Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thanks and Appreciation: Thank You

Tori Amos: Thank You


I've never been a Led Zeppelin fan... so when I discovered this cover of their song, with Tori's ethereal vocal and exquisite piano, it gave me a fresh appreciation...

A dear friend used the lyrics as a poetry reading in her wedding ceremony 11 years ago - sadly, the sun and the mountains never had a chance to prove their challenged longevity, as the couple split up a few years later...

P.S. Aren't there some Kinks fans among our contributors? - I just stumbled across Ray Davies' lyrics to Thanksgiving Day and am dying to hear the song now!

Thanks and Appreciation: Thanks To You

Jesse Winchester: Thanks To You


Emmylou Harris: Thanks To You


Chris Smither: Thanks To You


I encountered this song as a 1997 cover in the hands of ragged folk-blues guitarist Chris Smither, who plays the song out as a rapid-fire wail of almost proud self-pity and heaven-sent salvation, a ray of light sparking down from heaven to save the narrative sinner.

But curiosity brought me in search of the source, and as fans of the prolific and well-covered songwriter Jesse Winchester might have predicted, the 1988 original is nothing like the cover.

Oh, sure, it's still blues. But this tune comes from the other end of the genre, where the blues - and its image of heaven as an eventual comfort for even the worst of sinners - are something smooth and sultry, framed in dustbowl Americana production, and veritably dripping in gospel harmonies and slow, southern slide guitar. From the subtle bounce of the intro synth to the final fade-out, this is an image of heaven as seen through a boozehound's haze, a slow credit-roll from a frozen eternity in a terminal flophouse before a life spent in the dismal dark fades eternally into the light.

Meanwhile, of course, Emmylou Harris splits the difference, bringing in a sultry yet ever-so-slightly-uptempo country gospel barroom americana blues ballad that still retains the keys, and those glorious gospel harmonies. The 1993 date on Emmylou's cover, and the slightly more upbeat pace, suggests that Smither must have heard both before going his own inimitable way.

Afterthought: we've given thanks to family and friends a lot this week, and deservedly so. We're a lucky bunch here on Star Maker, in no small part because we have this community to carry our voices and conversations; we owe a debt of thanks to each other, and to you, the reader, as much as we do our immediate loved ones.

But though my sense of heaven is a bit personal and vague these days, I was a sinner like so many of us, for much of my life. And like so many of us, I suspect, I owe thanks to the universe, the goddess, God, the everything - whatever you call it - for always offering that sense of comfort, and always being there for me, waiting patiently until I, too, saw the light. Even if it took music, love, friends, family, and so many other vehicles for me to find it when I needed it so much.

Thanks, universe. Thanks, everyone. To you, and to yours.

Thanks and Appreciation: The Load-Out

Jackson Browne: The Load-Out


Jackson Browne’s album Running On Empty is a collection of songs about the life of a touring band. Songs were recorded on stage, of course, but also in hotel rooms and even on the tour bus. To conclude the album, Browne wrote The Load-Out as a thank you to his roadies. The song is a medley with a familiar tune; if you haven’t heard this before, I won’t ruin the surprise. But when you get to the second tune, you will notice that Browne has changed the lyrics. So now, his tribute to his roadies segues into a thank you to his audiences.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanks and Appreciation: Kind and Generous

Natalie Merchant: Kind and Generous


When I first heard this song on the radio I thought it was catchy, but corny. I did like it though. I had always thought it was probably ultimately a song to thank a parent for bringing her up in a loving home. Then I saw Natalie perform at Lilith Fair in 1998 and as her closing song she performed this and she sang it so genuinely to the crowd and I thought "wow, this is a beautiful song to end a set with. She is thanking her fans, her audiences for making her career and way of life possible, for filling it with support and praise". So, perhaps when she wrote it she was writing it for a song to close performances with or perhaps it is to a parent, but regardless it is an overarching song that you can think is for anyone and everyone that it applies to in your own life.
Thank you, thank you.

Thanks and Appreciation: Thanks For the Boogie Ride

Erin McKeown: Thanks For the Boogie Ride


My first response to this week’s theme was to realize that I had used three of my best choices for a post on my own blog, Oliver di Place. My next thought was that there are many songs of the “thank you for your love” variety. At that point, a procession of truly terrible pop songs began to play in my head. It seems that love is an overwrought emotional state that is always slow, has far too many strings, features truly ghastly oversinging, and all to mask a set of uninspired lyrics that need every production trick in the book to disguise their banality. So I resolved to seek out songs of thankfulness for things other than love.

But it has been bothering me. My experience of love has been nothing like this. It came on in a rush, accelerating every thing around me. It was not padded, but pure, and overwhelming but not complicated. Thinking about this, I remembered Thanks For the Boogie Ride. Erin McKeown nails exactly what I was feeling.

Gene Krupa Big Band with Anita O‘Day: Thanks For the Boogie Ride


Just to check, I wanted a look at the lyrics. It turns out that they are not easy to find. I did, but not before I learned that the song was a cover. Here is the original version. It turns out that there is some interesting history here. In the big band era, most bands had a featured singer. Usually female, she would not even be on stage for the fast numbers, while the crowds jitterbugged away. She would come out only to sing the slow numbers. Anita O’Day was the first to change that. O’Day sang the fast numbers as well, and therefore became a full-fledged member of the band. Thanks For the Boogie Ride, from 1941, is a fine example of this “new sound”.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanks and Appreciation: Thanksgiving Song

Mary Chapin Carpenter: Thanksgiving Song


I know we don't usually submit new songs, but I hope everyone can forgive the exception - in April 2007, Mary Chapin Carpenter experienced a serious health scare, and I have no doubt this song, from last year's Come Darkness, Come Light CD, was inspired by the difficulty...

Below is MCC's This I Believe essay for NPR's Weekend Edition, Sunday June 24, 2007 - wishing you all a Happy Thanksgiving, and may grace surround and enfold you... on this day, and always...

"I believe in what I learned at the grocery store.

Eight weeks ago, I was released from the hospital after suffering a pulmonary embolism. I had just finished a tour and a week after returning home, severe chest pain and terrible breathlessness landed me in the ER. A scan revealed blood clots in my lungs.

Everyone told me how lucky I was. A pulmonary embolism can take your life in an instant. I was familiar enough with the medical term, but not familiar with the pain, the fear and the depression that followed.

Everything I had been looking forward to came to a screeching halt. I had to cancel my upcoming tour. I had to let my musicians and crew members go. The record company, the booking agency: I felt that I had let everyone down.

But there was nothing to do but get out of the hospital, go home and get well.

I tried hard to see my unexpected time off as a gift, but I would open a novel and couldn't concentrate. I would turn on the radio, then shut if off. Familiar clouds gathered above my head, and I couldn't make them go away with a pill or a movie or a walk. This unexpected time was becoming a curse, filling me with anxiety, fear and self-loathing — all of the ingredients of the darkness that is depression.

Sometimes, it's the smile of a stranger that helps. Sometimes it's a phone call from a long absent friend, checking on you. I found my lifeline at the grocery store.

One morning, the young man who rang up my groceries and asked me if I wanted paper or plastic also told me to enjoy the rest of my day. I looked at him and I knew he meant it. It stopped me in my tracks. I went out and I sat in my car and cried.

What I want more than ever is to appreciate that I have this day, and tomorrow and hopefully days beyond that. I am experiencing the learning curve of gratitude.

I don't want to say "have a nice day" like a robot. I don't want to get mad at the elderly driver in front of me. I don't want to go crazy when my Internet access is messed up. I don't want to be jealous of someone else's success. You could say that this litany of sins indicates that I don't want to be human. The learning curve of gratitude, however, is showing me exactly how human I am.

I don't know if my doctors will ever be able to give me the precise reason why I had a life-threatening illness. I do know that the young man in the grocery store reminded me that every day is all there is, and that is my belief.

Tonight I will cook dinner, tell my husband how much I love him, curl up with the dogs, watch the sun go down over the mountains and climb into bed. I will think about how uncomplicated it all is. I will wonder at how it took me my entire life to appreciate just one day."

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanks and Appreciation: Thank You World

World Party: Thank You World


I was a senior in college in 1990, and my (and the country's) environmental consciousness was at a pre-global warming high point. I was heavily involved in a student environmental group, and was well on my way to becoming a vegetarian. When Goodbye Jumbo, the second album from Karl Wallinger's World Party, came out I was hooked on the addictive hit single "Way Down Now" and its Rolling Stones-aping bass line. But the gem that closed the album, "Thank You World," struck the deepest chord. Over three simple verses, Karl shares his love for, and appreciation of, Mother Earth. I could dig it then, and I can dig it now. Thank you, world. Hope we haven't broken ya.

Thanks and Appreciation: Uncle

Norman Blake: Uncle


Uncle tells the tale of a man who briefly but profoundly touched the life of the narrator. I don’t know the back story on this one, but this song feels autobiographical to me. In hard times, his uncle came to live with the family. He did amazing things that helped put food on the table. But more importantly, this seems to me to be a thank you to the man who inspired Blake to become a professional musician. The final image of the old fiddle in its case says it all.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanks and Appreciation: Thank Heaven For Little Girls

Maurice Chevalier: Thank Heaven For Little Girls


Of all the things I'm thankful for, my daughters top the list; in a rare display of personal sentiment, that's them pictured above, with their best friend Arwen on a cold Cape Cod beach this summer.

This Maurice Chevalier "original" first entered our house as the opening track to That's What Little Girls Are Made Of, an eclectic collection of songs for fathers of daughters, and so that's what I've linked to above; it's one of the first kid-friendly albums I actually enjoyed, and though it gets sappy at times, I highly recommend it for all sensitive new fathers of tiny little girls.

But let's be honest: I'm posting this song today because I was sorely tempted to post it LAST week, as a coda of sorts to our Jailbait theme, with a comment on how changing cultural context can reframe the way a song sounds to its audience. After all, though this song was originally composed for the 1958 cinematic musical Gigi, where it was surely heard as sweetly as intended, it's worth remembering that in the film, the "little girl" Gigi grows up to become the love interest for her mentor; one reason that the play is seldom performed in this day and age may be that, to modern ears, a lyric which celebrates little girls primarily because they grow up to be big girls sets off some pretty serious alarm bells.

Indeed, I've long maintained that our current post-PC world would never allow such a song to be recorded without irony... and as if for proof, I offer the following grungy, hard-rocking, guitar-drenched cover from The Films, which practically drools with modern subtext. Don't say I didn't warn you...

The Films: Thank Heaven For Little Girls


Thanks and Appreciation: Prayer 2000

Eliza Gilkyson: Prayer 2000


Today's offering is a tip of the proverbial hat to Vesta_66, who chimed in last week with how much she (guessing on the gender) appreciates the "wisdom, maturity and respect" of the SMM contributors and commenters (as well as specifically likes the music of Eliza Gilkyson) - thanks for reading, enjoying and sticking around...

I've previously described my circuitous route of discovering female contemporary folk artists, from Joan Baez to Dar and beyond - a seminal influence in my growth process was The Women of Kerrville CD, from which I was introduced to the music of Susan Werner, Cheryl Wheeler, Catie Curtis and so many more. As soon as I heard Eliza's breaking voice and aching lyrics, I knew I had to find out more... and rushed right out to buy Redemption Road (prior to her Red House Records label signing) - I now own all of her catalog, but that remains a favorite, 10+ years later...

Prayer 2000 is an homage to all the gifts of nature and nurture we tend to take for granted... with a more than melancholy nod to the "what doesn't kill me makes me stronger" philosophy - it is a reminder that we wouldn't recognize the joy without the sorrow with which to compare, and that the cycles of contrast are what mold and bless us, even (or maybe especially) in what feels like the blackest/bleakest time...

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "When it is dark enough, you can see the stars." - perspective is everything...

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Thanks And Appreciation: Thanksgiving Day

"You don’t have to be a rock star to have fun,
You don’t have to be a soldier to carry a gun,
You don’t have to be a postman to mail a letter,
Be content with your life - it may not get any better..."

Says it all really. This comes from Johnny Dowd´s wonderful debut album Wrong Side Of Memphis, which he recorded at the ripe age of fifty. Wisdom does come with age I guess.