Thursday, September 19, 2019

POWER: THE OIL RIGS AT NIGHT/THE DELINES


I'm sort of sick of power at the moment, and, were you in the UK, you'd know why, with our parliament having to take our prime minister to court over his actions. You know. I'm guessing a degree of schadenfreude must apply, gratitude due to our nation, that we may have an even bigger clown at the helm than yours, and you're welcome. A race to the bottom. So any contribution I make to this theme will resolutely steer clear of that sort of power, sticking instead to gas and electric. (Who knows, maybe even a hint of wind or, in a twofer, solar.)

The Delines arose from the ashes of Richmond Fontaine, a group that achieved more adulation than fame, perhaps more in the U.K,. where they were favourites of the music monthly, Uncut, forever a champion of americana. Led by songwriter Willy Vlautin, also a writer of superb southern gothic noir, they brought joy to my life over many years, from the mid 90's over the next two decades. Always interested in the underside of society, there was, and is, a seamlessness between where his songs end and the novels begin. I guess the band didn't make such a grand living, lauded in Europe, little known at home.


I loved the ramshackle tightness of the band, the lowlife tales perfect for his plain but perfect vocal stylisations. So, sort of underwhelmed by the idea of another singer, a female singer, becoming the preferred mouthpiece for his work, initially I thought to give the Delines a pass. Big mistake.


Singer Amy Boone has one of those country voices that just epitomise the best of the genre, a slightly less abrasive Bobbie Gentry. What I didn't know was that she had had form in the dying days of Richmond Fontaine, her sister Deborah (Kelly) having sung female vocals on their last album, Amy reproducing them on the live tour. So when the first album, 'Colfax', came out in 2014, any doubts became immediately extinguished. However, in a twist even more grisly than any Vlautin lyric, not so long after, following a round of touring, Boone was involved in a car accident, in 2016, significantly and seriously damaging both her legs. End of the band? Thankfully no, Vlautin having sufficient faith to wait the 3 long years for recovery. Earlier this year saw their 2nd release, 'The Imperial', consolidating on the earlier sound, less steel, but with added mariachi-tinged trumpet. The featured song, at the head of the pice, comes from the debut, and carries gorgeous evocations of 'Midnight Train to Georgia.' Here is a song from 'The Imperial' with that added joy of trumpet.


Power!

Friday, September 13, 2019

HORSE/S: PONY/S, DONKEY/S, MULE/S & ASS/ES

All the same thing, aren't they? All have hooves and tails, and the why-the-long-faces, so, yes, they must be. OK, I know, they aren't, but can you all recall the differences? I will assume that you know horses, the odd-toed ungulate mammal, whether cart, race or just a plain old Dobbin, so, moving swiftly on......

Jenny's Got a Pony/Los Lobos

I haven't a clue what this song, by the always excellent Los Lobos, could possibly be about. Is there much of a pony population in East L.A.? Anyhow, this riveting ride, SWIDT, comes from their 1990 opus, 'The Neighbourhood', showing off their best, a fusion of latino, tex-mex and plain good old rock'n'roll. Ponies are horses, in fact, the delineation tending to relate to smaller sizes of beast. Whilst clearly there are tiny ones, whether your steed is a horse or a pony is often as much in the eye of the beholder. In slang a pony might be a small amount of liquor. Is that what Jenny got? Alternatively,  in my country a pony is £25, increasingly equal to $25.

Donkey Town/Mark Knopfler & Emmylou Harris

Donkeys are not horses, but are very close. I think they look cuter but traditionally have tended more to be more beasts of burden than for racing. And to be the butt of many an insult, the derogatory opinion being that donkeys are for peasants, horses being only fit for the higher echelons. Hence, I guess, this song, from the, at the time, critically underacclaimed album of duets, Knopfler imagining himself, yeah, right, as a loser in a one horse, sorry, donkey town. If Emmylou were there, chum, I'd stay.

Muleskinner Blues/The Cramps

This is where it all gets a bit surreal, as I explain a muleskinner is ahead of a mule. And, until today, I had the notion that the pelt of a mule might be a useful commodity. Good leather or something like that. Wrongity-wrong, it is the human handler of a mule or a set of mules. So called as you had to be quick witted to outsmart them, or "outskin" them, me, neither, given their stubbornness. No wonder they got the blues, the song originally a hit for Jimmie Rodgers in the 30s, before the Cramps gave it a reverential kick up the, um, ass. We don't feature the late lamented Cramps here enough, I feel. 

A mule is the sterile progeny of when a horse, or pony, mates with a donkey, the genetics close enough to procreate but not close enough to prolong the line further. It seems a bit of a long way to go for a somewhat short end to me. But, mule lovers, worry not, they can now be cloned. Mule is also slang for the middle man in a drugs heist, responsible for transporting the illicit material across county lines and continents, often, literally, in their "middles". Why the name? Presumably as such individuals are seen as slow witted carriers of little importance beyond the carriage of the goods. Confusingly, what they carry may often go by the slang of horse. Or, perhaps in a sly dig at its retrieval, shit.

Jack Ass/Beck

Here's where I could get myself into trouble, as in get my ass kicked, mixing and muddling my homonyms. But, I will resist that temptation and stick to the literal, wherein Beck Hansen compares his situation to that of a Jack, or male, Ass, or donkey, the two terms being near equivalent. (See horse/pony). So it is really back to Mark Knopfler and his donkey town, self-esteem apparently quite a rare premium for worldwide superstars. But, in recompense for reading this far, I can't but leave you without just a little horseplay...... (Spoiler: twerk free; have you ever typed ass into youtube?)

Get Off Your Ass and Jam/Funkadelic

Pony, donkey, mule, ass (or ass.)


Thursday, September 12, 2019

Horse/s: Rocking Horse



purchase [ ABB Rocking Horse  ]

In some ways, this could have slipped into the <Slide> theme - slide being a forte of the Allman Brothers since their inception.

The Allman Brothers Band has been around for a number of years in one iteration or another. Among their other contributions to music, there is the off-shoot band named Gov't Mule, formed by Warren Haynes, a later addition to the ABB.  Haynes is stage center in the above clip doing the vocals, and might also note Allen Woody, who also joined the ABB when they reunited in the late 80s.

Since the current theme is <Horse> and this post references <Rocking Horse> it wouldn't hurt to take a minute to look down that path: What it is, what it represents/means...
>> A wooden construction that simulates a real horse that you can mount and "ride"

I can think of a number of "rocking" associations that might fit.
Foremost is "rock" .. and you can work your way on down the path of what "rock" embodies on your own.
I guess I can also conjure up images of why you might associate horses within the realm of rock.

The lyrics tell a typical ABB story: on a path that isn't so good and that I just can't leave: "to die in the saddle must be my destiny"

There are different such of possible interest:

Sara Evans with a song of the same name but kinda different


Gov't Mule:


Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Horse/s: The Horse



Cliff Nobles and Co. : The Horse
[purchase]

If you have attended or watched a sporting event in the United States in the last few decades, you almost certainly have heard the marching or pep band play “The Horse,” the 1968 instrumental hit single from Cliff Nobles and Co. (I know that I played it at least twice as a member of the Princeton University Marching Band, which, by the way, is celebrating its 100th year of having invented the football marching band, only 50 years after Princeton and Rutgers invented college football.) And, there’s a chance that you might have heard the original, horn-filled song on the radio, or streaming, or however you consume music. But what you didn’t hear was Cliff Nobles. Because Cliff was the vocalist in the band, and “The Horse” is an instrumental.

According to Bobby Eli, guitarist on the track, he, guitarist Norman Harris, bassist Ronnie Baker, and drummer Earl Young created the music jamming in the studio—in fact, neither Nobles, nor Jesse James, the producer who took writing credit, were present in the studio at the time.

“The Horse” was released as the B-side to the single “Love is All Right,” which is essentially the same song, but with Nobles’ fine soul vocals. I have to admit to never having heard that version until I started writing this, and it stands on its own. But, for whatever reason, it was the stirring, if somewhat repetitive, instrumental that piqued the interest of DJs, and it peaked at No. 2 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B charts, before becoming often used as a theme song, or in stadiums and arenas.

The musicians that created and recorded “The Horse” received only a small fee, and producer/”writer” James refused to give them any more, leading to an acrimonious split. Eli, Harris, Baker and Young became part of the “MFSB” collective, who backed many, many groups, and had a hit of their own with “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia),” and Baker, Harris and Young were also members of The Trammps. The baritone sax player was Mike Terry, who also played on, among other things, Martha and the Vandellas' “Heat Wave,” and The Supremes’ “Where Did Our Love Go,” and as a member of the Funk Brothers, he performed on thousands of Motown recordings from 1960-1967.

Despite his obvious talents, Nobles never sang on a hit song, and later worked in construction and the electronic generation industry, which is ironic, since “The Horse” is used to generate energy at sporting events (is that too tenuous a connection?)

Over at Cover Me, I wrote a piece defending Dexy’s Midnight Runners, which discussed their excellent covers of both “The Horse” and “TSOP.” (I wrote another defense of them here, too, but it wasn’t as good).

Sunday, September 8, 2019

HORSE/S: PAUSE FOR A HOARSE HORSE/HOME


Country music has always had a chequered history over here in the UK, there being an understandable suspicion of the more rhinestones and bouffant hair variety that, for so many years, gave even the genre a bad name outside its immediate milieu. Personally it was always the 'and western' that put me off, only many years coming to know and love quite what that might mean, as in western swing. But country-rock, or perhaps as we now should call it, americana, that's a whole different plate of beans. Us brits have taken to that in a big way, both in terms of growing our own and offering a sometimes more sympathetic audience to visitors as they get at home. Todays piece is decidedly too old for americana, being from the early 70s, when bands like Cochise and Starry Eyed and Laughing were adding influences culled from The Byrds and the Burritos.  The pre-punk of pub-rock, the early backlash to the some of the preposterousnesses of prog, saw also a lot of country tropes mixed into the pot, alongside soul and straight ahead rock'n'roll. Brinsley Schwarz, an early home for Nick Lowe, and Chilli Willi and the Red Hot Peppers were frontrunners, influentially if not necessarily in sales. Nowadays there are as many gritty blue collar banjo and steel bands over here as, well, in a short Nashville street. So a few, my favourites being Camden's Rockingbirds. Plus several festivals devoted to the genre.

Home had only a brief window. Resolutely 3rd tier in terms of attainment and success, famous as much for where the members went next as in their own right. The track above comes from their 1971 debut, the sleeve illustration giving a fair idea of where they were hailing from and striving at. I actually bought this at the time, it various surviving culls on my collection, as history re-decided my earlier tastes. However there was clearly a hint of something, the twin guitars of Laurie Wiseman and Mick Stubbs soaring higher than the journeyman songs and vocals, mainly provided by Stubbs.  Bass was provided by one Cliff Williams, yes, that one, and was more adventurous, say, than his later job, with drums and background keys courtesy Mick Cook and Clive John.


A second record followed, the eponymous 'Home', by which time they had ditched John and ploughed, generally, a yet more earnest west coast vibe, if more Outlaws than Eagles, winning over fans from the bands they played support to. But those fans weren't putting their hands in their pockets, and the moment called for a prog-rock concept album, echoing similar bands in similar circumstances, Camel and Wishbone Ash, last gasps of the longhairs before punk blew down the doors. (Of course, history also reminds us that the longhairs never actually went away, just having shorter hair and shorter songs, most continuing to this day.) The Alchemist was the 3rd and last album put together by Home. Stylistically different, it isn't all bad, if desperately dated.


Stubbs left and the remainder of the band toured as Al Stewart's backing band, before going their separate ways. Wisefield joined, arguably appropriately, his guitar style being eminently suitable, the above mentioned Wishbone Ash, Cook joined the Groundhogs and, earlier keyboards man, John was by now with Man. Stubbs, surprisingly, as the songsmith and singer, or possibly because of that, struggled the most, largely disappearing from view. The big ticket fell to Williams, filling the AC/DC bassist role for the next 39 years. A waste of his talent, IMHO, but what do I know, as his accountant might remind me.

Pause.

The early 70s were a bumper time for would be jobbing musicians, record companies falling over each other to give multi-disc contracts to barely out of school buskers, allowing them to build up their skills, hone any talents and, eventually, or so the labels hoped, repay the investment. Bands like Home were everywhere, chock full of musicians often later making a greater inroads elsewhere. Often with back catalogues mostly forgotten, I enjoy looking back and remembering. This piece began musing on country and english. Funny how it seems to have ended elsewhere.

Friday, September 6, 2019

HORSE/S: CRAZY HORSE


Hell, yeah, in the week, near enough, ol' Shakey reveals the forthcoming of  his back to the day job with the Horse, what better time to celebrate this most epochal and emblematic of Neil Young's backing crews. You can have your Stray Gators, your Promise of the New, Pearl Jam and Booker T even, it is with the Horse that the ragged glory of his plaid shirt flaps the most. Never quite as celebrated as they should be, even oft denigrated for their supposedly simplistic backing, they are the perfect frame around which their boss can shine brightest. And it they are so dumb, how come that most attempts to emulate fall so short?

Present in one form or another since 1969, a number of musicians have been included under the banner, the band existing as much in it's own right, gigging, albums, rather than merely, as they are often perceived, waiting at home for Young to revive them from their slumbers. Because such waits can be lengthy. Very. And uncertain. The core, essentially, is the rhythm section partnership of Billy Talbot, bass, and Ralph Molina, drums.

Go back further, to 1963, and the vital spark of the band was in, astonishingly, doo-wop, a capella street corner crooning. A mix of West Side Story and what would now be called a boy band. Along with Danny Whitten and a couple of others, they even got as far as recording, first as Danny & the Memories, later as the cooler entitled Psyrcle, the zeitgeist now clearly barber avoidant. (Sadly I can find no clips of the latter, all the more disappointing, the Psyrcle having one Sly Stone, then a local record store owner, as their producer.)

Land of a 1000 Dances/Danny & the Memories

Appreciating the added value of playing some instruments, Whitten, Talbot and Molina picked some up from scratch, Whitten choosing guitar, and morphed into the Rockets, cautiously adding a couple of real musicians to paper over their deficiencies. And, yes, times were changing fast.....

Pill Song/The Rockets

This is where Neil Young came in, chancing on the band in a bar, OK, the bar, the infamous Whisky A Go Go. After jamming with them, suddenly the Rockets were no more, the core trio of the band absorbed immediately as Neil Youngs backing band for his 2nd solo record, 'Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.' And what has become his instantly recognisable signature style of melodic chunky scuzz was born. As well as backing Young both in the studio and live, by now christened Crazy Horse, they took off alone, absorbing piano player Jack Nietsche, another Young acolyte, along the way. Boy wonder Nils Lofgren, fresh from his appearance on 'After the Goldrush', also became involved, if not then officially a member. They could have been bigger than they were, Whitten becoming swiftly more accomplished both as a guitarist and a writer. Indeed, the song below was his, and is still, I am sure, a source of royalties, given many successful cover versions. But unfortunately only to his estate, as Whitten was a hardcore junkie. Eventually kicked out both from the band and from Young's circle, he succumbed, living on only in the lyric of 'Needle and the Damage Done'..... (The "another man" was Crazy Horse roadie, Bill Berry.)

I Don't Want To Talk About It/Crazy Horse

So where now for the Horse? After Whitten's demise, and lacklustre responses anyway to their records, the residual duo let the name lie dormant, despite still playing frequently alongside Young, with different musicians and different names for the collective. It was with the recruitment of Frank "Poncho" Sampedro in 1974 that suddenly gave the band a rebirth, his arguably rudimentary rhythm guitar slotting perfectly alongside Neil Young's idiosyncratic lead like a dream, wedged into the loose cement of Molina and Talbot. 'Zuma' is the exemplar and apotheosis of the Crazy Horse sound, and, of course, the song below is that of that record. Equal billing, no less.

Cortez the Killer/Neil Young, Crazy Horse

The last couple of decades of the 20th century saw Young chaotically change style and direction. Sometimes the Horse fitted the requirements, often they didn't, but it always seemed better when they did. When off the pay-roll, they would play occasional shows, with buddies from earlier incarnations, but kept a generally low profile. One exception came in 1994, when arch Young-fan and ex-Icicle Works mainman Ian McNabb hired them for a tour and an album. 'Head Like a Rock' was my album of that year and, yes, I was in the audience for the clip below, with there being little doubt who McNabb was channeling.

Fire Inside My Soul/Ian McNabb, Crazy Horse

It wasn't until the early noughties that I actually caught them with Young, at Birmingham's National Exhibition Centre (UK), usually a soulless arena, that night shaken to the pillars by a the intensity of the fragile yet triumphant  powerhouse of the collaboration.

Latterly the pairing has been increasingly intermittent, some fans despairing ever of that call ever coming round again, not least as Young was seemingly so entrenched with Promise of the New, the band of and with two of the sons of Willie Nelson. News had also come of Poncho retiring from performance. So it was with some glee that whispers came, late last year, of a 'Horse of a Different Colour', with a series of concerts following. And more this year. And you can stuff different colour, this was Crazy Horse, with the added attraction of the return of Nils Lofgren to replace Sampedro. OK, so the song comes from the wrong band, but, hell, Long May they Run. And for sure an album is coming.....

Milky Way/Neil Young, Crazy Horse

Here

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Horse/s: Sometimes A Pony Gets Depressed


Silver Jews: Sometimes A Pony Gets Depressed 
[purchase]

My summer sabbatical is over! I’m refreshed, recharged, and ready to rock! Thanks to Kkafa and Seuras Og for keeping the lights on while I was on blogging holiday.

So, about a month ago, David Berman committed suicide, hanging himself in Brooklyn. He was 52. Berman was the driving force behind the band Silver Jews, and more recently Purple Mountains, and his death led to an outpouring of praise for his songwriting and sadness about the circumstances of his death, which makes sense, because he was a talented songwriter, and for god sakes, he was only 52.

I was aware of some of the Silver Jews’ music—I picked up a bunch of tracks when eMusic actually had lots of good music, cheap—originally attracted by the name, but drawn in by Berman’s quirky wordplay and mostly deadpan delivery. But until he died, I really didn’t know much about him.

Berman’s father was a lobbyist for firearm, alcohol and other controversial industries, a fact which later gave Berman much angst. While a student a U Va, he made music with classmates Stephen Malkmus and Bob Nastanovich, and after graduation, they moved to Hoboken and began recording as Silver Jews. Meanwhile, Malkmus started Pavement, which went on to more acclaim, leading to the mistaken impression that Silver Jews was a Pavement side project.

During this period, Berman entered a graduate writing program at U Mass Amherst, and sparked by that, Silver Jews released a number of albums in the late 1990s, and Berman released a collection of poetry. More albums followed, but after 2001’s EP Tennessee, Berman struggled with depression and substance abuse, and in 2003 he attempted suicide.

The Silver Jews got back together in 2005 for Tanglewood Numbers, which was, according to Berman, the only album that he was 100% sober for, and which was more polished and rocking than the band’s previous efforts.  Our feature song, “Sometimes a Pony Gets Depressed” is from that album, and couples upbeat, uptempo music with lyrics that probe displacement and depression. It is a striking song, and one not easily forgotten once heard. (In any event, who has a pony?)

Berman seems to have had some interest in horses. Silver Jews’ second album, Bright Light, has an album cover featuring a notebook with a horse made out of blank adhesive labels, a song called “Horseleg Swastikas,” and another song with the lyric “my horse's legs look like four brown shotguns.” And there may be more. Is this a reference to horse = heroin? Maybe, but considering the source, it is likely to have many more levels than that.

In 2009, Berman stepped away from music in part to try to make amends for the work of his estranged father, and HBO began production of a series based on Berman’s unpublished book about him, which eventually was scuttled. And earlier this year, Berman began releasing music as “Purple Mountains,” and a tour was planned but never happened.

Heck of an upbeat way to return from summer vacation, right?