Friday, November 26, 2010

Kin: Cry Little Sister


Gerard McMann: Cry Little Sister


It's Black Friday here in the U.S., and what better music to celebrate it than a nice organ-filled, creepy-kids-choir'd goth rock tune, eh? Okay, I know it's not supposed to mean that kind of Black Friday. I remain unconvinced. Me, I'm staying home today and writing blogs like a sensible 21st century gal.

This song was the theme of the 1987 American teen horror film The Lost Boys. For benefit of us Americans, Gerard used the name "McMann" on the soundtrack, since he thought we'd have a tough time with "McMahan", his real name. It's not that we don't pay attention to these sorts of nuances; we're just seriously sleep-deprived from all this 3 AM shopping. We're zombi-i-i-e-e-es!

Kin: Your Daughters and Your Sons

Dick Gaughan: Your Daughters and Your Sons


The Duhks: Your Daughters and Your Sons


Two favorite versions of a well-covered tune by Irish folk troubadour Tommy Sands, who tends towards the political, and sure enough: its litany of international struggles for rights and recognition is capped effectively by the reminder that, though strife and hard times often follow those who fight for justice with their art, their work, and their lives, the seeds they've sown in their progeny is ample evidence of the change that they fought for. The second person delivery only serves to drive it home harder, making it clear that, though we may not see the fruits of our own labors either, the rewards of social justice are no less effective for being the beginnings of a multi-generational process of protest, absorption, acceptance, adoption, and - eventually - peace.

Kin: The Cobbler’s Daughter

Kate Rusby: The Cobbler‘s Daughter

[purchase, priced in British pounds]

Kate Rusby is surely one of the leading voices of English folk music. The Cobbler’s Daughter comes from Rusby’s 1999 album Sleepless, which was her breakthrough album. Sleepless was nominated for a Mercury Prize. The Mercury Prize is the British equivalent of a Grammy. The Mercury goes to the best album of the year, and folk albums are almost never considered. But Rusby is that good.

As far as I can tell, The Cobbler’s Daughter is a traditional song. I can not find any recording of it before Rusby’s, however, and the song seems like a modern twist on a situation that often occurs in traditional songs of the British Isles. A beautiful young maiden catches the eye of a young man who then comes to court her. In traditional songs, it is assumed that she will fall in love with him in turn, and their love will either lead to tragedy, or it will overcome all obstacles, and the song will end happily. Rusby gives the young maiden a choice in the matter, and love goes off the rails from there. I’ll let you discover the rest for yourself.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Kin: Little Mother-in-Law

Squirrel Nut Zippers: Little Mother-in-Law

[purchase used]

An odd little Hawaiian-esque acoustic number complete with slack key, uke, brush and holler from the kings of the zoot suit swing revival, recorded in their demo years, rereleased on Merge Records via a limited edition EP when the band got big in the late nineties, and now long out of print.

The titular mother-in-law actually appears to be the narrator's mother, best as I can tell - but like so much of their work, this one really isn't about the lyrics, it's about the mood.

Kin: I'm My Own Grandpa


Lonzo and Oscar: I'm My Own Grandpa


It may sound like material for a Jerry Springer episode, but the roots of I’m My Own Grandpa reside in Mark Twain, who once showed that it was possible to be one’s own grandfather (though he most likely lifted the idea from early sources). Twain’s story inspired one Dwight Latham, member of 1930s novelty and comedy band The Jesters, to co-write with Tin Pan Alley resident Moe Jaffe a song about the cartwheeling genealogy which would make for interesting family reunions. It was first recorded in 1947 by country-jokers Lonzo & Oscar (Oscar, whose real name is Rollin Lillian Sullivan, is still alive at 91).

Almost half a century after the song first was released, Bill Wyman and Mandy Smith and their respective son and mother tried to put the theory to the test, but in so half-assed a way that nobody really cared.

Let's give a warm SMM welcome to our guest poster, Any Major Dude With Half A Heart, whose blog I've loved for quite a while. Thanks!

Kin: Sister Madly

Crowded House: Sister Madly


One of the most popular bands of the 1980s was The Stray Cats, with their slightly punked-up take on rockabilly. As a result, a lot of musicians tried out a rockabilly sound, at least for a song or two. Many of these have been forgotten, as they should be. But Sister Madly was Crowded House’s take on it. The song swings appropriately, but it also has touches that sound only like Crowded House. For me, this one stands up.

Neil Finn wrote this one when he was awakened by his sister having a nightmare. The guitar solo is by Richard Thompson.

Kin: Walt Whitman's Niece

Billy Bragg & Wilco: Walt Whitman's Niece


As a listener and blogger, I tend to favor a focus on history, production and musicality over text. From that perspective, today's song is easy to present: penned by Woody Guthrie fifty years before it was set to music and recorded by Billy Bragg and Wilco on their Grammy-nominated Mermaid Avenue collection, Walt Whitman's Niece is a fun rockabilly stomper that recounts a based-on-fact narrative of a night with a seaman friend and some girls. Period.

But as a teacher of English and Communications, trained in poetic parsing, it's hard not to notice the concrete power of the text here. These are heavily down-to-earth lyrics, with the first two verses constructed of structurally consistent couplets of event-oriented plot lines paired with self-aware lines protecting the anonymity of the people and places involved, ad infinitum, until we reach absurdity of not even being able to know which rug they lie on, which stairs they climbed to get there, which book of poems the unnamed seaman and narrator heard from the unnamed girls of the titular lyric.

If that were all he wrote, then the song would be an interesting exercise, nothing more. But perhaps not surprisingly for those who recognize the literate poetic genius of Guthrie himself, in that it reads a bit like a Whitman poem, especially at the end, the lyrical structure belies the crypticism of the words it contains. Here's verse three of three in its entirety, a testament to both the project and the poet it pays tribute to:

My seaman buddy and girl moved off
after a couple of pages and there I was,
All night long, laying and listening
and forgetting the poems.
And as well as I could recall
or my seaman buddy could recollect,
My girl had told us that she was a niece,
of Walt Whitman, but not which niece,
And it takes a night and a girl
and a book of this kind
A long long time to find its way back

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Kin: Earth to Grandma

Ass Ponys: Earth to Grandma


In the grand scheme of the music world, there sure aren't a lot of homages to dear ol' Grams. This contribution from rock band Ass Ponys is mostly just a list of the kooky stuff that so many grandma's seem to like to make and give to others that makes everyone else think "what the heck is this and why would anyone want one?". So this is more an homage to the crazy kitch crafty world of dear old granny and her ilk than to the lady herself.

It makes me smile, but then again, my grandma never made me anything out of popsicle sticks.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Kin: Aunt Avis

Vic Chesnutt: Aunt Avis


Widespread panic w/ Vic Chesnutt: Aunt Avis


Left a paraplegic after a car accident in his teens, celebrated but never-famous singer-songwriter and collaborator Vic Chesnutt struggled with depression up until Christmas of last year, when he passed at the age of 45 due to complications following an overdose.

In the year since, I've delved much deeper into his work, and though his stark realism sticks to the soul if you let it, it's well worth the trip to hell and back.

Take Aunt Avis, for example, a plea to Vic's ancestors to save him from himself. The original is shaky and sparse, the jamband version with Widespread Panic eerier and dark. But both bear the self-depreciating humor and cynical grit which made Chesnutt a darling of the post-grunge underground. And the suicide-note lyrics? The plaintive cry of the vocal? Aunt Avis is dead, and so is her nephew: whether that makes the song that much more prescient, or merely a promise fulfilled, is a question best left open to discussion.

Kin: Daddy

Emerson, Lake and Palmer: Daddy


If there were a more disturbing song recorded by ELP I haven't heard it yet. In Daddy, we hear the story of a father's worse nightmare: the loss of a child. The song was written in 1993 in memory and to raise awareness of Sara Anne Wood who went missing riding her bike home from summer Bible School less than one mile from her home in Frankfort, New York on August 18 of the same year. Her body has never been found. Three years after Sara was last seen, a suspect was brought to trail and was convicted, even though after his confession he recanted. He was also a suspect in the disappearance of at least four other children. I don't think his name is worth mentioning here because this is for Sara and for anyone else who has been touched by such a horrible crime.

Other People’s Songs/ Kin: Me and My Uncle

Judy Collins: Me and My Uncle


An entire day went by with our new theme, and no one posted. I wanted to, but I was waiting to see if anyone had a transition song for us. That’s where a song fits both our old theme and our new one. I was drawing blanks. Well, life goes on. After a full day, I decided to get things started with one of my favorite Grateful Dead songs, Me and My Uncle. Just for the heck of it, I decided to make sure that I knew who wrote it. I got quite a surprise, and a great story, which comes from the Grateful Dead Lyric & Song Finder. It turns out that Me and My Uncle was written, kind of by accident, by John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas. How do you write a song by accident? Here’s the story:

John often used to tell the story behind "Me and My Uncle." Years ago he began receiving publishing royalties from a song on a Judy Collins record with which he was unfamiliar. It was titled "Me and My Uncle". He called Judy to let her know of the mistake because he hadn't written any such song. She laughed and told him that about a year before, in Arizona after one of her concerts, they had a 'Tequila Night' back at the hotel with Stephen Stills, Neil Young and a few others. They were running a blank cassette and John proceeded to write "Me and My Uncle" on the spot. The next day, John woke up to the tequila sunrise with no recollection of the songwriting incident. Judy kept the cassette from that evening and then, without informing John, recorded the song for her own record. Over the years the song was recorded by several people, and eventually became a standard of the Grateful Dead. John used to joke that, little by little, with each royalty check, the memory of writing the song would come back to him.

And that’s also why I wound up with Judy Collins, and not the Grateful Dead.