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Morning with the Silver Fox

I was doing a little bit of site maintenance this morning while listening to Charlie Rich's Sun Sessions. I'm of the school that says that if you run across an album by one of the major Sun artists, you should buy it. (The exception is Roy Orbison, whose Sun output -- the most prominent song of that period of RO's career is "Ooby Dooby" -- is far inferior to his later works with all their orchestral flourish.)

The Charlie Rich disc is no exception. Rich's voice during this early years was silky smooth -- people often mistake his voice for Elvis -- and in this period he was attempting bluesier and more down-home fare than those songs he would later achieve his greatest successes with in Billy Sherrill's glossy Epic Records stable in the 70s. "Who Will the Next Fool Be," also beautifully covered by the criminally underrated Bobby "Blue" Bland, is steamy, "Philadelphia Baby" is a rollicking rocker, "Everything I Do is Wrong" and "Easy Money" are fab. And "Lonely Weekends" is a bona fide rock and roll classic; it was Charlie's highest charting song from this period, and combines a boogie woogie piano line with call-and-response backup vocals straight out of gospel. You'll no doubt find that on the Sun Box Set, and on last year's Good Rockin' Tonight Sun tribute it was covered by -- oh, Jesus, by Matchbox 20, is that any way to honor a dead man's memory? (On the same disc, Sheryl Crow evidentally covers "Who Will the Next Fool Be.")

Rich's work in this period is a brilliant study in bringing together genres -- everything from the New Orleans and Memphis sounds, to country, to gospel, to blues is brought together, and all tipped off with that great voice. Years ago, before I had discovered Rich for myself, a prominent critic friend claimed that Rich was the second best singer that Sun had in those days, next to Elvis. Rich actually recorded for a Sun subsidiary, Phillips International, but it was the same family, different shingle. (This friend also hates Johnny Cash. He's wrong about that, but maybe right about Rich, since Cash's voice is admittedly limited, Orbison would do better work later on, and Jerry Lee Lewis' voice just didn't have the same vocal chops. Howlin' Wolf is in his own separate ballpark.)

But I also think it's a misstatement that Rich's only good work was done in those years with Sun. His work for Billy Sherrill on Epic may be overproduced, glossy, and lush -- but there is no denying that "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World" is a great song, cheesy as it may be, or that yes, there's something irresistible about "Behind Closed Doors." And a song like "I Take It On Home" doesn't sound too far away from his best Sun work. (Though I can't listen to "On My Knees" without getting queasy, so even I have my limits.)

If you are able to get past the kitsch factor and enjoy the good side of the best work of an artist like, say, Glen Campbell, then you could really enjoy Charlie Rich's 70s songs, which feature beautiful singing, strong melodies, and, in the midst of the lush production, some very fine piano work and craftsmanship.

One more note. I have many friends who have embraced the artists of alternative country and the singer/songwriters of Nashville and Austin, but have still shied away from getting into the classic artists of country. They might own a Patsy Cline anthology, or a Hank Williams anthology, or one of those albums Johnny Cash did for Rick Rubin's label, but they seem to shy away from artists like George Jones, Loretta Lynn, Glen Campbell, Merle Haggard, and so on.

I don't know whether it's classist or not -- I don't think it is -- but I do know that they'll often dismiss classic country as corny or cheesy. I know I have a hard time with some country -- but I have a hard time with some rock, some alternative, and many artists from several genres. And classic country is miles away from Garth Brooks, et al -- it's like comparing Bon Jovi to Bob Dylan.

I just think to deny one's self the pleasures that can come from a song like George Jones' "The Race is On," Loretta Lynn's "The Pill," Merle Haggard's "Mama Tried," Dolly Parton's "Jolene," or a thousand other songs, when one's interests in music already lies in those folk/country strains of Lucinda Williams and Steve Earle, just seems to be a crime and a half, and more than a little strange. Sorry for the rant: I adore Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris, too, same as the next alt-country fan, but they aren't the only pre-Guitar Town artists with twangs worth listening to. So don't be scared of country. Country can be your friend.

I own and recommend the Sun Sessions disc, which is a comprehensive look at Rich's work with Memphis' most famous record label. If you like Elvis work from this period -- "Blue Moon of Kentucky," "That's All Right Mama," etc -- I'd be surprised if you didn't enjoy these tracks.

For his 70s work, I own a CBS American Originals, that while featuring "Beautiful Girl" and "Closed Doors" is at 10 songs pretty incomplete -- especially as it doesn't include the much beloved Rich track from that period, "Life's Little Ups and Downs." (That said, it also costs less than ten dollars -- though evidentally so does Greatest Hits, which does include "Ups and Downs.")

I just poked around Amazon -- like most classic country artists, you have to steer clear of many poor Charlie Rich anthologies -- poor for either being incomplete, or worse, featuring not the original versions but inferior later re-recordings.

That said, Feels Like Going Home: The Essential Charlie Rich looks to be a terrific purchase. It's a two disc set, under $20 on Amazon, and it combines great songs from most of the phases of Rich's long career -- from his work with Sam Phillips, to his 1965 novelty hit "Mohair Sam" for Smash Records, to his giant hits for Epic and RCA in the 1970s. (Curiously absent is any music from after his mid-70s heyday, including songs from his Pictures and Paintings 1992 comeback record, produced by top music journalist Peter Guralnick.)

posted by Anon. 9:52 AM


Supervisor swimming

I love movies, but as this is a music blog, my movie discussion here is generally limited to either movies about music or music in movies. That's often involved my talking about the role music supervision plays in a film. The composer handles the actual score; but the music supervisor assembles the soundtrack of new or existing music.

One music supervisor whose work I enjoy is Manish Raval. He's handled the music supervision for all of the Farrelly Brothers movies since Kingpin. (I think the decision to put Jonathan Richman in There's Something About Mary was made by the directors, though.)

I just rented Shallow Hall this week: it was better than the dreadful Me, Myself, and Irene, and it actually had a nice sweetness to it, but the major strength of the film is its adding to the heavy pile of evidence that Jack Black is probably one of two great quirky comedic forces that have emerged the last few years in films. (Owen Wilson is the first; these are actors who even when a script is bad or unfunny still manage to wrest humor out of it, though Wilson lately has been in danger of becoming over-glib.)

The film, like many of the other Farrelly films, is practically start-to-beginning chock full of music. In this one, I remember hearing Lucinda Williams' "Lonely Girls" and Belle and Sebastian's "Woman's Realm" -- and the film ended on the terrific "Love Grows," the classic 60s song by Edison Lighthouse that Freedy Johnston recently covered on his dud of an album last year. Sometimes there's a little too much music in a Farrelly film, such that the whole movie feels like a giant montage (which always makes me think of the classic "I'm Into Something Good" montage in the first Naked Gun). Sometimes the choices are too odd that they stick out -- "After the Gold Rush?"

But Raval makes some great choices in the movie. I hope that he gets better films to do his music supervision for. He worked with T-Bone Burnett on the soundtrack to The Big Lebowski -- a wonderful soundtrack, from its use of Kenny Rogers' "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Is In)" to Bob Dylan's "The Man in Me" to the Gipsy King's "Hotel California," to the lovely Townes Van Zandt version of the Stones' "Dead Flowers" that closes the Coens' Chandler in a bowling alley classic.

If you happen to find it in a cut-out bin, Raval's soundtrack to the Bill Pullman film Zero Effect is a great compilation, bringing together Nick Cave's "Into My Arms," Mary Lou Lord's "Some Jingle Jangle Morning," and, a song that deserved to be a hit but didn't, Thermadore's "Three Days." Even some Heatmiser, Elliot Smith's old band, makes it on there. Pick it up if you run across it.

posted by Anon. 7:08 PM
From the bottom of my heart

The general policy here at Palmermix HQ is to only link from this site to albums that I actually like. I don't intend on using the Amazon affiliate program to lead you to any albums that I don't like or albums by artists I don't enjoy. (Except in posts when I'm just alerting you to new releases within the next month.) So in the previous post, while I do like songs by the artist who acted in Sister Act 2, I do not endorse or enjoy the music of the artist that was up for the lead role in The Next Karate Kid. I just linked to her album on Amazon to give you a more entertaining reveal of a punchline. Tee hee.

posted by Anon. 5:35 PM

I smile and exhale a steady breath of satisfaction knowing that my $60.88 check to AT&T Broadband each month (no, not to worry, I'm still on 56k, baby -- this is for my television) is money well-spent, for more than once in the last week one of my 6 (well, 7, but the 7th is just the first but with Spanish language dubbing) HBO stations has offered me the joy of watching Sister Act 2.

Sister Act 2, you say? What, does Palmermix have a thing for nuns? (I do, heh heh, but that's another story which I will one day delve into in a separate weblog devoted to my sexual perversions.) No, what's relevant to this blog here is that Sister Act 2 features a teen-age performance by a certain one-time winner of Album of the Year.

Truth department: Okay, I tried, but I haven't been able to get through more than three or four minutes of Sister Act 2. But I have caught the aforementioned music star's scenes. Pretty great.

Though not as great as when, in writing a sidebar story for US Weekly on Oscar-winner Hilary Swank, I interviewed the casting director responsible for Swank's non-Oscar-winning work in The Next Karate Kid, who told me that one of the four other girls they almost cast as "Pat" Morita's new female apprentice was none other than this anorexia poster-child (and one-time girlfriend of my personal choice for the Most Overrated Filmmaker in Hollywood award).

Good times.

posted by Anon. 5:31 PM
I found a picture of you

Coming back from lunch, I turned on the car radio, and there was "Back on the Chain Gang." It's a song that you don't hear too often on the radio -- it's too old for alternative stations, too modern for classic rock stations, and too poppy for music programming on public radio. I guess it would be a good fit for Adult Album Alternative format, but both of Los Angeles' attempt at the format -- 101.9 and Channel 103.1 -- bit the dust and switched to Spanish-language format.

So needless to say, when "Chain Gang" came on, I listened -- and even waited in my parked car until it was done before turning the engine off.

That's a song that only gets better and better with age -- not just its age, but my age -- and it's probably, along with "2000 Miles," "Hymn to Her," and "My City Was Gone," one of the best songs that the Pretenders ever recorded.

It amazes me that there could have been a time when a song like "Chain Gang" could be a top 5 single (and in 1983, it hit #5, which makes it, along with "Don't Get Me Wrong," the only Pretenders song to crack the top 10... unless "I'll Stand By You" did it, too, but unfortunately my dog-eared copy of Joel Whitburn's Top 40 Hits is from 1986, so I can't check.)

"Chain Gang" is a song that always seems to encourage nostalgia, for friends lost, for times long gone, for loved ones buried and memories tucked away. (It was, after all, Hynde's eulogy for her deceased bandmate and lead guitarist, James Honeyman Scott.) But though it starts with nostalgia, it's also a song about moving on -- about throwing one's self "back in the fight," and moving forward. That's not a revolutionary sentiment -- it's Chrissie's own version on Dylan's "keep on keeping on" -- but it's a strikingly mature sentiment for a pop song, and it's a song that I only appreciate more and more as I get older.

After finding Viva El Amor, their last studio album, to be very generic, I'm beginning to think that Chrissie is saving her best work for compilation and tribute albums. I loved her and Emmylou Harris' duet of "She" on Return of the Grievous Angel: A Tribute to Gram Parsons, and just this past weekend, I made a mix for a friend that included her beautiful version of Tim Buckley's "Morning Glory." A sign of a great singer is one who can sing a song about a hobo, a song whose lyrics keep mentioning a hobo, and you're moved by the song -- and not moved into laughter with images of Red Buttons as Freddy the Freeloader.

That version of "Morning Glory" can be found on Bleecker Street, a very strong compilation from 1999 which takes classic songs from the Greenwich Village folk scene of the 60s and re-interprets them with more modern folk and rock artists. It was given to me by someone I cared a great deal about and never see anymore, someone I guess I think about sometimes when "Chain Gang" comes on.

There's Marshall Crenshaw doing Dylan's "My Back Pages," Jules Shear doing a lovely version of John Sebastian's "Darling Be Home Soon," and the folk trio Cry Cry Cry (made up of Dar Williams, Lucy Kaplansky, and ex-seminarian Richard Shindell) doing a version of Tom Paxton's "The Last Thing on My Mind," which in its harmonies and instrumentation is worlds better than anything on Cry Cry Cry's one-off album.

But my favorite things on the record besides "Morning Glory" are two unlikely duets: John Cale and Suzanne Vega doing an industrial version of Leonard Cohen's "So Long Marianne," and Iris Dement and Loudon Wainwright doing a rollicking version of Richard and Mimi Farina's "Pack Up Your Sorrows," a tried-and-true pick-me-up of a song.

As for the Pretenders, all the songs I mentioned above can be found on the Singles compilation, except for the often forgotten "My City is Gone," her song about her bittersweet homecoming to her native Ohio, which is on Learning to Crawl. And I also enthusiastically recommend their underrated, unplugged (though not Unplugged) live album, The Island of View, which features a beautiful version of "Hymn to Her" where Hynde is accompanied only by a harmonium, as well as a version of "Sense of Purpose," one of the Pretenders' best songs, a little-known number culled from the so-so Packed!

posted by Anon. 2:15 PM
88 keys

Just went out for my three mile run and listened to Dave Alvin's live Interstate City while I ran. It's a very good record (especially the live version of "Museum of Heart" and "Mr. Lee," his tribute to his mentor, friend, and sometime Blaster bandmate, the late, great New Orleans saxophonist Lee Allen), but what stood out for me most on this listen was the excellent rollicking rock and roll piano on the record, courtesy of Rick Solem, who played piano on a couple of Alvin's earlier solo records.

I've been on a rock and roll piano kick lately; part of that has been recognizing how much Ian Maclagen has revitalized and reenergized Billy Bragg's solo music, as evidenced on his work on Bragg's recent England, Half English. I also recently listened to Exile on Main Street (one should always be able to say, "I recently listened to Exile on Main Street," that's a record that deserves at least a monthly listen, much like Blood on the Tracks does), and Ian Stewart's work on that is wonderful, especially in that opening roll of "Loving Cup" -- which I swear is within shooting distance of Vince Guaraldi's "Linus and Lucy."

Two other piano collections which have brought me a lot of pleasure are from two different styles of music.

First, there's Rhino's 1993 Professor Longhair anthology, Fess. It's a two disc anthology, and the first disc covers the late Longhair's 50s music, including his signature "Tipitina," "Looka, No Hair," and "Big Chief." It is the foundation of so much of the great New Orleans R&B of the late 50s, and Longhair, the former Roy Byrd, was himself the mentor to Dr. John. The second disc, featuring Longhair's comeback music from the 70s, features an excellent version of the old Solomon Burke hit, "Cry to Me," as well as a decidedly New Orleansy version of Jerry Lee Lewis' "Whole Lotta Loving." If you have any inkling of liking great piano music -- or New Orleans boogie woogie in particular -- this set is more than crucial, it's essential. (And if you want more of the same, then start looking into Huey "Piano" Smith.)

The other two disc anthology that's a must for piano fans is also a Rhino release, this one from 1994, and that's the two disc Mose Allison anthology, Allison Wonderland. Now first off, if that's not the greatest name for an album title, I don't know what is. Second of all, even though it's identified as "jazz," this is just as much blues, and it's some of the coolest music, with some of the wittiest lyrics, you're going to run into. Reflecting Allison's Beat influences, the lyrics are cagey, crazy, and witty. You'll recognize more of the music than you would expect, including the original version of "Young Man Blues," which the Who would cover on Live at Leeds. But in the end, it's the piano playing behind the lyrics that really sticks with me. Most of the lounge music coming out these days is material from pretenders to the throne; Allison is the real deal.

posted by Anon. 11:41 AM
Sad news

Only a week after Lane Staley's body was discovered, the news has been released that Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes, 31, of TLC, has died in a car accident in Honduras. As a member of TLC, she was responsible for two of the largest hits of the last ten years, "No Scrubs" and "Waterfalls." Here's the AP wire story that the NYT is carrying.

posted by Anon. 8:18 AM


I'd do anything in this god almighty world...

Steve Earle is touring as part of Beatfest, a touring multi-day festival saluting the legacy and tradition of the Beats. Anyway, apparently as part of his recent April 14 performance at New York's Knitting Factory, he opened with a rendition of not one of his own songs, but instead the great "Baby Let Me Follow You Down." Now that's a terrific song any way you slice it. My first encounter with it was on Dylan's Biograph box set, though it first appeared on his eponymous first album.

"I first heard this from Rick Von Schmidt," Dylan says at the start, referring to Boston folk scene's Eric Von Schmidt. "Rick's a blues guitar player. I met him one day in the green pastures of Harvard University."

But that acoustic version by Dylan only tells one side of the story. On Dylan's fantastic Live 1966, long bootleged and erroneously titled the "Royal Albert Hall" concert, he revitalizes it into a steaming rocker, backed up by what would soon be known as The Band. And Dylan's version of the song in the Last Waltz would practically steal the show away from his one-time backing band.

So when Steve Earle covers that, he's not going up against one, but three Dylan versions. Now that's ambitious.

posted by Anon. 10:55 PM
The End of Western Civilization As We Know It

Forget Osama Bin Laden. Forget Iraq. The most frightening news -- involving the greatest threat to our nation's children -- is announced right here.

posted by Anon. 4:19 PM


In stores today...

Some high profile releases today. Pick them up at your record store -- or buy them through the links below and help pay for my children's education. Every 65 cents counts!

Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Will it be as good as all the hype? Will it match the strength of the fast power pop of Summerteeth without suffering from that records boring ballads? Will Tweedy's lyrics continue Summerteeth's trend of random word association? Will the album show off any kind of impact from the Mermaid Avenue experience?

Paul Westerberg, Stereo
I bought 14 Songs. It was disappointing. Then I bought Eventually. It sucked. I borrowed Suicaine Gratification from a friend. Didn't like it. And yet, I may still give this record a chance. Why? Because, hell, All Shook Down was basically a solo Westerberg record under the Replacements name, and it was great.

Elvis Costello, When I Was Cruel
Wasn't going to give this a chance, but Greil Marcus' piece pretty much sold me on it.

posted by Anon. 7:04 PM

One of the better Greil Marcus Real Life Rock Top Tens I can remember reading has been posted up on Salon. It includes bits on the new Elvis Costello record, John Aschroft on Letterman, and Cate Blanchett singing "Total Eclipse of the Heart."'

Over at the Village Voice, there are a few good pieces to check out. A review of Wilco's new album, released today. A nice piece on Peggy Seeger, Pete's half-sister and a folk singer in her own right. And a wickedly funny piece about a conference at Seattle's EMP project run by Robert Christgau -- if you hate music critics that suffer from an academic snobbery, well, be glad you weren't there. Even if Solomon Burke was.

posted by Anon. 3:40 PM
Google search of the day

Today someone was connected to Palmermix via a search under the keywords "sheryl crow botox."

posted by Anon. 3:27 PM
Diamonds in the rough

You gotta love Google. I was searching for one thing, and instead ran across this goody: Mikal Gilmore's synopsis of what happened the day that the Rolling Stone staff of the late 1970s went head-to-head with the Eagles... on a softball field.

posted by Anon. 1:08 AM
Lost highway

I spent a great deal of time today listening to an outstanding single disc Hank Williams anthology I've had for years, but only rarely turn to. I'd link to it, but it's not available for sale, as it's actually part of a Time-Life mail-order "Legends of Country Music" series. A critic friend gave me a few copies from the series several years ago -- Hank, George Jones, Conway Twitty, and Loretta Lynn are the ones I own -- and they're substantial, generally boasting 24 songs or so on a single disc. Twitty never did too much for me, but the George Jones, Hank Williams, and Loretta Lynn anthologies served as wonderful introductions for seminal country artists who haven't always been well-served by their record company compilations. That said, I recommend picking up any Hank Williams anthology if you don't own any of them; while I can see Lynn and George Jones being more acquired tastes for many readers, Williams' music isn't that too far from the work that Elvis and Johnny Cash would do at Sun Records only five or six years later. A real treat, and a crucial and critical component for anyone who has been starting to learn more and more about classic country and bluegrass from O Brother and the alt-country bands.

posted by Anon. 12:38 AM


Playing the joker

"My name is Alias."
"Alias what?"
"Alias Alias."

From Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, a film by Sam Peckinpah

Bob Dylan does many things well, but acting is not one of them.

Someone forwarded me a Variety article from this past February, reporting that Dylan is about to give acting another shot. An excerpt:
In what marks his first major film role in 15 years, Bob Dylan is in talks to star in a drama for Intermedia Films.

Intermedia has been developing the pic for about a year with Larry Charles, showrunner of "Mad About You." Charles will make his feature directorial debut with the pic and will produce with Intermedia co-chairman Nigel Sinclair.

Pic, whose working title is "Masked and Anonymous," will feature Dylan in the role of Jack Fate, a wandering troubadour who is brought out of prison by his former manager for one last concert.

Script, being penned by first-time writers Rene Fontaine and Sergy Petrov, will incorporate some Dylan music. However, it is unclear whether Dylan will write any new material for the movie.

Intermedia expects to start shooting the film in June ... and hopes to have the pic completed for a 2003 Sundance bow.

FYI, Larry Charles is a former Seinfeld scribe, and also was the man responsible for the development and execution of the short-lived Dilbert animated series on UPN.

Let us hope that the character's name will be changed before they begin shooting. Jack Fate, heh heh.

You can very possibly find a copy of Hearts of Fire, the 1987 Richard Marquand-directed stinker that brings together Bob Dylan and Rupert Everett together in the same movie (chew on that for a second, why don't ya) at your local Blockbuster; the question is though, why would you even try? (He doesn't even play one of his own songs, choosing to cover instead a lackluster John Hiatt song called "The Usual.")

He also has a very, very brief scene in a Dennis Hopper-directed Backtrack with a pre-Silence Jodie Foster and Hopper himself, where Dylan plays a Venice street artist. (Strangely, the film has been renamed on video: Catchfire.) He has no lines, he's just spraypainting something on the cement.

Better to stick, then, with D.A. Pennebaker's Don't Look Back, which really does hold up as a completely fascinating film, even if it kind of peters out in the end. The DVD is a wonderful purchase for anyone who considers themselves a Dylan fan; it does include some additional recorded versions of songs from Dylan's 1965 tour, but the true goody is the commentary track by Pennebaker and the tour manager.

posted by Anon. 7:36 PM
File-sharing means caring

Mostly because I'm a Mac owner, I hadn't found a new file-sharing program to replace Napster once Napster's kneecaps were knocked out by the RIAA.

AudioGalaxy, Morpheus, Kazaa (which has been doing sneaky spy-level shit on people's computers, but now you can get KazaaLite, all the Kazaa goodness without that bitter shady aftertaste) and company are all just for PC platforms.

But I did finally download LimeWire today. I like the look of it, it's free, and it's fast for my 56k connection, when it actually is able to download the requested song. I tried getting Jerry Butler's "Only the Strong Survive," Elvis' version of the same song, Sheryl Crow's version of Bob Dylan's masterful "Mississippi," and in all cases the program found the songs -- only then did not allow me to download them.

I was able though to download Elvis' "Viva Las Vegas" and Fat Boy Slim's remix of Cornershop's "Brimful of Asha." We'll see if the traffic and quality of transmission is better in the evenings.

posted by Anon. 7:32 PM
50 States of Rock and Roll
California, the Final Chapter

Well, we have about a bajillion California songs to choose from. Such that we could even make a California mix on all our lonesome. Or, for that matter, a California box set. Or duelling Bay Area vs. Southern Cal CDs. The possibilities are endless.

But a choice has to be made for my 50 States mix, and so here we go. In my mind, the finalists are as follows:

"Sitting on the Dock of the Bay," Otis Redding. This actually would probably be in my all time top 10 of favorite hit singles. Up there with Train in Vain, Brown-eyed Girl, and a few others. But that's a post for another day.

"California," Joni Mitchell. Along with "Carey," this is my favorite song of Joni's, from Blue. Though I guess that when you get down to it, it isn't so much a song about California as a song about longing to get back to California. Joni basically sings about her European itinerary -- the pretty people reading Rolling Stone and Vogue in Spain -- but she admits that she's longing for the folks she digs and a Sunset pig (?) back in CA.

"Desperados Under the Eaves," Warren Zevon. A sentimental choice. The greatest song I've found about growing up not in California, not in Los Angeles, but specifically in the Los Angeles neighborhood near Gower Ave, Franklin Ave, Hollywood Blvd near Hollywood, right in the shadows of Beachwood Canyon and the Hollywood Sign. Which, for those keeping score, is the neighborhood I grew up in. "If California falls into the ocean... like the mystics and the skeptics say it will... I predict this hotel will be left standing until I pay my bill... don't the sun look angry through the trees?"

"California Stars," Billy Bragg and Wilco. Perhaps an unconventional choice, but there are few songs that I've heard in the last ten years which have individually given me so much pleasure as this one, where Woody Guthrie's lyrics have been given the languor of a lullaby and the come-on of an Al Green song and the swishing guitars of Van Morrison circa Tupelo Honey. It's such a phenomenal song that I've noted in these same pages before that I've considered it as a wedding song. If I ever get married.

Sadly, there has to be a winner. So the winner is...

"California Stars," Billy Bragg and Wilco, in a staggering upset of Otis Redding's Sitting on the Dock of the Bay, mostly because I realize that this mix could dangerously become "50 Songs about American Cities" if I don't put some state-specific songs in there. So there you have it.

The 50 So Far...

Alaska: "Anchorage," Michelle Shocked
California: "California Stars," Billy Bragg and Wilco
Indiana: "Goin' Back to Indiana," Jackson Five
Kentucky: "Paradise," John Prine
Massachusetts: "Dirty Water," The Standells
Nevada: "Viva Las Vegas," Elvis Presley
North Dakota: "North Dakota," Lyle Lovett
Utah: "The Promised Land," Bruce Springsteen

More to come! I've recently stumbled upon a great song involving Hawaii (since Elvis for Nevada precludes "Blue Hawaii" -- a song I never liked much anyway). Stay tuned.

posted by Anon. 7:27 PM


Cat's in the bag

Have you had a lousy day? A lousy week? A lousy month? I've got the panacea. And this cure-all ain't gonna cost you much at all.

Not too long ago, I gave Wes Anderson mad props for single-handedly relaunching the Faces' profile by placing "Ooh La La" on the Rushmore Soundtrack. But another thing the Rushmore Soundtrack did was re-introduce us to the Cat Stevens of the 60s. Before he started recording all of those painfully sincere singer/songwriter albums (and I do mean painful) with the strange titles.

"Here Comes My Baby" is a terrific song, a song which is ridiculously cheerful in its music even as its lyric describes the pain of seeing a girl you like with another guy. I dare you to listen to it and not feel better at the end of the song than you did at the beginning. You can find Cat's version of it on the Rushmore Soundtrack. And you can also find Yo La Tengo's version of it on their excellent collection of acoustic covers, Fakebook.

posted by Anon. 9:34 PM
50 States of Rock and Roll
Even more about California

Even more California songs. Matt from Palo Alto offers these:
alifornia love - dre
straight outta compton - nwa
going to california - zeppelin
los angeles - frank black
santa monica - everclear (like your natalie imbruglia note, this is an over-marketed song but still really good)
welcome to the jungle - guns n roses (not sure if there's an out-n-out reference but it's all about la - grrrrrrrr!)
take california - propellerheads
hotel california - pennywise (cover - and it rocks)

Then Kevin from New York offers these:
By the way, you left out "San Francisco Bay Blues" (Jesse Fuller,
covered by Janis Joplin and more recently by Eric Clapton--it's one
of the better tracks on his mediocre "Unplugged" album) in your list
of California songs.

I feel like there are a bunch of other San Francisco songs...

Hey, here they are! http://www.sfheart.com/Songs/menuFrame.html Google is good.

Jesse Fuller's "San Francisco Bay Blues" was also covered by Paul McCartney on his Unplugged record. And it's been covered by Tom Rush. And by Ramblin' Jack Elliott. Yes, a good song. I was remiss! It happens.

posted by Anon. 5:25 PM
50 States of Rock and Roll
California, continued

Well, I asked for a few more suggestions, and you've provided a couple.

"California," Quasi. From the very, very mellow Portland Oregon former husband-and-wife duo, the drummer of which has often drummed for Sleater-Kinney.

"I Remember California," REM. I believe that's from Green, an REM album I've never liked very much. The one between Document and Out of Time, and the one that features "Stand" and "Pop Song 89."

Fine to have forgotten those. But the most distressing news of the morning comes from my mother -- my own mother! -- who points out that I have forgotten "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay" by Otis Redding.

This is the kind of news that leaves one to sit in front of a mirror for days on end, questioning one's self-worth. How could I forget the Big O, my favorite soul singer? Mom continues:
I believe the "ships" in the song
were really the ferries passing the dock in Sausalito
Well, I can't begrudge my own mother. But this is one of my favorite songs, so yes, by the end of the day, "Dock of the Bay" will be in serious contention.

posted by Anon. 10:10 AM

Some egg on my face this morning. First off, this email from Brian in Los Angeles:
How can you possibly mention bakersfield and music without mentioning buck owens? unforgiveable
True, true, true. Let me just blame it on Sunday and the brain hiccups that come with weekend time. I will make it up though by saying that if you're ever in the Bakersfield area, Buck Owens actually has a regular gig at a club up there, and performs, I believe, twice a week. Please also note that I don't recommend Bakersfield as a final destination for any of your holiday plans.

posted by Anon. 9:56 AM
Don't cry, Daddy

What is Graceland going to do as Elvis fans grow older and die off? Great story in today's NYT about Graceland confronting just that reality.

posted by Anon. 1:26 AM
Trying to be amused

Elvis Costello has once again returned back to a rock sound, and is once again touring with -- well, they're not the Attractions, they're the Imposters, but they're basically the Attractions minus bassist Chris Thomas, who was banished from the band for penning a tell-all memoir, if memory serves me correctly.

That means that Elvis is touring with Steve Nieve on keyboards, Pete Thomas on drums, and on bass, Davey Faragher.

If Faragher's name is familiar to you, it might be because he was a member of Cracker for Kerosene Hat, the one album by David Lowry's band that had actually got some radio airplay and had the modest hit singles "Low" and "Get Off This." Faragher then played with John Hiatt's Guilty Dogs and Nashville Queens backing bands (The Guilty Dogs, Hiatt's band for Perfectly Good Guitar, featured bald-pated future Wallflower Michael Ward on guitar, while the Queens, Hiatt's band on Walk On and Little Head, featured frequent Counting Crow David Immergluck handling the lead guitar duties), until Hiatt brought his most famous backing band, the Goners (where Sonny Landreth handles the lead guitar role) for his latest, The Tiki Bar Is Open. Still with me? Good.

Now Faragher gets to be an Attraction, only he doesn't get to call himself an Attraction. Hm. There's a Jon Pareles review of a live show of EC and the Imposters in Manhattan in today's NYT.

posted by Anon. 1:21 AM



What were your first memories of music? I mean once you get past the kids' records, the Sesame Street Fever, the Free to Be You and Me.

Me? Hmm. I remember Paul Robeson LPs that my father had, and that low, low voice that came from the record player, how I thought the LP was playing the record too slow to get a voice that low. I remember Willie Nelson's Stardust; I remember the Ink Spots, and Sam Cooke. The Everly Brothers.

But mostly I remember Buddy Holly. I owned his 20 Golden Greats, a cassette, and I remember listening to it again and again in the car. I loved the sweetness of "Everyday," I loved the raucous fun of "Oh Boy."

"That'll Be the Day," Holly's first charted single, was recorded on February 25, 1957. On February 3, 1959, Holly died in that famous plane trash that also took Richie Valens. Less than two years between those two dates, and Holly was only 22 when he died.

We know him now, of course, as a legend, an icon, an influence of the Beatles. But what I tried to do when I listened to Holly today -- just listening to a single disc anthology, 18 songs, for the first time in months -- was listening to him not as the legend, but trying to imagine hearing this singer on the radio for the first time in 1957. Not knowing him as a doomed young man, but instead just as a talented young guy from somewhere in Texas full of promise, part of the new music known as Rock and Roll.

I find that approach helps me in my listening sometimes, as it strips some of the legend away and lets me get closer to the music. I try to hear each song without knowing what comes next. I hear the "whoo whoo"s in "That'll Be the Day," the urgent rush of his vocal in "Oh Boy," and the fantastic layered lead vocal -- where Buddy overdubs melody with his own vocal -- on "Words of Love," perhaps my favorite Holly song and one which the Beatles themselves would later cover. And the guitar work -- heavy on the treble, very much that same jangly crisp sound that would be appropriated and embellished by bands from the Byrds to Tom Petty to REM.

I couldn't listen to all of the songs with fresh ears. Somehow "Everyday" doesn't reach me anymore, probably because that Stand By Me soundtrack that featured it got a few too many spins at 7th grade birthday parties. But that rumbling drums of "Peggy Sue" -- and his fun leap into that silly falsetto halfway through the song -- is an amazing sound. On all these songs, I hear just an amazing vitality, a positivity, an unfailing hope for and in love -- and the sound of a dawn.

Did Holly have any idea where it would all go, this style of music that he was helping forge? Probably not, no. How could he possibly anticipate all the exciting styles and sub-genres that would come from the music that he, the Everlys, Chuck Berry, and so on were recording?

But what he must have experienced -- and what all of those musicians there at the creation of the new music in the 1950s experienced, I imagine -- was an enormous sense of possibility. A sense of possibility of what the music could be, and a sense of wonder at where it would soon go.

posted by Anon. 11:54 PM

One friend of mine calls him Dwight Ho-kum.

I have to say, Bakersfield, California's other prominent musical export (Haggard comes first, Haggard always comes first) has never done a ton for me, either. Dwight Yoakam kinda slips into that Chris Isaak mode of over-using the same vocal tricks far too often. I do like his song "Streets of Bakersfield" quite a bit, but generally it seems that Dwight's best (or at least most successful) work has been with other people's songs: Dave Alvin's "Long White Cadillac" and the old Elvis classic "Little Sister."

Given Dwight's history of dating actresses -- he dated Sharon Stone for a brief time, and has now dated Bridget Fonda for several years -- and the relative stalling of his singing career, it was probably inevitable for him, just as Chris Isaak did, to make the jump to acting. I could hold a seminar about the problems I had with Billy Bob Thornton's Sling Blade, but Dwight's chilling performance in it was not one of them.

That said, one of the stranger things I've seen recently was Dwight Yoakam performing the role of psychotic in the David Fincher film Panic Room, starring Jodie Foster.

Without spoiling too much about the film, Dwight spends most of the movie wearing a large ski-mask over his head and generally being one crazy dude. The movie itself requires a healthy suspension of disbelief, especially given that the bad guys whom we are supposed to fear in this thriller are played by the effete Forest Whitaker, the scrawny Jared Leto, and Dwight Yoakam, albeit Dwight Yoakam in a creepy ski-mask. Much to my surprise, after hating Fincher's contribution to the Alien series and Seven, and only appreciating some of Fight Club, I enjoyed the film "for what it was."

As for Yoakam's performance... I don't think Anthony Hopkins need lose any sleep.

posted by Anon. 2:56 PM
Daily record

So much of the importance placed in first impressions is how hard it is to erase them after you've made them. That's especially true with music, when our understanding or definition of a musician is so much based on our first interaction with them, their first album, the first single, etc. That's certainly the case with Cowboy Junkies. You ask people what they think of when they think of the Junkies, and the word "atmospheric" comes up. So does the word "mellow." So does the word "boring."

That mostly stems from the success of their second, break-through album, The Trinity Session and it's modest hit single, a stripped down version of Lou Reed's "Sweet Jane." The album was melancholy, ethereal, and probably too consistent in tone and sound.

The follow-up record, The Caution Horses, mostly offered more of the same, though on two songs, "Sun Comes Up It's Tuesday Morning" and "'Cause Cheap Is How I Feel" showed new directions for the _blank">Junkies; the former showed new lyrical directions; the latter, new melodic ones. But generally, people came to know what they expected from the Junkies, and so assigned them a pigeonhole. (Later on in their history, it felt like the Junkies gave up and decided to just retreat into that pre-assigned pigeonhole, especially on the near-dead, atmospheric Pale Sun Crescent Moon and Open.)

But after Caution Horses, they released Black-Eyed Man, and not only is it their best album, it is one of the strongest country rock albums I've heard in the last decade. And had it been released five years later, it may have been embraced the same way that Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams record have been. But instead it was released, and because it didn't sound like the Junkies, the results were perhaps predictable: it flopped.

Which is a shame. Because so many of the songs on this album are melodic and even, a huge change from their first three atmospheric albums, exhilarating. Michael Timmins creates strumming electric guitar and mandolin landscapes to carry his sister Margo's angel voice, and the results are lovely. When I interviewed Margo Timmins about seven years ago, she told me that Emmylou Harris has been her primary influence as a singer, and on this album you can hear why.

Michael's songwriting, especially on the terrific "A Horse in the Country" and "Southern Rain," is also terrific in its lyrical eye. Only on "This Street, That Man, This Life," does he get stuck in the over-written poesy that would mar later work.

The duet with John Prine, the gender-bending "If You Were the Woman (And I Were the Man)," is terrific, a quirky song where somehow, the comfy shoe textures of Prine's voice blends perfectly with Margo Timmins' choirgirl pipes. But the stand-out on the album isn't one of Michael Timmins' own compositions. Instead, it's the Junkies' cover of Townes Van Zandt's "To Live Is To Fly." The Junkies have often had great success with often unusual covers: "Sweet Jane" and "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" on Trinity; they offered up Springsteen's "State Trooper" on Whites Off Earth Now; Dinosaur Jr's "The Post" on Pale Sun, and their version of Dylan's raucous "If You're Gonna Go (Go Now)" was included on an a compilation of their B-sides and outtakes. I've heard them do Ted Hawkins' "The Good and the Bad" live, and I hear that on this past tour, they were covering Springsteen's "Thunder Road."

But on "To Live Is to Fly," they elevate Van Zandt's elegy into a rushing, excited rocker, a sweeping song of urgency. I've long felt that "To Live is to Fly," and not "Tecumseh Valley" or "Pancho and Lefty," is Van Zandt's hallmark song, and in its position as the closing number on this excellent album, the Cowboy Junkies show why. You can find the lyrics to this terrific song here, but here's a sample:
It's goodbye to all my friends
It's time to go again
Think on all the poetry
And the pickin' down the line
I'll miss the system here
The bottom's low and the treble's clear
But it don't pay to think to much
On things you leave behind
I may be gone
But it won't be long
I will be a-bringin' back the melody
And the rhythm that I find

Support Palmermix and get good music: Hit the link here to buy Black-Eyed Man off Amazon, and Palmermix receives 5% of the sale. Wheeeeee!

posted by Anon. 12:30 PM
50 States of Popular Music

50 States. 50 Songs. 50 Artists.

Okay, so we've been a little lazy lately about the 50 States thing. That's going to change. Right here, right now. Let's go ahead and tackle a behemoth. A monster. My home state. California.

I could fill an entire mix CD with California songs. No, two mix CDs. So let's go through them. First, let's do a few city specific ones.

"Streets of Bakersfield," Dwight Yoakam
"Lodi," Creedence Clearwater Revival (also covered by Emmylou Harris)
"The Action," Little Village (makes reference to Montebello, Monterey Park, and other East L.A. neighborhoods)
"Hollywood Nights," Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band
"I Love L.A.," Randy Newman
"All I Want to Do," Sheryl Crow
"Sunset Grill," Don Henley
"From Silverlake," Jackson Browne
"L.A. Woman," The Doors
"L.A. County," Lyle Lovett
"L.A. Freeway," Guy Clark
"Angeles," Elliot Smith
"Tulare Dust," Merle Haggard
"San Quentin," Johnny Cash
"Debra," Beck (Glendale)
"Free Fallin'," Tom Petty (Reseda, Ventura Blvd, etc)
"Century City," Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
"Western Union Desperate," Mary Lou Lord (Pt. Reyes National Seashore)
"Do You Know the Way to San Jose?" Dionne Warwick
"Desperadoes Under the Eaves," Warren Zevon
"Here in Frisco," Merle Haggard
"Malibu," Hole
"Little Old Lady from Pasadena," Jan and Dean
A thousand different Beach Boys songs
"57 Channels and Nothing On," Bruce Springsteen
"Rosalita," Bruce Springsteen (c'mon, that verse about a little bar down by San Diego way?)
"The Line," Bruce Springsteen
"San Diego Serenade," Tom Waits
"Star Star," The Rolling Stones
"La Cienega Just Smiled" and "Goodnight Hollywood Blvd," Ryan Adams
"Blue Jay Way," The Beatles
"Wasteland," Dan Bern
"Celluloid Heroes," The Kinks
"Los Angeles," X
"It Never Rains in Southern California," Albert Hammond
"Down in Hollywood," Ry Cooder
"Venice, U.S.A.," Van Morrison

And California specific songs?

"California Girls," Beach Boys, later David Lee Roth
"California Soul," 5th Dimension
"California," Joni MItchell
"California," Rufus Wainwright
"California," Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
"California," Gomez
"California," Robert Bradley's Blackwater Surprise
"California Is Drowning and I Live Down By the River," Swamp Dogg
"King of California," Dave Alvin
"California Snow," Dave Alvin
"California Song," Ted Hawkins
"Do-Re-Mi," Woody Guthrie, covered by Nanci Griffih and Guy Clark, also covered by Dave Alvin
"Goin' Cali," Bruce Springsteen
"California Stars," Wilco and Billy Bragg
"Going Back to Cali," LL Cool J
"California Dreamin'," The Mamas and the Papas
"California Cottonfields," Merle Haggard
"Hotel California," The Eagles

First of all, in the immortal words of Jeffrey Lebowski, "not the Eagles, man."

Second of all, where to start? Some of these songs are fantastic. If you haven't heard Dan Bern's "Wasteland," download it immediately; I'm not a huge Bern fan, but that song is terrific. As is Zevon's "Desperados Under the Eaves," probably the best thing he ever recorded in his strange career. But for this state, we should probably limit things to songs actually about the state, and not just a city within the state.

And the winner? Well, I'm going to hold off for a couple hours, allowing anyone who catches an omission to write to me and suggest it. There will no doubt be some that I've forgotten. So let me know.

posted by Anon. 11:23 AM
Take this job and... well, you know

There's a very sad profile on CNN.com of Johnny Paycheck, whose health apparently is a mess. It's strange, actually, how so many high-profile country singers -- Charlie Rich, Waylon Jennings, Conway Twitty, for example -- died before they were even 70. Yes, years of abuse probably took their toll, but then again, they also probably could have afforded good medical care.

Also unnerving to see how much Paycheck physically resembles Steve Earle.

posted by Anon. 2:12 AM
Besmirched engine

You get what you pay for, and that could probably be said for the stats service I use, which doesn't offer too much in the way of comprehensive statistics, but then again, it's free. I do get to see what Google searches lead people to my website, and that's always a treat. Today there was a particularly good one:

http://ca.google.yahoo.com/bin/query_ca?p=Catholic Wedding Songs Guitar Tabs

I don't remember ever writing about Catholic Wedding Song Guitar Tabs, but hey, there's a first for everything.

posted by Anon. 1:41 AM
Wilco, Chapter 85

For the first month of this blog, I was overposting on Steve Earle. Now it would seem like I'm overposting on Wilco. Well, I'll try to cut back -- right after I link to this very fine piece by Jon Pareles in the New York Times. Here's a particularly good excerpt:
Wilco ended up on Nonesuch in part because Mr. Tweedy liked the label's roster, which includes Steve Reich, Emmylou Harris and the Kronos Quartet. "It was the best box of free records I ever got," Mr. Tweedy said.

posted by Anon. 1:33 AM
Seattle sadness

I have little to add about the news that Layne Staley, the lead singer of Alice in Chains, has died, but here's his obituary (written by Jon Pareles) and the news story about it.

In lighter, if just as bizarre news, in the continual wrangling over the Nirvana catalog, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl are asking that Courtney Love be tested for mental incompetence.

posted by Anon. 1:30 AM
Fear of Pop

I have to imagine that a good number of the regular readers to this site take as much pleasure in making mix tapes or mix CDs for their friends as I do. There's a pleasure in making mix CDs for friends or loved ones or potential loved ones, if you know what I mean, when they're not music experts but have open minds and want to be turned on to new music.

But there is even greater pleasure -- and a greater challenge -- in making mix CDs for friends who are music geeks, who know their stuff, who will appreciate the live versions or demo versions or bootleg versions of songs that you place on the CD mix.

I had a lousy beginning of a week this past week; one of the reasons why my weekend actually ended on an up note was because of both the joy of good music and the joy of sharing and enjoying good music with new and old friends. Today I spent a good three hours putting together a couple of compilation CDs for a new writer friend who moonlights as a bluegrass musician. I gave her the CDs and explained that some of the songs she no doubt already owned; some of the songs she would no doubt not like; but then there would be a handful of songs that she did not already own but would soon love and adopt as her own. We'll see what my friend thinks.

After dinner with her, I then had a nightcap at another friend's house. Then drove home on the freeway. LA's radio situation has rarely been worse. Two different times in the past 7 years, the city's Adult Album Alternative station has changed to Spanish-language format. The other choices are pop, and an Alternative station that seems to see Alternative as No Doubt and Limp Bizkit. And classic rock, but classic rock that seems to dwell more on Queen and Supertramp than it does Dylan and the Stones.

Which doesn't mean that one can't find good music. It's just that once one does find good music on an LA radio station, one will soon have to change the station again once the next song comes on. This requires some active station switching, and it's a good thing that I don't drive stick. (If you're wondering why I'm dealing with the radio anyway, it's because I have a rent-a-car until my car gets out of the body shop following my recent accident.)

Tonight, that meant that I heard everything from John Cougar Mellencamp's "Pink Houses" to the Emotions' "Best of My Love" to -- well, okay, I'll just come out and say it. Natalie Imruglia's "Torn," which is a great song. It might be a one-hit wonder. She might be a pre-fab Australian with little talent. She still had one great single, and it was deservedly a hit. It's too easy to dismiss a song just because it's glossy, or because it's well-marketed, or because it's a top 40 success. "Torn" is all of these things, and yet I like to think that sometimes, occasionally, even in music, cream once in a while does rise to the top. And if it's processed, pre-fab cream, so be it. I probably will never buy a Natalie Imbruglia album. But I certainly will turn the volume up, and not down, when "Torn" comes on. Hey, you might never buy any Searchers albums, but you know that you love "Needles and Pins." You just do.

Also received two burned CDs from a friend, two discs I've meant to get in some format for a while: the most recent White Stripes record and Kings of Convenience's Quiet is the New Loud. As Ice Cube would say, today was a good day.

posted by Anon. 1:18 AM