Archive for the ‘2011’ Category

Saturday Single No. 407

Saturday, August 16th, 2014

There’s been kind of a slow-motion Levon Helm festival going on here for the past few months. A while back, I picked up a CD/DVD combination pack titled Love for Levon: A Benefit to Save the Barn, documenting an October 2012 concert aimed at raising funds to preserve the Woodstock recording studio and performance venue of the late musician, who passed on earlier that year.

The line-up for the show was pretty impressive. Along with the Levon Helm band, which counts as one of its members Levon’s daughter, Amy Helm, those who performed included Roger Waters, Mavis Staples, Garth Hudson, Marc Cohn, Gregg Allman, John Mayer, Ray LaMontagne, Dierks Bentley, John Hiatt, Jakob Dylan, Jorma Kaukonen, Grace Potter and quite a few more.

It took me a couple days to get through the concert, as I generally do my DVD watching for an hour or so late in the evening after the Texas Gal has retired for the night. And of course, tracks from the CDs of the show occasionally popped up randomly before, during and since the time I finished the film. My favorite performances? Three of them stand out: Marc Cohn’s “Listening to Levon,” which comes from his 2007 album Join The Parade; Mavis Staples’ take on “Move Along Train,” a 1966 Staple Singers’ track covered by Levon on his final album, 2009’s Electric Dirt; and Grace Potter’s rendition of “I Shall Be Released,” which The Band recorded for its 1968 debut, Music From Big Pink.

Another DVD I’ve been taking in even more slowly is the 2011 release titled Ramble At The Ryman, chronicling a 2008 performance by Levon and his band – with a few guests – at the famed Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee, the one-time home of the Grand Old Opry. As does Love For Levon, the Ramble At The Ryman draws significantly on the catalog of The Band as well as wide swaths of American folk and country music. I’m not sure why I’m going more slowly on viewing Ramble At The Ryman; perhaps it’s because I had the CD of the performance long before I got the DVD, and there are no real surprises. (Conversely, I got Love For Levon as a CD/DVD package, so most performances on the DVD were new as I watched.)

But there was a third portion to the Levonfest this week. Digging in the catalog of the local Great River Regional Library, I found the DVD Ain’t In It For My Health, a film by Jacob Hatley that shows Levon at home in Woodstock and on the road in early 2008 as Levon is recording Electric Dirt. During the film’s shooting, Levon learns that The Band will be given a Lifetime Achievement Grammy and that his 2007 album Dirt Farmer was nominated for (and won) a Grammy for best traditional folk album. He dismisses the lifetime achievement award as – I think I have the quote correct – “something for the folks in the suits,” but he’s clearly delighted near the end of the film to hear the news about the Grammy for Dirt Farmer.

Beyond those bits, two portions of Ain’t In It For My Health stick with me: There is a sequence showing Levon with some of his farming neighbors, and at one point, Levon drives one of their tractors around a field with a huge grin on his face. And several times during the shooting, we see Levon and Larry Campbell of the Levon Helm Band working on an unfinished Hank Williams song called “You’ll Never Again Be Mine.”

The unfinished lyrics were among those found by a janitor for Sony/ATV Music Publishing in 2006. After some legal wrangling, Sony sent the lyrics to Bob Dylan, asking him to complete the songs. Levon was one of those invited to take part in the project, along with Alan Jackson, Norah Jones, Vince Gill, Rodney Crowell and others. Ain’t In It For My Health shows several brief scenes of Levon and Campbell crafting a melody and filling in lyrics for the song’s bridge.

And in the last portions of the film, we see other members of Levon’s band laying down their parts for the track. Near the end of the film, Levon, with his voice diminished by age and ravaged by illness but still vital, adds the lead vocal.

Here’s how “You’ll Never Again Be Mine” turned out on the 2011 album The Lost Notebooks Of Hank Williams. It’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘Gotta Get Down On Friday . . .’

Friday, August 15th, 2014

Somehow here at the EITW studios, we have lapsed recently into a Wednesday/Friday/Saturday schedule instead of the preferred Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday package. And then a Friday like today makes its entrance, one of those days when I stumble to the kitchen at my normal hour of 7 a.m., feed the cats and then decide that more rest is necessary for the back muscles I evidently strained yesterday climbing up and down the kitchen stepstool and dusting shelves.

So I went back upstairs, told the Texas Gal as she rose that she would have to get by without me, and I went back to sleep. I did not think to tell her that the cats had been fed. She told me a few moments ago that as she collected their bowls and opened a can of “Cod, Sole & Shrimp Feast,” they gathered at her feet and, like hobbits, happily accepted second breakfast.

Obviously, I did not stay in bed all day. I have some things to do, but I shall do them slowly. Before I get to those things, though, I wanted to put something here, so I dug into my small assortment of Friday songs. And I came across something I found at YouTube three years ago, when Rebecca Black’s video of her recording “Friday” went viral and was vilified as perhaps the worst pop song ever. (It was bad, but “worst ever” is a difficult hurdle to slide under. I suppose we could begin taking nominations . . .)

Shortly after Black’s video went viral, a YouTube user named HeyMikeBauer uploaded a performance of the song and said in his notes, “The source of Rebecca Black’s hit single ‘Friday’ is revealed in this lost recording from Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes.”

So here’s Bob Dylan’s “Friday” (put together, obviously, by someone with a great sense of humor, a good deal of affection for Bob Dylan and a great Dylan imitation). Do yourself a favor: Click through to YouTube and read the comments; some folks get the joke (and expand on it), others don’t get it at all.

The Music Of Pa’s Fiddle

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013

Like many Baby Boomers (and many folks in generations to follow, certainly), I have an affinity for the “Little House” series of books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder about her childhood in the American Midwest during the years from about 1870 into the late 1880s. Starting when I was about six, I read Wilder’s first eight books, from the first book in the series, Little House in the Big Woods, through the eighth, These Happy Golden Years. (Those eight volumes included, of course, Farmer Boy, chronicling the childhood of Almanzo Wilder, Laura’s husband-to-be, in upstate New York.) There are several volumes of Wilder’s writing that were published after her death in 1957, including The First Four Years, which deals with the first years of her marriage to Almanzo, but for some reason I have never read any of those.*

Over the years, I’ve visited numerous locales where the Ingalls family lived during Laura’s childhood, from the replica cabin north of Pepin, Wisconsin, that marks Laura’s birthplace to De Smet, South Dakota, the little town on the prairie where she came to adulthood and where her parents and sisters are buried. My travelings include Walnut Grove, Minnesota, where the 1974-1982 television series, Little House on the Prairie, was set.

Many visitors to Walnut Grove and its Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum are no doubt confounded when they learn a couple of things: First, that the real little house on the prairie was a couple of states south in what is now Kansas and was Indian Territory when the Ingallses lived there (and were, I believe, ejected by the federal government), and second, that a good portion of the Ingalls family’s time near Walnut Grove was spent living in a dugout home, basically a hole in the bank of Plum Creek some miles from the town. The dugout home collapsed long ago, but one can still see the depression its collapse created along the bank of the creek (and visitors can also see the marked burial place of Jack the bulldog).

So how did I come to think about Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family’s wanderings today? Well, at the public library yesterday, I was idly flipping through the folk CDs when I came across one titled Pa’s Fiddle. Produced by an organization called the Pa’s Fiddle Project, the 2011 CD is the third in a planned series of ten CDs based on music mentioned in the “Little House” series of books. Charles Ingalls, Laura’s father, was a fiddler, and his fiddle playing often marks important milestones and major events in Wilder’s tales. All of the fifteen songs on Pa’s Fiddle (one of them presented in three variations) are songs that Wilder mentioned her father playing at some point during the series of books.

And the notes that accompany the CD detail the history of the songs and indicate in which chapter Wilder mentioned each song. From a first listen, one of the tunes most affecting to me is “Golden Years Are Passing By.” The notes say:

“This lovely song was copyrighted in 1879 by Will Lamartine Thompson (1847-1909). In the ‘Perry School’ chapter of These Happy Golden Years – which title is taken from a line in the song! – we find Laura and her sisters growing up, and, indeed, Laura will marry towards the end of the book. ‘The dusk was deepening. The land flattened to blackness and in the clear air above it the large stars hung low, while the fiddle sang a wandering song of its own.’ Pa then offered up the tune to this song on the fiddle, and ‘Laura’s heart ached as the music floated away and was gone in the spring night under the stars’.”

Here’s “Golden Years Are Passing By” as performed by the Pa’s Fiddle Band:

(Members of the Pa’s Fiddle Band are Shad Cobb, banjo and fiddle; Matt Combs, fiddle; Dennis Crouch, bass; Matt Flinner, mandolin; Buddy Greene, harmonica; Bryan Sutton, guitar; and Jeff Taylor, accordion, pennywhistle and piano.)

As to Pa’s fiddle itself, it resides in a display case at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum near Mansfield, Missouri. As several videos easily found on YouTube indicate, Charles Ingalls’ fiddle is taken out of its display case once a year and played during a festival at the museum. Beyond that, the notes to Pa’s Fiddle tell us:

“Ingalls’ instrument was likely made by Friedrich August Glass of Klingenthal, Germany, the ‘Amati’ label pasted inside the instrument’s body notwithstanding. . . . His daughter recorded that ‘Pa played by ear and a tune once heard he could play and never forget.’ He appears to have been voracious in consuming new music and eclectic in his tastes, for he knew a bounty of songs and tunes from across a broad range of 19th-century American vernacular music. From the evidence pieced together, his music and his playing most resemble, both in repertory and approach, the group of old-time fiddlers that made legendary recordings in the 1920s and the 1930s.”

The ultimate aim of the Pa’s Fiddle Project is to release on CD current recordings of all one-hundred and twenty-seven songs that Wilder mentions in her books. Pa’s Fiddle and the two CDs that preceded it – titled Happy Land: Musical Tributes to Laura Ingalls Wilder and The Arkansas Traveler: Music from Little House on the Prairie – are available through the Pa’s Fiddle Project at www.laura-ingalls-wilder.com. The project has also published two books of sheet music – The Happy Land Companion: Music from the World of Laura Ingalls Wilder and The Ingalls Wilder Family Songbook – but the first is out of stock and the second is evidently out of print and rare enough to command prices north of two hundred dollars.

* I suppose I should note that through the years, there was been what Wikipedia terms “scholarly debate” about the role of Laura Wilder’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, in the writing of the “Little House” books. Lane, a successful writer herself, edited the books and assisted her mother in their writing. Wikipedia concludes, “Almost all Wilder scholars and her biographers consider that the writing of the books was a tense but ultimately effective continuing collaboration between mother and daughter: Wilder writing the books and her daughter editing them.”

‘Tender Eyes That Shine . . .’

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

Our plans here for this week have been to dig deeper into the 1920s song “I’ll See You In My Dreams,” beginning with the 1925 original by Isham Jones with the Ray Miller Orchestra. Life intrudes, however: I spent about six hours at the emergency room last evening with my mother.

Mom’s fine; what seemed to be a major problem is manageable, but a late bedtime meant a late rising this morning, and morning is my prime research and blogging time around here. So tracing the tale of “I’ll See You In My Dreams” will have to wait until tomorrow. We can, however, give an ear to one of the song’s more recent appearances, leaving the gap of years to be filled later.

The Foxtails Brigade is a San Francisco-based quintet founded in 2008 that performs what its Facebook page calls “chamber pop,” recording for Antenna Farm Records. The group’s debut album, The Bread And The Bait, came out in April 2011 and was followed by Time Is Passed in November 2012.

During the winter of 2010-2011 (if I’m putting together correctly information from a few different sources), the group recorded and released five videos under the title of Foxtails Brigade: Winter Sessions. One of those videos, posted on March 28, 2011, shows group members Laura Weinbach and Anton Patzner doing a nicely arranged version of “I’ll See You In My Dreams.”

Barring further emergency, I’ll be back tomorrow, and we’ll head back to 1925 and the original version of the lovely song crafted by Isham Jones and Gus Kahn, and we’ll follow at least part of its tale from there.

Date of first recording corrected November 20, 2013.

‘Violet’

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

As promised yesterday, we’ll continue today with the next installment of Floyd’s Prism, and when we search in the mp3 stacks for tunes with “violet” in their titles, we get a minimal result: only thirty-six titles.

And most of them have to be discarded, as is generally the case. First off the pile are a couple of singer-songwriter albums: Madison Violet’s Americana-tinged 2009 album, No Fool For Trying, and Sarah Alden’s 2012 effort, Fists Of Violets, which is more difficult to characterize.

Then, we lose some individuals tracks whose titles come close: “Violetta” from the 1962 album A Taste of Honey by exotica master Martin Denny; “Goodbye To the War; Goodbye To the Violets” from the 1973 album Weltschmerzen by the People’s Victory Orchestra & Chorus; “Violets for Your Furs” from Frank Sinatra’s 1954 album, Songs for Young Lovers; U2’s “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)” from the 1992 album, Achtung Baby; and versions of Eric Andersen’s “Violets of Dawn” from the Robbs (1967), Rick Nelson (1969), Mary Chapin Carpenter (2009) and Andersen himself (1966, as noted here yesterday).

That leaves us with six tracks, which was our target. So on we go.

The British-based folk rock band Eclection recorded only one album during its two-year (1967-69) existence, but the self-titled album, released in 1968, is pretty good and not as Brit-centered as one might expect. In the liner notes for the 2001 reissue of the album, Richie Unterberger wrote, “The combination of male-female harmonies, optimistic lyrics with shades of romantic psychedelia, folk-rock melodies, acoustic-electric six- and twelve-string guitar combinations, and stratospheric orchestration couldn’t help but bring to mind similar Californian folk-pop-rock of the mid-to-late 1960s.” The track “Violet Dew” doesn’t quite cover all of those bases, but it covers a lot of them. Perhaps the most noticeable thing as I listen this morning is the remarkable voice of singer Kerrilee Male, who left the band later in 1968 to go home to Australia and seemingly, from anything I can find online this morning, never recorded again.

Shawn  Phillips’ work from the early 1970s has shown up frequently in this space (though perhaps not for a while), but his later work not so much. That’s unfortunate, as Phillips’ later work is worth hearing. The difference, I suppose, is that his work from the latter portion of the 1970s does not carry the same time-and-place weight for me as does his earlier stuff; I didn’t hear much of the later work at the time it came out. Still, nearly every time something pops up from his late 1970s albums, I’m glad it did so. Today, it’s “Lady in Violet” from his 1978 album Transcendence, about which I said in 2007: “It’s a pretty good album, of a piece with the rest of his work, although the lyrics don’t seem to stand up as well . . . . Musically, it’s enjoyable with a breath-taking moment or two.” Whether any of those moments show up in “Lady in Violet” is your call, I guess. I think they do.

Without doubt, the finest offering among the six surviving “Violet” tracks is “Violet Eyes” by Levon Helm. Found on his 1980 album, American Son, the track offers harmonies and an overall feeling that echo the best albums of The Band. According to All Music Guide, the track was recorded in Nashville: “While recording a few songs for the movie Coal Miner’s Daughter, in which he played Loretta Lynn’s father, Levon Helm and friends just kept the tape rolling.” And as I listen this morning, I wonder why no solo tracks from Helm showed up on my long-ago Ultimate Jukebox. So, in what I imagine could be – perhaps should be – the last instance of Jukebox Regrets, I’ll acknowledge that “Violet Eyes” and “Even A Fool Would Let Go” (from Helm’s 1982 self-titled album) should have been part of the Ultimate Jukebox.

Maybe it doesn’t happen so much anymore (or maybe I just don’t see it), but a few years ago the simple mention of Coldplay at a forum or bulletin board – during a time when that band was perhaps the most popular band in the world – would spark arguments, dismissive comments and utter vitriol aimed at Chris Martin and his mates. I never understood that. I don’t count Coldplay among my favorites, but I don’t find the group’s music unlistenable. And I do like very much several tracks from the group, including “Violet Hill” from the 2008 album Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends.

To label something as “glossy Americana” might be a contradiction, but that’s what I hear when I listen to the 2011 CD Barton Hollow by the duo called the Civil Wars. The album by Joy Williams and John Paul White offers mostly rootsy ballads that seem to have been worked over until they shine, which is not an awful idea, but some part of me wants a few unsanded and unvarnished bits in my folk music. Still, I find Barton Hollow enjoyable, and that holds true for the instrumental “The Violet Hour” this morning.

I’m not sure how I got hold of Jeremy Messersmith’s 2010 album, The Reluctant Graveyard. There are a number of public relations firms that email me regularly, offering CDs or downloads, so I’m assuming that’s how I heard of Messersmith, who is based in Minneapolis. And having done some digging and some closer listening this morning, I have to add Messersmith – who’s gained a lot of critical acclaim in the past few years – to that long list of musicians to whom I should pay greater attention. As to this morning’s task, “Violet!” is one of the better tracks on The Reluctant Graveyard. Here’s the (rather quirky) official video:

‘Skippin’ Reels Of Rhyme . . .’

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

Still not certain how many covers there might be of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man,” I keep looking at the lists at Second Hand Songs and Amazon for some insight. No revelation comes, but I do note, perhaps unsurprisingly, that most of the covers listed at the first of those sites came in a very few years after Dylan recorded and released the song himself.

Dylan’s version came out in 1965 on Bringing It All Back Home, with the album reaching the Billboard 200 chart on May 1; the Byrds’ famous cover of the song hit the magazine’s Hot 100 singles chart on May 15, on its way to No. 1. Between then and 1969, SHS lists thirty-four covers of the tune, with the vast majority of those coming in the first couple of years.

Among those thirty-four covers was William Shatner’s legendarily bizarre version from his 1968 album A Transformed Man. (You can find it easily at YouTube if you feel the need.) One that I like a lot came from the British group the Marmalade in 1968; another that’s not nearly so high on my list was the cover by Don Sebesky from The Distant Galaxy, his 1969 album of what I can only describe as futuristic easy listening.

One of my favorite versions of the song came from 1969 as well, courtesy of the one-off group of musicians who called themselves the Brothers & Sisters of Los Angeles for an album called Dylan’s Gospel. As I’ve noted in this space at least once before, the webpage that listed the musicians involved seems to have disappeared in the past five or six years, but I do recall that among the singers on the project were Merry Clayton and Clydie King.

The frequency of covers of “Mr. Tambourine Man” slowed as the 1960s ended, but every now and then, the song drew the attention of a group or performer, and some of the resulting covers sound pretty good from this vantage point. The R&B group Con Funk Shun took the song uptown on a single in 1974, a performance that wound up on the 2010 anthology How Many Roads: Black America Sings Bob Dylan, and the Fourth Street Sisters recorded the song for the 2002 effort, Blowin’ in the Wind: A Reggae Tribute to Bob Dylan.

A couple of other versions stand out from recent years, though perhaps for different reasons. Jazz singer Abbey Lincoln did a very nice version on her 1997 album Who Used To Dance. And, on an entirely different level, a collection of youngsters from New Zealand called the Starbugs recorded a cheerful and antiseptic version of “Mr. Tambourine Man” for their 2011 album Kids Sing Bob Dylan, and I’m not altogether certain how I feel about their bland take. (Two things to note: The Starbugs – or more realistically, their adult producers – have also fashioned a similar album of Beatles’ songs; and among the members of the Starbugs is Jessie Hillel, who was the runner-up in the 2012 edition of the reality TV show New Zealand’s Got Talent.)

The most interesting version of Dylan’s iconic tune that I’ve found among the later covers – and my explorations have been by no means exhaustive – comes from a group with Minnesota origins. Cloud Cult released its idiosyncratic cover of “Mr. Tambourine Man” on a 2010 EP, Running With The Wolves. I don’t know that I’d ever heard much by Cloud Cult before; as with so many performers and groups that I come across when I explore covers of familiar tunes, that lack has to be remedied.

‘There Is No Place I’m Going To . . .’

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

This is a brief stop this morning, as taxi duty calls: The Texas Gal needs a ride to work, and my mom needs a mid-morning ride to the funeral of an old friend. Thus, we’ll not dig as deeply this morning into more covers of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” as I’d hoped.

We’ll pick that up on tomorrow or Thursday, depending on how the week’s chores go. But I do want to share a cover of the Dylan tune that I like very much. It comes from the Peter Viskinde Band, a Danish group, although there isn’t a hint of Denmark in the music (except perhaps a slight hint of an accent in the vocal).

Viskinde, according to Wikipedia, has been playing in bands and on his own and recording since the mid-1960s. I don’t know a lot of his music, but in my random digging into Danish bands over the years, I discovered the 1982 recording “Mød Mig I Mørket” (Meet Me In The Dark) by Viskinde’s late 1970s-early 1980s band Malurt. It’s actually one of my favorites of the Danish tunes I’ve scavenged over the years.

But that’s all I’ve known of Viskinde’s music until lately, when I ran across his cover of “Mr. Tambourine Man.” It’s from his 2011 album, Can´t Escape From You, and it makes me think I need to dig deeper into Mr. Viskinde’s catalog.

‘I Am A Schoolboy, Too . . .’

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

It’s the day after Labor Day, and here in St. Cloud, as in most of Minnesota – and most of the U.S., I imagine – the school buses roll. Teachers plan lessons and welcome new students. Students scan schedules and consider – sometimes covertly and sometimes not – who’s changed the most over what now seems to have been a brief summer.

And a new nine-month school year starts.

I could go several ways here. I thought about digging into the memory banks for a first-day-of-school story, but I’m not sure there are any left untold. So I went looking for a record about the first day of school. I didn’t find one that specific, but as I scanned the list of records the RealPlayer provided about “school,” I realized that I’ve never written about one of the great songs in the blues catalog.

It first showed up as “Good Morning School Girl” by John Lee Williamson, the first Sonny Boy. He wrote and recorded the song for the Bluebird label in Aurora, Illinois, on May 5, 1937.

From there, the song moved on (with varying punctuation, the addition of the word “little” and mixed use of “schoolgirl” or “school girl”). The first cover version noted at Second Hand Songs – a site that’s not always complete but comes pretty close – is by Leroy Dallas & His Guitar in 1948, followed by Smokey Hogg in 1949 and L.C. Green in 1952. I should perhaps know those names, but I don’t. The version I found by Hogg at YouTube this morning is pretty good.

When we get to 1958, we see some familiar names beginning to pop up: Big Joe Williams, Lightning Hopkins, Rod Stewart, Junior Wells, the Grateful Dead, Jim Kweskin, Taj Mahal, Ten Years After, Johnny Winter, James Cotton and Geoff Muldaur recorded the song through the 1970s.

In 1964, we also find the Yardbirds, but their record is not the same song. Wikipedia explains: “In 1961, Don Level and Bob Love, as the R&B duo ‘Don and Bob,’ recorded a different version of ‘Good Morning Little Schoolgirl’ for Argo Records, a Chess subsidiary. Although it uses the phrase ‘good morning little schoolgirl’, the song has different chord changes and lyrics, including references to popular dance styles of the time. The Yardbirds with Eric Clapton later covered this version of ‘Good Morning, Little Schoolgirl’ for their second UK single in 1964.”

My friend Larry, who hangs his hat at the great blog 16 Funky Corners, disputes this in a note below, saying that both the Yardbirds and Don & Bob singles are the Williamson song. It’s close, and I’ll acknowledge inspiration,  but I agree with Wikipedia. They are different songs. The clincher to me is the lack of the “I am a schoolboy, too.”

Muddy Waters recorded the song for his 1964 album Folk Singer, and his version of “Good Morning Little School Girl” is striking for its acoustic approach, rather than Waters’ usual electric arrangement. (That holds true for the entire album, of course, an early version of the “unplugged” phenomenon.)

A few years later, Mississippi Fred McDowell included “Good Morning Little School Girl” on one of my favorite blues albums, his 1969 effort I Do Not Play No Rock ’n’ Roll.

A few covers are listed in the 1980s, and in 1993, another great version of the tune came, unsurprisingly, from Van Morrison, who tackled “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” on his album Too Long In Exile.

(I haven’t decided: Is it creepy or just an adjustment when Waters and Morrison – and likely others who’ve recorded the song – sing “I once was a schoolboy, too,” and make the song’s narrator older than the schoolgirl to whom he’s singing?)

We skip a few more years and a few more covers and move on to 2011, when Rory Block gender-flipped the song’s lyrics for her 2011 album, Shake ’Em on Down: A Tribute to Mississippi Fred McDowell. I love Block’s work, and I think her version is my favorite, challenged by only Morrison’s and McDowell’s itself (acknowledging that there are many, many versions of the song I have not yet heard).

From Dishwashing To Danish

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

Some time back, as a way to ease into a discussion of Hall & Oates, I wrote about my kitchen dancing:

“With the mp3 player plugged into the CD player atop a small cabinet, I shuffle and weave, play air piano and guitar, and I cue unseen drummers, violin players and horn sections. And I do all this while removing and shelving clean dishes from the dishwasher and then replacing them with the dishes yet to be washed.”

That hasn’t changed. But in the past few months, I’ve begun keeping a list of the songs the mp3 player shuffles out each afternoon and then using that list as a basis for a nearly daily post on Facebook. I list those five, six or seven tracks – the actual number is dependent on how much work there was to do in the kitchen – and then embed a video of one of them. Most of the time, I find a video of the last track in the sequence, but I sometimes highlight a more interesting or rare track.

I toss the post out to those in my Facebook community, and I generally get a few likes and sometimes a comment or two. One of the records that popped up as I did the dishes yesterday was “Rør Ved Mig” by the duo of Lecia & Lucienne. It’s a Danish version of Mocedades’ “Eres Tu,” and it was a hit in Denmark during the autumn of 1973, when “Eres Tu” was Spain’s entry in the annual Eurovision Song Contest. (Mocedades’ version went to No. 9 in the U.S. in March 1974.)

After I posted the note at Facebook, Dan from California chuckled and wrote, “I’m imagining those Danes belting out Eres Tu: Røøøøøøøøøør Ved Miiiiiiig! Tøø funny!” I replied, saying that was pretty much how the chorus went.

(I should note that “Rør Ved Mig” was the topic of a brief post early in this blog’s timeline and is a favorite of mine, as it’s one of the most potent records of my life, pulling me back, as I told Dan, “to city walls, red brick houses, cold Carlsberg and, well, a lot of fond memories.”)

Then, wanting Dan to hear the song, I wandered off to YouTube. Lecia & Lucienne were not there. That didn’t surprise me; I once uploaded a video of their record there and learned that licensing problems kept it from being available in the U.S. and some other places. But as I looked for “Rør Ved Mig,” I came across an acoustic version of the song by a performer named Nikolaj Nørlund.

It turns out that Norlund is a highly regarded Danish performer and producer with several solo albums and other recordings to his credit. One of those other recordings is the 2011 EP Kom Med Et Bud, which offered his acoustic covers of six songs that had been very popular in Denmark, including “Rør Ved Mig.” I recognized one other title, “Smilende Susie,” although I don’t think I heard the original record while I was in Denmark. And then I saw the title “Åh, Babe, Kom Med Et Bud.”

The letter Å/å is, obviously, one we don’t have in English. It’s pronounced “Oh,” with that long “O” sound that folks around here sometimes use when they say “Minne-soh-ta.” It was once written as Aa/aa, and that survives a fair amount in this part of the country in the last names of folks whose ancestors emigrated from the Nordic lands: One of the guys I went to college with had the last name of Sondergaard. He figured out in Denmark that the name likely started out as Søndergaard, which I think is an old form that translates into English as “southern farm.” (Corrections are always welcome.)

Anyway, when I saw and sounded out the title “Åh, Babe, Kom Med Et Bud,” the first two words came out “Oh Babe” and the next four words came out in a familiar cadence. I thought, “It can’t be.”

But it was. And just because I like this sort of thing when it pops up, here’s Nikolaj Nørlund’s Danish language version of Hurricane Smith’s “Oh Babe, What Would You Say.” (Nørlund, for whatever reason, pronounces “Åh” more like “Ah” than “Oh.” That may have something to do with the “h” being appended to the “Å.” I don’t know.)

Uncovering More Browne Covers

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

This morning, as I scanned the lower depths of the Billboard Hot 100 from November 29, 1975, I saw the name of a group that tickled some vague place in my memory: Prelude.

I let the circuits connect – it took a few seconds – and came up with a reference: I’d mentioned the folk-rock trio from England a couple of years ago and shared its cover of Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush” in the context of looking at a chart from November of 1974. Prelude’s cover of the Young song had gone to No. 22.

The chart I was looking at – the one from about a year later – showed Prelude with another cover, this time of Jackson Browne’s “For A Dancer.” As November 1975 came to a close, the Prelude’s single was sitting at No. 100 in its first week on the chart. It spent another seven weeks on the chart and peaked at No. 63, far lower than had the 1974 single. And it was the last appearance on the American pop chart for the English trio. I remembered liking the trio’s cover of “After The Gold Rush,” and the group’s take on “For A Dancer” has its charms as well.

From there, I had a few possible routes. Had Prelude had a third single listed in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, I might have dug for some more of the group’s music. I imagine that some of the group’s five albums are floating around out there, and there are two CD collections available, including one that offers everything the group recorded for the Pye and Dawn labels between 1973 and 1977.

And I pondered digging into more of that chart from the autumn of 1975. Despite my mining of that season numerous times, there are likely a few nuggets still to be found. But having found that Prelude cover of a Jackson Browne song, I decided to look for more Browne covers (something I did in two consecutive posts last spring).

My first stop was Joan Baez. On her 1975 album Diamonds & Rust, she offers a sweet cover of “Fountain of Sorrow,” a track I’d not been able to find at YouTube the last time I went digging for Jackson Browne covers. This time, it was available. Now, I enjoy Diamonds & Rust so much that it’s hard to pick out highlights beyond the title track, but, powered by Larry Knechtel’s piano and Jim Gordon’s drumming, “Fountain of Sorrow” is pretty close to the top of the list.

Perhaps the most-remembered accolades bestowed early on Baez had something to do with the purity of her voice, which was remarkable. These days, the same is often said about Alison Krause. The clarity of her voice is, in fact, one of the things that have moved her beyond the bluegrass niche in which she was first placed. Yes, she fiddles well, but, to me, it’s her singing – along with the quality of her backing band, Union Station, and the crafty selection of good material – that has brought her to a wider audience. On 2011’s Paper Airplane, she covered Browne’s “My Opening Farewell” with her customary brilliance.

We’ll close today’s post with a cover that on first thought surprised me and on second thought didn’t. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve never quite embraced Browne’s two late-1980s albums Lives in the Balance and World in Motion, probably because they were so vastly different in focus from his earlier albums, from 1972’s self-titled debut through 1980’s Hold Out. (I tend to disregard Lawyers in Love from 1983 because it seems to have no focus.)

But when I heard Richie Havens’ take on “Lives in the Balance” (a performance I shared in one of those earlier posts of covers), I began to think that perhaps my main difficulty with those late 1980s albums isn’t the material but Browne’s performance of that material. I’ve come to no conclusion yet, but I think I’m going to have consider that possibility a bit more closely after coming upon a very accessible cover of “World in Motion” by the late Roebuck “Pop” Staples. With some help from Bonnie Raitt (and what sounds like Jackson Browne himself), the track showed up on Staples’ 1992 album Peace to the Neighborhood.