Posts Tagged ‘Nanci Griffith’

‘West’

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017

Today, finally, we go west, sorting through the digital shelves for four tracks that use the word “west” in their titles.

Sorting in the RealPlayer for the word, we get 613 tracks, but as I suspected, we have some winnowing to do. Numerous tracks have been labeled “West Coast” in the genre slot, and they fall by the wayside, Jackson Browne’s For Everyman, the City’s Now That Everything’s Been Said, and Walter Eagan’s Not Shy among them. Anything titled or tagged as having been recorded at the Fillmore West will be ignored, as will numerous blues joints that came out of West Helena, Arkansas (many of them by Howlin’ Wolf).

Most of Alfred Newman’s soundtrack to the 1962 movie How The West Was Won is lost, as are Ray Charles’ two volumes from 1962 of Modern Sounds In Country & Western Music. The same holds for anything by Cashman & West (with and without Pistilli), and for a group called West, which gets double-docked for its 1968 self-titled album.

We also throw out the fight song from Western Illinois University, and numerous singles, starting with those on the Westbound and EastWest labels. Among the lost singles are “Linda’s Gone” by the West Coast Branch, “Fairchild” by Willie West, “Rave On” by Sonny West, “Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)” by Tex Williams & His Western Caravan, “Tennessee Toddy” by Billy Gray & His Western Okies, “Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me A Little While)” by Kim Weston, “500 Miles” by Hedy West, “Take What You Want” by West Point, and “The Ballad Of Paladin” by Johnny Western.

Still, we have enough to work with.

Trying to tap into the spirit of the music they’d made a decade earlier, the Allman Brothers Band offered “From The Madness Of The West” on its 1980 album Reach For The Sky. In its six-plus minutes, the jam gave the listener the expected: parallel guitar lines playing arching melodies, a percussion solo, modal progressions and a technically precise guitar solo. What it could not offer, of course, were those people and things the Allman Brothers Band lost along the way: the departed Duane Allman and Berry Oakley, the bypassed Jaimoe, and the ability to do things no other band could. “From The Madness Of The West” is decent listening but no more than that. If you let it roll by in the background without thinking about it, it’s pleasant music, but when you stop to think about the arc of the Allman Brothers Band, the track – and in fact all of Reach For The Sky – feels like the part in a novel where you pause and wonder if in fact there can be any revival.

In 1987, when the Grateful Dead released the album In The Dark and pulled from the album the single “Touch Of Grey,” I wonder if Jerry Garcia and the rest of the band were baffled by the result. The album went to No. 6 on the Billboard 200, and the single went to No. 9 on the Hot 100. The group had reached the Top 20 of the album chart a few times before – Blues For Allah had done the best, going to No. 12 in 1975 – but never before had a Dead single hit the Top 40, much less the Top Ten. The group’s highest charting single before “Touch Of Grey” had been 1971’s “Truckin’,” which topped off at No. 64. As it happened, the Dead’s burst of popularity coincided with the rebirth of my interest in buying tunes, and In The Dark became the first Grateful Dead album on my shelves. And one of my favorite tracks from the album – “West L.A. Fadeaway” – qualifies for today’s exercise, bringing along a blues verse that more often than not makes me chuckle: “I met an old mistake walkin’ down the street today/I didn’t wanna be mean about it, but I didn’t have one good word to say.”

With a spare accompaniment – guitars and few strings – Nanci Griffith sings:

Wash away the tears
All the angry times we shared
All the feelings and the sorrows come and gone
We have let them slip away
Because I’m standing here today
And I’m smiling at your old West Texas sun

I remember times
When you’d weathered out my mind
But you always had a peaceful word to say
And you could always bring a smile
With the mischief in your eyes
Still, I’m glad the miles keep me separate from your games

You know you’re still as wild
As those old west Texas plains
Standing by the highway do you still call my name?
Lord, I can’t believe it’s been such a long, long time
Since I’ve seen that Texas boy smile

Well, I’ll be heading out of town
I may stop by next time around
Hell, it’s raining, but at least that’s something real
I came shackled down with fears
About our dreams and wasted years
And now I know exactly how to feel

Wash away the tears
All the angry times we shared
All the feelings and the sorrows come and gone
We have let them slip away
Because I’m standing here today
And I’m smiling at your old West Texas sun

The track is “West Texas Sun” from Griffith’s first album, the 1978 release There’s A Light Beyond These Woods. As one might expect for a first album, it’s a little tentative; the confident story-teller that I discovered in the early 1990s has yet to show up. (I think of “Love at the Five & Dime” from The Last of the True Believers in 1986 and “Trouble In The Fields” from Lone Star State Of Mind a year later, just to highlight two great songs that came along very soon.) But even early Griffith is worth a stop this morning.

And we close this morning with a recent version of a song that’s been around for nearly ninety years: “West End Blues.” Written by Clarence Williams and King Oliver and first recorded in 1928 by King Oliver & His Dixie Syncopators, “West End Blues” was one of the tunes that New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint selected for his 2009 album The Bright Mississippi. In his review of the album at AllMusic, Stephen Thomas Erlewine wrote that “although straight-out jazz is uncommon in Toussaint’s work, this neither feels unfamiliar or like a stretch,” adding, “Upon the first listen, The Bright Mississippi merely seems like a joyous good time, but subsequent spins focus attention on just how rich and multi-layered this wonderful music is.” As I listened to the most recent cover of “West End Blues,” I noted that the digital shelves also hold a copy of one of the earliest covers of the song: A 1928 release by Louis Armstrong & His Hot Five.

‘Blue’

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

In some ways, “Blue” should be the easiest segment of the trip we’re calling Floyd’s Prism, a tour through the seven colors of the spectrum (with the addition of “Black” and “White”). A search by the RealPlayer brings up 9,764 mp3s that have the word “blue” somewhere in their song or album titles, in their performers’ names or in the genre tags than have been appended to them.

So we have, as often happens with these projects, plenty of material to choose from. Perhaps too much, because we have blues, lots of blues, both in song and album titles and in genre tags. And as much as I love the blues, they’re not what I’m looking for (unless, that is, I find a tune called something like “Ice Blue Blues” among those nine-thousand-some mp3s).

So, what do we winnow? Well, among the more interesting blues titles that we won’t be using are “Protoplasm Blues,” a 1973 offering by Don Agrati (better known as actor Don O’Grady as one of the titular sons in the 1960s television comedy My Three Sons); “Chimes Blues,” a 1923 track by King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band featuring Louis Armstrong on cornet; “Yer Blues” by the Beatles, “Summertime Blues” by both the Who and Blue Cheer; “If the Blues Was Whiskey,” a 1935 effort by Bumble Bee Slim; seventeen versions of “Statesboro Blues,” ranging from Blind Willie McTell’s 1928 original to Dion’s 2006 cover; and twenty versions of “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom,” from Robert Johnson’s 1936 original to Carolyn Wonderland’s 2011 cover (titled, as are most of the covers, as simply “Dust My Broom”).

Many artists that got pulled in by the search must be discarded, including Blue Magic, Blue Merle, Blue Asia, Blue Boys, Blue Cheer (again), Blue Haze, Blue Mink, Blue Money Band, Blue Notes, Blue Öyster Cult, Blue Ridge Highballers, Blue Rodeo, Blue Rose, Blue Sky Boys, Blue Stingray, Blues Delight, Blues Image, Blues Magoos, Blues Project, Blues Traveler, Bob B Soxx and The Blue Jeans, David Blue, and the Moody Blues.

And, then, most or all tracks of many albums go by the wayside, inclding Backwater Blues, a 1961 release from Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee; the 1964 release from Koerner, Ray & Glover, [Lots More] Blues, Rags and Hollers; Leo Kottke’s 1969 album, 12-String Blues; Julie London’s 1957 torch song collection, About the Blues; the 2003 album from Chris Thomas King & Blind Mississippi Morris, Along The Blues Highway; Jimmy McGriff’s 1967 offering, A Bag Full of Blues; Ringo Starr’s 1970 album, Beaucoups of Blues; the 1986 soundtrack by Gabriel Yared to the film Betty Blue; Joni Mitchell’s 1970 masterpiece, Blue; LeAnn Rimes’ similarly titled 1996 album; saxophonist Ike Quebec’s 1961 album, Blue & Sentimental; Chris Rea’s massive 2005 box set, Blue Guitars (mentioned here the other day); Eric Andersen’s 1972 album, Blue River; a 1999 tribute to Led Zeppelin titled Whole Lotta Blues; and on and on, including more than 200 tracks released between 1933 and 1942 on the Bluebird label.

But that leaves us, still, with plenty of “Blue” material.

The first choice was easy. I wanted a version of Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up In Blue.” I’ve got five versions by the man himself: three from the studio in 1974 and two live versions, but I decided against any of those. I also passed on the Indigo Girls’ cover from their 1995 live album, 1200 Curfews, in favor of a version from 1976 by the Hoodoo Rhythm Devils. The Devils were, says Wikipedia, a blues-funk band; All Music Guide just calls their stuff pop rock. In any case, the Devils released six albums between 1971 and 1978; their last, All Kidding Aside, bubbled under the Billboard album chart for one week at No. 208. Their cover of “Tangled Up In Blue” comes from their 1976 album, Safe In Their Homes, and it’s pretty good.

One of my favorite quirky albums is The McGarrigle Hour, a wide-ranging 1998 collection of tunes recorded by sisters Kate and Anna McGarrigle, along with other members of their equally wide-ranging collection of musical family and friends, including Loudon Wainwright, Rufus Wainwright, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt and more. Among the songs included is the 1919 tune “Alice Blue Gown” by Joseph McCarthy and Harry Tierney. Alice Blue, says Wikipedia, was a pale tint of azure that was the favorite color of Alice Roosevelt Longworth, the daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt. Her gown of that color, says Wikipedia, sparked a fashion sensation in the U.S. that inspired, among other things, the writing of the song “Alice Blue Gown” for a 1919 Broadway musical titled Irene. The song’s vocals on The McGarrigle Hour come from Anna McGarrigle’s daughter, Lily Lanken, with background vocals by Anna McGarrigle and Rufus Wainwright.

The great song “Blue Moon” could not be ignored today. But which version of the Richard Rogers & Lorenz Hart tune? As I dug, I learned that the song we know today was actually the fourth version of the tune that Rodgers & Hart, contacted at the time to the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios, put together; Rodger’s melody was the same throughout, but Hart ended up crafting four different lyrics for the tune. The first two were not used. The third was included in the 1934 movie Manhattan Melodrama, but after the film’s release, says Wikipedia, “Jack Robbins – the head of the studio’s publishing company – decided that the tune was suited to commercial release but needed more romantic lyrics and a punchier title. Hart was initially reluctant to write yet another lyric but he was persuaded.” The result was the song we know today: “Blue moon, you saw me standing alone . . .”  There are eight versions of the song on the digital shelves, beginning with Mel Tormé’s 1949 take and including the Marcels’ No. 1 doo-wop version from 1961. But I went with Julie London, who put her restrained version of “Blue Moon” on her 1958 album, Julie Is Her Name, Vol. 2.

It might have been in a garage sale or maybe in the budget rack at a Half Price Books, but one Saturday during the brief time the Texas Gal and I lived in the Twin Cities suburb of Plymouth, I came across Walking Into Clarksdale, the 1998 album by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. Sadly, once I got home and dropped the disc into the player, I wasn’t impressed. As Stephen Thomas Erlewine of All Music Guide writes, “It’s certainly possible to hear where the duo was intending to go, since the circular melodies, Mideastern drones, sawing strings, drum loops, and sledgehammer riffs all add up to an effective update and progression of the classic Zeppelin sound. The problem is, the new sound doesn’t go anywhere.” I tossed the disc onto the shelf and made a note to come back to it another day. I think that day will be soon, as I ran across “Blue Train” this morning, and it sounds a lot better than I remember anything from Walking Into Clarksdale sounding eleven years ago.

Nanci Griffith’s 2006 album, Ruby’s Torch, was a collection of songs offered as –unsurprisingly, given the album’s title – torch songs. Only one of the songs in the collection, though, could really be said to fall into that subgenre of music on its own. (That would be “In The Wee, Small Hours of the Morning,” the title track to a 1955 concept album by Frank Sinatra.) But using orchestration, appropriate and creative arrangements and her own unique voice, Griffith maneuvered the other ten songs on the album into the genre quite well. “Bluer Than Blue” is the track we’re interested in this morning, a re-working of the tune that was a No. 12 hit for Michael Johnson in 1978.

Every time I hear a commercial use as background music a snippet of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” I murmur to myself that I need to get a CD a Gershwin’s works. As the temporal range of my musical interests continues to expand – my most recent CD purchases have been collections of 1930s and 1940s western swing and of new recordings of songs popular during the mid- and late 1800s – I find more and more gaps in my collection. I do have some Gershwin on the vinyl shelves and a little bit on the digital shelves. One of the treasures in the latter location is a 1994 release of “Rhapsody in Blue” by harmonica player Larry Adler and arranger/producer George Martin. The track showed up on the album Glory of Gershwin, and based on the reviews I’ve read, the other tracks on the album are a bit disappointing. But Adler’s work here is well worth a listen.

‘Ten’

Friday, May 31st, 2013

Sorting for the word “ten” in the titles of the 68,000 mp3s is a difficult process, perhaps the most difficult so far in our March Of The Integers. The RealPlayer lists 1,632 mp3s with that letter combination somewhere in the indexed information. And few of those titles in that listing can be used.

Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos as recorded by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment? Gone, just like the Allman Brothers Band’s album Enlightened Rogues. Any music tagged as easy listening is also dismissed, which wipes out entire catalogs from artists like Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, the Baja Marimba Band, Ray Conniff & The Singers, Ferrante & Teicher, Percy Faith and of course (in a double stroke), my entire collection of Hugo Montenegro’s music.

Anything with the name of the state of Tennessee in its title has to be set aside, from the Dykes Magic City Trio’s 1927 version of “Tennessee Girls” to the Secret Sisters’ 2010 track “Tennessee Me.” We also lose anything tagged as having been recorded in the state, from Clarence “Tom” Ashley’s 1929 recording of “Coo Coo Bird” to Johnny Cash’s 1974 take on “Ragged Old Flag.” And we eliminate as well several albums: The Tennessee Tapes by the Jonas Fjeld Band, Easin’ Back to Tennessee by Colin Linden and Tennessee Pusher by the Old Crow Medicine Show.

Marc Cohn’s 2010 album of covers, Listening Booth: 1970 is gone, as are the single tracks “Lisa, Listen To Me” by Blood, Sweat & Tears, “Listen to the Wind” by Jack Casady, “Listen to Me” by Buddy Holly, “Listen Here” by Richard “Groove” Holmes and “Listen To The Flowers Growing” by Artie Wayne, among many others.

We’ll also have to avoid everything with the word “tender” in it, including the Bee Gees “Fanny (Be Tender With My Love),” Blue Öyster Cult’s “Tenderloin,” all of Jackson Browne’s album The Pretender, Trisha Yearwood’s “Bartender’s Blues,” and six versions of the classic song “Tenderly,” including Sam “The Man” Taylor’s sweet 1960 saxophone cover.

Lastly, we must pass over the marvelously titled 1945 R&B number “Voo-It! Voo-It!” by Marion (The Blues Woman) Abernathy. As well as having a great title, it’s a decent record that showed up in the list only because an appended comment noted that it was co-written – there’s the “ten” – by Buddy Banks and William “Frosty” Pyles. I am now determined to feature it in this space someday soon.

So what are we left with? Well, there are likely several tracks with the word “ten” hidden in the middle of their titles, but we’ll go the easy route from here and land on six tracks that start with the word. And we have about twenty to choose from, so we should come up with something interesting.

We have covers of a Gordon Lightfoot tune by Tony Rice and Nanci Griffith. We’ll go with Griffith’s version of “Ten Degrees and Getting Colder” from her 1993 album of covers, Other Voices, Other Rooms. The album is well worth finding; the highlights also include Griffith’s takes on John Prine’s “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness” and Bob Dylan’s “Boots of Spanish Leather.” Griffith reprised the idea in 1998 with Other Voices, Too (A Trip Back to Bountiful), an album that starts with a Fairport Convention bang: covers of Richard Thompson’s “Wall of Death” and Sandy Denny’s “Who Knows Where The Time Goes.”

The Miller Sisters – Elsie Jo Miller and Mildred Miller Wages – were actually sisters-in-law from Tupelo, Mississippi. After performing with Elsie’s husband Roy Miller (being billed then as the Miller Trio), the women auditioned for Sun Records in Memphis. According to Wikipedia, “Producer Sam Phillips believed that the Millers’ vocal harmonies, complemented by the steel guitar solos of Stan Kesler and the percussive electric guitar of Quinton Claunch, would translate into significant record sales,” and the duo released a few country singles without much success. Those singles included “Ten Cats Down” from August of 1956, a rockabilly romp that features some nice harmonies. I found the track on the 2002 British compilation The Legendary Story of Sun Records.

We’ll stay with rockabilly for another record: “Ten Little Women” by Terry Noland. A Texas native, Noland – according to the website BlackCat Rockabilly – “attended the same school as Buddy Holly, and like Holly, most of his Brunswick records were produced by Norman Petty in Clovis, New Mexico.” Brunswick released “Ten Little Women” in 1957 and followed it with “Patty Baby.” The latter sold well in New York, says BlackCat Rockabilly, which led to Noland’s appearing “at the bottom of the bill on Alan Freed’s 1957 Holiday of Stars show at the Brooklyn Paramount.” The flip side of “Ten Little Women” was a tune called “Hypnotized,” which the Drifters covered and took to No. 79 in 1957. I found “Ten Little Women” in the massive That’ll Flat Git It collection of rockabilly released about twenty years ago.

One of the highlights of 2000 – around here, anyway – was the release of Riding With The King, the album that brought Eric Clapton and B.B. King into the studio together. The album’s highlights include takes on King classics like “Help the Poor” and “Three O’Clock Blues” and a shuffling duet on Bill Broonzy’s “Key to the Highway,” a take that’s shorter and less intense but just as pleasurable as the legendary version Clapton recorded in 1970 with Derek & The Dominos. Today, however, it’s “Ten Long Years” that draws our attention. The version King recorded for the RPM label in 1955 went to No. 9 on the R&B chart; the version from Riding is longer but, again, no less pleasurable.

Led Zeppelin was never high on my list of favorite bands; I imagine the band’s excesses – in all ways – put me off. These days, the group’s music is more accessible (and no doubt my tastes have broadened), and there’s no doubt the band’s legendary misbehaviors are far less shocking when viewed from the perspective of today’s libertine culture. So I’ve heard more Zeppelin in the past fifteen years than I likely did in the years way back, but there are still surprises: The aching “Ten Years Gone” from 1975’s Physical Graffiti is one of them. The track was tucked into the second disc of the two-LP album, but I came across it after finding two concise anthologies – Early Days and Latter Days – at a garage sale a couple of years ago. And it’s a pleasant interlude as we wander toward our last stop of the morning.

I don’t know a lot about the Canadian group Steel River. The group was from the Toronto area and got a deal in 1970 from Canada’s Tuesday Records, according to Wikipedia. “Ten Pound Note” was the group’s first single; the record ended up reaching the Canadian Top Ten and was No. 79 in Canada for the year of 1970. I found the single a few years ago when I came across a rip of the group’s only album, Weighin’ Heavy. It’s a decent single, and, given that songs with “eleven” in their titles are rare – I have only four of them among the 68,000 on the mp3 shelves – it’s not a bad place to end the March Of The Integers.

‘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.