Archive for the ‘2014’ Category

Saturday Single No. 518

Saturday, November 19th, 2016

Damn, but 2016 is getting to be greedy. Just in the past few weeks, we’ve lost Leonard Cohen and Leon Russell, and then yesterday, Sharon Jones.

Now, none of that – and this holds true for many of the deaths of prominent musicians this year – was a surprise. Cohen and Russell were known to be in ill health and were getting up there in years, and Jones’ travails with pancreatic cancer were well known. (As most likely know, that’s a particularly nasty cancer, hard to diagnose and to counter; it took the Texas Gal’s father about a dozen years ago.)

But still, as the musicians of one’s life regularly exit stage sinister, one pauses. As I wrote last January, when David Bowie died:

[W]hen the folks who provided the music of our formative years leave us, part of the background of our lives is taken away, too. And we begin to feel like an actor on a stage would likely feel if the scenery, the props and the furniture began to disappear one item at a time: confused, unmoored and maybe a little bit alone.

The “formative years” part doesn’t truly fit for Sharon Jones, of course, as her recordings all were released this century, but it feels as if it does, and I think that’s because the music that she and the Dap-Kings laid down sounded and – more importantly – felt like the soul and R&B music that I heard from the radios of my youth. As to Cohen, many of his songs, if not his own performances, came out of nearby speakers during my high school and college days, offered by voices as disparate as those of Joe Cocker and Judy Collins.

Then there was Leon Russell: His joyous barroom piano stylings, his idiosyncratic voice and delivery, his shepherding of the Tulsa Sound, and his sardonic persona all made him one of my favorites during my college days. That favorites room was a crowded place even then, but after hearing his work with Joe Cocker, with Bob Dylan and especially with George Harrison at the Concert for Bangladesh, I wedged him in.

My regard for the three is evident on the shelves, both physical and digital: I have, I think, all of Sharon Jones’ CDs; all of my Leon Russell LPs will survive the ongoing winnowing, and I have much more of his music in mp3 form; there’s less of Leonard Cohen’s music here – a few albums in digital form, one CD and one LP – but most of the time, I’d rather hear other folks doing his songs, and there are a lot of Cohen covers available here.

Of the three deaths, I guess Russell’s hits me hardest, but given the seemingly continuous series of blows this year, every one of them hurts. And the metaphoric stage setting I mentioned above just got a little more spare this week, as it has on a seemingly regular basis all year long.

I managed to throw a brief tribute to Russell into Cabaret De Lune last Sunday: During an interlude that called for about forty seconds of piano, I tossed in about twelve bars of “Superstar,” the tune Russell co-wrote with Bonnie Bramlett. And tomorrow, at our Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship, we musicians will be performing Cohen’s “Hallelujah” (and leading the congregation in the chorus). I’ll be adding harmonica to the mix.

As for Sharon Jones, all I can do is salute her in this inadequate space. Here’s the aptly titled “People Don’t Get What They Deserve.” It’s from Jones and the Dap-Kings’ 2014 album Give The People What They Want, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Singles Nos. 436 & 437

Saturday, March 7th, 2015

Like many things in life, new music finds us when we are ready for it. About eight years ago, one of the blogs I frequented – a blog so long gone that I do not recall its name – dealt with the music we call Americana or roots music. Some of the stuff it offered, I liked, and some found me less enthusiastic.

And the one performer that I found there that I have followed more than any other is Rhiannon Giddens of the Carolina Chocolate Drops. The lost blog offered several albums by the Chocolate Drops, a string band that records the music of a lost era. Its predecessor group, the Sankofa Strings, focused on “a gamut of African American music: country and classic blues, early jazz and ‘hot music,’ string band numbers, African and Caribbean songs, and spoken word pieces,” as Wikipedia puts it, and the Chocolate Drops have plowed the same fields.

Current members of the group along with Giddens are Hubby Jenkins, Rowan Corbett and Malcolm Parson; earlier members who have moved on are Justin Robinson, Adam Matta and Dom Flemons. The names mean little to me and, I assume, to readers, and I’m likely doing a disservice to those six musicians. But the music, steeped in a culture mostly lost to time, was what mattered, that and Giddens’ voice and her work on banjo and fiddle.

I started with a 2006 album titled Colored Aristocracy by the Sankofa Strings, some of which was released later on a 2008 CCD album titled Heritage. Other releases that have seen at least some time on the various music players here are Dona Got a Ramblin’ Mind (2007), Genuine Negro Jig (2010) and Leaving Eden (2012). The band’s work has also been included in several soundtracks and tribute albums, including the first Hunger Games film and the 2007 film The Great Debaters. And the sound of the Carolina Chocolate Drops – and yes, the name caused me some discomfort at first, as it has for other listeners whose comments I’ve read online – continues to pull me in, to reach some place inside me and make me feel as if I’ve been waiting a long time to hear music I never knew existed before.

Giddens has since gained a more prominent profile. As I noted in a post in December, she was one of the musicians invited by producer T-Bone Burnett to put music to a rediscovered sheaf of Bob Dylan’s lyrics from the Basement Tapes era. The resulting album, Lost On The River, was released late last year and found its way to my ears as a Christmas present. (The other musicians invited to write to Dylan’s lyrics were Elvis Costello, Marcus Mumford, Jim James and Taylor Goldsmith.) It’s a remarkable album, and I’ve seen several reviews that have noted that the eye-opener is Giddens, who was likely the least known – at least in the mainstream – among the musicians brought together.

And last month, Giddens released her first solo album, Tomorrow Is My Turn, also produced by Burnett. I’ve heard a few things from it, including a startling live performance of the Jacques Wolf tune “Waterboy” on the Late Show with David Letterman. And I’m looking forward to digging into the album as soon as our mail carrier drops it off.

Here are two pieces by Giddens. The first is “Spanish Mary,” one of her contributions to Lost On The River, and the second is “Waterboy” from Tomorrow Is My Turn. And they’re today’s Saturday Singles.

‘I Got Lost On The River . . .’

Thursday, December 11th, 2014

High on my want list these days is a CD titled Lost On The River: The New Basement Tapes. I spent a couple pleasant hours the other week watching a Showtime documentary about the creation of the album, and here’s how it came to be:

Sometime in the past few years, someone associated with Bob Dylan – his publisher, I would imagine – came across some lyrics that Dylan had written in 1967, during the time he spent in Woodstock, New York, playing frequently with the musicians who became The Band and recording the music that became known as the Basement Tapes.

(Dylan has recently released a collection of the Basement Tapes that supplants or complements – I’m not sure which verb to use – the 1975 collection curated by Robbie Robertson of The Band. The newly released collection comes in two versions: a six-CD marathon of everything the musicians recorded during those days in Woodstock, and a two-CD distillation. I have yet to hear either, but I’m thinking that when I do my shopping, I’ll settle for the two-CD set.)

Dylan’s publisher got in touch with producer T-Bone Burnett and asked if the producer could find folks who could turn the lyrics into songs. Burnett made certain Dylan approved of the project, according to Wikipedia, and then recruited musicians to create and record songs for the lyrics: Elvis Costello, Jim James from My Morning Jacket, Marcus Mumford of Mumford & Sons, Taylor Goldsmith from Dawes, and Rhiannon Giddens from the Carolina Chocolate Drops.

The Showtime film – titled Lost Songs: The Basement Tapes Continued – shows the process of writing and recording the new/old songs. There were multiple melodies for some of the lyrics, and the documentary gives some insight through observation and interviews into the creative process of each of the five musicians.

I enjoy music by all five of the folks recruited (though I’m less acquainted with Goldsmith and Dawes than I am with the others), but my favorite among them is likely Giddens and her string band, the Carolina Chocolate Drops. And it was Giddens who, to me, was most interesting in the film as she opened up about her writing process and about the pressure of working with the high-level talent that was in the studio during the project.

I’ve heard a few things from the album beyond what was in the documentary – there are some videos (some official, some not) at YouTube – and I’m looking forward to hearing more. (I’m currently No. 10 on the local library’s waiting list.) I’m pretty sure, though, that even after absorbing all the new/old tunes, my favorite is going to be Giddens’ ethereal take on the title tune, “Lost On The River.”

Saturday Single No. 411

Saturday, September 13th, 2014

I generally keep up with pop culture moderately well. With a few current events magazines coming in the house and the wealth (overkill) of pop culture news in the Internet, I’m usually aware of – if not actually deeply absorbed in – the fads and phenomena of the moment.

But one of late summer’s big deals passed me by without waving at me. Maybe it’s because I got involved in reading several books this summer and I fell far behind in reading both Rolling Stone and Time, but I don’t think that’s the case. For whatever (unimportant) reason, I completely missed until the past few days “All About That Bass” by Meaghan Trainor, a record that went this week to No. 1 in the Billboard Hot 100 and has been No. 1 on charts in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Denmark as well.

It’s a witty song about positive body image: “You know how the bass guitar in a song is like its ‘thickness,’ the ‘bottom’? I kind of related a body to that,” Trainor told Billboard this week. The song – written by Trainor with producer Kevin Kadish – is pretty well-crafted, with clear girl-group and Brill building references. And the video is witty (and a slight bit naughty).

But I would have missed it if not for one of my new favorite things on YouTube. Every week, I make sure to check out what Scott Bradlee and the Postmodern Jukebox have posted. For a few years, Bradlee has been taking current pop songs and remaking them in vintage style. Along the way, he’s added to his keyboard word the work of other musicians, some of them regulars and some of them guests. Albums and tours have followed. (His YouTube page is here.)

And this week, I was introduced to Trainor’s song by Bradlee and the vocal and upright bass work of Kate Davis, which is why Postmodern Jukebox’s version of “All About That Bass” is today’s Saturday Single.

‘Fill Me With Song . . .’

Friday, July 4th, 2014

A little more than four years ago, I wrote, “Donovan’s sometimes wispy ballads occupied one extreme of the sonic landscape of the time, and taken one-by-one, they provided an airy counterpoint to the heavier sounds of the time. Any more than one at a time, and Donovan’s songs were a little too light for me, and they still are.”

Clearly, Donovan is not a favorite here. I’ve got a few of his albums on LP, but it’s instructive that I’ve never bought a CD of the Scottish performer’s work. So why in the world am I stretching a look at one Donovan tune over more than a week? Schedule, mostly. Due to garden duties, a baseball game, the Texas Gal’s travel schedule and some minor stuff, I’ve had less time this week than I would like to spend here in the EITW studios. But here we are on an Independence Day morning, all gathered around the campfire, so to speak, to listen to a few versions of “Wear Your Love Like Heaven.”

First, here’s Donovan’s original. A single release went to No. 23 in the Billboard Hot 100 during a seven-week run that bridged the end of 1967 and the beginning of 1968. The track showed up on two albums that were part of a confusing album release strategy in December 1967. The album Wear Your Love Like Heaven went to No. 60, the album For Little Ones went to No. 185, and A Gift From A Flower To A Garden, a box set combining those two albums, went to No. 19.

I don’t know that I remember the single from its 1967-68 chart days, but it’s not all that different from a lot of Donovan’s work: light and airy with some odd diction provoked by the melody (“Prussian blue” in the first verse is a good example), and a general world view of peaceful bliss. It’s not a song that I would have thought would inspire many covers. Well, except in the realm of easy listening. The song was recorded by the Johnny Arthey Orchestra for the 1969 album The Golden Songs Of Donovan, and David Rose (who hit No. 1 with “The Stripper” in 1962), recorded “Wear Your Love Like Heaven” for his 1970 album Happy Heart.

Another instrumental version I found was from saxophonist Steve Douglas, one of Phil Spector’s go-to players during the years of the Wall of Sound. Douglas recorded the song for his 1969 album Reflections In A Golden Horn. It’s a light and jazzy take on the tune, and if you want to call it easy listening, I won’t cringe. And, along with the Cal Tjader version posted here last Saturday, I know there are other instrumental versions out there. One that interests me but that I have not yet heard is the 1992 version by pianist Richard Dworsky.

All of this started last week with Peggy Lipton’s cover of the tune. Other singers took on the song, too. We shared Richie Havens’ 1969 version here earlier this week, and another cover that caught my ear was the quirky 1970 take on the tune by Eartha Kitt, who included the song on her album Sentimental Eartha.

A more recent version of the song that I have not yet spent the coin to hear is from the group My Morning Jacket, which recorded “Wear Your Love Like Heaven” for the 2002 album Gift From a Garden to a Flower: A Tribute to Donovan. Beyond that, the most recent version that I enjoy is the cover that Sarah McLachlan recorded for her 1991 album Solace. As for versions I don’t enjoy (but others might), an Italian group called Edible Woman, about which I know nothing, has a lumbering, thrumming, heavy version of the tune posted this year on YouTube, which presumably is available somewhere for those who want to hear it again.

The Boss Covers The Bee Gees

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

Back in 1989, when writer Dave Marsh published The Heart of Rock & Soul, a listing of the 1,001 “greatest singles ever made,” he placed the Bee Gee’s “Stayin’ Alive” at No. 746, and he referenced a conversation he’d had with Roger Daltrey of the Who in 1978, when the Bee Gees were dominating the charts, led by “Stayin’ Alive.”

Daltrey, Marsh wrote, was “moaning about how much punk ripped off his band’s early records and his own dislike of disco. Particularly the latter.”

And then Marsh quoted Daltrey on ‘Stayin’ Alive”: “Look at great huge Maurice Gibb*, singing like Donald Duck . . . And that’s a great song. Bruce Springsteen could sing that lyric.”

This week in Brisbane, Australia, Springsteen did just that to open the last show of his current tour Down Under. At the Rolling Stone website, Jon Blistine describes “Springsteen strumming a simple acoustic progression alongside a crisp trumpet solo before delivering the track’s familiar first line in his classic, gruff bellow that’s still just as sharp as Barry Gibb’s falsetto.”

And then: “The E Street Band slides into bustling disco boogie, complete with soaring back-up singers, a striking string section and a revolving door of solos from the horn section. Tom Morello even shows off on the fretboard with some of the most blistering, head-spinning guitar work ever heard on a Bee Gees track.”

Here a crowd-shot video of the performance. (Check out the professional camera to the right of the string section: A harbinger of a concert DVD?)

*Daltrey misidentified the lead singer on “Stayin’ Alive.” It was, as Blistine notes, Barry Gibb.