Saturday, May 23, 2015

Wedding: Laura Nyro

Laura Nyro: Wedding Bell Blues
[purchase Wedding Bell Blues]

When we first posited the Wedding theme, it seemed a natural that this song be included. It has the theme word in the title (score one for me). It was the first song that came to mind when I considered "Wedding" as a theme.

The Interweb notes that the song is somewhat autobiographical - one generation removed: apparently Nyro's (aka Laura Bianchini) aunt had a relationship with a "William", and there is a story about waiting for him to propose that pumped the lyrical content. Hard to believe she wrote the song at age 18.

Music critics more expert than myself note her vocal range in addition to her song writing skill. As I listen to the song again, I am struck by the great back vocal work on the song. Nyro had great vocal range - her backup vocals team bring it out.

That said, the song - to me - transcends 1966 - the year she penned the song. That's the year we had such hits as "Wild Thing" and "I am a Rock".

Nyro never realized the same status as others who covered her songs, probably most famously, The 5th Dimension. However, she did get inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of fame back in 2012. She's not only the author of "Wedding Bell Blues," but also of "Stoned Soul Picnic," again, a 5th Dimension major hit. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Wedding: Drive-By Truckers’ Decoration Day Album


I’ve written about the Drive-By Truckers many times, maybe more than any other band, in part because they are one of my favorites, and, I think, in part because their songs tend to be about unusual topics, lending themselves to discussion on a theme-based blog such as this.

That the Decoration Day album was my gateway drug to the Truckers was discussed in a prior post, but in thinking about the Wedding theme, it struck me that many of the songs on the album, in some way, related to weddings, or at least, to marriage or getting married, which is close enough. And I’m not even going to get into the fact that at least three of the songs on the album were written by Patterson Hood in reaction to the breakdown of his marriage.

Decoration Day starts off with “The Deeper In,” which is about Patty and Allen Muth, who were, at the time, the only couple in the United States who were imprisoned for consensual sibling incest. Which sounds pretty bad, but there are many extenuating circumstances, not the least of which was that because their own parents were pretty awful people who lost their own parental rights, the couple at issue never met until Patty was 18 years old. They held themselves out as married, although they weren’t, and had four children, who were taken from them. You can read an article about them that was in Esquire magazine here (Hood changed the location from Wisconsin to Michigan in the song to make the last line rhyme better). Following the United States Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas striking down homosexual sodomy laws, Allen Muth appealed his conviction, but the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed his suit based on a narrow, and criticized, interpretation of Lawrence as being limited only to homosexual sodomy cases. Coincidentally, Allen Muth was, for most of his working life, a long haul trucker. Here’s a live version of the song recorded in Louisville: in 2010.

The fourth song on Decoration Day is “Marry Me,” one of the band’s best rockers. Written by Mike Cooley, it is filled with the clever wordplay that makes his songs so much fun. It’s hard to pick a favorite. There are the opening lines:

Well, my daddy didn’t pull out, but he never apologized
Rock and Roll means well, but it can’t help tellin’ young boys lies. 

Or the end of the second verse:

There’s a fool on every corner, on every street, in every one
and I’d rather be your fool nowhere than go somewhere and be no one's 

 Or the last line before the final chorus:

Just cause I don’t run my mouth don’t mean I got nothing to say.

According to Cooley, the song was inspired by a friend who, during sex, yelled out the name of a former girlfriend, Mary, and, thinking quickly, changed it to “Marry me.”

Here’s a version of the song recorded in the band’s hometown, Athens, Georgia in 2013, at the actual wedding of Jenn Bryant, long-time member of the extended DBT family.

Finally, “My Sweet Annette,” tells the tale of Hood’s great uncle (not the same one he wrote about in “The Sands of Iwo Jima”) who ditched his betrothed, Annette, at a pre-wedding party and eloped with the maid of honor, Marilee. In the song, Hood provides some moral ambiguity—his uncle and Marilee never intended to hurt Annette, but, as the song notes, Lord have mercy when two people get alone, and you can sense the guilt he had in leaving Sweet Annette . . . standing at the altar.

This version of the song, recorded in 2012 in Gainesville, includes fiddle from Scott Danborn, of Centro-Matic, who played on the album track.

O.K. One more—Jason Isbell, who joined the Truckers in time to contribute two possibly perfect songs to Decoration Day, released his first solo album in 2007, after leaving the band. That album, Sirens of the Ditch included a song, “Shotgun Wedding,” that begs to be included here. It is, reportedly, about a creepy acquaintance of Isbell’s who liked pregnant women.