Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Amaze: I'm Amazed


Purchase My Morning Jacket's "I'm Amazed"

I have to be honest: I don't really get My Morning Jacket. I like what they do; I appreciate the wide-ranging canvas they use and the infinite mixture of texture, sounds and compositions they spread across it. But, I've never been able to pin down who they are, or more distinctly, what kind of band My Morning Jacket actually can be labeled as or named. Are they folk, are they rock--no, too simple. Are they a jam-band? Are they progressive? Are they...I don't know what to all them.

Then, someone told me: "Man, MMJ is neo-psychedelic. That's all you need to know."
This bit of information came during the lead up to Pearl Jam in Camden, back in 2008. Outside the show, gathering with the faithful in the parking lot. Someone was playing MMJ and rather then wonder why he wasn't playing Pearl Jam, my curiosity was piqued. The sound was interesting, the descriptor, more so.

I can agree with that classification. And, strangely, I hav since listened to them with a lot more understanding. Neo-psychedelic: it's a freeing idea, and trying to define what doesn't fit into my readily categorized listening ideals (punk, hard-core, pop-country, metal, hair-metal, etc...) can be rendered, annotated and analyzed with the addition of that all-encompassing and opportunistic prefix, neo. Attributing the unknowable or category-defying with the label of neo helps the sound make sense, essentially blending the  misunderstood into the realm of "hard to figure, but cool, because, you know, it's neo--you don't need to understand it; just go with what you feel." And remember, because it's new, it doesn't need to make sense.

Or something along those lines: There's a freedom that comes from ignoring definitions and genre. Music can be tribal, just like politics, fetishes, area codes or passports. It's fun to defy boundaries and traditions, even if the results can confuse. But with music, sometimes confusion leads to the delight of discovery. Or, just delight. As in: amazement at new sounds and the way a band creates a fresh, aural landscape, unlike one you've ever traveled through.

I'll admit, I'm very light on knowledge of MMJ. I haven't gone over the brochures or read the maps closely yet. I\m an unseasoned traveler. And those of you who count yourselves among their (very, very) faithful, I'm probably coming across as a bit of an apostate. My apologies; I'll get there, I promise. There's a lot of ground to cover, so give me some time.

So for as undereducated as I am, I do love MMJ's "I'm Amazed", off their 2008 release, Evil Urges. I saw them perform this on Letterman and was...amazed...by what I saw. There was a great energy to the song, anthemic and urgent, stadium-ready. Up until then, I'd only known one thing about MMJ: they had done an epic cover of the Who's own mini-epic, "A Quick One While He's Away" while touring with Pearl Jam. That version, recorded live in Italy, with Eddie Vedder sharing vocals with MMJ's Jim James, was fervent and faithful to the original and glorious in its celebration of sound, rhythm and movement. When I told a friend (ever allegiant to The Who, as one should be) that I thought MMJ's version of "A Quick One" was actually superior to the original, he refused to pay for the beer he had just said he'd buy me. I admire him for his loyalty, and for sticking to his principles.

But, getting back to "I'm Amazed", there's a familiar sort of giddiness to the song and the soaring chorus,  and equally angelic vocal delivery that revels in the highs and joyful proclamations, down to the vigorous power chords and church organ melody line. It's a great song, the kind that needs to be turned up loud, equally brilliant on the car stereo as it would be spanning into the air over a crowd. And what makes the song all the more brilliant is the irony of the lyrics. While the huge-tempo, upbeat major chords would lend a natural happiness to your head bobbing  and foot stomping, the song is really about being amazed by the unbelievable: the lies we take in without thinking for ourselves, the hypocrisy we swallow from our leaders; the division of our united nation; our misguided devotions and "the lack of faith" and the "love that we're rejectin'." The song traffics in disbelief and incredulity more than the traditional joyousness of amazement. MMJ is using the irony of connotation, and like the best writing, the title tricks us towards one belief, but  asks the listener to accept a truth that might not be as easily accepted. For a song that came out 10 years ago, it not only sounds fresh, but the sentiment of disbelief at our national discourse and seeming inability to ease our grip on the ideas (anger) we cling to, is more than pertinent. A simple sentiment, delivered with a deceptively joyful sound.  But sometimes simple is all you need.





 

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Amaze: Amazing Grace



The Dirty Dozen Brass Band: Amazing Grace
[purchase]

I feel like I need to hurry if I want to write about this song for this theme, because it seems like a pretty obvious choice—and I can’t think of too many other relevant songs to write about. And hey, if other writers want to feature the song, have at it, and I’ve already handled the history for you.

“Amazing Grace” is a hymn, and the lyrics were written by the English poet and Anglican clergyman John Newton, way back in 1772 or 1773. Before Newton had those highfalutin’ gigs, he was a seaman. In fact, in 1743, he was pressed into naval service by the Royal Navy—think, walking down the street, being kidnapped and tossed onto a ship.

During his service, he was flogged, recovered, and was transferred to a slave ship. He was so disliked by the crew that they left him in West Africa, with a slave dealer, who turned Newton over to his wife, a Princess of the Sherbro people, in what is now Sierra Leone. She promptly enslaved Newton. After three years of abuse and servitude, Newton was rescued by a captain who had been asked by Newton’s father to find him.

During his trip back to England, Newton had a “spiritual conversion,” because he believed that his prayers convinced God to save his ship from a storm. From March 10, 1748, Newton “avoided profanity, gambling, and drinking.” However, when he got back on dry land, he quickly returned to sea on a slave ship, apparently not recognizing irony in any form. Newton continued to become more religious, and continued to work in the slave trade until 1754, when, it appears, God intervened by giving him a stroke, keeping him from trading in humans. Although he did invest in slaving ventures.

In the late 1750s, he ecumenically applied to be a minister in the Anglican, Methodist, Independent, and Presbyterian churches, before being ordained as an Anglican priest in 1764. It seems as if he was a pretty good one, too, and not adverse to non-Anglican views. In 1788, he publicly admitted that the whole slave thing was bad, and supported ending the trade, which England finally got around to doing in 1807 (about the same time as the US did, although as we know, that was small comfort to those already in bondage).

Newton’s hymn, based on his own life experiences, "1 Chronicles 17:16–17, Faith's Review and Expectation" led off with the killer opening stanza:

Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound) 
That sav'd a wretch like me! 
I once was lost, but now am found, 
Was blind, but now I see. 

The hymn failed to chart in Britain, but was a smash hit on this side of the pond, especially during the Second Great Awakening in the early 19th Century, and has become a standard African American spiritual song and was a civil rights anthem.

Nobody knows what, if any, music was used when Newton first led his congregation in the hymn, and there were many different tunes that were used over time, before “New Britain” stuck, and has become the standard version. Although “House of the Rising Sun,” works pretty well, too (better than the theme to Gilligan’s Island).

For reasons that are quite boring, today, I’ve been thinking of my father, who for some reason often remarked that he wanted a New Orleans-style funeral when he died. I wonder if that is where I got my love of New Orleans brass band music, although I doubt it, because I never remember him actually listening to any of it.

Not too long before he died, I bought a copy of The Dirty Dozen Brass Band’s album Funeral for A Friend, which includes many of the songs that are played at New Orleans funerals—in fact, the album is dedicated to the memory of founding member Anthony "Tuba Fats" Lacen, who passed away shortly after its completion. To quote Allmusic at length, because reviewer Thom Jurek nails it, stating that the album:

is resolved in the celebratory gratitude for mercy in "Amazing Grace." But this review does nothing, literally, to describe the sheer power of the transference of emotion that Funeral for a Friend does. This is easily the most heartfelt, honestly rendered, and stunningly captured moment of the DDBB's recording career; it belongs in every household where the celebration of life and its transition from the sorrow of death to the eternal afterlife is honored. It is not only a classic in the genre, but will come to be regarded as a jazz classic, period. 

I’d note that the version is instrumental, so it really is “New Britain,” but that’s being picky.

In lieu of the full on procession, we played the album as people entered into the celebration that we had for Dad’s life, and I think he would have been fine with that.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Amaze: McCartney- Maybe I'm Amazed



purchase -[Maybe I'm Amazed]

I recently came across a lengthy interview with Paul McCartney in GQ mag (Untold Stories of Paul McCartney) that added perspective to the post that I had already decided would fit my choice for the new <Amazed> theme: Maybe I'm Amazed

The original recording, appearing on 1970s McCartney (the one with the cherries bowl on the album cover), was very much a home-studio effort, but was later incorporated into the Wings collection in a more elaborate production.

For me, it is the home quality of that entire McCartney album that endears it to me: pure McCartney in many ways. End of the Beatles, but an indication of what the man is capable of - even in a home studio.

But as for Maybe I'm Amazed, it is supposed to be a paen to Linda, who helped him make it through the Beatles break-up. "In the middle of something he doesnt really understand ..."

It's as good as any of McCartney's Beatles work: lyrics, harmony, timing.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

WIne: Cream-Sweet Wine



purchase [  album ]



purchase [  album ]

For me, Fresh Cream was seminal and gound-breaking music, but mostly in hind sight. I came across Disraeli Gears before I heard Fresh Cream. By that time, Cream had already made its name, so my purchase was essentially filling in the blanks of the Cream repertoire.

Fresh Cream was Eric Clapton moving on from his roots in the Yardbirds and John Mayall. But the album established  Cream as a band to be reckoned with. We're talking mid-to-late 60s and their style of music was pushing the limits of what most people listened to (Soon to come: Jimi Hendrix, who blew it all open, way beyond run of the mill Top of the Pops, which generally would not include Hendrix and Cream until a few years later, under popular pressure)  I was there, listening, and I can attest that it was nothing like you had ever heard, Fresh Cream included. Cream (and Hendrix)  took rock to a new level.

Cream (see my last post) was one of the bands that moved popular music from its "more or less acceptable if dubious" status position to money-making and hence acceptable endeavors. Fresh Cream - in retrospect- had what it takes too move the rock genre forward, but it was both a bit early and not as well marketed as it might have been.

This video is from nigh on 50 years after the real Cream, but it includes the essence of the original - with modernization of Clapton's evolution.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Wine: Champagne Supernova

[purchase]

Another Champagne song, but what the hell is a “Champagne Supernova?” They are words that make no sense together, and even Noel Gallagher, who wrote the damn thing, has no idea what the song means. (Strangely, I’ve recently written elsewhere about an album titled Kilonova, which is not as bright as a supernova, but is still kind of a big deal, despite not being wine related).

Nevertheless, the Oasis song is a great singalong, as the best Oasis songs are, but I’m not posting that version. Instead, the video above is a cover by Scala & Kolacny Brothers. Scala is a Belgian girls choir conducted by Stijn Kolacny, and arranged and accompanied on piano by his brother Steven Kolacny. Starting in the early 2000s, they decided to move away from the classical repertory and into rock covers, garnering way more fame than would be expected from a Belgian girls’ choir singing rock covers.

Their cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” was used in the trailer for the movie The Social Network, and other songs were used in trailers for Downtown Abbey, and for other movies and in TV shows. They have released a bunch of albums, mostly of covers of songs from pretty much every genre, in English, French and German, and, of course, a Christmas album (which includes a cover of one of my favorite holiday songs), so, if this kind of thing interests you, I’m sure you can find something that turns you on.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

WINE: GIVE BOOZE A CHANCE/BONZO DOG DOO-DAH BAND


I suspect the Bonzo's didn't really translate that well across the pond to the USA, that second of two nations divided by a single language. Indeed, apart from a cult of ageing sex- and septuagenarians, I've never been sure whether they actually meant so much over here, their one slab of chart action being produced by one Paul McCartney, often mistakenly thought to be also written by him. But this glorious parody never fails to make me smile, even as I repeatedly play it to my bemused, and unamused, wife. Nonetheless, it seems, in a fortnight of songs about wine, perhaps to give a thought about the downside. And this is probably best appreciated within the context that Vivian Stanshall, the singer and frontman of this anarchic ensemble, died arguably not indirectly from his giving booze one hell of a chance, in a fire on his houseboat, in no small part contributed to his prodigious alcohol consumption. Details vary.


The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band had no right being a success, but, in a small way, a success they were. Formed in about 1962, the aim was to provide a dada-ist counterpoint to the then trad-jazz revival of its day, which involved the deadpan recreation of the often absurd and very english approach to dixieland. Take "Hunting Tigers out in Indiah", which might be considered one such example, their recreation of an original song dating from the '30s. By this stage they were in transition from an all brass and banjo line-up, beginning to introduce more conventional, for the '60s, instrumentation. Helped in no small part by a resident spot on children's TV programme, "Please Do Not Adjust Your Set", they gradually morphed into a slightly broader parodic approach to all styles of popular music. Should you pursue the clip, it shows also the nascent beginnings of "Monty Python's Flying Circus", with all but John Cleese present. I was a child of that time, and took to this nonsense with ease, able to effortlessly assimilate the Bonzo's into my developing musical palette. (And no surprise that, as I grew older, so could become the peak audience for Python.)

Come 1967 and they had formally ditched most of the jazz, and many of the members who had played that style. A further boost was when Paul McCartney secured them a place in the Beatles' "Magical Mystery Tour". Here's some outtakes of their included song "Death Cab For Cutie", should you wonder where Ben Gibbard came up with the name. It was still hardly rock and roll in any conventional sense, they somehow still finding favour on the gig circuit and, especially, at festivals. They did manage one tour to the US, as support to the Kinks, themselves perhaps on a revers journey from rock to vaudeville. It was a disaster. They lurched on for a few more tours and a few more albums, shedding members, yet retaining a hard core of Stanshall, later Rutles mastermind Neil Innes and tap-dancing drummer, "Legs" Larry Smith, alongside saxophonists Rodney Slater and Roger Ruskin Spear, inventor of ever more Heath Robertson wind instruments. Acclaim did not, however, translate into sales.


After dissolution in 1970 they had a couple of short-lived reunions. Stanshall descended into ever more eccentric behaviours, ricocheting between drunken japes with Keith Moon and writing a body of works around fictitious upper class gentleman explorer, Sir Henry Rawlinson: "Sir Henry at Rawlinson End", initially as spoken word projects, later a series of books and a radio piece, even a film, with Trevor Howard, no less!. He died in 1995. Innes, ahead of the Rutles, went on to be the resident musical go-to for the Monty Python team, often appearing in their live concerts. Between 2006-8 a final official reunion took place, with Stanshall replaced by comedians/actors Phill Jupitus and Ade Edmondson, playing to nostalgia hungry audiences of (very) ageing schoolboys.

I confess I always found the band to be a better idea than a reality. You probably had to be there, recorded material having dated dreadfully. But for that idea I am grateful. And, for a short time, back in the dim and distant, glad also that I was there. Surely that is worth raising a glass to.

Give booze a chance.


Friday, September 7, 2018

WINE: ALL THE WINE/THE NATIONAL

As with so many acts these days, I came late to the National, somehow thinking for ages they were were yet another set of blue-collar Jersey rockers, thrift shop Springsteensalike. Indeed I didn't let them trouble my ears until an otherwise unfettered weekend had me perusing the streams from last years's Glastonbury Festival, a TV highlight over here. This is all that is left still on-line. I think it fair to say that the National made a fair old impression, not just on me but the armchair revellers of the UK in general. I thought that show terrific, hoovering up their back catalogue. Thus, when the opportunity came, as it did, in the early summer to catch them, headlining at All Points East, a new festival, or series of day festivals, in London's east side, I was there. Here was my review, penned elsewhere.


Wine seems apt in association with the National, or at least in connection with the often exuberant front man, honey-tonsilled baritone Matt Berninger. His performances often contain as much wine as his lyrics, bottles seemingly downed, empties hurled who knows where, as an adjunct to finding his acceptable level of muse. (Strangely, when I saw him he was strangely euthymic, water seemingly by his side and in his hand.)

The song I feature comes from, arguably, their breakthrough album, the 3rd, 'Alligator', when they moved from being part time hobbyists to full time musos. This was 2005, but the earlier year has seen the song also featured on a EP, 'The Cherry Tree'.



As to whether the studio versions are the same is harder to know. Maybe in the mix? It gained some discussion on the bands own forum on their website, the confusingly entitled American Mary. (It's a song on their debut.) So, seeing as this "other" version gets a mention, you may as well be the judge.


As to what it all means? Me, I just like the play on words, the cadence of syllables, the meaning of lesser import. It is, after all, only rock and roll. But there are websites devoted to such ephemera, did you know? Maybe I speak to the converted but here is a snatch from one.

I don't know what it is about the band I like so much. I think it is probably the mix of the cerebral and  the bacchanal. And, importantly for an old guy like me, they are clearly no callow boys off some svengali's floor, or raw garage busboys bringing in a new wave of youth rebellion, frightening the horses of my generation. The sound is meticulous, hewn from experience and talent, technique with an additional bravadaccio that boasts both the library and the taproom as sources of inspiration. Charles Bukowski with a eng. lit. major, perhaps? And as apt for the live experience as at home with, yes, definitely, a glass of wine.

Get the song.
And some wine.


Wine: (Have Some) Madeira M’dear

Flanders and Swann: Madeira M’dear

[purchase]

The Limeliters: Have Some Madeira M’dear

[purchase]

Have Some Madeira M’dear is a song that I married into. It was a favorite of my late father-in-law, and I had never heard it until my wife introduced me to it. My father-in-law had a fine sense of humor, and this one also appealed to his lecherous tendencies. The Limeliters were the nearest rivals in popularity to the Kingston Trio and Peter Paul and Mary. These three were at the top of what I think of as the pop-folk genre. For a great gentle satire of the excesses of that genre, find and watch the movie A Mighty Wind. Still, pop-folk did include some very talented musicians, and that certainly included the Limelighters. Have Some Madeira M’dear is a song that I hope will not offend any of our readers and listeners. It describes in a humorous way something which certainly is not humorous in real life: date rape. But the song is not meant to be real life at all. It is a send up of Edwardian social mores, and the genteel way in which it describes something I feel sure the songwriters would not have approved of is the joke, certainly not the act itself.

I only discovered in researching this post that The Limeliters were not the songwriters on this one, but I might have known. Now that I do, it seems obvious that this one must have been written by British artists, in this case the duo of Flanders and Swann. Michael Flanders and Donald Swann were a musical and comedy duo active roughly from the end of World War II until the mid 1960s. During their career, they would even write operettas. But Madeira M’dear, as they titled the song, is probably their best known song nowadays. You may also know the Hippopotamus Song. That’s the one that has the chorus that starts with “Mud, mud, glorious mud…” I had not remembered that there were verses until I worked on this post.