Archive for the ‘2006’ Category

‘Eyes On The Prize’

Thursday, November 10th, 2016

All day yesterday, it felt as if I were making my way through a fog, my path unclear and my intentions hard to remember. From the mundane chore of making my morning coffee through the equally mundane chores of washing and drying quilts, blankets and throws in preparation for the winter, I struggled to be present. The day seemed gray, and I struggled with a nearly unique admixture of emotions: sorrow, anger, and fear.

I could remember only two other occasions in my life when I’d felt that combination of emotions: September 11, 2001, when the terrorists of Al Qaida attacked the United States, and a weekday in the spring of 1988, the day after I’d learned that a love interest had decided not to leave a distant city and join me and my life in Minot, North Dakota. (That latter day’s stew of emotions was made up primarily of grief although anger and fear were present.)

My malaise was sparked, of course, by the results of Tuesday’s election. I sat that evening watching the news roll in with increasing dismay, wondering both how could the polls and poll compilers have so badly interpreted the data they’d collected and how nearly sixty millions of my fellow citizens could have such a vastly different view than I do of the man they have chosen to be our president.

I expect to find the answer to the first question relatively soon. I imagine it has something to do with a perfect storm of unanticipated voters and margins of error. (I have seen speculation by friends that other, far less benign reasons, such as foreign intervention, exist; if that speculation ever leads to hard data, that would seem to me to be prima facie evidence of an act of war.)

As to the second question that plagued me as I switched my television from network to network Tuesday evening and early Wednesday morning, I have come no closer in the last thirty-six hours to understanding how, to repeat my own words, “nearly sixty millions of my fellow citizens could have such a vastly different view than I do of the man they have chosen to be our president.” I am not certain today that I will ever understand.

So I have grave concerns about the direction our nation will take come next January. I fear for those who are poor, for those who are disabled, for immigrants, for children, and for all those who live in the margins of this culture and thus lead lives far different than those of the people who will be making decisions about those lives. I fear for the hard-won rights of women, of the LGBTQ community, of people of color, and of people of those faiths that have become targets for discrimination and violence. I fear what I perceive in those who will govern us as an eagerness for more and larger wars. And I fear that the country that I love will become changed beyond recognition by those who will next govern it and their supporters.

In the meantime, as more than one of my friends on Facebook noted yesterday, we have lives to lead, family and friends to attend to, and tasks at hand. Once the winter covers were washed, dried and folded (the neat piles of warm laundry, stacked on the window seat in the dining room and on the bed upstairs, unsurprisingly became sleeping spots for all three cats), and once the Texas Gal was home from work, I had a dinner to cook.

“I already know,” I wrote on Facebook, “what the playlist is going to be: Bruce and nothing but Bruce. The Boss and the E Street Band (and the Seeger Sessions Band, too) help me get centered like almost nothing else.”

And although it did not come up during the forty or so minutes when the iPod kept me company in the kitchen last night, one track from Bruce Springsteen & The Seeger Sessions Band seems appropriate for this space this morning, given the massive challenges I see arising from the results of Tuesday’s election. Here, from the 2006 album We Shall Overcome, is “Eyes On The Prize.”

Passing It Along

Wednesday, March 30th, 2016

“You know,” said Viv, “I thought about you the other day. We were in this music shop in Owatonna, and the records they had . . .”

Viv is the administrative assistant at Salem Lutheran Church here in St. Cloud, the church our family attended while I was growing up and where my mother is still a member. It’s difficult for Mom to get to church regularly, so she listens to the service on a weekly radio broadcast. And every year, Mom sponsors two of the weekly radio broadcasts, usually those closest to October 18, my dad’s birthday, and to July 17, the date they were married in 1948.

I was at Salem last week to drop off Mom’s check for those two broadcasts when Viv told me of her record digging in Owatonna, a city about sixty-five miles south of Minneapolis. Viv and I have talked a lot about music in the past ten years, when I began stopping by Salem on a regular basis to either drop off a check or to get the latest edition of a quarterly devotional booklet for Mom. We’ve talked about a lot of other stuff – pets, cooking, current events, life in general – but we almost always get around to music during our conversations.

“The one thing they didn’t have there,” Viv said, “was Pink Floyd. I asked the manager, and he said that any Pink Floyd vinyl that comes in goes out almost as quickly. That was disappointing.”

“Which Floyd album were you looking for?” I asked.

She shrugged. “Any of them,” she said. “I don’t have any Pink Floyd.”

I have some Floyd on the digital shelves, and I offered to bring her a couple CD’s worth of Pink Floyd’s work, including Dark Side of the Moon ripped as one long mp3.

“That would be great!” she said. “Let me see if I can find some blank CDs, and we can trade.”

We left it at that, and I went home and took up the task of ripping to a higher bit rate a collection of Mississippi John Hurt recordings from 1928 and tagging the resulting mp3s. As I did, I took a quick look at the digital Pink Floyd inventory.

And then I had another thought, so I went to the physical shelves, where I found six Pink Floyd LPs: Ummagumma, Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals, The Wall, and A Momentary Lapse of Reason. The only one of them that held anything beyond musical interest was Dark Side, because it was part of the soundtrack to my long ago days in Fredericia, Denmark. And had the LP in my hands been the first vinyl copy I’d ever owned of Dark Side, there would have been a tug because Mom bought it for me and because it connected me, however vaguely, to May Day 1975 and a note from the lovely Anne.

But that copy of Dark Side is gone, replaced in 1993 after it began to wear out, and I have the album on CD. As to the other Pink Floyd LPs, if I want any of the music I don’t already have digitally, all are available from the public library. And as I’ve noted here before, I do need to trim down the vinyl.

I put the six LPs in a grocery bag and left it at the dining room table. I got back to Salem Tuesday, taking Mom to attend the funeral of a long-time member of the St. Cloud State Faculty Wives & Women. After Mom got settled, I went into Viv’s office. She pulled a CDR out of a drawer. “Will this work?”

“Well, yes,” I said, “but take a look at this.” I handed her the bag, and she began to pull albums out. As she did, I recognized the expression on her face: The look of vinyl dreams come true.

“How much do you want?” she asked, looking up from the open gatefold of Dark Side of the Moon.

I shook my head. “They’re yours.”

“Oh,” she said, “I think I’m going to cry. And I can hardly wait to get home now!”

That was payment better than money.

And I could easily post “Money” from Dark Side here, but it’s too obvious, and the same holds true for the various covers I have of the tune. So I’ll slide back a little, heading from the first track on what was Side Two of Dark Side to the last track on what was Side One, the majestic “The Great Gig in the Sky.” Here’s how Mary Fahl, former lead singer of October Project, offered it on her 2006 tribute album From the Dark Side of the Moon.

Saturday Single No. 427

Saturday, January 10th, 2015

So what do we know about January 10?

Well, easily enough to determine, it’s the tenth day of the year under the Julian calendar, with 355 more to come.

Wikipedia has lengthy lists of events that took place and of folks who were born on January 10, and I scanned the lists this morning without much enthusiasm until I saw in the birthdays: “1836 – Charles Ingalls, American father of author Laura Ingalls Wilder (d. 1902).”

A little bit more than a year ago, I wrote about the organization called “Pa’s Fiddle Project,” which aims to release on ten CDs modern recordings of all the music mentioned in the Little House series of books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder, from Little House In The Big Woods onward. The CD I wrote about in December 2013, titled as well Pa’s Fiddle, was the third in the planned series.

Having been interested since first grade in the Little House series, and being interested more and more in vintage music – the music folks listened to in the years before it could be recorded – I thought that was a cool idea, and I put the three existing releases on my wish list and vowed to keep an eye open for the subsequent releases.

Then, last May, as I rummaged through the stacks of CDs at one of our local pawnshops, I came across a CD titled A Tribute To Charles “Pa” Ingalls by Bruce Hoffmann. The 2006 CD offers recordings of sixteen songs mentioned in Wilder’s book, which sounded very similar to the CDs being released by the Pa’s Fiddle Project.

The difference, though, was that Hoffman recorded the sixteen offerings on his CD in the home of Laura Ingalls Wilder in Mansfield, Missouri, and he played the tunes on Charles Ingalls’ fiddle. I grabbed the CD without delay and paid something like a dollar for it – the pawnshop was clearing its CD inventory – although I likely would have paid much more.

Joining Hoffman on the CD is a variety of other musicians – recorded elsewhere, I assume – adding banjo, mandolin, piano, tin whistle, recorder, guitar, and some vocals, including a rendition of “The Gypsy’s Warning” from country star Pam Tillis.

I’ve selected Hoffman’s performance of Stephen Foster’s “Oh Susannah” for this morning; joining him are Curt Ames on guitar and Greg Moody on banjo. So here, to mark the birth of Charles Ingalls 179 years ago today, is “Oh Susanna,” and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘Another Man Done Gone . . .’

Thursday, May 29th, 2014

So, what do we know about “Another Man Done Gone”? The tune has led me on a merry chase (well, maybe not so merry, considering the subject matter of the song) since I posted the version of the song that Jorma Kaukonen recorded for his 1974 album Quah. The first item on my list was to find out where the song came from.

In the notes to the 2003 CD reissue of Quah, Jeff Tamarkin writes that “Another Man Done Gone” is “another one of those ancient blues standards whose origin is shrouded in mystery. Although credited on Quah to Ruby Pickens Tart, Vera Hall and folklorists John and Alan Lomax, other versions have assigned its authorship to any number of persons, among them Johnny Cash, Sonny Boy Williamson, C.C. Carter and Woody Guthrie – or Public Domain.”

The earliest version I’ve been able to find of the tune is the one performed by Vera Hall that was recorded by John Lomax in Livingston, Alabama, on October 31, 1940.

I believe that’s the Lomax recording. According to the information at Discogs, Alan Lomax also recorded two versions of the tune during visits to prisons in the south around the same time, but I’ve not heard those or seen the documentation. Someday, maybe.

In the meantime, we have Hall’s haunting a capella version as a starting point. Odetta offered a similar version on her 1957 album Odetta Sings Ballads And Blues. I was puzzled by the last verse of Hall’s version of the song, which sounds like “I’m going to walk your log.” A discussion at the Southern music board WeenieCampbell.com, where folks better informed than I share their ideas, seemed to come to no conclusions as to what the verse means. The phrase “walk your log,” the discussion said, sometimes appears in blues and folk songs as meaning “I’ll get the better of you” (perhaps from log-walking and -rolling contests, one poster theorized), while another poster thought the line might be “a tribute from a fellow prisoner, who will pick up the workload/log of his departed comrade.”

As versions of the song multiplied during the folk/blues boom of the late 1950s and early 1960s, some other lyrical elements showed up along the way. The spare version that Johnny Cash offered on his 1963 album Blood, Sweat and Tears includes the additional lines “They hung him from a tree/ they let his children see” and “When he was hangin’ dead/ the captain turned his head.” By the time Kaukonen recorded “Another Man Done Gone” for Quah, the lines “They set the dogs on him/they tore him limb from limb” had become part of the song.

As I wandered through discography websites and versions of the tune this week, I came across a couple of head-scratchers. The spooky and somewhat weird 1959 version by Lorrie Collins turns the tune into a song of lost love and credits Johnny Cash as the writer. (Lyrically, it is a different song, though the melody remains the same.) I don’t know who Cash originally credited in 1963, but the current listing for Cash’s version at AllMusic Guide now credits the quartet of Tart, Hall and the Lomaxes. (Tart, if you’re wondering, was an Alabama folklorist whose work was similar to that of the Lomaxes and who assisted them during their travels in that state.) The other puzzle I found came from the credits of Harry Belafonte’s 1960 album, Swing Dat Hammer, on which the writing credit goes to Anita Carter of the Carter Family, which I find odd, as the Carters never recorded the song, as far as I can see.

Well, anyway, it’s a haunting song still, and versions of it keep showing up. The bluesman Sugar Blue included a nice version on his 1979 album Cross Roads; Irma Thomas added some lyrics for a post-Katrina version that was included in the Paste Magazine Sampler Issue 24 in September 2006; the Mercy Brothers, a Boston duo, recorded an intriguing version of the song for their 2008 album, Strange Adventure; and there are no doubt others out there worth hearing that I missed.

One of my favorite current versions of the tune hews pretty closely to Hall’s version from 1940. The Carolina Chocolate Drops, a group from Durham, North Carolina, described by Wikipedia as “an old-time string band,” included the song on their 2007 album, Dona Got a Ramblin’ Mind.

‘And So This Is Christmas . . .’

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

Our plans are simple enough this Christmas. As we have for the past few years – since we moved here under the oaks – the Texas Gal and I will spend this evening, Christmas Eve, here at home. We’ll have a dinner of cold shrimp, potato salad, sausage and cheese – a menu that’s becoming a tradition – and then probably watch a movie or maybe play a game or two.

Up until dinner time, it will be a bit busy: She will be in the kitchen for a chunk of the day, baking cupcakes and making deviled eggs to take with us tomorrow to my sister’s home, and I will be out for a bit finishing up on some shopping and checking in with my mom.

Tomorrow, we’ll pick up my mom in Sauk Rapids – adjacent to St. Cloud – and head the fifty miles to my sister’s home in Maple Grove for dinner and gifts and stockings and all of the things that make up a Christmas celebration.

This is the tenth Christmas we’ll celebrate in Maple Grove. For about twenty-five years before that, our celebrations were at my parents’ home on Kilian Boulevard. Before that, nearly all of my Christmases were marked at my grandparents’ home, with most of those celebrations taking place on the farm and a few in the small town of Lamberton after Grandpa and Grandma sold the farm. Add in four one-off celebrations – one in the mid-1970s in Maple Grove, one solitary day in Minneapolis, one Christmas in Fredericia, Denmark, and one in Texas – and we can account for all sixty Christmas celebrations of my lifetime.

So what does that prove as the cupcakes bake? Maybe nothing more than the fact that, like Ernest Hemingway’s Paris, Christmas is a moveable feast. Locations change. And the cast changes; my dad’s been gone for ten years now, my grandparents and my Aunt Tudy for many more years than that; my sister added a husband and then two kids; I added the Other Half for a few years; and after I flew solo for a while, the Texas Gal joined us in 2000.

But for all those changes, Christmas remains. For many, of course, it’s a spiritual moment, but even for those of a decidedly secular bent, it’s a time to gather, to remember and to celebrate. We’ll do all of that this evening and tomorrow. May all of you be able to do the same.

And here’s the group called Gregorian with a 2006 cover of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over).”

Six At Random

Thursday, December 5th, 2013

Well, being a little tired from shoveling the first portion of a six-inch or so snowfall, and with the second portion waiting on the sidewalk for my attention, I’m going to let the RealPlayer do the work today and walk us through six tunes at random. (I will skip stuff from before, oh, 1940, as well as the truly odd). So here we go:

First up is “Treat Me Right” from Nothing But The Water, the 2006 album from Grace Potter & The Nocturnals that was, I think, the first thing I heard from the New England group that’s become one of my favorites. The slightly spooky groove, the organ accents and Potter’s self-assured vocal remind me why I’ll listen to pretty much anything that Ms. Potter and her bandmates offer to the listening public. I have five CDs, some EPs, and some other bits and pieces of the band at work, and I find that all of that scratches my itch in the way that only a few groups and performers – maybe ten, maybe fifteen – have since I started listening to rock and its corollaries in late 1969.

I came across the North Carolina quartet of Chatham County Line via County Line, their 2009 collaboration with Norwegian musician Jonas Fjeld. Today, we land on the cautionary “Sightseeing” from the group’s 2003 self-titled debut album. In reviewing the album, Zach Johnson of All Music Guide writes: “Centered around a single microphone, the band plays acoustic bluegrass instruments in the traditional style, but there’s a sly wink in the music – like in the trunk of their 1946 Nash Rambler there may be some Lynyrd Skynyrd and Allman Brothers records underneath the Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs LPs. Any nods to rock & roll are successfully stifled in their songwriting though, as the band specializes in purely honest and irony-free honky tonk bluegrass, earnestly sung and expertly picked as if ‘marketing strategies’ and ‘the 18-24 demographic’ never existed.”

The 1980s country group Southern Pacific featured a couple of ex-Doobie Brothers – guitarist John McFee and drummer Keith Knudson – and by the time the group got around to recording its second album – the 1986 effort Killbilly Hill – one-time Creedence bassist Stu Cook joined the group. Still, on “Road Song” and the rest of the group’s output (and there were a few more membership changes along the way), there’s less of a rock feel and more of a 1980s country polish that doesn’t always wear well nearly thirty years later. That would be more of a problem if we were listening to full albums here; one song at a time, it’s easy to overlook. And the group was relatively successful: Thirteen records in the Country Top 40 between 1985 and 1990, four of them hitting the Top Ten.

In early 1967, the Bob Crew Generation saw its instrumental “Music To Watch Girls By” go to No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100. The tune, written by Sid Ramin, originally came from a commercial for Pepsi-Cola and was popular enough in that arena that it quickly attracted recording artists. Second Hand Songs says that the first to record the tune was trumpeter Al Hirt, whose version bubbled under the chart at No. 119, while Andy Williams saw his version – with lyrics by Tony Velona – go to No. 34. Other covers followed, one of them from a studio group called the Girlwatchers. Their version was the title track to a quickie album in 1967 that also included titles like “Tight Tights,” “Fish-Net Stockings,” “Tiny Mini-Skirt” and so on. “Green Eyeliner” is the track we land on this morning. I’m not sure how the album found its way onto my digital shelves, but it’s an interesting artifact, and I imagine I’d recognize the names of quite a few of the studio musicians who helped put it together.

Speaking of members of the Doobie Brothers, as we were earlier, during one of the band’s quieter times, guitarist Patrick Simmons released a solo album, Arcade, in 1983.To my ears, it sounds very much like early 1980s Doobies, with a glossy blue-eyed soul sound that – like the glossy country of Southern Pacific mentioned above – works fine as individual tracks go by but tends to work less well as an entire album. Simmons released two singles from the album: “So Wrong” went to No. 30, and “Don’t Make Me Do It” went to No. 75. A pretty decent record titled “If You Want A Little Love” was tucked on the B-side of “So Wrong,” and that’s where our interest is this morning.

And we close our morning wanderings with a tune from Frank Sinatra’s Songs For Swingin’ Lovers! That’s a 1956 effort that sometimes finds its way into the CD player late at night here in the Echoes In The Wind studios. The album came from the classic sessions that paired Sinatra with arrangements by Nelson Riddle, and “It Happened In Monterey” is pretty typical of those sessions: brass and percussion accents, the occasional swirling strings and more, all in service of one of the greatest voices and one of the greatest interpreters of song in recording history.

‘Blue’

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

In some ways, “Blue” should be the easiest segment of the trip we’re calling Floyd’s Prism, a tour through the seven colors of the spectrum (with the addition of “Black” and “White”). A search by the RealPlayer brings up 9,764 mp3s that have the word “blue” somewhere in their song or album titles, in their performers’ names or in the genre tags than have been appended to them.

So we have, as often happens with these projects, plenty of material to choose from. Perhaps too much, because we have blues, lots of blues, both in song and album titles and in genre tags. And as much as I love the blues, they’re not what I’m looking for (unless, that is, I find a tune called something like “Ice Blue Blues” among those nine-thousand-some mp3s).

So, what do we winnow? Well, among the more interesting blues titles that we won’t be using are “Protoplasm Blues,” a 1973 offering by Don Agrati (better known as actor Don O’Grady as one of the titular sons in the 1960s television comedy My Three Sons); “Chimes Blues,” a 1923 track by King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band featuring Louis Armstrong on cornet; “Yer Blues” by the Beatles, “Summertime Blues” by both the Who and Blue Cheer; “If the Blues Was Whiskey,” a 1935 effort by Bumble Bee Slim; seventeen versions of “Statesboro Blues,” ranging from Blind Willie McTell’s 1928 original to Dion’s 2006 cover; and twenty versions of “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom,” from Robert Johnson’s 1936 original to Carolyn Wonderland’s 2011 cover (titled, as are most of the covers, as simply “Dust My Broom”).

Many artists that got pulled in by the search must be discarded, including Blue Magic, Blue Merle, Blue Asia, Blue Boys, Blue Cheer (again), Blue Haze, Blue Mink, Blue Money Band, Blue Notes, Blue Öyster Cult, Blue Ridge Highballers, Blue Rodeo, Blue Rose, Blue Sky Boys, Blue Stingray, Blues Delight, Blues Image, Blues Magoos, Blues Project, Blues Traveler, Bob B Soxx and The Blue Jeans, David Blue, and the Moody Blues.

And, then, most or all tracks of many albums go by the wayside, inclding Backwater Blues, a 1961 release from Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee; the 1964 release from Koerner, Ray & Glover, [Lots More] Blues, Rags and Hollers; Leo Kottke’s 1969 album, 12-String Blues; Julie London’s 1957 torch song collection, About the Blues; the 2003 album from Chris Thomas King & Blind Mississippi Morris, Along The Blues Highway; Jimmy McGriff’s 1967 offering, A Bag Full of Blues; Ringo Starr’s 1970 album, Beaucoups of Blues; the 1986 soundtrack by Gabriel Yared to the film Betty Blue; Joni Mitchell’s 1970 masterpiece, Blue; LeAnn Rimes’ similarly titled 1996 album; saxophonist Ike Quebec’s 1961 album, Blue & Sentimental; Chris Rea’s massive 2005 box set, Blue Guitars (mentioned here the other day); Eric Andersen’s 1972 album, Blue River; a 1999 tribute to Led Zeppelin titled Whole Lotta Blues; and on and on, including more than 200 tracks released between 1933 and 1942 on the Bluebird label.

But that leaves us, still, with plenty of “Blue” material.

The first choice was easy. I wanted a version of Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up In Blue.” I’ve got five versions by the man himself: three from the studio in 1974 and two live versions, but I decided against any of those. I also passed on the Indigo Girls’ cover from their 1995 live album, 1200 Curfews, in favor of a version from 1976 by the Hoodoo Rhythm Devils. The Devils were, says Wikipedia, a blues-funk band; All Music Guide just calls their stuff pop rock. In any case, the Devils released six albums between 1971 and 1978; their last, All Kidding Aside, bubbled under the Billboard album chart for one week at No. 208. Their cover of “Tangled Up In Blue” comes from their 1976 album, Safe In Their Homes, and it’s pretty good.

One of my favorite quirky albums is The McGarrigle Hour, a wide-ranging 1998 collection of tunes recorded by sisters Kate and Anna McGarrigle, along with other members of their equally wide-ranging collection of musical family and friends, including Loudon Wainwright, Rufus Wainwright, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt and more. Among the songs included is the 1919 tune “Alice Blue Gown” by Joseph McCarthy and Harry Tierney. Alice Blue, says Wikipedia, was a pale tint of azure that was the favorite color of Alice Roosevelt Longworth, the daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt. Her gown of that color, says Wikipedia, sparked a fashion sensation in the U.S. that inspired, among other things, the writing of the song “Alice Blue Gown” for a 1919 Broadway musical titled Irene. The song’s vocals on The McGarrigle Hour come from Anna McGarrigle’s daughter, Lily Lanken, with background vocals by Anna McGarrigle and Rufus Wainwright.

The great song “Blue Moon” could not be ignored today. But which version of the Richard Rogers & Lorenz Hart tune? As I dug, I learned that the song we know today was actually the fourth version of the tune that Rodgers & Hart, contacted at the time to the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios, put together; Rodger’s melody was the same throughout, but Hart ended up crafting four different lyrics for the tune. The first two were not used. The third was included in the 1934 movie Manhattan Melodrama, but after the film’s release, says Wikipedia, “Jack Robbins – the head of the studio’s publishing company – decided that the tune was suited to commercial release but needed more romantic lyrics and a punchier title. Hart was initially reluctant to write yet another lyric but he was persuaded.” The result was the song we know today: “Blue moon, you saw me standing alone . . .”  There are eight versions of the song on the digital shelves, beginning with Mel Tormé’s 1949 take and including the Marcels’ No. 1 doo-wop version from 1961. But I went with Julie London, who put her restrained version of “Blue Moon” on her 1958 album, Julie Is Her Name, Vol. 2.

It might have been in a garage sale or maybe in the budget rack at a Half Price Books, but one Saturday during the brief time the Texas Gal and I lived in the Twin Cities suburb of Plymouth, I came across Walking Into Clarksdale, the 1998 album by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. Sadly, once I got home and dropped the disc into the player, I wasn’t impressed. As Stephen Thomas Erlewine of All Music Guide writes, “It’s certainly possible to hear where the duo was intending to go, since the circular melodies, Mideastern drones, sawing strings, drum loops, and sledgehammer riffs all add up to an effective update and progression of the classic Zeppelin sound. The problem is, the new sound doesn’t go anywhere.” I tossed the disc onto the shelf and made a note to come back to it another day. I think that day will be soon, as I ran across “Blue Train” this morning, and it sounds a lot better than I remember anything from Walking Into Clarksdale sounding eleven years ago.

Nanci Griffith’s 2006 album, Ruby’s Torch, was a collection of songs offered as –unsurprisingly, given the album’s title – torch songs. Only one of the songs in the collection, though, could really be said to fall into that subgenre of music on its own. (That would be “In The Wee, Small Hours of the Morning,” the title track to a 1955 concept album by Frank Sinatra.) But using orchestration, appropriate and creative arrangements and her own unique voice, Griffith maneuvered the other ten songs on the album into the genre quite well. “Bluer Than Blue” is the track we’re interested in this morning, a re-working of the tune that was a No. 12 hit for Michael Johnson in 1978.

Every time I hear a commercial use as background music a snippet of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” I murmur to myself that I need to get a CD a Gershwin’s works. As the temporal range of my musical interests continues to expand – my most recent CD purchases have been collections of 1930s and 1940s western swing and of new recordings of songs popular during the mid- and late 1800s – I find more and more gaps in my collection. I do have some Gershwin on the vinyl shelves and a little bit on the digital shelves. One of the treasures in the latter location is a 1994 release of “Rhapsody in Blue” by harmonica player Larry Adler and arranger/producer George Martin. The track showed up on the album Glory of Gershwin, and based on the reviews I’ve read, the other tracks on the album are a bit disappointing. But Adler’s work here is well worth a listen.

Saturday Single No. 352

Saturday, August 3rd, 2013

The game “Song Pop” is one of my recent fascinations at the massive time-stealer that is Facebook. The premise of the game is simple: You listen to snippets of music and try to identify either the title or the artist – from among four choices – faster than your competition will. Five pieces of music make a game, and once you’ve completed a game, a challenge is sent to your opponent.

In short order, generally, your opponent does his or her thing with that game and you receive the results of the completed game and his or her work on a new game. You respond, and on and on it goes until each Sunday evening, when the week’s games are totaled and the results for the week are set to zero.

I’m playing with about twenty folks from around the U.S., most of whom seem to be similarly aged. I have available about twenty playlists, or categories. The ones I play most often are (and none of this will surprise anyone who knows me even a little): The Fifties, the Sixties, the Seventies, Seventies Albums, Seventies Love Songs, Sixties Folk, Folk Rock, Classic Rock, Classic R&B, Motown, Soft Rock, Blues and Bruce Springsteen.

My opponents generally hang around in those same categories (though I am the only player I know of with a Springsteen playlist in his kit). I get challenged occasionally in Eighties, Nineties Alternative, Christian Gospel, Show Tunes, Classic Country, Seventies Country and in categories that offer current country and current hits. I do okay with the Eighties, better with Nineties Alternative than I might have thought, and I do all right with the older country. As might be expected, I struggle with the gospel tunes, the show tunes, current country and current hits.

Most of the performers’ names have been familiar to me, even those in genres where I’m not particularly well-versed, but two that have kept popping up in the folk and folk rock genres puzzled me. One, Vashti Bunyan, I perhaps should have known. Or maybe not. Wikipedia tells me that she was born Jennifer Vashti Bunyan in Newcastle, England, in 1945 and released the album Just Another Diamond Day in 1970. Wikipedia continues: “The album sold very few copies, and Bunyan, discouraged, abandoned her musical career. By 2000, her album had acquired a cult following; it was re-released and Bunyan recorded more songs, initiating the second phase of her musical career after a gap of thirty years.”

I haven’t followed up yet (although I plan to), so Bunyan’s music remains unknown to me. Given my musical tendencies, which include a soft spot for British folk from the period 1967-1972, I’ll probably like it.

The other name new to me, Sibylle Baier, offers a more interesting story. She’s a German-born actress and musician who quit acting and recording to raise a family. Wikipedia tells us: “The songs that went on to make up her album Colour Green were home reel-to-reel tape recordings Baier had made in Germany between 1970 and 1973. Some thirty years later her son Robby compiled a CD from these recordings to give to family members as presents. He also gave a copy to Dinosaur Jr’s J Mascis, who in turn passed it along to the Orange Twin label. Orange Twin released the album in February 2006.”

At her official website, her son writes, “Sibylle will most likely never see this site . . . She is really quite perplexed by all the attention that her album ‘Colour Green’ has gotten. My father keeps telling her about all the pages and articles that are out there, but she, though smitten, prefers to hear about her accolades through the eyes and ears of her family. The web makes her dizzy, I think.”

As to the album, All Music Guide – with which I agree more often than not – gives it four of five stars:

“A wistful rendering of Vashti Bunyan, Leonard Cohen, and Joni Mitchell, Baier’s conversational voice can be both tragic and comforting, turning the simplest task (“Driving”) into a sepia-toned snapshot of longing. Each track is like a field recording of the highest quality, with every whisper of the locale present, yet unintelligible. Like Anne Briggs with a guitar or Nico without all of the junkie baggage, Baier, who would silently haul out the tape machine and press record late at night when her family was asleep, conveys the purest of intimacies with the kind of confidence only secrecy can afford. From the opening cut, when she sings “tonight when I came home from work/there he, unforeseen sat in my kitchen,” the listener can’t help but be transported behind the soft closed eyes that grace Colour Green’s basement-scavenged, yellowing cover.”

I’ve not yet heard the entire album. I’ve managed to hear a few pieces at YouTube, and I like what I’ve heard, so Colour Green is on my steadily lengthening list of CDs to buy. Here – sweetened by strings somewhere along the way, an augmentation that works – is Sibylle Baier’s “Give Me A Smile,” today’s Saturday Single.

‘Now It’s Been Ten Thousand Years . . .’

Friday, December 2nd, 2011

The question I wrestled with overnight is one that has crossed my mind a number of times over the past few years as my obsession with pop music of the 1960s and ’70s became an obsession with writing about said music: Why do I like Zager & Evans’ “In The Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus)”?

It was, of course, a hugely popular record during the summer of 1969, spending twelve weeks in the Top 40, six of those weeks at No. 1. (It was also, of course, widely derided and remains, I think, one of the true “love it or hate it” records in Top 40 history.) I don’t know what other folks heard in the song, but I can make a few guesses at what the sixteen-year-old whiteray – a nascent Top 40 fan at the time – heard when it came across the airwaves from KDWB and WJON.

First of all, it’s a science fiction song. It’s a clunky and not particularly well-written science fiction song, yes, but I was reading a lot of science fiction at the time, and much of the science fiction I was reading was clunky and not particularly well-written. I was clearing the shelves, so to speak, of the lesser authors and making my way toward the giants of the genre: Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury (whose work often crossed the border into fantasy) and more. And here was this song coming from the radio that spoke to me about my current reading.

Not only did the record speak to me with its lyrics, but it did so musically as well, with the descending bass pattern that I’ve always found intriguing. In addition, twice during the song, writer Richard Evans changes key a half-step up in a manner that I these days call a “slam modulation”: just end one verse in A minor and – with the horns and bass announcing the change in this case – start the next verse in A# minor (more likely Evans called it B-flat minor). It’s an unsubtle way to change keys, but it does get the listener’s attention and gives the record forward momentum. So the record grabbed me both lyrically and aurally.

And then: One of the things I’ve written about frequently during the thousand or so posts for this blog is the indelible impressions made by the first music we care about. The late summer of 1969, as I’ve said many times, was when I fully embraced Top 40 music. And what record was sitting at No. 1 for the last three weeks of July and the first three weeks of August of 1969, dominating the airwaves just about the time when I tuned my old RCA radio to Top 40 for the first time? “In The Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus)”

So what happens when one finds a clunky science fiction tale backed by a chord pattern and key changes that are musically interesting, and said record is coming out of summertime speakers maybe ten or more times a day? Add to that the fact that “In The Year 2525” would also have been one of the records I heard frequently on my radio that summer as I huddled in the traphouse during my four-day stint working at the state trapshoot. So it’s no wonder the record insinuated itself into my marrow. (And yet, I recognized its flaws enough that the record wasn’t so deep in that marrow to have made the list I compiled last year of my 228 favorite records.)

As I mentioned yesterday, I was a little startled to find a number of covers of the song. But after some consideration, perhaps it shouldn’t surprise me. I posted the Ted Heath cover yesterday, and at least a couple of the other covers of “In The Year 2525” are by similar outfits: instrumental orchestras that made their bucks converting pop hits into easy listening music. Two additional examples of that trend were the covers released by two Frenchmen: Raymond Lefèvre, whose cover of “In The Year 2525” showed up on the 1972 LP Oh Happy Day, and Franck Pourcel, who included a cover of the tune on 1970’s Paraphonic. There’s not much to differentiate those three versions, but I tend to like Heath’s a bit more. (There are a few other gems on Heath’s posthumous album The Big One, like a trippy take on the Beatles’ “Get Back.”)

A couple of other covers of the tune caught my ear: Country singer Nat Stuckey included an cover of the tune on his 1969 album New Country Roads, and it seemed an odd choice, but then, the album is packed with seemingly odd choices:  Rod Stewart’s “Cut Across Shorty” (recorded before Rod by Eddie Cochran, as reader Larry mentions in a note below), Herb Alpert’s hit, “This Guy’s In Love With You,” “Hound Dog,” “The Letter” are just the most notable. And Brit pop-rockers Whichwhat – about whom I know nothing else – covered the song as well in 1969.

There were a few oddities, too: The British group Visage is described by All-Music Guide as “[p]ioneers of the New Romantic movement,” and AMG tells the tale:

“Visage emerged in 1978 from the London club Billy’s, a neo-glam nightspot which stood in stark contrast to the prevailing punk mentality of the moment. Spearheading Billy’s ultra-chic clientele were Steve Strange, a former member of the punk band the Moors Murderers, as well as DJ Rusty Egan, onetime drummer with the Rich Kids; seeking to record music of their own to fit in with the club’s regular playlist (a steady diet of David Bowie, Kraftwerk, and Roxy Music), Strange and Egan were offered studio time by another Rich Kids alum, guitarist Midge Ure. In late 1978, this trio recorded a demo which yielded the first Visage single, an aptly futuristic cover of Zager & Evans’ ‘In the Year 2525’.”

I found two other covers that caught my attention but I’m still not sure what to think of them. Laibach is a Slovenian group described by Wikipedia as an “avant-garde music group associated with industrial, martial, and neo-classical musical styles.” Laibach retitled the song simply “2525” and revised the lyrics to begin the count of years in 1994, which was when the group recorded the song. The Teutonic heaviness makes the track sound like parody, but – being neither a fan of the band nor Slovenian nor even European – I’m not at all certain what the target is.

Finally, among the covers I found, there’s a lengthy take on the Zager & Evans hit by the British band Fields of the Nephilim, another group I knew nothing about until AMG told me:

“Of all the bands involved in Britain’s goth rock movement of the 1980s, Fields of the Nephilim were the most believable. The group’s cryptic, occult-inspired songs were sung in a guttural roar by vocalist Carl McCoy. Live appearances were shrouded with dim light and smoke machines, while bandmembers stalked the stage in black desperado gear inspired by western dress. The group was also one of the longest lived of the original goth rock groups, finally breaking up in 1991 when McCoy left for another project.”

Here’ what Fields of the Nephilim did with Richard Evans’ song. From what I can tell, it was recorded during a 2006 reunion, and it’s interesting but ultimately not my deal (and I doubt that’s surprising).

I think for a cover version, I’ll stick to Ted Heath . . . or maybe Visage.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Dylan!

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

Whenever a pop culture icon reaches an age of, oh, fifty or greater that ends with a zero, the mass media finds itself cluttered for a few days with rethought biographies, appreciations, and assessments of said icon’s influence on our popular culture. The zero rule has held true again in the past few weeks regarding Bob Dylan, who turns seventy today: I’ve seen numerous magazine pieces and book reviews in the past weeks re-examining the life, music and impact of the Bard of Hibbing, and I expect that if I watch one of the national newscasts tonight – I generally watch CBS – I’ll see a piece that looks at all of those things and adds to it a commentary on the aging of the Baby Boom generation.

(I should note that there was not long ago a similar appreciation and assessment of a pop culture icon for a birthday that did not end in zero: In June of 2006, Paul McCartney was, quite appropriately, thus feted and assessed as he turned sixty-four.)

I’ve written and presented at this blog over the years a fair amount of my own assessments and appreciations of Mr. Dylan’s work. I think it’s almost enough to say this morning that Bob Dylan’s music is one of the foundations on which my own life in music comfortably rests. He wasn’t the first artist whose music captivated me – those honors, such as they might be, go to Al Hirt, John Barry and the Beatles, with Dylan coming along shortly thereafter. But, as he did for the culture at large, it was Dylan who taught me that the music I listened to – and the music I wrote – could be lyrically and topically challenging.

(That lyrical liberation brought with it its own burden, one that has been hefted by creative people around the world, many of them better at their crafts than I: It’s all too easy for writers to lapse into Dylanese while crafting lyrics, with the resulting product coming off more as pale imitation than influenced creation. That can happen, of course, with any artist and in the context of any art-form. I’ve discarded many a lyric because it comes off as faux Dylan or stale Springsteen, and I assume – as an example – that many screen writers have reread their works in progress and mourned the presence of limp Scorsese.)

So, rather than assess, analyze or rehash Bob Dylan’s career and influence here this morning, I thought I’d just stack up a set of six cover versions of his work that I enjoy or admire. My favorite among the cover versions of Dylan’s tunes is not listed among them; I’ve written before about Eric Clapton’s bluesy reconstruction of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” during the 1992 celebration of Dylan’s career. But the cover versions that follow rank high on my list.

The album Tangled Up In Blues: Songs of Bob Dylan was released by the House of Blues in 1999, pairing a selection of twelve Dylan tunes with performers steeped in the blues, rock or R&B traditions. Among the performers and tunes paired on Tangled Up In Blues were Taj Mahal with “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry,” Leon Russell with “Watching the River Flow,” Mavis Staples with “Gotta Serve Somebody” and R.L. Burnside with “Everything Is Broken.” But one of my favorite tracks on the CD is “Ballad of a Thin Man” as interpreted by James Solberg. Solberg, whose band spent much of the 1990s backing bluesman Luther Allison, delivers a biting performance, instrumentally and vocally, of Dylan’s long-ago shredding – if legend is to be believed – of a New York Times reporter.

Covers of “Blowin’ In The Wind” are not scarce, of course. I’m not going to even try to estimate how many there might have been, but four of them reached the Billboard Hot 100 (or bubbled under): Peter, Paul & Mary in 1963, Stan Getz in 1964, Stevie Wonder in 1966 and the Edwin Hawkins Singers in 1969. The version that soul performer O.V. Wright released in early 1970 wound up as the B-Side to a tune titled “Love The Way You Love,” which made neither the Billboard Hot 100 nor the magazine’s R&B Top 40. I found Wright’s version of the Dylan tune on a 2010 collection on the Ace label titled How Many Roads: Black America Sings Bob Dylan.

Maria Muldaur has moved in and out of public view for years, often performing in a folk-roots vein since growing up – according to All-Music Guide – in New York’s Greenwich Village and then joining, in the mid-1960s, the Jim Kweskin Jug Band. Likely best-known for her 1974 hit, “Midnight at the Oasis,” she’s released in recent years a series of bluesy, rootsy albums, one of which was the 2006 CD Heart Of Mine (Love Songs Of Bob Dylan). That’s where I found her very good cover of “Buckets of Rain” from Dylan’s 1975 classic album Blood on the Tracks.

Of all of the folks who’ve covered a Dylan tune, one of the least likely names I’ve come across is that of Julie London, the late 1950s and early 1960s chanteuse. Described by AMG as a “sultry, smoky-voiced master of understatement,” London shone on titles like “Cry Me A River,” “September In The Rain” and “Black Coffee.” That’s why her turn on “Mighty Quinn (Quinn, The Eskimo)” seems at first thought to be a mismatch and at second thought to be surreal. But the understatement that AMG cites makes the tune work for London. At least it works for me. The track comes from London’s 1969 album Yummy, Yummy, Yummy, on which she also takes on – among other things – the title tune (which was a No. 4 hit for the Ohio Express; London’s version, released in 1968, bubbled under at No. 125) and the venerable “Louie Louie.”

Odd pairings are, it seems, easy to find when one is digging into covers of Bob Dylan tunes. “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” remains one of Dylan’s most cryptic and most bitter songs, a seeming stream-of-consciousness epic that timed out at 7:33 on his 1965 masterpiece, Bringing It All Back Home. So seeing the tune listed with a running time of 3:49 on an album by R&B master and one-time gospel prodigy Billy Preston can bring all sorts of cognitive dissonance to the fore. But through either the song’s durability or Preston’s skill and talent, the cover version works (and I’d vote for a combination of the attributes of the song and the singer). The track comes from Preston’s 1973 album, Everybody Likes Some Kind Of Music.

And I’ve saved one of my personal favorites for the last spot. During the first iteration of this blog, I wrote about the three albums released in the 1960s by Bobby Jameson. (Those posts have now been archived and are available here.) The first Jameson album I posted was 1969’s Working!, and after I wrote about it, Bobby got in touch with me. During those first few months of our friendship, he offered me a track from those 1969 sessions that had been pulled from the album and had never been widely heard. Even after a few years, I find Bobby’s take on Dylan’s “To Ramona” to be world-weary, almost desolate and utterly lovely: