Archive for the ‘2004’ Category

‘South’

Thursday, June 9th, 2016

We’ll finally get back to Follow The Directions today and sort the 88,000 mp3s in the RealPlayer for “South,” which might be the most musically evocative of all the directions. It’s certainly the one I’ve been pondering the most since Odd, Pop and I came up with the idea for the series. But we run into problems right from the start. The player sorts for genre tags as well, so the list we get includes everything that’s tagged as “Southern Rock.”

Thus, we get most of the catalog of the Allman Brothers Band as well as work by Delaney Bramlett, Elvin Bishop, the Cate Brothers, Charlie Daniels and on and on through 1,146 mp3s. Some of those will work for us. But not only do we have to ignore southern rock, we have to ignore lots of albums with “south” in their titles but no tracks titled with “south.” That includes the epic – yes, I used the word – four-CD collection titled Sounds of the South assembled from various albums of recordings done by folklorist and musicologist Alan Lomax.

We also lose, among others, Magnetic South by Michael Nesmith & The First National Band, Colin Linden’s Southern Jumbo, Little Richard’s unreleased 1972 album Southern Child, Koko Taylor’s South Side Lady, Maria Muldaur’s Southern Winds, and many entire catalogs, including those of J.D. Souther, Joe South, Southside Johnny (with and without The Asbury Jukes), Matthews’ Southern Comfort and the 2nd South Carolina String Band.

But, as generally happens, we have enough left to find four records that may entertain us this morning.

We’ll start with a record that refers, evidently, to a New York City locale but that came out of Philadelphia: “100 South Of Broadway, Part 1” from a group called the Philadelphia Society. Now, Wikipedia tells us that the Philadelphia Society is “a membership organization the purpose of which is ‘to sponsor the interchange of ideas through discussion and writing, in the interest of deepening the intellectual foundation of a free and ordered society, and of broadening the understanding of its basic principles and traditions’.” Somehow, I don’t think that’s the source of this fine and funky 1974 instrumental on the American Recording label. But a moderate bit of searching brings up hardly any information: Discogs lists no other releases for the Philadelphia Society (which I suspect was a generic name for a group of studio musicians), and the record label itself, as shown at Discogs, tells us very little: only that the track was recorded at the Sigma and Society Hill studios in Philly and a few names. Googling those names noted on the label – writers Davis, Tindal and Smith and producers M. Nise and B. Adam– gets us mostly unrelated links along with some links to sites offering the record for sale. One note I saw said the record was a significant hit in Great Britain. Maybe so. But whatever its genesis and its reception, it’s a nice way to start heading south.

Gil Scott-Heron’s uncompromising poetry on his solo releases – think “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” from 1971, for one – earned him (according to several things I’ve read) the title of “Godfather of rap.” He was just as uncompromising – if seemingly a little less acerbic – three years later on Winter In America, his first album with keyboardist Brian Jackson. That’s where we find “95 South (All Of The Places We’ve Been)” getting down to business after a mellow introduction:

In my lifetime I’ve been in towns
where there was no freedom or future around.
I’ve been in places where you could not eat
or take a drink of water wherever you pleased.
And now that I meet you in the middle of a mountain,
Well, I’m reaching on out from within.

And all I can think of are chapters and scenes of all of the places we’ve been.

I’m not such an old man, so don’t get me wrong.
I’m the latest survivor of the constantly strong.
I’ve been to Mississippi and down city streets.
I’ve seen days of plenty and nights with nothing to eat.
But I’m not too happy ’bout the middle of a mountain so soon I’ll be climbing again.

’Cause all I can think of are chapters and scenes of all of the places we’ve been.

I was raised up in a small town in the country down south
So I’ve been close enough to know what oppression’s about.
Placed on this mountain with a rare chance to see
Dreams once envisioned by folks much braver than me.
And since their lives got me to the middle of a mountain,
Well, I can’t stop and give up on them.

’Cause their lights that shine on inspire me to climb on from all of the places we’ve been.

From all of the places we’ve been
From all of the places we’ve . . . been a lot of places, yeah,
From all of the places we’ve been,
Been down, been down, been down, a lot of roads and places.
All of the places . . .

And from there, we slide back to the autumn of 1948 and “Down South Blues” by Muddy Waters. The track might have been issued on Aristocrat 1308 at the time – I have a note that says that might have happened, but I can’t at the moment find the online source for that note – but it was certainly part of the second package of “real folk blues” put out by Chess in 1966 and 1967. As Mark Humphries writes in the notes to the 2002 CD release, “Muddy’s two ‘real folk blues’ albums were revisionist history of a sort, attempts to provide a fresh framework for his music, especially his earliest Aristocrat and Chess label recordings. By the time the second collection appeared in 1967, Muddy and his band were making forays into such hip niteries as the Electric Circus and the Fillmore. Yet even as Muddy’s audience changed, he continued to bring them many of the songs first collected on LP under the ‘real folk blues’ rubric. While this may have been because he saw them as folk songs and thus suitable for young white listeners, it was more likely because they were core parts of his repertoire, major elements of a music gazing with one eye back at the Delta and with the other toward a future which Muddy lived to enjoy but could scarcely have imagined when these recordings were freshly minted.”

Delta Moon is an Atlanta-based band about which I don’t know much except the music. I’ve found my way to several of the group’s CDs, and every time one of the band’s tunes pops up on random on the RealPlayer, the iPod or some of the mix CDs I play in the car, I find myself pulled in. That’s especially true for the track “Goin’ Down South,” the title track from the band’s second studio release in 2004. Swampy and sticky, this is music that calls me home to a place I’ve never been.

Restless

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

It’s a day of distractions, which Thursday usually isn’t: Winter bedding is in the washer and will need soon to be moved to the dryer. The cats, for reasons they will no doubt keep to themselves, are unsettled and asking for more attention than usual.

And I’m keeping an ear open for our landlord (or his nominee) as he comes to till the garden in front and the community garden beyond the copse, so I can stake out our plot in the sunniest space in the community garden.

Add to those distractions the fact that I, like the cats, have been unsettled most of the week. Why? I don’t know. It could be lingering ailments, the first warm and sunny days of the season, the Stanley Cup playoffs, or the fact that the Nissan needs an oil change. But I am unable to settle into my routine this week. I am restless.

It turns out that there are about twenty mp3s on the digital shelves with the word “restless” in their titles. Many of those are Bob Dylan’s “Restless Farewell,” ranging from Dylan’s 1964 original to Mark Knopfler’s 2012 cover. We may dig into that tune another day.

In the meantime, here’s Chris Rea’s “Restless Soul” from his 2004 album The Blue Jukebox. I’ll be back Saturday.

Andrew Greeley, 1928-2013

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

When novels by Father Andrew Greeley began popping up on the shelves at the local drug stores in Monticello during the early 1980s, I was not interested. I’d glance at the titles – The Cardinal Sins and Thy Brother’s Wife were the first two I saw – and I’d think “genre romance, at best.” That judgment was supported by the cover artwork: The first showed the bare back of a lissome lady otherwise swathed in red bedclothes and the second showed an equally attractive woman holding in one hand and between her teeth a gold chain on which was suspended a gold cross.

Those two titles left the drug store shelves and other titles by Greeley replaced them over the next five years or so. I was aware of them, but let them come and go: Ascent into Hell, Lord of the Dance, Virgin and Martyr, Angels of September. If I thought about Greeley and his books at all, I reflected only that the man had obviously found a niche and formula that served him well. Romance novels were not my deal.

I had nothing against genre fiction. Robert Ludlum was still alive and still writing his occasionally clunky but always diverting spy thrillers, and I gladly laid down my shekels every year for another one of his books. That was especially true for the three Ludlum novels that chronicled the tale of Jason Bourne, the intelligence operative struck with amnesia whom I consider one of the greatest inventions in popular American fiction.

Then, one morning in late 1987 as I looked for lunchtime diversion in the library at Minot State University, I chanced upon the portion of the stacks where Greeley’s novels were shelved. Their presence surprised me. Perhaps the man’s work was not as genre-bound as I’d thought. If that were the case, well, I was beginning work on at least two fiction projects, and I thought I might learn something about writing popular fiction as I read. Finally, I was hungry, and there was nothing that said I had to keep reading past lunchtime if I found the book lacking.

So I grabbed one of Greeley’s books from the shelf – I think it was The Cardinal Sins – and once I opened it, I found myself reluctant to close it. Once I got home, I read until early morning, and then finished the book, eyes weary, the next day. Then I went back to the university library and got another Greeley. Once I’d finished with the backlog, I looked and waited for new titles. And so it went through the years, one novel after another, until 2007, when Greeley had an accident that left him with a brain injury and the writing stopped. He passed on at the age of eighty-five during the last days of May, partly as a result of that injury from six years ago.

I’ve learned in the years since first dismissing his work, of course, that Greeley was far more than just a novelist. He was, as Wikipedia puts it, “an Irish-American Roman Catholic priest, sociologist, journalist and popular novelist.” His work at the latter three vocations often put him at odds with the powers of the Catholic church, and his relations with the church were sometimes strained. I don’t know much about his work as a sociologist nor much about his work as a journalist – I’ve told myself many times I should explore his work in both areas – but I’d venture that Greeley did at least some of his most effective work as a priest through his fiction.

A caveat: I’m not a Roman Catholic. I’m a Unitarian Universalist. I grew up as a Lutheran, and in many ways, I am culturally a Lutheran still. I did, however, grow up in a Catholic city; most of my friends when I was young were Catholic; the Texas Gal grew up as a Catholic; and, in the broad swath of Protestantism, Lutherans do not stand horribly far – even though there are some vital differences – from the Church of Rome.

What does all that mean? Just that, even with all that contradictory background swirling around my life, I know ministry when I see it. And in every page of Andrew Greeley’s novels, there is ministry. Without much preaching and with generally interesting plot lines from 1981 through 2007, Greeley tended to his readers, entertaining and guiding them through their lives by detailing crises and celebrations for his characters. The message was fundamentally the same, both in his basic fictional universe with its close-knit families of Cronins, Ryans and more and in the mystery stories that featured his two greatest creations, priest and philosopher Blackie Ryan and musician and mystic Nuala Anne McGrail.

That message? That there is grace in the world. Those would be Greeley’s words. Mine would be different: The Universe gives us what we need. (That’s not always the same as what we want, of course.) As different as the words might be, the ideas are the same: There is something that is unknowable that is greater than we are, and that unknowable something can give us the tools and opportunities to make our lives better. And I’m willing to label those tools and opportunities as grace.

Along with subtle ministry, grace was a constant in Greeley’s books, which have brought me hours of pleasure through the years. Those elements only worked, however, because Greeley’s novels also provided strong stories, interesting and vital characters, a sense of community and engaging mysteries both temporal and cosmic. And I’ll miss all of that. The end of Andrew Greeley’s writing life six years ago left a hole in the library shelves for me; the end of his physical life last month only made that hole larger.

As long as we’re talking about grace, here’s “State of Grace” by Patti Scialfa. It’s from her 2004 album 23rd Street Lullaby.

‘Lips As Bright As Flame . . .’

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve been listening to various versions of the tune “Tangerine,” a song that came to the attention of my generation via the 1975 version by the Salsoul Orchestra. Pulled from the orchestra’s first, self-titled album, a single of the tune went to No. 18 in early 1976.

The song came to mind earlier this week when I followed a link to that YouTube video provided by jb of The Hits Just Keep On Comin’. As I listened, I nodded in recognition, knowing that I most likely heard the single by the Salsoul Orchestra in early 1976, but I had an inkling that I’d heard the song before that, in a much slower tempo. So I went digging.

The song, as I also noted yesterday, was written by Johnny Mercer and Victor Schertzinger for a 1942 movie. In that movie, The Fleet’s In, the song was performed by the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra with vocals by Bob Eberly and Helen O’Connell.

(I don’t care much for Eberly’s crooning, but among at least some singers, that was the style in vogue at the time. On the other hand, given the aesthetic of the times, I thought O’Connell nailed it. And although this arrangement didn’t give him much room to work with, Dorsey could play.)

Since then, “Tangerine” has been covered frequently. The listings at Second Hand Songs and at ASCAP show more than 140 performers and groups who have recorded the song. The listing at ASCAP isn’t searchable by year, but the earliest version of “Tangerine” listed at Second Hand Songs is the 1941 recording by Vaughn Monroe and His Orchestra; the most recent recording listed is the 2007 version by saxophonists Harry Allen and Joe Temperley with John Bunch, Greg Cohen and Jake Hanna on the album Cocktails for Two. Among the performers whose names I recognized were Ferrante & Teicher, Tony Bennett, Dave Brubeck , Harry Connick Jr., Al Caiola, Dr. John (who covered the tune on Mercernary, his 2006 album of songs by Johnny Mercer), Stéphane Grappelli, George Shearing, Lawrence Welk, Bobby Troup, Peter Nero and Toots Thielemans.

I’ve heard a few of those. I like Bennett’s version, but I don’t care for Connick’s. What I heard of Dr. John’s take on the tune (and Mercernary has gone on my want list) was good. Brubeck released numerous live versions of “Tangerine,” and I think the one I heard was from a 1958 performance in Copenhagen, Denmark. I wasn’t blown away, but that says more about me and my relationship with 1950s jazz than about anything else. I do like Grapelli’s 1971 version and, of course, I like the version I posted yesterday by Eliane Elias. And one of the best among the covers I found is the version that Frank Sinatra did for his 1962 album, Sinatra and Swingin’ Brass.

Still, I knew that none of those was the version of “Tangerine” that I’d heard first, and I kept scanning the lists at Second Hand Songs and ASCAP until I finally noticed a name that made sense. And that brought me back to the languid, tropical version of “Tangerine” that I first heard in 1965 or so when I listened to my copy of Whipped Cream & Other Delights by Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass.

Video by Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass replaced November 11, 2013.

‘With Her Eyes Of Night . . .’

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

Inspired by the inclusion of a sweet 1975 track from the Salsoul Orchestra in Monday’s post by my pal jb at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, I’ve been peeling tangerines for the last day or so. Too bad they’re musical and not real, as I could use the Vitamin C right now.

Anyway, while I snuffle off to the drugstore, here’s a preview of some of the stuff you might find here when I present my collection of “Tangerine” covers tomorrow (I hope). This one finds the tune – written for a 1942 movie by Johnny Mercer and Victor Schertzinger – taken on by Brazilian-born and New York-based pianist/vocalist Eliane Elias. It’s from her 2004 album Dreamer, and I like it quite a bit.

Video replaced November 11, 2013.

‘It Was Rainin’ From The First . . .’

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

That video is what it sounded like the first time I heard “Just Like A Woman,” the last of the five songs Bob Dylan performed at the Concert for Bangla Desh during the summer of 1971. I wasn’t particularly blown away by Dylan’s performance as I sat and listened in our rec room not long after receiving the three-LP set for Christmas 1971. But I was far more interested in Dylan’s music that I ever had been, and during early 1972, I began exploring that music in greater detail.

Over the years, that’s meant digging in detail into many of Dylan’s tunes, comparing versions from one era to another, weighing the meanings in lyrics, pondering plugged vs. unplugged takes. But it struck me this morning that I’ve never spent much time thinking about “Just Like A Woman.” In fact, I think the only time I’ve ever really focused much on the song was when I was sitting at a piano trying to fake the song’s chords during a long-ago drunken sing-along somewhere in the suburbs of Copenhagen.

(The set list from that Carlsberg-fueled sing-along was remarkable in its diversity, as I think about it, including “Walk On By,” “Layla,” “Colour My World,” “Delta Lady,” “Without You,” “Fire and Rain” and – I vaguely recall – “I Am The Walrus.”)

As with many other Dylan songs, however, I have collected other versions of “Just Like A Woman” along the way, and I got to wondering this morning about those versions and other covers of the song. The fairly reliable website Second Hand Songs lists forty-two cover versions in English, and there are a few additional covers listed at Amazon. (The same likely holds true for iTunes, which I did not check.)

The first to cover “Just Like A Woman” seems to have been Manfred Mann, shortly after Dylan released the original version of the song on Blonde on Blonde. (Sadly, the two videos of the Mann single at YouTube are truncated.) The album was released in May 1966, and the Manfred Mann cover of the song spent six weeks bubbling under the Billboard Hot 100 in August and September of that year. Dylan’s single of the song entered the Hot 100 at No. 81 in mid-September and peaked a few weeks later at No. 33. Those are the only two versions of the song to make the pop chart.

Pop chart presence aside, “Just Like A Woman” seems to be one of those songs that will always attract singers. More than half of the covers listed at Second Hand Songs have been recorded since 2001, and there are only two significant gaps in the timeline since Dylan first recorded the song: a ten-year gap between the cover by Rick Nelson with the Stone Canyon Band in 1971 and Rod Stewart’s cover in 1981, followed by a seven-year gap to the version by Brazilian artist Celso Blues Boy in 1988. The most recent cover listed is one by Carly Simon that was included earlier this year on Chimes of Freedom – The Songs of Bob Dylan – Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International (an album that is high on my want list).

There are other versions that seem to be notable: “Just Like A Woman” was one of ten tunes selected by a group calling itself the Brothers & Sisters of Los Angeles for a 1969 album titled Dylan’s Gospel. (The webpage that listed the musicians involved seems to have disappeared in the past five years, but I do recall that among the singers on the project were Merry Clayton and Clydie King.)

Among the versions I’ve not yet heard – but probably should – are those from the Byrds in 1990, Judy Collins in 1993, Jeff Buckley in 2003 and Bill Medley in 2007. I have heard and liked the covers by Steve Howe from 1999 and John Gorka from 2011. And my favorite covers are those by Richie Havens from 1967, by Nina Simone from 1971 and by Jamaican performer Beres Hammond from 2004.

But perhaps the most interesting version I found this morning was the cover by the Brazilian group The Smeke. I don’t know when it was recorded, but the recording was posted at YouTube in March 2010. The video uses footage of Edie Sedgwick, the 1960s actress, model, socialite and heiress whose involvement with Dylan has been the subject of rumor and legend for more than forty years. (Here’s the take on those tales from Wikipedia.)

‘In The Coolness Of Your Shadow . . .’

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

Driving down Lincoln Avenue toward some fast food last evening, I was listening – as I generally do in the car – to WXYG, the low-power album rock station that popped up on the AM band here in the St. Cloud area about a year ago. And as I pulled into the restaurant’s parking lot, I heard a familiar and mournful violin introduction come from the speakers, followed by the breathy voice of Jesse Colin Young:

Darkness, darkness, be my pillow, take my head and let me sleep
In the coolness of your shadow, in the silence of your deep.

The song was Young’s “Darkness, Darkness,” an eloquent and haunting surrender to despair recorded by the Youngbloods for their 1969 album, Elephant Mountain. Some listeners have heard a metaphor in the song for the anguish in Vietnam going on at the time the album came out, but I’m not so sure. Either way – or any other way – it’s a chilling song that gets a little trippy in the middle:

I’ve run across numerous covers of the tune in the last decade or so, including versions by Richie Havens, Richard Shindell, the pair of Elliot Murphy & Iain Matthews, Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart, Mott the Hoople, Robert Plant and the Cowboy Junkies. So with the song running through my head this morning, I dropped by Second Hand Songs to see who else might have covered the tune. The website listed ten versions of the song, including the original; I’ve heard eight of them, missing only those by Cassell Webb from 1990 and Golden Earring from 1995.

I also took a look at the mp3s available at Amazon, and that brought up quite a few other names, some of which I knew – like Michael Stanley (with the Ghost Poets) – and many that were unfamiliar. I listened to some samples but left my pocketbook untouched this morning (although there were a few versions that might merit exploration down the road).

So with all those names, what’s actually out there? Well, the Wilson sisters’ version, which showed up on Ann Wilson’s 2007 album, Hope and Glory, is just okay, and the same is true for Robert Plant’s cover, from 2002’s Dreamland. Mott the Hoople’s 1971 version from Brain Capers is good (if a little too Mott-y, if that makes any sense). Ian Matthews’ solo take on the song – found on his 1976 album Go For Broke (released before he changed the spelling of his first name to “Iain”) – felt too matter-of-fact at the start; it became more compelling as it went along but eventually did not match the version he recorded with Elliot Murphy for La Terre Commune in 2000. I do like Lisa Torban’s version (featured here eighteen months ago), which was used in the soundtrack of the 2003 film about the Titanic, Ghosts of the Abyss.

Keeping all that in mind, four versions of “Darkness, Darkness” stand out. Almost five years ago, I wrote that Matthews and Smith’s take on the tune was at the top of my list. Well, lists like that can change, and I now think that three other covers of Young’s song are a little better:  The Cowboy Junkies’ version of the song, released on a bonus EP with their 2004 album One Soul Now, seemed a bit leaden at first, but the slower tempo eventually pulled me in. And my growing appreciation for Richie Havens’ interpretation of the song will, I’m sure, be unsurprising to most readers. His version came out in 1994 on his Cuts to the Chase album.

But the cover that I prefer these days comes from folk artist Richard Shindell, who I think found the center of Young’s song when he recorded it for his 1997 album, Reunion Hill.

‘One Last Chance To Make It Real . . .’

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

Down on East St. Germain – the main street here on the East Side – there’s a pawnshop. It’s right around the corner from Tom’s Barbershop, and I pop in from time to time. Granite City Pawn Shop, it’s called. It’s kind of dusty, and it’s well-stocked with tools and outdoor sports equipment.

And in the middle of the shop, sometimes guarded by a gantlet of other merchandise – a telescope tripod the other day – is an alcove filled with CDs, all priced at $1 apiece. Over the past couple years, I’ve made a few interesting finds there – probably the best was Blue & Sentimental by 1950s sax player Ike Quebec – and filled some gaps, most of them in my country collection.

I stopped by there the other day and found three CDs from the 1990s by country singer John Berry, about whom I’d read a few nice things. They’re all pretty good, and it turns out that one of them – Saddle the Wind – was an album Berry recorded and released in 1990, before he was signed to Liberty Records. Liberty released it in 1994, and that’s the version I found. And when the CD got to the fifth track, here’s what I heard:

He sings it well, but to my ears, the track hews far too closely to Bruce Springsteen’s version to make it more than interesting. But for the last ten days or so, I’ve had “Thunder Road” running through my head as Berry’s cover inspired me to make my way through various versions of one of Springsteen’s greatest songs.

Along the way, I’ve been wondering if the harmonica and piano that lead off “Thunder Road” on Born to Run might not be the very first things that lots of folks ever heard from Bruce Springsteen. My reasoning: It was with Born to Run, of course, that Springsteen made the leap from regional favorite to national artist, and I figure a lot of folks picked up the album on the basis of the national noise without having heard anything from Springsteen before, even the single “Born to Run.” The album reached the Billboard chart on September 13, 1975, showing up at No. 84, a week before “Born to Run” jumped into the Hot 100 at No. 68. And “Thunder Road” leads off the album. So that introduction could have been the introduction to Springsteen for a lot of people.

Well, it’s an interesting thought (to me, anyway), but it really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that “Thunder Road” is one of the sturdiest songs Springsteen’s ever put together. Wikipedia notes that in 2004, the song was ranked No. 86 in Rolling Stone magazine’s assessment of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.” And, as Wikipedia notes, the song has shown up highly ranked on several similar lists.

Like all sturdy songs, it’s been covered fairly frequently. Among those who’ve tackled the song are Badly Drawn Boy, Frank Turner, Tori Amos, Mary Lou Lord and Bonnie “Prince” Bill with Tortoise. I’ve heard some of those, and I’ve come across a few more. Melissa Etheridge sang the song in concert at least once after Springsteen performed the song with her at an earlier show. (Her solo performance of the song is listed as being in 2009, but I don’t know when the duet took place.) I also found a few studio covers that I thought were interesting: Kevin Rowland of Dexys Midnight Runners recorded the song for his 1999 album My Beauty, but – according to a comment at YouTube – the track was held back because Springsteen thought Rowland took too many liberties with the lyrics. I thought the Cowboy Junkies did a nice version; it was released on the bonus CD that came with their 2004 album One Soul Now.

And I came across this version by a string quartet calling itself the Section; it came from the 2002 CD Hometown: The String Quartet Tribute to Springsteen:

 There are other covers out there, but my energy waned. Of the covers I found, I think I like the Cowboy Junkies’ version best; Margo Timmins can do little wrong from where I listen. But the best version of the song I found on YouTube isn’t really a cover at all.

In 2005, Springsteen toured as a solo artist after the release of Devils & Dust, and for that tour, he shelved a lot of the songs he normally performed live. But he did “Thunder Road” once, backing himself on the piano. And it’s neat to know that the performance took place in Minneapolis, at the University of Minnesota’s Northrop Auditorium on October 12, 2005. (No, I wasn’t there, but I sure wish I had been.)

Corrected and edited slightly after posting.

‘A Dreamclock Chiming . . .’

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

I spent a good portion of last weekend reading Stephen King’s newest novel, 11/22/63. It tells the tale of Jake Epping, a disaffected English teacher from Maine who is given a chance to go back in time and prevent the assassination of President John Kennedy.

I like time travel tales, and I like King, and, caught up in the story, I pushed onward late into the evening Sunday and then early into Monday morning, finally sitting at the dining room table, rereading the last five pages with my eyes more than a little misty. I’ve read almost everything King has ever published. The series about Roland the Gunslinger left me cold, and I’ve not read all of that, nor have I been able to read Duma Key on my first two tries. There may be a few more things I’ve missed, but I’ve read nearly all of King’s substantial output and enjoyed most of it. But 11/22/63 was the first time a Stephen King book made me cry.

Now, I’m a sentimental guy. Lots of stuff can make my eyes leak more than a little bit: songs, movies, novels, memories. But along with the damp eyes early Monday morning, I read the last pages of 11/22/63 shaking my head with some admiration. As the story came to its climax and made its way through its dénouement, I had been baffled how King was going to pull the story to an end that would be acceptable both to readers and to the demands of his tale. I saw several possibilities, some of which would be pleasant but not sufficient to the tale and others that would be good on a critical level but leave me – and most readers, I think – not only unsatisfied but dissatisfied.

I should point out that King’s time-travel mechanism – though it’s never fully explained – has a couple of useful conditions: First, the traveler from our time always emerges into the past at the same time on the same autumn day in 1958, and when he returns to the present, two minutes have gone by here, no matter how long he might have spent in the past. Second, the next time the traveler goes back and emerges in 1958, things are re-set; anything the traveler did in his previous jaunts is erased.

What that entry date means to Jake, of course, is that he’ll have to spend more than five years in the past to get from September 1958 to November 1963. And a man, even when he’s spending his time in an era not his own, lives a life. Things happen. Jake falls in love. And King’s book, as well as being a thriller about a man trying to erase one of the greatest crimes in American history, becomes a meditation on love and responsibility and on the question: Which matters more, individual happiness or the needs of society?

As I said, I was baffled how King was going to pull things together at the end to satisfy the reader and the needs of the story. Once I got there, I re-read the last few pages several times, partly to figure out how he did it but mostly to re-enjoy the great ending of one of his best books.

My favorite passage? It comes when Jake – as a schoolteacher in 1963 small-town Texas – is watching two of his students dance:

For a moment everything was clear, and when that happens you see that the world is barely there at all. Don’t we all secretly know this? It’s a perfectly balanced mechanism of shouts and echoes pretending to be wheels and cogs, a dreamclock chiming beneath a mystery-glass we call life. Behind it? Below it and around it? . . . A universe of horror and loss surrounding a single lighted stage where mortals dance in defiance of the dark.

Here’s Eric Bibb with “Dance Me To The End Of Love” – it’s a Bibb original, not the Leonard Cohen tune – from his 2004 album Friends.

Now that we’re here, let’s take our time.
No need to hurry anymore.
There’s no other place I’d rather be,
No other face I’d rather see than yours.
Hold me as only you can do
And dance me to the end of love.
Dance me to the end of love.

I’ll follow you when you want to lead.
You’ll follow me sometimes too.
There’s no other body I’d rather hold.
My heart, soul and body’s been waiting on you.
So hold me as only you can do,
And dance me to the end of love.
Dance me to the end of love.

Erroneous book title corrected after posting.

A Six-Pack of Sleep

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

For some reason, I woke up early this morning. Very early.

I usually sleep – with the help of my nightly Ambien – until the alarm rings, generally sometime around 6:30 or so. But this morning, I woke up before that. I rolled over and looked at the clock: 4:11. For a moment, I wondered what roused me, listened for the sounds of a cat in trouble or up to no good. Nothing. So I rolled over, rearranged my pillows and went back to sleep.

I woke up again. The clock read 4:39. One of the cats – Little Gus – was lying against my leg, but that shouldn’t have been enough to rouse me. I listened again and still heard no sounds of feline mischief. I tossed one of the covers to the side and rolled over the other way and closed my eyes again.

And I woke up once more, seemingly for no particular reason. I lay there for a few moments, annoyed, and then opened my eyes and checked the time: 5:11. Accepting the inevitable, I got up and started my day. Fortified by some coffee and whole-grain toaster pastries, I put together a lunch for the Texas Gal, checked some stuff online and realized that while my body was up and moving, my brain was still slumbering. So a more creative post will have to wait until Thursday. Instead, here is a selection of songs about sleep.

“I’m Only Sleeping” by the Beatles from Revolver [1966]

“She Never Sleeps Beside Me” by Zager & Evans from Zager & Evans [1970]

“Sleep Walk” by Leo Kottke from Guitar Music [1981]

“The Devil Never Sleeps” by Iron & Wine from The Shepherd’s Dog [2007]

“She Sleeps Alone” by Pat Shannon, Warner Bros. 7210 [1968]

“Two Sleepy People” by Crystal Gayle & Willie Nelson from Crystal Gayle Sings The Heart & Soul Of Hoagy Carmichael [2004]

I was hoping a Beatles song would show up this morning. Before I decided on the word “sleep” as my search word, I considered using “tired.” I know I’ve used it before, so I went the other direction. Had I gone with “tired,” though, I figure that “I’m So Tired” from the White Album would have had a good chance of popping up. And that would have worked. But “I’m Only Sleeping” from Revolver is just as good a track, and it’s presented in this video in beautiful mono.

The All-Music Guide review of Zager & Evans’ self-titled album – the duo’s follow-up to In the Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus) – is scathing: “This project gives record labels an excuse as to why important artists don’t get multiple album deals – there’s nothing remotely sounding like a hit, in fact, this is just a horrendous collection of bad songs by Rick Evans who takes all the blame for the words and music.” And that’s an accurate assessment. (And why I keep the album in the RealPlayer is a question I cannot answer.) As it happens, “She Never Sleeps Beside Me” is probably the best thing on the album, but still, click at your own risk.

“Sleep Walk” is Leo Kottke’s take on the tune that Santo & Johnny – a guitar duo from Brooklyn – took to No. 1 in 1959. It’s a tune that’s been covered over and over but with only two versions making the pop chart. In 1982, jazz guitarist Larry Carlton released a version of the tune that went to No. 74. Kottke’s version, from his 1981 album, Guitar Work, is just a little too somnolent for me. Of course, that could be just me, just this morning.

The group Iron & Wine is basically Sam Beam, who’s released a series of increasingly good albums since 2002. His first efforts were pretty quiet affairs, but The Shepherd Dog from 2007 is different. AMG notes that “Beam surrounds himself with a large cast of musicians, and they blanket the songs with a wide array of instrumentation, everything from accordions to Hammond organ, piano to backward guitars, vibraphone to bass harmonica.” “The Devil Never Sleeps” is one of the tracks that benefits the most from the new approach, with its barrelhouse piano and chugging rhythm.

I was pleased that Pat Shannon’s “She Sleeps Alone” popped up in my random exploration this morning. I’m not sure where I found the track, which seems to be the B-Side to his single “Candy Apple, Cotton Candy.” But it’s a nifty, if melancholy, slice of late 1960s pop. Shannon had released some singles in the late 1950s in what AMG calls “a country-pop” vein. Neither those singles nor “Candy Apple, Cotton Candy” hit the charts; a 1970 release titled “Back To Dreamin’ Again” got to No. 103.

With its clarity of tone and accuracy of pitch, Crystal Gayle’s voice is a wonder. A fixture on the country chart between 1970 and 1988 (a total of forty-five hits, eighteen of them reaching No. 1), Gayle grabbed my attention a few years ago when I heard her work with Tom Waits on the soundtrack to Francis Ford Coppola’s 1982 film, One From The Heart. One of her more recent efforts is the 2004 collection of Hoagy Carmichael tunes on which “Two Sleepy People” is found. It’s good stuff.