Posts Tagged ‘Nils Lofgren’

Highlights Continued: 2006-2010

Friday, December 31st, 2010

New Year’s has never been a big deal to me. When I was a kid, Rick and I would spend the evening together, sometimes at our place but usually at his. We’d play board games and listen to music, and at midnight, we’d holler “Happy New Year!” Not long after that, we’d head to bed.

I did spend a couple of New Year’s Eves in a few drinking establishments along St. Cloud’s Fifth Avenue during my latter college days, but even those two evenings were fairly tame. The first year, 1974, three of us from The Table – two guys and a gal – sat in the Red Carpet sipping drinks and watching others dance. As 1975 ended, my Denmark buddy Rob and I stood by the bar next door in the Press, sipping drinks and watching others dance. So I’ve never really celebrated much on New Year’s Eve.

And that makes the rain, freezing rain, sleet and snow that we’re supposed to get today inconsequential, as long as the Texas Gal gets back from work safe and dry. We’ll probably watch some TV tonight, maybe load up the DVD with the next disc of The West Wing boxset, and – if we stay awake – we’ll watch the lighted ball drop in Times Square. After that, the only excitement will be staying up to watch the dates change on our computer screens.

But tomorrow is a new year and a new decade, and I should finish what I began yesterday, tapping one album and one other track from each of the years of the first decade of the new century. Yesterday, I wrote about 2001-2005, and today we pick up with 2006.

These last five years got a lot tougher. With the exception of the occasional powerhouse album or track, I absorb music slowly, through repeated listenings over time. And the closer I got to the present day in this exercise, the less I seemed to know about some of the music I’ve heard. I imagine that if I were to do the same thing for these ten years a decade from now, my selections would be quite a bit different. But we’ll leave that problem for December 2020 when we get there, and we’ll pick things up with 2006.

Choosing an album for 2006 might have been the easiest of this batch. Bruce Springsteen’s talented, rambling and delightfully informal Seeger Sessions Band put together a gem of Americana with We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions. A later version, subtitled The American Land Edition, added bonus tracks and bonus video and was actually worth the extra coinage. The sound of Springsteen and like-minded folks performing classic tunes like “Erie Canal” was a refreshing change. There’s nothing at all wrong with the E Street Band, of course, but it was fun to hear the Boss in a different environment.

My one single track from 2006 comes from a project by Linda Ronstadt and Cajun singer Ann Savoy. Their album, Adieu False Heart, while not quite a Cajun album, comes close to tapping the center of that unique American subculture. And to complicate things more, the duo digs into the old Left Banke hit, “Walk Away Renee” and makes the track work.

 

Things got a little obscure in 2007. That happens to be the year this blog began its explorations although I’m not sure there’s a causal link there. But as I looked at the list of CDs from 2007, I dithered a lot, considering We’ll Never Turn Back by Mavis Staples and Raising Sand by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss as well as albums by Maroon 5, the Indigo Girls and Ruthie Foster. After a lot of listening last evening, I settled on the debut CD by Rachel Harrington, The Bootlegger’s Daughter. The comments from All-Music Guide about Harrington’s follow-up – 2008’s City of Refuge – also describe The Bootlegger’s Daughter very well: “Harrington’s music . . . often sounds like it could date from the 1850s, or at least as far back as the 1930s, anyway. Accompanied by bluegrass instrumentation – fiddle, dobro, mandolin – she sings in a rough-hewn country voice songs with a rural setting that touch on love and death.” The Bootlegger’s Daughter is spare, haunting and beautiful.

It’s probably not surprising that a lot of my selections are Americana, steeped in the connection between the country, folk and singer/songwriter idioms. But the direction I took for a single track from 2007 might be a surprise. Nicole Atkins’ CD, Neptune City, was lushly produced pop with some tricks and warbles that made it clear how much Atkins listened to – among other things – the Brill Building sounds of the early 1960s. Though the album tends to wander a little, Atkins’ songs are strong; it’s a good listen, and I’ve selected “Maybe Tonight,” the album’s first track, as something to keep from 2007.

My album choice for 2008 landed here after I followed the advice of my pal and fellow blogger, jb of The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, who told me to make sure to listen to a group called Jump Back Jake. I listened and pretty quickly got hold of the group’s first album, Brooklyn Hustle/Memphis Muscle. The CD’s title pretty much sums up the group’s music: Straighforward, funky, soulful and rocking. This CD sees the inside of my player a lot.

In 2008, Nils Lofgren – whose solo work is a little slight in comparison with the work he’s done for Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen – put out a solo project that seemed at best risky: An acoustic album of Neil Young songs. I wasn’t sure Lofgren’s rather thin voice was up to that challenge. But it’s a superb album, and Lofgren does his early mentor well. It thought it would be difficult to pull one track from the CD, but it wasn’t. Here’s Lofgren’s cover of “On The Way Home.”

Nils Lofgren – “On The Way Home”

Among the CDs I wrote about during this blog’s early days were the two collaborations between singer/songwriter Eric Andersen, the late Rick Danko of The Band and Norwegian musician Jonas Fjeld. And since then, I keep watch for anything new by Andersen and Fjeld. Andersen’s easy enough to keep track of, but it’s a little tougher – though not nearly as difficult as it would have been twenty years ago – to know what Fjeld is doing. That why it was intriguing in 2009 when I discovered the second collaboration between Fjeld and the North Carolina bluegrass/roots group Chatham County Line. (The first was a 2007 live album recorded in Norway.) The 2009 CD, Brother Of Song, covers a lot of musical ground with songs rooted both in Americana and in Norwegian tradition (two of the tracks are sung in Norwegian), with Fjeld’s slightly raspy and slightly accented voice adding another dimension to the proceedings.

Instead of a studio track from 2009, I’m going to offer – I think for the second time at this blog – a live performance by Perpetuum Jazzile, a choir from Slovenia. The group’s performance of Toto’s “Africa” at – I think – a 2008 concert in Ljubljana remains amazing. The song was included on the group’s 2009 CD, Africa, but seeing it – even a second time – is better than just hearing it.

For all the dithering I did about some of the choices higher up the page, I found that making selections for the year just ending was easy. My favorite album from 2010 – as of this writing, anyway – turns out to be Women + Country by Jakob Dylan. It’s a collection of spare songs, supplemented by production from T-Bone Burnett and harmony vocals from Neko Case and Kelly Hogan, and it seems to sink deeper into me with every listening.

And my single track from 2010 was a pretty easy choice, too. I’ve been listening at least a little to The Union, the collaboration between Elton John and Leon Russell, and when I found that there’d been a video released for “If It Wasn’t For Bad,” the CD’s first track, there was no doubt what I’d tab as my favorite track of the year. Maybe it’s just the Bogartish noir of the video that gets to me. I dunno. But something makes this work for me.

Finally, a look at the last decade wouldn’t be complete without tapping into one of the funniest things I’ve found on the Internet since I first logged on in February 2000. In 2007, a music producer with too much time on his hands and some mimicry skills took seven of the witty children’s tales by Dr. Seuss and recorded them as they would have been done by Bob Dylan in the Blonde On Blonde era, with that “ wild mercury sound.” The songs were posted at the website Dylan Hears A Who, which was soon retired after a request by Dr. Seuss Enterprises. But the songs were already out there, and they continue to pop up now and then. So here’s a video for “Green Eggs & Ham” by Dylan Hears A Who:

I’ll be back tomorrow with the first Saturday Single of the new year.

‘I Don’t Need No Light In The Darkness’

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

Sometimes new stuff comes at you when you don’t expect it. By the summer of 1989 – when I landed in Anoka, Minnesota, for an eight-month stay – I was digging into musical performers and styles new to me (though some of those performers and styles had been around for some time). The digging was for the most part spurred by the contents of two boxes of records I’d bought at a North Dakota flea market during the late winter of 1989, boxes whose contents had introduced me to Mother Earth and had encouraged me to dig into performers about whom little I knew but their names, like Quicksilver Messenger Service, Ian Lloyd, Thin Lizzy, Terri Garthwaite and more. After years of letting music come to me when it would, I began to actively seek out new sounds.

And in July of 1989, a ladyfriend and I went to a concert in St. Paul, a show featuring Ringo Starr with the first incarnation of his All-Starr Band. Beyond Ringo himself, familiar names studded the lineup: Dr. John, Billy Preston, Clarence Clemons, Joe Walsh, Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Nils Lofgren and drummer Jim Keltner. Of all of them, I probably knew Lofgren and his work the least. I knew he’d been in Grin and that he’d worked some with Neil Young. And I was aware that he’d filled the spot created when Steve Van Zandt left Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band in the mid-1980s. And in the interims, I knew, he’d done his own work. But I knew nothing about that work at all.

At mid-concert, as the musicians supporting Ringo were taking their solo numbers, Lofgren counted in a song that started with a shimmering figure above a descending bass. My date and I, standing on our chairs in the sixth row, looked at each other. “You know this one?” she whispered to me. I shook my head, but as I listened, I told myself that I was going to learn about that song starting very soon.

The first step was the song’s name, “Shine Silently,” which my ladyfriend and I learned the following morning as we read reviews of Ringo’s show in the Twin Cities newspapers. From there, finding the song took a little longer than I’d expected; I had to work for a living, and there was so much music out there and so much to do at home. But I continued to keep Lofgren’s name and music in mind as I wandered shops and flea markets. And in February 1990, I found in an Anoka shop a 1981 Lofgren anthology titled The Best, which included “Shine Silently.” A little more than a year later, in 1991, Ringo released an album pulled from his 1989 concert tour that included Lofgren’s live version of the song, and I grabbed that album the first day it was out. The song originally was on Lofgren’s 1979 album Nils in a slower – and lower-pitched – version than the one that showed up on The Best. Without knowing for sure, I’m thinking that the version on The Best was the single version released in 1979 as A&M 2182. I prefer that take and the one from the Ringo Starr tour to the one on Nils.

Here’s the concert version:

The song remains a favorite of mine, partially because I’m a sucker for a descending bass line but mainly for its gentle and loving tone. Here are the key lines:

Shine silently.
I don’t need no light in the darkness.
Shine silently.
No I won’t get lost while your love shines,
Shines on me, shines on me.

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 5
“I’m Gonna Make You Mine” by Lou Christie, Buddha 116 [1969]
“Eli’s Coming” by Three Dog Night, ABC/Dunhill 4215 [1969]
“Trust Me” by Janis Joplin from Pearl [1971]
“Don’t Try To Lay No Boogie Woogie On The King Of Rock & Roll” by Long John Baldry from It Ain’t Easy [1971]
“Strawberry Letter 23” by the Brothers Johnson from Right On Time [1977]
“Shine Silently” by Nils Lofgren reissued on The Best [1979]

“I’m Gonna Make You Mine” was the last of five Lou Christie records to reach the Top 40, and it was separated from his last hit by more than three years, which is an eternity in the singles biz. In addition, the record was kind of clunky at moments, especially in the middle eight. But none of that mattered during the autumn of 1969, when the record went to No. 10, as “I’m Gonna Make You Mine” was the first record of that first Top 40 season that felt like it was about my life. There were no key lines, as the entire record spoke to me and, through me, to someone else. She wasn’t interested then, but five years later, for a too-brief time, she was mine.

Not quite a year ago, my blogging colleague jb wrote at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ about the television series Sports Night and the use of pop music by producer Aaron Sorkin to, as jb put it, “punctuate storylines.” One of those so used, in an episode that jb called the best in the series’ history, was Three Dog Night’s “Eli’s Coming,” a Laura Nyro song about a womanizer best avoided: “Eli’s coming, hide your heart, girl.” (Though I still wonder about the line “I went to Apollo by the bay.”) In his post, jb noted that one of the characters on Sports Center, even though he knows better now, still hears the song as he did the first time, as something more sinister: “There’s a strangeness about this day. Eli’s coming. . . . From the Three Dog Night song . . . Eli’s something bad. A darkness.” The character continues: “I know I’m getting the song wrong, but when I first heard it, that’s what I thought it meant. Things stay with you that way. . .” Indeed they do. For me the record – which went to No. 10 as 1969 turned into 1970 – was a slightly spooky, idiosyncratic piece of work and nothing more. Since I read jb’s post, however, the song sets me on edge more than it ever did. Thanks, jb. Still, it’s a great record. The key line? Right near the start, riding above that spooky organ for one more instant before the record takes off: “Eli’s a-comin’ and the cards say . . . a broken heart.”

It seems to me that the late Janis Joplin’s reputation rest in large part these days on her admittedly great facility as a blues shouter. She could wail, of course. Much of her work with Big Brother & The Holding Company – “Down On Me” and “Piece of My Heart” come to mind most quickly – was loud and insistent. (And good: One of those two records will show up here before this project is through.) Given the strength of those performances and her work on I Got Dem Ol’ Kosmic Blues Again Mama!, that image of Joplin as a wailer is understandable. Perhaps that’s why of all of Joplin’s work, I prefer Pearl, the posthumously released 1971 album. There are some workouts: “Cry Baby,” “Move Over” and “My Baby” come quickly to mind, and Joplin also takes the quiet start of “A Woman Left Lonely” to places not anticipated. But several times on Pearl, Joplin lets the song tell the story, seemingly holding back. The best of those tracks is her work on Bobby Womack’s “Trust Me.” That’s not to say Joplin’s interpretation doesn’t get intense. But it’s an intensity that seems to me, anyway, to have been very much under control. Key lines:

So if you love me like you tell me that you’re doing, dear,
You shouldn’t mind paying the price, any price, any price.
Love is supposed to be that special kind of thing,
Make anybody want to sacrifice.

I went over the history of the Long John Baldry track “Don’t Try To Lay No Boogie Woogie On The King Of Rock & Roll” in its various title permutations over the course of several posts a while back. (Those post are available here, here and here.) Of the various versions I know about, though – by Gator Creek, Crow, songwriter Jeff Thomas and Baldry – this one remains the favorite. Even with the shaggy dog story about Baldry playing his guitar in the street for pennies as prelude, the track from It Ain’t Easy still makes me wanna dance once pianist Ian Armitt starts accelerating. Key lines: “It ain’t a matter of pork ’n’ beans that’s gonna justify your soul/Just don’t try to lay no boogie woogie on the king of rock and roll!”

The Brothers Johnson’s “Strawberry Letter 23” slipped past me when it was on the charts in the late summer of 1977. I assume I heard it, as it got as high as No. 5 on the Billboard Top 40 chart (No. 1 on the R&B chart), but beyond a vague echo, the song spurs no memories for me. So why is it here in the Ultimate Jukebox? Because after the little filigree intro that was tacked on for the album, the song quickly finds an insistent groove that grabs one’s attention and anchors a great R&B record despite the sometimes surreal lyrics. The instrumental break by guitarist Lee Rittenour breaks into the groove, yes, but it delivers us back there as it fades, and we stroll along. As I noted here the other day, I sense an audio kinship between this record and the Isley Brothers’ long 1973 version of Seals & Crofts’ “Summer Breeze,” and that remains true, I think, as does the record’s lineage back to Shuggie Otis’ 1971 original recording of the song.  Key lines (I think):

A present from you:
Strawberry letter 22.
The music plays, I sit in for a few.

(Post revised slightly with new links December 22, 2012 and January 9, 2014.)