Posts Tagged ‘Indigo Girls’

Trees Again

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2018

Rob’s wife, Barb, was correct: The tree at the corner of our condo is in fact a flowering crab. But unlike the one in their yard in St. Francis, which has pink flowers, ours offers white flowers to the world. Here it is about a week ago:

Flowering Crab 2

That was its peak. Overnight, the wind came up, and morning found the ground littered with white flowers. And over the next few days the flowers flew off like large snowflakes. If we get even a third as many crab apples as there were flowers, we’re in for a crabby autumn.

(We still don’t know what type of tree stands between the flowering crab and the maple. We’ve talked about taking pictures of its general appearance and close-ups of its leaves and posting them on Facebook for our friends to take a look at, but we have not yet done so. It’s in full leaf, however, and it looks quite nice, and whatever it is, it’s providing noon-time shade.)

And I thought, since trees have been a frequent topic of conversation around our place, I’d take a look at the digital shelves and see if I could find a few tunes with types of trees in their titles.

The first one is easy: “Tall Pine Trees” by Peter Yarrow. It’s beautiful, a song of farewell, but I think what captures my imagination is the tune’s Russian overtones. It’s from Peter, Yarrow’s first solo album, which was released in 1972 in conjunction with solo albums from Noel Paul Stookey and Mary Travers, Yarrow’s partners in Peter, Paul & Mary. When the Texas Gal and I took my mom to see Yarrow in concert six years ago, the second half of his show was made up almost entirely of requests; I asked for “Tall Pine Trees,” and he told us that it was the first time the song had ever been requested. Sadly, he didn’t perform it.

We move to the first hit by Dorsey Burnette. “(There Was A) Tall Oak Tree” starts with a retelling of the story of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden and then shifts for its second verse to a theme echoed by many songwriters: How humans have despoiled nature for their own ends. (Think, among many others, of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi.”) The record peaked at No. 23 on the Billboard Hot 100 during the first week of March 1960, the first of six records that Burnette – the older brother of Johnny Burnette and the uncle of Rocky Burnette – would place in or near the Hot 100 but his only Top 40 hit. (He placed five records in the magazine’s country Top 40 in the 1970s.)

And for the second time this month, we come across the name of Gram Parsons, this time as the writer of a song recorded by Johnny Rivers. “Apple Tree” is the second track on Side Two of River’s 1972 album Slim Slo Slider. It’s a tale of love found and love lost, framed as a seasonal saga:

I used to sit in a big apple tree
Welcome the sun as he shone down on me
Watch the fruit ripen, smell the land grow
Felt the fall rains get colder and turn into snow

And then in the summer, I’d walk through the trees
Roll up my trousers way over my knees
Waded a stream ’til the rocks hurt my feet
The water was cool, and the summer was sweet

Autumn got lonely when harvest came ’round
Green leaves turned golden and fell to the ground
Clear nights got colder, with the stars bright above
And in the winter, I first fell in love

She loved me truly ’til winter passed by
Left without warning and never said why
Maybe she’s lonely, needs me somewhere
Maybe by summer, I won’t even care

And then Rivers lets us think about that as James Burton takes us home with a lovely guitar solo.

We’ll close our brief excursion through the trees with the Indigo Girls’ lovely but cryptic “Cedar Tree” from their 1992 album, Rites Of Passage, an album I love:

You dug a well, you dug it deep
For every wife you buried, you planted a cedar tree
The best, the best you ever had

I stand where you stood
I stand for bad or good
And I am green, and you are wood
The best, the best he ever had

I dig a well, I dig it deep
And for my only love, I plant a cedar tree
The best, the best we ever had

Saturday Single No. 519

Saturday, December 3rd, 2016

I was waiting at a light on Riverside Drive last evening, heading downtown for some Mexican takeout, when a city bus rolled past, its bright interior lights outshining the early December gloom and illuminating its occupants as if they were on a stage. The bus rolled past me, heading – like me – for the bridge across the Mississippi River and downtown. And as it did, it triggered two things in me: memories of several winters riding the bus to and from work in downtown Minneapolis and an accompanying visceral sorrow.

That visceral reaction, a burst of sadness so powerful that I had to take a few deep breaths as I waited for the green light, took me aback. But it probably shouldn’t have. Those three winters when I rode the bus to work downtown – the winters from late 1995 to the spring of 1998 – were among some of the bleakest seasons of my life.

It’s worth noting here that winters in Minnesota can be bleak no matter what else is going on in a person’s life. From November to February, anyone who works a regular shift job – say 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. – here in the northland will go to work in the dark and return home in the dark. That’s cause enough for a little gloominess to start with. Then add, for me and many others, the difficulty that’s now called Seasonal Affective Disorder (with the disarmingly appropriate acronym of SAD), in which the absence of light fuels depression.

To that bitter mix, add my own chronic depression (noted here recently), and then add the situational sadness over a life seemingly heading both nowhere and toward any imaginable disaster at the same time, and you have a potent brew. So you find me during those dark winters leaving my cats in the morning and heading to the bus stop to ride to downtown jobs – one supposedly permanent and the others temporary – that were not at all what I ever planned or expected. And you have me riding home in the dark of late afternoon, home to the cats and a dinner alone, home to an evening of table-top baseball, vapid television or sad music on the stereo.

Of course, not all of my music was truly sad then; those were the years – 1995 into 1998 – during which vinyl was my drug of choice, holding at bay an even worse depression than the one I found myself in. (Also helping to hold back that deeper depression were my cats, Aaron and Simmons.) But in the memory that rolled over me as I waited out the traffic light last evening, the music was as doleful as was almost all of my life back then.

So that’s what I felt last evening as I watched the city bus go past with its passengers safe in its haven of light. When I was one of those winter passengers in a much larger city twenty years ago, that bright light was no haven; the darkness of my life felt inescapable, and it seemed as if I’d lost nearly all that had been good about my life. Those long gone but so very familiar feelings rolled over me as I waited out the red light on Riverside Drive, and then they left, leaving a vague residue of uneasiness.

That residue faded as the light changed and I moved on, heading first for the Mexican take-out place and then back to the East Side and eventually up the driveway toward my dual havens, the warm lights of home and the love of my Texas Gal.

So instead of thinking, as I’d originally planned, about a melancholy man, let’s think about a song I no doubt heard during those dark winters on Pleasant Avenue, a track that might have provided some hope and solace to brighten the gloom. It’s the tentatively hopeful “Love Will Come To You,” a 1992 track by the Indigo Girls, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘Closer To Fine’

Friday, April 8th, 2016

The Texas Gal is still not feeling well, and I’m a little distracted. I seem to have avoided the worst of our shared respiratory ailment, but I’m not counting poultry yet. And I have extra laundry to do and errands to run today.

I also have to work on transposing the Indigo Girls’ tune “Closer To Fine” into a key more suitable for one of the musicians at our Unitarian Universalist fellowship. It’s not all that hard, but it takes some concentration, and that seems to be in short supply here this morning.

As I thought about “Closer To Fine,” I also thought about how I found the Indigo Girls, who are one of my favorite groups that arose in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I have copies of pretty much everything they’ve ever released – I have yet to get hold of last year’s One Lost Day – a couple on vinyl and most on CD.

I told the tale here in early 2008 of how I came to find the Indigo Girls and their music:

One afternoon in August 1989, I was lingering over a cup of coffee in a restaurant in the Minneapolis suburb of Edina, looking at the LPs I’d just scored at a nearby used record store. As I glanced over Roxy Music’s Avalon, I heard the college girls in the booth behind me talking about a new group they’d heard at someone’s home the night before, a duo with the odd name of the Indigo Girls. I jotted the name down, paid for my coffee and went back to the record store, where I found Indigo Girls on vinyl. Ever since, I’ve bought most of what the duo of Amy Ray and Emily Saliers have recorded, and I’d like to thank those long-ago college girls for the tip.

And since the tune is on my mind today, both as a music project and as a hope for the health of the Texas Gal, here’s the Indigo Girls’ video for their 1989 track, “Closer To Fine.”

‘I Can Tell By Your Eyes . . .’

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

As I was wasting time on Facebook last evening, I posted – for no particular reason except I like the song – a link to a video of Everything But The Girl’s recording of “I Don’t Want To Talk About It” from 1988.

The video played as I posted the link, and as Tracey Thorn eased her way through the tune, I thought to myself that I needed to dig into the tune’s genesis. I knew about Rod Stewart’s version from Atlantic Crossing, and I thought I had a couple of other versions in the files, but where had the song come from?

I figured it was something I should know – or maybe something I’d learned a while back and forgotten. If it was the latter – if I’d forgotten – I also figured I’d be at least a little chagrined when I was reminded of what I’d forgotten.

So I clicked a few links, and – as it turned out – I wasn’t chagrined. I just felt stupid.

The song was written, of course, by the late Danny Whitten, a member of Crazy Horse and a friend to not only Neil Young but also to Bobby Jameson, whose career I’ve written about numerous times (and with whom I still share emails and Facebook messages and links). If I’ve never known the origins of the song, I should have. The tune was included in 1971 on Crazy Horse’s self-titled album:

But as I listened to Crazy Horse’s version of the tune – the original version, as it were – I knew I’d heard another version. I searched the RealPlayer and found nothing, which didn’t make sense. I knew I had another version of the tune in the files. Puzzled, I went to All-Music Guide to see who else had covered the tune.

As I knew he would be, Rod Stewart was listed. His version was released as a single in late 1979 and went to No. 46. (I find the four-year gap between the release of Atlantic Crossing in 1975 and the release of the single a little odd.) Others listed as having covered the tune were Rita Coolidge, Ian Matthews, Nils Lofgren, a U.K. singer named Dina Carroll, Steve Brookstein (who was the first winner of the television contest Pop Idol in the U.K.), and a few other names.

The Matthews listing intrigued me, as I have a fair amount of his music from his time in Fairport Convention, in Matthews Southern Comfort, in Plainsong, and under his own name. The album he released in 2000 with Elliot Murphy, La Terre Commune, is one of my favorite albums (though with all the music in the nooks and crannies here, it gets less play than it should). On that album, Matthews’ first name was presented as “Iain,” so I searched for the tunes I have under that name.

And I found the version of the tune I’d been recalling, a live performance from 2001. It was listed, however, as “I Don’t Wanna Talk About It.” Using that spelling, I did some more searching. I found a good performance of the song by the Indigo Girls from the soundtrack to the film Philadelphia. And AMG informed me that Matthews had first recorded the song for his 1974 album Some Days You Eat the Bear and Some Days the Bear Eats You, which is one of the few Matthews’ albums from that era that I’ve not heard.

Others listed as recording the tune with the “Wanna” spelling were the pop group Smokie, performers named Michael Ball, Alexander Murray, Emmerson Nogueira and clarinetist Mr. Acker Bilk.

As I noted, I’ve not heard many versions of the song, but of those I have heard, I lean toward the Crazy Horse take as the definitive version. (I’ve never cared much for Stewart’s version.) Other than that, I enjoy the live version I alluded to earlier, the one that Murphy, Matthews and Olivier Durand recorded June 1, 2001, during a performance at the Cornish Pub in Solingen, Germany. It was released as a part of the Official Blue Rose Bootleg Series.

The Baton Twirler & The Red Army

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

One of the things about music that fascinates me is my reactions to pieces I’ve long loved. When one of those songs cycles randomly through the mp3 player in the kitchen or shows up on the radio while I’m driving down St. Germain, what are the first thoughts, the first images that come to mind?

Mostly, those long-loved songs bring back people, times and places that are also cherished. Sometimes, the connections between the record and the memory images are harder to figure out. I wrote a while back about “Desiderata,” the spoken-word record that was a hit for Les Crane in 1971 and how its strains take me back to a corridor as it existed in 1971 just outside the bookstore at St. Cloud State. Ever since I wrote about that, I’ve pondered at odd moments why that is, what – if anything – that juxtaposition means. And I still sit clueless.

Another record, one I like much more than I like “Desiderata,” presents me with an odd collage of images. Whenever I hear its percussive introduction and its swelling harmonies, I see in my mind – jarringly – Soviet tanks and troops entering Prague, Czechoslovakia, in August 1968, crushing the liberalization of government and life there, a period now known as the Prague Spring.

And after a split-second of that, the strains of “Turn Around, Look At Me” by the Vogues bring to mind something far more normal: the image in memory of a young woman, one who was a baton twirler for the marching band and so much more, walking between classes at South Junior High, looking for something she’s unable to find in front of her. If only she’d turn around, I often thought during that summer of 1968, the summer between freshman and sophomore years, the summer when “Turn Around, Look At Me” went to No. 7.

With its strings piled on top of horns and its lush vocals (ending with what a musician friend of mine used to call “an MGM climax”), “Turn Around, Look At Me” is a beautiful record that is not at all of its time, 1968. Listening to it this morning, I pegged it as being far more appropriate for the years 1957-62, perhaps recorded by one of those male vocal groups with a number in its name: the Four Freshmen, the Four Lads, the Four Dorks. But that displacement in style and time probably worked for the record among the listening public. The week “Turn Around, Look At Me” reached its peak at No. 7, the other songs in the Top Ten were:

“People Got To Be Free” by the Rascals
“Hello, I Love You” by the Doors
“Classical Gas” by Mason Williams
“Born to Be Wild” by Steppenwolf
“Light My Fire” by José Feliciano
“Stoned Soul Picnic” by the 5th Dimension
“Sunshine of Your Love” by Cream
“Grazing in the Grass” by Hugh Masekela
“Hurdy Gurdy Man” by Donovan

That’s a great bunch of songs, but the nearest things to the lush pop of the Vogues there are the Latin-tinged cover of “Light My Fire” and Mason Williams’ instrumental, and neither of those are really in the same block. I don’t have any idea how “Turn Around, Look At Me” did on the chart that’s now called Adult Contemporary, but while the record was still in the Top 40, Reprise released another Vogues’ single, “My Special Angel,” and that one spent one week two weeks atop the AC chart (and peaked, like its predecessor, at No. 7 in the Top 40). So I’m guessing that “Turn Around, Look At Me” did pretty well on the AC chart, as lush as it was.

And for me, the lushness of the Vogues’ pop was certainly one of the attractions of “Turn Around, Look At Me.” Rock music was not yet my thing, and it was nice to hear something easy to listen to coming from the radio, and it was even nicer that the record spoke to my life. As the summer faded and the school year began, I still hoped that the baton twirler might figuratively turn around. She didn’t. The time wasn’t right (although it never would be in her case), and I knew that even as I hoped for a different outcome.

So the song slid from the charts and quit coming out of the radio, but sometime during August, I must have heard the song at least once very close to the time when international news reporters were giving us the lowdown on what was happening in Prague and elsewhere in Czechoslovakia. Because for some forty-two years, when the first strains of that lovely song reach my ears, it seems as if I have to fight my way through the Red Army to get to the sweet object of my hope. And how’s that for a romantic notion?

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Juke Box, No. 20
“Quarter to Three” by Gary U.S. Bonds, Legrand 1008 [1961]
“Time Has Come Today” by the Chambers Brothers, Columbia 44414 [1968]
‘Turn Around, Look At Me” by the Vogues, Reprise 0686 [1968]
“Treat Her Like A Lady” by the Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose, United Artists 50721
[1971]
“One Fine Morning” by Lighthouse, Evolution 1048 [1971]
“Galileo” by the Indigo Girls from Rites of Passage [1992]

Because of – as I understand it – a record label’s promotional hi-jinks, “Quarter to Three” and the hit that preceded it, “New Orleans,” were credited to one U.S. Bonds rather than to Gary Bonds, which is the singer’s real name. Although the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits lists him as “Gary Bonds (U.S.),” over the years, it’s become commonplace to simply call the performer, as I have, “Gary U.S. Bonds.” Whatever name you call him, his body of work is a good one, and “Quarter to Three,” especially, is a great and infectious party song, one that spent two weeks at No. 1 during the summer of 1961.

With “Time Has Come Today,” the Chambers Brothers added psychedelia to their menu of blues, gospel and R&B. This was one of those records that could not be ignored as it came out of the radio, even if the listener were more attuned to other styles. In other words, as “Time Has Come Today” entered the room, it demanded attention, right from the “tick-tock” of the percussion and the lightly spoken “cuckoo!” On the album – The Time Has Come, released in 1967 – the track ran a little longer than eleven minutes; the single edit released in the autumn of 1968 spent nine weeks in the Top 40 and peaked at No. 11.

I wrote a brief bit about the Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose about a year ago, and those words still hold true: “The Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose had two Top Ten hits, and what great records they were! ‘Treat Her Like A Lady’ was the first of them, riding that chugging guitar, superb hook and gospelish call-and-response all the way to No. 3. ‘Too Late To Turn Back Now,’ which went to No. 2 during the summer of 1972, was also a good record, but it was smoother and somehow less demanding. If forced to choose, I’d give the decision to ‘Treat Her Like A Lady’ on points, but both sounded great coming out of the car radio. (The group had two other Top 40 hits, ‘Don’t Ever Be Lonely (A Poor Little Fool Like Me)’ and ‘I’m Never Gonna Be Alone Anymore,’ neither of which reached the Top Twenty.)” “Treat Her Like A Lady” peaked at No. 3 in July of 1971.

Percussive and jazzy, with a great horn chart, Lighthouse’s “One Fine Morning” probably should have done better than No. 24, which is where the single spent two weeks during November of 1971. But better singles have performed less well, and the charts – and record bins – were crowded with horn bands in those days: Chicago, BST, Mom’s Apple Pie, Chase, the Ides of March and more. And Lighthouse was from Canada, which might have limited the group’s appeal here in the U.S. But it’s still a great tune: “We’ll fly to the east! We’ll fly to the west! There’s no place we can’t call our own.”

“Galileo,” the Indigo Girls’ meditation on reincarnation, came along at an awkward time for me as a collector. By 1992, when the Indigo Girls released Rites of Passage, I was happily using my growing LP collection to make about one mix-tape a week for friends. But almost no new music was being released on vinyl, and I was still a few years away from having a CD player. So when I heard “Galileo” on the radio, I knew, first, that it was a song I wanted to include on mixes, and second, unless I bought a CD player or ran into some sort of miracle, I’d have to live without it. And I went without for a few years. I eventually got a CD player, and began collecting lots of new music I’d gone without, but at the same time, I kept on buying vinyl. And in late 1999, I found a white-labeled promo album in one of the bins at Cheapo’s. The label was blank and the white jacket had only a sticker that asked three questions, the first of which was: “What artist has been nominated for 4 Grammy awards, won 2, sold over 3 million records and doesn’t get played on very many commercial radio stations?” There was a toll-free phone number listed for those who wanted answers. But what interested me more than the sticker with the questions was the little scrawl on the other side of the front cover: “Indigo Girls, Rites of Passage.” So I bought it, and after I figured out which track was “Galileo,” the song began to show up on my mix-tapes. Eleven years later, and eighteen years after I first heard the song, it remains a favorite of mine, partly for the thoughtful and sometimes witty lyric, partly for the guest spot on the chorus from Jackson Browne and partly because miracles – even small ones – should be embraced.