Saturday, October 25, 2008

Adjective Noun: White Wedding

The Harvey Girls: White Wedding

(This is from a free album that is downloadable on their website, and is not available for purchase)

I thought I'd get one more grammar-tastic song in while it's still this week.

This song combines a lot of things I love:
1) cover songs
2) 80's pop music
3) female vocals
4) acoustic/folk music

I've heard other covers done of this Billy Idol classic, but this one really impresses me, but then again I am a sucker for all the things listed above. Most of The Harvey Girls' music is available free on their website (linked above), and this song in particular is from their covers album Our History Is Your Kitsch.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Adjective Noun: High Water

Recorded live in Niagara Falls on August 23, 2003, this one´s from Tell Tale Signs, the brand new installment in the Bootleg Series. Bob really is on fire here, and so is his touring band. Definitely an improvement on the studio version from "Love And Theft", which wasn´t too shabby to begin with. 

´A prime example of how honing a song on the road can completely transform it,´ says Larry ´Ratso´ Sloman in the liner notes, and he´s spot on. "I get up in the morning, I believe I'll dust my broom, keepin' away from the women, I'm giving them lots of room... Thunder rolling over Clarksdale, everything a-looking blue, I just can't be happy, love, unless you're happy too... It's bad out there, highwater everywhere."

Clearly a case of love, not theft. High Water is subtitled For Charley Patton, in honour of the legendary Delta bluesman who recorded his own High Water in two parts. "Well, backwater done rose all around Sumner now, drove me down the line, backwater done rose at Sumner, drove poor Charley down the line... Lord, I'll tell the world the water, done crept through this town." Here they are.

Adjective Noun: Think Tank

Prescott Curlywolf - Think Tank [purchase]

"Placated angst, what for?
The strings that tethered me
Vacated sleeves that I've worn
No foot on the brakes, no foot on the brakes for me."

As the years pass, I'm convinced that Prescott Curlywolf is the greatest band to ever come out of Austin, TX -- at least within the last 25-30 years. Granted, the Butthole Surfers have a strong argument, Scratch Acid, The Dicks, and Big Boys have the entrenched nostalgia of old-school punks on their side, Spoon gets the chicks and sells out all manner of venue, The Gourds and Bad Livers can thumbwrestle for anarcho-acoustic crown, and lest we forget, Stevie Ray & Double Trouble have the tragic mythos. I'm sure there's a dozen other bands with more luck and better PR who could leap to the top of the GOAT poll.

But, Prescott has Rob Bernard (pictured right) and thusly the discussion ends. The only guitar player I've ever heard able to successfully reconcile Eddie Van Halen with D. Boon, Bernard distills what could easily be self-indulgent wankery into :30 explosions of vicious economy, like Keith Moon on punk rock Telecaster. Combine his less-is-more genius with songwriting partner, Ron Byrd's, power-trash melodicism, and Prescott, at their best, were the perfect synthesis of The Replacements and Nirvana, as if Kurt Cobain was composing with Bob Stinson's guitar thrash in mind. Add to this the occasional Black Franciscan songwriting contributions of bassist, Tim Kinard, and you have a band ... a fearless, rat-a-tat rhythm machine of a band, no less ... that managed to reference three post-punk giants without devolving into the calculated and formulaic Red Bull jingles painfully common in the fashion-first Pitchfork Era. That's one man's think tank summary anyway. No foot on the brakes for me.

For a comprehensive summary of this great band, please visit The Adios Lounge.

Adjective Noun: Dire Wolf

Grateful Dead: Dire Wolf


I am a very strange example of a Grateful Dead fan. I never got to see them live. And, while I greatly admire the instrumental acrobatics of their live recordings, I often prefer the studio versions of their songs, because many of the live recordings feature the worst vocal performances you will ever hear from anyone. That said, give me a live recording of theirs with good vocals, and I’m in heaven.

Workingman’s Dead was my introduction to the music of the Grateful Dead. And Dire Wolf is my favorite song from the album. An original song by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter, the song nevertheless has the quality of a folktale.

The lyrics are by Hunter, and I never tried to find out what he meant by them. I have always had my own interpretation. The song says, “the dire wolf... was grinning at my window. All I said was come on in.” Clearly, I thought, the wolf cannot enter a house without being invited in. That means the wolf represents the Devil. They sit down to game of cards. Presumably, if the narrator wins, his soul is safe from the Devil’s clutches forever. But, of course the Devil cheats. “I cut my deck to the queen of spades, but the cards were all the same.” Not what the narrator expected! And the last verse describes the Devil seeking out other souls.

In researching this post, I find no backing for this interpretation whatsoever. However, all Robert Hunter has ever said is that the song was inspired by The Hound of the Baskervilles. So I’m sticking to my story.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Adjective Noun: Malted Milk

Robert Johnson: Malted Milk


If you couldn’t tell, I’m having fun with this week’s theme. There are so many songs to choose from, you can just browse through your favorite artists and find one that fits. I vote for more grammar/song title-related themes.

For further proof that this theme is universal, and even timeless, here’s The King of the Delta Blues singing about one of the many vices that lead to his early departure.

Adjective Noun: True Colors

Cyndi Lauper: True Colors


Not posting hit songs? Sorry, but this one's also worth it. I've been a fan of Cyndi Lauper for almost as long as I can remember. I love her voice, but I think it's always been more her persona that made me admire her. There's no one quite like her, and there's just no voice quite like hers either.

"True Colors" is just one of those songs that is so simple and touching that it seems timeless. It's been recorded by many different artists, but none seem to hit the spot quite like Cyndi's does.

Adjective Noun: Red Rain

Peter Gabriel: Red Rain


In general, we Starmakers tend not to post hit songs. I have never heard that it was a rule, but we tend to be drawn to artists and songs that are not as well known as, perhaps, they should be. But there are exceptions.

Peter Gabriel’s “Red Rain” went to #3 on the Billboard chart in 1987. The third single from the album So, it probably wouldn’t have done so well if it hadn’t followed “Sledgehammer” and “Big Time” up the charts.

To my ear, “Red Rain” does not sound like a hit, even in the 1980s. The song combines electronic textures with Gabriel’s growing interest in world music. The lyrics are enigmatic; look the song up on Wikipedia and you will find three different interpretations. The closest thing to a pop element is the fact that the song has a great groove.

On the other hand, try listening to some of the 80s biggest hits today. Stripped of their newness, many of these songs prove to be interchangeable and disposable. And you’re talking to someone who thinks the 1980s were one the greatest decades for pop music ever. “Red Rain” is another story, however. Whatever it may be about, it still sounds as fresh to me now as it did then.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Adjective Noun: Simple Girl

Max Stalling: Simple Girl


Simple girl, but that's what Max likes about her.
Simple song, but that's what i like about it.

“Simple Girl, are you out there listening?
Simple Girl… Do You Exist?
Simple Girl, I'll bet your at the dime store,
But every time I go to shop, I forget my list.”

Adjective Noun: Dumb Fun

Juliana Hatfield: Dumb Fun


Hatfield's heavy indierock at its best: a proto-hipster anti-commericalist anthem turned out in low-tuned electric fuzz and feedback. This roller coaster of a song, and the amazingly potent scream that is 1995 release Only Everything, totally got me through young adulthood -- the song, and the memory of meeting Juliana Hatfield and Evan Dando wandering the halls of that same school afterhours one day near the end of my senior year, just me and these new grunge gods hanging in the hallway. They thought I was a teacher, maybe. Now I am.

Also incredible, and thematically relevant: the languid, muffled cry of rage that is Dying Proof, off the same album.

Adjective Noun: (Big) Yellow Taxi

This week's guest post comes from Susan, host of the very excellent blog Optimistic Voices

Matt Costa: Yellow Taxi


I “met” Boyhowdy through a Falcon Ridge post on my blog this past July… and I’ve been an avid follower of his Cover Lay Down ever since – when he asked if I’d contribute something to Star Maker Machine, I was honored, intrigued and challenged… and Matt Costa’s Yellow Taxi magically appeared in my inbox to fit the theme and give me courage…

It’s a sweet little song, by a skateboarder-turned-singer/songwriter with whom I was previously unfamiliar... and showcases a pleasant voice, a catchy beat and easy-to-sing-along-with lyrics – his music is a bit too pop for my taste (what I’d like to believe is a very diverse spectrum of folk, acoustic, rock, Americana, classic and Motown), but I’m going to pass the tip on to my 20-year-old son, who I think would very much enjoy.

However, between the title, the tempo and the words (“we shared some Conversation”), I couldn’t help but be reminded of someone who’s Been There, Done That, Received the Grammy: Joni Mitchell’s *Big* Yellow Taxi! – what’s another adjective among friends, right?

Joni Mitchell: Big Yellow Taxi (1970)


I’m a self-admitted Joniholic… and find it synchronistic that the title of this blog, Star Maker Machine, is from Free Man in Paris, her tune about David Geffen – the Christmas I gave my daughter the soundtrack to Practical Magic and later heard the strains of A Case of You (on repeat play) coming through the door of her bedroom was when I finally realized they had not switched babies on me in the hospital 16 years before…

Ladies of the Canyon was the first Joni Mitchell album I bought, in 1970 (also at the age of 16), at my next-door neighbor’s garage sale – I mostly absorbed the heart-based songs (For Free, Willy and Rainy Night House)…but I kept coming back to the quirky ditty about pink hotels, paved paradises and DDT, punctuated by girl-group shoo bop bop bop bops and Joni’s adorably cackling laugh at the end.

Joni Mitchell: Big Yellow Taxi (1974)


Joni Mitchell: Big Yellow Taxi (2007)


Joni rediscovered her own tune on 1974’s Miles of Aisles, this time accompanied by the jazz of Tom Scott’s L.A. Express… and again on 2007’s Shine with a Caribbean sound – the tree museum charge went from “a dollar and a half” to “twenty-five bucks” (when Amy Grant asked permission to cover the song, Joni consented, as long as Amy agreed to raise the rates) to “an arm and a leg”. In these days of climate change and pesticides: the cost of birds, bees and spotted apples? – priceless!

I find it fascinating that when the Counting Crows’ (very nice, very different) version of Big Yellow Taxi came out in 2002, most of their young fans hearing it for the first time thought it was the band’s original composition – “don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got ’til it's gone” indeed…

One of the musical highlights of my life was hearing the song as the 1997 Lilith Fair’s grand finale, enthusiastically performed by Sarah McLachlan, the Indigo Girls, Sheryl Crow, K’s Choice, Missy Elliott and Luscious Jackson – we in the audience were of course encouraged to sing along!

In checking the Joni Undercover site (painstakingly and passionately compiled and maintained by Bob Muller), I see there are 224 covers of Big Yellow Taxi - it’s a classic, it’s an anthem… it’s Joni (enough said… )

Amy Grant: Big Yellow Taxi (YouTube)

Counting Crows: Big Yellow Taxi (YouTube)

Submitted by Susan

Adjective Noun: Bourgeois Blues

Possessed By Paul James - Bourgeois Blues


Konrad Wert (aka: Possessed By Paul James) was raised in the Florida Everglades by an Amish Menonite preacher. He takes on his stage name in honor of this father and grandfather, and he now makes his home in Texas. He is known for contorting his face in pleasure and apparent pain, and subsequently shakes, convulses, stomps and yells throughout his performances. When listening to his recorded material you can feel those shakes and all but see his face.

Once, on ninebullets, I wrote that watching PBPJ play is like watching a person birth music directly from their soul. It's awe inspiring.

The Bourgeois Blues was originally recorded by Huddie "Lead Belly" Ledbetter. It was written after Lead Belly went to Washington, D.C. at the request of Alan Lomax, to record a number of songs for the Library of Congress. After they had finished, they decided to go out with their wives to celebrate, but were thrown out of numerous establishments for being an interracial party. The song rails against racism, classism, and discrimination in general, with such verses as "The home of the Brave / The land of the Free / I don't wanna be mistreated by no bourgeoisie".

Conrad's version can be found on the Hillgrass Bluebilly compilation, Hiram and Huddie. A double album tribute to Hank Williams and Huddie Ledbetter.

Adjective Noun: Silver Bell

Patty Griffin: Silver Bell


Patty Griffin's ill fated Silver Bell album has been mentioned here before, but I felt the need to revisit it this week.

Going into the year 2000, Patty Griffin was seemingly on an artistic high. The Dixie Chicks had recorded her song, "Let Him Fly" on their Fly album that sold 10 million copies. The Chicks then took Patty on tour with them and told anyone who would listen that she was their favorite songwriter on the planet. It seemed Patty would have a ready made audience for her third studio album when it was released later in the year. That's when things turned south.

Griffin's A&M label was swallowed whole by Universal Music Group in 1998 and she was shifted off to the Interscope imprint. She was now label mates with Snoop Dogg among others. Then, in 2000, UMG was gobbled up by Vivendi just weeks before Patty was to turn in her new album. Regardless, Griffin recorded, mixed, and mastered the songs that were to make up Silver Bell and delivered them to the new label heads. The label's response was to ask her to record a brand new album, with brand new songs, and a brand new band... something that would be more "radio friendly."

Rather than do that, Patty negotiated her way out of her contract with Vivendi/UMG. She was free... Silver Bell was not. She was unable to buy back the masters of the album. It has still never been properly released.

Fortunately, the music has found its way out into the open, as good music often will. Bootlegs of the album are openly traded on the official forums at, and several of the songs have seen official release in alternate versions. Patty rerecorded "Making Pies," "Top of the World," and "Standing" for future albums, and The Dixie Chicks released "Truth No. 2," and "Top of the World" on their 2002 release Home.

The song featured here is the title track to Patty Griffin's album that never was. It's a rocking number that really makes me wonder why the suits at her label thought no one would buy this album. It has never been released in any proper form, but I was lucky enough to see Patty perform this song live at The Ryman a few years back.

The purchase link above goes to the results of a search for Patty Griffin at

Adjective Noun: Blank Generation

My fave anthem of the ´77 punk generation, with built-in escape route. "I belong to the blank generation and I can take it or leave it each time... I belong to the - generation but I can take it or leave it each time..." Hell sings it like the devil´s hot on his heels, but the real star here is the underrated Robert Quine on guitar.

Hell based Blank Generation on a fun ditty that was the title song of a ´59 exploitation flick featuring Mamie Van Doren. "I run around in sandals, I never ever shave, and that´s the way I want to be when someone digs my grave..." The brain behind all this was none other than songwriter and self-proclaimed poet Rod McKuen, while the backing band is rumoured to be Bill Haley´s Comets. Can you dig it?

Richard Hell (born Myers) is still around, but apart from a short return to music in the early 90´s with Thurston Moore´s Dim Stars project, he mainly gets by as a ´vagabond art hustler´, writing novels and reviews. A few years back, he sold his extensive archives (anything from manuscripts and handwritten lyrics to gig flyers and videotapes) to the Fales Library at New York University for $50.000. Not a bad deal. You can see its fascinating contents here.

Adjective Noun: Haitian Divorce

The image above is “a zombie in a coco shell”, ie, a mug made from carved coconut shell. A zombie is, of course, the name of the drink.

Steely Dan: Haitian Divorce


Every so often, my wife and I have a moment that reminds us of why we are married to each other. Often, this involves one of us noting something absurd, and we start riffing on it, and the absurdity grows exponentially. Other times it can involve one of us remembering a snatch of a song lyric, and we puzzle it out together until we remember what song it comes from.

One time, we were in the car listening to Steely Dan’s album The Royal Scam. The song “Haitian Divorce” came on, and we found ourselves singing along to it at the top of our lungs, probably drawing stares from passing motorists, but if so we never noticed. We got all the way to the end of the song, turned to each other, a gave each other that look. No words were needed. The lyrics, of course, are completely inappropriate, but there it is.

So I dedicate this post to my wife, Janice. I love you.

Adjective Noun: Big Nothing

Elliott Smith: Big Nothing

[suicide prevention]

Straight from the lips of the artist: " what you want to - there's no-one to stop you... though it doesn't mean a thing..."

Uh-huh. I agree.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Adjective Noun: Sunny Skies

James Taylor: Sunny Skies


A classic folk fragment from back in the early days, before James Taylor became the elder statesman of litefolk and the poster boy for stuff white people like. This is the raw, fresh out of rehab Taylor, weary and still a bit shaken, trying to recover his sense of awe and appreciation -- less mature and polished, to be sure, but far more charming for it, and much more authentic.

For comparion's sake, since it seems to be cropping up as a sub-theme this week, here's a look at what two decades can do to a folk artist's sensibility: good stuff, to be fair, and catchy, too, but nothing so innocent as the original. Jazz it up with high production, string sections, and the works, and you get something albums with few gems, and far too much easy listening for my taste. So many good songs, lost to the lure of the studio session, the opulent sonic environment. So much power and emotion, lost at the altar to mass consumption and Contemporary Adult radioplay.

James Taylor: Frozen Man


Adjective Noun: Second Option

Caitlin Cary & Thad Cockrell: Second Option


Begonias is a collaboration album from Whiskeytown violinist Caitlin Cary and Nashville songwriter Thad Cockrell. Caitlin released a couple of solo albums after the dissolution of Whiskeytown as well as two albums with Tonya Lamm and Lynn Blakely – together known as Tres Chicas. Thad also put out two discs before the duo teamed up to make Begonias.

I’ve been meaning to say something about this album over at my place, but just can’t find the words. The album moves something inside me that is hard to explain. It’s got that classic country sound while still retaining the advantages of alt-country. And the vocals…. some of the best solo and harmony work I’ve EVER HEARD.

Second Option is the liveliest tune from the effort – mixed in with heartbreakingly sad country laments and conversational lovers’ ballads. Pick this one up.

Adjective Noun: Wandering Star

Lucero - Wandering Star


This song comes off Lucero's 2001 self-titled album. The opening verses of this song rang so true to me before I met my wife:

the bands are done I should go home
all my friends left a long time ago
the girl serving drinks is the only one I know
I got no good place to go

Man. For those that don't know...Lucero is easily one of the best bands in America right now. Having recently signed a 4 album major label deal I hope the whole country is about to know of them. Once a reviewer dispatched to review a Lucero concert penned that he thought the crowd might have been just as happy getting drunk and singing a long to a jukebox. He might not have been that far off.

Adjective Noun: Bum Leg

Cake Like: Bum Leg


I'd wager to say I am one of only a few people who knew of actress/comedienne Kerri Kenney as a musician before they knew of her acting career on TV shows like Mtv's "The State" and Comedy Central's "Reno 911". As it is, Kerri Kenny's band Cake Like, released three albums before disbanding, and I always enjoyed their comedic take on rock music. That's not to say that they didn't have talent as musicians, but just that any rock band fronted by a comedienne is going to have a bit of a different perspective than someone who takes it more seriously. I also can't really imagine what theme we might come up with to be able to share this song otherwise, so I am jumping at it, despite "bum" being only a slang adjective.

This song is off Cake Like's first album, Delicious, which was only released in Japan. I must say, the album lacks quality (which is to be expected considering Kerri has admitted she only started playing bass about a month before they formed the band), but this song alone made it worth while for me because I can't seem to get through it without laughing out loud, despite it being less than two minutes long.

Despite loving this song because it makes me laugh, I don't feel it's necessarily a good sample of Cake Like's style, so I thought I'd also include a song off their last album which they took a lot more seriously, AND...for the theme's sake, I chose one that also fits.

Cake Like: Lucky One

Adjective Noun: Human Cannonball

Do you know a cooler name for a band? A journalist from Spin once described the Butthole Surfers as ´a gypsy commune of killer clowns reveling in their own morbid fascinations´, and that´s straight on the mark for once. What a wild bunch of acid-drenched, long-haired weirdos... Out to shock postpunk audiences everywhere, their tales of on-the-road mayhem are the stuff of legend. On the side, they produced some of the finest psychedelic noise to come out of Texas ever since Roky Erickson got institutionalized.

"Pardon me, I'm only bleeding, but you did cut me to the bone,
And tonight you're probably feeling like a human cannonball..."

Or is that ´cannibal´? In the land of the Buttholes, nothing is ever certain. Gibby Haynes, I salute you. 
Play loud.

Adjective Noun: Pink Bedroom

John Hiatt: Pink Bedroom


Rosanne Cash: Pink Bedroom


The girl in this song wants for nothing. She got her tight jeans, short shorts, import records, Seventeen magazines, and stuffed animals... everything a girl could want. In spite of this, our heroine is bored and frustrated. Her parents shower her with gifts and possessions all while withholding their attention and affections. She takes her valium and spends time with all of her stupid boyfriends. Of course... teenaged boredom combined with a lack of parental intervention can often lead to sexual promiscuity. She lets his fingers talk her into it.

Now, with her innocence lost, she goes downtown to take the grown up test and finds she has something crawling beneath her porcelain skin. The teen game has turned serious. She finally has her parents' attention. She got it all in her pink bedroom.

Here is the original version of the song by John Hiatt from 1980's Two Bit Monsters and Rosanne Cash's remake from 1985's Rhythm and Romance.

Adjective Noun: Tennessee Whiskey

David Allan Coe: Tennessee Whiskey


For The Record: The First 10 Years was one of the first country albums I owned. It was a gift from a friend of mine trying to turn me off of rap and onto country – mission accomplished.

David Allan Coe was classic country without the rhinestones, without the stage lights, and unfortunately without the makeup. The original outlaw and former Death Row inmate never held anything back. But if you look past his often vulgar and sometimes racist material, you’ll find Coe has penned a number of country hits made famous by others. The featured track was a hit for George Jones; Would You Lay With Me and Take This Job and Shove It, both included on the album, were made famous by Tanya Tucker and Johnny Paycheck, respectively.

Because it’s technically an adjective-noun combo, but mostly because it’s a great song, i’ve included a bonus track from the album.

David Allan Coe: The Ride

On a side note, George Dickel No. 12, pictured, is the only spirit other than Jack Daniel’s to be considered authentic Tennessee Whiskey.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Adjective Noun: Fat Mama

Johnny Zamot: Fat Mama

[out of print]

Herbie Hancock: Fat Mama


Two trips to the titular totem, a perfect pair of paeans matched in name and more: a mystical voodoochant boogaloo and a lighthearted beat poetry jazzjam that proves the power of restraint. Jazz and latin soul, both released in 1969, further united by funky fat sax bleats that sneak up on you in your daze. Oh, Mama.

Adjective Noun: Cruel Sister

Pentangle: Cruel Sister


Cruel Sister is the title track from my favorite album by Pentangle. Pentangle was a British folk super-group, if you will, consisting of Jacqui McShee, John Renbourn, Bert Jansch, Danny Cox, and Danny Thompson. I hope some of those names are familiar; if like this song and these names are all new to you, you will find further exploration very rewarding.

The song Cruel Sister is a variant of the Child Ballad Twa Sisters. In their arrangement, Pentangle used the melody of a different Child Ballad, Riddles Wisely Expounded, and they also borrowed the mysterious refrain, “Lay the bend to the bonny broom” from the latter song. In my researching of the song, I found that this borrowing really bothers some folk purists. But I find it to be an amazing linkage.

Twa Sisters tells the tale of two sisters, one dark and one fair, who are wooed by the same man. He must woo the dark sister because she is the oldest and stands to inherit from her noble parents, but it is the younger, fair sister he truly loves. The dark one gets her younger sister to walk with her by the sea, and drowns her. She then proceeds to marry the young man. Meanwhile, a pair of minstrels come upon the fair sister’s remains, and fashion a harp from her breastbone. they then play the new harp at the dark sister’s wedding. When the minstrels stop playing, the harp plays itself, and the fair sister’s voice sings the whole story. In some versions, but not in Pentangle’s, the harp is broken in half and the fair sister returns to life and at last claims her love.

Riddles Wisely Expounded, also tells of two sisters, fair and dark, who are rivals for the same man. In this song, the light sister wins the man by winning a riddling contest. The song has been interpreted as involving a deal with the Devil, or a spell against the Devil.

So what about “lay the bend to the bonny broom”? Broom is a plant which is variously regarded as protection against witches or as essential to a witches spells. Bend is a variant form of bent, which was once a term for the horn of an animal,(or perhaps, of the Devil?) The repetition of the phrase suggests an incantation or spell.

In British folklore, it often happens that a magical tale such as this has its origins in pre-Christian times. Alternate versions of Twa Sisters can be found in the Nordic countries and in Iceland. So the root tale was probably brought to the British Isles by the Norse. The motif of the dark sister and the light is often part of a seasonal myth, where the sisters represent the dark and light halves of the year.

So there may be much to Cruel Sister than one would expect. I would welcome anyone’s further thoughts on this in the comments.

Adjective Noun: 16 Days

Whiskeytown: 16 Days


This song had a huge part in making Whiskeytown what they were. It’s everything that’s great about alt-country in a handy little package: A soft wandering intro, followed by Caitlin Cary’s temperate, meshing fiddle into memorable verses and an ear-catching hook - that all gradually turns into rock.

Ryan pulled out the gem one night in 2005 at a Cardinals show in his home state. After an ambiguous acoustic intro, Ryan utters the first line “I got 16 days…” and the crowd erupts with giddy excitement. They promptly quiet as not to miss a single word of the rare performance. When Ryan repeats the line a moment later, some still can’t hold back their happiness. Halfway through, he forgets a line and refuses audience aid before forgetting another and accepting. Ryan makes up for the gaff with a chilling extended harmonica solo.

Ryan Adams: 16 Days (live)

Adjective Noun: Graycoat Soldiers

Norman Blake: Graycoat Soldiers


I have wanted to introduce everyone to the music of Norman Blake for some time. He sings and plays Southern folk music. This is related to, but not the same as bluegrass.

Southern folk music usually features a smaller group of musicians than bluegrass, and the vocals are usually by one singer, without the harmonies of bluegrass. This tends to bring the words into greater focus, and solo virtuosity of the instrumentalists is emphasized over the ability to blend that is so important in bluegrass. Each style has its pleasures.

Norman Blake is probably the second-best known performer of Southern folk music, surpassed only by the great Doc Watson. Blake is a fine guitar player, who also does not exactly embarrass himself on a variety of other stringed instruments. He has always surrounded himself with quality accompanists, including his wife Nancy on cello. And his lyrics, whether original or by someone else, always feature great storytelling.

Graycoat Soldiers is a Civil War tale. The song has an interesting lyrical structure. The verses give snapshots of the progression of the Civil War from the point of view of the Confederate soldiers who went of to fight it. The chorus, from the point of view of the families who were left behind, foreshadows the tragedy that the Civil War would become for the South.

submitted by Darius

Adjective Noun: Mental Stamina

"Watch the style but also peep the lyrics, my lightning, my thunder..." About time for some hiphop here at the Star Maker Machine, so let´s hand over the mic to Jeru The Damaja, self-proclaimed ´phonetician with more stamina than a Christian, my mind C3 H5 N3 O9 like nitroglycerine...´

Jeru hails from Brooklyn and started out as a protégé of Gang Starr, whose DJ Premier produced his killer debut The Sun Rises In The East (´94). The album cover incidentally shows the World Trade Center going up in in flames, years before 9/11... Mental Stamina is a sharp rapduet off of that album, with Afu Ra sharing the verbal gymnastics and vocabulary calisthenics.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Adjective Noun: Idiot Wind

Bob Dylan: Idiot Wind


I’ve often thought of trying to find a Dylan song for each theme – and honestly, i think can be done. My Ryan Adams collection could work, too… but I digress. We’ve made it through pages and pages of themes – even a Dylan week – without this gem from the seminal Blood On The Tracks. Who else could make idiot an adjective?

After the initial pressing of the album, Dylan decided he wanted to make a few changes and re-recordeded a number of tracks. He added a full band to otherwise acoustic songs, including Idiot Wind. Here's a bonus acoustic cut from Bootleg Vol. II - complete with altered verses and extra spite.

Bob Dylan: Idiot Wind (acoustic)


Adjective Noun: Hollow Log

Beck: Hollow Log


Beck has a myriad of songs that would have fit this theme, but for my money, the songs off his early folk record "One Foot In The Grave" are among his best, or at least my favorites. Generally, people seem to appreciate him for his off the wall samplings and beats, but when he can write songs that sound so timeless and organic like "Hollow Log", you see that there's a lot more to him than two turntables and a microphone. Despite trying to get back to his more mellow roots with albums like Mutations and Sea Change, I never found they had the same feel of One Foot In The Grave that I loved.

This song is one of my favorites from the album because it feels so genuine. It feels like an old blues song, and I can imagine a young man singing this song while sitting on that hollow log in the damp woods trying to fight off the loneliness.

Adjective Noun: Short People

Randy Newman: Short People


They got grubby little fingers
And dirty little minds
They're gonna get you every time
Well, I don't want no Short People
'Round here

Randy Newman is so respected for his body of work today, it's easy to forget that his first hit was dismissed by many as a poppy novelty song at best, and a potentially offensive one at that. In fact, Maryland legislators considered it so inappropriate that in 1978, the year after the song was released, they introduced a bill that would make it illegal to play Short People on the radio; happily, cooler heads prevailed, and the bill did not pass.

In later years, as in this 2003 interview, the highly literate and prolific Newman grew to hate the song, and the fact that -- despite a huge body of cuttingly precise and scathingly perceptive works -- he seemed to be best remembered in the public mind for this broadly-stated, simply orchestrated, admittedly "frothy" work. But the tide is turning. His Academy Awards and Grammys, his recent work with Disney, and the celebration of his life and work granted by blogs like ours and others, have begun to erode this association, making a case for a Randy Newman of depth and dignity.

That he was able to transcend this inauspicious start, and demonstrate over time just how powerfully he could speak to the baseness of stereotyping and elitism through unreliable narrators such as the "height-ist" voice utilized here, speaks to both his wry, intelligent wit and his perseverance. It helps, though, if we accept as given that Newman is smarter than the average listener, and that the lowest common denominator is not the best measure of the "success" of a song. And it helps, too, if we remember that Little Criminals was Newman's seventh album, and that without the success of Short People, so many of us might never have heard of him in the first place.

Which is to say: it's a shame that irony doesn't translate better, and a shame, too, that Randy has tried to distance himself from this song by dismissing it as too light and dumbed down, but in the end, who needs the support of people so short on perception? Let it go, Randy, let it go. It's a good catchy song about small-minded people. The best songs are simple songs, after all.