Sundays With Marty: Donovan, ZZ Top, Mott The Hoople, Man, Rufus, R.E.M. And More

MAGNET’s Kevin Friedman works next to a record store, which on Sundays is manned by a man named Marty, who puts out vinyl LPs from his own collection for a couple bucks each. Marty doesn’t adhere to any specific genre; the emphasis is on classic rock but there’s plenty of jazz, soul and funk in there, too. Kevin goes over at least twice a month with about $20 to see what he can find. Here is what he picked up this week:

Ahmad Jamal Tranquility: $3
Miles Davis often credited Jamal’s influence as major, pointing him in the direction of the Cool sound. I’ve generally found Jamal to be a bit too laid back, but this 1968 album is an exception. It starts off with two pretty cheesy covers, “I Say A Little Prayer” and “The Look Of Love,” but suddenly, on the third track—a rhythm-heavy modal piece called “When I Look In Your Eyes”—it starts getting hot. With Jamil Sulieman on bass and Frank Gant on drums, Jamal’s playing is assertive and even forceful. “Nothing Ever Changes My Love For You” features African polyrhythms under Jamal’s chord melodies. Side two presents several originals. “Tranquility” lays down a strong groove complimented by a descending, harmonized melody offset with a syncopated time shift in the b-section that gives way to a solo in which Jamal really digs in with prolonged runs over the length of the keyboard. “Free Again” is a gorgeous ballad, and “Manhattan Reflections” is a sharp, dark and brisk piece of modern jazz.

Donovan Barabajagal: $2
This 1969 effort is the official blueprint for Devendra Banhart’s entire oeuvre. Donovan was the original freak-folk mystic. The folk/funk title track of features the Jeff Beck Group as the backing band. “Superlungs My Super Girl” is straight-up garage-rock psychadelia. These stunners are followed by several hazy acoustic ballads that get progressively cornier, bottoming out with “I Love My Shirt.” Side two offers another song with the Beck Group (“Trudi”), but mythical ode “Atlantis” is the anthem of the album.

El Chicano Revolución: $3
This is this week’s pick of the litter. Following up on their Viva Tirado debut, 1971’s Revolución is the sophomore album from this Los Angeles-based ensemble of Chicano psychedelic/rock/soul musicians. It’s a great collection of Santana-style fuzzed-out guitar and organ jams over salsa and boogaloo beats. These guys were heavy hitters in their time, and singer Ersi Arvizu has shown up on several albums by Ry Cooder. He produced her recent solo album that came out on Anti- a few years back. “Sabor A Mi” highlights both Robbie Espinoza’s organ skills as well as Mickey Lespron’s guitar playing, and “I’m A Good Woman” is another standout. They throw a few fun covers in, like Willie Bobo’s “Spanish Grease” and bubblegum classic “Sugar Sugar,” that are incorporated into their style. “Chicano Chant” features absolutely incendiary guitar work.

Leon Russell & The Shelter People Leon Russell & The Shelter People: $1
This is Russell’s second official solo album (though he’d previously made records with the Midnight String Quartet and Marc Benno) after an enviable career as a session player in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Russell played with everyone from Jerry Lee Lewis and Elton John to Joe Cocker and George Harrison to even Frank Sinatra. 1971’s The Shelter People features a batch of originals mixed in with several Dylan covers (“A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry”) and a standout version of George Harrison’s “Beware Of Darkness,” which is the album’s highlight. Russell’s compositions land in a New Orleans-style gumbo of soul, boogie and gospel. Harry Nilsson comes to mind, as does Elton John’s “Tumbleweed Connection.”

ZZ Top Tres Hombres: $2
Say what you want about “Sleeping Bag” and “Sharp Dressed Man.” Back in the day, these guys put out great records. 1973’s Tres Hombres was their third album and first commercial breakthrough. The Texas blues of “Waitin’ For The Bus” and “Jesus Just Left Chicago” are blue-collar, beer-laden and heavy lidded. Billy Gibbons’ guitar tone sounds absolutely resin encrusted. It’s matched by his voice and Dusty Hill’s, which are as fuzzy as their beards. Hit single “La Grange” is still a staple on classic-rock radio and has a guitar solo that’s a masterpiece of pick-muted harmonics. “Hot, Blue And Righteous” is slowed-down gospel soul somewhat reminiscent of “You Don’t Know The Life” by Gibbons’ first band, the Moving Sidewalks.

Mott The Hoople The Hoople: $1
Hmmmn. This 1974 LP comes pretty late in the discography for this also-ran ensemble in the Bowie-affiliated world of glam rock. Several years past their “All The Young Dudes” peak and following the departure of guitarist Mick Ralphs, who left to form Bad Company, this sounds like the soundtrack to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, though clearly the influence went the other direction. The rock-opera vibe has never been a particularly winning formula. Ian Hunter remains an (almost) singular vocalist (he does sound an awful lot like Bowie), and Ariel Bender’s guitar playing matches his name and often recalls Mick Ronson, who’d also worked with the band. A few acoustic tracks on side two—“Trudi’s Song” (who is this Trudi showing up on Donovan and Mott The Hoople records?) and “Through The Looking Glass”—break the monotony, but you’d be better served just listening to Bowie’s Diamond Dogs.

Man Rhinos, Winos & Lunatics: $2
This 1974 album is an odd piece of proggy psych rock from Wales. The first couple tracks are pretty crappy ‘70s hippie rock, but then it gets more interesting with “California Silks And Satins.” Despite its atrocious name, it’s a trippy ballad with lush harmonies. After that they step it up a bit with an assortment of extended improvisations in a fusion of styles including prog, country and psych rock. The vocals are slightly nasally, occasionally recalling Grace Slick or Jon Anderson. At times they sound like Yes, but sloppier and less grandiose. “Kerosene” is a standout with stellar fuzz-wah guitar and Moog keyboards trading riffs.

Rufus From Rags To Rufus: $2
This is the album that made Chaka Khan a star and gave us the hit “Tell Me Something Good,” an astounding bit of loping clavinet funk, which it should be noted, was written by Stevie Wonder. The rest of the 1974 album is nothing to go nuts over. “Sideways” is a downtempo instrumental with more great clavinet work by Kevin Murphy. Beyond that it’s pretty run of the mill pop funk and R&B. Of note, legendary arranger Clare Fischer wrote the orchestrations.

R.E.M. Fables Of The Reconstruction: $4
While it may be heresy to some, I’ve always found this group from Athens, Ga., to be a bit too jangly for my taste, and this 1985 LP is as jangly as it comes: all high-end and brittle. I’m a bigger fan of Life’s Rich Pageant, Reckoning or Murmur. Still, when they hit it, it’s right, as on “Wendell Gee” and “Good Advices” where Stipe’s vocals manage to convey a melancholic pathos, despite his obtuse lyricism. Mike Mills’ backing vocals, as always, provide a plaintive, emotional subtext. Hits “Driver 8” and “Can’t Get There From Here” are solid examples of what college kids went for in the ’80s when they weren’t listening to the Cure or the Smiths. It still blows my mind that this band was as influential as it was, but no matter: R.E.M. changed the face of popular music, and damned if that isn’t something.