Saturday, March 7, 2009

Bodies of Water: Up On Cripple Creek

The Band: Up On Cripple Creek


Up On Cripple Creek was The Band's first and only Top 30 single, peaking at #25 on the US Billboard charts in late 1969. Coming from their second album, simply titled The Band, it was recorded in a pool house temporarily retrofitted to a recording studio in a Hollywood Hills home rented from actor Sammy Davis Jr.

The song tells the tale of a miner who goes to Lake Charles, Louisiana to meet up with his girl, Bessie, who enables his alcoholism and dysfunctional lifestyle by offering the hospitality of her home while he drinks himself silly. All this leads to one of my favorite Pop music choruses:

Up on Cripple Creek she sends me
If I spring a leak she mends me
I don't have to speak she defends me
A drunkard's dream if I ever did see one

Throw an extra pillow on the bed, Bessie, I'm right on my way.

Bodies of Water: Different Shores

Tanya Savory: Different Shores


I had every intention of posting Tanya Savory's I Don't Hear That Train for our theme a few weeks ago... and then ran out of time - imagine that!

However, she's been much on my mind lately and I thought this song appropriate now, even though... technically... it does not mention a body of water in the title - however, an ocean and a lake play prominent roles in this musical metaphor of the realization that perspective is everything...

I was lucky to see Tanya in a house concert way back in 1999, not too long after I first became involved with our local folk community - no clue what she's doing now (it appears her website is no longer... I did find this)... but the CDs I bought that night have sustained me with the wisdom of their storytelling and the harmony of their musicality...

Bodies of Water: September Sea

Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer: September Sea

[unavailable for purchase]

September Sea is as yet still officially unrecorded - as Dave always said in his introduction, it is a song about "parting and reunion" (in retrospect, so many songs about death in Dave's repertoire)... and Dave and Tracy regularly performed it as their encore during their Spring 2001 tour (one stop of which was a house concert in my living room)...

A few months after Dave's passing in July 2002, KBOO (a radio station in Portland, Oregon where they lived) aired a tribute to Dave, and a recording of the show was made available to their fans (with the permission of Tracy and all involved) through the discussion list (many thanks to TW for the dubbing and mailing!) - in the midst of our grief, it was a shining jewel we could hold and hear:

Thursday, 9/12 [2002], noon-1pm

The Dharma Wheel folk show (on KBOO 90.7 FM in Portland) salutes the great Portland songwriter Dave Carter, who passed away July 19th. This special show will feature rare recordings of Dave and his partner Tracy Grammer, as well as recordings from the Cathedral Park memorial service, and other special guest performances. Tracy will join us in the studio, and we will welcome call-ins of reminiscences from the community.

This tribute included Joan Baez's cover of The Mountain (which is also officially unrecorded)... as well as 'Til We Have Faces (a song Dave wrote specifically for Joan and Tracy's voices)... You Must Slumber (a lullaby Dave wrote in 1970, when he was 17 years old, in protest of the Vietnam War)... and other songs that have since seen the light of day in posthumously-released CDs - the entire recording is a lovely keepsake/legacy of a very special person and musician...

Friday, March 6, 2009

Bodies of Water: River Songs

John Wesley Harding: Annan Water


John Wesley Harding found an unusual way to pay tribute to one of his musical inspirations a few years ago: he recorded the album Trad. Arr. Jones, a collection of traditional songs in arrangements that were inspired by those used by English folk singer Nic Jones. In the album notes, Harding encourages everybody to also seek out the Nic Jones “originals”.

Paul Simon: The Cool Cool River


Following the releases of Graceland, which featured South African musicians, and Rhythm of the Saints, which featured musicians from Brazil, Paul Simon toured with an amazing band of musicians from many lands. The sound of this band was preserved on the album Concert in the Park, from which this track was taken. The studio version was on Rhythm of the Saints.

Bodies of Water: Slack Water Sea

Jez Lowe and The Bad Pennies: Slack Water Sea


Dirty Linen magazine is a wonderful resource for keeping up with folk music. They also cover some world music. Subscribers get their choice of a CD as a thank you.

I got my first subscription two years ago, and I chose a CD that proved to be disappointing. So last year, when I renewed, I chose Jez Lowe and the Bad Pennies with some trepidation. I had never heard of them, and I was afraid there might be a reason for that. There was: bad marketing. The album, The Parrish Notices, is wonderful. Slack Water Sea is typical of the quality of this music. For lack of a better term, call it British folk rock, but the best thing to do is just listen.

Bodies of Water: River

Joni Mitchell: River


Herbie Hancock with Corinne Bailey Rae: River


"Society is like a large piece of frozen water; and skating well is the great art of social life." ~ Letitia Landon

Then there's the peculiar case of Joni Mitchell's "River." The song first appeared on her album Blue some 36 Christmases ago. It starts with Mitchell's piano playing "Jingle Bells" in doleful minor chords, which leads to a delicate and exquisitely disconsolate melody, and even more forlorn lyrics. References to Christmas, reindeer, and "songs of joy and peace" crop up in the first verse, then disappear. Damning herself as "selfish and ... sad," Mitchell confesses to disillusionment with "this crazy scene" (probably the drug-fueled Cali-rock crowd at the time) and driving away the guy who not only loved her but gave crazy-good sex (rumored to be James Taylor or Graham Nash, her boyfriends during this period). The refrain has her craving a river "I could skate away on"; she just wants to leave all of it, even the seasonal festivities, behind. The song returns to its initial chorus, but by then, it's too late for tidings of comfort or joy. Even the Christmas references--images of trees being cut down, fake reindeer being hauled out one more time--are more cynical than buoyant.

"River" is only peripherally about Christmas, and in lyrics and tone it's hardly the type of song one warbles around the piano with the family (assuming people still do such things). Yet over the last few years, it's become ubiquitous, included on a large number of yuletide albums in various genres. One can now hear "River" done up not only as adult contemporary (separate versions by Sarah McLachlan and James Taylor on their seasonal-themed albums) but as holiday adult lounge jazz (Dianne Reeves), new age guitar (Peter Mulvey), Celtic ballad (the Albion Christmas Band), alt rock (Sister Hazel), Brit pop (Travis), and jazz elevator music (Fourplay, Boney James). That's not to count non-holiday-record covers by everyone from Heart to the Indigo Girls to Herbie Hancock (the latter, sung by Corinne Bailey Rae, is the title track of Hancock's album of Mitchell covers, just nominated for an Album of the Year Grammy).

The rest of the article can be found here...

Bodies of Water: On Palestine

JJ Grey and Mofro - On Palestine


"On Palestine" tackles that old-meets-new Florida, where the perils of timber companies came to Lake Palestine and virtually wiped out the lush forest. It comes from JJ Grey and Mofro's 2007 album, Country Ghetto.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Bodies of Water: Loch Lomond

Cordelia's Dad: Loch Lomond


Dan Zanes w/ Natalie Merchant: Loch Lomond


O you’ll tak’ the high road and I’ll tak’ the low road
And I’ll be in Scotland afore ye
For me and my true love will ne-er meet again
On the bonnie, bonnie banks o’ Loch Lomond

Two of my favorite versions of this traditional, familiar Scottish tune of life, death, and scenery, first published in 1841 as The Bonnie Banks o' Loch Lomond.

First, a rock/punk/jam genre-hybrid take from the self-titled debut of local boys Cordelia's Dad, who would later turn towards both shape note singing and an acoustic form of No Depression-era Americana, but got their start reframing american folk songs in a rock and roll mold.

And second, a much more mellow, meandering take from kidrock band leader and ex-Del Fuegos guitarist Dan Zanes, here joining forces with easily-identifiable guest vocalist Natalie Merchant.

Internationally schooled linguists will note, of course, that a Loch can be either a lake or a sea inlet. In this case, Loch Lomond is the largest lake in Great Britain, whose varied shoreline and numerous islands have made it a popular vacation destination for centuries.

Bodies of Water: Reservoir

Hem: Reservoir


At first, I thought maybe this song wasn't a good fit for this week's theme as it's often a man-made body of water. But then I considered that the theme was inspired by the snow melt-off of Spring, and isn't that what the reservoirs are designed for? They save that excess water for later use. So I decided I was going to go for it.

Hem is band that makes Americana that is almost more like lullabies. It is difficult not to feel serene when they're playing. This song is no different. Their music often gives a picture of life, whether it emotional or everyday. This one talks about the light on a particular reservoir outside of Pittsburgh (thus, the picture I chose for the entry is of Highland Park Reservoir, which is, "right outside of Pittsburgh") and how we may travel near and far, and despite seeing and experiencing wonderful things, there's nothing that can evoke those same feelings as your hometown.

Bodies of Water: Cold Missouri Waters

So far this week, we have had posts about types of bodies of water, a lake, a pond, an ocean, and so on. Such songs tend to use the body of water as a symbol or metaphor. And we have seen that such songs can be very powerful.

Here, however, is a song which mentions a specific body of water in the title, in this case the Missouri river. The song is also very specific, telling the tale of a particular time and place.

James Keelaghan: Cold Missouri Waters


James Keelaghan is a prime example of a great Canadian artist who is not well enough known in the United States. His style ranges from folk to folk-rock, and his voice is one of the best doing this kind of music.

Cry Cry Cry: Cold Missouri Waters


Dar Williams, Lucy Kaplansky, and Richard Shindell got to together for a one-shot album in 1998. For this project, they called themselves Cry Cry Cry.

The album notes explain that Keelaghan “wrote this account of the first fire fighter to create an oasis within a forest fire by deliberately scorching a circle around himself....” It happened at Mann Gulch, in western Montana, on August 5, 1949, and the narrator’s full name was Wag Dodge. To this day, the hills of Mann Gulch are dotted with the thirteen crosses mentioned in the song, which mark the exact spots where the fire fighters’ bodies were found. One of the these crosses is shown above.

Tom Juravich: Cold Missouri Waters


I got to wondering, as I planned this post, if there were other interesting versions of the song. Tom Juravich chose to slow the song down to emphasize its tragic elements.

Juravich sings mostly about the labor movement on his recordings. He fit this one onto an album of songs that celebrate the working man. Juravich is also a professor of Labor Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Note: if you saw my post earlier this week of Ain‘t Life a Brook, you may have missed my update. Have a look and a listen.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Bodies of Water: What Does The Deep Sea Say?

Bill Monroe & Doc Watson - What Does The Deep Sea Say? [purchase]

What does the deep sea say?
It moans, it groans, it splashes and it foams,
And it rolls on its weary way.

Charlie and Bill Monroe first recorded this tune in 1937, way back when older brother Charlie was the dominant Monroe. But, Bill was no man's second fiddle, so to speak. The group split up in 1938, Monroe joined the Opry in '39, and everything was rosins and bows until Elvis came along and dropped a wiggling turd in the punchbowl. Almost overnight, bluegrass music became quaint and old-fashioned.

Then, in the late 1950s, quaint and old-fashioned music surged in popularity, especially on college campuses. Old was the new new. Bill Monroe was one beneficiary of this so-called folk boom. Doc Watson, the sightless wunderkind of flatpick guitar, was another. When they recorded this duet in May 1963 at the Ash Grove in Los Angeles, Watson was two months away from a performance at the Newport Folk Festival that would put him on the national map for good. Monroe, meanwhile, was already an elder statesman of old-timey, but was about to enter the bluegrass festival era, when he would stand as the genre's livingest legend.

On a sidenote, I'd be willing to bet that in the audience at this Ash Grove show was a young guitar picker named Clarence White. According to Kentucky Colonels bassist, Roger Bush, Clarence called him from the Ash Grove in March 1962, excited about hearing "a blind guitar player from Deep Gap, North Carolina." The KCs actually played the Ash Grove in April 1963, so chances are good they were in town. And if you were in town, why in god's name would you pass up the Bill Monroe/Doc Watson gig??? Trick question ... you wouldn't.

Follow-up dispatch from the "lattice of coincidence":
Within hours of posting this track, Crawdaddy ran a phenomenal profile on Ed Pearl, owner and operator of the Ash Grove nightclub ... who, by the way, singles out Bill Monroe and Doc Watson as career highlights.

Damnations - What Does The Deep Sea Say? [personal recording; not available for purchase]

A beautiful rose, one day,
I placed on the crest of a wave.
I said, "Take it, please, and let it settle home
Above his watery grave."

I've discussed the greatness of The Damnations before, and it was they who turned me onto this obscure chestnut. Though never formally recorded, "Deep Sea" was a regular part of The Damnations setlists. This particular version came from a July 2002 show at the Cactus Cafe in Austin and I was lucky enough to capture it on mini-disc. As usual, sisters Amy Boone (pictured left) and Deborah Kelly (center) provide the killer, downhome harmonies, but it's Rob Bernard's heavy, percussive banjo and Conrad Choucroun's train beat drums that push the song into breakneck, cowpunk territory. Incidentally, after crunching the numbers on Amazon, it turns out you can buy both Damnations albums for a whopping $5!. Get you some.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Bodies of Water: The Lakes of Canada

The Innocence Mission: The Lakes of Canada


How could I not post one of the best songs by one of my favorite bands this week? I posted another Innocence Mission song a while back, but this one is really one of their most beautiful. It has warranted itself a number of different cover versions as well, including one by Sufjan Stevens, but really, I don't think any cover could compare with the original.

Karen Peris' soft vocals on this song lend themselves to the calm contented feelings evoked by the song. In the song, she is rowing on a Canadian lake and feeling hopeful and joyful. It is one of those rare moments in life of pure happiness where anything seems possible.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Bodies of Water: The Sea

Morcheeba: The Sea


I wasn't planning on posting this slinky, funky, mystical trip-hop journey this week, though it is certainly strong enough, in sensibility and performance, to be worth adding to the mix. But having three songs in a row which used a "The BodyofWater" title format was just too tempting to resist.

Plus, the world needs Morcheeba. The combination of DJ Paul Godfrey, his multi-instrumentalist brother Ross, and original vocalist Skye Edwards make for a groove that's out of this world. And though sophomore albums are sometimes a risk, Big Calm, which featured high in many alt-press end-of-year lists when it came out in 1998, is a stellar, perfectly ambient mix. No regrets here.

Bodies of Water: The Ocean

Dar Williams: The Ocean


Peter Mulvey: The Ocean


Dar Williams: The Ocean (w/intro, live at the Kate Wolf Festival, June 14, 1997)

Living here in South Florida for soon-to-be 17 years, the ocean is obviously near and dear to my heart... and, although it is only a 25-minute drive from my suburban home to the shores of Hollywood Beach, I don't get there nearly as often as I should - the songs I'm surrounding myself with today are motivation to make a visit this week... to refill my well and replenish my spirit with the sound of the rushing surf and the squawking gulls... the feel of gritty sand on my suntanned skin, the whipping wind in my hair and crunching shells underfoot... and the salty smell of forgiveness and new beginnings...

Of course, Dar Williams' Ocean isn't nearly so kind ("I've bludgeoned your sailors, I've spat out their keepsakes") - the first track above is her original (complete with craggy back-up vocals from John Prine) from her Mortal City CD... the second is a cover by Peter Mulvey on his Ten Thousand Mornings... and the third is a live version (complete with explanatory introduction) from Dar's June 14, 1997 performance at the Kate Wolf Festival in Laytonville, California...

Dar was accompanied by Peter Mulvey during this set - although he doesn't sing/play along on the song on this occasion, I've always wondered if it inspired him to eventually cover her tune, 5 years later...

Bodies of Water: The River

Reggie Greenlaw: The River


Reggie Greenlaw is a hammer-dulcimer and guitar player who has never quite made it in the big time. I saw him play with The Weavers once, and I know that he opened for Greg Brown at another time. But, his profile is still extremely limited.

In that sense, Reggie, like so many other folk artists, follows the old tradition of making music for its own sake. All of his music has a sort of sweet simplicity to it that leaves the listener feeling like he or she is just hanging out with a friend and his guitar.

I've searched for ways to purchase his music, but I've come up largely empty handed. The featured track is from his Mayflies album, but it is apparently out of print. The link above is to the only album of his that I can find online, which seems to be a dulcimer record without vocals.

Bodies of Water: Ain’t Life a Brook

Ferron: Ain‘t Life a Brook


When I first heard the music of Ferron, the first two songs to catch my ear were Ain’t Life a Brook and Misty Mountain. (Maybe one day, we’ll do a week of geographical features...) Ain’t Life a Brook is a perfect description of the stages one goes though when a relationship ends. Ferron chose the metaphor of a running stream, noting.

“Life don’t clickety-clack, down a one line track. It comes together and it comes apart.”

By now, everyone knows that I love train songs too, but Ferron chose the perfect metaphor for what she wanted to say.


My wife insisted that this post would not be complete without Lucie Blue Tremblay’s version of the song. Tremblay arranges the melody for just voice and guitar, and she sings in a language I don’t understand, French. This highlights the beauty of the melody.

As I said, I don’t speak French. But I believe that Tremblay’s title translates as Our Beautiful Years. And that has me wondering if the French lyrics are the same, or is this perhaps an answer song? If anyone can translate the lyrics Tremblay sings, please leave the answer in a comment. Thanks.

Lucie Blue Tremblay: Nos Belles Annes



When we covered 1989 a few weeks ago, I posted Wendy Wall’s song The Proving Ground. I noted that Wall had a new album coming out, and I would let everyone no more when I did. My review of the new album is now up at Oliver di Place. Come have a look and a listen, and let me know what you think.

Bodies of Water: Down The River

Chris Knight - Down The River


In the vapid ‘Save a Horse Ride a Cowboy’ tarted-up world of country music, a songwriter of Chris Knight’s caliber is either a) flat out ignored or b) too deep for the pop with a fiddle Clear Channel country music fan. There are no parties for Chris’s characters, no Honky Tonk or Badonkadonk’s. Chris’ characters are doomed to lives of jail cells, calloused hands, black eyes, beaten wives and unpaid bills, all told by one of the consistently best songwriters I’ve heard since the Drive-By Truckers.

Down The River comes off Chris's 2001 album, A Pretty Good Guy. It may clock in at 7 minutes long but it's worth listening to just for the closing lines.

Bodies of Water: Red Sea Black Sea

Guest submission by Mari

Shearwater: Red Sea Black Sea

[web session; purchase studio version here]

Reader Mari, who sent this wonderfully dark and delicately brooding alt-countrified folk song along, writes:

"To quote directly from the daytrotter session that i downloaded from is more than anythin' i could make up!"

We treasure songs when they’ve got more floor dirt on them than shine. It’s at those points – when they’re just skin and bones – when you can either take them or leave them behind forever. Hearing something less perfectly or in an altered form – possibly a completely foreign setting – is the point where we make up our minds and whether the song shows that it’s got legs and a working heart. We dig that in a song, when it can affect us even more when it’s randomly wrinkled or ruffled. We find nothing wrong with these songs. We find that we love them more with each passing day because they work us like a stiff gust and a warm massage.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Bodies of Water: Ocean Rain

Echo & The Bunnymen: Ocean Rain


From Echo's last great release, Ocean Rain, I give you the title track. I love the way this song builds from almost silence to the beautiful crescendo that highlights Ian McCulloch's dramatic neo-psychedelic vocals.

Bodies of Water: (Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay

Otis Redding: (Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay


The visceral effect this song (with its rushing surf and bluesy guitar and mournful whistling) has on me can now be explained, as I only just learned (or remembered) the tune was released posthumously - Wikipedia backstory here:

While on tour with the Bar-Kays in August 1967, Redding wrote the first verse of the song, under the abbreviated title "Dock of the Bay," at a houseboat on Waldo Pier in Sausalito, California. He had come off his famed performance at the Monterey Pop Festival just months earlier in June 1967. While touring in support of the LPs King & Queen (collaborations with female vocalist Carla Thomas) and his live set Live in Europe, he continued to scribble lines of the song on napkins and hotel paper. In November of that year he joined producer and guitarist Steve Cropper at the Stax recording studio in Memphis, Tennessee.

In a 1990 interview on NPR's Fresh Air, Cropper explained the "origins" of the song:

“Otis was one of those kind of guys who had 100 ideas. Anytime he came in to record he always had 10 or 15 different intros or titles, or whatever. He had been at San Francisco playing The Fillmore, and he was staying at a boathouse, which is where he got the idea of the ship coming in. That's about all he had: "I watch the ships come in and I watch them roll away again." I took that and finished the lyrics. If you listen to the songs I wrote with Otis, most of the lyrics are about him. He didn't usually write about himself, but I did. "Mr. Pitiful," "Sad Song (Fa-Fa);" they were about Otis' life. "Dock Of The Bay" was exactly that: "I left my home in Georgia, headed for the Frisco Bay" was all about him going out to San Francisco to perform.”

Together, they completed the music and melancholy lyrics of "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay." From those sessions emerged Otis Redding's final recordings, including "Dock of the Bay," which was recorded on November 22, with additional overdubs on December 8. The result was a song quite different in style from most of Redding's other recordings, but one with which he was very pleased. While discussing his latest song with his wife, Redding stated that he wanted to "be a little different" with "The Dock of the Bay" and "change his style". There were concerns that "The Dock of the Bay" had too much of a pop feel for an Otis Redding record, and contracting Stax gospel act The Staples Singers to recording backing vocals was discussed, but never carried out.

Redding continued to tour after the recording sessions and, on December 10, the charter plane which was carrying him crashed into Lake Monona, outside Madison, Wisconsin. Redding and six others were killed. Only one passenger survived, Ben Cauley of The Bar-Kays. Redding's body was recovered from the lake the day after the crash.

"(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" was released in January 1968 amid the fall-out of Redding's death. R&B stations readily added the song to their playlists, which had been saturated with Redding's previous hits. The song shot to number one on the R&B charts in early 1968. By early summer of that year, "Dock of the Bay" topped the pop charts. The album, which shared the song's title, was released and became his largest selling to date, peaking at number four on the Pop Albums chart. "Dock of the Bay" went on to gain success in countries across the world, and brought Redding the greatest success of his career. The song went on to win two Grammy Awards: Best R&B Song (for songwriting) and Best Male R&B Vocal Performance (for vocals).

Bodies of Water: Harbor

Vienna Teng: Harbor


This is my favorite track off singer-songwriter Vienna Teng's sophomore album "Warm Strangers". It's a beautiful piano-driven love song.

The song uses a sea motif to describe a relationship. She encourages her love to sail away and seek adventures but that she will remain to be his safe haven, his harbor when he needs or wants that security.

Bodies of Water: Lily Pond

Elizabeth Mitchell: Lily Pond


A tiny transitional song, originally written and performed by modern freakfolk forerunner Vashti Bunyan, who we featured last week as part of our highly successful run of train songs. The tune is borrowed from a highly familiar source, and carries with it the desired impression of childlike innocence; the lyrics are sweet and summery, and feature full immersion in the body of water in question.

This lovely, delicate little interpretation comes from fave kidfolk artist Elizabeth Mitchell, who with banjo and voice manages to lend warmth and intimacy to the song while retaining Bunyan's tender sense of awe and oneness with the natural world...even after clipping a good 24 seconds off the original.