Saturday, June 6, 2009

Questions : May I ?

Kevin Ayers: May I ?


A man stops his car, enters a cafe and sits down at a girl's table, asking this simple "May I?". Not an easy thing to do. Asking a question is risking an answer, and that's the fear of the shy. The one who's been sitting at another table wishing he could have done the same.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Questions: Three Questions

These three songs have three things in common: the titles, of course, are all questions; the artists all happen to be female; and these are songs that I would have posted over the course of the week, if this had been a normal week. It wasn’t. I have been putting the finishing touches on the restoration of Oliver di Place, and my glitches have glitches. But I do have my new file host. In fact, this post is a test of that host, so if anyone has any problem listening to or downloading the tracks, please let me know in the comments.

Cheryl Wheeler: Is it Peace or Is It Prozac


Cheryl Wheeler is one of those artists who is often labeled folk or singer-songwriter. Neither label really describes her art. Wheeler writes most of her material, and she plays acoustic guitar, but she plays with a full band, and uses whatever instruments suit her material. For Is It Peace or Is It Prozac?, Wheeler chose an arrangement which begins and ends with a snatch of elevator music, to help make her point about the overmedicating of America. As always, Wheeler makes her case with warmth and good humor.

Devon Sproule: Does the Day Feel Long?


You’ve probably heard of those hippie communes that were all the rage in the sixties. And it’s easy to believe that these were nothing more than an expression of the misplaced optimism of youth, and that the communes all died out when the sixties gave way to the disillusionment of the seventies. But Devon Sproule can tell you that some of these communes still exist; she grew up on one. Perhaps it is this lifestyle that left Sproule open to a variety of musical influences. Her interests in folk, country, and jazz can be clearly heard here.

Mia Doi Todd: What If We Do?


As I write this, I realize that something else unites these artists. None of them can be easily pinned down to a single musical genre. And Mia Doi Todd is perhaps the most baffling of all in this respect. Her first musical training was as a classical singer. She had a major label deal at on time on Columbia Jazz. And her early recordings, featuring just her and an acoustic guitar, might have been considered folk. Don’t even try to add her talent as a painter, or her study of avant garde dance to the puzzle. All of this might make it sound like her music would be “difficult”. But this is not the case at all. Original, yes, but accessible as well. The best way to get a handle on it is to just listen.

Questions: The Dar Williams Edition

Dar Williams: Are You Out There?

Dar Williams: What Do You Hear in These Sounds?


Dar Williams: What Do You Love More Than Love?


From Dar's song-by-song interpretation of the tracks from End of the Summer and The Green World:

Are You Out There?: "This is my ode to all the small radio stations and late night radio heroes who changed the lives of millions of kids out in the suburbs. I never knew about Vin Scelsa's show growing up, but I did discover New York's Pacifica station, WBAI, and from them I learned the "politics of love and music" and felt like a secret radical. Long live the Pacifica network! I took the names of our local deejays, Jim Olson and Johnny Memphis, because they are two of my present radio heroes."

What Do You Hear in These Sounds?: "Everyone says that therapy makes people "worse than they already are". This was not my experience. I think everyone was more happy after I went, and, as a nice perk, it saved my life. Thanks to all the women who sang on this, to Steve Miller for piecing it all together, and, of course, all my therapists."

What Do You Love More Than Love?: "As far as most of my songs go, this one is a happy one," says Williams, who wrote the tune as a result of a trip to the Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan, east of Nepal. "As I was spinning the prayer wheels and visiting ancient temples, I asked myself a lot of questions about how to love without needing to be loved so much. The trip was an antidote to thinking about my touring life and career in general".

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Questions: Can I Kick It?

A Tribe Called Quest: Can I Kick It?


A sweet self-referential hip hop vibe from my younger days, built atop highly recognizable samples from Lou Reed's Walk on the Wild Side, Ian Dury and the Blockheads's What a Waste, and a tidbit of Prokofiev. The lyrics are a bit dated -- does anyone remember who David Dinkins is anymore? -- but Shaheed, Q-Tip, and the rest of the Tribe kick it up in such style on this debut album you'll still find yourself boppin' along. Like the song says: if you feel the need to freak do the jitterbug...this rhythm really fits like a snug glove.

Questions: What Would _____ Do?

Ben Lee: What Would Jay-Z Do?

Bruce Robison: What Would Willie Do?

We've all seen the bumper stickers, tee shirts, wrist bands, necklaces, license plates, bracelets, hats, billboards, etc... asking the simple question, "What Would Jesus Do?" This is not such a bad question to ask at times when faced with difficult decisions in life. The theory is that if you stop to ask yourself what Jesus would have done in placed in your situation, you will be guided to a moral and just answer that will lead you to the best possible conclusion.

But what about those times when Jesus just doesn't have the right answer? Aren't there some other spiritual guides we can turn to?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Questions: Why Does It Always Rain On Me?

Travis: Why Does It Always Rain On Me?


This was the first song I ever heard by the band Travis. It is from their 2000 album "The Man Who". At the time, I had just started doing a radio show on my college's station and we had to play a certain amount of designated songs from a list our first semester doing shows. I thought the name of this one was appealing, so I played it and really liked it, and then continued to play it every show I did the rest of the semester. Later that year, one of my apartment-mates arrived back from her study abroad adventure in London and said Travis was really popular over there and she had fallen for their music while over there. So it seems kismet that I was to discover them that year.

The song is a lovely melancholy pop song. The singer inquires where the sunny days have gone and why all this misfortune always seems to find him.

Questions : When Will We Be Married ?

The Waterboys : When Will We Be Married ?


The Jayhawks : Will I Be Married ?


(bonus track) : Estil C. Ball & Orna Ball : Paper of Pins

Although they (almost) share the same title, those two songs from 1988 and 1989 ask questions about a future wedding in opposite ways : while in the Waterboy's song, marriage seems like a hope, the Jayhawk's character pictures it with fear. But in the first song, I can sense a hidden threat from the courting guy ("when you'll go, you'll go with me", the "black bow"). Is it because he's determine to take her whatever happens and to take her even to death's shores? But maybe it is just my interpretation or my twisted understanding of English...

The bonus track has no question in his title, but I found it yesterday while digging for old rarities for River's Invitation. I didn't know this folk song, but in a certain way it's an answer (in a man and woman, call & response way so popular in the beginning of the century)to the first 2 songs, with a great punch line.

BTW, this month will be our 7th wedding anniversary. I realized that AFTER picking the songs (not that I had forgotten...).

Monday, June 1, 2009

Questions: How Will He Find Me?

Deb Talan: How Will He Find Me?


Before she joined up with Steve Tannen to became half of indieblog darlings The Weepies, but after cutting her teeth on the music industry with an upbeat Oregon popband called Hummingfish, Deb Talan had a relatively low-key, small-scale career as a solo artist on the New England coffeehouse circuit.

Her final solo effort from this period, 2001 live release Sincerely, reveals an artist on the cusp of full-formed musicianship -- still a bit unrefined, still a little repetitive -- but the potential for greatness was there. It comes to a head in this simple, plaintive song of age and desirability, which Talan's fragile performance frames perfectly.

Bonus for Weepies watchers: this live bootleg version of How Will He Find Me?

Questions: Where´s Captain Kirk?

"So when I awoke from the dangers of space
I looked and I saw a familiar face,
The time warp in space made a change in me
For I was the captain and the captain was me..."

You don´t have to be a trekkie to enjoy this fine piece of new wave mayhem, released by the groundbreaking Rough Trade label back in ´79. Beam me up, Scotty.

Questions : Why Don't You Do Right ?

Lil' Green : Why Don't You Do Right ?


It was only a few years after discovering this gem from the 1940's by Lil' White that I realized it was in Roger Rabbit's soundtrack.

The song was written by Joe McCoy, and first recorded by the Harlem Hamfats under another title, Weed Smoker's Dream (another great drug song btw).
But this wonderful version by Lil'Green, with new lyrics (very typical of women's blues), and Big Bill Broonzy on guitar, is a real standard, covered by Peggy Lee with the Benny Goodman Orchestra, then Amos Milburn, Johnny Otis and even Jessica Rabbit.

Questions: How Can I Love You If You Won't Lie Down?

Silver Jews: How Can I Love You If You Won't Lie Down?


The Silver Jews are David Berman's band, though he started it along side Bob Nastanovich and Stephen Malkmus (of Pavement), he has remained it's only consistent member. This track is featured on the 2005 album "Tanglewood Numbers".

It's difficult not to get a smirk when you see the name of this song, and it certainly is a fun, spirited country-esque rock song. But clearly, the person asking the question has the wrong idea about love or at least is not very creative.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Questions: Is It Like Today?

World Party: Is It Like Today? [purchase]

Eliza Gilkyson: Is It Like Today? [purchase]

As someone who worked in the service industries through much of the ubiquitous Top 40 radio nineties, I must have had this song buried in my brain somewhere, but it was Eliza Gilkyson's 2005 pensive folkcover that sent me to the stacks to rediscover it, and finally listen to the lyrics.

Turns out the original is pretty deep. Plus it's got a great British janglepop thing going on.

Questions: Can You Get To That?

Funkadelic: Can You Get To That? [purchase]

I wanna know...