Saturday, August 9, 2014

Impecunious : Rich Kind of Poverty

Sam and Dave : Rich Kind of Poverty

I wasn't sure I would have time to post anything on the subject of  Income Inequality until I heard Tom Petty's NPR interview. Petty was explaining a song called "Power Drunk" off his new album, Hypnotic Eye,  when he veered onto our very topic:

   I just tried to kind of explore this gap between the poor and people that get so wealthy that making more money really wouldn't change an hour of the rest of their lives. And yet they're obsessed with making more money, regardless of how that affects other people. 

    Maybe it's a moral question of, "Do you want something so bad that you don't need, even though it will hurt others?" 'Cause we're looking at a very different time in America right now. We've rubbed out the middle class, which was really the whole point of the thing for a long time — meaning America.

   The Isaac Hayes/Paul Selph composition "Rick Kind of Poverty" comes from Sam and Dave's 1967 Soul Men, which of course featured their monster hit "Soul Man". Booker T and the MGs are the studio band.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Impecunious: No Woman, No Cry

Bob Marley & The Wailers: No Woman, No Cry

After I was chosen to become the program director of WPRB, my friend Eric Klein, the outgoing station manager, and I spent some time discussing my future tenure. I valued Eric’s advice, and generally considered him a smart guy with good musical taste. To this day, though, I remember one thing he said to me, which was, I have to say, profoundly wrong. He warned me against playing too much reggae.

It was extremely unlikely that as PD, I was going to change the sound of the station’s rock programming, which was filled with an interesting combination of new wave/punk music, prog rock and classic rock, with the occasional folk, blues and jazz interlude, into a full-on reggae station. And at the time, bands like the Clash and Police were experimenting with reggae influences in their music. So, I pretty much ignored Eric, and WPRB continued to flourish, in its own college radio way.

I can’t say that I was ever a huge reggae fan anyway. I mean, like most people of my generation, I was issued a copy of Legend, Bob Marley’s greatest hits collection, and I was aware of a few of his other songs, as well as a selection of Peter Tosh and Jimmy Cliff tunes. And as my musical education continued over time, I learned about other reggae artists, but I can’t say that I ever sat down and decided to listen to reggae. That all being said, I have always loved the live version of “No Woman, No Cry” that appears on Legend (originally from the Live! album). You can hear the way that Marley commands the stage and the confidence in his voice, and I suspect that it was no coincidence that the song was recorded not too long after Tosh and Bunny Wailer left the Wailers and Marley became the acknowledged star.

The song is a message from a man to the woman he is (temporarily) leaving, assuring her that even though they are poor, and live in the ghetto, things will still be fine. What is remarkable about the song is the singer’s fond memories of sitting in “a government yard in Trenchtown” (a poor housing project), around a fire, sharing cornmeal porridge. The sense of community triumphing over need is palpable, and you can understand why he can insist that she not cry, because their friends will make sure that “everything’s gonna be alright.” In retrospect, though, you wonder how good those old days really were, or if Marley was engaging in a little selective nostalgic amnesia. (And Marley did write the song, even if it was credited to Vincent Ford, a friend of Marley’s, so that the royalties would allow Ford to operate a soup kitchen in Trenchtown.)

Musically, the live version is slower and more languorous that the studio version from the Natty Dread album, which was a hit itself.  The slower tempo (and fewer electronic clicks, chirps and noises) makes the live version stronger and more powerful than the original. As did the stellar guitar work from Al Anderson, a New York native who grew up in New Jersey, attended the Berklee School at the same time as Pat Metheny and Al DiMeola, and reportedly was in early versions of Aerosmith, before turning his attentions to reggae.

There is, also, an even lesser known, older demo version of the song, featuring Marley on vocals, Tosh on piano, and some uncredited background singers. Usually referred to as the “gospel” version, this stripped down version is also powerful.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Impecunious: Beggars

So, I'm just back from the 50th Cambridge Folk Festival. (Why, thank you, yes, it was marvelous. I may have mentioned I was going.....)  Anyhow, refreshed with the delights of such devout folkies as Sinead O'Connor and Van Morrison (?), clearly my mind is still entrenched in that tradition, songs about beggars being a solid part thereof, curiously often jolly beggars, giving perhaps credence to the current urban myth that they drive in from the suburbs, change their clothes to panhandle all day, before a visit to the safe deposit box of their high interest account on their way back home. Which, on the whole, is purely that. Myth. There can be fewer more souless ways to spend a day, poor devils, however they find themselves there.

First, some essential reading , a remarkable article I found online, with an elegant expose of the various subgenres. I then searched my collection for songs with begging, beg or beggar in their title, finding surprisingly few, if one discounts the whole of Beggars Banquet, for beknighted tax exiles, Jagger at least, and the Temptations being "too proud to beg", as it wasn't money they were necessarily seeking. (Tho' in later years, as the drugs slunk in, I wonder?). However, I found these 3, each of which give off the unlikely fumes of the freedoms of the gutter.

Firstly I invite you into the Irish Tradition, now a given, on both sides of the Atlantic, but back even only 30 odd years ago the Dubliners and the Clancy brothers were all you got, decrying neither, but it took the trailblazing Planxty to fully explore and enhance the instrumental magic therein, giving a warmth and humanity to the sometimes more clinical offerings of the Chieftains, roving out themselves at much the same time. Whilst Planxty have long gone, give or take the occasional reunion gig, each of the 4 original members, Christy Moore, Donal Lunny, Andy Irvine and Liam O'Flynn, continue to imprint their identities on the tradition. Let alone later member, Paul Brady, and without them, despite their acousticity, I believe there would be no Pogues, Dropkick Murphys, whomsoever. Here is their Jolly Beggar.
Buy it!

Back across the Irish sea, at much the same time, the folk tradition was plugging in, with Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and various Albion Bands subsequently each at the helm, often, in all of them, under the vigilant supervision of the "Godfather of Folk-Rock", Ashley Hutchings, who would spend all day in the archives of Cecil Sharp house, the repository of these islands' traditional song, before foisting them on his bandmates and a sometimes bemused public. Here is a relatively late, post Hutchings take on their paean to poverty, Beggar's Song.
(Not singly available on bar the full LP, Red and Gold)

Finally, a personal favourite, perhaps a better match of the acoustic purity and the sometimes leaden plod of electricity, it's Richard Thompson to whom I turn, himself also a Fairport alumnus. Incidentally, he played  at Cambridge, solo, just this weekend. (As an aside, his daughter Kami, later also appeared with her own group, the excellent Rails, featuring her nephew, Richard's grandson, on rhythm guitar and mandolin) this is from when he was a duo with Kami's mother, as Richard and Linda Thompson. This clip is their Little Beggar Girl, and I apologise for the appalling quality, making it sound as if sought from a wax cylinder field recording.
Buy it!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Impecunious: How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live

How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live
Purchase: [Ry Cooder 1970 version]

I tell folks that I could listen to Ry Cooder "all day and all night". Take my statement with a grain of salt, but the fact remains (see my many other posts here that speak to this) that he is one of my music idols. Be it rockin' and rollin', be it bringing back the roots of popular music (or jazz), be it mentoring others - there ain't noone else does what he do.

It was through Ry that I first heard this song about hard (financial) times. In fact, there was more than one Ry tune that came to mind related to this theme- I initially thought "Money Honey" - (I want money, honey), but then recalled several other of his songs that touched on the lack of "scratch".
Perhaps more fitting for a year or two back when the Great Recession was front page news, to me Blind Alfred Reed's 1929 song evokes images not only of the 1920s, the dust bowl and of California but also - of anyman's plight if he ain't got the "do-re-mi".

Bruce Springsteen is online at YouTube with several versions that doesn't do it right. (Comes to mind the line: Prohibition's good if it's conducted right)

Of the Youtube links that I sifted though, my favorite is this first link:

Second in line of the YT versions is this from the New Lost City Ramblers:

And finally, the YT link to a scratchy version by the original author:


Impecunious: Breadline Blues

Del McCoury Band's 2008 album entitled "Moneyland" opens with Franklin D. Roosevelt espousing a "broader definition of liberty" that allows more freedom and security for the average man than ever known before. Then, the latest news in Bernard "Slim" Smith's 1932 "Breadline Blues" is about the funny relationship between having a job, money, friends, and food. I first heard this 1932 version on the “Moneyland” album, and The Del McCoury Band offers up their own 2008 version of the same song at track 15. 

The Del McCoury Band's title cut on this album establishes a contemporary perspective about the "money disease" and "a thing called greed." Clearly with a thematic message, the album consists mainly of previously-released cuts from additional artists like Marty Stuart, Merle Haggard, Chris Knight, Patty Loveless, Emmylou Harris, Dan Tyminski, Bruce Hornsby & The Fairfield Four.

By that point of the album when the new remake of "Breadline Blues 2008" cues up, we’re still left wondering about various moral dilemmas and whether there are any clear-cut answers. Bruce Hornsby had earlier claimed "some things will never change, that's just the way it is, but don't you believe them." 

Of course, the social commentary of "Breadline Blues" between the long-eared mule and the big-mouthed elephant is still relevant today. Timely for its release during the 2008 Presidential election year, the McCourys stated that the only goal of the album was to send a clear message to the politicians in Washington. It’s obvious they took no heed, and Washington has only become more dysfunctional. They should’ve sent complimentary copies to the President and every member of Congress.   

Whether you consider yourself "red" or "blue," these songs go beyond partisan politics. They simply get us thinking about the current state of rural Americans, their communities and livelihoods. We've got to find a way to keep the corn from getting cobbed. FDR was optimistic, and we should be too. Still timely today, FDR's advice was to overcome our arduous burdens and economic calamities by retaining our faith in our ability to master our own destiny. Hmmm, what exactly does that mean? The McCourys attempted to transfer that sentiment to their musical sampler so listen closely for a way ahead to get our economy back on track.