My favorite waste of time
Here's a fun regular feature from the Washington Post. Every week, they ask a different musician to play D.J. and have them talk about ten different songs they've been listening to. This week's subject: Marshall Crenshaw, who did an uncanny Buddy Holly in La Bamba, whose "Someday, Someway" was one of the great power pop classics of the American New Wave era, and who has continued recording some strong, smart songs for the last fifteen years.
Among songs by Monk and Aretha, Crenshaw here highlights the Byrds' recording of Dylan's "All I Really Want to Do" for its help in building the vocabulary of his 3 year old son. Even if you don't enjoy Crenshaw's own music, you'll enjoy tapping his impressive musical knowledge here.
posted by Anon. 5:29 PM
Washington has finally picked up on the fact that maybe Clear Channel's dominance of the radio industry isn't such a good thing. Wait -- could this be another example of complete deregulation proving to be bad for the consumer and bad for competition in a capitalist system? Can this be? WOW! Check out this piece in Salon that explains all.
posted by Anon. 4:26 PM
In more reputable sources
Rappers acting is no big news: from Ice Cube in Boyz N The Hood, Friday and Three Kings, to Tupac in Juice and Poetic Justice, to Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg in last year's The Wash, the jump to movies has been a natural part of hip-hop synergy. But the jump to plays?
Mos Def will soon be acting on Broadway with the immensely talented Jeffrey Wright. (Mos also did impressive, if brief, work in Monster's Ball as the auto-shop neighbor of the Billy Bob Thornton character.) Here's the profile from tomorrow's New York Times Sunday Magazine.
Sheryl Crow's music has never done much for me -- the choruses always sounded like they were too ready to be bumperstickers: if it makes you happy, everyday is a winding road, etc. In interviews, she's impressed me even less -- somehow merging that Courtney Love Hollywood starfucker quality with a "I'm just a normal girl who drinks beer from the bottle" bit that seems a little too publicist-crafted. Generally celebrities seem to act a little more like themselves in British interviews. I don't know if that's the case with this Guardian interview with Crow, but as she flosses at the table and tries her best to give polite answers -- well, you can read between the lines yourself.
posted by Anon. 10:19 AM
Memphis in the meantime
The last time I walked around in Memphis was in 1996. I remember observing that though the original Sun Studio was open for business, with tours through its little two room space on Union Avenue, there was no trace of the other great Memphis label that changed the face of popular music, Stax Records, which gave us Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Isaac Hayes, Booker T and the MGs, and many others, as well as creating a stripped down, guitar-and-horns alternative to the lush Motown sound.
But even with all that history, all the old Stax buildings had been torn down, and the closest I could come to a taste of Stax/Volt was picking up a bright yellow T-shirt with the "later years" Stax logo of the snapping fingers, at the now-defunct and much-missed Center for Southern Folklore.
Memphis was also home to Hi Records, Willie Mitchell's label that gave us Al Green, Otis Clay, and other soul greats. (All this soul history and Sun Records, and they put the Rock Hall of Fame in Cleveland? You figure that one out.)
Well, good news. Later this fall will see the opening of the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, as well as the Stax Music Academy for inner city youth (to help create "a new generation of Memphis musicians"), at the site where the original Stax Studios stood, at the corner of College and McLemore Avenues in the Soulsville area of Memphis. Here's the site, complete with an online gift shop with memorabilia that benefits the museum and academy. And if you want to read more about the history of the Southern soul tradition, I recommend Peter Guralnick's comprehensive and engaging Sweet Soul Music.
Thanks to Rapmaster for the heads up.
posted by Anon. 9:14 AM
Loudon Wainwright III is a musician tailor-made for a live album. You don't lose much by taking Wainwright out of the studio and putting him up on a stage -- his are the kind of songs that somehow seem better with an audience there enjoying them, and his songs are probably best when uncluttered by layers and overdubs. That's not just because so many of them are funny songs -- novelty songs, if we're going to slag that diminishing label onto them. It's also because Wainwright is an artist who makes his connections live -- in his songs, in the patter between songs, in his acoustic guitar strumming.
His Career Moves, a 1993 live record capturing a concert that year at the Bottom Line in New York, is an excellent example of a fine live album. It's a one night recording -- a full concert, captured live, warts and all. The setlist includes some Wainwright classics -- his wonderful "Swimming Song" (also rendered wonderfully on the debut album by his then-wife and sister-in-law Kate and Anna McGarrigle), "The Man Who Couldn't Cry," "Absence Makes the Heart Go Fonder." These are staples of the Wainwright canon; they're not Greatest Hits, because, otherwise from the absent-here "Dead Skunk," Wainwright hasn't actually had hits.
What he has had is a career of creating a catalog of songs capturing both the sacred and profane of men and women in America. If he's most well-known now as the father of Rufus and Martha, or for his role on Fox's Undeclared, then he might be best-known for his politically-oriented novelty songs that he does on NPR. I haven't been a big fan of those -- but then, I always find that Mark Russell patter dated-upon-arrival.
Wainwright's funny songs here run the gamut: "The Acid Song," about a group of baby boomers deciding to try acid in their middle age, is legitimately hilarious. But "Happy Birthday Elvis" and "They Spelled My Name Wrong Again" are good for only a light chuckle, and upon repeat listens, have little to offer.
The best songs then on this record are the serious ones, songs which show a remarkable, unflinching insight into strained family relationships. There's "Five Years Old," a song written for a birthday of his daughter Martha, a birthday that he couldn't attend, probably because of the marital split; it's sad and beautiful. "I won't forget the day you were born, five years ago; we were happy and excited, we loved you so. You're growing up so quickly now, and I feel a little sad: that's to be expected, after all, I am your dad."
Then there's "Your Mother and I," where he sings a father's explanation to his children about why their mother and he are splitting up. As the child of divorce, I haven't come across too many books or movies -- let alone songs -- which get the alienation and pain of divorce right, and here, Wainwright hits the bulls' eye. "Your mother and I are not getting along, somehow somewhere something went wrong. Everything changes, time takes its toll. Your folks fell in love, love's a very deep hole."
There's his beloved song about growing up in Westchester County, NY, remembering the coming out parties and country day schools of his privileged youth. But most affecting may be "April Fool's Day Morn," a song about a man struggling in mid-life, getting drunk one night and making a fool of himself, and then finding much-needed comfort from a hangover, exactly where he first knew comfort and safety, in his mother's company. "I am too old, too large, too close to climb up on my mother's knee, so eggs and bacon and coffee and toast were placed in front of me."
It's smart, honest, unsentimental, and moving. That's the mark of good songwriting. That's a mark of Wainwright's work, captured on this consistently good live disc.
posted by Anon. 7:37 PM
Former McSweeney's Online Editor and Current Kausfiles Online Guru Kevin Shay writes in:
1) "Zombie" songs:
Please do not forget "Zombie Jamboree," recorded by Harry Belafonte
and many others. And the great Boston band the Flies (first in a
lineage that includes the Titanics, the Satanics, and the Upper
Crust) had a great song called "Zombie Burger" on one of their LPs.
That makes five zombie songs! Just think, all we need are about six more, and we'll be able to get Rhino to release a compilation. Someone, get Dr. Demento on the phone!
2) "Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye":
I've long believed John Wesley Harding's version of "If You Have
Ghosts" on this album to be one of the greatest pop tracks of the
decade. I'm a huge JWH fan, and I love his folkier stuff too, but the
band he had on his first two studio albums--the Good Liars, featuring
the Attractions' rhythm section--was incredible. The "Ghosts"
recording is their apotheosis. Give it a listen if you haven't
I'll echo Kevin's sentiment on "Ghosts"; it was recently burned on a mix CD someone gave me, and it became the song I most listened to. (It was a unique mix, as it also featured a twelve minuted extended version of The Chamber Brothers' '"Time Has Come Today," the Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog," and Dusty Springfield doing her version of "Spooky.")
And it's true, John Wesley Harding has never gotten the raves or fanbase that he deserves. Why is this? Was he too prolific too early on? Did naming himself after a Dylan album and having a song on his first record where he boasted that he was Joan Baez and Bob Dylan's bastard son just kinda alienate the people that shoulda been his fans? Is he too much of a hottie? The jury's out!
3) Dave Van Ronk:
I know this is oldish news, but I saw your item in the archives. The
thing is, his connection with Dylan and the early-'60s Village scene
resulted in his getting short shrift in most of the stories about his
death, because a few sentences about that era were deemed sufficient
(also, he died at the same time as Waylon Jennings). The reality is,
Van Ronk's best work as a genius fingerpicking guitarist and
inimitable singer came decades later. Greil Marcus wrote something in
Salon after Van Ronk's death that pissed me off: "Only rarely... did he sing anything you couldn't have heard someone
else sing better."
That's probably true of the albums Marcus refers to, but it's a
judgment based on the first 7 years of a 40-year recording career.
Later albums like "Sunday Street" and "Going Back to Brooklyn" are a
far different story. I can't think of anyone I'd rather hear sing or
play any of the songs on those albums, and there's some great
I guess all I'm saying is, if you're assuming Van Ronk's career ended
when the heyday of Greenwich Village did, you're missing out.
I plead ignorance to Van Ronk's post-Greenwich Village career, hearing him only occasionally guesting on a contemporary folk singer's record.
posted by Anon. 4:05 PM
Field and tracks
I know, I promised a Steve Earle fatwa. But reader Phil Hay has sent us this link to 10 questions with Steve... on ESPN's Page 2, of all things. It's part of promotion for Steve's song on The Rookie soundtrack. Steve sounds pretty grumpy and laconic, plus it turns out that not only is he a Yankee fan, but a Clemens one at that. Boo, hiss.
To make up for this, I found this other Page 2 10 Burning Questions session with Ice Cube. It's a very insightful interview -- Cube's smart, funny (listen to his answer on who would win in a basketball game, Public Enemy or NWA), and mature, as he shows in this excerpt when asked about his controversial past:
"Have I done records I regret? Of course, I have. With every article you write, do you hit it on the head? Do you ever write something where you're like, "Man, I shouldn't have said that"? With records, y'all get to hear what I said at 18, 21, 22, 23, 25, 27. Now I'm 32. Think about what you thought when you were younger and what you think now. So it's all growth, man. Still, there's a lot of people who think what you say in your songs represents who you are. Well, my records are just a hint of who I am. That's why they don't have "The Cube Show" like "The Truman Show."'
Well said. All this, and he says that his favorite song is "Knee Deep" by Funkadelic.
posted by Anon. 12:19 PM
Sunday morning coming down
Did the world really need two Kristofferson tribute albums coming out at the same time? Since it inspired this piece in the SF Weekly, perhaps the answer is yes.
And in even stranger tribute news, Carolyn Mark and the Room-mates have released a tribute album ... to the soundtrack to Robert Altman's Nashville. The review in SF Weekly makes it sound like a pretty snarky affair -- much like the Old '97s music, it sounds like its an album made by people who regard country as kitschy. Carolyn did rope Next Big Alt-Country Thing Neko Case along, though. But Altman's movie -- a film which I'm fond of -- is not a film that's kind to country music. So why cover the songs from it?
posted by Anon. 9:10 AM
Nice story yesterday in the Nashville Tennessean about the efforts of an older blues band trying to bring not just the blues, but a sense of community, too, back to a neighborhood in Nashville.
posted by Anon. 8:55 AM
We had record traffic yesterday, thanks to two links from Glenn Reynolds on Instapundit. How big a jump? Our previous record for unique visitors in a day was 100; yesterday, we had 1122. I expect those numbers to fall these next few days, but I do hope some of you decide to stick around. Please, if you like what you read, add Palmermix to your bookmarks, put it on your links page, share it with friends.
But more importantly: email me, not just with feedback, but let me know what you're listening to, what you're interested in reading about music-wise. Or something musicnewsworthy you think we should link to.
A great thing about blog is that it gives its author a chance to shout; but without others shouting back, it's like shouting into a canyon. And I'd love to hear more than echoes.
posted by Anon. 8:47 AM
I know that I post far too much about Steve Earle, but bear with me. His Sidetracks' album of B-sides and soundtrack songs is coming out in a few weeks: here's a song-by-song description by Steve himself, as he explains how he came about to cover Nirvana's "Breed," Little Feat's "Willin'," and, most interestingly, "Johnny Too Bad," his second cover of a song from The Harder They Come. Steve Earle, reggae fan. Who knew?
posted by Anon. 11:18 PM
Leather and chrome
Reader Cary Crisp writes that the top bluegrass outfit Del McCoury Band performed on PBS the other night (I'm going to guess it was Austin City Limits, as Sessions seems a little too "urban" for the McCourys), and they played a version of Richard Thompson's "1952 Vincent Black Lightning," the wonderful song that I mentioned in my earlier Mary Lou Lord post. Though my exposure to the McCoury Band comes a little late in the game, really only with the album they did with Steve Earle in 1999, The Mountain, I imagine that the band has players with talented enough fingerpicking skills to pull the Thompson song off.
If you don't have The Mountain, it's good -- not Steve's best record of the last ten years (I think that's El Corazon, though Nick Hornby in his New Yorker piece said that EC was the weakest -- who are you going to trust, a Limey who writes novels about "feelings" or Palmermix?), but the song "Pilgrim" is beautiful and was used to great effect by Kenneth Lonergan at the end of his lovely You Can Count On Me.
I'm running out to grab dinner and make my maiden voyage at LA's newest monstrosity of mall development, The Grove (it's off the music topic, but Greg Goldin's piece in last week's LA Weekly was terrific; I'm all for Progress, but the last thing this city needed was another mall, especially in a neighborhood that doesn't have the infrastructure (street width) to handle the new traffic).
But there's a good McCoury story that he left the tour that he and Steve Earle were doing in support of The Mountain. Allegedly, he found fault with Steve's cursing too damn much. I ended up catching Steve on that tour after the McCoury split, when he was backed by the able Tim O'Brien (not the writer of The Things They Carried) and Darrell Scott, who often plays with Guy Clark. It was a very good show -- I've seen Steve Earle three times now, and all of them were good shows -- as they all played around a single stand-up microphone, old-timey style.
The McCoury-cursing episode might explain the little comment that Earle places in between songs on 2001's Transcendental Blues: "And always remember, friends, there's no place in vulgarity for bluegrass."
And on that note, I'm off to the mall.
posted by Anon. 7:45 PM
When Dave Alvin won the Grammy award for Best Traditional Folk Album for 2000’s Public Domain, it was a high-water mark for one of the more interesting careers in popular music.
Alvin grew up in Downey, California, a town only ten miles east of Los Angeles' downtown, but a million miles away from Hollywood glitz. He started the Blasters with his brother Phil, and they added a rockabilly edge to the LA punk scene of X, The Minutemen, and Black Flag.
Like most brother bands (see the Kinks’ Davies brothers, Oasis’ Gallagher brothers, and the Fogerty brothers in CCR), the Blasters suffered from a lot of in-house tension. Eventually, Dave left the band, taking a brief role as a guitarist in X alongside John Doe, and then going the solo route. (His brother Phil, who still tours with the Blasters, went back and got a Phd in mathematics.) Along the way, Dave dated Lucinda Williams, which is probably the equivalent of dating a bucking bronco, if the bronco in question has razor blades in its saddle and also posseses bi-polar tendencies.
There’s a good story going around – who knows how much of its true – that Lucinda came home one day to find Dave packing his bags and leaving. "How can you be leaving? This is the greatest thing you’ll ever be in!" and so on.
To which Dave, legend has it, responded: "If this is so great, why am I not happy?"
Alvin then recorded a few albums – including one, Museum of Heart, which has one of the best album titles for a singer/songwriter since Nick Lowe’s Jesus of Cool. But for me, his big breakthrough as an artist was 1994's King of California, a record where Alvin presented new songs that showed a remarkable maturity and sense of observation for a songwriter, alongside stripped down, acoustic versions of some of his best Blasters and early solo songs. The album included two duets, one with Rosie Flores and one with Syd Straw, but the best songs on the record seemed to be those where Dave was accompanied by little more than his guitar (and maybe the uber-talented Greg Leisz).
In the thundering "Fourth of July," Dave takes a tried and true Independence Day metaphor (that’s been used by everyone from Springsteen to the Wallflowers) and yet makes it fresh and beautiful. "On the stairs I smoke a cigarette alone/Mexican kids are shooting fireworks below," and then he lunges into the chorus.
The album improved upon Alvin’s previous works also in its production; Dave abandoned the thicker, glossier production of his previous efforts – a production that sounded a little bit like Mellencamp – in favor of a spare, in-the-room feel, not unlike those adopted by John Hiatt on his seminal Bring the Family. But in terms of the songwriting, Alvin has less in common with Hiatt’s wordplay than he does with Steve Earle, in both their cartography of the heart and its parameters, and their writing with a strong empathy of the working man, sprung not from an ivory tower view but from real experiences.
Geography plays a real role in Alvin’s songs, and the title track here is a beaut, as he describes his travels all around the state as he gathered up the gumption and resources so that he could marry his one true love. And in the album's closer, "Border Radio," he blends an elegy for lost friends with the metaphor of a distant signal from a border radio broadcast.
Alvin’s work since this album has been top-knotch. His Blackjack David contains even more jewels to establish himself as the Californian Steve Earle, and his live Interstate City shows just how deep Alvin’s knowledge – and love – for the music runs, culminating in a medley where he leads his own "Jubilee Train" into two other songs about the great migration west, Woody Guthrie’s "Do Re Mi" and Chuck Berry’s "Promised Land." It’s hard not to have an affection for the music of an artist who has so much affection for the music of others. (Alvin also produced the very fine Merle Haggard tribute of a few years ago, Tulare Dust, which features Joe Ely, Steve Earle, Iris Dement, and a host of other fine singer-songwriters.) And Public Domain, where Alvin went back and took labor and folk songs from the early part of the 20th century and turned them into hard rockers and strumming ballads, is often downright transcendent.
As Dave Marsh said to me when I raved about how good Public Domain was, as if I were stating the obvious: "Dave Alvin doesn’t make bad records." I've found little evidence to counter DM’s statement. If you pick up King of California, you might agree with us, too.
posted by Anon. 2:03 PM
Time is Tight
Neil Young has adopted many different genres as his own over the years -- from the folk of Harvest and Harvest Moon to the blazing guitar rock of Ragged Glory to the bar blues of This Note's For You to the rockabilly and country records that Geffen Records famously sued him for turning in, claiming the albums "weren't Neil Young albums."
But we've yet to see Neil Young, Stax/Volt soulman. That's apparently what we get, though, on his new Are You Passionate? (Somebody, quick, change that title!) He's got Booker T and the MGs (minus Steve Cropper) backing him, and according to this 3.5 star review on Rolling Stone's website, the album shows off a Stax sound in parts. I'm glad to hear it; I thought that "Let's Roll" was lousy on both an aesthetic and exploitative level, an almost as bad "song written in response to major events" as Tom Petty's "Peace in LA," a thankfully forgotten song written and recorded after the L.A. Riots.
posted by Anon. 1:21 PM
Cool is the new lukewarm
Rolling Stone has posted its list of the "50 coolest albums of all time." #1 is the Velvet Underground's White Light White Heat. #2 is The Rolling Stones' Aftermath, which seems like a cool choice (with "Under My Thumb," etc) except that I think this might be the one that Luke Wilson and Gwyneth listen to in The Royal Tenenbaums. Instant disqualification!
#3, though, is a great choice, James Brown's Live at the Apollo. #4 is Chuck Berry's Great 28 anthology, which is terrific, but I think Chuck Berry has been pretty uncool ever since the incident with the cameras in the bathroom stalls. (We won't even mention the "Breakfast Time" urban legend.)
#4 is, predictably, Paul's Boutique, #5 is the self-titled Blondie, #6 is Aretha's Spirit in the Dark (now that's an interesting choice), #7 is Massive Attack's Protection (I can think of ten better electronica choices), and #8 is the overrated Dusty in Memphis.
Here's something decidedly uncool: putting a Top 50 list on one's website yet not having a main page with the complete list, forcing a reader to go through the albums one by one. What is this, a pop-up book?
posted by Anon. 1:07 PM
The resolution of the San Francisco dog-mauling trial – where the prosecutor, Jim Hammer, is a former Jesuit novice who taught at my high school while I attended – has left the Peter Buck Crockery-vandalism trial as the major judicial event before us. That is, until Scalia's two votes bring down Campaign Finance Reform.
It seems that Buck’s defense has been that something weird happened when he mixed a glass of wine with a sleeping pill. Let’s call it the zombie defense.
Which makes perfect sense if you have any idea of R.E.M. history!
Roky Erickson, much like Alex Chilton, has one of those haphazard long careers of little success, all with a healthy dose of Syd Barrett-Daniel Johnston mental illness to add flavor. His band in the 60s, the 13th Floor Elevators, recorded "You’re Gonna Miss Me," a Nuggets classic which was recently included on the soundtrack to the deserves-its-own-blog-entry-or-maybe-its-own-blog High Fidelity.
Roky’s career never really went anywhere – kind of hard, given his schizophrenia -- but along the way he seemed to develop fans in high places, resulting in 1990’s Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye tribute album.
REM contributed a track. What Erickson song? "I Walked With a Zombie." Here are the lyrics:
I Walked with a Zombie
I Walked with a Zombie
I Walked with a Zombie last night.
(Repeat chorus 15 times.)
What about the verses? There are no verses. Yes, that’s the entire song. As far as songs about walking with a zombie go, it’s a good one, probably the Stairway to Heaven of walking with a zombie songs. (It’s admittedly not a crowded field of contention, including, off the top of my head, the Cranberries "Zombie" and Tom Petty’s "Zombie Zoo. I forget if Bobby "Boris" Pickett's "Monster Mash" had a bit in it about zombies or not. )
REM’s version of it may seem harmless, a throwaway, but then again, I miss the days when REM was capable of something as loose as covering the Mary Tyler Moore theme or "Wichita Lineman" in concert. Or, hey, the drunk version of "King of the Road" off Dead Letter Office. In "Zombie," after Stipe sings or speaks the chorus the first ten times, Mike Mills, Buck, and Bill Berry all take turns with the vocals. Which is especially great because, aside from Mills (who had the lead vocals on "Superman" and "Near Wild Heaven," two of the bands’ best songs), the other guys can’t sing.
But perhaps in this Roky Erikson song lies a major clue to the Buck business. After all, it’s only a short hop, skip, and a jump from I Walked with a Zombie to I Flew British Airways First Class with a Zombie Who Was Foolish Enough to Mix Sleeping Pills with Chardonnay.
posted by Anon. 11:08 AM
Steve Hanna writes that the Mary Lou Lord live record also features a cover of "I Don't Want to Get Over You" by the Magnetic Fields. I wasn't sure when I glanced over the setlist for the Lord album originally, but this is exciting. 69 Love Songs came out in '99, a massive 3 CD release by a band led by a New Yorker named Stephen Merritt. It ended up finishing #2 in the Voice's Pazz and Jop poll of that year, right below Moby's Play. Like any 69 love song behemoth, it has its share of filler, but it's best moments -- "I Don't Want to Get Over You," "I Think I Need a New Heart," "The Luckiest Boy on the Lower East Side" -- represent some of the better alternative pop songwriting of the last ten years, drawing upon influences as diverse as Tin Pan Alley and Busby Berkeley, to Lloyd Cole and the Replacements. Should you buy it? Or should you just get a friend who owns the huge set to lend it to you so you can burn your own single disc version of your favorites from the album? (I recently did this with my copy of the Springsteen Tracks box set, distilling my favorites to a single disc of my favorites. But then again, the Magnetic Fields need your milk money more than Bruce does at this point.... Your call!)
posted by Anon. 6:46 AM
If you've ever actually wondered what a producer of an album does (c'mon, don't laugh, it's a fair question), there's a good interview with Butch Vig on Starpolish that explains it. Kinda. Vig, yes, is a member of Garbage, but also produced albums by Smashing Pumpkins, Sonic Youth, and Nirvana.
posted by Anon. 10:40 PM
Oh, for Anne Murray
Yes, Celine Dion is awful, but she's also an easy target. It takes real skill to get me to laugh at jokes made at her expense. In today's New York Times, Neil Strauss shows off exactly that skill.
posted by Anon. 10:31 PM
Jingle jangle morning
When it comes to politics, I agree with Mickey Kaus on virtually nothing, but the guy does know how to make a good mix tape.
In the past, when listening to one of Mickey's driving tapes, I've been ecstatic both to hear songs I only thought I loved -- Bob Mould's wrenching cover of Richard Thompson's "Turning of the Tide," for example, or a Guided by Voices tune from Bee Thousand -- or something that I never heard before, like a live version of Jonathan Richman's classic Modern Lovers "hit" "Roadrunner," or "Sweet Promise of Love," a great bar band anthem by dredlocked Yale graduate Mary Cutrufello.
One musician though that Mickey and I both share a fondness for is Boston folksinger, and pre-Courtney Love girlfriend of Kurt Cobain, Mary Lou Lord. Her major label debut, Got No Shadow was one of my favorite albums of 1998, and its "Jingle Jangle Morning," a chimey melodic driving song reminiscient of the best of Tanya Donnelly's music, stood out as one of my favorite singles of that year.
In songs like her own "Western Union Desperate" and her cover of Freedy Johnston's "The Lucky One," Lord combined an ear for melody with a little girl voice and smart lyrics. The album was helped by a production and vocal overdubs that hadn't been present on Lord's earlier efforts for the smaller, Pacific Northwest Kill Rock Stars label (the same label that first gave us Elliot Smith and Sleater Kinney).
Now Lord has released a live record, Live City Sounds. I haven't heard it yet, but I'm already excited about the set list. Back when I could use this make-shift verb, I Napstered an illegally taped live recording of her performing Richard Thompson's "1952 Vincent Black Lightning."
Now, Vincent Black Lightning is probably one of five songs I want played at my funeral. (It's such a good song, I'm going to give you a link here to get the recent anthology of Richard Thompson's work on Capitol. Actually, that entire single-disc anthology is great; you just run the risk that you might like it so much that you'll go back and buy all the RT albums the songs originally appeared on, eventually making the presence of the anthology in your collection redundant. Then again, you probably already went through a similar situation after someone gave you Nick Drake's Way to Blue)
Lord's version wasn't near as good as the original -- she's not enough of a guitar player to handle the elaborate fingerpicking and the equally nimble lyrics -- but I gave her credit for trying. And the set list for this live record also includes a cover of Billy Bragg's wonderful B-side, "Ontario, Quebec, and Me," as well as... "Thunder Road," which the Cowboy Junkies were covering on their last tour. I'm now officially intrigued, even though I worry that the lack of live overdubs will leave Lord's voice a little weak, the way it was on those early EPs of hers.
She also covers "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome As You Go," but seeing as how that was already covered by Shawn Colvin on her Cover Girl, it's not a very original choice. When will a woman rocker be so bold as to cover "She's Your Lover Now?"
I might check out the live album. You, on the other hand, should definitely pick up Got No Shadow, if you can find it.
P.S. Mickey still shies away from giving me even just a measly little one-time-only link on his page! (It must be part of his "no hand-outs" support of welfare reform.) So I'll be the bigger man, and link to him!
UPDATE: My pal Lockhart Steele (his website features an Ellis-esque blog and a bonus blog on NYC nightlife -- also some great photographs of Pakistan and NYC after 9/11 during the below-Houston checkpoint days) points out that I look obnoxious for claiming to be the bigger guy, when Mickey gets 50,000 times more traffic than I do. True!
posted by Anon. 9:58 PM
The bull's already made up her mind
Everyone's favorite hair enthusiast, inexplicable Julia Roberts ex-husband, dater of dangerously near-underage women, and composer of scores to really long Richard Gere-Robert Altman gynecologist comedies, Lyle Lovett, has been trampled by a bull.
Wait, before you think that we're actually going to have to read a People Magazine Tribute to Dudley Moore, Milton Berle, and Lyle while standing in the check-out line next week, have faith: the self-consciously quirky Texan, and token musical performer of the 2001 Bush Inaugural gala, appears to have made it out with only a broken leg.
posted by Anon. 9:25 PM
Living in Hollywood, I see a lot of people do jobs that probably are in reality hell on wheels, but from my view in the cheap seats look like a lot of fun.
Take the job of music supervisor: sure, it's probably a pain in the ass to secure rights to songs that your director must have, but on the other hand, you probably get to place some of your favorite songs in movies, giving them the audience they deserve. (A friend described Vanilla Sky as "a mediocre psycho-sexual thriller with one of Cameron Crowe's mix tapes playing in the background." Nice description.)
Anyway, when we talk about soundtracks, one of the best jobs of music supervision in a movie in the last decade has to be that which produced the soundtrack for Curtis Hanson's film of Steve Kloves' script of Michael Chabon's Wonder Boys.
It was Dylan's original "Things Have Changed" which (deservedly) won the Oscar, but the soundtrack itself drew from a range of sources of late 60s, early 70s music to match the scattered mindset of its lead character, Grady Tripp, during his wild Pittsburgh weekend of (admittedly meager) self-discovery. That meant a nod to the predictable (Buffalo Springfield), but also meant inclusion of two classics that have been too much forgotten in the last few decades, by two artists that have been similarly forgotten: Clarence Carter's "Slip Away" and Tom Rush's "No Regrets."
Carter was a blind soul singer and guitarist of the Muscle Shoals/Atlantic Records school who recorded some classic material in the late 60s, including a cover of the Box Tops' "Soul Deep," a raunchy and raucous Christmas number called "Back Door Santa," and a spoken-word deconstruction of James Carr's "Dark End of the Street" that is as bizarre as it is beautiful -- Carter spends about four minutes ponitificating on "making love" and "slipping around," before finally ending the song with the Carr chorus. It has to be heard to be believed, and when you hear it, you will cherish it and spread its gospel far and near, from the highways to the by-ways. You doubt me? Then you haven't heard it yet.
The same way that Roy Orbison would often punctuate his songs with that "rawwwwwwr," well, Clarence Carter did with a "huh huh huh" bellow of a laugh. He had only four entries into the Pop Top 40, for "Slip Away," "Too Weak to Fight" (which features Duane Allman in his session man days), "Snatching It Back," and his version of "Patches," the maudlin classic about an Alabama boy trying to do right by his father's memory. Rhino released Snatchin' It Back, a single disc anthology of his Atlantic work, about five years ago; it's a must-have, a great purchase for anyone in love with that Stax/Volt and Atlantic sound of Sam and Dave, Otis, Aretha, and the Wicked Pickett.
Tom Rush, on the other hand, came out not of the Muscle Shoals soul scene but the Cambridge folk scene. I only discovered him a few years ago; I was playing with the idea of developing a film set in and around the folk revival of the 1960s, and so purchased Van Ronk, Richard and Mimi Farina, Tim Buckley, and albums from others in and around that period. Rush immediately leapt out as the music that felt the least dated -- his acoustic guitar pyrotechnics on the great Bukka White train song "Panama Limited," his beautiful treatment of Joni Mitchell's "Urge for Going," and his definitive version of "Lost My Drivin' Wheel," which the Cowboy Junkies later covered. His songs aren't full of the hurdygurdys and dulcimers that date the Farinas' records, opting instead for acoustic guitar, and sometimes little else. Rush later settled in a little too mellow of a 70s groove, feeling like an older, less inspired Jackson Browne, but he's rare in that he was an excellent interpreter of others' songs, in addition to his own accomplished songwriting.
The best song on the album -- probably the best thing that Rush has ever recorded -- is a composition of his own, and that's "No Regrets," one of the more brutal, yet heartfelt, break-up songs I've heard anyone record. "I know your leaving's too long overdue, and for far too long I've had nothing new to say to you," it starts off, and goes on, painfully but beautifully from there. It's an unbelievably realistic song, and was covered nicely by Emmylou Harris, released finally as a bonus track on her Portraits box set, and even by alternapop faves Luna.
But go with the original, and pick up the Rush anthology. If your idea of "folk music" includes everything from "Don't Think Twice It's Alright" to Blue to Astral Weeks, I'm betting that you'll enjoy Rush.
posted by Anon. 4:09 PM
Share and share alike?
The Cliff's Notes version of the last two years in file-sharing history. Little Company called Napster allows people to use the Internet to send files back and forth to each other. People proceed to send tons of Audio Files (MP3s) over the great white way. The Record Labels, stunned that anyone could potentially rip off music artists without their having a part in the ripping off, got sad ("This is why our industry is hurting! Not because we're turning out shit!"), then angry ("Why, how dare you interfere with our right to turn out shit!"), then sued ("Heh heh, now you're in the shit").
Thanks to the support of artists like Metallica's Lars Ulrich, the RIAA beat Napster in court, making it so that yes, it was illegal to share files under the copyright protection acts. The RIAA mostly used the argument that they were defending artists' rights. After the collapse of Napster, and the ensuing collapse of Morpheus, a file-sharing program using the FastTrack protocol, the Recording Industry proceeded to create new file-sharing services that they control. Guess what? No money (royalties) goes to the artists there, either, it's just that these new subscription-services make sure that the record labels get their dough. So much for the RIAA being the golden archer for artists' rights.
I understand that file-sharing is a form of copyright violation. But so are mix tapes. So are photocopies. So are a thousand other little crimes that happen every day. And the fact is that file-sharing provided the first sock-it-to-'em attempt at revolution against the hideously corrupt, and consistently anti-artist, recording industry. I might not support copyright violation, but I certainly support the lesser of two evils, and there are few evils more evil than the byzantine accounting and strangle-hold contracting practiced by the recording industry. (And that is on all levels -- the smaller labels like Rounder rip artists off just like the Atlantic Records of the world do.)
And as I've said in these pages before, I firmly believe that file-sharing encourages music love -- and encourages others to purchase more music. And could potentially be the means to beat the illegal bootleg industry in Europe. How? How are the boot companies going to make money on illegally taped live concert CDs when Jimmy Arizona can get 'em free off the Net? Hmm?
Anyway, here's a good piece by Derek Martin on Shift.com, reviewing the new subscription-services, RealOne and pressplay. What a surprise: they suck. Also, a preview of the new, emasculated Napster.
posted by Anon. 11:57 AM
Peter Buck Trial, Chapter 8, Verse 4
New reports in today from the trial of REM Guitarist and alleged crockery vandalizer Peter Buck. Now Michael Stipe and Mike Mills take the stand in support of their bandmate. Stipe describes Buck as a "southern gentleman." Mills' hair apparently is now a platinum blonde/white tone. And Peter's wife, who if memory serves runs the Crocodile Club in Seattle, says that Peter apologizes to waiters when he doesn't eat all the food off his plate. Hmm.
posted by Anon. 11:10 AM
Recording Industry Publicists: American heroes
So Reuters is carrying this story today. Let's hear it for balanced coverage!
Who are these "observers?" Are the analysts merely the members of the "industry"'s "trade group" -- meaning, not the musicians but the labels themselves? Could possibly the fact that CDs are completely overpriced in America -- in some places now being sold for $18.99 a pop -- having anything to do with it? Or the preponderence of used outlets? Nah, let's just take "the industry's trade group's" word for it! Burning, bad. Internet service, bad. Please.
posted by Anon. 6:26 PM
The danger of being a know-it-all is that when you get it wrong, you got some egg on your face. Seanarama writes that "The recordings on the Anthology are not Harry Smith's field recordings. They were all commercially released records which Harry compiled, usually without getting clearance fromt he original artists."
Sean is right. Here's an excerpt from Ed Sanders' monograph on Harry, part of the nice little book that comes with Volume 4 (a book that also includes an essay by Greil Marcus and annotated song-by-song notes by John Fahey, a gifted performer in his own right).
"Like Balzac, Harry Smith lived in a kind of financial panic his entire life, and it was impending financial doom which precipitated one of the great creative acts of his life, the Anthology of American Folk Music.
Harry went to see Moe Asch, who had recently begun Folkways Records. 'He came to me with this vast collection of records,' Asch recalled in an interview 21 years later. 'He brought up thousands of records.' They were 78 rpm recordings. Harry wanted to see Mr. Asch a good portion of his collection, because he desperately needed some cash... Asch quickly realized that Harry knew the music and history of the recordings intimately, and had the kind of mind that remembered almost everything, so he suggested Harry put together a sequence of tunes from his vast collection. Harry agreed, and by that agreement entered musical history. Harry took over the entire creation of the Anthology. He designed it, sequenced it, wrote the notes, laid it out and pasted it up. Harry rboguht his skills at montage and art to the design. There was what Harry called 'great soul searching about what to put in and what to leave out... The first criterion was excellence of perofrmance, combined with excellence of words.'
When the Anthology of American Folk Music was released in 1952, on Folkways records it astounded, amazed, and turned on a generation of songwriters and musicians."
Kill the messenger in this case, folks. The music is sublime, even if the online pundit telling you about it is in need of some college interns to fact-check. Well, maybe erroneous facts add to an edge-of-your-seat thrillride quality.
posted by Anon. 6:14 PM
Jazz n' Movies
The Sidney Poitier tribute at the Oscars included a montage of scenes from several of Poitier's films. A couple of scenes were snipped from my favorite Poitier film, a lesser-known 1961 gem called Paris Blues, starring Paul Newman and Poitier as jazz musicians living in Paris in the 1950s. I know, this is a music blog, but hey, music movies are fair game.
Paris Blues, directed by Martin Ritt (Hud, Norma Rae), is one of the better films dealing with jazz that I've seen. It's no Round Midnight, which featured Dexter Gordon's Oscar-nominated performance, but it's a film with a lot of style and with undeniable charisma, thanks to the two male leads.
Nothing too significant happens, except for Newman and Poitier falling in love with Joanne Woodward and Diahann Carroll, respectively, but there's a good twist, there's a cameo by Louis Armstrong, and it's beautifully shot. And the music is great, and Newman and Poitier don't do too awful a job of pretending to play. Rent it if you can find it. If, like me, you're a huge Newman fan, and particularly a fan of his late 50s, early 60s glory days (The Young Philadelphians, Hud, Hustler, etc), you're in for a treat.
posted by Anon. 2:21 PM
A sure sign that someone is suddenly making it and making it big is when in the span of a single week, you hear his music at three different locations and hear his name dropped four times, when you had never heard of him a week before. Out of nowhere, I've been hearing tons about Jack Johnson -- and I liked what I heard when they played his record at Max's, my favorite Fairfax Avenue haunt. I might pick this up, along with the new Billy Bragg, sometime in the next couple of days.
Today also finds British rock group Gomez releasing In Our Gun, their long awaited follow-up to Liquid Skin.
Other upcoming releases that caught my eye:
Steve Earle, Sidetracks, his album of unreleased or underexposed songs, April 9.
Neil Young, Are You Passionate?, April 9.
Patty Griffin, 1,000 Kisses, April 9.
Pedro the Lion, Control, April 16.
Jay Bennett, former Wilco member, The Palace at 4.A.M., April 23.
Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (at long last!), April 23.
Elvis Costello, When I Was Cruel, April 23.
Paul Westerberg, Stereo, April 23.
posted by Anon. 9:10 AM
O grandfather where art thou
More than one friend this past year has said to me, "I really liked O Brother Where Art Thou. Where can I find more music like that?" Well, if the music on the soundtrack that really hit home for you were the "older" songs -- "Big Rock Candy Mountain," "Po' Lazarus," etc, then I do have a recommendation. Actually, more of an order. And that's Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music.
It sounds dry. It isn't. It is some of the most amazing music I've heard. It is intermittenly haunting, joyous, moving, and even funny. It could easily and accurately be described as the Rosetta Stone of American folk, blues, and country music, but it's a hell of a lot more fun than the Rosetta Stone.
Most of the recordings are taken from field recordings Harry Smith -- a funny hunchbacked ethnomusicologist who lived in Berkeley -- made over the course of twenty years.
The six disc, Volumes 1-3 will cost you somewhere between $60 and $100, depending on where you find it, so if you want to first test-drive the music, pick up the Volume 4 that was released finally in 2000.
For people linking to this who already own and have enjoyed these albums, this post is as obvious as my alerting readers that "chocolate tastes good." But I'm happy to state the obvious if it means directing a few new recruits to this magical music.
posted by Anon. 6:23 PM
In the ridiculous sore loser/sour grapes category, Paul McCartney is basically excusing his loss to Randy Newman for Best Song through the strange explanation that American Academy voters voted for Americans this year due to 9/11. Sir Paul, perhaps realizing the potential sour-grapesish nature of his comments -- does at least then say that the voters were right to cast their votes for that reason: "This year -- with what happened in America -- I think maybe it was kind of important that a lot of Americans had to win."
Never mind the fact that a host of British and Australian and New Zealander folks won in technical categories for Lord of the Rings and Moulin Rouge, or that Jim Broadbent, a Brit, won for Best Supporting Actor, or that Julian Fellows, a Brit, won for Best Original Screenplay. Oh, no, never mind that.
Thanks to fellow blogger Lockhart Steele for pointing out that I'm not alone in finding McCartney's faux graciousness completely unctuous.
posted by Anon. 2:39 PM
CMT, which unlike TNN actually airs music programming these days (kind of like VH-1 vs. MTV, I guess), is about to start airing the original episodes of The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, starting on April 2 with an episode featuring Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, and Buck Owens. Seeing how the program aired from '69 to '72, expect 70s fashion miscues galore, but also lots of good music, with the weeks to come featuring everyone from Stevie Wonder, Waylon Jennings, and Ray Charles to ... Don Ho and Liberace. I guess that's why they call it a variety program. Hmm.
posted by Anon. 2:25 PM
Peter Buck Trial Update: Now Bono has taken the stand as a character witness. I'm not making this up.
posted by Anon. 2:14 PM
If you live in Los Angeles, then you're lucky enough to live in the same city as McCabe's Guitar Shop, which features one of the most intimate, small venues to hear a singer/songwriter. I just snuck a peak at McCabe's concert schedule for the next couple of months, and there are some good ones coming. Including an all-acoustic show by the Jayhawks on April 14, and two shows by the wonderfully and woefully underappreciated Tom Rush on May 18.
I have yet to post on Tom Rush, whose single-disc anthology has become one of my favorite purchases of the last couple years. I'll remedy that in the next day or two.
posted by Anon. 12:43 PM
A good friend in NYC has been dating a woman. It's in the early stages, but not so early that they haven't already been becoming acquainted with each other's apartments. He reports that at her apartment last night, she had both Steve Earle's Transcendental Blues and Emmylou Harris' Red Dirt Girl in the turntable.
My response was succinct. "Marry her."
Superficial, to place so much in musical tastes? Of course. Yet if so much of the value we place in our favorite music are the places and moments where that music served as the soundtrack, similarly, those moments and memories are greatly augmented by the presence of music that we love.
There's a story in here about the time when I went over to a woman's house and she put Ted Hawkins' The Next Hundred Years on, but some memories are best kept to one's self.
posted by Anon. 10:07 AM
I read on the wire yesterday that legendary Cleveland and New York DJ Alan Freed's ashes have been moved to an unspecified wall location in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. When Cleveland lobbied to have the Rock Hall of Fame located there, one of their major arguments was the fact that Freed, who was the first to agressively refer to a new strain of rhythm and blues as "rock and roll," had his first successes there. Freed's story is one of the more interesting, and saddening, ones of the 1950s, and John A. Jackson's 1991 book, Big Beat Heat: Alan Freed and the Early Years of Rock and Roll is great not just as a rock book, but as one of the best snapshots as America in the 1950s -- especially in its chapters dealing with Freed's fall during the congressional hearings on Payola. The book is apparently out-of-print, but if you can find it on a used website or in a used store, pick it up: it's well worth reading.
posted by Anon. 9:09 AM
Well, so much for my Oscar prognostication. Enya's post-9/11 popularity was no match for the dozens of articles that Randy Newman's publicists had placed about his being the Susan Lucci of the Oscars. Too bad that we then had to listen to him deliver a smirky, smarmy speech. (It would have been nice if his songs for movies and his scores showed some of the same edge that his speech and albums have showcased; instead, his scores are infamously syrupy, and his songs for movies virtually identical from one another.)
I did like when he started off by saying, "I want to thank Milos Forman and Barry Levinson," and then broke into laughter. (Forman and Levinson gave Randy his first scoring jobs, for Ragtime and The Natural, respectively.)
As for the performances, Sting and McCartney's songs were completely dull, and Paul is not aging gracefully into that good night. His new wife, though, is beautiful. And John Goodman was great, as always. One of the most underrated actors in Hollywood, I think.
posted by Anon. 7:35 AM
Neil Strauss has a fairly interesting piece in today's New York Times. The subject is why alternative-country, Americana, and bluegrass can't get airplay on country radio.
Think you have read a thousand articles already about that very subject? Wait, there's a new twist: now that O Brother Where Art Thou won the Best Album Grammy, will country radio now open up to playing other styles?
According to Strauss: nah.
posted by Anon. 11:19 AM