Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Neil over Europe pt. 2: electric Young

As promised, here are some highlights from the electric part of the shows Neil Young played on his European tour recently. After about an hour of songs performed on acoustic guitar or piano, it was time to get that Gibson Les Paul - aka Old Black- out of its case and let it rip. With help from Ben Keith on pedal steel, lap steel and guitar, Rick Rosas on bass and Ralph Molina on drums, Young showed he could still make one hell of a racket.

It was not all noisy riffing and lenghty guitar solo´s however: just take the exquisite reading of Oh Lonesome Me for instance. Some great harp there too. And that old campfire dopesong Roll Another Number still had that perfect laidback country feel. Select audiences were treated to a second encore, introduced by a gong-beating character in a pasha costume. What followed was the surfy instrumental The Sultan, a song Young recorded way back in ´63 with his first band the Squires. I know at least one guy who left before it was played, as he thought the concert had already ended...

Neil Young - Spirit Road (live Amsterdam 20-2-´08) MP3
Neil Young - Oh Lonesome Me (live Antwerp 11-2-´08) MP3
Neil Young - Roll Another Number (live London 11-3-´08) MP3
Neil Young - The Sultan (live Amsterdam 20-2-´08) MP3

Monday, April 28, 2008

Neil over Europe pt. 1: acoustic Young

Just got in a five disc set with one version of all the fifty-something songs Neil Young played during his recent European tour. The audio quality is breathtakingly good in most cases, and luckily the performances are pretty amazing too. The outrage about the very high ticket prices for the shows was justified of course, but from what I heard the people who decided to fork over their hard earned cash were never disappointed in the end.

The sets were a good mix between the old and the new, the classics and the rarely played, while a song like Campaigner was even lyrically updated: Nixon became Bush of course. Neil: "Where even George Bush has got soul..." Audience member: "No way!" Say what you will, but the old dinosaur´s still got plenty of soul. Here are some beauties from the acoustic sets; please stay tuned for pt. 2 of this series, which will feature some highlights of the electric Young. Soon, soon.

Neil Young - From Hank To Hendrix (live Antwerp 11-2-´08) MP3
Neil Young - Sad Movies (live Antwerp 11-2-´08) MP3
Neil Young - Campaigner (live Amsterdam 20-2-´08) MP3
Neil Young - Stringman (live Amsterdam 18-2-´08) MP3
Neil Young - Separate Ways (live Vienna 22-2-´08) MP3

Friday, April 25, 2008

Omnivore grab bag

It´s another grab bag Friday, and I´ve got a great variety of styles for all you musical omnivores tonight. There´s blues featuring Lightnin´Hopkins and electronica with the amazing Silver Apples, while Bonnie Prince Billy takes care of lofi and the Heptones provide roots reggae and dub. And then we´ve got the country contingent: Gram Parsons, The Flatlanders and Joe Ely. Great songs all of them, so check it out.

Let´s get going with some old electric blues. Lightnin´ Hopkins recorded his Herald sessions in April ´54 in Houston, and he never played a meaner guitar. With just Ben Turner on drums and Donald Cooks on bass, the overall sound is remarkably open and airy. Life I Used To Live sees Hopkins looking back on a life of sin: "I´m gonna change my way of living, I´m gonna join the church again". He doesn´t sound like he actually will go through with it though... Lightnin´s Special is a furious instrumental that´s hard to beat. You can find them on Lightnin´And The Blues: The Herald Sessions (Buddha records).

Lightnin´Hopkins - Life I Used To Live MP3
Lightnin´Hopkins - Lightnin´s Special MP3

The Silver Apples were unique. Two guys from New York City who made electronic music that was way ahead of its time. The duo built its own instruments: a huge percussion kit called the Taylor drums and the Simeon, some kind of oscillator set which was played with hands, elbows, knees and feet. Contrary to most bands the Apples didn´t play their first gig in some small club. Their manager secured them a place on the bill for a huge free festival in Central Park, so they debuted for 30.000 people... They recorded two revolutionary albums for the Kapp label in the late sixties that didn´t sell but became hugely influential on lots of bands (think Suicide for instance). Both are compiled on one wonderfully weird cd on MCA.

Silver Apples - Oscillations MP3

Here´s two songs about country hicks taking their true loves to the big city. Both fail. In Gram Parsons´ Streets Of Baltimore (written by Tompal Glaser and Harlan Howard btw) the protagonist even decides to go back home after a while, leaving his baby behind in the largest city in the state of Maryland. "I soon learned she loved those bright lights more than she loved me..." It´s from that wonderful showcase of ´cosmic American music´ called G.P. (Reprise ´73). The Flatlanders (featuring the mighty triumvirate of Joe Ely, Jimmy Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock) take their Rose from the mountain to L.A. "where the air ain´t clean" but money talks. They soon hoof it back to Colorado however, as the rose is slowly but surely wilting. Well, at least they go back home together. Find it on their ´72 gem More A Legend Than A Band (Rounder).

Gram Parsons - Streets Of Baltimore MP3
The Flatlanders - Rose From The Mountain MP3

Joe Ely made his first claim to fame with the Flatlanders, although that seminal band never made it big. More a legend than a band indeed. Why this guy is still a cult hero at best I simply can´t understand. Take the exemplary compilation No Bad Talk Or Loud Talk ´77-´81 (Edsel ´95) for instance. Ely writes great songs and can handle honky tonk, rockabilly and pure country with ease. The melancholic Tonight I Think I´m Gonna Go Downtown, a song written by co-Flatlander Jimmy Dale Gilmore, is a good example of the latter. And that accordeon sure is a nice touch.

Joe Ely - Tonight I Think I´m Gonna Go Downtown MP3

I finally managed to track down a copy of the extremely limited Dawn McCarthy & Bonnie Prince Billy cd Wai Notes. Released on the tiny Sea Notes label, it contains demos (in lofi quality with quite a lot of tape hiss) of songs that later ended up on Billy´s wonderful last outing The Letting Go. Great stuff, but for hardcore fans of the Louisville bard only I guess. Nice touch: there´s a real polaroid glued to the sleeve.

Dawn McCarthy & Bonnie Prince Billy - Wai MP3

Let´s call it a night with some reggae from one of my favorite vocal groups, The Heptones. Youngsters Earl Morgan, Barry Llewellyn and Leroy Sibbles started out in the sixties as a rocksteady ensemble in Trenchtown, Jamaica. They proved one of the few groups that could make the transition to roots reggae in the seventies with ease. Cool Rasta is a good example of their fluent style. And the dub version, produced by the great Harry J, is irie too. Buy it on the Cool Rasta album (Trojan).

The Heptones - Cool Rasta MP3
The Heptones - Rasta Dub MP3

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Shake Sugaree

Shake Sugaree is a song I´ve always loved, especially in the original version as performed by the amazing Elizabeth Cotten. "I've a little secret, I ain't gonna tell... I'm goin' to heaven in a ground pea shell... Oh, Lordy me, didn't I shake sugaree, everything I got is down in pawn..." It´s Elizabeth ´Libba´ Cotten (1895-1987) on guitar here only by the way, as her great grandchild Brenda Evans is singing it. And what a voice she´s got... Brenda was only twelve (!) at the time, and contributed to the lyrics together with her brother Johnny and her two cousins Sue and Wendy, on gran Elizabeth´s melody. According to Cotten in the liner notes "the first verse, my eldest great grandson, he made that himself, and from that each child would say a word and add to it. To tell the truth, I don´t know what got it started, but it must have been something said or something done". Find this jewel on the cd Shake Sugaree (Smithsonian Folkways).

Shake Sugaree was covered by many, as were other Cotten classics as Freight Train - which she wrote when she was eleven btw, so it runs in the family - and Oh Babe, It Ain´t No Lie. Greenwich Village folky Fred Neil did a nice version with slightly altered lyrics as I´ve Got A Secret (Didn´t We Shake Sugaree) on his eponymous second album (Water ´67) for instance. The loving reading Taj Mahal gives to the song even comes with a spoken intro about Libba and with a children´s choir. Find it on his ´88 cd Shake Sugaree (Taj Mahal Sings And Plays For Children) on the Music For Little People label. Bob Dylan never recorded it in the studio alas, but played homage to it a couple of times in concert in ´96 and ´97. Another interpretation I really like comes from Mary Lou Lord´s Got No Shadow album (Work ´98). Short and sweet. Oh Lordy me indeed...

Elizabeth Cotten - Shake Sugaree MP3
Fred Neil - I´ve Got A Secret (Didn´t We Shake Sugaree) MP3
Taj Mahal - Shake Sugaree MP3
Bob Dylan - Shake Sugaree (live Atlanta 1-12-´97) MP3
Mary Lou Lord - Shake Sugaree MP3

Monday, April 21, 2008

Crumb´s trading cards

I´ve always been an admirer of underground comic artist extraordinaire Robert Crumb, of Mr. Natural, Fritz The Cat and Devil Girl fame. Back in the eighties Crumb, who knows his music and also plays a mean banjo, created three beautiful sets of trading cards with musical themes: Heroes of the Blues, Pioneers of Country Music and Early Jazz Greats. The good news is that these have finally been collected in book form as R. Crumb´s Heroes Of Blues, Jazz & Country (Abrams Books). A handsome and nicely priced hardcover with tons of color portraits and short but accurate biographies of both famous and obscure musicians, you´d be a fool not to pick up a copy. Especially since it comes with a cd containing 21 great tracks from the archives of the great Yazoo label. Which means you get wonderful songs like High Water Everywhere by Charley Patton representing the blues, Big Bend Gal by the Shelor Family - who recorded only four sides in ´27 and were never heard of again - in the country section and Jelly Roll Morton´s Kansas City Stomps for early jazz. Keep on truckin´, Mr. Crumb...

Charley Patton - High Water Everywhere MP3
Shelor Family - Big Bend Gal MP3
Jelly Roll Morton´s Red Hot Peppers - Kansas City Stomps MP3

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Grab bag belissima

Grab bags always get posted here on Fridays, but I didn´t make it home on time yesterday night. Got back just a little too late from a few wonderful days in Rome. It was the city of cities long ago, but nowadays it´s still an extremely pleasant place to wander around in. And the food is heavenly... The taste of pasta with truffels still lingers in my mouth while I type this. Add great wine and strong espresso and you know you´re in Italia la bella. But alora, as they say a lot in the streets of Rome, enough of that and on to the music. What did I enjoy this week? Mostly old stuff. The Son Volt anthology has been in heavy rotation, as was The Best Of Sandy Denny. And then there´s always Neil Young of course. Two live tracks from Tonight´s The Night? Yummy.

Here we go. I recently bought The Best Of James & Bobby Purify (Sony), and it´s got me hummin´ever since. Cousins James and Bobby scored a million selling hit with the immortal I´m Your Puppet in ´66, but all 25 songs collected on this disc are great. Soul with a capital S. Check out Wish You Didn´t Have To Go to see what I´m on about.
James & Bobby Purify - Wish You Didn´t Have To Go MP3

Sandy Denny was the figure head of the British folk scene in the late sixties and the seventies. All her music - with Fairport Convention, with Fotheringay and solo - is timeless. The Best Of Sandy Denny (Island) is a nice place to start exploring her music. Denny died on 21 April 1978, aged only 31, the consequence of a fall down a flight of stairs a month previously. Who knows where the time goes indeed.
Sandy Denny - Who Knows Where The Time Goes MP3

I´ve been playing the superlative Son Volt anthology A Retrospective: 1995-2000 (Rhino ´05) a lot recently. Of the two bands that rose from the ashes of Uncle Tupelo, I´ve always preferred Jay Farrar´s Son Volt to Jeff Tweedy´s Wilco. Do yourself a favour and listen to their beautiful interpretation of the old Leadbelly composition Ain´t No More Cane. Farrar knows the song from The Basement Tapes, so here´s that version - from The Band minus Bob - too. Has anyone got the Leadbelly original? Is Son Volt slowly becoming the new Band? Questions, questions.
Son Volt - Ain´t No More Cane MP3
The Band - Ain´t No More Cane MP3

Big Star´s third, better known as Sister Lovers (´75, reissued on Rykodisc) is one of the most intense albums I know. Powerpop on downers. It was produced by Jim Dickinson btw, featured in a recent post here. Holocaust is Alex Chilton at his most morbid, a man almost falling to pieces. "Everybody goes, leaving those who fall behind... Everybody goes as far as they can, they don´t just care.. You´re a wasted face, you´re a sad-eyed lie, you´re a holocaust". Heavy stuff. And guess what, Son Volt did a great cover of this song too... You just can´t beat the original, but this is one hell of a try. They almost sound like Crazy Horse here. Not so strange, as Sister Lovers has often been compared to Neil Young´s emotional masterpiece Tonight´s The Night.
Big Star - Holocaust MP3
Son Volt - Holocaust MP3

Ok, ok, I´ll play you some stuff from Tonight´s The Night too. Not from the regular album though, as you´ve got that already, right? Here are two tracks recorded live in ´73 in Manchester with the Santa Monica Flyers, who were basically Crazy Horse minus recently deceased guitarist Danny Whitten. Nils Lofgren replaced him. Young started his shows at the time with the announcement "Welcome to Miami Beach, ladies and gentlemen, everything is cheaper than it looks". Often drunk on tequila, he then proceeded to play the whole album (which wasn´t out yet) from start to finish, alienating audiences expecting old favorites. In retrospect these shows were ragged but utterly brilliant of course.
Neil Young - Mellow My Mind (live in Manchester 3-11-´73) MP3
Neil Young - Tired Eyes (live in Manchester 3-11-´73) MP3

We´re signing off with Texas Gladden, a pretty unique singer who was born in 1895 in Saltville, Virginia. Alan Lomax recorded her ballad singing both in the field and in a studio quite a few times between ´41 and ´59. Find them on Ballad Legacy (Rounder records). The Devil And The Farmer´s Wife is a good - and very funny - example of her greatness. These ancient folk songs never go out of style now, do they? "The old woman went a-whistlin´over the hill, saying: the devil won´t have me, I wonder who will". Ciao for now.
Texas Gladden - The Devil And The Farmer´s Wife MP3

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

King of the tenors

Feel like playing some jazz today, so here goes. Ben Webster has long been one of my favorite tenors. He was every inch as good as his slightly better known contemporaries Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins, the latter also being his main influence. Webster could honk with the best of them, but it´s his ballad playing that really set him apart. His rich, warm and tender tone really shines when the tempo is slow, the room is smoky and the hour gets late.

Ben Webster (born 1909 in Kansas City) started out professionally in movie theatres, playing the piano to accompany silent movies. One night he met a guy who showed him some saxophone riffs and he was hooked for life. His first real claim to fame was a stint with the Duke Ellington Band in the fourties. It proved very succesfull, but he had to leave eventually because he fell out with Duke. Invited to play a little piano with Ellington on stage, he overstayed his welcome behind the keyboard, which angered the boss. Webster retaliated by cutting up one of Duke´s best suits, and got his marching orders pronto. A couple of years later he would be back in the Ellington ranks for a spell though.

Webster recorded his best music in the fifties, often backed by pianist Oscar Peterson´s group. 53´s great King Of The Tenors (Verve) found him playing with Peterson, trumpeter Harry Edison and alto Benny Carter. The Ellington composition Don´t Get Around Much Any More is a good example of their style. The album Soulville (Verve ´57) was another classic Webster-Peterson combination. Where Are You is a piece of melancholia supreme. Gerry Mulligan Meets Ben Webster (Verve ´59) saw Ben playing with the great baritone saxophonist. It proved another sure win, of which Sunday is a perfect illustration.

Ben Webster Meets Oscar Peterson (Verve ´59) was again a fine collaboration between two giants of jazz, with their interpretation of In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning being top of the bill. Frank Sinatra´s original, from his justly famous In The Wee Small Hours album (Capitol ´55), isn´t too shabby either by the way... Last but not least Webster recorded some amazing tracks between ´53 and ´59 with fellow tenor Coleman Hawkins. Eventually collected as Coleman Hawkins Encounters Ben Webster (Verve) and later as Compact Jazz (Universal, with bonus tracks), it´s one of my fave jazz albums of all time. Check out You´d Be So Nice To Come Home To to see what I mean.

Webster relocated to Copenhagen in the early sixties. His style wasn´t en vogue anymore in the States, where John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman and co were mapping out new paths in jazz. In Europe he still had a large fanbase and could tour extensively. A gentle bear of a man with the reputation to be totally unpredictable when under the influence, Ben Webster died in Amsterdam in 1973. Seems like the Dutch capital is not the best destination for aging jazz cats, as Don Byas and Chet Baker breathed their last there as well.

Ben Webster - Don´t Get Around Much Any More MP3
Ben Webster - Where Are You MP3
Gerry Mulligan And Ben Webster - Sunday MP3
Ben Webster - In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning MP3
Frank Sinatra - In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning MP3
Coleman Hawkins And Ben Webster - You´d Be So Nice To Come Home To MP3

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Heartbreakingly sad

Let´s hear it once more for Hank Williams, a much heralded artist here at For The Sake Of The Song. This time around I´d like to put the spotlight on a cd of his that´s not that well known, but provides an illuminating insight to his oeuvre. Rare Demos: First To Last (issued by the Country Music Foundation) compiles all the publisher´s demos Williams recorded in his way too short life. Which means a grand total of 24 sparse versions of songs that later became famous in fully arranged incarnations. Here it´s just ole Hank on guitar and vocals though, as pure as he would have sounded at home, pickin´ and wailin´ on the porch in his rocking chair. I Told A Lie To My Heart for instance has never sounded this heartbreakingly sad. "I told my heart I didn´t love you, that I´d be happy when we part... lonely years of tears and sorrow, I told a lie to my own heart."

Great stuff to check out while waiting for Hank´s lost songs as curated by Dylan (see an earlier post here for details) and for the said to be upcoming Mother´s Best series. After years of negociating with Hank´s heirs, a deal has supposedly been struck finally to release 143 (!) songs Hank recorded for Nashville´s WSM radio station in ´51. Mythical recordings of the father of country music and his band playing songs, with Hank doing commercials - mainly for sponsor Mother´s Best Flour - in between. "I love to have that gal around, her biscuits are so nice and brown, her pies and cakes beat all the rest, ´cause she makes them all with Mother's Best..." Sounds mouthwatering, right?

Hank Williams - You Broke Your Own Heart MP3
Hank Williams - A House Of Gold MP3
Hank Williams - Singing Waterfall MP3
Hank Williams - I Told A Lie To My Heart MP3

Friday, April 11, 2008

Papa´s got a brand new grab bag

It´s Friday yet again, pop kids... That´s right, time sure does fly. Here´s another grab bag for you. Which songs made an impression on me this week? Got a varied diet for you this time, old and new, black and white, you name it, I´ve got it... We´re gonna get funky with the one and only brother James and with the mighty Funkadelic, and explore some new stuff with The Box Social and Frontier Ruckus. Then there´s the return of my beloved Dead Moon as Pierced Arrows, and two versions of a junkie lament. Get down and enjoy.

Let´s start tonight with James Brown and his Funky Drummer. Some people say it´s the single most sampled recording ever. Recorded in ´69, released in ´70 on two sides of a single (no 12" singles back then yet), but it still sounds like it was recorded yesterday. Man, this is very very funky. It´s not just the drummer though, check out that organ too. And them horns... "You don't have to do no soloing, brother, just keep what you got... don't turn it loose, 'cause it's a mother." Amen, brother James.
James Brown - Funky Drummer MP3

Let´s stay in funk territory for a while, with the echoing weirdness of a classic Funkadelic track. That George Clinton sure was way ahead of his time. We´re talking P-funk here, with that P standing either for pure, for Clinton´s hometown of Plainfield, New Jersey or for Parliament/Funkadelic. The experts are still divided here, you see. Incredible guitar solo near the end. The whole album, also called Free Your Mind And Your Ass Will Follow (Westbound ´70), is an amazing aural trip you definitely need to take. "The kingdom of heaven is within". Amen to that too.
Funkadelic - Free Your Mind And Your Ass Will Follow MP3

Fred and Toody Cole must be the coolest couple in rock ´n´roll. The uncompromising sound and intense live shows of Dead Moon have always been dear to my heart. Check out the utterly essential Sub Pop compilation Echoes Of The Past to see what I´m on about. Last year´s news that the band had ceased to exist was a blow. Apparently they fell out with drummer Andrew Loomis after years and years of continuous touring and lots of great records. But fortunately they couldn´t stay quiet for long. With Kelly Halliburton as their new drummer they call themselves Pierced Arrows now, and guess what? They sound exactly like Dead Moon. There´s a new album out on their own Tombstone label called Straight To The Heart, and a European tour in the works (check their site for details). Don´t forget to add Barcelona to the dates please...
Pierced Arrows - Caroline MP3
Dead Moon - It´s O.K. MP3

The Box Social is a new guitar band from Madison, Wisconsin. Dirty guitar rock with poppy hooks rules on their varied debut album Get Going, out now on the Bright Ideas label. These college rockers have obviously listened to the Replacements and the Goo Goo Dolls a lot, but Big T reminds me of Built To Spill, which is a recommendation in my book. I ain´t no Nostradamus, but The Box Social could go far.
The Box Social - Big T MP3

Here´s another new band I expect we´ll hear a lot more from in the future. Frontier Ruckus hail from Lansing, Michigan and play what I´d call folk americana. Listen to The Blood, a lenghty song from their debut ep I Am The Water You Are Pumping, to see what I mean. Nice banjo, original arrangement, beautiful melancholia. A full length album on Quite Scientific records is in the pipeline. Can´t wait, guys.
Frontier Ruckus - The Blood MP3

Let´s take it to tonights finish with two versions of the junkie lament Carmelita. The original is from the late Warren Zevon of course. Find it on Preludes (New West records). Nice, but you really have to hear G.G. Allin´s surprising acoustic cover. To refresh your memory: Allin was an infamous scumrocker who promised he´d kill himself on stage someday, but overdosed before he could deliver. G.G. obviously doesn´t know all the lyrics, but still manages to sound more convincing than Zevon, probably because he could really relate to the subject matter. "And I´m all strung out on heroin on the outskirts of town..."
Warren Zevon - Carmelita MP3
G.G. Allin - Carmelita MP3

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Eyes on the prize

Today the Pulitzer Prize Board presented a Special Citation to Bob Dylan for ´his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power´. It was the first time Pulitzer judges, who have long favored classical music, and, more recently, jazz, gave an award to someone operating in the field of rock ´n´ roll. Great stuff. Us fans knew he was up there with the true greats in whatever field all along, but it never hurts to see these ridiculous barriers between so-called high and low culture getting lifted a bit. What´s next? Stockholm, let´s have your votes please... Time to celebrate with a handful of amazing live tracks not available on official releases. A spur of the moment selection, as there´s too much excellent material in the vaults to choose from really.   

Dylan played the Blind Boy Fuller song Weeping Willow only once, during one of his legendary Supper Club shows In New York City (17 November ´93, late show). Nice and bluesy. Shelter From The Storm was recorded in Prague, on 11 March ´95. Dylan was ill that night, and therefore didn´t play any guitar. With just a microphone to hold on to, he´s practically crooning here. The old warhorse Mr. Tambourine Man is next, in a slow, delicate arrangement as performed on 18 May ´95 in Los Angeles. Note the beautifully sparse harp playing. The next selection features Bob as a chansonnier of sorts. The Times We´ve Known, also a one-off, is a song by none other than Charles Aznavour, originally titled Les Bons Moments. It was recorded on November 1st, 1998 in Madison Square Garden, New York City. Mama You Been On My Mind comes from a concert in Anaheim on 10 March 2000. Beautiful song, and great diction here by Bob. "It don´t even matter where you´re waking up tomorrow... mama you just been on my mind." 

Congrats Bob. If the good lord´s willing and the creeks don´t rise, I´ll see you in Pamplona this June.

Bob Dylan - Weeping Willow (live ´93) MP3
Bob Dylan -  Shelter From The Storm (live ´95) MP3
Bob Dylan - Mr. Tambourine Man (live ´95) MP3
Bob Dylan - The Times We´ve Known (live ´98) MP3
Bob Dylan - Mama,  You Been On My Mind (live ´00) MP3

Let´s all get Dixie fried

James Luther Dickinson (also known as Jim) likes to stay in the background a bit. If you look solely at his own discography - the guy´s got only seven albums under his belt since 1972 - he doesn´t come across as one of the most productive dudes in the music industry. That´s not at all true though, as Dickinson seems to be recording his own stuff on the side, while regarding his career as an ace sideman and producer as his main claim to fame. Active in the Memphis scene since the mid-sixties, he worked as a session player with Aretha Franklin, Sam & Dave, the Rolling Stones (that´s his piano you hear on Wild Horses), Jason & The Scorchers, Meat Puppets, Primal Scream, Rocket From The Crypt and Bob Dylan (on the great Time Out Of Mind). And that´s just the tip of the iceberg. His production credits include such classic albums as Ry Cooder´s Into The Purple Valley, Big Star´s third album Sister Lovers, Alex Chilton´s Like Flies On Sherbert and the Replacements´ Pleased To Meet Me

From the production manifesto on his website: "A record is a ´totem´, a document of an unique, unrepeatable event worthy of preservation and able to sustain historic life. The essence of the event is its soul. Record production is a subtle, covert activity. The producer is an invisible man. His role remains a mystery. During the recording process there is an energy field present in the studio - to manipulate and to maximize that presence - to focus on the peculiar ´harmony of the moment´ is the job of the producer. Music has a spirit beyond the notes and rhythm. To foster that spirit and to cause it to flourish - to capture it at its peak is the producer's task". Nicely put. More record producers should see their job as such methinks...

 From Dickinson´s own recorded oeuvre, I like his debut the best. Dixie Fried (´72) features an infectious hodgepodge of styles, changing from psychedelic soul to southern rock and boogie to country to New Orleans rhythm and blues and back again. His psychedelic treatment of Dylan´s John Brown is a lot more fun than the ´63 original, with a special mention for the slithering horns. O How She Dances reminds one of Tom Waits in full carny-mode, while the funky title track is pure southern r&b. "Let´s all get Dixie fried!" The credits don´t make it clear, but my guess is that the great Dr. John is behind the piano here. And I guess it must be the nighttripper on Wild Bill Jones as well, as that song sounds straight out of New Orleans. You can buy a copy of Dixie Fried on the Sepia Tone label.

James Luther Dickinson - Dixie Fried MP3
James Luther Dickinson - John Brown MP3
James Luther Dickinson - O How She Dances MP3
James Luther Dickinson - Wild Bill Jones MP3
Bob Dylan - John Brown MP3

Friday, April 4, 2008

Best minds of my generation grab bag

It´s grab bag time again, so it must be Friday. What songs shook my musical foundations this week? Let´s see... Almost looks like we´ve got a death theme of sorts this time, with two mini-tributes to guys who died on April 5, one to a drummer who passed away only recently and a great teenage tragedy song on top of that. "I looked at the sea and it seemed to say, I took your baby from you away... I heard a voice cryin' in the deep, come join me, baby, in my endless sleep". Dive in! Meanwhile, I´m in the kitchen. With the tombstone blues.

Let´s begin with some krautrock tonight. Kraftwerk never moved me to be honest, but I love bands like Can, Faust, Neu! and Amon Duul. There´s a full post on the German genre in the pipeline, so stay tuned. Here´s two tasters. Moonshake is as close as Can ever came to writing a bona fide popsong. It´s from their terrific Future Days album (Spoon ´73). "Let me free no more..." I learned yesterday that Klaus Dinger, revolutionary drummer for Kraftwerk and Neu!, died a few weeks back. Brian Eno once said that "there were three great beats in the 70´s. Fela Kuti's Afrobeat, James Brown's funk, and Klaus Dinger's Neu! beat." He was right of course. Negativland is from Neu!´s eponymous first album (Astralwerks ´72). Was Neu! ahead of its time? You bet.
Can - Moonshake MP3
Neu! - Negativland MP3

Here´s a small tribute to legendary beat poet Allen Ginsberg, who passed away on April 5, 1997. To refresh your minds, here´s how his most famous poem Howl starts: "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix, angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night..." Oh yes. It´s lesser known that Ginsberg recorded a couple of songs with his pal Bob Dylan in ´71, to be released as Holy Soul & Jelly Roll on the Beatles´ Apple label. The album was shelved eventually, but most songs leaked out anyway, like the impressive September On Jessore Road. Ginsberg wasn´t much of a singer, but he sure played a mean harmonium.
Allen Ginsberg - September On Jessore Road MP3

Kurt Cobain died on April 5 as well, in ´94. I wish I could say exactly what I was doing when I heard the sad news, but alas: black hole. I do remember being shocked though. And I certainly recall seeing Nirvana live a few times. Something to impress my grandchildren with someday. "Grandpa shook hands with Dave Grohl once, kids..." Nirvana´s version of Lake Of Fire is from Unplugged In New York (Geffen), and you can find the Meat Puppets original on the must-have Meat Puppets II (SST records).
Nirvana - Lake Of Fire MP3
Meat Puppets - Lake Of Fire MP3

Cobain always was a big fan of the Melvins, that other band from Aberdeen, Washington. I saw their drummer Dale Crover do a soundcheck once and had a beep in my ears for days. Dale hits like Mike Tyson in his prime, no exaggeration. Boom, boom, boom. The undisputed gods of thunder are known for their slow, sludgy sound, but Black Bock (from Stag, Atlantic ´96) shows an unexpected poppy, almost psychedelic side to the band. All together now: "I cut the throat of a billygoat..." One day I´ll ask my barber for a King Buzzo haircut.
Melvins- Black Bock MP3

When you´re finished reading and downloading here, be sure to head over to the great Boogie Woogie Flu blog for an interesting piece on the dB´s, penned by none other than bandmember Will Rigby himself. Read all about Rigby meeting Chris Bell and Alex Chilton in Memphis, and listen to songs by Bell and Big Star. Some rarities there I promise. Good stuff!
The dB´s - Amplifier MP3

Let´s close tonight´s proceedings with a famous teenage tragedy by one hit wonder Jody Reynolds. Endless Sleep sold like hotcakes in ´59 and spawned a whole genre of songs about teenagers prematurely meeting their doom. I´ve got a great vinyl album with songs like these on Rhino records called Teenage Tragedies, which came with an appropriate tissue glued to the sleeve. Why was this never re-released on cd? Just use a smaller tissue, folks... In the meantime you can also find Endless Sleep on a cd with the same name on the Buffalo Bop label.
Jody Reynolds - Endless Sleep MP3

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Road songs

On the album Road Songs, Townes Van Zandt treats us to a generous package of live covers of songs he wished he´d written himself. "No such luck," the Texas bard proclaims in the liner notes, but that´s ok really. You can´t write ´em all, and there´s no doubt the late great Townes left an impressive oeuvre behind. This collection of songs he loved to play live contains some inspired music, recorded over a number of years in joints all over America, and it´s especially fun to compare his covers with the originals. 

The old traditional The Coo Coo Bird was made for a singer like Townes. Wonderful violin played by Owen Cody too. From the liner notes: "I thought this song came from Scotland. But there are no coo coo´s in Scotland. It comes from South Carolina where there´s plenty. I know a couple." Find Clarence Ashley´s version on Harry Smith´s Anthology Of American Folk Music box. Springsteen´s Racing In The Streets is a bit ramshackle, but lovingly done. Here´s Townes´ deadpan commentary: "This is one of the most beautiful songs I´ve ever heard. I listened to it 30 times in a row at Lomax´s house. We drove 300 miles the next day. I played it and somebody recorded it. That´s why I didn´t know it better. Bruce will understand." The original is on Darkness On The Edge Of Town, but I´ll let you hear an inspired live performance recorded in San Francisco on 15 December ´78 instead. Wabash Cannonball by The Carter Family (from the Carter Family 1927-1934 box set) was one of the first songs Townes ever heard. And indeed, his love for the original shines through here. On Dylan´s Men Gave Names To All The Animals (from his first religious album Slow Train Coming) Townes says: "This song is so true and so much fun to sing, you´re bound to mix up the words a little." Great excuse... Van Zandt often sang songs by Hank Williams in concert. The sadness of You Win Again suits him very well. Hank´s original is available on the definitive 40 Greatest Hits compilation.

A final note: be sure to buy the German version of Road Songs, on Normal records, as that one´s got a couple of extra songs on it.

Townes Van Zandt - The Coo Coo MP3
Clarence Ashley - The Coo Coo Bird - MP3
Townes Van Zandt - Racing In The Streets MP3
Bruce Springsteen - Racing In The Streets (live 15-12-´78 San Francisco) MP3
Townes Van Zandt - Wabash Cannonball MP3
The Carter Family - Wabash Cannonball MP3
Townes Van Zandt - Man Gave Names To All The Animals MP3
Bob Dylan - Man Gave Names To All The Animals MP3
Townes Van Zandt - You Win Again MP3
Hank Williams - You Win Again MP3