Something for Thursday

The fifth episode of the great Carl Sagan show Cosmos is titled “Blues for a Red Planet”. The episode focuses on Mars: a history of the chase for life on Mars, the clash between the fictional Mars (and the one fervently wished for by men like Percival Lowell) and the real one, the discoveries made on Mars in the 1970s (particularly by the Viking lander), and the prospects for future Martian exploration. How I wish Carl Sagan had lived to see the astonishing advancements in Martian exploration since his terribly untimely death!

Cosmos was a series that paid careful attention to every detail, including its music. Obviously an episode called “Blues for a Red Planet” should include some blues in it, right? But not just any blues: the episode called for an ethereal, other-worldly kind of instrumental blues, and that’s exactly what it got in a track by blues guitarist Roy Buchanan. The track is called “Fly…Night Bird”, and it begins with just the kind of ethereal soundscape followed by equally ethereal blues guitar playing that sounds perfectly suited to the cold days of Mars.

I was going to present that track by itself, but then I found myself curious about the rest of the album on which “Fly…Night Bird” appears. Titled You’re Not Alone, the album is a 1978 release that was apparently a commercial failure for Buchanan, who worked and recorded for years but who never really turned the corner into actual stardom. Instead Buchanan produced highly respected and influential work that is deserving of reassessment and exploration. Sadly, Buchanan appeared to have finally achieved some degree of artistic freedom in the mid 1980s, but he also struggled with personal issues that led to his death in 1988. I certainly knew nothing about Buchanan until I did a bit of research for this piece.

You’re Not Alone is an amazing album, packing in some astonishing music making in its roughly 41 minutes. Only one track, the second side’s opening “Down By the River”, has vocals; the rest is pure instrumental, and the mood shifts across the entire album from blues to psychedelic to pure rock and back again to blues. Listening to this album made me feel like I was in the control of a master who knew what he was doing.

Here is the complete album You’re Not Alone by Roy Buchanan (and others), in two sides. (Come to that, anybody besides me occasionally miss the concept of “Side One” and “Side Two”?)

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