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 roctober.com, 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 …