockets of the country that could stand to hear this message. Maybe the churchlike delivery makes it more palatable.

If you need your palate cleansed of that organ-laden liturgical sound but you’re still feeling the dystopian, mechanized-homogeneity vibe, give another “Assembly Line” a listen. This one is from Hilly Michaels, has synthesizers and vocoding, and is probably the only good song from his Lumia LP. Aside from the title, the Michaels tune has very little in common with the Commodores cut. Its only lyric aside from the titular line is “What are we working for?” No subversive gender politics, but also no hackneyed and obvious second verse about corrupt lawyers, so it has that going for it as well. Still, the Commodores song is better, in case you decide to listen to just one. From the moment you’re born, you’re on the assembly line. Keeps on messing with your mind.