Thursday, December 25, 2008

Gee Whiz...

... it´s Christmas. I tend to avoid X-mas songs as a rule, but you can´t go wrong with Carla Thomas and the Stax houseband featuring Steve Cropper on guitar. Gee Whiz, It´s Christmas was used as the first musical season´s greeting of the legendary soul label back in ´63. Thomas, who had scored her first big hit with a song called Gee Whiz a couple of years earlier, was sitting around with Cropper and trumpeter Vinnie Trauth, trying to come up with an yuletime ditty, when the latter jokingly suggested Gee Whiz, It´s Christmas. The rest, as they say, is history.

"Don't forget the party that we're throwing,
the warm fires of the fireplace will be glowing,
It's been a long long time,
still can´t figure out why you crossed my mind
I guess it's just to say gee whiz, it's Christmas..."

Bon nadal, readers!

Carla Thomas - Gee Whiz, It´s Christmas MP3

Saturday, December 20, 2008

That Inevitable List

And where would we be without that inevitable end-of-year round up, dear readers? I bet you´d like to know which albums were loved the most at For The Sake Of The Song headquarters this year. So without further ado, here goes... in no particular order.

Bob Dylan´s latest Bootleg Series installment, Tell Tale Signs, has been in heavy rotation since the day it came out. The exorbitant price tag on the 3-disc set was definitely a minus, but that´s about the only beef I have with it. A treasury.
Bob Dylan - Marchin´ To The City MP3

To me, Bonnie Prince Billy is the finest living singer/songwriter of the last fifteen years. You can´t go wrong with the remarkably lighthearted Lie Down In The Light.
Bonnie Prince Billy - For Every Field There´s A Mole MP3

Tunng side-project The Accidental released a nice batch of intriguing songs in freak folk territory on There Were Wolves. Dark, haunting and utterly beautiful.
The Accidental - Time And Space MP3

Scoring high in almost every end of year list, and with good reason, Bon Iver´s emotional For Emma, Forever Ago is a surprisingly original debut. Bonus points for being written and recorded in a remote Wisconsin hunting lodge.
Bon Iver - Flume MP3

Worthy successors to the Creedence throne, the Drive-By Truckers simply rock on. And on. Without ever sounding shallow. Brighter Than Creation´s Dark is another winner by a great band.
Drive-By Truckers - The Righteous Path MP3

Mark Kozelek´s Sun Kil Moon was one of my biggest discoveries this year. Late, I know. April is a desolate, yet uplifting masterpiece. Hurry and buy the edition that contains a 4 song bonus disc.
Sun Kil Moon - Moorestown MP3

Band Of Horses guitarist Tyler Ramsey proved with A Long Dream About Swimming Across The Sea that he´s a singer/songwriter in his own right. I guess Neil fans will love this. I know I do.
Tyler Ramsey - Ships MP3

It´s been 28 years since obscure outlaw Larry Jon Wilson´s last made an album, so let´s call it an understatement that this delightful selftitled comeback was way overdue... More on Larry Jon soon, I promise.
Larry Jon Wilson - Whore Trilogy MP3

Honorable mentions - because their albums were good but not great, or simply because I didn´t get a chance to play them much yet - go to Fleet Foxes, Silver Jews, Sumner Brothers, Le Loup, Woodpigeon and Port O´Brien. I haven´t heard Sugar Mountain yet either, but I´m pretty sure that ´68 Neil Young concert registration will prove to win the long-overdue-album of the year award. Or will that honour go to Hank Williams´ Unreleased Recordings box set? Come on Santa, rock me.

There were quite a few excellent music books as well that kept me busy this year. The Townes Van Zandt bio To Live´s To Fly by John Kruth, Jim Walsh´s oral history of the Replacements All Over But The Shouting and Julian Cope´s Japrocksampler all got write-ups in these pages already. I also enjoyed Hand Me My Travellin´ Shoes a lot, Michael Gray´s in-depth search for Blind Willie McTell, and dug the rock ´n´ roll fables and sonic storytelling of Mitch Myers in The Boy Who Cried Freebird. Check ´em out, y´all.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Roast Fish & Corn Bread

Still in doubt what to serve your guests at the Xmas dinner this year? The Upsetter´s got the solution. Keep it simple and eat ital food at your festivities: roast fish and cornbread for instance. Don´t forget to generously fill up them plates: "I´m a working man so I feed up strong... nothing can go wrong." Drink a lot of water too, because you have to take care of your body as if it was a car. "Throw some water in your radiator." If you don´t, you just might catch a case of soul fire. Seen?

People often say Scratch may be a wizard producer, but is lacking as a singer. A Jamaican nightingale he surely isn´t, but on the very rootsy classic Roast Fish Collie Weed & Cornbread - from ´78, and his first album to feature nothing but Perry vocals - his eccentric delivery is nothing short of amazing. Bon appetit!

Lee Perry - Roast Fish & Cornbread MP3
Lee Perry - Favorite Dish MP3
Lee Perry - Throw Some Water In MP3
Lee Perry - Soul Fire MP3

Monday, December 15, 2008

From London To Jamaica

Read somewhere that it´s former Clash bassist Paul Simonon´s birthday today (many happy returns...), which made me think of the bass-heavy reggae tunes The Clash were so fond of playing amidst all the punk mayhem. The Clash were one of the first bands to incorporate the rebel music outta Jamaica in their sound, and I always loved them for it. Somehow their white man´s takes on reggae always seemed genuine. The real deal, no cheap rip-off. Their main influence was probably legendary dreadlocked dj Don Letts, who played a mix of punk and reggae at early punk gigs in London. Out of necessity really, as there weren´t that many punk records out at the time.

Here are some great live tracks from The Clash in reggae mode. The Guns of Brixton, the Willie Williams cover Armagideon Time and Bank Robber were all recorded at the Jamaica World Music Festival on 27 November ´82. Must have been a blast for Strummer, Jones and Simonon, playing their punky reggae to a Kingston crowd.

The Junior Murvin-penned Police And Thieves was recorded in Leicester on 2 July ´77. Strummer´s intro: "Now you can rest your sweaty armpits and move your knees... your knees!" An amazing version, with passionate vocals and lots of improvised lyrics. "I ain´t Diana Ross," Strummer proclaims all echoey near the end.

And last but not least, there´s White Man In Hammersmith Palais (probably my fave ever Clash song), stemming from a show at The Palladium, New York City on 21 September ´79. "White youth, black youth, better find another solution... why not phone up Robin Hood, and ask him for some wealth distribution..."

The Clash - The Guns Of Brixton (live ´82) MP3
The Clash - Armagideon Time (live ´82) MP3
The Clash - Bank Robber (live) MP3
The Clash - Police And Thieves (live ´77) MP3
The Clash - White Man In Hammersmith Palais (live ´79) MP3

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Monster In The Mirror

I usually cover nothing but music here at For The Sake Of The Song, but that doesn´t mean I haven´t got any other interests. Far from it. Football (got my ticket for tomorrow´s edition of El Clásico... yes!), literature, movies, travel... And politics. And that´s what I´m on about tonight. Do not fear though, there´s a fitting soundtrack attached as well.

The recent Mumbai terror attacks must have shocked everybody, but I was kinda surprised to find how hard this catastrophe hit me, staying glued to the telly and surfing the web for days on end to check on how events unfolded. I´m usually quite cool in situations like these, but what happened in the city formerly known as Bombay had about the same impact on me as 9/11. Reason is probably that I´ve lived in that (cliche alert!) ´huge and fascinating country full of contradictions´ for five months in 2007, and stayed in quite a few Taj Group hotels (although not in the targeted Mumbai one) as well over the past few years.

When it was all over, I was waiting for someone who would put things in a broad perspective. That took awhile, but tonight I finally stumbled on a remarkably insightful piece by Arundhati Roy in British newspaper The Guardian, covering all I was hoping for and more. The Indian writer and activist, who won the prestigious Booker Prize in ´97 for the excellent The God Of Small Things, asks all the right questions in her well-informed article, and even manages to give a few answers, which is no mean feat.

Here´s a fitting excerpt. "Eventually the killers died and died hard, all but one. (Perhaps, in the chaos, some escaped. We may never know.) Throughout the standoff the terrorists made no demands and expressed no desire to negotiate. Their purpose was to kill people and inflict as much damage as they could before they were killed themselves. They left us completely bewildered. When we say "nothing can justify terrorism", what most of us mean is that nothing can justify the taking of human life. We say this because we respect life, because we think it's precious. So what are we to make of those who care nothing for life, not even their own? The truth is that we have no idea what to make of them, because we can sense that even before they've died, they've journeyed to another world where we cannot reach them."

The article ends thus: "The only way to contain (it would be naïve to say end) terrorism is to look at the monster in the mirror. We're standing at a fork in the road. One sign says Justice, the other Civil War. There's no third sign and there's no going back. Choose."

Read the complete article on the Guardian site here. And while you´re at it, here´s a fitting soundtrack, complete with songs from two of my fave singers from Pakistan (Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the king of qawwali) and India (Lata Mangeshkar, the Indian nightingale).

The Damned - Born To Kill MP3
Julian Cope - All The Blowing-Themselves-Up Motherfuckers MP3
Psychedelic Furs - India MP3
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan - Data Ke Ghulamon Ko MP3
Lata Mangeshkar - Kabhi Kabhi Bezuban Parbat Boltein Hain MP3

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Jesse´s Early Demos

I recently contributed a post to the Star Maker Machine blog on American-turned-Canadian artist Jesse Winchester. This week´s theme there (Winter Wonderland) gave me the welcome opportunity to showcase his exquisite ditty Snow, a song from Winchester´s eponymous debut from 1970. An impressive album, produced by Robbie Robertson and engineered by Todd Rundgren. I also put up a short and sweet acoustic demo of that track, found on a boot called Early Demos. And as there are plenty more treasures to be found on that disc, here we go.

I didn´t manage to find out when these demos were recorded exactly, but it must have been during the late sixties, when draft dodger Winchester had already left his native Memphis for the colder climes of Montreal. The liner notes to Jesse Winchester mention him working up some demos in ´69 at U.S. Army deserter Chuck Gray´s home studio in Ottawa. A friend of Jesse´s girlfriend at the time allegedly passed these on to Robertson. The 29 songs on Early Demos could very well stem from that session. If so, it´s no wonder that the Band guitarist was smitten by them.

Eight of these intimate snapshots of a budding talent, featuring just guitar and vocals, would later end up in full-band versions on that famed debut. It´s nice to hear that they work just as well in a simple acoustic setting - which goes for all great pop songs I suppose. Take Black Dog for instance, probably my fave Winchester composition. This demo manages to sound just as ominous and dark, even with just a sole acoustic guitar for accompaniment. "I don't know the black dog's name, when I call him he won't come... How'd I get this black dog, Lord, I never wanted one... Black dog don't believe in sin, think of where the black dog's been, think of where he's been... today." And the innocent version of Brand New Tennessee Waltz is arguably every inch as good as its better-known cousin. "So have all your passionate violins play a tune for a Tennessee kid... who's feeling like leaving another town, with no place to go if he did."

From the songs that didn´t make the cut for the first album for some reason, a few were left on the shelf to figure on the fine follow-up Third Down, 110 To Go (´72). Of these, I´m especially enamoured of Silly Heart, which reminds me of Buddy Holly somehow. The doper´s lament Twigs And Seeds had to wait even longer for its first official appearance, on Live At The Bijou Cafe (´77). "Twigs and seeds, twigs and seeds... and they sure don't deliver the punch that this ole head needs..."

Jesse Winchester is still gigging and making albums - all at his own pace - as we speak by the way. Check him out at his own site here. Oh, and don´t forget to buy that first album if you don´t own it already.

Jesse Winchester - Black Dog (demo) MP3
Jesse Winchester - Brand New Tennessee Waltz (demo) MP3
Jesse Winchester - Silly Heart (demo) MP3
Jesse Winchester- Twigs And Seeds (demo) MP3

Monday, December 8, 2008

American Primitives

If raw, old time music is your poison of choice, look no further than the two volumes of American Primitive. Released a few years back on the late John Fahey´s quality label Revenant, these collections are every inch as essential as Harry Smith´s famed Anthology Of American Folk Music. Beautiful packaging, exemplary liner notes, and what´s more: a truckload of obscure but timeless musical treasure.

The first volume is subtitled Raw Pre-War Gospel 1926 - ´36, and features no less than 26 rare tracks by artists with one foot on earth and one in heaven. Fahey calls these songs examples of ecstatic - as opposed to contemplative - religion, before stating that ´...underneath it all I hear pan pipes tooting and a cloven hoof beating time.´ Amen to that. The double disc second volume, subtitled Pre-War Revenants 1897 - 1939, features less Jesus and more hard blues, and is possibly even better than its predecessor. An overwhelming maelstrom of music that will suck you right in.

The congregation will now rise for two tasters from Vol. 1. Hallelujah, brothers and sisters! Blind Roosevelt Graves And Brother hailed from Hattiesburg, Mississippi and recorded this gem in ´36. Dig that fluent vocal interaction between Roosevelt and his brother Aaron. And for you guitar freaks out there: you´re hearing a metal National here. My lordy!

Blind Roosevelt Graves And Brother - Woke Up This Morning (With My Mind On Jesus) MP3

Not a lot is known about the good Rev. Ware, and believe me, I searched. So I guess we´ll never know if Ware was really a man of the cloth, or a blues singer performing pseudonymously to score a hit in the religious market, as happened quite often back then. The great Charley Patton recorded some sides as Elder J.J. Hadley for instance, which incidentally are present on this volume as well. Whatever the case, Ware and family sang a mean gospel.

Rev. I.B. Ware With Wife And Son - I Wouldn´t Mind Dying (But I Gotta Go By Myself) MP3

Now let´s preach the blues with a couple of amazing tracks from Vol. 2. The masterful Bo-Lita was recorded in ´27 in the windy city of Chicago. From the booklet, as I couldn´t possibly say it better myself: ´Bo-Lita. Rhymes with mean mistreater. Brown´s quivering falsetto thrills (Yay-eeeee...) tail off into the stratosphere, letting us know it´s no put-on: this brand new game will make you weep, it will make you moan.´ Bo-Lita refers to a game of chance commonly held at road shows and carnivals btw.

Kid Brown And His Blue Band - Bo-Lita MP3

The Mississippi Moaner: what a wonderful pseudonym. Whoooo! Isaiah Nettles, for that was his real name, put this to wax in Jackson, Mississippi in ´35. "Didn´t make me mad ´til you broke my diamond ring... hey mama, won´t be back no mo´..."

The Mississippi Moaner - It´s Cold In China Blues MP3

The liner notes call Geeshie Wiley, who´s present on this collection with no less than four impressive songs, ´perhaps the most tantalizing phantom of Mississippi blues´. Few details about her life and musical career are known, while her records are extremely scarce. Last Kind Words Blues (1930) is a must-hear beauty.

Geeshie Wiley - Last Kind Words Blues MP3

´Man whistles past the graveyard on his long walk home, imagines that his own heart stops and his hands get cold. But like in some Ambrose Bierce story he hears the church bells tone and the unbearable sound of nails driving home the coffin lid - his coffin lid! - and he sees two white horses poised in the line. Coffin gets lowered with golden chain. He shudders. Gets home, hugs his kids...´ I told you these liner notes were fantastic. So are the Two Poor Boys and their ´31 memento mori blues Two White Horses In A Line.

Two Poor Boys - Two White Horses In A Line MP3

Friday, December 5, 2008


You don´t receive a nice popsong in the mail that often, but I just got lucky. Antiqcool has already released two albums in the past, but I have to admit this British collective from Chester was not on my radar until now. Yesterday night, I played their Already Late two times, liked it, and promptly forgot all about it. Until I found myself humming its gorgeous melody in the shower this morning... Surely a good sign?

What do you think, dear reader? Top or flop? Hit or miss? I´d really like to increase the interaction a bit here, so go ahead and click that comments button below why don´t you...

Antiqcool - Already Late MP3

Thursday, December 4, 2008

From The Southside

It´s Southside Johnny´s birthday today, so I thought we´d better celebrate and make sure the guy is not forgotten anytime soon. For together with his band The Asbury Jukes, Johnny Lyon was responsible for the hottest Jersey Shore Sounds this side of Bruce Springsteen. His earlier albums from the late seventies are his masterpieces. I Don´t Want To Go Home, This Time It´s For Real and especially the hard-hitting Hearts Of Stone were all produced by E Street Band guitarist Little Steve Van Zandt. Rhythm & blues as it should be played, with special mention for Johnny´s soulful vocals and a horn section to die for.

Most of his later albums weren´t as satisfying, but in concert the tirelessly touring Southside Johnny (he´s from ´48 btw) has never let his faithful following down. Take these steaming live tracks for instance, recorded on 20 September ´85 at the Capitol Theatre, Passaic, New Jersey. They were actually played in this sequence that night, so when you download them into your iTunes you´ll experience a gapless piece of a great concert. New Coat Of Paint is a fine Tom Waits cover, while The Fever was written by Springsteen himself. Johnny arguably does a better job with it than the Boss. "There ain’t nothing that a poor boy can do, when he’s got the fever for a girl..." Check out that trumpet! And go see him when he´s playing a club near you. You won´t regret it.

Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes - New Coat Of Paint (live ´85) MP3
Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes - The Fever (live ´85) MP3
Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes - Trapped Again (live ´85) MP3

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Flatlanders: Now Again

Faithful readers of this blog will know all about my admiration for the Flatlanders´ More A Legend Than A Band by now. A country rock classic that spawned the solo careers of main members Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock, it was recorded back in ´72, but for various reasons never got a proper release until Rounder records finally did it justice in ´91.

In ´02, the Lubbock three finally decided to get together again, and that´s what we´re on about in this post, because the resulting Now Again is definitely an album that deserves the attention of twang lovers everywhere. It´s nowhere near as good as that famed debut of course, but hey, that was too tough an act to follow anyway. It´s mighty fine to hear three great singers (and pals too) working together once again though, and the songs - all but two written collectively - are definitely of high quality.

The upbeat Right Where I Belong is a good example. "If it´s dog eat dog and cat eat cat, I might never see the light until I eat my hat... I´m caught between day and night and pretty mama I don´t care..." Ely´s typical My Wildest Dreams Grow Wilder Every Day showcases his rockabilly side to good effect, while The South Wind Of Summer starts off as a ballad that reminds me a bit of Gram Parsons´ Hickory Wind, until it surprisingly picks up speed and ends with some pretty wild picking. Strange though that it fades out just as things are really starting to cook...

And that´s where we get to the downside of Now Again: the production department. It all seems just a little too tame in here somehow. Where the flame undeniably still burns, the Flatlanders never seem to catch enough wind to turn this album into the blazing prairie fire one would hope for. If they´d ever decide to record together again, I´d recommend James Luther Dickinson to oversee proceedings. Satisfaction guaranteed.

And that signed album cover pictured above? That´s all mine, baby...

The Flatlanders - Right Where I Belong MP3
The Flatlanders - My Wildest Dreams Grow Wilder Every Day MP3
The Flatlanders - South Wind Of Summer MP3