Albert Collins – Frostbite

When asked about the Blues, I always say that are three artists I love the most, which I really should stop saying, since I love so many blues artists. Either way, those three are, in no particular order, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, and Albert Collins.

The strange thing is that, no matter where you go, any music store that sells blues albums will sell B.B. King and Buddy Guy, but Albert Collins can be pretty hard to find unless you shop at Amazon or something. I’m not sure why that is, possibly because he died in 1993, or maybe because he was most prolific in the 80’s as far as albums go, and for some reason the only blues artist from the 80’s that is ever widely distributed nowadays is Stevie Ray Vaughn.

Well, hard to find or not, I love Albert Collins, not least for the fact that he was unique amongst guitarists for his playing style. He tuned his guitar into an open minor key (usually “F minor”) and used a capo on some really high frets, and then never used a pick. Basically, he got through most of his songs using various “phrases”, so the “phrase” of one song might show up in a later song. This isn’t unusual, but his particular phrases were definitely unique.

The other thing that characterizes Albert Collins is his nickname: “The Iceman”. The particular sound of his guitar was what I can only describe as “icy”, and so he was given that nickname and stuck with it, usually naming his albums after some kind of reference to his nickname. Hence, today’s album:

Might I recommend some Head & Shoulders, Albert?

So far, this is my favorite Albert Collins album of the 4 I have. However, I noticed that he uses a distinct pattern in creating albums, so I’d say you could listen to any of his albums and be just fine.

It starts off with a Little Johnny Taylor cover called “If You Love Me Like You Say”, which is kind of a generic blues song (ok ok what blues isn’t generic right?), but is a good way to start since it introduces the sound without wasting precious original material (which is always the best in the middle of the album). I do enjoy the horns on this song, however, as horns are a big part of Collins’ sound, in fact I don’t think I’ve even heard a song he’s done without them.

We then move on to “Blue Monday Hangover”, which is a slow jam, so you know, as not to flare up a headache. It’s also a cover I think, but I don’t know who wrote it. The lyrics actually kind of don’t make a lot of sense, but it’s still a pretty fun song, and the guitar solo in the middle is exceptional, so it’s still a good’un.

We then start with the originals, which I always feel are much better, as I really like Collins’ method of songwriting. We start off with “I Got A Problem”, which is already a great title for a Blues song, and the lyrics are great:

I’ve got a problem, I said I’ve got a problem
I’ve got a problem, people, I’ve got a problem
I’ve got a problem ’bout my woman, I’ve got a problem ’bout my wife

Ok, pretty standard yes? Well then we keep going:

Now my wife is no. 1, my woman is no. 2
My woman would do things for me that my wife wouldn’t do
‘Cause I dig my wife, but you understand
Sometimes it takes 2, ya’ll, to satisfy one man

My problems started out when I started messin’ with no. 3
She called my wife and told on my woman and me

And that’s why Albert Collins is one of my favorite blues guys.

The album moves on to a song called “The Highway Is Like A Woman”, which is another slow one. It’s both about life on the road and about how women are like the highway (“soft shoulders and dangerous curves”), and uhh sometimes the analogy falls apart, but well that’s the risk you take when you’re writing the Blues.

We then move on to my second-favorite Albet Collins song, the boogie-inspired “Brick”. The horns introduce a fast-paced and very swingin’ tune against which Collins plays one of his favorite solos. Then the lyrics start, and that’s when this song turns into gold:

Brick, baby, that’s what I’m gonna throw upside your head
I said a brick, baby, that’s what I’m gonna throw upside your head
Yeah you got me so worried, got me talking out of my head

Yeah you know I love you, and you know my love is true
Yeah I can’t understand it, baby, the way you treat me like you do
I’m gonna chunk a brick, baby, gonna chunk a brick at you

Really there’s nothing else I have to say.

The next song is a particular jazzy style that I wish I knew the word for. It’s called “Don’t Go Reaching Across My Plate”, and it’s a great song that is literally about people reaching across his plate, and how he doesn’t like it. The song also includes some stereotypical “Southern” dishes that don’t really exist, like “BBQ Possum”, “Armadillo stew”, etc. Maybe I just think it’s a stereotype because I have seen every episode of The Beverly Hillbillies.

Then we have a really funky tune called “Give Me My Blues”, which is a discourse on the fact that Albert Collins plays his music “the only way I can”. In fact it sums up the attitude of the Blues pretty well with the line “Some people really dig it, some just don’t understand”. I belong to the former category, for sure.

And finally, the album ends with a 9 minute slow track, which is pretty consistent among Albert Collins’ albums. It’s called “Snowed In”, and is about being stuck in Chicago in the middle of a snowstorm and trying to start his truck. The actual starting of the truck is documented with sound effects Collins’ plays on his guitar, which is great. He scrapes across the strings to indicate scraping your feet across the snow, and twangs a low note to indicate trying to start the truck, and so on. It’s quite entertaining to listen to, and Albert mumbles the whole time, which is also great. The song ends with the truck finally starting (the sound of the engine kicking in is provided by the drummer) and a celebratory guitar solo ends the album.

It’s really too bad Mr. Collins isn’t more appreciate nowadays, his albums are very entertaining and his guitar playing is something that has never been heard before or since, but I guess it’s kind of like the Blues in general, if you aren’t a “significant” blues player then forget about having a long line of posthumous releases and important footnotes in magazines, etc. I’m all right with it, though. Like Collins himself said, some people really dig it, some just don’t understand.

 

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Screamin’ Jay Hawkins – Black Music For White People

So I guess today is the first day of Black History Month, and I only realized that after deciding to make today’s writeup about an album that black people may very well want to strike from their history: the late Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and one of his “revival” albums, Black Music For White People.

What I wouldn't give to have met this man and shaken his skull-on-a-stick

Now, the one thing that ANYONE knows about Screamin’ Jay (besides my loyal readers that know Jeff Buckley covered one of his songs) is that he wrote the “horror” R&B hit “I Put A Spell On You“, and the more adventurous of you may even know that his live performances were known to be a bit… eccentric. He was known for his wild and crazy original compositions, as well as his butchering of the classics, and indeed the 1991 album Black Music For White People is at least one of those! Good luck finding a Youtube video of any of this, at least you can listen along in glorious Rhapsody.

The album starts off, innocently enough, with a decent cover of “Is You Or Is You Ain’t My Baby” (I consider the best cover of that song to be Tom’s), which introduces the super-cheesy plastic-sounding guitar that is present throughout the album. One thing NOT present on this track is Screamin’ Jay’s actual screamin’. What gives?

The next song is a fast-paced boogie woogie called “I Feel Allright”, which is indeed all right, but again fairly lackluster. There is one scream right at the end, but you have to get through the extended plastic guitar and saxophone solos to get to it. I’m quite fond of the lyrics, at least. The end of the track has a very erotic and short blues number, I think it’s called “Shell and Fin”? Oh well.

Then we have…

Oh my.

I… just can’t believe this.

Ok, ok, are you ready for this?

Right, well I’m not going to tell you until you’re ready.

Ok, I assume no liability for any injuries you may receive from the misuse of this information I am about to bestow upon you, but the third track of this album is the “Dance Version” of “I Put A Spell On You”. The 80’s style rap beat kicks in, and then the funk bassline, and then the samples of Jay singing his signature song, only without ANYTHING present that ever made this song good. You think “ok this is just a really terrible remix of the song”, but hold on there, honey cakes, it gets worse.

Yep, there are rap segments in this song.

Rap segments ala early 90’s rap, the very worst kind! It happens at least twice, I kind of lost count, this song is quite long compared to the minute and a half up to 2 minutes of the original. It’s really quite the highlight of the album in a way, as you will probably be pushed to react to it, somehow. My particular reaction was violent laughter followed by depression. The man just had to be put up to this… really thoug, it happens way more than it should in music, best to just keep moving on, if we can force ourselves…

The next song is a song that I shouldn’t have to look up to see who wrote it, “I Hear You Knockin'”. This is an all right cover of a very dull song, and features pretty much the same stuff you already heard, only a bit more shouty, which bodes well for the future.

The future is, strangely enough though staggeringly fitting, a cover of a Tom Waits song, “Heartattack And Vine”, which contains Jay trying to sound like he’s completely drunk, but really he just sounds like he just had some dental work done and his mouth is still numb. He clearly doesn’t care about singing the words clearly, or even at all, but he does replace the line “no devils here, just God when he’s drunk” with “no devils here, just Screamin’ Jay when he’s drunk”. That’s right, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins believes he’s God. Ok, not really.

The next song, if you want to call it a song, is entertaining but bizarre. It’s called “Ignant And Sh*t”, and it’s basically some really articulate verbal abuse he is shouting to some woman. He utilizes a lot of black stereotypes in this rant, so it’s up to you to interpret whether he’s just talking to a black girl, talking about black people in general, or if he’s just trying to appeal to white people in entirely the wrong way. I couldn’t find any information on the song, so your guess is as good as mine. It’s 6 minutes of this, by the way, and I hate to admit that it’s pretty awesome, but it is.

We then get into a jungle swing beat as the song “Swamp Gas” brings us to the second half of the album. It’s not too bad a song, and fits right into Screamin’ Jay’s voodoo persona. I really wish the guitars weren’t all straight from the 80’s, because with proper instrumentation and the total exclusion of that dance remix of “I Put A Spell On You”, this might be a fairly decent album.

The next song, “Voodoo Priestess”, doesn’t really matter in the sense that it’s an actual song, but does matter because it starts with Screamin’ Jay explaining the concept of ghosts to a confused Japanese woman, possibly during an interview. It’s wonderful. The song itself is actually quite nice, but more of a tame version of the previous track. We then move on to “Ice Cream Man”, which is a song containing sexual innuendo if I ever heard one. It was also written by Tom Waits, on one of the few albums by Waits that I’ve actually heard, Closing Time. Perhaps less “innuendo” and more straight-up “sexual” is the antepenultimate “I Want Your Body”, about which the less said, the better.

Second to last on the album is  “Ol’ Man River”, which starts with a jazzy piano intro, and then cools down to a slow jazz ballad. Prepare yourself, however, because it’s a trap. The song basically explodes shortly after the 1 minute mark and then calms right back down for a bit before exploding again and the whole thing becomes a tug-of-war between Screamin’s unusual style of crooning and his quite usual way of shouting. It can be quite the stressful thing if you’re trying to sleep while listening to this album and trying to do a write-up and keep falling asleep at your desk. Blah.

The final song on the album is called “Strokin'”. It’s an upbeat funky blues number, and before you go thinking dirty thoughts about this album’s title, let me put those vicious rumors to bed right now… it’s a song about masturbation.

Good night, everyone!

 

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