Archive for the ‘2007’ Category

Six At Random

Friday, June 5th, 2015

I’m gonna fire up the iPod and let it do the work this morning. Many of the 2,000 or so tunes in the device are familiar, but sometimes the familiar tends to get ignored around here. So off we go:

First up is “Be Easy” by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, a 2007 joint that, like most of Jones’ catalog, sounds as if it could have come out of Memphis forty years earlier. The track comes from 100 Days, 100 Nights, Jones’ third release and the first one I ever heard. Six of her albums with the Dap-Kings are on the shelves here along with a couple of one-off recordings. One of those one-offs, a cover of the First Edition’s 1967 hit, “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In),” caught the ear of my pal Schultz when he was here a few weeks ago, and he spent a few moments jotting down the titles of Jones’ CDs for future reference.

Then we jump back in time to 1971, when Ten Years After’s “I’d Love To Change The World” went to No. 40. When this one popped up on the car radio a couple of years ago, I wrote, “I was once again bemused by the ‘Tax the rich, feed the poor, until there are no rich no more’ couplet. I also considered – not for the first time – about how unacceptable the reference to ‘dykes and fairies’ would be today. Social change happens glacially, but it does happen.” Even with those considerations, it’s still a pretty good record.

And we do get some Memphis R&B: “If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me)” by the Staple Singers from 1973. The slightly funky and sometimes propulsive record went to No. 9, one of three Top Ten hits for the singers, and it spent three weeks at No. 1 on the R&B chart. I didn’t really get the Staple Singers back then – too much other stuff crowding my ears, I guess – but they’re well-represented these days on both the vinyl and digital files, and “If You’re Ready” is one of my favorite tracks of theirs.

From there, we head into the mid-1990s and find a cover of Billie Holliday’s version of “I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance (With You)” as performed by the late Etta James. The track comes from James’ 1994 album Mystery Lady – Songs of Billie Holiday. I can’t find any fault with the song selection, with the classic pop arrangements on the album, or with James’ performances, but there’s something about the entire project that leaves me a little cold. It’s a little odd: It’s like the parts are all fine but just don’t fit together. “I Don’t Stand . . .” is probably the best track on the album, and it’s nice and all, but ultimately kind of empty. That one may not stay on the iPod too much longer.

Somewhere along the line, I came across a huge pile of work by the late Lee Hazlewood, ranging from the early 1960s all the way to 2006, a year before his death. One of the more idiosyncratic folks in the pop music world, Hazlewood kind of fascinates me. And this morning, we get Hazlewood and Ann-Margret gender-flipping and covering Waylon Jennings’ No. 2 country hit from 1968 with “Only Mama That’ll Walk The Line” from the 1969 album The Cowboy & The Lady. Despite my affection for Hazlewood’s work, the limp performance by Ann-Margret means that this is another track that’s likely not going to remain long in the iPod. Linda Ronstadt’s superior version from the same year is already in the device, and that one should be the only one I need.

And we close with one of my favorite melancholy tracks, “Scudder’s Lane,” by the New Jersey band From Good Homes. Found on the group’s 1993 album, Hick-Pop Comin’ At Ya!, the song tells a tale familiar and yet unique. I’ve posted the lyrics here before, but they’re worth another look:

Scudder’s Lane

me and lisa used to run thru the night
thru the fields off scudder’s lane
we’d lay down and look up at the sky
and feel the breeze, thru the trees
and I’d often wonder
how long would it take
to ride or fly to the dipper in the sky

as I drove back into hainesville
I was thinking of the days
when my dreams went on forever
as I ran thru the fields off scudder’s lane

I stayed with my love lisa
thru the darkness of her days
she walked into the face of horror
and I followed in her wake
and I often wonder
how much does it take
’til you’ve given all the love
That’s in your heart
and there’s nothing in its place

as I drove back into hainesville
I was thinking of the days
when my dreams went on forever
as I ran thru the fields off scudder’s lane

i’m afraid of the momentum
that can take you to the edge of a cliff
where you look out and see nothing
and you ask
it that all there is

still I drove back out of hainesville
and I asked myself again will there ever come a day
when you drive back home to stay
could you ever settle down and be a happy man
in one of the houses that they’re building thru the fields
off scudder’s lane

‘Living On Free Food Tickets . . .’

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

We mentioned briefly last week the minor hit the Winstons had in the fall of 1969 when “Love Of The Common People” went to No. 54 in the Billboard Hot 100 (and to No. 19 on the Easy Listening chart). By then, the song had been around for couple of years. In the autumn of 1967, versions by Wayne Newton (No. 106) and the Everly Brothers (No. 114) had bubbled under the Hot 100.

I’ve never been much of a Newton fan, so his version doesn’t move me much. Nor does the Everlys’ take on the tune grab me. So I dug a little deeper and found the original version of the tune, recorded in October 1966 and released in January 1967 by the Four Preps. That one was okay, and I liked the delivery of lead singer David Somerville (one-time lead singer for the Diamonds). But I kept digging anyway, and I found a countryish version from 1970 by John Hurley, one of the song’s two writers.

That was okay, too, but I’m still liking the Winstons’ version most, and I wonder if that’s because of my vague memories of hearing it in 1969. I’m not sure where that would have been; neither the Twin Cities surveys at Oldiesloon nor the collection of surveys at Airheads Radio Survey Archive show the record on a KDWB survey (and the same is true for the Twin Cities’ WDGY, which I could not get in St. Cloud). Neither of those collections is complete, of course, and it’s quite possible that the record showed up for just one or two weeks on KDWB and I heard it once or twice.

Anyway, beside the Winstons’ take on the song, what versions move me? There are plenty to choose from, based on the list at Second Hand Songs. I liked the 1967 cover from Waylon Jennings, but was even more impressed by the version that Jim Ed Brown released the same year. And there are plenty of covers listed at Second Hand Songs that I didn’t check out. Some of the familiar names there were Sandy Posey, Lynn Anderson, the Gosdin Brothers, John Denver, Wanda Jackson, B.J. Thomas, and Paul Young, whose 1984 take on the tune went to No. 45 on the Hot 100.

But I suppose I should close with the version of the song that reminded me the other week of the Winstons’ charting version. Here’s Bruce Springsteen and the Seeger Sessions Band from the 2007 release Live In Dublin:

The Tales Of Pekkala

Friday, February 6th, 2015

Some folks binge-watch TV shows. I binge-read books.

Much of the last two weeks has seen me making my way through the Inspector Pekkala mystery/suspense novels by Sam Eastland (the pen name of Paul Watkins for the series). Set in the Stalinist Soviet Union, the five novels in the series chronicle the life and work of Pekkala – his first name is never mentioned – as chief investigator for Tsar Nicholas II, the last tsar of Russia, and later for Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

The first novel – Eye Of The Red Tsar – sets the back story: Born in the later years of the Nineteenth Century, Pekkala is Finnish at a time when Finland was part of the Russian Empire. Sent to join an elite military regiment in St. Petersburg, his intelligence and memory catch the attention of the tsar, and after training in police work and espionage, he becomes the tsar’s secret investigator. After the Soviet revolution of 1917, Pekkala is sentenced to thirty years in a Siberian labor camp, but Stalin – whom Pekkala had met during the revolution – brings the Finn to Moscow and asks him to serve the Soviet state as an investigator whose role is limited only by what Stalin needs investigated and accomplished.

One of the quibbles I sometimes have with historical fiction is the way fictional characters meet historical figures; it often seems forced and implausible. I think of how Herman Wouk’s fictional naval officer Pug Henry met nearly every famous personage of the World War II era in The Winds Of War and War And Remembrance. Even as I enjoyed Wouk’s massive works, it sometimes felt like Wouk was moving Pug Henry around like a chess piece; Henry’s meetings with Hitler and Stalin and others often felt forced.

That’s not a problem with Inspector Pekkala. The first meeting with Tsar Nicholas II flows naturally from the story, and Pekkala’s meeting Stalin – during a post-revolutionary interrogation – also seems like a natural outcome of Pekkala’s post and personality combined with the chaos of post-revolutionary Russia and the omnipresent surveillance and brutality of the nascent Soviet regime. That’s a fine line to find as a writer – realistically bringing historical figures into a work of fiction – and Eastland does it well.

Another difficult task that Eastland accomplishes is making Inspector Pekkala a sympathetic, even admirable character, even though his work is done in the service of the Russian Empire – with those tales shown mostly in flashbacks – and the Soviet Union, two of the least humane governments in modern history. But Pekkala’s innate integrity – reinforced by memories of his undertaker father – equips him to deal with the tsar of a threatened Russian Empire, and the later lessons of surviving the Gulag further equip Pekkala to deal with the paranoid and brutal Stalin. As unlikely as that all seems, Eastland makes it work.

Although the books do detail some of the work Pekkala did for the tsar, the focus of the books is on his work as Stalin’s investigator. The stoic Finn is, of course, up to nearly every task that Stalin lays on him, from investigating the murders of Tsar Nicholas and his family to trying to protect the famed Amber Room during the Nazi invasion in World War II. And the history into which Eastland inserts Pekkala seems accurate (as displayed in the appendices Eastland occasionally provides).

Eastland also manages to avoid one of the traps that threaten authors of historical fiction: All too often, historical figures come off as props to move the story forward instead of as characters in their own rights. That’s not the case in the Pekkala novels.

Tsar Nicholas comes across as an uncertain man, presented at times as an almost reluctant dictator and at other times as blinded by greed; Eastland’s Stalin is less conflicted, clearly the brute that history has judged him, and yet, Eastland manages to make the Soviet dictator human. In the fifth volume, The Beast In The Red Forest, Stalin is listening via radio as Pekkala, his assistant Kirov and Kirov’s fiancée eat dinner:

He opened a drawer in his desk, removed a can of sardines in tomato sauce and peeled back the top with a small key . . . But before he began his meal, Stalin lifted the headset, with which he had been listening to the conversation in Pekkala’s office . . . Now, as Stalin heard the sound of cutlery on plates, he slipped one of the greasy, headless sardines into his mouth. While he chewed, he felt the soft bones crush between his teeth. Pausing to lick the tiny, glistening fish scales from his fingertips, Stalin imagined he was there among them in that cosy little room, sharing the warmth and the laughter.

A writer who can make Josef Stalin a sympathetic character, even if only for an instant, knows what he is doing.

The mystery/suspense genre is one of my favorites; I appreciate a well-crafted tale in nearly any genre; and, of course, all things Russian fascinate me, which makes Eastland’s series a perfect fit in these parts. The sixth novel in the series, Red Icon, is set to be released in April, and when its title shows up among the upcoming acquisitions at my local library, my name will be one of the first on its waiting list.

And just to end things with music, here’s the Russian folk song, “Ah, The Steppe So Wide,” as performed by the Sretensky Monastery Choir of Moscow for its 2007 album Favorite Russian Songs:

Here is Eastland’s website for the Inspector Pekkala novels.

Out From The Sun, Part 2

Friday, June 6th, 2014

Having safely crossed the Asteroid Belt beyond Mars, we continue our trek outward from the Sun and approach Jupiter, the largest of the planets. Fittingly, our tune here is one that is related to spaceflight: A search for information about the 1958 instrumental “Jupiter-C” by Pat & The Satellites brings us, among others, a link to Wikipedia, where we learn that Jupiter-C was an American rocket used to test re-entry nosecones during three sub-orbital spaceflights in 1956 and 1957. The rocket, Wikipedia says, was one of those designed by the U.S. Army under the direction of Wernher Von Braun (whom I once met). The record spent four weeks in the Billboard Hot 100 and peaked at No. 81, and as I check that out in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, I learn that the studio musicians who recorded “Jupiter-C” included the great King Curtis, whose sax is front and center for much of the record.

From Jupiter, we head on toward the beautiful rings of Saturn, and our tune is a Stevie Wonder track titled “Saturn” and found on Wonder’s 1976 album Songs In The Key Of Life. The track was never used as even the B-side of a single, but the album was No. 1 for fourteen weeks, beginning in the middle of October 1976. And even though it’s an album that I heard frequently if not constantly in the spring of 1977 as I hung out with friends from the St. Cloud State student newspaper, I’m sad to say don’t recall “Saturn” and its message:

There’s no principles in what you say
No direction in the things you do
For your world is soon to come to a close
Through the ages all great men have taught
Truth and happiness just can’t be bought – or sold
Tell me why are you people so cold?


We’ll hang around
Saturn for a while yet and make a stop at Titan, the largest of Saturn’s many, many moons. And as we gaze at – as Wikipedia says – “the only object other than Earth for which clear evidence of stable bodies of surface liquid has been found,” we listen to “Sirens of Titan” by Al Stewart, a track from his 1975 album Modern Times. The album sold decently, reaching No. 30 on the Billboard 200, but that pales, of course, compared to the reception received by Stewart’s next two albums, Year Of The Cat and Time Passages, which went to No. 5 and No. 10, respectively. Sonically, Modern Times is similar to the next two albums – all three were produced by Alan Parsons – but it sounds to me just a shade thinner than Cat and Passages. Stewart’s voice is, of course, unmistakable.

And we find ourselves approaching Uranus, the planet whose name is the source of thousands of schoolboy giggles, some of which have found themselves attached to some sophomoric song titles. But we don’t need to go there. Digging through the mp3 files and related tunes this morning, we find “Uranus” by the Brunning/Hall Sunflower Blues Band. According to All Music Guide, Bob Brunning was the bassist for the band that became Fleetwood Mac, but was let go by Peter Green once John McVie had left John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers to join Green’s band. Brunning went on to teach and continue recording part-time, and he and pianist Bob Hall formed the Sunflower Blues Band. In 1969, the band, with some participation from Green, recorded the album Trackside Blues, which included the track “Uranus.” It’s a decent blues track, but its primary appeal this morning is its title.

Heading on, we stay in the realm of the gas giants and find ourselves at Neptune, with the music provided by Nicole Atkins, herself a native of Neptune, albeit the city in New Jersey instead of the distant planet. “Neptune City” was the title track to her 2007 solo debut album. As I wrote in 2010, the album is “lushly produced pop with some tricks and warbles that made it clear how much Atkins listened to – among other things – the Brill Building sounds of the early 1960s.” And it’s an album that I like very much, one that stays pretty close to the CD player that I use for late-night listening.

Pluto is either a planet or a dwarf planet, depending on which cadre of astronomers you talk to, but all I know is that it’s out there and we need to stop by on our way toward the edge of the Solar System. Music was hard to come by here, and we had to dig deep into the digital shelves before finding a song that originally came from a Dutch pop duo called Het Goede Doel. In 1982, the duo’s single “België (Is er leven op Pluto?)” – which translates to “Belgium (Is There Life On Pluto?)” – went to No. 4 in the Netherlands. According to Wikipedia, the duo also recorded a version of the song in English. I didn’t look for that, though, because I have a cover of the tune in its original Dutch by Scala & Kolacny Brothers, the Belgian girls choir that has popped up here at least once before. From a bonus disc included with the 2010 album Circle, here’s “België (Is er leven op Pluto?)”

‘Another Man Done Gone . . .’

Thursday, May 29th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Bunch Of ‘Sorry’ Songs

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

The Texas Gal and I have a friend who’s been looking for a used printer, and I told that friend Sunday that I’d send her the phone number and email address of Dale the Computer Guy down on Wilson Avenue.

I forgot.

I sent the info yesterday in an apologetic email, and this morning, I got back a kind email saying my delay was not a problem. But it got me to wondering how many recordings among the 75,000 currently logged into the RealPlayer have the word “sorry” in their titles.

I was surprised. There are only thirty-eight such recordings (and one album: the Gin Blossoms’ 1996 effort Congratulations I’m Sorry). Those recordings span the years, however, starting with the 1935 single “Who’s Sorry Now” by Milton Brown & His Musical Brownies and ending with a 2013 version of the same song recorded by Karen Elson for the HBO show Boardwalk Empire.

Here’s the western swing version from Milton Brown & His Musical Brownies:

It’s worth noting that “Who’s Sorry Now” seems to be a pretty sturdy song. Written by Ted Snyder, Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, it was first recorded in 1923 by a number of folks including Isham Jones (whom we met here last autumn when we were listening to versions of “I’ll See You In My Dreams”), and according to the information at SecondHand Songs, it’s been recorded several times in every decade since then except the 1930s (and I’ll bet there are recordings from that decade that have not yet been listed at the website). The most recent version noted there before Elson’s 1920s-styled take on the tune is one from Mary Byrne, a 2010 contestant in the United Kingdom’s version of the singing contest, The X Factor.

But what else did we find when searching for “sorry”? Well, the second-oldest recording stashed here in the EITW studios with “sorry” in its title is from 1951, when Johnny Bond saw his “Sick, Sober & Sorry” go to No. 7 on the Billboard country chart. And the second most-recent is from quirky singer-songwriter Feist, whose “I’m Sorry” was released on her 2007 album, The Reminder.

Looking chronologically, and picking one track from each decade from the 1950s on, we find some gems: “I’m Sorry” by the Platters went to No. 11 on the Billboard jukebox chart and to No. 15 on the R&B chart in 1957. (And yes, we doubled up on the 1950s, considering we’d hit the Johnny Bond record, but it’s worth it for the Platters.) From 1962, we find “Someday After Awhile (You’ll Be Sorry)” by bluesman Freddy King (a departure from his normal “Freddie” spelling).

In the 1970s, we find the funky “Both Sorry Over Nothin’” from Tower of Power’s 1973 self-titled album. The pickings in the files from the 1980s are pretty slender, so we’ll skip over one track each by the Moody Blues and the Hothouse Flowers and head to the 1990s. And that’s where we find the atmospheric “Not Sorry” by the Cranberries from their 1993 album, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?

And we have one more stop with “sorry,” heading back to 1968 and the regrets expressed by the HAL 9000 computer in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Saturday Single No. 389

Saturday, April 19th, 2014

We’ll be brief here this morning, as the Texas Gal and I have a number of errands to run today and not much energy to do so, as we’ve both been a running at a little bit less than 100 percent the past few days.

I was going to use the cherished cliché “under the weather,” but I realized that our weather’s been far too odd in the past week to merit any kind of comparison. The winter storm that came through this week – running from Wednesday afternoon into early Thursday morning – dropped about ten inches of snow here. I’d heard that it would deliver four to five inches, and Wednesday morning, I looked at the two cars and decided that clearing five inches of snow from them the following morning would be do-able. Thus, I did not put them in the garage.

That was a bad call: Not only did I have to clean nearly a foot off the Versa, but having the two cars parked in the driveway blocked the upper portion of the driveway from Steve the Snowplow Man. And the ten inches there became my responsibility. After Steve came through, I moved the Versa to the turnaround Steve plows adjacent to the driveway, shoveled a path from the house to that turnaround, and left the upper driveway – and our little-used Cavalier – to the ministrations of the sun. And this morning, nearly all the snow is gone.

Nevertheless, we’re both stretched a bit thin today, and we do have things to do, so I’m going to quit carping about the weather and get to music for a brief bit.

I’ve been spending quite a bit of time in the past few weeks absorbing the CD/DVD package titled Love For Levon, documenting the October 3, 2012, concert in East Rutherford, New Jersey, designed as both a tribute to the late Levon Helm of The Band and a fund-raiser to ensure that the storied Midnight Rambles – intimate musical gatherings at Helm’s property in Woodstock, New York – can continue.

The list of performers who showed up – and whose performances are documented on the two CDs and two DVDs in the package – is impressive: Helm’s daughter Amy and the rest of the band that backed her father in the last years of his life, supplemented by a cluster of musicians that included producer/bassist Don Was, all backing performances by, among others, Gregg Allman, Warren Hayes, Jorma Kaukonen, Mavis Staples, Allen Toussaint, Bruce Hornsby, Jakob Dylan, John Hiatt, John Prine, David Bromberg, Grace Potter, Joe Walsh, Roger Waters, the band My Morning Jacket, and Helm’s long-time Band-mate Garth Hudson. It was a great show.

Also on the program was Marc Cohn. Most of the tunes performed during the show were from Levon Helm’s catalog of songs by The Band or that he’d performed or recorded during his solo career. Cohn’s contribution was different. He offered a song he’d recorded for his 2007 album Join The Parade, a song titled “Listening To Levon.” Although I was unaware of the tune until the Love For Levon package came my way, I’ve listened to it – both the live version from the show and the studio version from 2007 – numerous times since. And I think it’s both a remarkable performance and a remarkable piece of songwriting.

So here’s the 2007 studio version of Marc Cohn’s “Listening To Levon,” and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘If Someone Comes Along . . .’

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

I dug around last week into the origins of “Get It While You Can,” noting that it was written by Jerry Ragovoy and Mort Shuman and originally recorded by soul singer Howard Tate. My familiarity with the song, I noted, came from Janis Joplin’s cover on her posthumous 1971 album, Pearl.

I’ve continued to dig, looking for more covers. There are a few out there, but there are also a few other songs with the title “Get It While You Can,” and that complicates things. A jazz guitarist named Norman Johnson did a sweet version of a song with the same title, a track that I liked a great deal, but it wasn’t the same song, so I noted his name for later and moved on.

I did eventually find some more covers of the Ragovoy-Shuman song – not as many as I thought I would – and I thought a few of them were pretty good. Sadly, the one additional cover that was already on the digital shelves here in the EITW studios is not one of those: Koko Taylor covered the song for the 1990 tribute Blues Down Deep: Songs of Janis Joplin, but I’ve never cared for the track, even though I’ve enjoyed much of Taylor’s work over the years.

One version that did work was by the Hudson River Rats, which offered the song as the title track of a 2007 album. The band is led by singer and harp player Rob Paparozzi and includes well-known drummer Bernard Purdie.

I also came across covers – or portions of them at Amazon – by performers that perhaps I should know, among them Big Joe Fitz, Carolynn Black, B.J. Allen & Blue Voodoo, and Peter Malick & Amyl Justin. There was also female impersonator Paul Capsis, who channels Janis pretty well, if that’s your thing.

Then I found Zoe Muth & The High Lost Rollers, a country band from Seattle that recorded “Get It While You Can” for its 2012 EP, Old Gold. On the band’s website, Muth notes that she gets asked all the time how a kid growing up in Seattle in the 1980s ends up playing country music.

She writes: “Growing up we were raised on the classic rock and roll, the Beatles, Buddy Holly, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan . . . . I didn’t learn about the really old stuff until high school when my fascination with the labor movement and the histories that never got brought up in textbooks led me to seek out the roots of all that music. The field recordings of Alan Lomax and Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music had just been rereleased and I devoured it all. . . . I traveled in my mind down the roads of Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, and the Carter Family, weaving elements of history and traditional country and blues into my music and lyrics.”

Muth adds, “Somehow, the country sound just lends itself to the way I feel, and the stories I want to tell. Tired workers and lovelorn losers with a folk intellect, not the jet set but the old Chevrolet set.”

Here’s Muth and the High Lost Rollers covering “Get It While You Can.”

‘Crickets Are Chirpin’ . . .’

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

Today is one of those days. All I can do is supply a pretty good preview of what we’ll run into when we sort out “Black,” the eight portion of Floyd’s Prism. I’m hoping we’ll get to the full post tomorrow. In the meantime, here’s Mark Lanegan with his cover of Bob Dylan’s “Man in the Long Black Coat” from the soundtrack of the 2007 film, I’m Not There.

‘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.