Friday, July 22, 2016

FAMILY BANDS : WAINWRIGHT-MCGARRIGLE



Hot, well, lukewarm on the heels of the splendid Thompson piece below, I was about to pen a sorry disclaimer on it being sum sum summertime and that most scribes were maybe elsewhere, before throwing together a few tired tropes about sparring siblings, Don and Phil Everly, Ray and Dave Davies, Noel and Liam Gallagher. But there is clearly only one correct follow-on to J.David's piece, namely to discuss the dynasty above, an extended family "band", convoluted, extended and with a fair side-order of dysfunction and debacle. So where do I start? You could try the family tree, for which I must credit interesting name tending site The Name Station, but, let's face it, it isn't easy to decipher. Where is Pete Frame when you need him?


OK, so we have in the one corner estimable folk troubadour, of the confessional songs and prehensile tongue, who has built a career in humorous and/or poignant self-deprecation, bringing in tales of everyday sadness to make us smile. In the other the youngest McGarrigle sibling, Kate, half of Kate and Anna McGarrigle, doyennes of an anglo french-canadian meeting place of traditionally influenced music. They marry, have children. They break up. Loudon sings songs about his son, Rufus, and his daughter, Martha, as children. Both become, like him, professional musicians. I guess if you had a dad you didn't see so much, to see yourself sung about on stage and TV may be not so great. So here's Martha singing about her dad:


And here's Rufus singing about his dad:


(I think it is probably allowable to comment on the fact that, as chance would have it, Rufus turned out, um, not to be quite the "tit man" his father had jested about.)

Meanwhile, Loudon forms a new relationship, another musician, would you credit it, Suzzy Roche, of quirky NY sister band, the Roches. He has another daughter, Lucy (Wainwright-Roche) and guess what career she chooses, possibly provoked, I wonder, by his song about her, Screaming Issue, annoyingly not on youtube, but the title gives a flavour of its content..... Of course, she's a singer. Her parents separate.

So how is this a family band? They clearly all hate each others guts. Well, no, and this is a number of happy endings. In itself that is at least fortuitous, as you could have the McGarrigles, Loudon, Rufus, Martha and Lucy, all out on their own tours. Inevitably their promoters could find them all in the same country, city, festival or even show. In recent years there seems to have been a warming of relations between the 2 elder children and their father. They have appeared on stage with each other and publicly come to terms with the past. This was perhaps and ironically accelerated by the illness and later death of Kate McGarrigle. Lucy has appeared with her father, opened for her half brother and currently tours, as the Wainwright Sisters, with half-sister Martha. (Check out the lyric of the featured song, potentially referring to their fathers further relationship and their further half sister, Lexie, career as yet unchosen or public.) Here's Loudon's take on his family dynamic, well worth a read.

Eagle eyed will have spotted another famous name in the family tree at the top, namely Cohen. Yes, that Leonard Cohen, whose daughter Lorca is the birth-mother of Rufus' daughter, Viva. I wonder what career path she might take?

Finally I cannot resist adding the interplay between the Thompson and the Wainwright families, as the links come steady and strong, unsurprisingly as the two paterfamilias have regularly shared a stage (often billed as Loud & Rich.) Rufus has worked frequently with Thompson's son Teddy, such as here. But somehow I think the most intriguing link was in the man who took on Kate and her children, post Wainwright, being one Pat Donaldson, frequent bassist for Thompson in his Richard and Linda years. I guess they couldn't help but all be chums.

How do you get a flavour this bloodline in one easy step? You could do a lot worse than with this, which features all of these bar Loudon. For his presence you need this, maybe for the first track alone, which features Loudon, Rufus, Martha, Lucy, Lexie, Suzzy and his current wife, Ritamarie Kelly, with Rufus and Martha each appearing on other songs. Even better still, here's the track in question, good video too:



Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Family Bands: Thompson Family

[purchase]

Here we are, halfway through the second week of this theme, we only have one post. I suggested the theme, so it must be a good one. Therefore, I’m going to blame the lack of writing on the fact that it is the summer, and people are on vacation. Also, two of our writers live in a country that just had an abortive coup, and I’ve been busy with work and family obligations.

So, just time for a short piece about an album that came out in late 2014 called Family, from a group simply billed as “Thompson.” It is, overall, a very good album, if not a great album, but well worth checking out. The project began when Teddy Thompson, an excellent singer, songwriter and performer in his own right (when he is paying attention—don’t get me started writing about the time I saw him and he messed up most of his songs.....) reached out to members of his talented extended family to see if there was interest in working on a project. His father, SMM favorite Richard Thompson, and his mother, Richard’s ex-wife and legend in her own right, Linda Thompson, signed on. As did sister Kami and her husband, guitarist James Walbourne (who together make up The Rails). The next generation was also enlisted, including Jack Thompson, Richard’s son from his second marriage, and Zak Hobbs, the son of Richard and Linda’s eldest daughter Muna, who is not a professional musician, but also appears on the album (and drew the cover illustration). There are also contributions from Richard’s daughter-in-law Paulina Lis, Welbourne’s brother Rob and his wife Brooke Gengras.

The songs were, at Teddy’s direction, to be written where each of the writers lived. He gathered the basic tracks, then fleshed them out with overdubs in London and Los Angeles. So not surprisingly, the album jumps around stylistically, although if you listen carefully, there is a certain “Thompson-ness” about the album that somewhat holds it together.

Ultimately, the key song is probably one of the last written, Teddy’s “Family,” that opens the disc and gives it a title. A gentle waltz featuring Teddy, Zak and Linda, it opens:

My father is one of the greats to ever step on the stage,
My mother has the most beautiful voice in the world. 
And I am betwixt and between, Sean Lennon, you know what I mean. 
Born to the manor, never quite clamoring free. 
It’s family, its family. 

My elder sister is pretty than you believe, 
My younger sister is prettier still and can sing. 
And I am the middle child, 
The boy with red hair and no smile, 
Not too secure, very unsure who to be. 
 It’s family, its family. 

Because this is a fairly recent song, I will follow our informal guidelines and not post a downloadable copy of the song. And I can’t find a video just of the song, so the video above is a short “making of” piece about the album, and it does feature some of “Family.”

Monday, July 18, 2016

family bands: ramblin' man



purchase Allman Brothers Band: Ramblin' Man

Brothers qualify as family, and few others more deserve their place in the pantheon of rock star families more than Duane and Gregg Allman. Playing together through several bands beginning in the early 60s, the Allman brothers actually only played together in their eponymous band for about 2 years until Duane's untimely death in 1971.

The band's Brothers and Sisters album came out after after the extended family had already suffered the seemingly irreparable losses of solo/lead Duane and bass player Berry Oakley, essentially decimating the family. But the legend/name lived on: it was at its commercial height in 1973 when the album came out, and various music critics agree that the album equalled or at least maintained the quality which the band had become famous for while Duane and Berry were alive.

The conceit behind the Brothers and Sisters theme revolves around a large farm that they bought in Georgia, where they aimed to bring the remaining members of the band together as family. The center photo of the LP shows various members assembled at the place, while a son and daughter of the family grace the front and back covers of the LP.

Off and on since the 1970s, a surprising number of the original members (Jaimoe, Butch Trucks, Dickey Betts and Gregg Allman) have managed to find ways to keep it going - more or less. My research came up with a couple of 2014 dates as their most recent concerts (some of them at least).

As for the song here, the idea of a ramblin man seems too classic a part of blues/rock lore that you would assume that the song was a re-take on someone's previous version and not a Dickey Betts original. Hank Williams Sr did come out with a Ramblin Man back in the 50s, but it would take a better ear than mine to note a similarity. There's also a Waylon Jennnings song of similar title that comes a little cloer to sounding like the essence of Betts' tune - at least a little more of a ramble than the Williams' song. Woodie Guthrie treated the theme of ramblin - both in real life and in song, as did Leadbelly to some extent in (Goodnight) Irene, where he sang:

Quit your ramblin, quit your gamblin - both notions included in the Dickey Betts lyrics.

First, here's Dickey Betts doin' the best he can to make up for the double lead all by his lonesome:

 
And then again several years later with Dan Toler as the 2nd lead guitar:
 



Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Number 4: 409



purchase [409]

 The Beach Boys' 409 came out early in their career - the B side to the Surfin' Safari 45.  409 refers to  a Chevrolet with a  409 cc engine. Wikipedia says it was a 6.7 litre engine - a record setting Daytona stock car. ( I appreciate the motor power; having owned a 5.9 litre beast a few years ago, I know that they rocket you from 0-60 in just a few seconds. Any time you need a little more power, it's there. But, you can literally watch the gas gauge work its way down in real time - not so cool where I live with gas at about $10/gal - still!!) In fact - a lot about the Beach Boys ain't so cool when you look in to their 60's frame of mind, but at the time, it was "surfer cool".

Take for example the lyrics themselves: nigh on 1/3 of the song is comprised of the words <409>: but that fit the times: rock beat, AM radio play...

However, the Beach Boys again and again hit the top of the charts in the mid 60s - including 1964, when (maybe not the height of their career) they came out with Fun,Fun, Fun and I Get Around.




Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Number 4: Four Sticks


Led Zeppelin: Four Sticks
[purchase]

I never knew why “Four Sticks” had that title, and until I decided to write this, I never cared enough to try to find out. I’ve mentioned in the past that I’m not a stickler for good lyrics, which is not to say that I don’t appreciate them, but that I’m generally more concerned with the feel of a whole song. So what “Four Sticks” meant, or what the lyrics to the song are (which don’t mention any number of sticks at all) wasn’t all that important. But when I decided to write about this song, it seemed like a good idea to find out, if possible, why the title was chosen.

And it turns out to be pretty simple—drummer John Bohnam used four sticks when he played the song, believing that he needed the extra wood to get the volume he wanted. No mystical or mythical back story, just the pure need for power.

“Four Sticks” appears on one of the legendary rock albums of all time, the theme-appropriate fourth Led Zeppelin album, which is technically untitled, but usually referred to as Led Zeppelin IV (or the fourth album, or Runes, or Four Symbols). Each member of the band adopted a symbol (Sandy Denny, who sang on one song, got her own symbol), in an attempt to deflect attention from the band and the members personally and put the focus on the music, as a reaction to criticism that their popularity was all based on hype. As it turned out, pretty much every song on the album entered and has remained part of the classic-rock canon, most notably “Stairway to Heaven,” in my teenage years considered to be the greatest rock song of all time (before the predictable backlash, including from Robert Plant). The album sold many millions of copies, and is regularly cited as one of the best rock albums ever.

“Four Sticks,” though, is generally considered to be the worst song on the album. The band seemed to agree with this assessment—they apparently played it only once live, although it has been occasionally trotted out by Page and Plant, and re-recorded with Indian and Middle Eastern arrangements. It is also the only song from IV not on the band’s 1990 box set. It is a complicated song, in odd time signatures, with uninteresting lyrics. The original’s power, though, is undeniable, thanks in no small part to the four sticks used by Bonham.

Remarkably, more than a quarter century after their official breakup following Bonham’s death, Led Zeppelin has been in the news, with the jury verdict absolving them of plagiarizing from the song “Taurus,” by Spirit in creating “Stairway to Heaven.” That Led Zep was accused of plagiarism is not surprising—they have been accused of it numerous times, and have altered songwriting credits to reflect this. But this time, I just don’t hear it.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Four: Four Seasons in One Day

Crowded House: Four Seasons in One Day

[purchase]

New Buffalo (Sally Seltmann): Four Seasons in One Day

[purchase]

Paul Kelly and Angus Stone: Four Seasons in One Day

[purchase]

The songs of Neil and Tim Finn have be come so familiar that I sometimes forget that they are from Australia. Their songs have been covered by artists worldwide, and I am more accustomed to that treatment for American, English, or Canadian artists. Four Seasons in One Day makes no specific reference to Melbourne, but the song was inspired by the changeable weather there. For the singer, the uncertain weather is a mirror of the uncertainties in his own life. The video expands brilliantly on this idea, by regarding the seasons in the title as the seasons of a man’s life.

Does it matter that the songs of the Finn brothers are written and sung by men, or are they more universal? In 2005, the label EMI decided to find out. They recruited a roster of female artists from Australia and New Zealand to record their versions of Finn songs. They called the resulting album She Will Have Her Way. For the occasion, Sally Seltmann recorded Four Seasons in One Day under her stage name of the time, New Buffalo. She has recorded her more recent material under her own name. Her take on Four Seasons in One Day sounds like Laurie Anderson may have been is much of an inspiration as the Finns. Reviewers of the album on Amazon seem to either love it or hate it, and this song will probably get similar reactions.

In any case, the album was enough of a success that EMI decided to release a companion album in 2010. He Will Have His Way features all male artists this time, but still from Australia and New Zealand. You might have expected similar results, but reviewers on Amazon who loved the previous album seem to hate this one, and vice versa. Paul Kelly and Angus Stone deliver a Four Seasons in One Day that is certainly truer to the original than Seltmann’s version, but they still make some artistic choices of their own. The brass section is an especially nice touch.

In summary, I leave this post as a case study in the art of the cover song. The artists on both tribute albums offer a wealth of quality original material from their own catalogues as well; I invite you to seek that out and enjoy.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

THE NUMBER FOUR/ 4 DAYS OF RAIN by the Flying Burrito Brothers


I'm on my holiday, deep in the Languedoc, in the South of France. Rain is the last thing on my mind and the last thing in the sky, altho' there was apparently a bit of a humdinger of an electrical storm the other night. I had been consuming and imbibing the best of the local produce and slept sweetly through. Since I have been away from my home all sorts of madnesses seem to have been visited on and/or by my country, and I'm not talking about the football. The temptation was to pontificate pompously on the foolishness of the small majority, but will bite my tongue; the foolishness seems mainly the arrogance of politicians prepared to gamble with anything for the sake of power, this time shooting a great big hole in their own foot, as they now have to juggle with an outcome never dreamt fully possible. Given no change there and such as it ever was, I am only sorry for laughing that you yanks might have a bouffant haired crazy in control soon. Not if we get there first!

Enough, here's the song:


What I have chosen might just seem to be yet another tired old song by a tired old band that tired old guys like me like to name-drop, as if there were a golden age when they were the sound of all for all, you know, like the Beatles or the Beach Boys. Or even, given most of them started off there in the first place, the Byrds. In truth the Burritos were more the anti-Beatles, probably bigger in Europe ever than at home. And usually, whenever they get a mention it is to praise the drug-addled rich kid "friend of Keef", Gram Parsons, dead way before his time. Don't get me wrong, I love the early Gram tinged version of the band, it's where I came in on 'em, but I hung on a bit longer, as Chris Hillman, ever the bridesmaid in all his bands, whether to McGuinn, to Parsons, to Stills, kept the brand alive until his thunder was stolen by Rick Roberts.


Replacing Parsons, sacked by Hillman, can have been no easy task, and the then unknown floridian Roberts had no track record to speak of, the Burritos flirting with just about every other ex-Byrd or Byrd-sidesman in their search, no small pool of musicians, and one they tapped upon for ever after.
Yet their 1971 self-titled 3rd album is arguably their strongest, a slew of Roberts and Hillman/Roberts compositions, along with a Dylan, a Haggard and one from the nearly but never quite a Burrito, Gene Clark. Most of the vocals are led by Roberts, with Hillman slotting into his familiar harmony role.
Just looking now at the track listing is making me tingle, remembering the thrill of discovering life with the brothers could continue.

I guess frictions were running high internally, as the band promptly then shed pedal steel whizz Sneaky Pete and soon to be an Eagle, Bernie Leadon. The next record was probably supposed to be titled emphatically, the live outing, 'Last of the Red Hot Burrito's', another absolute belter. However there seems to have been a U-turn in the skid pan, the recording being nearly free of reflective ballads, containing an enjoyable yet frantic hash of oldies, both Parsons' songs and standards, either as frantic electric country rock, Al Perkins proving himself a more than adequate replacement for Kleinow, or even more frantic bluegrass, with the likes of Byron Berline and Roger Bush guesting on fiddle and stand-up bass. There is not a sole Roberts credit in sight. Then Hillman left too, taking Al Perkins off to Manassas and Stephen Stills.


Details seem sketchy as to what happened next. With dates to fulfil, if no recording contract, Roberts took a rags and tatters version of the band on the road. I bought an odd double LP from this time, 'Live in Amsterdam', an awkward mix of Roberts songs and bluegrass battles. Here's the whole concert but the thrill had gone.

Roberts did a couple of solos, before forming barely country AOR band Firefall. The thrill remained gone. (At least for me as I gather they were quite successful.....)

Various Burrito bands surfaced, Flying and otherwise, usually with more promise and hope than delivery. I even bought some of the stuff, usually disappointed thereby, even the dream ticket collaboration, Burrito Deluxe, of Kleinow, perhaps already showing signs of the Alzheimers that took him, with Garth Hudson, tour of force keyboards man of the Band.

Finally, as it now seems compulsory that no band must ever end, please note this, the latest line-up. It may sound cruel but, no, me neither.