Archive for the ‘2005’ Category

‘And You Can Follow . . .’

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

As I was getting going this morning – putting together a lunch for the Texas Gal and getting the rinsed dishes from last evening into the dishwasher – I had my mp3 player pushing its tunes through the radio speakers. And as I focused on the mundane, there came from the speakers the unmistakable – to me, anyway – ringing of Richie Havens’ guitar and the introduction to “Follow,” my favorite recording of his.

The morning got brighter right away. And, with my tasks done, I leaned against the kitchen counter sipping the day’s first cup of coffee and listening. Now, I’ve written about Havens’ version of “Follow” at least twice before – once long ago and then during this last year when I included it in my Ultimate Jukebox. But I got to thinking about the song itself. And about other versions of the song.

(I consider Havens’ version to be the original version of the song, which was written by Jerry Merrick. Havens’ version was first on Mixed Bag, which was released in 1967, and Merrick’s version was first released on Follow in 1969. Which puts Merrick in the odd position of covering his own composition.)

Based on the tale Merrick tells in the single entry at his blog, Jerry Merrick, the entire process of recording his album for Mercury in 1968 was at best disappointing. He writes: “As so often was the case during that time period, the label, seeking to make an acoustic singer/writer fit into the then popular radio music format, released a heavily orchestrated album, which though quite nice in its musicality, proved to perhaps not be the most compatible vehicle for [my] intricate lyrics and intimate performances.”

Merrick repaired those flaws with the recording and the release in 2002 of Suddenly I’ll Know You, which includes “Follow” the way he originally envisioned it. I listened to a sample of Merrick’s new version of “Follow” this morning, and it sounded good; Merrick’s voice isn’t as robust as it was forty-some years ago, but that’s time for you. The album, for those interested, is available here.

So that’s two cover versions. Who else has taken on “Follow”? I turned to All-Music Guide, knowing that first, the listings there are not comprehensive, and second, there are errors: AMG lists groups called Chomsky and Android Lust as having covered Merrick’s song. Not so. Chomsky’s tune is a pleasant pop-folkish ballad, and Android Lusts’ “Follow” is also a different composition, an avalanche of sound in a style called “industrial dance.” There are probably other errors in the listings, but those popped out at me.

So who has covered Merrick’s tune in the last forty-some years? Here are some of the names I found: Chad Mitchell. Hedge & Donna. Jerry Jeff Walker. Mick Sterling. All That Remains. Evan Teatum. Susan Tedeschi.

 (According to AMG, All That Remains gives Merrick a co-writing credit on its 2002 CD Behind Silence and Solitude, but if there’s any of Merrick’s “Follow” inside All That Remains’ slashing metal attack, I can’t hear it.)

Some of those names shine brighter than others, of course, and a few of those versions are – to my ears, anyway – more worthy of a listen than others. Hedge & Donna Capers were a folk-rock duo that released five albums from 1968 through 1970. They’re still around – you can find them on Facebook – and several of their tracks are available at YouTube. Here’s their version of “Follow” from 1968’s Hedge & Donna:

One name that surprised me was that of Mick Sterling. He’s long been known in the Upper Midwest as the leader of the blues and R&B band Mick Sterling & The Stud Brothers. The band is no longer together – there are annual December reunions at a Minneapolis nightspot that are reported to be very well-attended – and Sterling is now pursuing a solo career. His version of “Follow” shows up on his 2007 CD Between Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. I grabbed the track at Amazon this morning, and I think I’m going to have to get the entire album. It’s good.

Another surprising name in the listings at AMG was that of country outlaw/individualist Jerry Jeff Walker. I’ve not listened to a lot of Walker’s stuff over the years; I don’t know if that’s going to change, but he did a pretty good job on “Follow.” It’s on his 1978 album, Jerry Jeff.

But the best cover I’ve heard of Merrick’s song – the best version outside of Richie Havens’ original – comes from a source that surprised me. I’ve listened to a fair amount of Susan Tedeschi’s music over the past decade, finding her pretty well settled into the blues, a place that I think was reinforced in my mind with her 2001 marriage to Derek Trucks, a member of the Allman Brothers Band and the leader at the time of his own Derek Trucks band (now the Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi Band).

But in 2005, Tedeschi released Hope and Desire, an effort on which, says AMG, she “digs deep into the soul and R&B fakebook for inspiration and comes out a winner.” Among the songs she tackles on that CD – and I agree with AMG’s assessment; it’s a great CD – is “Follow.” And to my ears, only Havens’ original version of the song is better than Tedeschi’s take on Jerry Merrick’s song.

“Follow” – Susan Tedeschi

Let the river rock you like a cradle.
Climb to the treetops, child, if you’re able.
Let your hands tie a knot across the table.
Come and touch the things you cannot feel,
And close your fingertips and fly where I can’t hold you.
Let the sun-rain fall and let the dewy clouds enfold you,
And maybe you can sing to me the words that I just told you,
If all the things you feel ain’t what they seem,
Then don’t mind me ’cause I ain’t nothin’ but a dream.

The mockingbird sings each different song.
Each song has wings. They won’t stay long.
Do those who hear think he’s doing wrong?
While the church-bell tolls its one-note song,
And the school-bell is tinkling to the throng,
Come here where your ears cannot hear,
And close your ears, child, and listen to what I’ll tell you:
Follow in the darkest night the sounds that may impel you,
And the song that I am singing may disturb or serve to quell you.
If all the sounds you hear ain’t what they seem,
Then don’t mind me ’cause I ain’t nothin’ but a dream.

The rising smell of fresh-cut grass,
Smothered cities choke and yell with fuming gas.
I hold some grapes up to the sun,
And their flavor breaks upon my tongue.
With eager tongues, we taste our strife
And fill our lungs with seas of life.
Come taste and smell the waters of our time,
And close your lips, child, so softly that I might kiss you.
Let your flower perfume out and let the winds caress you.
And as I walk on through the garden, I am hoping I don’t miss you.
If all the things you taste ain’t what they seem,
Then don’t mind me ’cause I ain’t nothin’ but a dream.

The sun and moon both arise,
And we’ll see them soon through days and nights;
But now silver leaves are mirrors, bring delights,
And the colors of your eyes are fiery bright.
While darkness blinds the skies with all its light,
Come see where your eyes cannot see,
And close your eyes, child, and look at what I’ll show you.
Let your mind go reeling out and let the breezes blow you,
And maybe when we meet, then suddenly I will know you.
If all the things you see ain’t quite what they seem,
Then don’t mind me ’cause I ain’t nothin’ but a dream.

And you can follow.
And you can follow.
Follow . . .

(Words and music by Jerry Merrick)

What’s Current On My Playlists?

Friday, July 30th, 2010

Back in the early 1990s, when I was writing for the newspaper in Eden Prairie – a good-sized suburb on the southwestern corner of Minnesota’s Twin Cities – I spent a great deal of time at Eden Prairie High School. The stories I found there ranged from the standard menu of sports, drama, music, the prom and more to stuff that only comes along when both the reporter and the sources – the school administration, faculty and the students – are generally comfortable with one another. I may write about some of those less-standard stories sometimes, but what I was going to mention today was that as I covered events and people at the high school, I became friends with a wide range of people – staff, faculty and students alike. And one of the students, a kid named Matt, learned of my interest in music and began to tip me off to new and cool things coming into the music store where he worked.

It was through Matt that I first learned of Hootie & the Blowfish’s Cracked Rear View, which isn’t in my playlists much anymore but remains a marker that tags some of the better years in my professional life.

Well, all that was fifteen years or more in the past, and Matt’s not a kid anymore, of course. I ran into him on Facebook a little while ago – a husband and father now in his mid-thirties – and sent him a birthday greeting, mentioning Hootie and asking who he was listening to these days. He said Jack Johnson, Luka Bloom and Nickel Creek. And he asked what I was listening to. I had to think for a second. What – beyond the music of my youth and the following years – do I listen to now? What’s current in my collection?

The first name that came to mind was that of Georgia-born Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings. Recording on the Brooklyn-based Daptone label, Jones puts out current records that sound like they’ve been waiting since 1968 to be discovered. She and the Dap-Kings – one of the tightest backing groups around – have released four albums in the past few years, the most recent being I Learned the Hard Way, which came out earlier this year. And there have been a few other bits and pieces here and there, one of which I found when I did a little bit of digging at YouTube. Here’s a scorching cover from 2005 of the First Edition’s No. 5 hit from 1968, “Just Dropped In To See What Condition My Condition Was In.”

Also current on my playlist is the music from Grace Potter and The Nocturnals, a Vermont-based band that performs well-written and well-played rock, much of it built on the foundation of Potters’ work on the Hammond B-3 (as well as her alternately supple and powerful vocals). The group put out self-released albums in 2004 and 2005 before signing with Hollywood Records; since then, This Is Somewhere came out in 2007 and Grace Potter & The Nocturnals was released earlier this year. Here’s the band’s take on the classic “Mystery Train” from 2006 at The 8X10 in Baltimore, Maryland.

As to other new stuff, I’ve listened very recently to bits of Tom Petty’s new release, Mojo, and I’ve dug a little bit into Cyndi Lauper’s very new exploration of the blues, Memphis Blues (it’s not bad at all). I’m waiting for new work from the Dukhs, from the Wailin’ Jennys and from Ollabelle. And I’m still winding my way through the catalog of a group I found utterly by accident as I got lost clicking around on YouTube one day. I found myself watching and listening to a large choir of young women performing the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

Intrigued, I dug a little further, and I learned that the choir – Scala & Kolacny Brothers – is a Belgium-based organization, a girls choir conducted by Stijn Kolacny with the music arranged by Steven Kolacny, who provides piano accompaniment. The choir mostly performs covers of well-known songs; Wikipedia mentions groups like Radiohead, U2, Nirvana, Depeche Mode and more as the sources for the group’s repertoire.

I began clicking and wound up watching a video for the group’s performance of “Respire,” the title of the group’s third album, released in 2004. There have been six more releases since then, including this year’s Circle. I’ve listened to a few of them, but I always keep coming back to “Respire.”

(If you’re interested, here’s a link to a subtitled video of the original version of “Respire,” performed by French group Mickey 3D.)