Posts Tagged ‘Jade’

‘Dance Into May!’

Wednesday, May 1st, 2019

Here’s a piece that ran here ten years ago. I’ve edited it just a bit. Happy May Day!*

It’s May Day again

No one has left a May Basket at my door this morning. I’m not surprised: How long has it been since anyone actually left a May Basket anywhere? I suppose there might be places where that sweet custom lingers, but that’s not here.

I do recall spending hours with construction paper, blunt scissors and schoolroom glue at Lincoln Elementary School, painstakingly putting together May Baskets with my classmates. I was not an artistic child. My skills were such that my baskets – year after year – were lopsided creatures with little gaps and clots of dried white glue all over. And the May Baskets I made over the years never got left on anyone’s doorstep.

May Day has long been marked as International Workers Day, but on this May Day I do not know of any workers who will march in solidarity today. In Europe, certainly (and perhaps in other places as well), there will be such marches. I do wonder how relevant those marches and those marchers are in these times. How lively is the international labor movement these days? Probably not all that lively, and these may be days when a more vital labor movement would be useful, as societies and priorities are being reordered.

As to specifically celebrating May Day, though, I recall the days of the Soviet Union: May Day was one of the two days a year when there were massive parades across the expanse of Moscow’s Red Square, past the Kremlin and Lenin’s Tomb. It would have been a spectacle to see, of course. One thing the Soviet Union could do well was put on a parade.

Looking further back into May Day history, Wikipedia tells me that the “earliest May Day celebrations appeared in pre-Christian [times], with the festival of Flora the Roman Goddess of flowers, [and] the Walpurgis Night celebrations of the Germanic countries. It is also associated with the Gaelic Beltane.” May Day, in pagan times, the account continues, marked the beginning of summer.

Current celebrations still abound in the land of about half of my ancestors, according to Wikipedia: “In rural regions of Germany, especially the Harz Mountains, Walpurgisnacht celebrations of Pagan origin are traditionally held on the night before May Day, including bonfires and the wrapping of maypoles, and young people use this opportunity to party, while the day itself is used by many families to get some fresh air. Motto: ‘Tanz in den Mai!’ (‘Dance into May!’). In the Rhineland, a region in the western part of Germany, May 1 is also celebrated by the delivery of a tree covered in streamers to the house of a girl the night before. The tree is typically from a love interest, though a tree wrapped only in white streamers is a sign of dislike. On leap years, it is the responsibility of the females to place the maypole, though the males are still allowed and encouraged to do so.”

Well, there is no dancing here today, at least not around maypoles (possibly around the kitchen if I am bored while waiting for the toaster). If I look real hard in the refrigerator, I might find a bottle of Mai Bock from one of the area’s breweries. That would be cause enough to celebrate.

Happy May Day!

A Six-Pack For May Day
“First of May” by the Bee Gees, Atco 5567 (1969)
“For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her” by Glenn Yarbrough, from For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her (1967)
“May Be A Price To Pay” by the Alan Parsons Project from The Turn Of A Friendly Card (1980)
“Mayfly” by Jade from Fly on Strangewings (1970)
“Hills of May” by Julie Felix from Clotho’s Web (1972)
“King of May” by Natalie Merchant from Ophelia (1998)

I imagine I’m cheating a little bit with two of those. But to be honest, I thought I’d have to cut more corners than I did. I was surprised to find four songs in my files with the name of the month in their titles.

How could I not play the Bee Gees’ track? It was, I think, the only single pulled from the Gibb brothers’ sprawling album Odessa, but it didn’t do so well on the chart: It spent three weeks in the Top 40, rising only to No. 37. Clearly out of style in its own time, what with the simple and nostalgic lyrics, the sweet, ornate production and the voice of a singer seemingly struggling not to weep, it’s a song that has, I think, aged better than a lot of the singles that surrounded it at the time. Still, I think “First of May” is better heard as a part of Odessa than as a single.

Speaking of out of style at the time, in 1967 Glenn Yarbrough’s honeyed voice was clearly not what record buyers were listening for. His For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her was a brave (some might say desperate, but I wouldn’t agree) attempt to update his sources of material, if not his vocal and background approaches: Writers whose songs appear on the album include Stephen Stills, Bob Dylan, Buffy Ste. Marie, Phil Ochs, the team of Mike Brewer and Tom Shipley and, of course, Paul Simon, who wrote the enigmatic and beautiful title track. I don’t think the new approach boosted Yarbrough’s sales much – at least one single was released to little effect in Canada and the UK; I don’t know about the U.S. – but the record enchanted at least one young listener in the Midwest. The album remains a favorite of mine, and Yarbrough’s delicate reading of the title song is one of the highlights.

The Alan Parsons Project track “May Be A Price To Pay” is the opener to The Turn Of A Friendly Card, the symphonic (and occasionally overbearing) art-rock project released in 1980. Most folks, I think, would only recognize it as the home of two singles: “Games People Play” went to No. 16 in early 1981, and the lush “Time” went to No. 15 later that year. The album itself was in the Top 40 for about five months beginning in November 1980 and peaked at No. 13. That success paved the way for the group’s 1982 album, Eye In The Sky, which peaked at No. 7 in 1982, with its title track becoming a No. 3 hit. As overwhelming as The Turn Of A Friendly Card can be, I think it’s Parsons’ best work.

I don’t know a lot about Jade; I came across the trio’s only album – rereleased on CD with a couple of bonus tracks in 2003 – in my early adventures in the world of music blogs. All-Music Guide points out the obvious: Jade sounded – right down to singer Marian Segal’s work – very much like early Fairport Convention with Sandy Denny. That’s a niche that a lot of British groups were trying to fill at the time, and Jade filled it long enough to release one album. “Mayfly” had more of a countryish feel than does the album as a whole.

According to AMG, “Julie Felix isn’t too well-known in her native United States, but since 1964 she’s been a major British folk music star and has been compared over there with Joan Baez.” Well, that seems a stretch to me, based on Clotho’s Web, the album from which “Hills of May” comes. The album is pleasant but has never blown me away.

One album that did blow me away when I first heard it in, oh, 1999, was Natalie Merchant’s Ophelia. Supposedly a song cycle that traces the character of Ophelia through the ages, the CD was filled with lush and melancholy songs, some of which were almost eerie. Repeated listening only made the CD seem better, if a bit more depressing. It’s a haunting piece of work, and “King of May” is pretty typical of the entire CD.

*The information at Wikipedia may have altered over these past ten years. If this were a newspaper piece, I’d check. But it’s a blog post and not a very important one, either, so I’m leaving that stuff as it was ten years ago.

‘Five’

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

We’re back to the March of the Integers this morning, looking at ‘Five,’ and the RealPlayer comes up with a list of 262 mp3s as a starting point.

Before we can get to work, though, we have to winnow out records by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, the Original Five Blind Boys of Alabama, the Original Memphis Five, the We Five, Louis Jordan and His Tympani Five, the Ben Folds Five and the Dave Clark Five as well as tracks by the Five Americans, Five Bells, Five Blazes, Five Breezes, Five Chavis Brothers, Five Delights, Five Empressions, Five Keys, Five Man Electrical Band, Five Stairsteps and Five For Fighting. We also need to set aside Nick Drake’s 1969 album Five Leaves Left, most of the 1969 Hawaii Five-O soundtrack by the Morton Stevens Orchestra and most of the similarly titled 1969 album by the Ventures.

Still – as has been the case in the previous four chapters of this exercise – we’re left with enough titles available so we can be a little picky. We’ll once again go chronologically.

With a nod to events in the eastern U.S. this week – and meaning no disrespect to anyone affected by Superstorm Sandy and its aftermath – we’ll start with a country tune about a flood from 1959. Johnny Cash chronicles the rising waters in “Five Feet High and Rising” in a dry and matter-of-fact tone that one can interpret as either comic or stoic. I’ll go with the latter. The record spent nine weeks in the country Top 40 as summer edged into autumn in 1959, peaking at No. 14.

The pleasantly trippy track “Five O’Clock in the Morning” by Wendy & Bonnie comes from one of the more interesting one-shot albums of the 1960s. Wendy and Bonnie Flowers were sisters from San Francisco who were seventeen and thirteen, respectively, when their album, Genesis, was released in 1969. It came out on the Skye label, which folded soon after the record came out, dooming any chances for the album to gain any attention. Was it interesting because it was good or because Wendy and Bonnie were so young? A little more the latter than the former, I think, but the album – re-released on the Sundazed label in 2001 with bonus tracks – is worth finding.

I noted that we’d have to ignore most of the Ventures’ 1969 album Hawaii Five-O, but there was really no way I could put together a selection of songs featuring the number “five” and not include the title track from that album. “Hawaii Five-O” is about as catchy as a television theme can be, and the Ventures’ recording of the theme went to No. 4 in 1969. The tune came from the pen of composer Morton Stevens, who recorded the version used for the show’s opening.

Jade was a British folk-rock group that released its only album, Fly on Strangewings, in 1970. It’s a pleasant album with a few very good pieces, but I think that Richie Unterberger of All-Music Guide got it right: “While Jade’s only album is decent early-’70s British folk-rock, its similarity to the material that Sandy Denny sang lead on with Fairport Convention is so evident that it’s rather unnerving.” Unterberger went on, however, to note several tracks on the album that could stand on their own without drawing comparisons to Denny and Fairport. “Five Of Us” is, sadly, not one of those tracks. Still, from the distance of more than forty years, it’s a decent piece of British folk-rock with impressive harmonies and a very eerie recurring “whooooooh” in the background.

The country-rock group Cowboy released half-a-dozen albums on the Capricorn label during the 1970s and deservedly sold a fair number of records. I’d guess that most folks who went looking for Cowboy’s work, though, did so for the same reason I did: The track “Please Be With Me” was included on the first Duane Allman Anthology because of Allman’s Dobro work. And, like me, those who bought the 1971 album 5’ll Get You Ten just for that track discovered a lot of additional fine music from Scott Boyer, Tommy Talton, Chuck Leavell and the others who sat in. The track “5’ll Get You Ten” is as good as anything on the album.

In 1999, country-folk artist Nanci Griffith took some of her best songs from previous albums and re-recorded them with backing from the London Symphony Orchestra. Some of Griffith’s performances were overwhelmed by the orchestra, and some of them came out all right. To my ears, the best thing on the album was the duet on “Love at the Five and Dime” by Griffith and Darius Rucker, best known as lead singer for Hootie and the Blowfish. The song, which had been affecting in its original version on Griffith’s 1986 album, The Last of the True Believers, became more powerful and poignant with the addition of Rucker’s unique voice.