Saturday, May 9, 2009

Oh Mama: Arrowhead

Richard Shindell: Arrowhead


Okay, it's Saturday afternoon... at what has become an acceptable time to stretch the boundaries of each week's theme before we move on to the next - admittedly, Arrowhead does not contain the word Mama in the title... yet the maternal moniker appears at the beginning of the first and last line of each of the 6 verses, 12 times in all...

“The narrator of that song is a child-soldier in the Civil War who is addressing his mother (perhaps in a letter, perhaps just in his mind),” explains Shindell.

To me, it's always been a musical retelling of the first few chapters of Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage - I've chosen to include the version from Courier rather than the produced track from Blue Divide, mainly because the driving rhythm on the live CD mirrors the drumbeat of the young "mascot of the Third Brigade", as excitement about the fantasies of war soon segue to the realities of actual battle, in which men are forever changed... whether killed, wounded or emotionally scarred...

Friday, May 8, 2009

Oh Mama: Young Mama

Olu Dara: Young Mama


NYC-based cornetist, guitarist, singer and songwriter Olu Dara has lived in the shadows of greatness for most of his career, from his early incarnation as an avant-garde jazz session player for the likes of Art Blakey and Cassandra Wilson to his turn-of-the-century reinvention as a solo artist and band leader -- a move which revealed a talent for catchy, funky, radio-ready jazz-tinged folk-blues with an ear towards modern African and Afro-Caribbean poprhythms and the storytelling speech patterns of the old homeless guy on the corner.

Though Dara, who was born Charles Jones III in 1941 in Nachez, Mississippi, still gets play on roots radio, these days, he is most often seen on stage and in the studio as a back-up musician for his son, rapper Nas, who is pictured on the left in the above picture. I can't speak to his work in the hiphop field, but his two solo albums come highly recommended, and his cornet work on The Be Good Tanyas 2003 album Chinatown is subtle and sweet.

Oh Mama: Mama Told Me Not to Come

Three Dog Night: Mama Told Me Not to Come


Randy Newman: Mama Told Me Not to Come


Am I the last person on the planet to learn that Randy Newman wrote this song?!? - don't answer that... :-)

In doing a bit of research, I see that Eric Burdon & The Animals released the tune in the late-60's... but my first awareness of it was the version by Three Dog Night, which will always remind me of high school: alcohol and drugs and prom-iscuity... oh my!

Oh Mama: Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean

Ruth Brown: Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean


For my last post on this theme, I wasn’t about to let this one get by. You see, back in Horns week, I presented a selection of Blues Horns. I mentioned that jump blues collided with post war electric blues, and early R&B began to take shape. The music of Ruth Brown shows what happened next.

Brown began her career in jump blues bands in the late 1940s. By 1949, she had come to the attention of Ahmet Ertegun, who was just starting Atlantic Records. Her first single for them, So Long, was also the first of her many hits for Atlantic. Her Importance to the label was such that it became known as “the house that Ruth built”. But she was cheated out of most of her royalties, as were so many artists at that time.

1953 saw the release of Brown’s most enduring song, Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean. Other songs of hers were as big hits at the time, but this is the one you still hear today. It is a quintessential example of jump blues turning into rhythm and blues.

During the 60s, Brown retired to have a family. When she made her comeback in the 70s, she struggled for nine years to recover her lost royalties, and eventually prevailed. This led to the founding of the Rhythm and Blues Foundation, dedicated to helping other artists from the 50s get their due. Ruth Brown was a pioneer once again. For this work, as much as for her music, Brown was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Oh Mama: Wouldn't Mama Be Proud

Elliott Smith: Wouldn't Mama Be Proud


I'm still learning about Elliott Smith, a task made that much harder by the recent closure of Everybody Cares, Everybody Understands, whose great work and mentorship I touted here during our Blog Names theme. And it's high-risk behavior to post Elliott Smith on blogger, so grab this one while you can.

But in the name of giving other genres a fighting chance this week, here's a catchy poprocker that was discovered lurking among the country and blues in my list of mamasongs. A deceptively deep soul-searcher from an artist who was never truly comfortable with his role as rising popstar, it's eminently worth grabbing.

Oh Mama: I Wanna Be Your Mama Again

[photo by blakemayday984]

Sir Douglas Quintet - I Wanna Be Your Mama Again (Mendocino version) [purchase]

A few weeks ago at Groover's Paradise, I talked up Los Lobos' cover of the Sir Douglas Quintet track, "It Didn't Even Bring Me Down." It's one of several excellent cuts on the new Doug Sahm tribute disc [get you some]. I said then that the SDQ original was a bit of an orphan on Mendocino because it was the only song to have the jazzy flavor heard on Honkey Blues.

I'd like to semi-retract that statement. "I Wanna Be Your Mama Again," like many of the tracks on Mendocino, is basically a country song. However, the piano is curiously set to 'Erroll Garner'. Everything I've ever read indicates Augie Meyers was on the keys, but it wouldn't totally shock me if it was Wayne Talbert, Doug's piano man on Honkey Blues. Whatever the case, the florid, moody piano runs add a great texture and depth to the song. The Leslie-fied guitar is probably unnecessary and the freaky echo and other effects are a little dated, but this is still a standout tune. I especially love when Doug shouts out the chord change: "B7!"

Incidentally, "Mama" was a bridge between the two albums. It was the B-side to the "Mendocino" single, released a few months after Honkey Blues and a few months ahead of the titular album.

Sir Douglas Quintet - I Wanna Be Your Mama Again (Live)
Philadelphia (PA) Folk Festival [view program]
August 22, 1969

Good performance of "Mama," a little restrained, but included because of Doug's great intro. Wish the quality was a tad better, but hey, you can't beat the price. And it's not like the world's overrun with live Doug Sahm recordings.

Tangentially speaking, look at the date of this show. How would you like to have booked a music festival a week after Woodstock?!?! Ouch. I realize folk festivals and rock festivals have different fanbases, but it's not like there hasn't always been crossover. Hell, what was the SDQ doing there if it was pure folkie? Actually, why was the SDQ there and not Woodstock? I could just hear the pitch from the band's management. "Woodstock? More like Schmuckstock. All hype. The Philly Folk Festival's gonna be HUGE! We're gonna be talking about it 40 years from now." Well, I guess that last part is technically true ... heh.

Damnations - I Wanna Be Your Mama Again
Cactus Cafe, Austin, TX
July 27, 2002

The Damnations cover this on Where It Lands, but I think this live version is better. And while Doug's gender-bendery is amusing, I'd much rather hear Amy and Deborah say they wanna be my mama again. No offense, Doug.

Taken from the same Cactus Club show where they performed "What Does The Deep Sea Say?" [view that Star Maker post], the vocal harmonies of Deborah Kelly (lead vocal; acoustic guitar) and Amy Boone (bass; backup vocal) makes this performance special. I'm almost positive that's Conrad Choucron on drums, which reminds me that I don't see him play nearly enough. Anyone who can get in the pocket for the Damnations and sit in with Mandible is, by definition, a badass.

If I have one complaint it's that I wish the whole band was a little higher in the mix, especially Rob Bernard's magic Tele. Of course, that's my answer for pretty much everything.

"LD, what did you think of Wilco's last album?"
"Not enough Rob Bernard."

Oh Mama : Tell Mama

Etta James: Tell Mama


This week, my 18 month-old son said "Maman" for the first time. Beforehand he used to call his mother "Papa". Frustrating for her...

Maybe it's my repeated listen sessions of the Mama playlist that made him do the big jump.

So before going for one of these extended May week ends we have here, I'll leave you with an invitation to party and maybe more, by this so-underrated soul singer, here with the cream of Muscle Shoals studios.

Oh Mama: Mama’s Opry

Iris Dement: Mama‘s Opry


This one goes back to Iris Dement’s debut in 1992. It’s heard to believe it’s been that long since Dement hit the scene, and it’s just as hard to believe she wasn’t always here. Her music has that kind of timeless quality.

Mama’s Opry is a love song. It doesn’t go anywhere near what happens between consenting adults. This is the love of a grown-up child for a parent. You can tell that you have grown up when you start to appreciate what your parents gave you. Mama’s Opry feels true. The song tells us that it was her mother’s influence that started Dement on the path to becoming a musician. And Mama’s choice in music also gave the young Dement her first ideas about religion. As an adult, Dement found the talent to write this song, and say thank you.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Oh Mama: Momma Was An Opium Smoker

Rasputina: Momma Was An Opium Smoker


Most mama-centric songs are old-school classics that dote on dear ol' mom or on some feisty lady who deserves an ode in her honor. This song isn't old-school, but it is both a song about a feisty woman, and an ode to somebody's mother, whether it be kind or not.

Rasputina is a cello-rock band with a fetish for Victorian era history and fashion (wearing dusty corsets as concert attire). The song tells the story of one of the many women around the turn of the century who were initially prescribed opium as a treatment for "female problems", which in today's terms means menstrual cramps, and then became addicted through the eyes of her child. Of course, it IS a Rasputina song so it's done in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek humorous way. But it's a lot of fun and totally rockin' as well.

Oh, Mama: Pistol Packin’ Mama

The Andrews Sisters w/ Bing Crosby: Pistol Packin‘ Mama


I don’t like crooners. That whole style of music just leaves me cold. So I feel very strange posting Bing Crosby. But man, does this swing!

You might say that Crosby and The Andrews Sisters formed a supergroup during the swing era. They cut enough sides together to see release in these days as a full-length CD. They released Pistol Packin’ Mama in September of 1943. The original version had been a hit on the country charts for Al Dexter earlier that year.

Since then, the song has been covered in almost as many ways as there have been musical styles. Frank Sinatra did it. Gene Vincent recorded an ill-advised rockabilly version. There is an instrumental jazz version by Albert Ammons. But almost nothing compares with this version. So the last thing I would ever have expected was a killer version by John Prine. Mac Wiseman is Prine’s partner in this, and also deserves credit.

John Prine and Mac Wiseman: Pistol Packin‘ Mama


Oh Mama : Mama Don't Allow It

Julia Lee and her Boyfriends: Mama Don't Allow It


"Mama Don't Allow It" is a very old dance number found in every genre: jazz, country music (I was told about a fantastic version by Western swing singer Milton Brown but I've never heard it so far), Tin Pan Alley, and the blues. John Lee Hooker's "Boogie Chillen" is a variant, and the subject is common in folk music.
Two French songs for children are very close to it : one about papa who doesn't want me to dance the polka (but I'll dance anyway), and another one, that my mother stills sings to my daughter, about a mother who doesn't let her daughter go to a dance that takes place on a bridge, but she goes anyway, and the bridge collapses.

The Julia Lee version is my favourite, for its great swinging qualities. A pianist and band leader from Kansas City in the thirties and fourties, she was famous for her double-entendre songs, like "King Size Papa" or "Snatch and Grab It". "The ones my mother told me not to sing", as she used to say.

But in spite of her repertoire, Julia Lee was a very good Mama : she never wanted to leave KC for too long and turned down propositions for extended tours that might have kept her away from her family for too long.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Oh Mama: Mama Tried

Merle Haggard: Mama Tried


In my book, this is the big mama of all "mama" songs. It's one of the all-time great country songs sung by one of the most legendary voices in the history of country music (second only to Hank, I'd say).

Whether you hear it wafting from the jukebox on Friday night, singing from your a.m. radio on sunny Saturday afternoon, or streaming from that tiny speaker on your laptop on a Tuesday afternoon at work, this is what country music was meant to sound like.

Be sure to check out the comprehensive song review at AMG (which I can only fault for misquoting the lyrics, by calling the singer a "railroad" child).

"One and only rebel child from a family meek and mild..."

Oh Mama : That's All Right (Mama)

Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup : That's All Right (Mama)


Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup (see bio)
was a Mama specialist. One of his first sides in 1942 was the classic "Mama Don't Allow". "Rock Me Mama" (1944), "Love Me Mama", "Hey Mama Everything's All Right", "Love Me Mama" followed, and last but not least, "That's All Right (Mama)" (1946), that Elvis picked for his first single, along with "Blue Moon Of Kentucky", a record which became the physical symbol of both sides of rock 'n' roll roots : blues and country.

The original version is much rawer than the King's : Crudup only started playing guitar at 30, and his playing is primitive, rhythmic. As most Delta bluesmen, he plays the guitar like a percussion instrument, not caring much for chord progression and bar symmetry, but with some innovation : those riffs in the lower frets sound very funky and were pretty unusual at the time. There are barely 2 chords, the third one (the dominant for musicians) is gone, revealing pre-blues, African-like traits, like in John Lee Hooker.

It is said that Elvis came in person at Crudup's house to offer him the gold record plaque for the song. But Big Boy, who couldn't read or write, didn't even claim his due.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Oh Mama: Fujiyama Mama

Wanda Jackson: Fujiyama Mama


If I were a lawyer making the case for Wanda Jackson's place in the pantheon of great rockers, this song would be my closing argument.

It's powerful enough in 2009. Just imagine how it must have sounded to the kiddos back in the staid 1950's. This lady is a powerhouse.

I drink a quart of sake
Smoke dynamite
I chase it with tobaccy
And then shoot out the light

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Oh Mama: Mama's Got A Boyfriend

Eliza Gilkyson: Mama's Got A Boyfriend


Austinite Eliza Gilkyson -- daughter of folksinger and Disney songwriter Terry, who wrote both Memories Are Made Of This and The Bare Necessities, and sister of X guitarist Tony -- was a hardened performer of fifty when she finally hit the big time on folk radio with Hard Times in Babylon, an album which she has aptly described as "a diary of a season of loss." Two years later, she had turned her life around, and though the lighter lyrical tone which resulted wasn't as successful on the circuit, it did lend a strong smile to her increasingly road-weary voice as she continued to tour festivals and coffeehouses.

But though Lost and Found, her follow-up album on recently-featured label Red House Records, sold on the strength of her earlier work, it still contained some powerful tracks, framed by Gilkyson's stellar vocal delivery and some exceptional production. Case in point: the deceptively simple, heavily electrified blues dirge Mama's Got A Boyfriend, which practically begs for a roadhouse movie soundtrack placement.

Oh Mama : Blues For Mama

J.J. Cale: Blues For Mama


For this Mama week, being a roots music fan, I had a great choice. After narrowing down to twenty-some songs, I decided to hit "shuffle" and see what came out.

It was the sad song of the lot. But also one of the most moving songs of JJ Cale, from his come-back 2004 album To Tulsa and Back. I don't know if he lost his mother or any close relative prior to the recording, but you don't do this kind of mourning song for pleasure, I guess...

I've always loved Cale's sense of economy. No endless guitar solos, but a few notes, full of feeling, a few words too. People like Clapton or Mark Knolpfer owe him a lot.

Oh Mama: I'm The Only Hell (Mama Ever Raised)

Johnny Paycheck: I'm The Only Hell (Mama Ever Raised)


A theme about "mama" is a great way to flush out the country-lovin' sometimes-contributors like me.

This one doesn't take a whole lot of analysis. Like the title says, he's the only Hell his mama ever raised. Maybe if his mama had raised a bit more Hell while he was being raised, then he would have come out better, but that wouldn't have made for a very good "myth-making rebel anthem".