01 - gotta keep travelling 02 - nature is my mother 03 - some do, some don't 04 - contrary mary 05 - easy woman 06 - it's what's happening baby 07 - call me a dog 08 - if 09 -take it easy baby 10 - let it all hang out + what women do 11 - onstage revelations
The majority of LPs that fall into the "incredibly strange" category do so to no fault of their own, but as an effect of a marked disconnect between whatever artistic vision that went into them, and how the work is perceived by a listener in another time and place. A band such as the Kaplan Brothers obviously thought they had created a deep, meaningful statement with "Nightbird", while most people who listen to it hear... something else. This is all fine and doody and a testament to the lasting quality of popular music springing from experience and honesty, no matter if clever, misguided, or just strange.
But then there is a rarer type of bizarre vinyl testaments which we can enjoy because the band knew exactly what they were doing, and what they were doing remains unusual and imaginative to this day. After listening many times to the remarkable LP by Southeastern band the YAYS & NAYS I'm prepared to put them in this upscale category of strangeness. The misleading descriptions you may see on the rare occasions it's offered for sale is another indication of its elusive qualities. I don't know any LP even remotely like it, yet it's highly listenable, even commercial in parts.
This track, and the LP as a whole, is smart and hip on so many levels that it's difficult to sort out, but I'll give it a shot. To begin with the vocals, the guys are typically solo and sing in a tongue-in-cheek, "manly" Johnny Cash/Lee Hazlewood style that works as an ironic deflation of the macho content of their lyrics. The result projects the 1950s family provider husband as an increasingly powerless and slightly neanderthal creature, clueless in the emergence of a modern era of liberated women. The women in turn usually sing ensemble, like the chorus of a Greek play, their high-pitched feminine voices aggregating power when heard together -- and this clever solo <-> ensemble juxtaposition is no accident. The gals can sing pretty and romantic, like they do on a few songs, but they can also be tough and uncouth, thus given a wider range of expression than the guys. The lyrics follow a similar pattern, the guys delivering sentiments and desires from a by-gone era, while the gals usually express a sense of freedom and independence. The whole thing plays like an inspired fratty college musical sendup of the Lee & Nancy and Sonny & Cher duets.
The opening track "Gotta Keep Traveling'" is an uptempo garage ditty sung mixed ensemble that works as a gender-neutral starting point for the album, with typical 60s lyrics about doing your own thing and escaping a dull, conformist society; the 1950s vocals of band leader "Big Daddy" adds an appealing beatnik touch in line with the subject matter. This is followed by "Nature is my mother", a partly-French sung tune that comes closest to "hippie" sounds on what is mostly a raw folkrock album. The gender theme is then introduced in full with the hilarious "Some Do, Some Don't", where-in "Big Daddy" laments the fleeting nature of his ladies' promises with lines like "Down with the ones who say they will/And then later say they won't". The gals back him up with a mocking gleam in their eye. This subject matter is extended into "Contrary Mary" wherein the 1950s macho crooner retroism is put to full use; the male lead asking Johnny Cash-style his girl for a bit more stability in their relationship.
The rest of the album continues in this same convincing manner, each track both an excellent standalone item and a piece in the bigger Yays & Nays puzzle. One reason it works so well, and stands up for repeat plays with no loss of impact, is that the songwriting and arrangements are remarkable, worthy any name release from L A or the Brill Building. The style is an eclectic 60s bag of P F Sloan folkrock, tough upscale r'n'r like the Raiders, Eastcost girl-group sounds and Broadway musical, all held firmly together by the strength of the lyrical content and the idiosynchratic, self-referential vocals. You'd be hard pressed to find another local, unknown item that delivers on all levels like this -- no matter where you press, it's there; the lyrics, the concept, originality, creativity, zeitgeist, even rare attributes such as irony and internal logic.
Here at Lama Reviews we have a tradition of lamenting the unjust lack of success for artists that were in the wrong place or on the wrong label, but that line doesn't really cut it for the Yays & Nays, because even on Vanguard or Elektra I think this would have flopped at the time -- it's such a multilayered, double-edged trip that requires many plays to grasp, and thus probably better fit for our age than the fast and flashy 1960s.
There are many different opinions on this record... i 'd like to hear yours