Saturday, February 7, 2009

One: Ellis Unit One

Steve Earle: Ellis Unit One


Here's one more quickie that didn't quite fit in with the happy songs I posted yesterday.

This is one from Steve Earle's 2002 odds and ends release, Side Tracks. It's a stark powerful song about a prison guard on death row and the many sights he's seen in his work. A guest appearance by The Fairfield Four adds a nice dimension to this one. The sombre sounds of the track certainly fit the subject matter.

One: Only One

James Taylor: Only One


Only One is from James Taylor's twelfth recording, That's Why I'm Here, released in 1985:

Rolling Stone: "With its heartening aura of renewed faith and burgeoning self-knowledge, James Taylor's That's Why I'm Here reveals a man at peace with himself, his notorious inner demons finally silenced."

AllMusicGuide: "he had found his long-term niche with Baby Boomer fans now permanently tuned to soft-rock radio... (Notwithstanding its initial commercial reception, That's Why I'm Here eventually went platinum.)"

I bought it (in album form) when it first came out, but it was definitely a turning point for me - I didn't want to be lumped in with the "Baby Boomer fans" the review above describes. I missed the demons, the Sweet Baby James who was anything but... with his growling Steamroller, his poignant Her Town Too, his double-entendre'd Handy Man - I purchased October Road for my husband for his birthday one year... but I gave myself permission to call it quits with the man I always teased about marrying (if Robert hadn't asked me first). I preferred to have the memories of what once was... rather than move forward into a self-perceived Candyland (too many Gum Drop Mountains, not enough Molasses Swamps) - and oh, the memories (almost every song on those first 11 albums is near and dear to my heart... :-)

As an extra treat, here's the "official music video", complete with harmonies by Joni Mitchell and Don Henley (of the Eagles)... as well as JT's regular back-up vocalists Arnold McCuller and Rosemary Butler... Leland Sklar on bass... Billy Payne (of Little Feat) on keyboards - check out the cigarette in Joni's right hand!

One: Power of One

Daniel Lanois: Power of One


Better known as the Canadian producer behind such incredible records as Dylan's Time Out of Mind, Emmylou Harris' Wrecking Ball, and U2's The Joshua Tree, each of which won Grammys in their respective categories, Daniel Lanois on his own is an atmospheric experimentalist songwriter and arranger in the same vein as early co-conspirator Brian Eno, if a bit more melodic.

The multi-instrumentalist Lanois plays mostly guitar, pedal steel and drums, filtering these through a series of pedals and boxes on stage and in the studio to maximize the sound he can produce on his own. The resulting songs on my favorite of his albums, such as 2003 release Shine, from whence this singular cut comes, carry the typical synthetic symptoms of his curious hybrid of New Wave, Folk Rock, and Pop. Dreamy and ever-catchy, if also imperfect and somehow unfinished without the superstar talents he usually employs, these are songs for songwriters, not for the charts, but they go a long way towards explaining the full environments which he has brought to the work of others over the years.

Friday, February 6, 2009

One: Fun with One

These songs have no real connection except that they all contain "One," and they they're all just a lot of fun.

Ben Folds Five: One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces

I bought Whatever & Ever Amen on a recommendation from MTV's Matt Pinfield back when I still thought MTV was cool. Yeah... it's been a while. This was the first song on that album and the first Ben Folds Five song I ever heard. It's angry and bubbly all at the same time. It's a perfect example of Ben's self proclaimed "punk rock for pansies" style. Bonus points for the GI Joe reference.

Patty Griffin: One Big Love

No anger here... just Patty Griffin getting funky like a monkey. This song is all about swimming in the high tide and walking on air. Let your hair down and enjoy this one from Patty's Flaming Red album.

Keller Williams: One Hit Wonder

There have been a few one hit wonder artists featured here on Star Maker Machine. Keller Williams wishes he was one of them. I don't think you can classify Keller as ever having made a hit himself. He laments that fact here on this track from Laugh.

One: One

I've always wanted an excuse to post the three most popular versions the Harry Nilsson composition, One, so away we go...

Harry Nilsson: One


As with most songs, the composer, Harry Nilsson, has the best performance of the three. Nilsson had originally released it as an independent single in 1963, under the pseudonym Bo Pete, to some small local radio airplay. Probably the most covered song of his entire catalogue, One is a straightforward tune about loneliness and the desperation it brings.

Three Dog Night: One


Three Dog Night covered One in 1969 with a completely different arrangement, more fleshed out with thick layers of instrumentation, as opposed to Nilsson's simple approach. The great success of their version (it made its way to #1 on the US charts) launched them on the road to covering other previously charted songs, such as Randy Newman's Mama Told Me Not to Come, Laura Nyro's Eli's Coming, Russ Ballard of Argent's Liar, Hoyt Axton's Joy to the World, among others. It's not my favorite take of the song, but one can still appreciate the fine Pop craftsmanship at work.

Aimee Mann: One


Aimee Mann's approach is the most stark of the three, which I feel serves the song well, since it was the opening of the 1999 American drama, Magnolia, Paul Thomas Anderson's film about isolation and the human condition. Mann composed the soundtrack along with her husband, Michael Penn and fellow bandmate, Jon Brion.

One can be the loneliest number - Harry Nilsson did a great job in song explaining how important interpersonal relationships can be to our humanity. Each of these three versions are unique unto themselves, the true proof of artistry is how musicians turn their interpretations into vehicles of distinctive self-expression, which all accomplish with much brilliance.

One: Just One More

George Jones: Just One More


For country songs about boozing to try and forget her, look no further than George Jones. Nothing beats his If Drinkin´ Don´t Kill Me (Her Memory Will), but Just One More comes mighty close.

Jones sure was no stranger to a stiff drink himself back in the days. My fave country music anecdote finds a thirsty Possum stranded in the mansion he shared with his second wife Shirley Corley, who went out one day and took all the car keys with her to make sure Jones wouldn´t be able to buy himself a nice bottle. The nearest liquor store was eight miles away: not exactly in walking distance for a guy who was used to screwdrivers for breakfast and bourbon for lunch. The missus forgot about the electric lawn mower though. To quote Jones: "It might have taken an hour and a half or more for me to get to the liquor store, but get there I did."

To make matters worse, Jones allegedly repeated this feat when he was married to Tammy Wynette. As she wrote in her autobiography: "About 1 am I would wake up and look over to find he was gone. I got into the car and drove to the nearest bar 10 miles away. When I pulled into the parking lot there sat our rider-mower right by the entrance. He'd driven that mower right down a main highway. He looked up and saw me and said, ´Well, fellas, here she is now. My little wife, I told you she'd come after me.´"

"Well, one more drink of wine,
then if you're still on my mind,
one drink, just one more and then another..."

One: One

Billy Jonas: One


My introduction to Billy Jonas took place about 1:00 a.m. my first night of my first Folk Alliance (Albuquerque, February 1999) - I was instantly captivated by his shining spirit, uplifting songs and boyish charm (complete with long curly hair, which has since been shorn)... not to mention xylophone sticks duct-taped to his shoes and plastic trash cans and paint buckets inverted and bungee-corded together ("industrial re-percussion instruments", as he calls them... :-)

I smiled through my tears during his tunes, equally feel-good and thought-provoking - he also encouraged audience participation... and it was sheer delight to be part of a roomful of people shouting out "One!" at the appropriate time...

A Billy Jonas performance is an explosion of energy. In singalongs, bangalongs, whisperalongs, as well as improvised songs, his primary instrument is the audience... from there a whimsical trajectory carries listeners through stories of life, love, and triumph over 'Murphy's Law.'

I am blessed to say our paths have crossed many times since... at various concerts, festivals and conferences - a Billy Jonas show promises life at its most interactive: in your face... seize the day... kiss the sky... smell the roses... bang the drum!

One: One Nation Under A Groove

Funkadelic: One Nation Under a Groove


I have a secret. I’ve posted folk and blues ever since I got here. I lapse into occasional bouts of 80s music, including ska. I am the resident world music maven. But, what nobody knew until now is that I harbor a deep love of 70s funk.

There is no better way to make this confession than to introduce you to the strange world of George Clinton. In the 70s, George Clinton wanted as much freedom as a musician could have, and still be under contract. For this reason, he created the groups Funkadelic and Parliament. There were also offshoots: Bootsy’s Rubber Band, Parlet, The Brides of Funkenstein, Fred Wesley and the Horny Horns, to name a few. These were all the same group of core musicians. The offshoots highlighted musicians or sections within the larger whole. The trick was that each incarnation had its own recording contract, allowing Clinton to play the labels off each other, and record for whoever was giving him what he wanted at that moment.

What made it all work though was the quality of the music. George Clinton created funk that kept you moving, while at the same time expanding the language of funk, by incorporating rock guitars, jazz harmonies, and the different musical textures that were possible with the large ensemble of talented musicians Clinton relied upon. Even when it didn’t work, the failures were glorious ones.

Clinton’s bands were never the most popular, even at their peak. But his influence is undeniable. One of Clinton’s most obvious musical descendants is Prince, and Clinton’s tracks were constantly sampled by early hip-hop artists. But it is best to start with the original music. And One Nation Under a Groove is a fine example.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

One: One Hit Wonder

Tracy Bonham

Tracy Bonham: One Hit Wonder

Tracy Bonham: One Hit Wonder (acoustic)


It's slightly ironic that Boston's Tracy Bonham would choose to include a song called "One Hit Wonder" on her 1996 album, The Burdens Of Being Upright - especially considering the album boasted her biggest (and only) 'hit' with "Mother, Mother."

But being labeled as a one-hit wonder is not fair in Bonham's case. Sure, she belonged to the post-Morissette core of female musicians that made their mark in the mid-90's, when it seemed that just being female was enough to score you a record deal. But Bonham had the goods; the woman has a strong set of pipes and is a masterful violinist. And as her catalog has proven, she can write some great songs, even if they haven't quite reached the number of ears that "Mother, Mother" did.

I've included two versions of Bonham's "One Hit Wonder" here. The first from the aforementioned The Burdens Of Being Upright. The second is an acoustic live performance from her 2007 EP, In The City + In The Woods which features two newer tracks and an assortment of acoustic performances.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

One: You're the One

The Roches: You're the One


In the spirit of Tina Turner's "nice and rough" philosophy, I offer up two tunes by The Roches (sister trio Maggie and Terre and Suzzy), who got their start singing Christmas carols on the street corners of New York City - they're known for their quirky lyrics, tight (and sometimes deliberately off-key) harmonies and distinctly eccentric personalities.

The Roches: You're the Two

Although the number exceeds our theme limit, the companion piece begged to be included - who says we can only have One Love? (that's a whole other song... :-)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

One: Just One Kiss

Beau Jocque & The Zydeco Hi-Rollers: Just One Kiss


Need a steamy cajun rhythm with just a touch of funk and soul to warm up your remaining winter nights? Look no further than this delicious dance tune from this late icon of the Louisiana Zydeco scene.

Jocque, born Andrus Espree, took up his stage name and accordion while bedridden after a work-related accident; from there, rather than returning to his gig as a welder and electrician, the big man made his name reinvigorating the Zydeco genre for a wider, predominantly white audience through use of genre-fusion and a heavy dose of great covers.

Sadly, Jocque died of a heart attack in the shower in 1999, at the height of his exceptionally short career. But he was a prolific guy, and his music still rocks. Guaranteed to wake the gators and shake the neighbors, or vice versa.

One: One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer (and One More)

Amos Milburn: One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer


There’s been a lot of sweetness and light around here lately. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I’ve posted some of it myself. But sometimes it feels good to get down and dirty. And that often implies having a drink in there somewhere.

One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer is a classic drinking song. Most people know the George Thorogood version, but, to me, Amos Milburn’s version rings truer. Is this the original version?

That turns out to be an interesting question. One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer was written by Rudy Toombs, who was not a performer himself. Toombs wrote the song for Amos Milburn, but, before Milburn had a chance to record it, John Lee Hooker came out with a version of his own. As a result, many people think that Hooker wrote the song. For my money, this is the original, or should have been.

Milburn puts over the story of a man who has been unlucky in love, and wants drown his sorrows with alcohol. This was one of a series of drinking songs that Amos Milburn recorded and took up the R & B charts in the 1950s. It is interesting to note that Milburn wasn’t much of a drinker himself.

The Clovers: One Mint Julep


When I decided to post One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer, I couldn’t resist pairing it with One Mint Julep. Here is a morality tale of a man who had one too many. Imagine my surprise, in researching this post, when I learned that One Mint Julep was also written by Rudy Toombs.

One: Number One Blind

Veruca Salt: Number One Blind


This song is from Veruca Salt's popular 1994 album "American Thighs". The song was only a minor success in comparison to their hit "Seether" from the same album, but I think this song is just as good. I love the concept of the song. Had we not known that Levolor was a popular brand of blinds and drapes, we might suspect that this was a love song or a song about addiction or something else, but the fact that they sing the song to Levolor we know that they're quite literally singing to their window blinds. I imagine the depression of youth or a break-up or both, the desire to just stay in bed all day. She can't believe it's morning. Has she been blind? Is it time for a change? She's been kept in the dark...was it her own doing or was it her blinds? It takes something that otherwise could be quite depressing and gives it a spin so instead we're smiling at the same time.

The original Veruca Salt broke up in 1998 after only two full length albums together. Since then one of the founders, Louise Post, has kept the band going, if by name only, and is still touring with all new band members and making albums. The other founder, Nina Gordon has also continued to make music as a solo artist.

Monday, February 2, 2009

One: One Hundred Names

The Nields: One Hundred Names


The first time I heard this song by The Nields (who were a five-piece folk-rock band in a previous incarnation but are now a sister duo), I thought it was about a romantic relationship... and my interpretation worked quite well for months... until someone else told me they thought it was about god (lower case used deliberately) - now I can't hear it any other way...

I am not religious (I was raised Catholic and have been "recovering" from that the remainder of my life) but I do consider myself a spiritual person - I find beauty and joy and faith in the mundane... and I believe miracles happen every day, if one is aware...

In researching the backstory of the title of this song, I came across the following quote - ah, now it all makes sense!

“God has one hundred names: man knows only ninety-nine of them, but the camel knows the hundredth. That is why the camel always goes round with his nose in the air and a superior look on his face.”

P.S. The stunning piano accompaniment is by none other than the amazing Susan Werner, with whom some of you are familiar...

P.P.S. The "you're my favorite cowboy song" lyric always reminds me of Dave Carter...

One: We Are The One

"We will build a better tomorrow,
the youth of today will be the tool
American children built for survival,
fate is our destiny and we shall rule..."

How about that for a manifest? Led by spiky-haired singer Penelope Houston, San Francisco quartet the Avengers recorded this optimistic anthem for the legendary Dangerhouse label back in ´77. It´s my fave out of an excellent first crop of early US westcoast punk singles, beating the Screamers, Crime, Nuns, Weirdos, X and the Germs by a narrow margin.

"We are not Jesus Christ
We are not fascist pigs
We are not capitalist industrialists
We are not communists
We are the one..."

Sunday, February 1, 2009

One: Am I The Only One?

Barenaked Ladies: Am I The Only One?


Long before the ironic suburban white-boy hipster's hip-hop of top chart hit One Week, and certainly WAY before BNL were big enough to merit their own cruise, but still hot on the heels of their Canadian award-winning debut Gordon, Barenaked Ladies released this tiny, tender song in the midst of an otherwise critically ignored sophomore slump album called Maybe You Should Drive, which topped out at an incredibly lame #175 on the US sales charts.

Folks who know the indie geekrockers from their poppy post-millennial radioplay will find this to be an entirely different group, focused on sparse harmony and string section production, but to be fair, this isn't really representative of anything but the vast spectrum of poential the boys had in their early years. The album overall is decent, if wildly diverse and peppered with a few totally cheesy duds, showing an indiepop band searching for a way to take it to the next level, and not really finding a definitive sound; I don't listen to it all the way through these days, but fifteen years later, I still turn to this song when I need a good soul-searching.

One: One of Us

Abba: One of Us


You've been lucky enough not to find out before now that I really like Abba. They aren't even from my generation, but I found my parents records and fell in love. It's hard not to feel good and sing along with their infectious pop music if you can get over the cheese factor. But more often than not, their music is ridiculed as disco nonsense, when in fact they were talented singers and even more talented musicians and songwriters. Luckily, I think enough time has gone by that a lot of their work is getting a second glance and a number of contemporary artists have even covered their songs and allowed the songwriting to shine through without what some may consider a very dated sound.

"One of Us" was a single from their last album together, 1981's "The Visitors". Overall, it was one of their strongest albums and took on a much more somber tone than many of the more pop/dance-friendly albums of their past. Of course, the band that was once composed of two pairs of lovers and spouses was now composed of two divorced couples growing more and more disgruntled with making music and working together. Despite it all, they managed to make an outstanding album, and this is one of the best songs from it.

One: The One I Love

Rosie Thomas (w. Sufjan Stevens): The One I Love


So I saw the new theme, and I corralled all of my “One” songs, and I put this one on the back burner. But then I remembered that is sort of a duet, and my brain said “transition!” So, here it is.

Rosie Thomas delivers a beautiful reading of the old REM song. Is it truly a duet? Well, Sufjan Stevens sings background harmonies, his and her voice intertwining beautifully on the chorus. But she clearly sings lead throughout. So, I will ask for opinions on this one.

Thomas has chosen to cover The One I Love in a spare arrangement which tends to focus the listener’s attention on the lyrics. Michael Stipe’s lyrics are often enigmatic, but this is one of the most direct songs he has written, so this treatment really works.