Album of the Week: Diana Hubbard’s LifeTimes (1979)

“music you have felt but not heard” – “Rose Coloured Lights” single cover.

This is one of those “elephant in the room” albums – Diana is L. Ron Hubbard’s daughter. I discovered this album 3 or 4 years ago after reading Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear, a superb deep-dive on the scandolous history of Scientology. When, amongst detailing the Scientology clan’s bizarre adventure as a self-governing ship (literally) in the Mediterranean, it was mentioned that daughter Diana recorded a jazz album with legendary pianist and avowed Scientologist Chick Corea, my interest was piqued.

LifeTimes was released on the small Minneapolis label Waterhouse in 1979, who seem to have released mostly blues rock records, as well as a comedy album, Henny Youngman’s Take My Album, Please! (track #5: “What, No Jewish Jokes?”). The sheltered life of Scientology progeny Diana Hubbard, who went to music conservatory in London before studying Scientology and spending years on the group’s Mediterranean yacht, lends her music the feeling of an alien’s idea of classical or new age music. “Russian Roulette” (ominous track title, no?) is pretty, yet uneasy, with Hubbard’s piano playing sounding both sustained and clunky. The liner notes to LifteTimes contain penned notes describing each song, with this bizarre entry for “Russian Roulette”: “An arch-duke of Russia travelling [sic] across the plains of Siberia, came to a forest. He had known love, wealth, power, pain and the Napoleon Wars. He had done and experienced everything of his day. He plays Russian Roulette and dies in the forest.”

“Bewitched” features some bugged-out synthesizer work from the aforementioned Chick Corea, who just 10 years earlier played electric piano on Bitches Brew. In comparison, a contemporary review of LifeTimes by the Harvard Crimson called it “Dentists’ Office Jazz”. Like most muzak, LifeTimes is directionless and mostly uneventful. It even contains a vaguely-ethnic-sounding track called “Arabia”. But in its meandering sonatas it is strangely successful ambient music, and absolutely uncanny in the context of its creation.

Some may call it dreck, or just plain boring, but I genuinely enjoy this oddity of an album. To my knowledge Diana Hubbard has not released other music, and little is publicly known about her life. I’ll leave you with Hubbard’s handwritten description for the final track, “Midnight #3”: “A sea rippling quietly with the moon. The cliffs tower. Maybe you heard the sirens.”

Listen to LifeTimes here.

Album of the Week: Pat Metheny’s New Chautauqua (1979)

Here’s an idea: what if Pat Metheny fans were referred to as Meth-heads? Eh? No, sorry, not sure about that one. But the guy does have a devoted fan base. When I saw Metheny in concert (2021), an older couple in line joked to security, “Metal detectors?? But we love Pat Metheny! We would never do anything to hurt him!”

There’s a reason people seek to protect Pat Metheny at all costs. He controls an active legacy dating back almost 50 years to a 1974 recording with Jaco Pastorius, Bruce Ditmas and Paul Bley. Metheny was 19 at the time of the recording, and the album was released in 1976, the same year as Metheny’s proper ECM debut, the trio recording Bright Size Life. Metheny would continue to release strong records for ECM for almost a decade, but his only true solo effort in this bunch is his fourth album, New Chautauqua.

By layering tracks of acoustic and electric guitars, Metheny achieves a strikingly full sound on New Chautauqua by himself. Though the title track is upbeat, the album’s sound as a whole is weightlessly drifting, most notably on the 10 minute “Long Ago Child / Fallen Star”, which reaches a mesmerizing conclusion. It takes almost 7 minutes to get there, but “Fallen Star” is a brilliant oasis, a background of shimmering echoes with soft strings plucking away at the fore.

Chautauqua was a kind of rural educational fair that spread in popularity throughout the U.S. in the late 19th century. What Metheny’s music has to do with it I’m not sure, but I have read somewhere that the album is based on his impressions of New Mexico as a child. After “Fallen Star”, “Hermitage” provides another one of those “oh shit” moments, when the melody drops about a minute in. It’s an easy song to treasure. “Daybreak” rounds things out in a manner fitting its title, as it starts off a slow crawl and rises to a gleaming resolution.

Listen to New Chautauqua here.

Album of the Week: Gene Clark’s White Light (1971)

Gene Clark of The Byrds was not a successful solo artist. He left the band in 1966 after his role as a primary songwriter and rhythm guitarist was significantly diminished. Listening to any of his solo records, it’s clear that his songwriting skills make him deserving of a greater legacy than his contemporary reception as a lesser Byrd member. Rightfully, this attitude seems to have changed with recent critical appraisal of his 1974 masterpiece No Other, which was reissued in 2019 and received a 9.3 rating from Pitchfork. Their review paints a stark picture of Clark’s dire fate: “No money would go to promote the album and No Other tanked, all but ending Clark’s career. One of the most exquisite spiritual seekers in song, Clark was dead by the age of 46, ravaged by alcohol and heroin.”

Clark died in 1991, leaving behind a legacy that was more than just The Byrds and even more than No Other. White Light is an inspired acoustic/folk album that features one of my favorite Clark songs, “One in a Hundred”, which was also released in an alternate arrangement on 1973’s Roadmaster. The song’s lilting melody is matched by its delightfully 70s (read: hippie) lyrics: “Voices of time / bringing surprise / voices that sing in waking moments to look into life’s eyes.” Clark could be epic to a degree nearing overly-maudlin, but at other times was quite direct, such as on the lovely chorus of “Because of You”: “The sun I see only shines for me because of you.”

“For a Spanish Guitar” situates itself somewhere between Townes Van Zandt and Bob Dylan, which is pretty much exactly where you want to be if you’re recording a folk album in the early 70s. It’s a lost classic. Speaking of Dylan, White Light features a great cover of “Tears of Rage”, Dylan’s song that was famously played by The Band, Jerry Garcia Band, and probably 100 other people. Clark’s version features impassioned guitar playing (acoustic and electric!) and organ work that would make Garth Hudson proud.

White Light is so succinct that even though the reissue (the version you’ll find on Spotify) packs it with 5 bonus tracks, it barely passes the 50 minute mark. Imbued with a warmth amplified by the magic of early 70s recording technology, White Light is a classic that I’d recommend to any fan of folk or acoustic music.

Listen to White Light here.

Album of the Week: Ana Mazzotti’s Ninguém Vai Me Segurar (1974)

Brazil in the 60s/70s was, among other things, fertile ground for amazing music. Ana Mazzotti began playing accordion at age 5, before moving to keys and forming a Beatles cover band while still in school. A move from Brazil’s southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul to the more populated São Paulo found her introduced to Rio de Janeiro’s Azymuth, the fusion/funk band that would play a key role in her music. By 1974, Azymuth keyboardist José Roberto Bertrami was already something of a session wizard, having played with luminaries such as Tim Maia and Marcos Valle. When Mazzotti recorded this, her first album, Bertrami and the Azymuth crew were her backing band.

Ninguém Vai Me Segurar translates to “Nobody will hold me”, which is probably a statement of loneliness but which I prefer to liken to Rick Ross’s refusal to be stopped. Mazzotti’s confident vocals and great songs are only the first layer of the music. Bertrami’s contributions are massive: these synths are FUNKY. “Roda Mundo” features some synth-spazzing that rivals Chick Corea and “Eu Sou Mais Eu” has a particularly funky bounce to it.

I think I discovered this record via “Feel Like Makin’ Love”, a cover of the Roberta Flack song (written by Eugene McDaniels) that served as the title track to the first AOTY I ever posted on this blog. Mazzotti’s version is sampled on Isaiah Rashad’s “Cilvia Demo”, and matches the mellow of Flack’s take. We get a sort of Syreeta vibe on “Acalanto” with its sleepy Sunday atmosphere and Stevie-like synths.

Ana Mazzotti followed Ninguém with a self-titled album in 1977, but unfortunately neither were very commercially successful. Little is known (at least to me) about her last 10-or-so years, and she passed away from cancer early in 1988. Thanks to a 2019 reissue on Far Out Recordings, more is known about Ninguém and it is easy to find and stream, which is fantastic as this album is an absolute delight.

Listen to Ninguém Vai Me Segurar here.

Album of the Week: Sweet Smoke’s Just a Poke (1970)

Or, a bunch of jewish stoner kids from Brooklyn move to Germany and record a psych-rock classic. With legendary Krautrock producer Conny Plank at the helm, the guys of Sweet Smoke managed to release a two-track jam LP with European distribution on Columbia. Full of flute and guitars, “Baby Night” kicks off with an interpolation of Jeremy & The Satyrs’ “In the World of Glass Teardrops”. Not 3 minutes in, the tempo shifts to a “Moondance”-like strut, stretching out the instruments into jam territory. A minute later, things kick back up into high-gear, with dueling lead and rhythm guitars driving the instrumental passage. Marvin Kaminowitz’s lead around 7 minutes is tantalizing in its brief melodic passage. Then the song shifts again, turning into a cover of The Doors’ “The Soft Parade”. This provides another place for Kaminowitz to stretch out, this time achieving some trippy delay effects, before cycling back to “Teardrops”.

Side B’s “Silly Sally” features some hot saxophone action, so best to start there if you have any aversion to flutes. With some wah-wah guitars, things groove for about 7 minutes until we reach what one Discogs user describes as “one of the most amazing drum solo to hear on drugs .” Some sick fading enhances the solo of Jay Dorfman, who, according to a blog post later “programmed the drum tracks for the seminal dance tech record Planet Rock for Tommy Boy Records” (no way!). The “Silly Sally” solo is about 5 minutes of funky drumming. After that, things round out with more cookin’ sax. Though I have not heard either of their follow-up records, Sweet Smoke’s international debut stands as a strong entry into the canon of both American psych and German Krautrock.

This French fan site also has some good info on Sweet Smoke.

Listen to Just a Poke here.

Album of the Week: Emmylou Harris’s Roses in the Snow (1980)

Emmylou Harris cut her teeth recording with the late Gram Parsons in the early 70s before breaking out as a solo star. Her output was eclectic, with records ranging from country rock, to Beatles covers, to folk music and other styles. In 1979, she changed direction yet again, hitting the studio with multi-instrumentalist Ricky Scaggs for a bluegrass album.

“Only at one point was I told that what I was going to do was an absolute mistake, was going to end my career, was going to become a commercial disaster—that was when I wanted to do Roses in the Snow,” she told Lucinda Williams in 1997. “And I just said, ‘Well it’s my career.’ I knew I had to make that record… Everybody I knew wanted to do a Bluegrass record and everybody was talking about it, and I wanted to be the first.”

Roses in the Snow, then, wasn’t a mistake at all. It peaked at 26 on the Billboard charts and collects a rich assortment of recordings, beginning with the esoteric title track written by Ruth Franks and originally performed by Bill Grant and Delia Bell. Finding some lyrical parallels with Gram Parsons’ “We’ll Sweep Out the Ashes in the Morning” (on which Harris sang), it’s an upbeat start to a short and sweet album. Always with a trick up her sleeve, track 4 of the album is Emmylou’s cover of Paul Simon’s “The Boxer”, eschewing the traditional country/bluegrass songbook.

Acoustic guitar legend Tony Rice, who died in 2020, plays a key role on this album. Rice, whose proficiency in soloing found him collaborating with virtuosos like Jerry Garcia and Béla Fleck, appears on 6 of the album’s 10 tracks. His solo on the folk classic “Wayfaring Stranger” is beautiful and lithe. He also provides fast guitar accompaniment on “I’ll Go Stepping Too” and delicate picking on “You’re Learning”. Probably the biggest accomplishment on side B is “Miss the Mississippi (and You)”, which sparkles with a kind of classic Hollywood sweetness.

Among other guests, Johnny Cash can be heard singing on “[Cold] Jordan”. The album’s streaming version (a rerelease from 2002) features 2 bonus tracks, including a great take on Hank Williams’ “You’re Gonna Change”. Below, see Harris play the title track from “Roses in the Snow” in 1993.

Listen to Roses in the Snow here.

Album of the Week: Steve Hillage’s Rainbow Dome Musick (1979)

Yer tellin’ me you never heard of rainbow dome musick?? Well, big Steve Hillage was quite productive between the years of 1969-1979. At 17, he played lead guitar in Arzachel (previously Uriel, later known as Egg) and joined Gong shortly thereafter. By 1979 he had released 4 studio albums with Gong and 4 solo albums. Most of these fall in the psychedelic rock/Canterbury scene category, but Rainbow Dome Musick exists in its own ambient plane.

I found some info about the Rainbow Dome on this website, which includes the poster I repasted below. As you can see, the dome was advertised as part of the 3rd Festival for Mind Body + Spirit, which took place at London’s Olympia exhibition space/music venue in ’79. Billed as “The show about you & me”, the festival featured such new age-y attractions as astrology, “Earth mysteries”, and “sports”. Hillage and his wife, the musician Miquette Giraudy, made the music for the Rainbow Dome. I’m guessing this was some sort of psychedelic 3D art piece you could venture inside and space out in, like a Turrell space.

If you’re familiar with Mario Party 3, there’s some sparkly SFX that you hear for about 10 seconds when the players first enter a level (you can hear this at the 6:55 mark here). About 5 minutes into Rainbow Dome Musick, a very similar sequencer sound appears, creating the background for the rest of the track. Shit gets super gnarly about 12 minutes in when Hillage, gently at first, starts ripping on guitar. By 15 minutes in the music has become transcendent.

That’s “Garden of Paradise”, which takes up the A side. The other half is “Four Ever Rainbow”, which to me is somewhat evocative of Ashra’s New Age of Earth meditations. Less ecstatic than “Garden of Paradise”, but quite mellow. The guitar here is more rhythmic, and the synth sounds great.

I really like this comment on the above blog from one Julian Guffogg – “I went then – and met Steve Hillage in the dome!” It appears the event founder Graham Wilson commented as well.

Listen to Rainbow Dome Musick here.

Album of the Week: Bloodstone s/t (1972)

Bloodstone started in Kansas City in the early 60s as a junior high singing quartet started by Harry Williams, which became The Sinceres. While The Sinceres they never released an album, you can find their excellent single “Don’t Waste My Time” on Spotify. Moving to LA as Bloodstone, they recorded and released this excellent debut for Decca.

Bloodstone is a tight mix of classic 60s R&B and dirty 70s funk. I love the electric guitar on this record. While opener “Sadie Mae” is not necessarily a killer song, the band makes up for it with their ripping guitars. The centerpiece here is the lone cover song, “Little Green Apples”, written by Bobby Russell and performed by several artists including O.C. Smith, who hit #2 on Billboard with his version. Whereas Smith’s version was about 4 minutes, Bloodstone kick it into epic territory with a 9 minute take. The pre-chorus (“If that’s not lovin’ me…”) is magically drawn out, and the falsetto backing vocals make the track. This is a killer soul deep cut.

The B-side starts with “This Thing is Heavy”, an outsider’s take on the bourgeoning world of recreational drug use (“What’s this thing, people talkin’ bout ‘let’s get high’?”) “Lady of the Night” is a funky rave-up with some excellent rhythm guitar. Next to “Little Green Apples”, closer “Dumb Dude” might be my favorite track here. It starts out as an almost dirge, with Bloodstone’s vocal-group roots showing in vocal harmonies. Then the track finds a more upbeat groove in its final 2 minutes, with a killer guitar tone. Wonderful ending to a tight album.

Bloodstone would go on to record their biggest hit as the title track of their sophomore record, Natural High. Somewhat oddly, the entire B-side of Bloodstone was released on the CD (and now streaming) version of their third LP, Unreal, which is also a winner. But for a place to start, Bloodstone comes with my high recommendation.

Listen to Bloodstone here.

Album of the Week: Nelson Angelo e Joyce (1972)

When it comes to albums that have that hazy, late-night feeling, it doesn’t get a whole lot better than this. It’s one of those 70s records, like Das Hohelied Salomos, where you can practically hear the weed smoke coming through your speakers. Look at Nelson on the cover – dude is walking on clouds!

The two Brazilian singers were around 22-23 years old when they recorded this album. Angelo, who was part of the Clube de Esquina movement, worked closely with legendary artists Naná Vasconcelos and Lô Borges. Joyce Moreno is a singer and guitarist who would go on to work with Vinicius De Moraes. My understanding of Portugese is about nil, but the opener “Um Gosto de Fruta” translates to “A Taste of Fruit”, and it’s appropriately refreshing.

Angelo is mostly at the reigns here in terms of songwriting and performance. Joyce doesn’t take the lead until “Linda”, which is short and sweet, and then standout “Comunhão” delights in its melodious chorus of na-na-nas. “Ponte Nova” reaches a transcendent jam in its final 20 seconds, only to fade out. Joyce also takes the lead on “Meus Vinte Anos”, which she wrote, and has a blissful harpsichord backing.

Nelson Angelo e Joyce is indispensable. My only possible qualm would be that the record and its songs are so short, it’s hard not to want more. Well then, time to find more Nelson Angelo/Joyce albums…

Listen to Nelson Angelo e Joyce here.

Album of the Week: Les McCann’s Layers (1973)

Another winner from Les McCann! In March, I covered Invitation to Openness, a standout fusion record. Where Invitation was a showcase of swirling, dreamy fusion with extended jams, Layers is often more upbeat. Recorded a year after Invitation, Layers is nothing short of a percussive triumph. Buck Clarke, Ralph McDonald, and Donald Dean join once again on percussion, this time with the addition of Jimmy Rowser on electric bass, bass violin and percussion. The beat on opener “Sometimes I Cry” is so legendary as to provide the backing track for Massive Attack’s “Teardrop”.

“Sometimes I Cry” is a good indicator of the unique sound you get on Layers: McCann’s ARP synth takes center stage in what is essentially an extended vamp (with glorious results). Along with his Clavinet and electric piano, McCann carries the melodies with his synth sounds, still a new frontier back in the early 70s. Anyone who’s heard Marvin Gaye’s I Want You and knows “After the Dance (Instrumental)” will recognize that ARP sound, bright as the midday sky and free as a bird (“Let’s Play” is especially portentous of “After the Dance”).

Layers really kicks up the groove on “Dunbar High School Marching Band” (in which McCann imitates a marching band’s horn section with synths!) and “Harlem Buck Dance Strut”. But I don’t think Layers can be categorized as straight jazz-funk. Its uniqueness lies in tracks like “Soaring”, again evocative of flight, the multi-layered synth/clav sounds creating an atmosphere that is both freeing and a bit melancholy. Layers is a versatile record that is relaxing enough for a Sunday morning and deep enough to avoid any sort of dated cheese.

Listen to Layers here.