Friday, October 26, 2018

Homecoming: Sweet Home Chicago

purchase [Sweet Home Chicago ]

Sweet Home Chicago is so old and such a classic that it almost rates as kind of trite to post it.
And then again, there are renditions of the song that stand out, even after 80 plus years [Robert Johnson, 1936 or before], sometimes because of the interpretation, sometimes because of the line-up of musicians (each with their own interpretation).

More credit to you if you can name these guys in order of appearance (some are pretty easy, others need a little expertise).
But, whatever, the clip is a pretty good example of unique interpretations of a riff.

The list ( if I ain't confused):

Buddy Guy starts us off.
Johnny Winter appears to solo, but it isn't clear that he's playing.
Hubert Sumlin does a solo. (1931-2011, and a member of Howlin' Wolf's band)
Clapton and Buddy Guy sing a verse.
John Meyer - love the way he swings his guitar and the unusual notes he hits in his solo.
Johnny Winter's actual solo,
followed by Jimmie Vaughan's solo
And a Clapton/Buddy Guy wrap

The history of the song is particularly entertaining, because, while credited to Robert Johnson, there are a fair number of preceding progenitors and a plethora of interpretations of the lyrics. I'll simply provide you with a link to the informative Wiki article (and, because Turkey continues to ban access to Wikipedia, it's a link to the alternative Wikipedia that those of us over here have to use, unless we're on a VPN)

Groove ...

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Homecoming: Take The Long Way Home

Supertramp: Take The Long Way Home

What exactly was Supertramp, anyway? They started out as a prog band financed by a modern day Medici, Dutch millionaire Stanley August “Sam” Miesegaes, but only became successful when they lost their patron and, over the course of a few albums, gradually tempered their proggier influences with radio-friendly pop, only to lose a key member at the height of their long-sought popularity and drift into obscurity and irrelevance. In addition to the tension between longer, complex songs and catchy pop tunes, the band also had to deal with the fact that its two main songwriters, Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson, had different personalities and different musical styles—one harder and jazzier and the other more folky and melodic—which ultimately led to the breakup. (If you are dying to know who wrote which Supertramp song, because most of the songs were credited to both Davies and Hodgson, look here.)

I became aware of Supertramp with their 1977 album, Even in the Quietest Moments… an album that, to my mind, is their most successful balancing of the various influences. It had a hit single, “Give a Little Bit,” but it also had an excellent ten and half minute song, “Fool’s Overture.”

My college radio career began during the early part of 1979, and in March of that year, Supertramp released Breakfast in America. It was, for the most part, a swing toward the pop side of their personality, and it was a huge hit—reaching number 1 on the Billboard pop album chart, and containing four hit singles, and a couple of other songs that might have been contenders. I remember playing it, but having the sense that Supertramp was really moving away from the kind of music that we were playing on the station in those days (and we still played a pretty good amount of prog rock). Although I think that we were less doctrinaire about shunning hits than many other college stations of the time, there definitely was the sense that Breakfast in America was maybe just too commercial. I did continue to play my favorites from Quietest Moments and took the opportunity to investigate their prior two albums, which had songs that I have to believe I heard on WNEW when I was in high school. For some reason, possibly bad reviews, I never spent any time with the band’s first two albums, which were unsuccessful full on prog records (which led to the loss of their benefactor). Although in preparing to write this, I discovered that the guitarist and lyricist on Supertramp’s self-titled debut album was Richard Palmer, who, as Richard Palmer-James later wrote the lyrics for three of King Crimson’s best albums—Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Starless and Bible Black, and Red, so maybe I’ll go back and check it out.

I think that “Take The Long Way Home” is my favorite of the hit singles from Breakfast, and I think that it holds up better than some of the others, maybe in part because the song uses what sounds like a real piano, and not the dated sounding electric one that many of the band’s songs relied on. (Although the title track also sounds good after having not listened to it for a while) And maybe it is because that while it is still a pop song it lopes along, taking, I guess, the long way home. Or maybe because of its ambivalent message. Hodgson, who wrote the song, has said that it is about

home on two levels. I mean, I'm talking about not wanting to go home to the wife, take the long way home to the wife because she treats you like part of the furniture, but there's a deeper level to the song, too. I really believe we all want to find our home, find that place in us where we feel at home, and to me, home is in the heart and that is really, when we are in touch with our heart and we're living our life from our heart, then we do feel like we found our home. 

After that blockbuster came a placeholding live album, and an even poppier studio followup, which while having a couple of hits, really was a pale imitation of Breakfast. At that point Hodgson left the band to record some mostly forgotten solo albums. Davies kept the band together, releasing some more experimental records that had some initial chart success, but not for long. Both Supertramp and Hodgson continued to record and tour occasionally (and separately), and no real reunion ever bore fruit. In 2015, Davies was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, forcing a tour cancellation, and the band’s website simply says “There are no upcoming tour dates scheduled currently.” Hodgson’s website, on the other hand, shows a vigorous touring schedule through the rest of 2018 and 2019.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Homecoming: Sweet Home Alabama

purchase [Sweet Home Alabama]

If you are talking about coming home, you cannot dismiss this. Granted, I already have a name for posting the obvious, but this one belongs here.

The song was mired in the polemic Neil Young raised about what does the "South" mean - both to Southerners and to those outside, What does it mean to fly the Confederate flag? And then ... in response, Lynard Skynard was trying to send Neil Young (and the world) a message. 40 years down the road, so much has changed (not just in rock), but I do wonder what these guys were thinking when they penned these lines:

Watergate does not bother me
Does your conscience bother you

You could not survive that line these days, but we <forgive> it as a classic,

The linked video is relatively amazing for its time ('74): it is pretty close to synced on time as it cuts from scene to scene (No small feat for 1974), and it includes modern features such as focus on the lead guitar during the solo (all recent innovations back in the '70s)

As to the theme ...
There are few things more hurtful than an attack on your home. And I don't know if that is what prompted the song, but it sure seems so, The lyrics say as much: F*&ck you Neil Young, we have our own narrative of our history. Because, after all the "truth" of history left to later generations is in the words that the present generation chooses to write - fake or not...

And what to make of the very discernible female backing vocals that are equally not visible anywhere in the clip. A classic piece, that, like most of its associates, falls far short of today's standards.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Homecoming: Blue Bayou

Our Homecoming theme got off to a great start, but then seems to have wilted. So I propose to define it as “songs about coming home, or wanting to.” That means two things: the song does not have to have the word Home in the title; and I can post this gem.

Linda Ronstadt: Blue Bayou


I first heard Blue Bayou when Linda Ronstadt released her version in 1977. My oldest brother was, and still is, a music snob, and one of his rules at the time was that no artist was worth your time unless they did original songs. (The musical gods would later have their revenge on him by making him love jazz, where many classics are covers) But, getting back to 1977, I knew I disagreed, because I had already discovered folk music. Blue Bayou was and is a powerful expression of yearning for home. Ronstadt completely sells the emotion of it, belting it out without oversinging. The song became an early hit for Ronstadt that really jump started her career, and it is easy to hear why. She completely sells the lyric. As you listen, you want to find out what happened to keep her from feeling that she can go home again.

Roy Orbison: Blue Bayou


What did happen was that Roy Orbison, 14 years earlier, had become a star whose livelihood meant he had to live his life on the road, away from the places and people he loved. Orbison was at the peak of his career in 1963, when this was released. Ironically, where Blue Bayou would mark the commercial arrival of Linda Ronstadt, it would mark the beginning of a commercial decline for Orbison. This version charted, but not in the way Orbison had become used to. It peaked at #29 on the pop charts, staying there for only one week. Soon after, the Beatles would arrive in the US, and Orbison would have to scale back his career. This original version of Blue Bayou features a great vocal, and it has a bass line that sounds great. Ronstadt’s version replaces that bass line, and I could not find another version that does it this way. That said, the female background vocals are cheesy, even for their time, and the song would have been better without them. Blue Bayou became a minor part of Orbison’s catalog, and I could find no other versions until Ronstadt’s. It is Linda Ronstadt who is being covered by everyone who comes after her.

Faith Ako: Blue Bayou

[purchase the album Kulaiwi here]

Blue Bayou usually works best with a soaring high tenor or soprano vocal. Faith Ako however makes it work beautifully with her rich alto. Ako is my great discovery for this post. Most of her songs are Hawaiian, as she is, but this one breaks the language barrier to allow those of us who don’t speak Hawaiian to appreciate her artistry. The instrumental flourishes here are stunning, and this arrangement works in any language.

The Cox Family: Blue Bayou


Even though Linda Ronstadt’s Blue Bayou is the standard, her arrangement sounds dated. In particular, the way the electric piano is used became a terrible cliché by the time the 70s were over. The Cox family strips the song down to a wonderfully spare acoustic arrangement, and then adds gorgeous vocal harmonies. There is a great live version live version of the Cox Family doing this one with Allison Kraus available on YouTube. I did not include it here because it is not available for purchase.

Raul Malo, Pat Flynn, Rob Ickes, and Dave Pomeroy: Blue Bayou


Finally, I had to include this version. Thanks to Linda Ronstadt, the vast majority of artists who cover this are women. I think there is also another reason why versions with male vocals are rare: there are very few male singers who can do justice to the song. I could think of only two who I would want to hear. One is Chis Isaak. I suspect that he has heard comparisons to Roy Orbison way too often, and wants nothing to do with it. The other is Raul Malo of the Mavericks. In fact, The Mavericks have done the song live, and Malo has also performed it with his own band. But the only recorded version I could find is this stunning acoustic version. As I suspected, Malo is a great choice to sing it, and the arrangement is great too.