Zagers brews his pop alchemy, Bowles dives into Moroccan music
All for the Love of Sunshine
Last year, the Savannah, Ga. pop alchemist Jeff Zagers released his excellent full-length album Still / Alive on Wharf Cat, but he also released a little-heard cassette called An Archivist Privilege featuring ten covers that reveal his diverse influences, from Bob Dylan to avant-garde pioneer Yoko Ono to jazz reed virtuoso Rahsaan Roland Kirk.
Now we have another covers album, entitled All for the Love of Sunshine, that reprises three tracks from An Archivist Privilege and adds another nine covers recorded in the last five years. While Zagers is no stranger to electronic accouterment, at the core of his original work is solid songwriting rather than fluff or flash, and he has a deep appreciation for artists such as Roy Orbison, Townes Van Zandt and Kitty Wells, all three of whom are represented twice.
Specifically, Zagers revealed in an interview with Vice that he was obsessed with the first half of Orbison’s final album Mystery Girl, which provides the first (“You Got It”) and final (“California Blue”) tracks for Zagers’ new album.
Zagers seems to be a waltz-time proponent, harking back to mid-20th century country and soul with floating, Casio drummer-in-a-box rhythms and warm, new-wave-esque keyboards. Source-wise, the track “Your Motion Says” stands out, being from cellist/singer Arthur Russell, who straddled the modern classical and disco worlds; Zagers’ calm, comforting voice is well-suited for it.
His delivery is largely uniform throughout the album and doesn’t attempt to match, for example, James Carr’s original devastating vocals on the soul classic about infidelity, “The Dark End of the Street”; however, Zagers’ demeanor works with the genteel, emotional pain of Kitty Wells’ “A Woman Half My Age.”
Stylistically, All for the Love of Sunshine sacrifices diversity for cohesion and flow; this isn’t just a random grab bag, but instead, it reflects a thoughtful plan and a sustained wistful attitude.
Music of Morocco: Recorded by Paul Bowles, 1959
This writer would best describe his 2012 visit to Morocco as overwhelming, often being an in-your-face sensory overload with unrelenting peddlers in labyrinthine souks (markets) and hold-on-to-your-ass taxi rides, alongside unbelievably gorgeous architecture and enticingly aromatic cuisine.
Regarding the compelling sounds and music of Morocco, this writer only had minor difficulties being an amateur field recorder—at one point, a boy attempted to steal his digital recorder but was thwarted after a short sprint—and they’re nothing compared to what American expatriate Paul Bowles, best known for his novel The Sheltering Sky, went through in 1959.
Traveling thousands of miles in a Volkswagen Beetle crisscrossing Morocco, funded by the Library of Congress, Bowles battled punishing heat and sandstorms along with logistical issues, such as finding electrical outlets for his Ampex tape recorder in rural locales, and sometimes recorded on the sly.
Bowles captured 250 recordings in 22 sessions, and he culled highlights for his original Music of Morocco collection which was released in 1972 on two vinyl LPs—a collection which for decades was unrivaled in its scope. In the hands of Philip D. Schuyler, Bowles’ compilation has new life in an expanded 4-CD edition on Dust-to-Digital, divided into a “Highlands” half, featuring Berber music, and a “Lowlands” half, with anything in Arabic or traced to Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, or Europe.
Nearly all previously abridged songs were restored to their full length; two original selections were replaced with superior unpublished pieces—changes that were approved by Bowles prior to his passing in 1999—and eight additional tracks are included.
A resident of Tangier for over 50 years, Bowles did not consider himself to be an ethnomusicologist—merely an enthusiast—and while certain adjectives of his might not sit comfortably with some today, describing Berbers as “barbarous” and “primitive,” his admiration for the music was sincere.
It should be mentioned that Bowles imparted his own aesthetic upon the recordings, with his belief that Berber music’s aim was “to cause hypnosis” —a case that can certainly be made after listening to certain mesmerizing selections, with gradually changing vocal and instrumental repetition that enraptures for long durations. His real-time revisions included separating or even isolating performers; for example, Bowles asked a qsbah player to play solo against his wishes—customarily, this is not done, with fellow musicians sitting together in physical contact.
Bowles believed his job was to capture sounds, not make sense of them. For those looking to make sense of these sounds, Music of Morocco includes a meticulously researched, exquisite 120-page book with annotations for each track. However, an unacquainted listener can simply be enveloped by the power of these songs, as Bowles often was, who pursued sound for sound’s sake.