Saturday, May 1, 2010

Instrumentals/Mothers: Smother Your Mother Tango

Mambo Combo: Smother Your Mother Tango


Surely there's a more appropriate song out there for our transition from one theme to the next this week - after all, we're looking towards Mother's Day, and though my own mother and I have a classically strained and essentially dysfunctional relationship, the titular sentiment here is a bit violent even for me. But I just couldn't resist this joyous faux-latin tango, in no small part because the backstory is delightfully ridiculous.

Mambo Combo was formed when one of its members, a punk guitarist named Bob Friedman, came up with a truly silly name for a band for a small festival that he was promoting, and - purely as a joke - decided to recruit three drummers and two other guitarists, all local punk musicians themselves, to form a band that fit the name, despite having no experience whatsoever with the world of latin music. In 1997, after fifteen years of tongue-in-cheek for-fun-only gigs led to a serious reputation, Mambo Combo recorded their one and only studio album, Mr. Happy; since then, they've leveraged their work into a full-time gig, continuing to perform for parties and at bars in the Baltimore area.

I have no idea how I ended up with this track after all that - must have picked it up on the blogs somewhere - but for what it's worth, it's infectiously fun. The Mambo Combo website is endearingly old-school, too.

Instrumentals: Edward, the Mad Shirt Grinder

Quicksilver Messenger Service: Edward, the Mad Shirt Grinder


Quicksilver Messenger Service circa 1969, from the one album they made while famed British session keyboardist Nicky Hopkins (a/k/a "Edward") was a member of the band. Hopkins played on hits by just about everyone on both sides of the Atlantic in the '60s and '70s (a partial list includes The Who, The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, The Jeff Beck Group, Rod Stewart, Cat Stevens, Donovan, Jefferson Airplane, The Steve Miller Band, Art Garfunkel, Jerry Garcia, The Beatles, and all four solo Beatles), but here he gets to stretch out on one of his own compositions.

Instrumentals: Synchronicity




Darius has generously encouraged me to offer up a second post for Instrumentals Week, and since I've been a huge fan of Star Maker Machine these past years, I took him up on it with glee. Besides, I just retired yesterday, so it's not like I don’t have the time. Heh.

There's no one quite so passionate as a convert. And although I have more traditional tastes, and would like to share those with you, I suspect I'll try hard to coax you into following me into my new love of Japanese rock (aka J-Rock or J-Pop). Like most of you, I've liked world music in one incarnation or another for quite a while, but I recently discovered this whole new genre. Don't you just love it when worlds unfold like that? You're all music lovers, so I know you've had it happen, too. Scales falling from eyes!

So. Sugizo. That's him in the photo, looking like he's decked out in Halloween crepe and doing the goth limbo. He plays both guitar and violin, amply on display in this song. He's the lead guitarist for Luna Sea, a big name in the 90's, mainly, but who reform on occasion. At the moment, he's joined X-Japan, one of the biggest J-Rock groups ever. If you like your rock with a side of emo soap opera, come sit by me and I'll fill you in. Or you can Wiki them. And if you happen to live in Chicago, you lucky things, you can see X-Japan reunited at Lollapalooza this summer, an event that has me counting my frequent flier miles. Think The Beatles, if they'd managed to get back together before George died (because oh yes, we also have tragic band member death).

Synchronicity is from the Sugizo-penned soundtrack to the movie Soundtrack (and boy, if you want to confound a Google search, name your movie Soundtrack). Sugizo also stars in this film. I just watched it a few weeks ago and couldn't make much sense of it, to be frank. It's mostly a lot of violent imagery backed with tender violin playing. Still, the music's terrific and the actors are easy on the eyes, so what's not to like?

Guest post by Geoviki

Instrumentals: Pond Crossings II, Folk Dance Edition

It was almost two years ago that I began posting here. And very soon after, Boyhowdy did me the distinct honor of inviting me to do a guest post on his blog, Cover Lay Down. For my theme, I chose to examine how songs from the British Isles changed when the came to the United States. You can still see that post here, although the songs are long gone. I wanted to wrap up my posts for this week with a sequel of sorts to that post. Let’s take a look at how music for folk dancing manages its trip across the pond.

All of the music in this post is instrumental by necessity. Live, there is a caller who announces the steps as they happen. After two or three repetitions of the music, with variations, the caller drops out, and the dance propels itself.

Ted Furey: Saddle the Pony


Irish folk dancing is a lively affair. Often, the music contains a missing percussion part, which is supplied live by the thunderous sound of the dancers’ feet hitting the floor. Thanks to Riverdance, most people know about step dancing, which is strictly for performance. But Ireland has a rich tradition of jigs, reels, strathspeys, and other dance tunes. These are participatory dances; no one is expected to sit still and just watch. Indeed, sitting still when a master is playing one of these tunes is almost impossible.

Ted Furey probably hoped that his children would follow in his footsteps as a musician. In his time, Ted was known as one of the finest traditional Irish fiddlers. Indeed, future generations of Fureys have made their mark as well. I will be looking in on some of them in a Spotlight on Celtic music on Oliver di Place. That’s coming up soon. Watch the sidebar here to find out when I post it, or pay me a visit sooner if you like.

Bonnie Rideout: Mrs Gunn‘s Strathspey- Sweet Molly- Wise Maid


Bonnie Rideout is actually American, but her interpretations are authentic enough that she has won several Scottish Fiddle championships. In Scotland and Ireland both, bands often play “sets” rather than single tunes. The dancers know to expect this, and don’t miss a step. A “set” is what we would call a medley, where one tune blends into the next.

Foxfire: The Introduction


English country dancing is a more stately affair. The music is slower, and there is more of an emphasis on the beauty of the melody and the playing. The dances that go with it reflect this. There are moves and postures that are very specific, and purists will let you know if you miss one.

Foxfire is one of the leading English country dance bands. They are affiliated with the Country Dance and Song Society, which is an excellent resource for more information on the music and associated dances in this post.

Stella Kimble: Cotton Eyed Joe


Based on the results, I’m guessing that more Scottish and Irish that English people settled the American South. Here we find square dancing, not like you learned it in gym class, but as a living folk-dance form. The energy found in Celtic folk dance music is here too, and again, there is a missing percussion part supplied by the thunder of the dancers’ feet.

I cannot find much information about Stella Kimble. I know she was from North Carolina, and she is regarded by many bluegrass musicians as an important pioneer on the banjo. If anyone has more information, please share it in the comments.

Possum Ridge String Band: The Road to Lisdoonvarna


For the section on contra dancing, I knew I wanted a version of The Road to Lisdoonvarna. I think I’ve danced to this at every contradance I ever attended. Contradancing and its music is what happened to all this in New England. It is not quite as energetic as Southern square dancing, which means that an ordinary mortal can hope to get through an entire evening on the dance floor. The music shows more of the English influence than its Southern cousin, with smoother playing and greater variety in the harmonies.

I knew what I wanted this version of Lisdoonvarna to sound like. This is how I remember hearing it at dances. Curiously, The Possum Ridge String Band is based in Virginia.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Instrumentals: Albatross

Fleetwood Mac: Albatross


This haunting Peter Green instrumental is perhaps more well known in the U.K., where it was #1 hit, than in the U.S., where the Buckingham-Nicks version of the band is just about all that people remember. When it was released in early 1969, it was quite a departure from the straight-ahead blues that had been the Mac's bread and butter up until then. Of course it was the first of many musical changes the band would undergo in the following decade.

Reportedly inspired by Santo & Johnny's classic "Sleepwalk" (and in turn an inspiration for the Beatles' "Sun King"), "Albatross" came together not long after Danny Kirwin joined the band as third guitarist. (The band's second guitarist, Jeremy Spencer, had no involvement in this recording.) It was Green's vision, but Danny helped him bring it to fruition, his and Peter's guitars harmonizing beautifully over Mick Fleetwood's muted drums and swelling cymbals and John McVie's simple, pulsing bass line.

In a year when everything was becoming "heavy", it was a gentle, soothing balm. It still is.

Instrumentals: Inspector

Alison Brown: Inspector


Banjo virtuosa, jazzgrass composer, and Compass Records label-founder Alison Brown quite often records with carefully selected special guests from the folk and bluegrass world, including the occasional vocalist; the delightful covers of popsongs which often result - Elvis Costello, Harry Nilsson, and Paul Simon among them - are well worth pursuit, and quite often find their way onto my home blog Cover Lay Down.

But Brown's no lead singer, preferring to speak instead through her instrumental mastery and her ability to construct and compile musicians and song. As such, deeper towards the core of Brown's catalog, we find a stellar, surprisingly diverse collection of original instrumentals that seamlessly blend elements of newgrass, world music, and jazz, like Bela Fleck with less jamband cred and a bit more Contemporary Pop production value.

Inspector is a jazzy, jumpy delight, from her all-instrumental 1994 release Look Left and, later, her highly-recommended 2006 "best of" collection The Vanguard Years, but there's no way to represent her breadth of talent with just a single cut, so definitely check out the rest of her work.

Instrumentals: Release It

afro celt

Afro Celt Sound SystemRelease It


Mixing African rhythms into other musical genres wasn't new when Paul Simon did it in 1986 with Graceland. American blues (and its stepchild, rock and roll) traces its roots to western Africa. Much of modern Brazilian music, too, is a fusion of African and Portuguese sources. So when East Londoner Simon Emmerson traveled to Senegal in 1992 to produce an album for worldbeat artist Baaba Maal, he picked up the idea of blending African rhythms with Celtic melodies. The group he gathered, Afro Celt Sound System, formed in 1995 around Irish, English, and African musicians. Emmerson, a guitarist and DJ as well as a producer, didn't stop there, though: He steeped his songs in electro-dance rhythms, especially ambient, trance, and techno. The end result is not only multi-cultural, but also wholly modern.

Release It (1999) is the final song of their second album, which almost wasn't made following the sudden death of their keyboardist. This song is a tribute to their dead friend and celebrates his release from earthly hardships. Some of the more unusual instruments include the Celtic harp, uilleann pipes, kora, talking drum, balafon, bodhran, djembe, and whistle. I think I know what the whistle sounds like, and the rest I'll just have to Wiki.

I think it would be a real honor to have a tribute song like this that makes listeners want to dance.

Guest post by Geovicki. Please give her a warm welcome.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Instrumentals: Tom Waits Edition

Tom Waits: Cinny's Waltz


Tom Waits: Rainbirds


Tom Waits: Good Old World (Gypsy Instrumental)


Tom Waits: Knife Chase


Isn't that an amazing photo at the top of this post? I don't think I've ever seen a picture of Tom Waits that looks exactly the way his music sounds. A hobo breaking into a carnival in the middle of the night, having the time of his life.

At first glance it might look like an odd choice for Instrumentals Week to pick an artist who's so known for his voice, but his wordless pieces are not to be missed. He (and his wife/collaborator Kathleen Brennan) have always had a knack for creating haunting images with their sonic landscapes.

It's no wonder he's contributed to so many movies over the years, both as a songwriter and as an actor - a more cinematic performer is hard to find.

Instrumentals: R.E.M. B-Sides

At the risk once again of becoming the guy who only posts R.E.M. songs... here's another post full of R.E.M. songs. The difference in this post being that most of these are rarities that only the most hardcore fans know about. These are all non-album tracks that mainly appeared as B-side recordings to singles the band put out at various points in their career. They mostly exist just to show a different side of the band that didn't always make it to the records. The "purchase" link for this post simply points to the R.E.M. store at

R.E.M.'s studio sessions typically yield many of these types of recordings. Peter Buck says he writes hundreds of songs every year, and many of them end up as nothing more than musical workouts for the band in the studio. Buck has also said that recording sessions for each R.E.M. album can produce roughly 20 or 30 of these "unfinished songs."

Some of these musical nuggets are born out of other songs... "Memphis Train Blues" was an improvised piece performed in the studio after the band grew tired of playing the repetitive chord structure of the song "Hairshirt" from Green. Drummer Bill Berry plays mandolin.

Some of them started out as jokes and just kept hanging around... "Tricycle" was a goofy exercise that grew out of sound checks during the Monster tour. Guitarist Peter Buck says the song kept getting "stupider and stupider" as they worked it out, but they were having too much fun to stop playing it. Buck originally wanted to call it "Four Wheels to Hell" but felt "Tricycle" was much less melodramatic.

Some are self explanitory... "Fruity Organ" and "Mandolin Strum" would seem to need no explanation.

Others just kind of appeared and had no where else to go... "New Orleans Instrumental #2" came out of the Automatic for the People sessions and was recorded the same day as that album's "New Orleans Instrumental #1." "Winged Mammal Theme" was submitted to Tim Burton for inclusion on one of the Batman movie soundtracks. It didn't make the cut.

Instrumentals: Punchdrunks Edition

Robert Johnson And Punchdrunks: Buzz Aldrin


Robert Johnson And Punchdrunks: Stuck In Tunisia


When told this week's theme would be instrumentals I immediately thought of surf rock. The next logical step was to think of my favorite band in this genre: Robert Johnson And Punchdrunks. A band whose "tropical exotic rock" I once described on my blog as:

"...sweaty, feverish, horny, violent, furious and ferocious. It's surf rock all coked up and with a thirst for blood.

Imagine four people losing their minds on a mezcal & tequila binge being so pissed off at their instruments they're trying to beat them to death while the tape's running.

Imagine the motion picture soundtrack to Tony Montana vs. James Bond.

Imagine the sound of Lux Interior and Larry Parypa taking turns buggering Link Wray behind a burning whorehouse in Shanghai."

Pretty accurate if I may say so myself.

Lately the band has for some reason evolved into some sort of electronic dub thing that I find hard to maintain interest in, but between circa 1994 and 2004, Robert Johnson And Punchdrunks were the kings of underproduced, roughneck surfabilly.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Instrumentals: I Miss You Kate

Sting: I Miss You Kate


Near as I can tell, in the two years since Star Maker Machine opened for business, we've never posted two separate posts by the same artist in a single week. To post two consecutive posts by the same artist is just plain weird, a rarity in the blogosphere at large.

But I'm doing it anyway. Because this particular instrumental is hauntingly beautiful, and though its middle section contains a hint of the same jazz modality that underlies Dream of the Blue Turtles, and the first and last sections coincide audiographically with Sting's Contemporary Pop period, in many ways, this carefully constructed composition - a piano-led jazz ballad, with subtle bass and drums, and a swelling string section to support it all -sounds utterly nothing like Sting in any other guise.

I did a genuine double take when I first encountered the track, purely by accident, as a b-side to the CD single for All This Time, which I purchased upon its release in '91. For a long time, I Miss You Kate was a mainstay of my mixtape compilation catalog, and I still treasure its very existence. Fair warning, though: the other b-side on the single - an 8 minute live take of King of Pain, sans the other members of The Police - goes on a bit long.

Instrumentals: The Dream of the Blue Turtles

Sting: The Dream of the Blue Turtles


The statement of our theme clearly states that there are to be no voices at all. I hope I may be forgiven for the laughter at the end of this one. It has everything to do with how this song came to be.

Sting said in interviews at the beginning of his solo career that he had come to feel stifled in the Police. He was seeking a spontaneity he had been missing. So he sought to put together a band of jazz musicians for his first solo album. They all said yes, and what a band it was! Drummer Omar Hakim came from Weather Report. Sax Player Branford Marsalis was a well known bandleader, and he brought with him his keyboard player Kenny Kirkland. And bassist Darryl Jones had just finished a stint with Miles Davis. All took the music seriously, but they had a lot of fun together as well. One day in the studio, the band was just jamming for fun, but the tape was rolling. This was where the song The Dream of the Blue Turtles came from. Sheet music had to be written up afterwards, because this one just happened. I suppose, for Sting, the song epitomized the spontaneity he was looking for, because this became the title track of the album.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Instrumentals: Journey in Satchidananda

Alice Coltrane: Journey in Satchidananda


There aren't enough harpists in jazz these days.

Alice Coltrane may have never completely escaped the shadow of her iconic husband, but she did create some fascinating music. Conversant on piano and harp, she uses both to good effect on this funky bit of free jazz. (And let me just say...a bit of funk goes a long way towards making free jazz more accessible, IMHO.)

With a few of her late husband's former sidemen on board (Pharoah Sanders on soprano sax and Rashied Ali on drums), Cecil McBee holding everything together with a slow, funky bass line, Tulsi providing the tambura drone, and Majid Shabazz sprinkling the works with Middle-Eastern percussion, "Journey in Satchidananda" sounds better than the sum of its parts might suggest.

Satchidananda, by the way, may be a reference to Swami Satchidananda, whom Alice had become a disciple of, but it is also an Indian compound word for a concept that is (very) roughly akin to the Buddhist concept of Nirvāṇa.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Instrumentals: Whiplash

101 Strings: Whiplash


Think of 101 Strings and you are thinking of elevators or shopping centres or people your parents didn't like very much. !01 Strings - the orchestra used up to 142 Strings but that didn't sound so catchy - took schmaltz down to new depths, then along came Astro Sounds from Beyond the Year 2000. In reality (if that's the word to use here) this was an album by Jerry Cole, session musician with the Byrds and on Pet Sounds, with 101 Strings layered on top. Still, they got the credit for it. One can wonder what their loyal fans thought when they heard Whiplash. As for the album title's claim; in so many ways it stands up.

Guest post by John from One Man’s Treasure. Please give him a warm welcome.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Instrumentals: Swan Lake

Madness: Swan Lake


First of all, thanks to both BWR and Bert. Swan Lake was the first song I thought of for our Instrumentals theme, but I didn’t have it. So, I put out a call, and both of these fine gentlemen answered.

Why Swan Lake? First, because it’s just so much fun. Just imagine the black and white checked tutus that go with this version. Yes, this is Swan Lake as in the ballet, but is also pure ska in this version. It comes from Madness’ debut album, and shows what wonderful musical imagination they had from the start. And the talent to back it up.

Instrumentals: Duane Allman

My fave instrumental just might be the only song brother Duane Allman ever wrote in his too-short life. Significant detail: the instrument Skydog achieved so much well-deserved fame with, the slide guitar, is nowhere to be found here. Little Martha is a timeless acoustic ode to an extramarital girlfriend who in real life was called Dixie.