Friday, November 8, 2019

Spirit: Spirit




purchase [ I Got a Line On You]

Someone has to do this: there was once a band named <Spirit> and it seems wrong not to include them in this theme.

You must have heard the name Randy California - a prime example of re-branding (Randy Wolfe becomes Randy California). Incidentally, the grape-vine believes that the Randy Calıfornia moniker was bestowed by Jimi Hendrix. (see the California Wikipedia entry for more). If you follow music history, you may also have heard of Ed Cassidy (known by his bald head, RIP 2012)(I learned as a result of this research, that Cassidy also played with my man Ry Cooder in a band called Rising Sons in the mid/late sixties) The relationship between California and Cassidy is worth noting: Cassidy was California's step-father (which may possibly have been part of the idea behind their "The Family That Plays Together ..." album name.

Spirit essentially came out with one song that made the charts: "I Got a Line on You". But the band also made headlines when (it appears) Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page may have "borrowed" most of "Stairway to Heaven"s guitar work from Spirit's "Taurus".



Until California's death in '97, the band went through a number of permutations and come-back attempts (none particularly successful). But the name and the spirit lives on.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

SPIRIT: SPIRIT DITCH/SPARKLEHORSE

Some might say I am, again, entirely missing the point of this theme, submitting posts around arcane or unknown musicians, rather than jolly japes around the spirit world that befit the feast of St Michael (Myers). So be it, my defence arguably resting on the deceased nature of the musicians concerned. In this case, rather than the takentoosoon of cancer, this time it was the at least as ghastly act of suicide that took Mark Linkous, singer, songwriter and, in reality, the end-all and be-all of Sparklehorse.

Spirit Ditch

I would expect most readers of this site to know the name, even if little known in the civilian world of charts and videos. His band, which lasted between 1995 and his death, 15 years later, gave us 6 albums, including collaborations. These are a scatter shot of styles and influences, possibly denoting the scatter shot status of his brain waves, he having been no stranger to the use of mind-altering drugs, not least in their life-changing capabilities. And not in a good way, as you may below follow. They're good records, though. Spirit Ditch is from the first, vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot, and is as good a place as any to get to grips with his impossibly fraught vocals, a whispered scream of frailty. With stream of consciousness lyrics, it is hard to say quite what it is about, but the lifted transcript from a(n actual) phone call with his mother, she talking of a bad dream he had described her, gives a clue to the mindset. I like what I see as a lyrical nod to After the Goldrush: "I woke up in a burnt out basement", sensing some psychological kinship with Neil Young. Having said, he is just as capable, like Young, of a raucous wig-out like Someday I Will Treat You Good.

I first came across the band for their second outing, having read of the horrendous incident that pre-ceded its release, widely felt to preface much of the material. This was later denied by Linkous, saying it had already been written. (Musicians traditionally always deny any obvious inspirations to their muse, whether Bob Dylan or Nick Cave, mind.....) But I am drawn to such, and found the slightly more synth embellished textures of Good Morning Spider being to my taste. (Below I shoehorn in a track, later covered by Susanna Hoffs, if unreleased, in a lame attempt to fit in with the theme.)

Ghost of His Smile

Next album, the was it ironically entitled It's a Wonderful Life, is said to be more straight ahead, made without added stimulants (or downers). Ditching any firm concept of a band, it is rammed full with collaborations, from PJ Harvey and Nina Persson, to, Linkous' hero, Tom Waits. Whilst some of these extra voices add to the overall, largely I feel they detract, the earlier shambolic being key to my enjoyment. These songs are just too conventional. (Don't get me wrong, they're fine, it's the comparison. And the Waits' one is shit.)

Brian Burton, aka Danger Mouse, the now big name influential game changer for Michael Kiwanuka and Karen O, and electronic ambient artist Fennesz now entered Linkous' orbit, both and/or either intrinsically involved with the rest of the Sparklehorse canon. Firstly with Dreamt For Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain, which comes across as a bit of a muddle, with tracks redolent of each of their stylistic tropes, together with a leftover or two from the earlier album. Again, don't ignore it, just don't seek it first.

Getting it Wrong(?)

Chronologically the next should be In the Fishtank, Vol. 15, jointly credited with Fennesz, but delayed in release until after his death. I guess you have to be in the mood, but it smacks to me of too much self-indulgence. It looks a whole lot better live. So I will move swiftly to the last, this time a direct 3 way credit with both Danger Mouse and with David Lynch, the film maker, for his photography. Too many egos?  I don't know, but legal difficulties delayed the release by a year, during which Linkous took his own life. Designed as a feature for songs Linkous felt uncomfortable singing himself, this features an array of bussed in vocalists, some of whom work better than others.
I would prefer it to have been Linkous, personally, and, thankfully, he features on a couple. It works best when similar voices are used, like Grandaddy's Jason Lyttle, less when a different atmosphere is sought, like with Iggy Pop. A sum less of its parts, it features the song below, almost clairvoyant in mood, featuring vocals shared with Linkous and, again, Nina Persson. Because, all too soon, he was.

Daddy's Gone

Here's his obituary.

Finally, back to where I began, with the realisation of his talent bearing fruit, here is a remarkable cover version of Spirit Ditch, made by Nadine Khouri, the up and coming UK based melancholist.

Spirit Ditch

Spirit Ditch here, or, with and in respect to the relative newness of the cover version, AND here.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Spirit: Spirit in the Sky




purchase [greenbaum]



I was on a Lufthansa flight this past week where the film offerings included a bunch of films I'd already seen, and <Rocketman> - the Elton John bio, which I hadn't seen.

After I consumed that, further entertainment also included a made-for-TV short about Elton John, which, not having had my fill and with few choices, I also watched.
Included in the TV short was information I did not previously know - something about Elton as a prolific session musician in the mid- to late 60s. There was a reference to Norman Geenbaum's Spirit in the Sky.A little research shows that Elton did <certified> session work on that one and maybe quite a lot more [see the link].

Norman Greenbaum's Spirit in the Sky. Consider the idea of Spirits in the Sky. What kind of spirits? Where else might you find spirits besides "in the sky"? In the ground (but not yet risen  from their graves?). In your mind, of course. And in your soul. But mostly in the air/sky - you know ... where ghosts tend to float. OR .. it being the be-witching season ... maybe knocking at your door. What might Greenbaum have been thinking? Are there Internet links that enlighten us 50 years after the song came out?

A look at the lyrics seems to indicate what you'd expect:
... a friend in Jesus ...
... they lay you to rest ...
... Never been a sinner, never sinned ...

Pretty solidly related to standard "holy" spirit and such. All the same, it seems incongruous that a message of this sort should have made the charts in the late 60s. Maybe it wasn't the message but rather the medium. (That bass beat ... or ...?)
Musically, the song is fairly 60s: and it's really the only song Greenbaum "made it with" - the rest of his career appears to have been seriously below the level of this song.

And so - established that Elton John did some session work,, his version of the song (must have liked it enough to do so ....)


Saturday, November 2, 2019

SPIRIT: SPIRIT WORLD/STEPHEN BRUTON


The name of Stephen Bruton may be known to fewer than those who have heard his songs, and, if and when then, possibly when sung by others rather than by him. I was sort of amazed he hasn't previously had a shout here, given the love of roots oriented musics: blues, folk, country, in the many and various scribes who have written for the site over the past decade and more. If you like a bit of Willie or Kris Kristofferson, the chances are that you are familiar with his work. With a style that effortlessly bridges the oeuvres above, it is when he plays his own that the class really outs, aided and abetted by his lifetime perfecting his precision on guitar. Perhaps it was the experiences of working as Kristofferson's right hand man for nigh on twenty years, ahead of a similar role with Bonnie Raitt, that imbued him with such apparent ease with a song. And I can't help but feel, had he not died from the throat cancer that beset his last few years, that he would have become better known. But he did, in 2009, aged 60.

Spirit World is both the name of the featured track, and of the record it comes from, his fourth solo release, in 2002, on the prestigious New West record label, always a reliable home for quality americana and roots. Especially if you happen, like Bruton, you come from Texas. If you like a loping swagger down dusty byways, perhaps stopping to slake your thirst in a beat-up roadhouse, this is probably music you will like, and his other records have more of the same. Live? Well, his would be the sort of band booked to actually play that roadhouse. Here's the same song in a live setting.


Something I didn't know about him was his involvement with the soundtrack of Crazy Heart, the award winning film about a down and not quite out country singer, wedded to the bottle, ahead of being rescued by the love of a good woman. So far, so cliche, except it wasn't quite that simple, the good woman being a music journalist and happy ever after remaining, arguably, elusive. But, with Jeff Bridges, who blagged a deserved oscar for his portrayal, and Maggie Gyllenhaal, any tawdry sentiment is transcended. Based on a book, itself based loosely on singer Hank Thompson, many of the set pieces in the film are embellished with the real life experiences, on the road, of Bruton, himself a recovering alcoholic. (And, even if this weren't true, the character Deacon Clayborn, in the TV series Nashville, actually was certainly based upon him.) The job of the soundtrack was given to T.Bone Burnett, his first call being then to enrol his life-long buddy Bruton to the task, despite already his cancer biting hard. The bulk of new material for the movie was written by the pair of them, although Bruton was not to see the official release. He died at Burnett's home, so closely were they working, even right up to the end, this being six months ahead of the opening.( Here is one hell of an article, telling his tale so much better than can I. And please note the comments around his becoming, on attaining sobriety, a tireless rescuer of livers, rather than any lasting pitiful drunk.)

Somebody Else/Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart soundtrack)

Somebody Else(instrumental)/Stephen Bruton (Crazy Heart soundtrack)

There are a host of similar artists I love, dependable names in, usually, second billing, or third, to more lauded souls, yet providing the ballast that boilers the bigger name. Sometimes the accolades come, often they don't. I am thinking of Sonny Landreth and the late Neal Casal, journeymen players and singers, often overlooked in the chase for a bigger story. Do yourself a favour. Look 'em out.

Get Spirit here.
And Heart there.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Spirit: The Spirit of Radio


Rush: The Spirit of Radio
[purchase]

I’ve openly discussed my love of prog-rock in on this blog, so you might be surprised to discover that I’m not a big fan of Rush. They are one of those bands who I’ve never particularly gotten into, maybe in part because I have never spent much time really listening to their substantial output, but there are a handful of Rush songs that I like. One of them is “The Spirit of Radio,” from the 1980 album Permanent Waves. Why this Rush song as opposed to any other? I can’t give you a good answer, but I think that it is probably a combination of the song’s relatively straightforward structure, the somewhat surprising reggae touch at the end, and most of all, its message.

When I first got interested in music, you could still find relatively free-form radio stations that weren’t afraid to play deep tracks and long songs, and there were still DJs creating thematic sets and talking, knowledgeably, about the music. I learned so much about music from listening to, mostly, WNEW-FM during my high school days. The three members of Rush are all 8 or 9 years older than me, and came of music listening age during a time when radio was even more wide open.

But like so many things, once someone realizes that money can be made, people, or more likely, companies, with big bank accounts step in, and the distinctive character of whatever it is gets lost in favor of standardization and the profit motive. The days of free-form radio are mostly over, at least on the commercial part of the dial, and that’s a shame. Most stations play a very circumscribed set of songs, narrowly formatted, and often the DJs are just people with good voices, without the knowledge, or love, of the music that they play. At the time that Rush released “The Power of Radio” this trend was speeding up, and it was certainly something that I, sitting in the dorm-basement studios of WPRB, was acutely aware of.

As Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson said about the song:

That song was really a statement of where radio was going, where it had been. Growing up in the early 70s, FM radio was such a free forum for music; you’d have DJs who would play stuff for an hour. They’d just talk about the songs; there were no commercials or anything. So free-form, really a platform for expanding music at the time. And then it was moving more towards a format, and away from that freedom, becoming more regulated, more about selling airtime. It just speaks about that, really. 

The irony was that the song that attacked radio became a hit, and presaged a move by the band toward more radio friendly music, at least for a while.

Not only is “The Spirit of Radio” a shot at radio programmers, it is also an attack on bands that Rush believed were more in the business for the money, and not the art. In one of the most well-known lines from the song, which consciously echoed Simon & Garfunkel’s “Sounds of Silence,” Lyricist Neal Peart wrote: ‘The words of the profits are written on the studio wall, concert hall/Echoes with the sounds of salesmen.’ The salesmen, in his opinion, being the disingenuous front men of bands who told each city that it was the greatest, or that its fans were the best.

These days, of course, we don’t have to rely on radio stations to discover music anymore. There are tons of other places to hear music—streaming services, the Internet in general, satellite radio, and so on. On one hand, that’s great, because access is now in the user’s hands. But on the other hand, this model has made music much less profitable, preventing some artists from having the resources to create their art to the fullest (although it also has probably cut back on a good deal of excess). Maybe worst of all, though, is that this model makes it easy for listeners to stay in a rut. Most Sirius XM stations, for example, play a small slice of music, and when you choose music on streaming services, it is easier to pick music or artists that you already like, than to search for something new and good in the mass of available songs. That curatorial service that a good FM DJ provided, which allowed me to simply tune to 102.7 (or to have listeners tune to 103.3, when I was on the air….) and have my musical horizons broadend is mostly gone.

Friday, October 25, 2019

WITCH: CRAFT or QUEEN/EDWYN COLLINS

I've wanted to do this post for a while, just waiting for the right opportunity, serendipity offering perhaps the least obvious way to shoehorn it in. Collins, erstwhile pin-up poster boy for Glasgow 80's band, Orange Juice, has had a (brief) mention here before, but given his current renaissance, a fight back against most expected odds, and on the back of a new and acclaimed album and tour, time to stake his claim as an ongoing artistic presence of merit.

The two photos are decades apart; that much is obvious, but, following his pair of devastating brain haemorrhages in 2005, when it was assumed he might never fully function again, not only is he writing, singing and performing, he has become a pillar of his home community, Helmsdale, in the far north east of scotland, a small coastal fishing community, from where his forefathers had arisen. Initially unable to speak, one strange quirk of such a brain injury can be the retention of ability to sing. Following surgery and through intensive therapy, he was able to build up from only 4 words/phrases: 'yes', 'no', 'Grace Maxwell' (his wife's name) and, intriguingly and prophetically, 'the possibilities are endless'. True, he can no longer play his earlier and visceral guitar, at least by himself: his right arm is significantly weakened, but, with another person making the chords, he can still strum and pick. Making music again these past twelve years, a momentum of appreciation has built up, as his powers and prowess have built back up, using the recording studio almost as an instrument. 

I can commend a documentary made in 2014, The Possibilities are Endless, recounting his progress until then. This year saw his latest record, Badbea, an older name for the ancestral home to which he had returned and where he had his own studio built. (More accurately, Badbea is the name of the clearance village, to which the local clans were herded, ahead of being "emigrated" to the new world: read about it here.)  The picture of the bekilted Collins is from the 2010 Helmsdale Highland Games, at which he had been asked to be chieftain, able to reprise the role of his grandfather decades previously.

So far and so few witches, you say. Yes, indeed, so let me draw you to a superlative sampler of Collins' earlier output, ahead of the event described, featuring Orange Juice and his early solo works. Entitled Edwyn Collins & Orange Juice: A Casual Introduction, 1981-2001, this came out in 2002, it's need more a reflection of some slight industry dissatisfaction with his direction, the business wanting more poppy fare than the angrier material he was putting out following the demise of that group. It is an excellent sampler and an excellent round-up, ideal to prepare the palate for his current. The OJ hit single is there, in a unique melding of both the 7" and 12" versions, Rip It Up, alongside still standout highlights of his live repertoire, Gorgeous George, and, single, A Girl Like You
(Witches? I'm getting there.......)
Also included are a pair of covers, coincidentally linked by their subject matter of, you guessed it.

Witch Queen of New Orleans
Quite why this cheesy one hit wonder was chosen has continued to baffle me, an ear worm that burrowed into my youthful hatred back in 1971, by the weretherealorweretheyMemorex native indian band, Redbone. I learn, in fact, that their credentials were actually genuine, and that they had a number of hits, even if Witch Queen was the only one to cross over to my side of the pond. And, to my horror, having always devoutly skipped this version on playing this cd, I played it for this piece. You know, it's OK. It IS definitely and desperately cheesy, sure, but more in a mature scottish cheddar way than a monterey jack. It is only available on this disc.

Witchcraft
Showing off Collins' masterful croon, this is a cover from the great american songbook I am usually so wary of, although, written by Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh, and dating from 1957, I guess it could have featured in my last post on this theme. Collins here has me thinking more of mid to late period Motown, the time of big ballads and slinky synths, and is, more generally, a style, Motown, to which he increasingly returns, motor city horn arrangements being especially prevalent on Badbea.  Frank Sinatra loved it so much he cut it thrice, but other and more modern versions have included everyone from Robert Palmer to Robert Smith, by way of even Siouxsie Sioux. They all diminish in comparison.

So maybe not so witchy, but hopefully will still cast a spell on any unknowing ears.
The featured album is tough to find, but newbie, Badbea, isn't.
Here's a taster.






Thursday, October 24, 2019

Witch: Yes, I'm a Witch



purchase [ The album ]


The following is all possibly "fake".
How would you know?

Yoko Ono is an artist? (True/False?) Yes, I guess so.
You are what you claim to be? Well ... that's certainly part of the road to your destination. But it generally doesn't guarantee it (see the various unknowns I try to include every now and then in my post of famous people's songs [Jimi   Herbie]. It's a fact that some of us are better positioned for one reason or another (and some are luckier)

Is Yoko Ono a witch? The jury seems to be out on that one.

You don't need my history lesson about Yoko to guide you towards your decision. (you can get your own here). On the other hand, I was one of millions that tracked the story of John and Ono in real time (because I was born in the 50s).

Yoko was one of the primary reasons the Beatles dis-banded? (maybe). Yoko "twisted" John's mind. (love tends to do strange things to your perceptions). Etc ... etc...

Does/Did Yoko Ono bring a new (artistic) dimension to John's (read: the Beatles at that stage) perceptions? (yes). Was it (artistically) creative? (Um ... yeah) Does that mean that she should be making her own albums at this point (2019) in time? ( uh ... no. But I am clearly biased from the start.)

I think the first time I really noticed Yoko's musical influence (yes - knew, but didnt register back in the 70s), was Plastic Ono Band - the husband/wife collaboration




Other input towards our theme - (witch or not) -Yoko is somewhere in the picture(like a true witch)
I'm Losing You


Watching the Wheels Turn (again .. Yoko here or not?)

  




Pardon the extensive parentheses - they seemed needed to separate my wandering thoughts this time around ...