Friday, May 1, 2009

This and That: High and Dry

Radiohead: High and Dry


It may seem hard to believe, especially for fans overseas, but after the freshman blip of Creep, American audiences took awhile to truly warm to Radiohead. So, apparently, did lead singer-songwriter Thom Yorke, who has not performed High and Dry in over a decade, and has gone on record as decrying the song -- recorded in the sessions for their first album, rejected by the band as too "Rod Stewart", eventually released in its original form as the first single from their second disc in 1995 -- as "not's very bad".

To be fair, the song is pretty poppy, nothing like the more experimental, electronic sounds which would emerge in their later work. But I recently rediscovered the simple joys of this tune through a lovely banjo-tinged cover from newcomers Roosevelt Dime, and, coming back to the original recording, find it offers a good antidote to those starting to lose interest in their overplayed late-career canon...and sweet evidence of early genius for popwatchers who are merely curious about Radiohead's origins in the British alt-rock movement of the mid nineties.

PS: If the Roosevelt Dime cover above isn't enough for you coverwatchers, 2004 Oscar-winner Jorge Drexler's acoustic indiefolk cover of this tune is still live over at Cover Me.

This and That: Bought and Sold

Dar Williams: Bought and Sold


From Dar's song-by-song commentary on her End of the Summer (1997) CD:

"...This is my attempt to get banned at Wal-Mart. My fingers are crossed. I love the arrangement of this song, because it sounds like all these different instruments and traditions meeting at the crossroads, or the market center. Hopefully the richness of the instruments offsets the monoculture descibed in the song."

Yet another example of her smart songwriting, as she musically expounds on the concept of monoculture...

This and That: Shame and Scandal

Madness: Shame and Scandal


A guy walks into a bar...

If you want to learn to be a story teller, first learn the elements of an effective joke. One classic structure goes like this: something a little strange happens, it is repeated, and it is repeated a second time, but with a twist and punch line.

Shame and Scandal is an excellent example of this structure. Each occurrence of the incident is followed by the chorus, and the punch line is well worth it.

The version of Shame and Scandal heard here is from 2005, but the song dates back to 1943. It was written by the calypso singer Sir Lancelot for the movie I Walked With a Zombie. Over the years, various performers of the song have added and subtracted verses, but I think Madness got it just right.

This and that : Bonnie and Clyde

Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot : Bonnie and Clyde


Another song about a couple, well about 2 couples : Like Bonnie and her lover/associate, Bardot and Gainsbourg were outlaws and runaways, both married or in a relationship during their love affair in 1967

Over one night, that year, , Gainsbourg wrote three of his best songs for BB : “Bonnie and Clyde”, “Harley Davidson” and “Je t’aime, moi non plus”. But his true Bardot-era masterpiece would be “Initials BB”.

See here a decent translation of the lyrics

Serge was one of the first “modern” French pop singers, after the older “classic” cabaret generation (Brel, Piaf, Brassens), and the first one (the only one ?) to have a sound of his own, although he started declinig in the eighties.

There is everything in Serge Gainsbourg : poetry, humor, provocation, despair, love, sex, alcohol. He was like us : both beautiful and ugly.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

This and That: Pumpkin and Daisy

Acoustic Syndicate: Pumpkin and Daisy

[out of print; purchase other Acoustic Syndicate records]

I have a powerful but apparently rare affinity for the ragtag vocal harmonies and bouncy banjo noodling of all-male acoustic bluegrass jambands, which far too often means a life spend falling in love with a particular sound only to watch the band break up after a few years on the road. And for a while there, in the years following the 2000 small-batch release of Crazy Little Life (which includes Pumpkin and Daisy) it looked like Ashville-based Acoustic Syndicate was going to become yet another casualty; as of a few years ago, their website listed their status as "on hiatus", and that's generally a euphemism for "not gonna make it".

But it seems the post-millennial resurgence of organic acoustic jam forms, as driven by the mass popularity of post-Dead bands such as Phish, and the continued survival of festivals such as Farm Aid and Bonnaroo, has saved "North Carolina's best kept secret" from obscurity. Their website only lists local festival dates, and I'm sure they've all got day jobs, but it's a joy to discover they're still playing these catchy, memorable little numbers. Because to listen to this sound is to capture the lazy days of summer jamgrass incarnate, and lord knows, everybody needs more of that.

This and That: Romeo and Juliet

Dire Straits: Romeo and Juliet


Indigo Girls: Romeo and Juliet


So... I was having a discussion with a friend recently about the song Romeo and Juliet - she prefers the Indigo Girls' version and, much as I love them as a songwriting duo, I'm obsessed with the original by Dire Straits. The former is too urgently strident for my taste, while the latter is more achingly plaintive - in either case, whether a wailed Julie or a whispered Juliet, it's a stunningly classic tune I've loved for decades.

Who can resist Mark Knopfler's thinly-veiled brilliant references to girl groups ("hey la, my boyfriend's back"), West Side Story ("there's a place for us, you know the movie song") and the balcony scene in Shakespeare's play ("all I do is kiss you through the bars of a rhyme, I'd do the stars with you anytime"?

Cliff Eberhardt: Romeo and Juliet


Mark Knopfler: Romeo and Juliet


Cliff Eberhardt offers up a folk/Celtic/rock/twang mix (with backing vocals by Patty Larkin) that bridges the gap between the DS and IG renderings - I've also included the amazing live performance of R & J on Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris' Real Live Roadrunning CD, which kicks off with a jaw-droppingly gorgeous piano solo and then segues into a 9-minute tour de force, which I tend to listen to on repeat play, loudly and often... :-)

This And That: Soul And Fire

Sebadoh: Soul And Fire


My chance to claim double points this week, as Sebadoh´s anthem for the just-gimme-indie-rock generation Soul And Fire stems from their ´93 album Bubble And Scrape. Featuring Lou Barlow at his heartbroken best:

"As you walk away, think of all the joy we shared
If you decide you need me, I'll be wondering if I care
Not there to soothe your soul, friend to tender friend
I think our love is coming to an end..."

This and That: Core and Rind

Andrew Bird: Core and Rind


I've really been jamming on Andrew Bird quite a bit lately. I love to whistle along to his new album Noble Beasts while working on my new house. It's kind of soothing. Turns out The Seven Dwarfs were right.

Anyway, I almost went with "Fitz and Dizzyspells" from the new album for this week's topic. That's before I remembered "Core and Rind" from 2001's The Swimming Hour. No whistling on this one... just an infectious groove with a bit of a retro feel that just burrows its way into your head.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

This and That: Ronnie and Neil

Drive-By Truckers - Ronnie and Neil


Ahhhh. Star Makers. A long time has passed since I last posted here. It wasn't by design mind you. I've been busy with a redesign and I picked up a side gig contributing to Creative Loafing's local music blog, Tampa Calling and suddenly was a pressed for time and since nothing was immediately for the themes so SMM started to fall through the cracks. I promised myself I would make a greater effort to get at least 2 posts up a week over let's get started.

When asked, the Drive-By Truckers singer, Patterson Hood, explains his reasons for writing this song as such, "I wrote this song to tell of the misunderstood friendship between Ronnie VanZant and Neil Young, who were widely believed to be bitter adversaries, but were in truth very good friends and mutual admirers..."

In lieu of more commentary I thought I'd post the lyrics to this song cause I think they deserve to be read:

Church blows up in Birmingham
Four little black girls killed for no goddamn good reason
All this hate and violence can't come to no good end
A stain on the good name.
A whole lot of good people dragged threw the blood and glass
Blood stains on their good names and all of us take the blame

Meanwhile in North Alabama, Wilson Pickett comes to town
To record that sweet soul music, to get that Muscle Shoals sound

Meanwhile in North Alabama, Aretha Franklin comes to town
To record that sweet soul music, to get that Muscle Shoals sound

And out in California, a rock star from Canada writes a couple of great songs about the
Bad shit that went down
"Southern Man" and "Alabama" certainly told some truth
But there were a lot of good folks down here and Neil Young wasn't around

Meanwhile in North Alabama, Lynyrd Skynyrd came to town
To record with Jimmy Johnson at Muscle Shoals Sound
And they met some real good people, not racist pieces of shit
And they wrote a song about it and that song became a hit

Ronnie and Neil Ronnie and Neil
Rock stars today ain't half as real
Speaking there minds on how they feel
Let them guitars blast for Ronnie and Neil

Now Ronnie and Neil became good friends their feud was just in song
Skynyrd was a bunch of Neil Young fans and Neil he loved that song
So He wrote "Powderfinger" for Skynyrd to record
But Ronnie ended up singing "Sweet Home Alabama" to the lord

And Neil helped carry Ronnie in his casket to the ground
And to my way of thinking, us southern men need both of them around

Ronnie and Neil Ronnie and Neil
Rock stars today ain't half as real
Speaking their minds on how they feel
Let them guitars blast for Ronnie and Neil

This and That: Sprout and Bean

Joanna Newsom: Sprout and Bean


If you're not yet familiar with Joanna Newsom, you may be annoyed by her at first. Many people are immediately turned off by her childish, quirky mouse-voice. However, it is definitely worth it to get past your initial response and learn to appreciate her delicate, humorous, lyrical, music.

A classically trained harp player, Joanna is a diverse and prolific artist. In addition to her solo work, she plays harp for Nervous Cop and piano for The Pleased. Her two solo albums are also very different from one another, with the first being a collection of short pop-folk songs played on harp or piano, and the second being a massive folk-opera with complete symphony orchestration and no songs shorter than seven minutes.

The featured song is from her first album, The Milk-Eyed Mender, and it's a mystery to me what it's about.

This and That: My Wife and My Dead Wife

Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians: My Wife and My Dead Wife


So far this week, all of our posts have been song titles having the format [word] and [word]. But couldn’t the “and” just as easily link two phrases? For example, My Wife and My Dead Wife.

Robyn Hitchcock is an artist who is not afraid to be strange. This gives him the freedom to stretch out, both musically and lyrically. First with the Soft Boys, and then as a solo artist, Hitchcock has created a body of work that sounds somewhat like any number of other people, but never quite. There is always something just a bit off. My Wife and My Dead Wife was my introduction to Hitchcock’s music, and it is still a favorite. The song tells the tale of an unusual love triangle.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

This and That: Notes and Daisies

Liz and Lisa: Notes and Daisies

[Purchase Lisa]
[Purchase Liz]

I'm sharing a rarity with our readers tonight. This track is off the self-titled demo tape put out by Lisa Loeb and Elizabeth Mitchell when they were roommates at Brown University in the late 80's and working as a folk duo called Liz & Lisa. I think I should get double word points for also having the artist name match the theme, I mean, hey, if this were musical Scattergories that'd be the rules!

I can't tell you how much I love the early work of Lisa Loeb. Her album "Tails" was a huge thing for me when it came out, and it's the album that got me to be more than a casual music listener. The Liz & Lisa tapes remain some of my favorite of her work though. They have all the charm of "Tails" (in fact, a number of the songs from Tails started as Liz & Lisa songs, and Liz sings back-up on Tails as well), but also have the intimacy of folk music and sharing the vocal reins with Elizabeth Mitchell is also a nice treat. Many people have heard of Lisa, but not as many know Liz. She's going by Elizabeth these days, but Liz Mitchell was part of the band Ida before she started releasing children's folk albums as a solo artist a few years ago, the first of which she made with Lisa.

This song features Liz on vocals, but Lisa is easily heard in harmonies. The picture above came up repeatedly in searches for daisies in the search engine, and I love the TV show "Pushing Daisies", from which the photo is a promotional shot, so I thought "why not?!". But then the more I got to thinking about it the more I thought "well, you know, Pushing Daisies started out with musical numbers in each episode, and this song does seem like something I can imagine Olive Snook singing to Ned, her boss, and the man she has a crush on", so yeah, it does sort of fit too since the song is about telling someone the way you feel about them. Two great things that go great together...this and that, indeed.

This and That : Pancho and Lefty

Townes Van Zandt : Pancho and Lefty


Remedial lessons in alt. Country, part 2

I discovered this song 8 years ago in a French book by Gerard Herzhaft, one of the only French country music specialists. Now it's one of my favourite songs ever, for its great melody and the enigmatic story it tells. This minor chord at the end of every verse and chorus, and the way the melodic line drops dramatically at that moment, especially when he says "and now he's growing old" fits the disillusion of the lyrics in a perfect way.
Towne's voice is not technically perfect (he often misses notes) but has a great warmth and moving melancholy.

I was playing in a folk band with a friend and we played the song live as a duet (we even recorded a demo), unaware (at least for my part) that Willie and Merle had scored a huge hit in 1983 by doing the same thing.

I read in Wikipedia that the songs' words imply that Lefty has betrayed Pancho and sold it to the cops. I really doubt that. Has anybody heard about that interpretation ?

To me it is a meditation on how we run after our dreams and forget about the rest, just to realize that we're growing old. Maybe Lefty never left Cleveland and made that trip to Mexico in his own head, with his imaginary friend Pancho.

Anyway, I'm sure, like Townes says, that Lefty is the one we should pray for. Aren't we all Lefties when we reach (or get closer to) our fourties ?

But I'm getting melancholic, so I'd better let Townes explain to us the real meaning of the song here

Monday, April 27, 2009

This and That: Linus and Lucy

George Winston: Linus and Lucy

Vince Guaraldi: Linus and Lucy


From the incomparable library of Vince Guaraldi classics, this is Linus & Lucy. I distinctly remember standing in church once at about the age of 10 when a certain 15-16 year old kid walked up to the church piano, sat down and played this song note for note, including the funky jazz refrains in the middle sections. At the time, at that age, it was one of the most poignant moments of musical ecstasy that I had ever experienced.

I'm now in my early 40's and this song still fills me with a sense of certainty, as if everything is ultimately good and will turn out OK in the end. It's the innocence of childhood, I suppose.

I'm posting both the original, Vince Guaraldi, version of the song and George Winston's cover. Guaraldi's version is the original, and has appeal for that reason alone, but Winston's cover is a little cleaner and reminds me more of that kid at church 30 years ago.

This and That: Beer and Kisses

Amy Rigby: Beer & Kisses

[purchase] (scroll down to Diary of a Mod Housewife)

Yep, I'm still on that Amy Rigby kick - I almost posted Summer of My Wasted Youth for Drugs Week... but I ran out of time!

The backstory comes straight from her introduction of this song at the house concert I presented March 19, 2004:

The next one is one of those marriage songs and this was on my first album, Diary of a Mod Housewife, which came out in 1996. I wanted to make an album about trying to balance being a mother and a wife and still being a rocker at heart. So... the whole marriage thing didn't work out but i'm still a mom and still playing music...

This one was inspired by my daughter. She brought home two drawings from school, portraits of her parents. Her dad was named Beer, and I was called Kisses. That inspired the title for this song. I didn't give her any credit. She's sixteen now and she hates for me to tell this story... but she's not here... so..."

Great Salon article here, which must have been written about the time of the album's release...

This and That: Sand and Water

Beth Nielsen Chapman: Sand and Water


Beth Nielsen Chapman lost her husband to cancer in 1994. As a musician and songwriter, she had many choices of how to respond to this personal tragedy. She could have gone into a cocoon, shunning all contact with her record company and her fans, and then tried to rebuild her career when she felt ready. I wouldn’t have blamed her.

But Chapman chose to do something very brave. That she turned to music to help her through her grief is hardly surprising. But, for her, this process resulted in an album’s worth of music, which she went on to record and release. The album, and the song which is the centerpiece of the album, is Sand and Water. And this is some of the most quietly impassioned music you will ever hear.

I will let Chapman herself have the last word on this. From her dedication to the album: “I hope this music will touch a chord with others who have lost a loved one. In my experience, there is no way around grief - there is only through to the other side.”

Announcement: If you have tried to play the songs in my older posts lately, you may have encountered problems. If so, I apologize. There was a problem at my file hosting service, which now seems to be fixed. This also affected all of my posts on Oliver di Place. Everything seems to be working now, so please feel free to go back to anything you wanted to hear and couldn’t. And a special thanks goes to Boyhowdy for his help with my Star Maker posts last week.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

This and That: Sex and Candy

Marcy Playground: Sex and Candy


Usually, I spend a day or two making playlists around a theme, and then post the best; this week, I got a song stuck in my head -- the technical term for this is an earworm -- and I had to share it to get it out.

For some reason I thought this was a Foo Fighters song, what with its heavily rhythmic strum-and-drum pattern, its strung out vocalist, and its concrete poetics, but it turns out that it's by post-grunge one hit wonders Marcy Playground, who set out to make noise just like their idols Nirvana, and succeeded in producing a curiously successful yet eminently formulaic combination of 60s psychedelic pop and 90s grunge. It also turns out that I'm really old: this song came out twelve years ago, and it seems like just yesterday.

This and that : Fire and Rain

The Gaylads : Fire and Rain


Boyhowdy's post deefinitely directed me to the Jamaican section of my collection, and this amazing 3-CD set issued by Trojan. 50 songs, 50 reggae covers of singer-songwriter or soft-rock hits from the '70s. "Fire and Rain" is the opening track, and one of the highlights. Take a song that you've heard a billion times on adult oriented radio stations, and make it something totally different and new, although strangely familiar. Like James Taylor with dreadlocks. And a hundred times more danceable, by the way.

Toots Hibbert, on the same compilation delivers a joyful version of "Country Road, Take Me Home" (with West Virginia, of course, becoming "West Jamaica"). There's also a great dub cover of Neil Diamond's "Solitary Man", and dozens of other more or less successful reggae versions of Kris Kristofferson, Carole King, Elton John or Paul Simon songs. As the AMG review says, reggae ryhthms are amazingly cosmopolitan and adaptable.

This box set is both fun to listen to and a great party starter. A good way to end the week end, and my vacations.

This and That: Starfish and Coffee

Prince: Starfish and Coffee


A great combination, especially when accompanied by maple syrup, jam, butterscotch clouds, a tangerine, and don´t forget that side order of ham. A song that represents the most poppy and whimsical side of Prince, which is a side he should showcase more often methinks. If you set your mind free, baby, maybe you´ll understand...

This and That: Pantyhose and Roses

Echobelly: Pantyhose and Roses


Echobelly was a female-fronted Britpop band (a la Elastica) that made some great albums in the late 90's. This song is one of my favorites off of their 1995 album "On".

The song is about society's quirks. The hypocracy of humankind for trying to be good when there's a carnal nature that none of us can completely be rid of. We hope to overcome, but some things never change.

He keeps his fingernails neat,
He cleans the car once a week,
He keeps an eye out for resistible bargains,
But every night in his sleep,
He dreams of sex on the street,
He longs for pantyhose and roses.

This and That: Sweet and Dandy

Toots and the Maytals: Sweet and Dandy


Sweet and Dandy was just one of many songs to put Toots and the Maytals on the map -- after all, these are the guys who wrote the Clash classic Pressure Drop -- but the 1969 original of this song, which was the title cut to their second album with vocalist Toots Hibbert, holds a special place in the canon, having won them the popular vote at that year's Jamaica festival.

And despite (or perhaps because of) its relatively frothy vocals, which tell the story of a wedding gone awry, the song gets around. It was featured on the soundtrack to Jimmy Cliff's iconic 1972 crime film The Harder They Come, which brought reggae even further into the mainstream, and was even rerecorded with Phish frontman Trey Anastasio for True Love, a 2005 album on which Toots and the gang revisit their greatest hits songbook with the likes of Ben Harper, The Roots, No Doubt, and Eric Clapton.

It's funky in either form -- and a great jam to kick off a week with plenty of potential. Don't forget to come back early and often for a whole host of tunes with the title form "X and Y".

Toots and the Maytals: Sweet and Dandy (2005)