Archive for the ‘2003’ Category

‘Who’

Thursday, July 13th, 2017

After a couple of previews six months ago, we finally get around to beginning the project called Journalism 101. Today, we’ll be sorting the 95,000 tracks in the RealPlayer for titles that contain the word “who,” the first of the five W’s of reporting. (I doubt this needs stating, but those W’s are who, what, when, where, and why. And we’ll include “how” in the project as well.)

That sorting brings us 740 tracks, twenty-six more than we found when we announced the idea back in February. As is usual when we do these types of searches, many of the tracks aren’t suitable for our purposes. Tracks from the Who, the Guess Who, a late Seventies group called 100% Whole Wheat, the novelty project Dylan Hears A Who, and more go by the wayside, as do some albums, including Kate Rusby’s 2005 effort The Girl Who Couldn’t Fly and the Warner Brothers loss leader from 1972, The Whole Burbank Catalog. We also have to discard eighty-one tracks with the word “who’s” in the title and four tracks with titles that carry the word “whoever” (I thought there’d be more). But we still have enough to find four worthy titles.

Given the alphabetical nature of the player’s search, the first track that shows up is “Who To Believe” by the Allman Brothers Band. It’s from the 2003 album, Hittin’ The Note, which turned out to be the group’s last studio release. It’s also the first album not to include guitarist Dicky Betts (and the first to include guitarist Derek Trucks). I’ve had the CD since not long after it came out, but I’ve not listened to it very often, which is too bad. Many of the pieces I’ve read since the recent death of Gregg Allman said that Hittin’ The Note was good work, and “Who To Believe” sounds very much as if it could have been recorded in 1970.

The digital shelves here hold six versions of “Who Will The Next Fool Be,” ranging from the original 1961 release by Charlie Rich (who wrote the song) to versions from 1975 by the Amazing Rhythm Aces and from 2003 by Janiva Magness. Those are only a taste of the number of times that very good song has been recorded, of course. The website Second Hand Songs lists forty-five versions (though there are likely more), with the most recent being a 2013 take on the song by jazz singer Tina Ferris. And though the bluesy versions by Bland and Magness call to me this morning, I think I’ll stick with the song’s country roots and offer Rich’s original version.

Then we come to the melodramatic “I (Who Have Nothing),” which comes up twice in our listings: the 1963 version by Ben E. King and a 1972 cover by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway. King’s release was the first English recording of the song, and it went to No. 29 on the Billboard Hot 100, to No. 16 in the magazine’s R&B chart, and to No. 10 on what is now called the Adult Contemporary chart. Based on the information at Second Hand Songs, the tune was first recorded in Italian in 1961 by Joe Sentieri; the English lyrics are credited to songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. I’m a little surprised that I don’t have more versions of the tune in the stacks, especially the 1970 version by Tom Jones, which went to No. 14 on the Hot 100 (as well as to No. 2 on the AC chart). I could go wandering for other versions as well, but we’ll stick with King’s version of “I (Who Have Nothing)” this morning.

And what would a trek through the digital shelves here be without some 1960s easy listening combined with a theme from a spy movie? I have four versions on the shelves of the theme from The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, the 1965 movie based on the novel by John le Carré. I think I saw the movie when it came out. (That would have been on one of those Saturday nights out with my dad that remain a bit puzzling, as I wrote a few years ago.) Oddly, Sol Kaplan’s moody soundtrack is not on the shelves here, an absence that needs to be corrected. But the four versions I have of the disquieting theme are all pretty good (with that assessment coming, of course, from one who loves spy themes and mid-1960s easy listening), with the sources being the well-known trio of Billy Strange, Roland Shaw and Hugo Montenegro as well as the blandly named Jazz All-Stars. That last is a group of what I assume was studio musicians; they’re identified at Discogs as Bobby Crowe, Ernie Royal, J.J. Johnson, Joe Newman, Johnny Knapp, Larry Charles, Milt Hinton, Mundell Lowe and Sy Saltzberg, though I do not think all of those men played on the version of the theme I have. That version was included on Thunderball & Other Secret Agent Themes, a 1965 album on the Design label that came to me during my James Bond obsession.

‘I’ll Be Just As Gone . . .’

Friday, August 7th, 2015

In our tour of Texas music the other day, I missed some tunes that we could have included because I forgot about a variant spelling. In the days before, as I pondered the post and the city of San Antonio, I did check on the digital shelves for tunes that called the city “San Antone.” But as I wrote Tuesday, that spelling slipped my mind.

As it slipped, we lost our chances at hearing Emmylou Harris’ “I’ll Be Your San Antone Rose” from her 1977 album Luxury Liner, and we missed out on two versions of “Home In San Antone,” the first a vocal take by Redd Volkaert from 1998 and the second an instrumental version by the Quebe Sisters Band from 2003.

And we missed out, of course, on one of the classic country songs, “Is Anybody Goin’ To San Antone.” The song was written by Glenn Martin and David Kirby, and its most famous iteration is its first, the version recorded in February 1970 by Charlie Pride:

Pride’s version was No. 1 for two weeks on the Billboard country chart and made it to No. 70 on the magazine’s Hot 100. (It was one of twenty-nine No. 1 hits for Pride on the country chart between 1969 and 1983.) And covers abound: Second Hand Songs lists twenty-eight of them, from Bake Turner’s version recorded in March 1970 to a version by Buddy Jewell that came out in June of this year (and there are likely others not listed there).

Two of those covers – along with Pride’s original – are on the digital shelves here: There’s a pretty basic country version by Nat Stuckey from his 1971 album Only A Woman Like You, and then there’s a 1973 take on the tune by Doug Sahm with some vocal help – according to both my ears and Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles – from Bob Dylan:

The track was released as a single on Atlantic and bubbled under the Hot 100 for three weeks, peaking at No. 115. It was also released on a 1973 album titled Doug Sahm and Band.

Saturday Single No. 434

Saturday, February 21st, 2015

Having been roused early by at least one cat looking for either attention or food, I got up just after six this morning. After brewing a pot of coffee and scarfing down my customary breakfast of a peanut butter and apple butter sandwich, I looked around the kitchen, plugged my iPod buds into my ears and got the dishes out of the way.

While I cleaned, the iPod offered me six tunes from which we can select today’s feature. So let’s be off!

First up are Gladys Knight & The Pips with their second Top Twenty single, “Letter Full Of Tears,” written by the recently departed Don Covay. The single went to No. 19 in the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 3 on the R&B chart in early 1962. (“Every Beat Of My Heart,” credited to simply the Pips, had gone to No. 6 in the Hot 100 and to No. 1 on the R&B chart in 1961.) It would be more than five years before Knight and the Pips got that high in the charts again, with “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” going to No. 2 (No. 1, R&B) in late 1967.

I’ve told the tale before: Rummaging in a record shop in the Minneapolis suburb of Richfield during the summer of 1989, I came across an arresting album cover. The album was Avalon by Roxy Music. Not knowing much about the group except the names of Bryan Ferry and Brian Eno (who by that time had long since left the group) but intrigued by the cover, I grabbed the album for something like three bucks, blundering my way into a decent album with two great tracks. This morning, it’s “Avalon” that makes its warm and inviting way into my ears.

Much of the music of the 1980s sounds a lot better now than it did when I heard it coming out of my radio speakers thirty years ago. Is that a product of my having wider musical horizons than I had back then? Or is it simply the result of radio familiarity, with the hits of the 1980s now being packaged for niche radio along with the remnants of the 1970s and 1960s? I’m not sure, but I do know that I’ve almost always been behind the musical curve. Anyway, Pat Benatar’s “We Belong,” which went to No. 5 in early 1985, sounds a lot better to me this morning than it did when I was finishing up my grad school stay in Columbia, Missouri.

Speaking of being behind the curve, it took me many years to dip into the catalog of Led Zeppelin, puzzled as I was in the early 1970s by the few Zep tracks I did hear. “Whole Lotta Love,” “Stairway To Heaven” and “Immigrant Song” seemed, well, excessive to me. So it took years before I heard and appreciated “The Battle Of Evermore” from the band’s untitled fourth album, with its mandolins and its haunting vocal help from Sandy Denny. But however I got there, the song brings a nod and a smile this morning as I rinse the silverware.

Taj Mahal has showed up regularly in this space over the years, a tacit acknowledgment of how much I enjoy the man’s wide-ranging music and perhaps of how much that music had influenced my listening, especially with his explorations of vintage blues. This morning, I get the song “You’re Gonna Need Someone On Your Bond,” which, with a slightly differing title, was either a traditional gospel song or was written by Texas musician Blind Willie Johnson. Wikipedia notes that Johnson recorded the song first in 1930 but that in 1929, Delta musician Charley Patton had recorded a similar tune titled “You’re Gonna Need Somebody When You Die.” In any case, Taj Mahal covered the Johnson tune on his 1969 album Giant Step, and that’s the version that the iPod gives me this morning.

Mary Fahl’s voice on her solo work is exquisite and haunting, just as it was when she was the lead singer for October Project, one of my favorite groups from the 1990s and beyond. When her music pops up at random, whether it’s from the 2,000 or so tunes on the iPod or the more than 80,000 on the computer, I almost always stop what I’m doing for at least a moment to marvel at the richness of her voice. That was the case again this morning, when the iPod gave me “Going Home” from Fahl’s 2003 album The Other Side Of Time. The stunning track was also used that same year in the soundtrack to the film Gods and Generals. And it’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘I Just Want To Hold You . . .’

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

So what was spinning on the basement stereo forty years ago today, as winter quarter resumed at St. Cloud State?

Almost certainly, Graham Nash’s Songs For Beginners, released in 1971, was in heavy rotation. The LP log tells me that I’d picked up the album on January 4, 1975, adding one more piece to the collection of music that I’d heard nearly every day at the hostel in Denmark a year earlier.

The album had some flaws, and I think I knew that from the first few times I’d heard it on the tape player in our lounge in Denmark. Nash’s voice, I thought, didn’t feel strong enough to carry a whole album, and I thought the songwriting was erratic. Some of the songs were good, and others felt like filler put together to ensure enough material for an LP.

But I bought the album anyway, being more interested in how the record made me feel than in what my critical judgment might tell me. A quick check of a 1975 calendar tells me that I brought the record home on a Saturday, and I’m sure it was on the stereo in the basement rec room frequently that weekend.

Another quick look, this one at Pro Football Reference, tells me that there was no NFL football that weekend; I had another week to go before I watched my Minnesota Vikings fall 16-6 to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl. So I’m sure I listened to Nash on both Saturday and Sunday. And I no doubt reaffirmed my judgment that the best track on the record was “Simple Man.”

It is, as the lyric promises, a simple song, one that Nash wrote after he and Joni Mitchell parted ways (as is true of many of the other songs on the album). And, to me, the song’s simplicity is what makes it work. (That simplicity also made it easy to determine the chords so I could add the song to my piano repertoire of the time; I’ll likely renew my acquaintance with it soon.)

Later in 1975, I came across a cover of Nash’s tune that I liked maybe a little bit better than Nash’s original version. The cover came from Paul Williams, and it was on his 1971 album Just An Old Fashioned Love Song.

I haven’t listened to Songs For Beginners – as an album – for years. The same goes for Williams’ album. Tracks from the two records pop up on very rare occasion on the RealPlayer, and I don’t skip over them, but “Simple Man” remains the only track from Nash’s album that would really catch my ear these days. The Williams album pulls a bit more weight, with “Simple Man” being one of maybe four tracks that matter to me. (The most affecting track on Williams’ album, long-time readers with good memories might already surmise, is “Waking Up Alone,” which sends a twinge of not unpleasant melancholy through my heart whenever it shows up.)

There aren’t a lot of other covers out there, from what I can tell. After Williams’ cover, the website Second Hand Songs lists three more, and some digging at Amazon and iTunes brought no more. Middle-of-the-road vocalist Jack Jones included a version of the song on his 1973 album Together. It’s not posted at YouTube or available at either of the two retail sites, from what I can tell. (Jones’ cover of “Simple Man” likely wouldn’t be the most interesting track on that album; the closing track is a cover of Carly Simon’s “That’s The Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be.”)

Current day singer-songwriter Denison Witmer included “Simple Man” on Recovered, his 2003 collection of covers of mostly 1970s tunes, and Will Oldham, under the name Bonnie “Prince” Billy, recorded a Spanish version – “Simple Man (Hombre Sencillo)” – for his contribution to the 2010 release Be Yourself: A Tribute To Graham Nash’s Songs For Beginners. I like Oldham’s cover a bit more than I do Witmer’s, but both of them somehow seem a little off-kilter to me.

So I’ll stick with the two 1971 versions, and if forced to choose, I’d probably go with Williams’.

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.

‘Green’

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

So today, in the fourth installment of Floyd’s Prism, we come to “Green,” the “G.” in the famous mnemonic for recalling the colors of the spectrum: “Roy G. Biv.”

The RealPlayer provides a total of 576 mp3s to sort. The first tracks to be trimmed are the sixteen covers of 1960s folk from the fine 1999 collection Bleecker Street: Greenwich Village in the ’60s and the thirteen covers from a similar 2009 album, The Village: A Celebration Of The Music Of Greenwich Village.

We also lose many, if not all, tracks from other albums: The Stone Poneys’ Evergreen, Vol. 2, Dana Wells’ The Evergreen, Steel Mill’s Green Eyed God, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Green River, Dar Williams’ The Green World, Leo Kottke’s Greenhouse, the Pete Best Band’s Hayman’s Green (yes, that Pete Best; it’s a pretty decent album from 2008), the bluesy Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, the Jayhawks’ Tomorrow the Green Grass and a few others, including Sibylle Baier’s Colour Green, an album featured here not long ago that was made up mostly of home recordings from the early 1970s and released in 2006.

We set aside multiple albums by Al Green and country singer Pat Green, and single albums from songwriter Ellie Greenwich, the 1960s groups Green and Evergreen Blue Shoes, and a 2010 album by a European electropop duo called the Green Children.

We also lose tracks by performers Barbara Greene, Cal Green, Eli Green (with Mississippi Fred McDowell), Grant Green, the Greenwoods, Jackie Green, Johnny Green & The Greenmen, Judy Green, the little known R. Green (of R. Green & Turner, who recorded two blues sides for the J&M Fulbright label in Los Angeles in 1948), Rudy Greene, Rudy Green & His Orchestra, Lorne Green, the marvelously named Slim Green & The Cats From Fresno and, of course, Norman Greenbaum.

And a few songs fall by the wayside because of their titles: Jackie DeShannon’s “The Greener Side,” five mp3s titled “Evergreen” (some with numbers attached and none of them the 1976 Barbra Streisand record), Peter, Paul & Mary’s “Greenland Whale Fisheries,” Tony Rice’s “Greenlight on the Southern,” a couple versions of “Greensleeves,” three of “Greenback Dollar,” and six tracks with “Greenwood” in their titles, including the wonderful 1970 single “Greenwood, Mississippi” by Little Richard.

But that leaves us many titles yet to work with. We’ll start with a country favorite of mine from 1993.

I didn’t know about the tune in 1993, of course, as I rarely listened to country music then. (A work friend of mine in those days suggested I give a Brooks & Dunn album a listen; I returned it to him regretfully, not yet ready for boot-scootin’.) But come the year 2000, with the Texas Gal on the scene, I began to catch up at least a little on what I’d been missing. And one evening, as we were passing time watching country music videos on CMT, there came Joe Diffie’s “John Deere Green.” The story of Billy Bob and Charlene and the tall green letters on the water tower amused me, and it touched memories of both summer weeks on my grandpa’s farm and of Gramps’ allegiance to John Deere farm equipment. I don’t follow country closely, but it’s on the radio and the CD player occasionally; it’s not nearly as foreign as it was, thanks mostly to the Texas Gal and at least in part to Diffie’s single (which went to No. 5 on the country chart and to No. 60 on the Billboard Hot 100).

There are five versions of Gordon Lightfoot’s “Bitter Green” in the digital stacks: covers by Ronnie Hawkins, Tony Rice and fellow Canadian folk singer Valdy and studio and live versions by Lightfoot. I like them all but decided to go with Lightfoot’s version from his 1968 album, Back Here On Earth. At the time, Lightfoot was known mostly in the U.S. as a songwriter; his performing career was much stronger in Canada (and that imbalance remained until 1970 or so). “Bitter Green” and the story it tells are vintage Lightfoot: an easily embraced melody backed only by guitar and literate and clear lyrics. He’d go on to great critical and popular success in the 1970s and beyond, but many of his early recordings are still worth close listening. This is one of them.

Gods and Generals, a 2003 film based on a 1996 novel by Jeffrey Schaara, was focused, says Wikipedia, on “the life of Thomas Jonathan ‘Stonewall’ Jackson,” the God-fearing and militarily brilliant yet eccentric Confederate general.” I’ve not seen the film, and perhaps I should, but my interest in Gods and General this morning is the soundtrack, itself notable to me because Bob Dylan’s haunting “’Cross the Green Mountain” is its closing track. In her review of the soundtrack at All Music Guide, Heather Phares notes that Dylan’s contribution “sounds more contemporary than most of the rest of the album, but still has enough rustic warmth to complement it gracefully.” The video to which I’ve linked has a shorter version of the tune than does the soundtrack; the original version, which runs eight-plus minutes, is available on the soundtrack CD and on Dylan’s 2008 release, Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8.

Although I try to dig up relatively rare and different tracks when I do sets like this – for Floyd’s Prism or the earlier March Of The Integers – there are times when familiar tracks simply demand to be included. Such is the case with “Green Onions” by Booker T. & The MG’s. The record – familiar and forever fresh – went to No. 3 on the pop chart and No. 1 on the R&B chart in 1962. In his 1989 book, The Heart of Rock & Soul, Dave Marsh wrote that “Green Onions” is “what happens when the best backup band in the universe decides it’s time to get noticed.”

In early 2007, a Houston, Texas, music producer named Kevin Ryan went into his home studio and, as Dan Brekke of Salon wrote that April, “engineered a sort of retro mash-up of two of his favorite artists, Bob Dylan and Dr. Seuss. . . . Ryan took the text from seven Seuss classics, including ‘The Cat in the Hat’ and ‘Green Eggs and Ham,’ and set them to original tunes that sounded like they were right off Dylan’s mid-’60s releases. He played all the instruments and sang all the songs in Dylan’s breathy, nasal twang. He registered a domain name, dylanhearsawho.com, and in February posted his seven tracks online, accompanied by suitably Photoshopped album artwork, under the title Dylan Hears A Who.” The Salon piece tells the tale of the copyright claims that followed from the folks who own the Dr. Seuss material, examines the copyright issues at hand and notes that the material is still widely available on the ’Net. That’s true, of course, at YouTube, where Ryan’s version of “Green Eggs & Ham” remains a delight.

When Joni Mitchell released Blue in 1971, the lyrics to “Little Green” must have seemed like typically elliptical Joni Mitchell lyrics, telling a story by circling around it with vague hints and references:

Born with the moon in Cancer
Choose her a name she will answer to
Call her green and the winters cannot fade her
Call her green for the children who’ve made her
Little green, be a gypsy dancer

He went to California
Hearing that everything’s warmer there
So you write him a letter and say, “Her eyes are blue”
He sends you a poem and she’s lost to you
Little green, he’s a non-conformer

Just a little green
Like the color when the spring is born
There’ll be crocuses to bring to school tomorrow
Just a little green
Like the nights when the Northern lights perform
There’ll be icicles and birthday clothes
And sometimes there’ll be sorrow

Child with a child pretending
Weary of lies you are sending home
So you sign all the papers in the family name
You’re sad and you’re sorry, but you’re not ashamed
Little green, have a happy ending

Just a little green
Like the color when the spring is born
There’ll be crocuses to bring to school tomorrow
Just a little green
Like the nights when the Northern lights perform
There’ll be icicles and birthday clothes
And sometimes there’ll be sorrow

When one reads those lyrics now, in the light of Mitchell’s having given birth to a daughter in 1965 and giving her up for adoption – a tale that became public in 1993 – “Little Green” becomes a heart-breaking piece of work.

Dragons (And Music) Live Forever

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

“If you ask me who I am,” mused Peter Yarrow for a moment Sunday evening, “well . . .” And he paused as he looked out at the audience in St. Cloud’s Pioneer Place. “As I always have been, I’m the one who carries forward the tradition of Peter, Paul & Mary.”

And then, with his son Christopher playing a wash-tub bass and supplying vocal harmony, he launched himself into another song recorded by Peter, Paul & Mary. It might have been “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” or “Lemon Tree.” It could have been “All My Trials” or “Jesus Met The Woman.” It could have been the final pair of the evening: “If I Had A Hammer” and “Blowin’ In The Wind.”

I don’t remember which tune it was that followed Yarrow’s statement. I wasn’t taking notes. Rather, I was sitting in the front row, flanked by my mother and the Texas Gal. We were just to the right of center stage, as close as I’ve ever been for a performance by a legend. I watched Yarrow’s left hand play with his picks as he talked between songs. I saw his eyes get a little misty as he talked about his family – many of whom live in Willmar, Minnesota, about sixty miles away (and many of whom, along with other friends from the Central Minnesota city, were at the performance). I saw the slight tremors in his seventy-three-year-old legs as he moved to sit on a stool instead of stand several times during the performance.

But mostly, I just watched and listened as a giant of folk music worked the room and turned what I expected to be a concert into a three-hour sing-along. From the opening tune, “Music Speaks Louder Than Words” through the two closing songs mentioned above, Yarrow encouraged the two hundred or so folks at Pioneer Place to join in.

After all, he said, as he introduced his second tune – “Leaving On A Jet Plane,” performed in memory of his long-time friend and partner, Mary Travers, who passed on in 2009 – “You’ll sing along anyway, or at least mouth the words, so you may as well sing.” And sing we did, sometimes pretty confidently – as on the medley of “This Little Light Of Mine,” “Down By The Riverside” and “This Land Is Your Land” – and sometimes a little more tentatively, as in the case of “Stewball” and “Have You Been To Jail For Justice?”

And sometimes, we just listened, as we did when Yarrow sang the potent anti-war song he and Travers wrote, “The Great Mandala.”

Yarrow remains unabashedly liberal and spoke a few times about the causes he supports. He mentioned his marching at Selma, Alabama, during the early 1960s civil rights movement and the performance of Peter, Paul & Mary at the 1963 rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech. Yarrow noted that he and his children – Christopher and Bethany – have visited and performed at several of the Occupy sites in the past year. And he told us about his current project, Operation Respect, an educational program aimed at “creating compassionate, safe and respectful environments.” The theme song for Operation Respect is “Don’t Laugh At Me,” a song that first showed up on PP&M’s final studio album, 2003’s In These Times.

When Yarrow introduced the tune Sunday evening, he said, “You’ll all know some of the people in this song. You might have been some of them. And some of you will weep.” He was right. And the performance – during which, of course, we sang along on the chorus – earned Yarrow a mid-concert standing ovation.

I’ve listened to Yarrow’s music – the massive catalog of PP&M and his own, more slender catalog – for years, but I’ve never dug very deeply into the history and lore of the group and its three members, so I was intrigued to learn Sunday evening that Yarrow’s wife, Mary Beth, was the niece of the late U.S. Senator from Minnesota, Eugene McCarthy. The two met during McCarthy’s 1968 campaign for the Democratic nomination for the presidency. And I was even more intrigued when Yarrow told us that not only was Noel Paul Stookey – “Paul” of PP&M – Yarrow’s best man when he and Mary Beth were married but that Stookey sang during the ceremony a song written specifically for the wedding.

It took a lot of talking, Yarrow said, to persuade Stookey to record and release “The Wedding Song (There Is Love),” which turned out to be a No. 24 hit and was, Yarrow said, the No. 1 sheet music seller for ten years. And as Yarrow then sang “The Wedding Song (There Is Love),” the rest of us joined in on the choruses.

Yarrow’s most famous song is likely “Puff the Magic Dragon.” Addressing the myth of the song’s reference to drugs, Yarrow told us Sunday evening that he and co-writer Leonard Lipton never had any thought besides writing a song about the loss of childhood. And he called up to the stage the younger folks in the audience – which meant, Sunday evening, those under thirty-five – and those folks (many of whom, I presume, were friends and family from Willmar) helped Yarrow and the rest of us sing that great song.

As he led us through the song, there were a few changes: The line “A dragon lives forever, but not so little boys” is now “A dragon lives forever, but not so little girls and boys.” And the final chorus is now sung in present tense: “Puff the magic dragon lives by the sea and frolics in the autumn mist in a land called Hona-Lee.”

Puff lives forever. So will Yarrow’s music.

(Here’s a similar performance of “Puff the Magic Dragon” from Fairfield, Connecticut in 2007.)

Revised slightly after first posting.

In The Midst Of The Busy Season

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Combine the holiday season with a reorganization project that entails boxing and then moving maybe 15 percent of our household goods up and down stairs, and the weeks finds us with little time to rest. But our holiday preparations are, I think, mostly completed.

I was reminded yesterday of a fundamental difference between the Texas Gal and me, one that I think is echoed in many couples along gender lines: The difference between shopping and buying. When the Texas Gal is going to give a present to someone, she goes shopping, going from store to store to see the possibilities, weighing ideas, looking at alternatives and then finally making a selection, which might entail heading to an establishment she visited some five or six stops ago. That’s shopping.

As for me, I buy. I spend nearly as much time selecting a gift for her or for others, I think, but I do the selection process here at home (or perhaps in the car). By the time I head out the door with my wallet in my hand, I’m ready to buy. If I have three gifts to buy, I make those three stops. Oh, I’ll look at other things as I go, but any additional other items I consider adding to the haul are almost always on a direct line between my planned stops. It happened yesterday as I went out to get the Texas Gal’s main gift. (Well, that’s not quite true; about a month ago, we saw on sale a dock for her iPod Touch – with CD player and radio – that she’d scoped out some time ago, so for her the holidays began early.) But as I walked along the aisles of the selected store yesterday en route to the place where my intended gift was shelved, I scanned the assorted goods along the way. I grabbed a couple of them as I went, but my errand at that store was done in less than twenty minutes, half of that spent in the checkout line.

Of course, all that shopping and buying during this busy month has a purpose: Giving to one another. Whether it’s Christmas or the winter solstice or another event or holiday that comes along at this time of year, to me it’s the giving that matters, whether it’s giving of one’s material resources, one’s time or one’s affection.

And now for some music. Long-time readers might recall that I share only two songs during this season, one of them penned by John Lennon. This is the fifth December for this blog, and from what I can tell, I have not shared this particular cover before. In 2003, the Moody Blues released December, a Christmas album with several original pieces, some traditional pieces and a pretty good cover of Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over).”

I’ll be back Thursday with a version of the other Christmas song I traditionally post here.

‘If I Was A Master Thief . . .’

Friday, July 29th, 2011

So, which Fourth Street is paved with Bob Dylan’s nastiest thoughts?

When Dylan sneers and slices his way through his 1965 single, “Positively 4th Street,” is he taking aim at the mid-1960s hipsters and posers in New York City’s Greenwich Village? Or is he looking back to the Midwest, slashing and lacerating his way through the remembered slights from his days at the University of Minnesota and its Dinkytown district? Both the Village and Dinkytown have as one of their main thoroughfares a Fourth Street.

I don’t know, and I don’t think anyone besides the Bard of Hibbing knows for sure. The heavy money, I would guess, is on New York City’s Fourth Street, simply because the Village was where Dylan became famous as a folkie and then – after turning to rock – became an infamous pariah among the folk set in the Village. Add that New York was where he was living when the song was written and released as a single, and you might have a case. But I have a sense, and I doubt that I’m alone in this, that when Dylan was writing the song, he was very much aware that there was another Fourth Street in his rear-view mirror and if folks from his Dinkytown days were wounded because they thought the tune was about them, well, that would be okay.

Whatever street provided the inspiration for the song, the song itself provided listeners with a lot to take in. The lyrics – starting with the snarling “You got a lot of nerve to say you are my friend. When I was down, you just stood there grinning.” – have always sounded to me like the 1 a.m. party rant of guy all the guests have been sidestepping all evening. He’s like the character on a new Tarot card for the modern age: The Volatile Man. He’s the one who eventually spews his bitterness over everyone, halting every conversation like an Icelandic volcano grounding air traffic. And he never stops as everyone else makes excuses and heads for the door.

The vitriol makes “Positively 4th Street” a one-of-a-kind rant that went to No. 7 in the autumn of 1965, with a performance that Dave Marsh called “an icy hipster bitch session” that turned out to be “brilliantly poisonous.”

Given the tune and its indelible origins, one would think that cover versions would be scarce. Well, they’re not plentiful, but there are more than I expected. The Byrds took a shot at the song with a live version on their untitled album from 1970, and it’s not bad. Others who’ve recorded the song include the Jerry Garcia Band, Johnny Rivers, Merl Saunders & Jerry Garcia, punk band Antiseen, Spirit, Bryan Ferry, Simply Red, Sue Foley, Scottish performer Junior Campbell, Scott Lucas & The Married Men, Lucinda Williams, Deb Callahan, the Stereophonics, the Persuasions, Winston Apple and someone named Farryl Purkiss.

I’ve heard a few of those, and I’m interested in hearing a number of the rest. Williams’ take on the song is, as might be expected, idiosyncratic, and I’ve read a lot of praise for Simply Red’s version, but I find it a little bland both in vocal and in backing. I like very much the version Johnny Rivers presents as the closer to his 1968 album, Realization. But in sorting through the covers I had at hand this morning – and I could spend more time and money digging, but I won’t – I was more pleased than I expected to be with Ferry’s take on the tune.

Some Highlights From 2001-2005

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

Well, Odd and Pop didn’t show up this morning here at Echoes In The Wind. I think they’re outside playing in the rain that will soon freeze and turn St. Cloud into one large skating rink. And as I have errands to run today and don’t want to slide into the side of the drug store while running them, I’ve split what was a one-day idea into a two-day project, which it seems I will have to complete without any help from the two little tuneheads.

My thought was to look at some of my favorite music from the last ten years, the first ten years of the 21st Century, but as I waded through thousands of titles, it got more and more difficult to decide on favorites, so I thought I’d just mention a couple of titles from each year. And I dithered and dithered and then realized I was going to have to do this over two posts, which means a rare Friday post tomorrow, the last day of the decade.

Well, all right. So, what do I like to hear from these years? Well, lots of stuff, as it turns out. But if I had to pull one album and one track from each of the ten years, here’s how the first half of the list would look today:

From 2001, I’d end up with Bob Dylan’s album Love and Theft, a ramble through various styles of American music: folk, blues, rock and some other genres that might not have labels unless one uses a lot of hyphens. Among my favorite tracks are “Mississippi” and the great “High Water (For Charley Patton).”

I got into Texas singer Pat Green when he hit with “Wave on Wave” in 2003. (I’ve listened to and learned more about country music and Texas music in the past decade than ever before; the Texas Gal obviously gets grateful credit for that.) Anyway, liking “Wave on Wave” as much as I did, I got the CD and then began to dig into Green’s earlier stuff. And I discovered “Southbound 35” from his 2001 effort, Three Days. Another version is on the same year’s Dancehall Dreamer. I’m unable to find a video of either of the studio versions, so we’ll have to go back to the last century and a version of the song on Green’s 1999 release Live At Billy Bob’s Texas.

It took me a couple of years to catch up to it, but this morning, my favorite album from 2002 is Jorma Kaukonen’s Blue Country Heart. The former guitarist for the Jefferson Airplane (and cofounder of Hot Tuna) put together what All-Music Guide called “his most summertime-afternoon, front-porch-pickin’ album.” My favorite track? Probably Kaukonen’s take on Jimmie Rodgers’ classic “Waiting For A Train.”

One of the other musical highlights of 2002 was the massive memorial Concert for George in London on November 29. Recorded for release in 2003, the concert featured a gathering of friends who’d played and recorded over the years with the quiet Beatle, including his old bandmates Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney along with Eric Clapton, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and more. The least well-known performer on this side of the Atlantic, I’d guess, was Joe Brown, who closed the concert with a heart-tugging cover of a very old tune, “I’ll See You In My Dreams.” I couldn’t find a video of the live version from the concert, but here’s a studio version on which I’ve been unable to put a date.

Another album I caught up with a couple years late was by another alumnus from Jefferson Airplane and the other co-founder of Hot Tuna: bassist Jack Casady. His 2003 effort, Dream Factor, was an intriguing tour through blues, folk and Southern rock, featuring a strong list of guest vocalists and Casady’s always supple work on bass. My favorite tracks are likely “Paradise” and the closer, “Sweden.”

Country music pulled me in more during 2003. The Texas Gal and I spent a fair amount of time on quiet evenings watching country videos on cable and keeping track of CDs we wanted to hear. One of those videos was a Brooks & Dunn piece, and it led me to a CD that still shows up in the CD player around here. Here’s the official video for Brooks & Dunn’s “Red Dirt Road.”

The 2004 CD Original Soul was credited simply to Grace Potter, but the album was actually the first ever heard of Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, a band out of Vermont that has since released three more well-received CDs, all of which have places on my shelf. If I had to choose one track from Original Soul, I’d probably go with the slow groove of “Go Down Low,” but that’s a default choice; the album is too good to pull just one track as a favorite.

Continuing in a rootsy vein (no surprise there, I imagine), one of the other highlights of 2004, at least looking back, was the release of 40 Days, the first full-length CD by the Wailin’ Jennys, a trio of women formed in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The Texas Gal and I have seen the Jennys twice, and both times, one of the highlights was “Arlington” from 40 Days.

Choosing an album from 2005 was easy, and the choice might be seen as an odd one. Through my blog-created connection with Patti Dahlstrom, I was also linked to long-time musician Don Dunn, who – among his many accomplishments – was the cowriter of one of my favorite tunes ever, “Hitchcock Railway.” And through that connection, I got hold of Don’s Voices From Another Room, an album recorded unexpectedly in Odessa, Ukraine. It’s a CD I often pop into the player late in the evening. My favorite track? Probably “Two Tanyas.”

What else from 2005 has kept my attention? Well, I still listen to all four CDs by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, and my featured track from 2005 comes from the album Naturally, which finds Jones and her amazingly tight band offering an inventive – and somewhat doleful – revision of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.”

Finally, for today, one of the most memorable records of the the first five years of the decade is one that I cannot place accurately. Gary Jules’ cover of Tears For Fears’ “Mad World” first showed up, I think, on the soundtrack to the 2001 film Donnie Darko. Jules later released it on his own Trading Snakeoil For Wolftickets in 2004. So I don’t know where it fits temporally. But it doesn’t matter, really, as the recording is one of the best things I recall hearing from those first five years of this century.

I’ll be back tomorrow – perhaps with Odd and Pop – to look at music from the years 2006-2010.

(Title error corrected since first posting.)