Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Moving the albums; remembering Kramer's Guilt Trip

Playing right now: Donovan's various renditions of the ABC song/Baa Baa Black Sheep/Twinkle Twinkle Little Star - none of which ever get finished. They're emanating from the next room.

Last week I began the arduous task of moving our albums into the den (we call it the Skinny Room due to its 35' X 10' dimensions) from the small storage room behind it (we call it the Mistress Room, since the sliding mirrored doors are the perfect place to house your backdoor dame). The Mistress Room has been sort of damp since the big flood of '04 and when rain came in last month during a particularly heavy downpour, enough was enough. Some of the CDs were getting musty already, and a couple of the walls are showing signs of must. Luckily the records were against the dry wall, but still it's only a matter of time.

We have one of those IKEA shelves w/five sections across and five down. And to move that heavy thing I had to take all the records out, carry most of them to the front room and pile them up. Getting them back in was pretty easy, but I still have a bunch that have never even been on that shelf. So there's been a lot of reorganizing. At first, I left some space open in the M's because that always seems the tightest. That way, if more room was needed on either end of that grouping, they could be adjusted accordingly. Of course that lasted about a day. It's all very tight around there now. Now the major slack can be found around the Horace Silver section. We'll see how long that lasts.

It's always funny to see what artists sit side by side. Allan Sherman is still sharing company with Archie Shepp. But that's not nearly as funny as seeing Phil Ochs next to Ted Nugent.


Kramer's 3-record deluge The Guilt Trip was sitting out since it's better to keep it off the shelf due to the amount space that it swallows up. That album came out in 1993 and it was one of the most anticipated albums for me at that time. For about three years, up until then, I was a Kramer fanatic, buying all the Bongwater albums and checking out every release on his Shimmy-Disc label. When he called me back for an interview for my fanzineonce, I about died.

So after the crushing break-up of Bongwater, I eagerly awaited this humongous solo project box. (It came out about a year later.) There's something about a new release spread over three records that makes it a must have. I remember buying it on a Friday and taking it to Jennie's place that night. We only got through maybe two sides of it before it became clear that we couldn't listen to it and have a conversation.

Today it sounds... okay. I mean sonically it sounds great. Kramer's swirly, psychedelic production is what made his early work so good, and also what made his post-1993 work so lacking. He started to abandon his trademark sound around that time. (Only a few of the songs on Bone of Contention's Kramer-produced Fun CD have his telltale trimmings, which really bummed me out when someone mentioned that to me.)

But I'm digressing. The Guilt Trip is loaded with instrumentals. Some sound pretty good on their own. The opening couple minutes of the album ("Overture")sound absolutely mind-blowing, for instance. It's like the intro to Sergeant Pepper played by Blue Cheer and looped. Some tracks sound like they were ready for Ann Magnuson to add her parts. In fact all the Kramer harmonies on "Wisdom Sits" (he was always very skilled at singing all of them) make it sound like a Bongwater outtake. But other wordless tracks sound like unfinished sketches with layers of overdubs to cover up the riff-not-necessarily-a-song quality of them.

The vocal tracks are great though. It occurred to me that "Welcome Home" might be sung from the perspective of his baby (at the time) daughter, since it's being sung to a mother who has come home and is begged to "forget that awful day." Plus, there's a snippet of a squawking baby in the background before the guitar solo. The trippy vocal on "Stupid Summer" (who's he sound like? Donovan? Syd?) sounds better than it did 16 years ago. And I almost forgot about the sped-up vocal on "I'm Your Fan" (which at the time could've been about me). I might have to get out record three and play that.

Still, the best example of Kramer's post-Bongwater work from that era has to be Who's Afraid, his first Shimmy album with Daevid Allen. It's consistent from beginning to end with all the trippiness and noodly qualities reined in by conventional song structures.

I wonder where his daughter Tess is now. She's probably about 17.


Unknown said...

I have many of the same thoughts about Bongwater/Kramer. And I always pull out Guilt Trip this time of year, Stupid Summer indeed. Enjoy the blog.

shanleymusic said...

Glad you like the blog. Thanks. I always associate the first Uncle Wiggly album on Shimmy-Disc with summer too. Maybe it's time to pull that out.

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