Wednesday, November 28, 2018


I knew this guy had to get a mention ahead of year end, having briefly invoked his spirit in an earlier post. But once again I fear I may be accused of subverting this theme, supposedly around ways to, if not to get well, to at least get better, so here I go, dredging up yet another allegedly drug-addled troubadour and his lullaby to papaver somniferum or some such. Of course you'd be wrong as, try as I might, I can't squeeze a narcotic reference out of the ethereally vague lovelorn lyric. And there are apparently many Pill Hills, notably in Chicago, areas of town with a hospital at the peak, surrounded by the houses of the support staff. So there.

Lanegan presents quite a contrast. His somewhat daunting appearance and edgy reputation seems to hide a real pussy cat, capable of producing beguilingly beautiful songs like this, certainly more often and reliably than the grungy thrashfests he looks as if he should be performing. And was, at the start of his career. I probably missed out on that part, he first coming to my attention in his duo with Isobel Campbell, herself fresh from a stint with sensitive Glasgow pastoral-pop vendors Belle and Sebastian. Whilst no great fan of theirs, I had picked up Campbells solo offering Milk White Sheets, her record of traditional songs and airs, enjoying it enormously. I hadn't appreciated then that she had already one album out with Lanegan, and would soon produce another. But I heard her, and nominally he, interviewed on a folk radio show. She could and did speak volubly about their music together, interspersed with a session from them, he nearly monosyllabic. However, as he sang, his sandpaper and stubble baritone gave a formidable weight to the songs, underpinning her delicate higher tones in ways that entranced me.

As is my wont, this was my hint to explore the back catalogue. Not all to my taste, his work with the Screaming Trees and Queens of the Stone Age prove a little challenging to my genteel ears, if simultaneously reinforcing my realisation that his voice is a rare gift. And he has been always busy and/or restless, with always another collaboration simmering on one side, another direction pursued on another. So as well as those already mentioned, he has worked with Greg Dulli as the Gutter Twins (or, as well, in the Twilight Singers), Soulsavers, Moby and even Massive Attack, legendary Bristol trip-hop collective. In between time(!), there have been at least 9 solo albums, gradually incorporating ever more hues of electronica, fusing it with his old testament gravel and guts vocal. A good place to start would be either with last years Gargoyle, or Blues Funeral from 2012. (Links go to a song from each.) A more recent revisited collaboration is with protege and band member, Duke Garwood, a guitarist who uses the instrument, heavily processed and fed-back, to produce atmospheric soundscapes. While his own vocals provide suitably spare melody to these shimmers, guess whose makes them sound even better? With Animals came out earlier this year, but this, Pentecostal, is from Black Pudding in 2013.

I don't know how successful Lanegan is at home. Certainly he seems to spend a lot of time in Europe and seems to tour the UK at least once a year. I was lucky enough to catch him last year.

For the record, the song featured for this piece comes from his 5th album, Field Songs, dating from 2001, but helpfully came also as part of a thoroughly decent retrospective, Has God Seen My Shadow: An Anthology 1989 - 2011.

As a covers lover, I also want to give a nod to his many and varied appearances on tribute projects and soundtracks, for artists as diverse as Bob Dylan, the Kinks and the Velvet Underground. He also has a couple of records devoted to cover versions, with songs not always as expected. For 2015's Record Store Day he produced, again with Garwood, a terrific version of Needle of Death, written by the late great Bert Jansch, which just happens to be yet another druggy song, anti, as it happens, for this Remedies theme redux.) It isn't on YouTube so don't look. Have this instead, a reminder of what happens when the remedies don't work.......

If you have watched and listened to these featured clips, and via the links, you will have noticed a distinct trend, that of dissolution and the need for redemption, with the Massive Attack video being an especially galling view. I feel Lanegan knows and faces all these demons, or their reminders, on a daily basis, with the born again vigour yet stony blankness of a old west preacher with a gun.

Praise be!

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Leftovers: Trios: I’m With Her


Usually, when I go to a concert, I have expectations. That’s because I’m a fan of the artist, and I have a sense of what it will sound like. Most times, there’s an expectation of what you are going to hear—stuff from the new album, if there is one, some older favorites, maybe a cover, or a deep track. Of course, expectations can lead to disappointment, if the band has an off night, or doesn’t play your favorite song, for example.

Seeing a show by an artist that you aren’t that familiar with, or even totally unfamiliar with, can be liberating. Sure, you might be totally disappointed, but you can listen with a completely open mind. For me, that has been part of the joy of attending music festivals, most notably the Clearwater Festival (but also Newport Folk), because sprinkled between the familiar acts are new discoveries.

A few weeks ago, my wife and I saw I’m With Her at the Tarrytown Music Hall. When the tickets went on sale, I thought that it might be a good show, despite the fact that I was only vaguely familiar with their music. I was aware that all three members had reasonably successful careers in the folk music/singer-songwriter/Americana/bluegrass/roots music world, that Sara Watkins had been in Nickel Creek, and that I enjoyed all of their music, both solo and group, when I heard it on WFUV.

It turned out to be a great show. As much as I can enjoy a rocking show at the Music Hall (seeing The Mavericks shake the old building a few weeks before was a blast), there is something to be said to hearing beautiful music, well-played, in a quiet, appreciative concert hall. The show started off with another revelation, The Brother Brothers, identical twins David and Adam Moss, who played guitar, violin, and cello, and sang classic sounding (mostly) original folk music with wonderful brother harmonies. They set the stage well for the headliners, and seemed genuinely happy to be playing to a fairly large audience.

I’m With Her, which also features Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O’Donovan, made beautiful, mostly acoustic music on an array of stringed instruments, with beautiful harmonies. Apparently, they came together at an impromptu show in 2014 at the Sheridan Opera House in Telluride, Colorado where they had been booked to share a workshop, and during rehearsals, recognized that as good as they were individually, they had something special as a trio. They toured together, playing on each other’s songs and doing covers, before Hillary Clinton unwittingly commandeered the band's name as a slogan.

They began to write songs as a group, complicated by geography (O’Donovan and Jarosz live in New York City; Watkins lives in Los Angeles), busy work schedules as solo artists and as guests, teaching, and, for Watkins and O’Donovan, motherhood. Their album was recorded in England, in real time, with the musicians, producer and engineers all in one room.

And that, pretty much, was how the show went. The three women, facing each other on stage switching between instruments and between lead and harmony vocals. They played songs from their albums, solo tracks, and a few covers. And it was beautiful, and relaxing (less so for my wife, who was seated next to a very annoying person on her other side). In honor of Joni Mitchell’s 75th birthday the previous day, they busted out a new cover of “Carey,” with each member of the group taking the lead on a verse. You could hear how each of them was influenced by the legend, but also how they had made that influence personal.

I chose to feature “Overland,” not because it was the best song they played, although it was quite good, but because it has a really cool paper stop action animation video. Featuring lead vocals and guitar from Watkins, with banjo from Jarosz and O’Donovan on guitar, it is a song about leaving home, in this case, Chicago, and heading to San Francisco, with all of the hope and trepidation that entails.

Monday, November 26, 2018


Curiously, this has almost the same title as the last song I wrote about in this theme, albeit in translation, confirming, if ever needed, that March is one wet mother. It is also my birthday month and my unreliable and unravelling neurones told me I had celebrated last year by attending one Michael Chapman in concert. O, so wrong, it was 5 months later, but it is raining today so that's as much link as I need.

Michael Chapman is a remarkable fella, and one who is experiencing a bit of a late bloom, courtesy some heavy duty patronage from americans half and less his age. The fact that his style of guitar play is back in vogue hinders no little, the likes of (the late) Jack Rose and William Tyler taking the template and twisting it both back and forward. OK, it was earlier visionaries like John Fahey who first feted this structure, the confusingly to me entitled American Primitive, but it took, IMHO, bluff yorkshireman Chapman to give it song. Literally.

He has been around and on the road forever. Like so many musicians from the 60s UK, he was a product of Art School, actually teaching for a while before the lure of a penurious existence on the fringes of popular culture became too strong. The story goes that he was too broke to pay the entrance fee into a Cornwall Folk Club, offering instead to play, staying then for the entire season. A record contract materialised and he came to the ear of the iconic John Peel, tastemaker DJ to decades of pale young men. His first records were produced by Elton John producer, Gus Dudgeon, with the exquisite  orchestral arrangements, as here above, of Paul Buckmaster, who perhaps deserves a leftover himself.  
Early records tended toward the pastoral, primarily acoustic guitar to the forefront, with his never more z sibilant style of singing s's, as here on his 'greatest hit', 1970s Postcards of Scarborough.

Like the electric guitar? Sort of familiar? It's Mick Ronson, prior to Bowie, with erstwhile Steeleye Span stalwart Rick Kemp on bass. Following this early taste of success, he later pursued a rockier road, albeit often revisiting his earlier material, like Wrecked Again. Less satisfactory to my ears than the earlier studio version, he was nonetheless popular on the college gig circuit until a massive heart attack in 1990 seemed to beckon the end of his career. Having continued to be a guitar tutor alongside his playing, it was to this he retreated. His catalogue contains a number of discs for the budding virtuoso to brush up their licks, but he was also slowly, very slowly, climbing back onto the performance ladder.

It was probably galling to have Sonic Youth turn up at one such low-key performance, especially as they credited him with having inspired their own ouevre of feedback frenzy. Millstone Grit, from 1971, particularly inspired Thurston Moore, with the middle and last sections of New York Ladies giving the clue, say from about 4.50 onward, and again, more powerfully, at 7.49. Here's an interview between the two of them.

Now, as an elder statesman of guitar music, connecting John Fahey, with whom he has played and Steve Gunn, who has played with him, he has had the accolade of all-star tribute album, featuring both old friends from his past like Kemp and Kemp's ex, Maddy Prior, to Lucinda Williams, by way of the aforementioned Moore and Tyler, and the mercurial talent of Hiss Golden Messenger. I commend it. But even more I commend 50, his last release. A mix of new and of re-interpretations, this is a staggering piece of work. And no, no link, you can find the songs yourself. But I will leave you with an instrumental version of March Rain from 2015's Fish, together with his own version of many of the events skimmed over above.

March Rain 1970 and 2015