Wednesday, April 29, 2015


Coming to this theme direct from the last, immediately it becomes apparent how darkness holds so much greater imagination for the songwriter than it's blinking faintly opposite, whether as a metaphor for mood or for the, literally, dark side, or end, whether of the moon or the street. Type in black, the colour of darkness, into your search engine and the names of the bands, the songs and the albums come spouting forth. Almost too much choice, so I have decided to go all literal on you. And what could be darker than a coalmine. Unless it's a dungeon.

Merle Travis might be considered the patron singer of coalminers, to the extent I was surprised he had never been one himself. However, born in in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, prime mining territory, he was always going to be only too aware of it's ravages on those who had no choice but to work underground. I had never heard of him until a moment of epiphany, early 70's, as a schoolboy in England, when a friend lent me the seminal hillbilly mountain music of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's "Will the Circle be Unbroken", wherein the Dirt Band came together with a host of worthy names from the bluegrassier side of country over six sides of vinyl. To my Deep Purpled ears, the electricity of much of this acoustic music was astonishing, with my favorite track being this song, an altogether mellower fare, as performed by Travis himself, and including exemplary blind picker, Doc Watson, the two, astonishingly, having never met. (Indeed, the recording includes their introduction and conversation, prior to playing the song, sadly not included here.)

(Buy Merle and the Dirt Band together!)
Written and recorded first in 1946, in a four disc box of 78s, entitled Folk Songs of the Hills, a set which drew on both traditional songs and his own, drawing on experiences of appalachian life. Another song in this set was the perhaps even better known "Sixteen Tons." Each have been covered many times, within and without the country bluegrass idiom, so here are a couple of conventional dungeons.

Somewhat of a no-brainer that this song should turn up on Kathy Mattea's 2008 recording, "Coal", and, even if it has been a while since women or children were let loose down at the coalface, she nonetheless imbues the song with a note of chill warning.
(Buy Kathy!)

But it is Charlie Louvin, already an old man, who really nails it, gifting the melody with the nearest attention he can still muster, the ache and the breaks in his voice as painful as the collapsed lungs of those witnessing the reality first hand. This is from his release of the same year, 2008, "Charlie Louvin sings Murder Ballads and Disaster Songs", the title alone plunging out any glimmers of light in the darkness.
(Buy Charlie!)

By way of contrast, in a perhaps vainglorious attempt to update the song, 1985 saw Wall of Voodoo produce this travesty (TRAVISty?!), which fails on all levels, beyond perhaps rendering into tone the sheer monotony of hacking at a coalface in the deep and dank underground. (Well, some might like it.........)
(If you must!)

If you like this sort of stuff, you really need to get this. In fact, I insist. Read what AMG have to say about it.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Darkness: Like The Howling Glory Of The Darkest Winds, This Voice Was Thunderous And The Words Holy Tangling Their Way Around Our Hearts And Clutching Our Innocent Awe

Red Sparowes: Like The Howling Glory Of The Darkest Winds, This Voice Was Thunderous And The Words Holy Tangling Their Way Around Our Hearts And Clutching Our Innocent Awe. [purchase]

There are many songs that fit this theme, and it would be easy to write about Springsteen, or CS&N, or Death Cab for Cutie, or Elvis Costello, etc. And I still might. But one of the fun things about writing for this blog (and, I hope, one of the reasons that people read it) is that I can, occasionally, discuss some pretty obscure music.

The Red Sparowes fit the bill. Made up of members of other bands that I have never heard of, they released three albums and a few split releases in the 2004-2010 period and are usually categorized as “post-rock.” I’ve written about what this genre is, sort of, before, and won’t repeat myself here. Basically, though, the genre encompasses music, like this, that is usually instrumental, usually pretty intense, with guitars and keyboards creating soundscapes and with prominent percussion. But not always.

I can’t remember how I found out about these guys, but I liked them immediately. Their music is somewhere in the intersection of rock, metal and prog, and without the annoying vocals that can often ruin lesser metal and prog songs.  And unusually, they often feature the pedal steel guitar.

But even better than the music are their song titles. I mean, you have to love the title of the featured song. And it may not even be the best title on the album. It’s a close call, but I’m going to go with "And by Our Own Hand Did Every Last Bird Lie Silent in Their Puddles, the Air Barren of Song as the Clouds Drifted Away. For Killing Their Greatest Enemy, the Locusts Noisily Thanked Us and Turned Their Jaws Toward Our Crops, Swallowing Our Greed Whole." The whole song is 1:42, slightly longer than it takes to say the name. Some other Red Sparowes song titles: "Mechanical Sounds Cascaded Through the City Walls and Everyone Reveled in Their Ignorance," "We Left the Apes to Rot, But Find the Fang Still Grows Within,” and “Finally As That Blazing Sun Shone Down Upon Us Did We Know That True Enemy Was The Voice Of Blind Idolatry; And Only Then Did We Begin To Think For Ourselves.

I’d suggest putting on headphones, cranking up the volume (to a safe level, of course) and enjoying the 10 plus minute journey of this tune.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Light/ Darkness: From Light to Darkness with Richard and Linda

Richard and Linda Thompson: I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight


Richard and Linda Thompson: Shoot Out the Lights


What better way could there be to transition from Light to Darkness than with these two songs from Richard and Linda Thompson? I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight comes, not surprisingly, from the first album Richard and Linda Thompson made together as a couple. The song is filled with the eager anticipation that comes with the first bloom of love. But the emotions were running just as high when the relationship eventually fell apart. Shoot Out the Lights is from Richard and Linda’s last album, and by then the relationship was over. Darkness had descended, and the song describes the bitterness and despair of a bad ending. Without playing analyst, I find it interesting that Linda sings the first song, and Richard the last.