Saturday, October 30, 2010

Magic: I Can't Get Next To You


The Temptations: I Can't Get Next To You


The sorcerer in this song is a self-proclaimed BAMF. Dude can turn back the hands of time. He can change anything from old to new. He can turn a river into a raging fire. He can even live forever! Scary!

All this incredible magical power, however, is proving utterly ineffective at turning around the guy's chances with one particular woman. Don't believe me? Hold it, hold it, listen….

Friday, October 29, 2010

Magic: Marie Laveau

Dejan‘s Olympia Brass Band: Marie Laveau


This week would not be complete without a song about Marie Laveau, “The Voodoo Queen of New Orleans”. The best known song about her is probably the one by Bobby Bare, and if someone else would like to post that, please feel free. Laveau is usually portrayed as evil and capable of doing great harm with her magic. I like this song because it shows another view of the matter. Here, Laveau is a folk hero, offering charms and fortunes to those who seek her out. New Orleans legend Dr John also likes this song; he would later cover it.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Magic: On A Sea of Fleur De Lis

Richard Shindell: On A Sea of Fleur De Lis


Richard Shindell: On A Sea of Fleur De Lis [live]


Solas: On A Sea of Fleur De Lis


Solas: On A Sea of Fleur De Lis [live]


One of the best-known songs in ex-pat Fast Folk-era singer-songwriter Richard Shindell's catalog, and one of the most cryptic, this song appears as the centerpiece to his 1992 debut album Sparrows Point, and - in its original form - it features the appalachian dulcimer, on which it was composed.

Like so much of Shindell's songs, On A Sea Of Fleur De Lis tells its tale in first person; as near as I can tell, the narrator is a nun, though it could merely be an autobiographical echo of Shindell's own time in the seminary before he set out to become a songcrafter. But truly, there are layers upon layers here. Perhaps it is enough to say that the narrator, seemingly caught in a web of religious trappings, longs to be a witch again, naked and cradled in the arms of the sacred elm or willow, and the song is her prayer.

But like a spell, an ex-witches prayer can take many forms. The vast difference in tone and mood between the hollow, ringing original and the rich, joyous celtic-tinged cover Solas brings forth in live performance is an exercise in transformation, turning pensiveness into celebration, completing the circle that four versions lay out for us, setting free the trapped soul of the tale.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Magic: James

Annie Gallup: James


I am a long-time fan of Annie Gallup, part songwriter-part poet-part novelist - each of her songs is a story within itself, powerful enough to make me weep but brilliant such that I am smiling through my tears, appreciating the way she has drawn me in to connect, to relate, to captivate...

Listening to her lyric weavings is magical in and of itself: her gift of language and whispery vocal, clever plotline and perfectly-timed tempo - this tune speaks of a magician. We have all known a James... someone we wanted to believe could pull rabbits out of hats, even when we knew the secret behind the trick was old and repetitive and predictable - then again... sometimes they end up surprising us... and themselves...

Magic: The Grey Wizard Am I

Gandalf The Grey: The Grey Wizard Am I


My fellow Tolkienites and I rejoiced today upon the announcement that the upcoming adaptation of The Hobbit will indeed be filmed on director Sir Peter Jackson's homeland of New Zealand, following much boring legal nonsense. Not the biggest issue in the world, but for us nerds it was a life or death decision. New Zealand is Middle Earth, period.

What better way to celebrate than to listen to Chris Wilson's weirdo project Gandalf The Grey from 1972 (not to be confused with Gandalf, a complete different band). More info here.

The image at the top of this post is taken from Hobitit, a Finnish 1993 TV production of The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings. It was incredibly entertaining, but not for the reasons intended.

Watch it at your own peril here. It's one of the most gloriously rubbish things you will ever see.

Magic: Crazy Man Michael

Richard Ruane: Crazy Man Michael


I have mentioned before how I once did a guest post on Boyhowdy’s excellent blog, Cover Lay Down. That post included the original version of Crazy Man Michael by Fairport Convention, as well as an American version by Natalie Merchant. There, you can also find the story of how Crazy Man Michael came to be written. All of the other versions I could find at that time were by artists I had never heard of. To change that, an artist I am familiar with could have done a version since then. Or, I could have found out about an artist who had already done the song, and that is what happened. I discovered many artists this past summer at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, including a wonderful band called Bread and Bones. The band includes Richard Ruane, Beth Duquette and Mitch Barron. Although Crazy Man Michael appears on an album by Richard Ruane, recorded before the band officially got together, all of the future members of Bread and Bones are heard here, and the album is available on their website. All of this matters only because Ruane and company have taken Crazy Man Michael and made the song their own, with beautiful results. Beth Duquette appears elsewhere on the album, but the female singer here is Patti Casey.

But what about our theme? In the case of this song, it’s a good question. You could say that the song describes a man’s madness, and no magic is involved. But I prefer to think that Michael or his true love have gotten on the bad side of a sorcerer, who clouds Michael’s mind and causes him to carry out a terrible curse. Indeed, once this happens, Michael’s mind clears, and he discovers what he has been driven to do. Also, when the raven utters his curse, Michael calls him a sorcerer. So this is a different kind of magic than we have been seeing so far this week, but it is consistent with the traditions of the British Isles.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Magic: Country Magic Edition

Larry Jon Wilson: Sheldon Church Yard


Country Joe and The Fish: Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine


Tony Joe White: Conjure Woman


It's true that in many rural areas of America magic has and likely always will be practiced to some degree. The 'roots' of magic have been credited to the Celts living between 700 BC and 100 AD, who are believed to be descendants of Indo-Europeans. From the Latin word Paganus we have Pagan which means 'country dweller'. Witch, having its origin in the Anglo-Saxon word 'wicca' is derived from the word 'wicce,' which means 'wise'. Rumors of black magic, witchcraft and voodoo around rural areas are the inspiration behind Larry Jon Wilson's Sheldon Church Yard. In Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine by Country Joe we see that being unfamiliar with country ways can be deadly! Conjure Woman by Tony Joe White demonstrates that while fear is a factor for some folks when dealing with certain witches, it also shows the isolation she certainly feels from living in the swamp for so long.

Magic: Love Potion Number Nine

The Searchers: Love Potion Number Nine


Originally this song was performed by The Clovers in 1959, but when I think of it, I always think of this 1963 version by The Searchers which peaked at #3 on the charts.

It tells the tale of a young man who visits a gypsy because he needs help in the love department and heard that she sold love potions. She reads his palm and then brews him a potion. The potion ends up not making people fall in love with him, but instead he falls in love with everyone he sees. The song was banned by some stations because it mentioned that he ends up kissing a cop. Pretty risque back in the day.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Magic: I Walk On Gilded Splinters


Dr. John: I Walk on Gilded Splinters


Johnny Jenkins: I Walk on Gilded Splinters


Darius posted a great example of a hoodoo-influenced blue song yesterday and gave me the idea for this tune, which is a Louisiana voodoo-influenced blues song. Wikipedia tells us the difference between hoodoo and voodoo is that "Voodoo is a religion, whereas Hoodoo is a group of magical practices." This may be a typical Wiki oversimplification – there seems to be a lot of overlap between the two.

Malcolm Rebennack, Jr., was a New Orleans-bred session guitarist turned pianist in the 60's when he created his Voodoo stage persona, Dr. John, the Night Tripper. I Walk on Gilded Splinters is the last song on his 1968 debut album, Gris-Gris, and it features a slow, hypnotic rhythm that sounds like a spell, over lyrics that pledge vengeance against his enemies ( Walk thru the fire, fly thru the smoke, See my enemy at the end of dey rope…. After listening to this, I'm pretty sure I never want to get on the wrong side of this scary dude.

(this song was also featured here by Dean back in 2008, but I thought it bore repeating)

Johnny Jenkins, an American blues artist, covered the song on his 1970 Ton-Ton Macoutte!. The album was intended as a Duane Allman solo LP and includes most of who would soon become the Allman Brothers Band – that's Duane on dobro. Jenkins added the vocals to make what I think is a nearly-superior version. Which one do you prefer? If you can't decide, you might try the covers by Humble Pie (a 23-minute live marathon from the Fillmore East) or the 1995 live cut by Paul Weller and Noel Gallagher.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Magic: Hoochie Coochie Man

Muddy Waters: Hoochie Coochie Man


Our theme this week is open to many musical genres. My first thought was folk music, and I will get to that later this week. But there is plenty of magic in blues songs as well. Many of the folk beliefs of Africa survived here in the United States as hoodoo, and those beliefs are central to Muddy Waters’ classic Hoochie Coochie Man. Here is a man whose enchanted nature is prophesied before his birth. The circumstances of his birth, (all those sevens!), only reinforce this. As an adult, he carries a list of magic items: a black cat bone, John the Conqueror root, and a mojo. All of these are said to magically enhance male sexual potency and attractiveness. And that’s “what it’s all about”.