SHEDNOTES 126: The best of Last and other playlist tips

The following recommendations are filed here in the course of a weed-out of cuttings …

** Some James Last, believe it or not, on the grounds of the obituary piece abridged below from the original by Alexis Petridis at

The guy really was popular: he sold 80m albums. It’s tempting to add the caveat “but none of them to anyone you knew”. That wouldn’t be right either, though. If you grew up in 70s Britain, you knew someone who liked James Last. In its own way, the cover of 1975’s Make the Party Last – the man his fans called Hansi leaning raffishly against the stem of a giant champagne glass – was as much part of the decade’s inescapable musical iconography as David Bowie with a lightning bolt across his face or The Dark Side of the Moon prism. It’s just that you always saw it at your grandmother’s house, or round your aunt’s; never in your cool older sibling’s collection or in a hip record-shop window.

In fact, James Last made two unequivocally great albums: 1971’s Voodoo-Party and 1975’s Well Kept Secret, which was reissued in 2008 as James Last in Los Angeles. In the first instance, he seems to have a made a brilliant album almost by accident. Voodoo-Party was one of 12 – 12! – albums Last knocked out that year. On one level it follows the usual formula: a few hastily-penned Last originals mixed with covers of recent hits. Last’s definition of “voodoo music” seems to have encompassed both Santana and Mamy Blue, a French novelty hit covered by rock’s legendary king of gris-gris Roger Whittaker. But the kitschy voodoo theme means the arrangements are big on rattling congas, funk drumming, synthesisers humming ominously and flashy distorted guitar solos. The covers of Sly Stone’s Everyday People and Sing a Simple Song are fantastic. Last’s originals are nuts. “Hi-ho! I’m the king of giant land!” booms Mr Giant Man, over a rhythm track that sounds like it was influenced by Dr John’s Danse Fambeaux. “Party time in giant land! You can dance the giant way!” Voodoo Lady’s Love features someone casting a spell of the “eye of toad and skin of snake” variety in a voice that sounds remarkably like the one Terry Jones from Monty Python used to employ when dressed as a woman. It is all richly, riotously entertaining.

On Well-Kept Secret, however, Last seems to have made a great record deliberately. It was meant to break Last in the US: he recorded it in Los Angeles, audibly at great expense, with his band augmented by members of the Crusaders and Derek and the Dominos. The result was beautifully arranged, jazz-inflected disco and funk, awash with high-drama strings and propulsive brass, not a million miles removed from the albums Quincy Jones released on A&M in the early 70s.”

** Golden Afrique volumes 1,2,3 – Congolese music you probably missed in the 60s and 70s, reviewed in 2005 at

** Folk Singer Vol 1 – Willie Watson

Neil Spencer wrote in May 2014: “The old weird America is how critic Greil Marcus described the national canon of blues and folk song that is lovingly explored here by a founder of the Old Crow Medicine Show. Willie Watson’s voice is remarkable. Eerie and quavering on Midnight Special, soulful on James Alley Blues, a prairie whoop on Mexican Cowboy, he sounds like he’s fallen through a portal from a century ago. Watson’s banjo and guitar playing is expert but understated, and he and producer David Rawlings allow the songs – by turns bleak, bawdy and surreal – to cast their antique spell. A stark but engaging set.”

** The Real Best of Billy Lee Riley

Billy Riley is a bit of a rockabilly hero, still bopping it out in a white jacket at the Great Yarmouth billyfests up to  a decade ago, after starting out a contemporary of Elvis at Sun, with a similar stage style. But a lot of his rock numbers were pretty formulaic and his official greatest hits collection is disappointing. He got better reviews in the long run for some bluesier stuff, including the superb Calhoun City. That was on a 1992 Hightone album called Blue Collar Blues. You can hear samples of all tracks via Amazon at

The Shed has a print-out from Vol 25, 1999, of a nice Chicago webzine called, which included a Listener’s Guide To Billy Lee Riley by Ken Burke (good old Ken). He recommended Hot Damn! (1977) …

“Whether wailing Slim Harpo’s Rainin’ In my Heart, making social commentary with How Come We All Ain’t Got The Same, or taking a ride on Fine Little Mama, Riley is making a serious statement about his talent and where he wants it to go. There’s not much rockabilly here, but if you dig the true blues sound of the old Excello sides, augmented with some fevered, emotive harmonica, this is the place to turn. Hands down this is Riley’s favorite disc.

The Shed would also like to track down the tracks from a rare EP, Billy Lee Riley In Action (Vogue, 1966.

Roctober said: “Solid EP of folk and blues has Riley rocking up two folk standards (Goodnight Irene, Parchment Farm), a Hank Williams classic ( Kaw-Liga), and an inspired version of a Johnny Cash hit from the Sun days (Guess Things Happen That Way).

Find the Roctober guide to Billy Lee at

** More Billy Wirtz

The Rev. Billy C Wirtz doing Teenie Weeny Meanie, about an affair with a midget lady wrestler, is one of The Shed’s favourite things of all time.  There has to be more.

Starting point for further investigation could be

** Various Artists – Remembering Mountains: Unheard Songs By Karen Dalton

Helen Brown said in Teleg. 23.5.15:

“Funky, lanky and sultry” is how Bob Dylan remembers folk singer Karen Dalton in his Chronicles. He first saw her playing her red, 12-string Gibson in Greenwich Village in the Sixties, mesmerising scenesters with strange, bluesy covers of traditional songs. Half-Cherokee, “Sweet Mother KD” had, he says, “a voice like Billie Holiday’s and played the guitar like Jimmy Reed”.

Born in Enid, Oklahoma, in 1937 and diagnosed “a real artist” by the family doctor when she was just 14, Dalton had collected old tunes from early childhood. When her only two studio albums – It’s So Hard To Tell Who’s Going To Love You the Best (1969) and In My Own Time (1971) – flopped, she slipped into addiction, lost her children, wandered through periods of homelessness and died of Aids in 1993.

She did, however, leave four notebooks with folk guitarist Peter Walker containing lyrics and poems that have now been turned into songs by an intriguing array of 11 pioneering female artists, including gravel-voiced country singer Lucinda Williams and former Belle & Sebastian singer Isobel Campbell.

Download this: Remembering Mountains by Sharon Van Etten.

** Skeleton Crew by Madisen Ward & the Mama Bear

Mother and son with acoustic guitars, hailing from Kansas City, “recently dubbed most in-demand new band on the planet by NME”, according to Teleg, which says their breakthrough track was Silent Movies …

morelater …

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1 Response to SHEDNOTES 126: The best of Last and other playlist tips

  1. hack4hire says:

    And a couple more …
    Same Trailer, Different Park: Kacey Musgrave.
    Nashville country but sharp with it. Sample …

    And some Black Keys and some Prodigy, on the basis of the following review from the Isle of Wight by Patrick Smith, Telegraph …

    The Grammy Award-winning blues-rock band opened with the propulsive Dead and Gone from their 2011 album El Camino – and the night immediately shifted up a gear.
    Their sound is simple but feverishly catchy and retro, rather like The White Stripes. Since that band split in 2011, however, The Black Keys’ stock has risen. Just as their popularity has surged, so too has their confidence, with each album an improvement on the one before. So it was surprising that they opted only to play two tracks – Fever and Gotta Get Away – from their latest LP, Turn Blue. Instead their set was mainly drawn from El Camino and Brothers.
    The ferocious ballad Little Black Submarines was a highlight. So, too, was Gold on the Ceiling – a glam-infused track built on hooks, with Dan Auerbach’s nimble, muscular guitar riffing combining seamlessly with Patrick Carney’s thunderous drumming.
    The only misgiving was that this quartet – formerly a duo – lacked stage presence: too often they felt like statuesque silhouettes scarcely acknowledging each other as they played.
    Stage presence certainly isn’t something The Prodigy have in short supply. Their inimitable frontman Keith Flint, no spring chicken at 45, was full of vim, prowling across the stage like a tribal warrior.
    Kicking things off with the primeval Breathe, they sent the crowd berserk for the duration of their set, which married their previous hits with material from their latest album, The Day is My Enemy.
    Huge, oriental umbrellas floated above them, taunting the drenched revellers below. While Firestarter, their seminal smash, felt like a vision of cheering warmth to the freezing mob.
    By the time the Prodigy reached a climax with the once notorious Smack My Bitch Up, the rain had obediently petered out. Now in raucous spirits, the crowds waded through the chocolatey sludge committed to keeping the party alive.

    fornow …

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