Thursday, March 1, 2018

Mar* Songs: Rosie Flores Came to Town (Mar 1914)

The Honeydogs: Rosie Flores Came to Town (Mar 1914)

Sometimes, I like to pull the screen back and let you see what goes on in my mind when I choose what to write about. For me, when a theme is posted (or when I choose the theme), it immediately prompts me to think of a song and a personal story that ties to the song. Those are my favorite types of pieces. On other occasions, the theme leads me to a song, but I have no story, so I end up writing about the song, or the band. Those are fun, too, but less compelling. Then, you have themes, like this one, which prompt neither a song nor a story, and I’m reduced to scrolling through my iTunes library hoping for inspiration to hit. Those can be interesting, because this type of piece often pushes me to learn about a song or a band that I’m not all that familiar with. That’s what you are getting today.

Part of the problem is that in some ways, this is a repeat theme. Back in March, 2013, we did a “March” theme that was not particularly popular with our writers. Only four posts were written, two of which were by me. One was about my love for Monty Python, whose theme song was “The Liberty Bell March,” and the other was about Robert Randolph’s song “The March.” So, those were really the two songs that were foremost in my consciousness for “March,” interestingly neither of which related to the month.

Searching my library for ‘mar” led me ultimately to this song, “Rosie Flores Came to Town (Mar 1914)” from The Honeydogs. I know very little about this band, and the Internet is actually pretty stingy with information. I became aware of them initially because their original drummer, Noah Levy, played on Golden Smog’s Down By The Old Mainstream album (credited as Leonardson Saratoga). They were an alt-country band who arose from the same Twin Cities scene as The Jayhawks, The Replacements, Soul Asylum and others. Led by Noah’s brother Adam, The Honeydogs released albums, often with critical praise, every few years since 1995, but with very little commercial success.

I’m not 100% sure what this song is about, though. It appeared on an album of unreleased tracks called Island of Misfits (released on September 11, 2001, maybe not the best day to have been putting out new music).  To be honest, it sounds enough like “Gentle On My Mind” that the lawyer in me started wondering if there was a plagiarism claim available. In part, it seems to tie a missing child incident to a show by Rosie Flores, the great rockabilly singer and guitarist. But it is hard to say. I can’t find any lyrics online, it is hard to understand all of them from listening to the song, and I can’t find any articles about any such incident tied to an appearance by Flores. Nor can I figure out what the reference to March 1914 is, since Flores was born in 1950. Maybe it isn’t about that Rosie Flores at all. So, you’ll have to just enjoy the song, without much analysis. By the way, Noah Levy played drums on Flores’ 2013 album, Working Girl’s Guitar, more than a decade after he left The Honeydogs. Also, this is the second time I’ve discussed a song about when a musician “came to town.” But a very different musician.

As I said above, sometimes posts like this are interesting because they push me to find out more about a band that I don’t know much about. It turns out, that happened here, and it even ties into something tangentially semi-personal. In trying to find out more about the band, and specifically the featured song, I found out that Adam Levy’s son Daniel committed suicide in 2012. Daniel was essentially the same age as my son, and Daniel’s mother Jennifer Delton is a history professor at Skidmore College (and a Princeton Ph.D.), where my son and future daughter-in-law attended. Daniel, an artist, started college at the Minnesota College of Art and Design, but left after a year and a half, returning to Saratoga Springs, where he took classes at Skidmore. His suicide happened in Saratoga Springs, between semesters, just after my son finished taking Professor Delton’s class. However, neither my son, nor his fiancée, recall anything about this incident.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

MAR* SONGS: March 11th 1962/Mary Gauthier

When this assignment was sent out, it was on the understanding that March might be too restrictive a heading, something the plethora, perhaps, of military band favourites will demonstrate as being a tad pessimistic. But are there many songs about March the month? April, July and September seem to have plenty, I have learnt, but few seem to acknowledge this month, variously either that of the roman god of war or of, largely, the zodiacal fish. Actually, there are a few about pisces. So what could be better than a song that actually references a date, a birthdate, even. (OK, a birthdate that follows, by a day or so, the end of this fortnight, but.......)

Mary Gauthier is somewhat of an unexpected success story, not writing a single song until she hit 35, and probably then never expecting to have an 8 album and counting career. All at the age of, do the math, 55, for March 11 1962 is her true birthdate, as well as being the title of the song above. The Foundling, from 2010, is an inherently autobiographical song cycle based upon her always less than mainstream life. Given up for adoption at birth, truly a foundling, she spent her childhood in the care of an italian catholic couple, from whom she ran, aged 15. Seeking, I guess, herself, she found little but drugs, alcohol and trouble, spending her 18th in jail. Via an abortive period studying philosophy, she learnt cooking and opened the restaurant she ran for 11 years, 'Dixie Kitchen', also the name of her first album, the sale of which funded her 2nd, and breakthrough album, 'Drag Queens and Limousines'. Her almost instantly recognisable drawled tones, imagine an even more raddled Lucinda, often portray tales of life between low and the gutter. Perhaps her most famous song is this, 'I Drink', featured in these very pages some years ago. Here's a link.

But that would do her disservice, to attribute her merits solely to a quasi-Tom Waitsian underworld of squalor and disappointment. Her songs can also lift the soul. Eagerly awaited as I scribble is her latest, a work in conjunction with U.S. army vets and their families, described here. Not out yet in my home country, she is over for a short tour later in the year. Never yet having caught her live, I hope to remedy that. And here is a song from the forthcoming.

Never cute, never gentle, always acutely precise and demanding of thought, here's to you, Mary, have a great 11th.

Dig in!

Mar* Songs: March of the Men of Harlech

Robin Huw Bowen: The March of the Men of Harlech


Dal Riada: Men of Harlech


There is an old saying, that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. That may prove true of our new theme as well. For the “in like a lion” part, let me start things off with the March of the Men of Harlech. This song dates from at least 1793, and came close to becoming the Welsh national anthem. According to folklore, the song first was written to rouse the troops during a seven year long siege that ended in 1468 with the besieged Welshmen winning the day. The song became popular after its use in the 1946 film How Green Was My Valley, and it was also featured in Zulu in 1964. That last version had lyrics that were written specifically for the film. There are several sets of lyrics, in both Welsh and English, starting with published versions from the early 1800s, but there is no generally accepted text.

Men of Harlech is most often performed in one of three ways. It may be sung by a male chorus or a solo singer; Charlotte Church may be the best know artist to record it that way. There are any number of recordings of arrangements for brass bands. I tend to think the versions for harp are likely to be truest to the original. Some of the instruments in a brass band did not exist in the 1400s, and it seems telling to me that an instrumental version for harp was the first published version, with the rival lyrics beginning to appear in print later. Robin Huw Bowen performs a version that may be close to the original sound. Warfare was a much quieter affair in the 1400s than it is now, and the strains of the harp within the besieged castle would have done much to boost morale if played this way. But solo harp is an acquired taste for the modern listener, so I have also included the fuller arrangement by Dal Riada. Here, the harp is augmented by bodhran and flute for a beautiful group sound that honors the feel of the original song.

Dal Riada should not be confused with the folk-metal group Dalriada. Dal Riada, with the space, is an offshoot of the folk group Idlewild, led by David and Carol Sharp. They only recorded two albums as Dal Riada, possibly because of the similarity of band names.