Posts Tagged ‘Grace Potter & The Nocturnals’

Six At Random

Thursday, December 5th, 2013

Well, being a little tired from shoveling the first portion of a six-inch or so snowfall, and with the second portion waiting on the sidewalk for my attention, I’m going to let the RealPlayer do the work today and walk us through six tunes at random. (I will skip stuff from before, oh, 1940, as well as the truly odd). So here we go:

First up is “Treat Me Right” from Nothing But The Water, the 2006 album from Grace Potter & The Nocturnals that was, I think, the first thing I heard from the New England group that’s become one of my favorites. The slightly spooky groove, the organ accents and Potter’s self-assured vocal remind me why I’ll listen to pretty much anything that Ms. Potter and her bandmates offer to the listening public. I have five CDs, some EPs, and some other bits and pieces of the band at work, and I find that all of that scratches my itch in the way that only a few groups and performers – maybe ten, maybe fifteen – have since I started listening to rock and its corollaries in late 1969.

I came across the North Carolina quartet of Chatham County Line via County Line, their 2009 collaboration with Norwegian musician Jonas Fjeld. Today, we land on the cautionary “Sightseeing” from the group’s 2003 self-titled debut album. In reviewing the album, Zach Johnson of All Music Guide writes: “Centered around a single microphone, the band plays acoustic bluegrass instruments in the traditional style, but there’s a sly wink in the music – like in the trunk of their 1946 Nash Rambler there may be some Lynyrd Skynyrd and Allman Brothers records underneath the Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs LPs. Any nods to rock & roll are successfully stifled in their songwriting though, as the band specializes in purely honest and irony-free honky tonk bluegrass, earnestly sung and expertly picked as if ‘marketing strategies’ and ‘the 18-24 demographic’ never existed.”

The 1980s country group Southern Pacific featured a couple of ex-Doobie Brothers – guitarist John McFee and drummer Keith Knudson – and by the time the group got around to recording its second album – the 1986 effort Killbilly Hill – one-time Creedence bassist Stu Cook joined the group. Still, on “Road Song” and the rest of the group’s output (and there were a few more membership changes along the way), there’s less of a rock feel and more of a 1980s country polish that doesn’t always wear well nearly thirty years later. That would be more of a problem if we were listening to full albums here; one song at a time, it’s easy to overlook. And the group was relatively successful: Thirteen records in the Country Top 40 between 1985 and 1990, four of them hitting the Top Ten.

In early 1967, the Bob Crew Generation saw its instrumental “Music To Watch Girls By” go to No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100. The tune, written by Sid Ramin, originally came from a commercial for Pepsi-Cola and was popular enough in that arena that it quickly attracted recording artists. Second Hand Songs says that the first to record the tune was trumpeter Al Hirt, whose version bubbled under the chart at No. 119, while Andy Williams saw his version – with lyrics by Tony Velona – go to No. 34. Other covers followed, one of them from a studio group called the Girlwatchers. Their version was the title track to a quickie album in 1967 that also included titles like “Tight Tights,” “Fish-Net Stockings,” “Tiny Mini-Skirt” and so on. “Green Eyeliner” is the track we land on this morning. I’m not sure how the album found its way onto my digital shelves, but it’s an interesting artifact, and I imagine I’d recognize the names of quite a few of the studio musicians who helped put it together.

Speaking of members of the Doobie Brothers, as we were earlier, during one of the band’s quieter times, guitarist Patrick Simmons released a solo album, Arcade, in 1983.To my ears, it sounds very much like early 1980s Doobies, with a glossy blue-eyed soul sound that – like the glossy country of Southern Pacific mentioned above – works fine as individual tracks go by but tends to work less well as an entire album. Simmons released two singles from the album: “So Wrong” went to No. 30, and “Don’t Make Me Do It” went to No. 75. A pretty decent record titled “If You Want A Little Love” was tucked on the B-side of “So Wrong,” and that’s where our interest is this morning.

And we close our morning wanderings with a tune from Frank Sinatra’s Songs For Swingin’ Lovers! That’s a 1956 effort that sometimes finds its way into the CD player late at night here in the Echoes In The Wind studios. The album came from the classic sessions that paired Sinatra with arrangements by Nelson Riddle, and “It Happened In Monterey” is pretty typical of those sessions: brass and percussion accents, the occasional swirling strings and more, all in service of one of the greatest voices and one of the greatest interpreters of song in recording history.

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.)