Saturday, December 25, 2010

My Christmas Presents to YOU!

OK, here are two criminally-out-of-print-in-the-states records that you would do well to seek out, because they are both classics.

First, Gwen Guthrie's Padlock EP. Guthrie was an R&B backup singer with a fairly undistinguished career when she somehow got a chance in the early 80's to record an EP at Chris Blackwell's famous Compass Point Studios. Reggae superstars Sly & Robbie, who were then at the top of their game, played on and produced the initial recording sessions. At the time, they were the darling of the rock world, producing records for everyone from Bob Dylan to Mick Jagger. (It doesn't get much better than their version of "Baltimore".) After Gurthrie recorded her vocals with Sly & Robbie in Jamaica, the resulting tracks were sent to NYC to be mixed by Larry Levan, who was then also at the top of his game. Levan was the most prominent DJ and producer in NYC's garage music scene, producing dance records for NYC labels West End and Prestige. (His classic songs include the dub version of NYC Peech Boys' "Don't Make Me Wait" (which, strangely, isn't on YouTube), Taana Gardner's "Heartbeat" (sampled by many, including De La Soul and Ini Kamoze), as well as his remix of Arthur Russell's "Is it all over my face".) Between Guthrie's vocals, Sly & Robbie's playing and production, and Levan's mixing, the Padlock EP is a fairly unique combination of 80's R&B, dub reggae, and proto-house.

Second, Lefty Frizzell's Songs of Jimmie Rodgers. After recording a series of hit singles, Frizzell was given the chance to record an album, which was a new idea at the time (the LP being a new technology). He chose to record a tribute to his childhood idol, the great Jimmie Rodgers. I vaguely remember reading somewhere that the record executives didn't like this idea, since they thought of Rodgers as passé. But the resulting record proved them wrong. Frizzell's versions channel the essence of Rodgers' style to an amazing degree. Some of them, in particular, Frizzell's version of "California Blues", seem to distill the essence of Rodgers' own songs, even moreso than Rodgers' own versions. And I think Frizzell's version of "Treasure Untold" is probably one of the most beautiful love songs of all time.

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