Entry for August 12, 2005

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If I would’ve known this Yahoo 360 blog thing was going to be so popular among my countless thousands of friends, you can bet I would’ve started sooner!

Just take a gander at this typical response to the “invite” that was thoughtfully sent out on my behalf:

Dave,

Are you doing internet dating?  Cause I got an e-mail from your Yahoo “Connect to Me” 360 account.  It has a picture of you that makes you look like an aging gay rocker.  It says you have “2 friends” and I thought you had more than that.

Sheesh! That’s the last time I send my mom any email!

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Sea Train

Sea Train

Edsel  ED CD 196

Tracks: Sea Train/Let The Duchess No/Pudding Street/Portrait Of The Lady As A Young Artist/As I Lay Losing/Rondo/Sweet Creek’s Suite/Outwear The Hills (34:26)

Released: May 1969. Chart Peak: NA (UK) 168 (US).

Personnel: Roy Blumenfeld (drm & perc), Richard Greene (violin), John Gregory (gtr, voc), Donald Kretmar (sax, bs), Andrew Kulberg (bs, flute), James T. Roberts (lyrics). Engineers: Henry and Robert Di Sousa. Producer: Sea Train

*First album by the remnants of New York‘s Blues Project borrows from jazz and bluegrass and crafts the beginning of chamber rock. Introduces the pioneering electric violin of Richard Greene to the masses.

Though nominally the band’s debut album, the surprisingly rich Sea Train is instead the second effort by the piddling remains on New York‘s much-admired Blues Project. One can’t fault the latter band’s adherence in truth-in-labeling laws, for this album’s actual predecessor was the Project’s 1968 farewell set, amiably titled Planned Obsolesence. About as far removed from the blues as one might want to wander, that disc like this one showcased a band influenced by a compelling mixture of musics: jazz, straight pop, and, oddly enough, bluegrass. The result was surprisingly sophisticated and damned good listening.

Part of the appeal was the cast of characters–which included the Blues Project’s rhythm section of Kulberg and Blumenfeld, then added former Mystery Trend guitarist/vocalist John Gregory, bassist/saxophonist Donald Kretmar, and–key player–violinist Richard Greene, formerly with the Jim Kweskin Jug Band and bluegrass legend Bill Monroe.  “The Jug Band broke up and this manager guy was trying to put a group together with the remnants of the Blues Project,” Greene now recalls. “So the manager literally gave us salaries–$125, $100 a week–a little bit to live on so we could stay together and practice. And the band had one more album to do on Verve as the Blues Project, so it seemed like a good idea to break the band in by doing an album.” 

Point being, as the title of the Planned Obsolescence track Niartaes Hornpipe indicates, that the Blues Project were long gone and Sea Train was already up and running by 1968. An A&M rep would catch the band and sign them; the group’s eponymous 1969 set would be the result. What surprises is the freshness of the work. In the scheme of rock, this group’s instrumentation alone was startling–alongside the normal guitar/bass/drums axis came Greene’s violin, Kretmar’s sax, and (when Kretmar switched to bass), Kulberg’s flute. More important, though, was the sound–adventurous arrangements which were audiophile-friendly high end–and the songs, which came bolted to lyrics by one James T. Roberts, and were as pun-filled as Van Dyke Parks’ earlier Song Cycle, though with a peculiar edge of gothic romance that lingered among literate listeners..

This Sea Train is not the same band most music fans remember. When the group petered out–Gregory  was “not entirely reliable,” notes Greene, and wandered off, as did Kretmar (who’d later turn up playing with Leslie West)–the band moved eastward, auditioned a raft of singers including Bette Midler  (“not great, but not bad,” remembers Greene), and finally brought in the violinist’s onetime Bill Monroe partner Peter Rowan. That band recorded two George Martin-produced albums and became a touring powerhouse during the early ’70s, until both Greene and Rowan left for rootsier stuff and the train ran out of steam. Though the Martin records are fine, they somehow lack the peculiar appeal of Sea Train Mk 1; put them all on, and this album alone sounds completely fresh. “I think we were pretty proud of it,” says Greene–who, come to think of it, is a man not known for playing second fiddle to anyone.

Further listening: Planned Obsolescence (Blues Project album, 1968), Sea Train (Capitol debut album, 1971) 

 

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