Jonny Lang: Lie To Me
Jonny Lang: Breakin' Me
I believe that, with last month's Denver concert, Jonny Lang is now the "name" musician I've seen in concert the most. And he's still young, too (29 now), so the future's bound to hold more of the same. He gives a helluva performance, let me just say. He tours a lot, too, often with Buddy Guy's Jimi Hendrix Experience Tour (along with a bunch of other terrific guitarists; look for it in a city near you).
Jonny was a wee 15 years old when he recorded Lie to Me, and you'd never know it. (On this album he also covers Sonny Boy Williamson's Good Morning Little Schoolgirl, which for once is age appropriate and not skeevy or pedophilic). He's probably the last person you'd even expect to be a Grammy-winning blues artist. He's about as white as it gets, hails from Fargo, North Dakota, and is a nice Christian boy. Cute, too (see picture).
He was a relatively ancient 17 when Breakin' Me came out. Whoa. Whatever I was flailing around doing at 17 doesn't begin to compare.
Saturday, August 7, 2010
Richard Thompson: Hope You Like the New Me
There are times when imitation is the sincerest from of stalking. That’s the kind of creepy concept that Richard Thompson can capture better than anybody else. This song is proof. All Thompson needs is his voice and acoustic guitar, with minimal accompaniment. I will always admire Richard Thompson’s music, but songs like this are why I don’t know if I would want to spend too much time alone with him.
Tanita Tikaram: Swear By Me
Tanita Tikaram first came to the attention of the music industry at age 19, with her song Twist in My Sobriety. The song had an unusual and beautiful arrangement, and featured Tikaram’s amazing smooth alto sob of a voice. It would probably have been better for her artistically if she had not been on a major label. By the time her third album, Everybody’s Angel, came out, there were clearly pressures on her to make her music more commercial, and a lot of the album is overproduced. Still, there are moments like Swear By Me, where her talent shines through. Eventually, it got to the point where Tikaram got out of her major label deal with the traditional Best Of album. She then dropped out of the music world for a time, and only recently returned as an independent artist. She’s back to making songs with the stark beauty that defined her in the first place, and her newer work is well worth seeking out.
BR5-49: You Are Never Nice to Me
The story of BR5-49 is much simpler. They came out of Nashville’s alt-country scene, making the kind of music that would have led to a steady gig at the Opry if they had been born a few years sooner. You Are Never Nice to Me sets up a classic train sound, and goes from there. The song actually has nothing to do with trains, but it’s a great ride anyway.
Björk: Come To Me
Björk: Army Of Me
I've adored Björk ever since I saw the video for Play Dead seventeen years ago. Depressing how time files, ain't it? I instantly fell in love with her (and it's still one of the top ten song I've ever heard) and that powerful initial reaction is most likely the main reason I still prefer Björk's early stuff over her latter works.
Yup, I'm gonna be an irritating "I like the early stuff better" grouch. I'm all for following your heart, ignoring people's expecations and doing whatever the hell you want, but as much as I respect Björk and her unique take on music there's a big part of me that just wants another Debut, or a Post or if we're really lucky: another Here Today, Tomorrow Next Week. Hell, even another Telegram would be sweet.
But that's never going to happen, Björk is one of those rare artists that never looks back, a truly admirable trait. But I wish she would. Just once. Please? For old times' sake?
Stanley Jordan: Willow Weep For Me
It's late night back East, so let's begin the week's phase-out with something mellow and dreamy: jazz-fusionist Stanley Jordan's half-improvisational live cover of jazz standard Willow Weep For Me, the tune almost unrecognizable amidst the slip-and-slide of Jordan's signature two-handed guitar-tapping technique. Can you dig it? I knew that you could...
Friday, August 6, 2010
P.J. Harvey: Rid Of Me (4-track demo)
P.J. Harvey: Rid Of Me
P.J. Harvey: Send His Love To Me
Desert Sessions feat. P.J. Harvey: Girl Like Me
I only realised how brilliant P.J. Harvey is so recently that I'm almost embarrassed to admit it. For over a decade I only thought of her as that weird looking chick in the sparkly dress singing something about "big fish and little fish". I knew she was every critic's darling, but I couldn't see what was so great about her.
Three years ago I decided to dig a little deeper and bought 1993's Rid Of Me, 1995's To Bring You My Love and 2004's Uh Huh Her to see what all the fuss was about. Within no time at all P.J. had completely wiped the floor with me. The next day I bought the rest of her discography and I haven't looked back since.
Truly one of the great musical geniuses of our time.
Louis Armstrong: All of Me
All of Me was written in 1931, and since then, it has been recorded over 2000 times. Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, and Willie Nelson have all recorded the song with vocals, and some of the greatest names in jazz have done instrumental versions. So I think it’s safe to call the song a standard. I found two different recordings by Louis Armstrong, and there may have others. Armstrong came from New Orleans with a small group that was moving jazz from Dixieland to the next style. Soon enough, he was working with the big bands, and, as musical fashions changed, Armstrong would even record with a full orchestra, trying for a Sinatra approach. But this recording of All of Me presents Armstrong the way I love to hear him. It was the mid 50s, and the big band era was over. Be-bop would never have worked for Armstrong, but here he is working once again with a small group, and recalling the New Orleans sounds that first brought him to fame. Only here, the recording technology of the day makes it possible to hear everything much more clearly than on Armstrong‘s early recordings. This is a live recording from 1955, from a concert in Italy.
Thursday, August 5, 2010
The Posies: Fall Apart With Me
I grew up listening to Seattle pop kings The Posies and when they announced in 1998 that their fifth album Success would be their last and after a farewell tour they would call it a day, I was more than a little bummed.
But it was probably time for the two singers, guitarists, frontmen and songwriters Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer to go their separete ways at that point. If songs like Every Bitter Drop, Fall Apart With Me, Looking Lost, Farewell Typewriter, Who To Blame and Fall Song are anything to go by, all was not well within the group. The signs had been there for a while - the song Please Return It on 1996's Amazing Disgrace was written by Ken during a period when Jon contemplated leaving the band.
Success could almost be categorized as a "divorce album", it has a quite bittersweet feel to it and even if you weren't aware that it was the band's last outing you could probably tell intuitively.
After a while though, the formerly inseparable childhood friends gravitated back towards each other and started doing acoustic gigs as a duo, once again as The Posies.
Soon they had recruited a new rhythm section and released new material. To be honest, by then I had outgrown them. Their recent stuff is great, but nothing touches those first five albums that shaped my teen years.
Ben E. King: Stand By Me
This is a great song, and a touching one that also manages to keep a good beat and be fun to sing along with. All winning elements that helped it get into the top 10 charts, not once, but twice, decades apart.
The song was released in 1961 and hit #1 on the charts, but then in 1986 a movie by the same title was released and renewed interest in the song getting back into the top 10 once again. Admittedly, that's when the song made an impression on me. Of course, I was only 7 years old at the time, and wasn't allowed to see the movie when it came out, but the song was on the radio, and I loved it.
Despite the song being pretty much the theme song for the movie (though it doesn't appear until the credits at the end), it was released in 1961 and the movie takes place in 1959.
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Eric Clapton: Before You Accuse Me
Magic Slim & The Teardrops: Before You Accuse Me
I’ve been posting here for more than two years now, and this is the first time I have run into this situation. Here are two covers of Before You Accuse Me, which obviously fits our theme. However, Bo Diddley’s original version does not, because he added in parentheses (Take a Look at Your Self). So I could have posted the original two weeks ago, but not now. No matter. Neither Eric Clapton nor Magic Slim recreate the original, but both honor its spirit and deliver versions that ring true.
Magic Slim was part of the original Chicago blues scene of the 1950s, when big names like Muddy Waters, Little Walter, and yes, Bo Diddley were defining the sound of a city. Magic Slim was barely into his twenties at the time, and he could not compete. Like so many of the blues stars of the day, Slim had come up from the south, but unlike his more successful peers, Slim gave up on making it in the Chicago scene, and returned home to Mississippi to improve his skills.
By the mid 60s, British musicians had embraced the blues. They were inspired by the Chicago sound of ten years earlier, but their music also had a rock n roll bite to it. Many of these British blues musicians finished honing their skills in John Mayall’s band the Bluesbreakers, and the most famous of these was Eric Clapton. Also in the mid 60s, Magic Slim returned to Chicago. His skills had improved, he had put together the best band he had ever had, and the Chicago of the mid 60s was less competitive. This time, Slim was a success.
Another 25 years went by. Magic Slim kept doing his thing, and became a fixture on the Chicago blues scene. Clapton, like so many of his peers, strayed far from the blues. He sought and found pop success, both as a singer and a songwriter. Clapton even stopped playing lead guitar during this period. But then, Clapton’s pop fortunes began to wane. He could adapt to the pop tastes of the 70s, but the 80s were another matter. Finally, the blues called Eric Clapton back.
In November of 1989, Eric Clapton released the album Journeyman. It was his return to the blues, and Clapton still had it. His version of Before You Accuse Me comes from that album, and Clapton attacks the song as he might have done in his youth. He returns to playing lead guitar, and he shows why he was regarded as a guitar god. But it’s not just show; as it always did, Clapton’s solo is built on the feel and emotion of the song.
Three weeks later, Magic Slim & The Teardrops released Gravel Road. Slim takes a very different approach to Before You Accuse Me. Where Clapton emphasizes the emotion of the song by hitting the beat hard, Slim sings around the beat, tugging at it, and achieving the emotional tension that way. There are solos here, but the emphasis is on the group sound. The feel is more relaxed, but no less emotionally true. Personally, I’m glad to have the song done both ways.
Since 1989, Clapton has gone back to making pop music, but he stops back and still makes a blues album from time to time as well. I get the feeling that the blues will never entirely leave him again. Slim just kept on doing what he was doing. In recent years, age has caught up to him, and he is no longer so active. But, whatever happens, has created a great body of work to inspire another generation of blues artists yet to come.
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Long-time reader Mike contributes the following guest post, reminding me that pop icon Pink has been around longer than we think...
Pink: Don't Let Me Get Me
So I’m not a self-conscious teenage girl with a poor body image, which is clearly what this song is about, though neither is Dallas Austin, the co-writer of this song. But that doesn’t really matter now, does it? It’s a catchy song, from an at-the-time budding pop powerhouse, Pink. To say that her album, Missundaztood, is my favorite album that she’s released might come off as sarcasm but I will assure you that it’s not. Her follow-up album, Try This, comes a close second, but this record, which came after a time period when Pink saw moderate success in the R&B market, and then decided to try her hand at something more genuine, more familiar to her, is my favorite Pink record.
“Don’t Let Me Get Me”, the second single from the afore mentioned record. And despite being about and not written by angsty teens, it is actually a fairly relatable song to most people who have ever felt at all marginalized, left out, not pretty enough, or un-cool: basically, everyone.
It’s important to note that in this song, Pink outlines that she dated teachers, wants to be someone else, was promised success and fame so long as she disingenuously changes the only things she likes about herself, and, that she obviously finds Britney Spears pretty, though resents the comparison.
I wish this song ended on a higher note, metaphorically, because if you don’t want to be your own friend “no more”, then who’s friend can you be, to wit, if you wish to be someone else, who would you choose to be?
Guest Post by Mike
Monday, August 2, 2010
Beachwood Sparks: The Sun Surrounds Me
There was a time in the early part of the decade when Beachwood Sparks were poised to be my new favorite band. Especially on their second Sub Pop album, 2001's Once We Were Trees, they had all the right influences, and interesting and sometimes downright catchy songs. But a follow-up EP was a let down, and aside from a few live shows, the band has been silent ever since.
It's a shame, because songs like "The Sun Surrounds Me" are the stuff that keeps this music junkie alive. Musically, it's a direct descendant of Gram Parsons' "Cosmic American Music", with a splash of The Band in the bridge. Lyrically, it's an interesting song. With a title like "The Sun Surrounds Me", you're expecting some sunshine pop, but in the context of the song, the title becomes decidedly darker ("the sun surrounds me, and all I'm seeing are the dark times").
But, as it turns out, this song about a relationship in trouble is full of optimism after all ("I'm telling you lover, so we can see it through", "we're gonna turn it around"). One can't help but extrapolate the meaning of the lyrics to the state of the band itself at the time (indeed, in the final chorus, "I'm telling you lover" becomes "I'm telling you brother"). So hope remains, that they can "see it through" and realize the potential they showed back in 2001.
Reel Big Fish: Take on Me
Take on Me was, of course, the huge hit that was the only thing anyone ever heard by the band A-Ha. The video featured some great animation, but the song was typical of the synth-pop hits of the time, catchy and danceable, but somewhat emotionally sterile. Apparently, I’m not the only one who thought so. Reel Big Fish demolished the original with their punky ska cover. Here, the instruments are all real, and so is the excitement. I don’t think the guy in this version is as clean-cut and respectable as the one in A-Ha’s video, but he’s a lot more real. That could be good or bad, depending on how you look at it.
Sunday, August 1, 2010
Neil Young: You and Me
Because even though this 1992 Neil Young song sounds suspiciously like a whole bunch of other, older Neil Young songs, I just couldn't resist the terse transitional perfection.
It's still good, of course. And to be fair, the allusion to the obvious is deliberate, with quotes in lyric and melody. It's just that it's so derivative, I can't help but imagine this song would be even better if you'd never heard Old Man.