Classic Albums

The Lost Art Of Liner Notes: The Mom and Dads – Souvenirs (1972. MCA Records)

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There’s been a lot of talk in recent years on the topic of “fake news”, but a close reading of the liner notes for instrumental easy listening band The Mom And Dads’ third album Souvenirs suggests that fake news was already alive and well in the music business back in the day (and still is today, as a look at any overeager, excessively glowing PR email for some random unknown band would indicate).

In his liner notes for the album, Allen Matthews (if indeed that is his real name) refers to the band as “one of the hottest selling recording acts in Canada today” who somehow were the equivalent to The Who, Led Zeppelin, or The Beatles “as far as the over 25’s in this country are concerned.”

Really? I mean, I wasn’t around back then so I can’t say for sure, but for the notes to suggest that the quartet were “superstars” seems a bit of a stretch. I have a hard time believing that all that many people would really be buying and listening to something as aggressively square as this unless they were already approaching retirement age at that point. I mean, over 25? I feel like there’s still a bit of a gap there between mid-20s and whatever age it is that you’d be really into The Mom And Dads. What is going on here? Was this why the hippies said not to trust anyone over 30? Were all these Mom And Dads fans just normcore before there was normcore? Were The Mom And Dads really outselling any of the “so-called contemporary super groups” in Canada? And do they really expect us to believe that a band like The Mom And Dads could reasonably be referred to as “gimmickless”? Wasn’t their gimmick literally that they were a mom … and some dads?

I don’t know, but I do know that their version of “Alley Cat” is kind of a jam … in an elevator music sort of way. Give it a listen while reading the liner notes below and try not to dance like Chris Elliott while you do so:

Doris Crow, Les Welch, Quentin Ratliff and Harold Hendren are names that are, in all probability, not familiar to you, but as a group they represent the members of one of the hottest selling recording acts in Canada today, “The Mom And Dads”.

If The Who, Led Zeppelin and The Beatles, etc., are superstars in the eyes of young Canadians under 25, then it is becoming more and more apparent that The Mom And Dads are also in that category as far as the over 25’s in this country are concerned.

Although not Canadians themselves (they are natives of Spokane, Washington) this group has brought to us a brand of music that has filled a large gap in the entertainment industry that, until recently, we were unaware of. “Old Time Music” was, to all intents and purposes, fading into the past, its consumer appeal considered small, and its entertainment value supposedly almost non-existent until these four people came along and proved to us that, in no small way, this music is still very much a part of today and its appeal is as strong as ever.

After the initial radio exposure in Alberta, of a single called “The Rangers Waltz”, a surge of devotes began to appear and has grown rapidly a “The Mom And Dads Fever” spread across Canada. The group’s first two albums, “The Mom And Dads” on the Apex label and “Blue Canadian Rockies” on MCA, have outsold many recordings by so-called contemporary super groups and they continue to grow in popularity as more and more people are exposed to this happy, gimmickless, down-to-earth music.

This album, like its predecessors, is imbued with a magic that is pleasant to the ears and touched the heart with a warm glow of nostalgia.

It is filled with songs both familiar and new, all of which are guaranteed to bring you many happy hours of listening and dancing. It’s as if Doris, Les, Quentin and Harold knew what you wanted to hear, because, from “The Rippling River Waltz”, though to “Five Foot Two”, that’s exactly what you get.
ALLEN MATTHEWS
June, 1971

Classic Album Review: Skalmold – Baldur (2010, Tutl Records)

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I’ve been on a bit of a nostalgia kick as of late, for several reasons. One of the reasons is the fact that we’ve just wrapped up our coverage of this year’s SXSW, which commonly involves a bit of looking back and reflecting on what went down over the week, and which also often leads me to reminisce in general about past editions of SouthBy. And the realization that I’ve been going to Austin every March since 2011 and that the Panic Manual has had a presence there since 2009 gets me thinking about the past, and also that I’m getting old. The main instigator of all this nostalgia however, was a bit of a Spring cleaning jag I went on earlier this week wherein I uncovered a few artifacts from my time here at Panic Manual, including a bunch of old handwritten notes for potential posts. Yes, back in the day I wrote out many of my original rough drafts by hand – very old school of me.

Among these scraps of paper, I found the beginnings of a planned review of Baldur, the debut album by Icelandic Viking/folk metallers Skálmöld. I do not really remember ever listening to this album, though I do vaguely remember that when I started out writing for Panic Manual, I had big plans to broaden our scope by writing about more metal. And I guess something about this album caught my attention at the time, probably the Berserker Viking dude on the album cover charging forward while holding an axe. It is a somewhat striking image, and one that predates the premiere episodes of Game Of Thrones or Vikings by a bit, so they were a little ahead of the curve I guess.

Anyways, in the interest of not being wasteful, I decided to finish that review up and also delve even further into nostalgia by resurrecting our old Classic Album Reviews series, even though at the time the first draft of this review was started it was a relatively new release. Is Baldur actually worthy of being designated a classic? Not likely, but odds are it might be somebody’s favourite album somewhere in the world, so let’s just go with it.

And now, without any further ado, here’s the first paragraph of a review I started nearly a decade ago:

They say you can’t judge a book (or an album) by its cover. But just look at that cover! It’s practically screaming to be judged. And what it’s saying (in a Viking warrior cry) is “I am awesome.” It’s the kind of cover that kind of tells you exactly what kind of music you will be hearing.

And that’s it. That’s as far as I got with this review, which indicates that I may have never actually sat down and listened to the album, but that I at least had something to say about the cover image that I considered kind of funny at the time. And so after taking a very long break, I’m finally putting pen to paper (virtually speaking) and wrapping this one up. So what does the album actually sound like? And does it hold up?

Initially released on Faroe Islands record label Tutl in 2010, but later rereleased in 2011 on Napalm Records, Baldur was Skálmöld’s introduction to the world. The band has gone on to put out four full length albums in the years since the release of this one. I have listened to none of them. But I have now listened to this one at least, and it’s a pretty solid album as these things go.

For those unfamiliar with Viking metal, it’s pretty much what you might expect from the name – fairly epic sounding stuff full of Nordic chanting and more aggressive vocals as well as plenty of melodic guitar lines along the way. The Viking aspect is not just a refelection of the band’s Icelandic roots, but also represented in the story behind Baldur, a concept album with supernatural elements telling the tale of the titular Viking and his epic quest for revenge after the death of his family. I gathered as much only after reading about the album online – the lyrics are all in Icelandic, so I’m fairly unclear on all the details. Sounds like a cool story though.

And finally, I’ll wrap things up with another note that I found in amongst those papers, this one from a 2011 Summerworks review of a show by Toronto indie folk band Great Bloomers. It didn’t make the cut at the time, not really fitting in anywhere in the review, but now it can finally be revealed (even though it doesn’t really fit at all in this review either). So I leave you with these thoughts, written down on a yellow sticky note on that August evening long ago:

After the show, some dude asked me for change, told me he was 79 years old, then asked me if I was some guy named Herman and/or a cop. I told him I wasn’t but he seemed pretty insistent that I was.

True story. I wonder whatever happened to that guy. And I wonder if he likes Viking metal.

The Lost Art Of Liner Notes: Country Chart-Busters Volume 5 (1974, Columbia Records)

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After a lengthy break from writing about liner notes written on the back covers of random old LPs, our Lost Art of Liner Notes series returns as I make my way through a bounty of ten cent records I acquired on a recent record shopping expedition.

Today we take a look at a record which featured a minimal amount of liner notes – the fifth edition of a country music compilation series entitled Country Chart-Busters. So why write about the liner notes when they don’t really say that much, you may ask? Well folks, they do say that a picture is worth a thousand words but for the picture that accompanies the liner notes on the back cover of this album … well, really there are no words. See for yourself:
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Can’t sleep … clown will eat me.

Why someone though it would be a good idea to include a grainy photo of some creepy-as-hell clown on a collection of country hits I have no idea. While the front cover is a jovial, old timey depiction of three country musicians somehow managing to ride a horse simultaneously while standing up and holding guitars, the back cover is pure nightmare fuel from way out of left field. Is he supposed to be a rodeo clown or is he some ghoul who will murder you in your sleep while the sounds of Johnny Paycheck and Barbara Mandrell play softly in the background? Or worse yet, is he Crazy Joe Davola?

Anyways, read the liner notes below while trying to figure out who thought this was a good design idea and whether they got to keep their job after this was released. And then try to scrub this horrific image from your memory forever. The sweet sounds of Lynn Anderson may help in that regard.

The most amazing thing about Country Chart-Busters, Vol. V is that all of these songs are on one album. ten of the biggest stars in the World of Country performing the classics that have made country music what it is today. Songs like “Kids Say The Darndest Things” by Country Queen Tammy Wynette, Lynn Anderson’s “Fool Me” and “Nice ‘N’ Easy” by the fastest rising star in country music, Charlie Rich. Stars like Sonny James, Freddy Weller, Connie Smith, Barbara Mandrell, Jody Miller, David Houston and Johnny Paycheck make Country Chart-Busters Vol. V an album worth writing home about. There’s only one way you’ll ever hear such amazing talent performing material of such outstanding caliber and you’re holding it in your hands.

The Lost Art Of Liner Notes: Baroque Bouquet – Plant Music (1975, Amherst Records)

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Liner notes. They can get pretty weird sometimes. And there are perhaps none weirder than those of Plant Music, a collection of “Music to keep your plants Healthy and Happy.” Yes, apparently the great scientific minds of yesteryear (or possibly just a couple of stoned botanists) decided to dedicate their efforts to finding out exactly the right mix of instrumental music to soothe your savage plants. I guess it probably checks out – just look at the great effects of music on the growth of Audrey II.

I can’t help but question their expertise though after seeing them refer to acid rock as an “extremely simple musical form.” Not cool, man. Not cool. Also, what the hell is up with that bit where they casually mention the “sacrificing of animal life” being used as the stimulus in one earlier experiment? That’s pretty messed up. Maybe Audrey II really was involved in these experiments …

Anyways, check out the liner notes:

That music has profound effect upon life forms has been intuitively felt since antiquity. The effect of music upon plant growth has been studied at least since 1906. Bose (1906) suggested that plants may nearly be deaf. However one of his followers, Singh (1965), states that plants excited by pure notes of high frequency give direct responses and that under musical irradiation certain plants have improved both in yield and quality.

Weinberger (1968) reports that exposing wheat seeds and growing plants to high pitched sound can triple their growth.

Backster (1968) observed plant responses by means of a polygraph. Though not specifically referring to music as a stimulus to plant response he was led to the hypothesis that plants posess an “undefined primary perception” capability. He reports that such perception was indirectly demonstrated by the polygraph to which the plants were connected. The sacrificing of animal life in an adjacent room was the stimulus.

It seems to us (Boyles/Shannon) that to the degree in which Backster’s hypothesis is true, plants show this facility to “primarily perceive” music stimuli and possibly to respond selectively to contrasting types of music. 

This was part of the basis for our interest in the question: Do growing plants respond to energy sources in the form of musical sound, and if so, what generalizations can be made regarding the “types” of musical sound to which plants may selectively respond?

We reviewed the descriptions of existing experimentation done in the past and found that both strong positive and negative (stem slant) existed in experiments in terms of music varieties. The plants in all the experiments, in which we  were able to read the results, appeared as if a wind had blown plant stems uniformly away from one “type” of musical sound source and uniformly toward a musical sound source of another “kind”. We also found an accelerated deterioration of plant life quality ending in nearly 100% mortality after days of such exposure. The method of experimentation are all fairly alike: Environmental chambers were used, like plants were used in as many types of music as were being tested. Equal light sources were used as well as circulating fans. Temperatures of the chamber were also equal, and humidity factors were the same. The variable, of course, in all experiments was the types of music. After the experiments the plants were measured for life and growth in many ways.

A. Degree of slant of the stems both to and from the sound source.
B. Amount of root growth as contrasted to the other members of the studies.
C. Amount of new foliage.
D. Overall height and width of the plants

Within the limitations we have described, it appears that growing plants respond both toward and away from contrasting sound energies introduced into their environments.

Response to Bach and Shankar musical forms is evident in all experiments we have read. response away from percussion, and also from non-mathematical and extremely simple musical forms (acid rock) is equally evident.

We conclude that some presently unknown plant response mechanism may operate in sonic manipulated environments or that some known mechanism may respond in some unknown manner in such environments.