Sunday, December 29, 2019


Quite a metaphor, that, uncertain which is the dominant force, whether it is sugar sweetening the destructive power of an iceberg, or a the gulp of realisation following a swallow of something not quite so sweet after all. I am sure the lyric explains but I prefer the uncertainty, tending more towards the tune and the presentation. Both of which this band had, here and in general, in spades. And I notice they have some gigs lined up for next year, this late return surely worth a shout, pinned as it is on the back of the 25th anniversary of their third album, 'Jollification'. (Which was last month, with a trio of initial shows then taking place.)

I was on the bus a bit before Jollification, they, or he, Ian Broudie, having hatched the band alone in his studio, playing all the instruments and singing all the vocals on the first album, 1989's 'Cloudcuckooland'. Perhaps not quite as big an ask as you might imagine, he being already an accomplished producer of other folks records in his home town of Liverpool. But I am still ahead of myself, my introduction to Ian Broudie being through his membership of Liverpudlian semi-supergroup Big in Japan. Where, let alone anywhere else, they weren't, their fame being mainly down to where the many and various members went next, it being the launchpad for, amongst others, Frankie Goes to Hollywood and the KLF, one drummer later joining Siouxsie and the Banshees, the keyboardsman joining The Teardrop Explodes. And Ian Broudie becoming producer for Echo and the Bunnymen and The Icicle Works. Not bad for a band so reviled in their lifetime as to have a petition taken out to promote their dissolution, albeit signed also by the band themselves.

Above is 'Pure', the debut single from the above mentioned 'Cloudcuckooland', I remembering well the first time I heard it. I was in full Morris Dancing costume, dancing with local side, Silhill Morris, at fabled warwickshire country pub, the Black Boy, the pub as mentioned, momentarily, in the finale of Peaky Blinders, series 5. Whilst I dare say I may not have fully dredged up this skeleton from my past, something for another day, that day some bemusement was to be had by the already punished locals by the sight of yours truly putting the song on the jukebox, repeatedly and repeatedly, whilst my colleagues danced outside to the song of an altogether older Albion. I love the music of the morris, but, that day, I was transfixed.

Next album, 'Sense', followed a couple or so years later. It was good, if not quite so, the video for lead single, 'Life of Riley', perhaps revealing why, at least for the espousedly non-football loving me, it had Broudie delineating his love for all things soccer writ large. Prejudice is a strong word, but it was enough to put me off the band. So, when Broudie then teamed up with comedians David Baddiel and Frank Skinner, all three utter football nuts, to write and perform the (admittedly very catchy) England European Nations Championship song of 1996, I was mortified. Getting it to number one in the UK singles charts twice, it being reprised in 1998, made it worse still, the horror of when one of your favourite bands not only become well known and celebrated to all, it also being with also something you cannot admit to any love for. (Admit is the operative word, I fear, as see also Chumbawamba.)

So I missed out, at the time, on 'Jollification'. And, until this piece, had no idea the b(r)and put out a further three albums, the knowledge giving me no small amount of homework. The featured song even comes from one of them, 'Dizzy Heights'. Are they any good? Unsurprisingly, yes, they are, even if the bubble of britpop had burst somewhat, along with the laddism of football hurly-burly becoming, now to others as well, a less well received intrusion, propelled no doubt with the ongoing dismal performances of the national side. In particular, I like the more dance oriented sound on 5th album, 'Tilt'.

A ten year gap, to 2009, and their final, at least so far, committal to disc, 'Four Winds'. Resorting now more to co-writes, you might be mistaken, from the opening of 'Ghosts', below, that this represents a further change in direction. That is, until the familiar angelic vocal chimes in, a familiar clang-clang backbeat, even if surrounded by sweeps of synth. So, all is well.
 I await my show, in March, an early and late birthday present to myself. I look forward. Just don't play bloody 'Three Lions'......

New to you? This. Otherwise, that.

(If this actually is up your street, between 'Tilt' and 'Four Winds', perhaps tilting at the four winds, came 'Tales Told', altogether simpler fare, the studio tricks reined in, may be even more so, it being a solo Ian Broudie release.)

Monday, December 23, 2019

Snow & Ice: Ice Cold Ice

Hüsker Dü: Ice Cold Ice

There are many truisms in the world of music fandom, and one of them is that when a “punk” band starts releasing well-produced albums, particularly on a major label, and particularly when the songs and playing show craftsmanship, the band’s early fans scream “sellout.” For example, The Clash were accused of “selling out” at least as early as London Calling, and certainly by the time of Combat Rock. Of course, other critics at the time, and more recently, have pointed out that another word for that is “evolving,” or that it was possible for ambitious, talented bands to want to transcend the purity of punk for a broader artistic vision and, possibly, a larger audience (and yeah, probably more money.)

Hüsker Dü emerged from Minneapolis in the late 1970s-early 1980s, and their initial approach of playing music loud, fast and hard was made clear from the name of their first album, Land Speed Record. But relatively quickly, you could hear through the aural assault (and poor production values) that songwriters Bob Mould and Grant Hart were able to write melodic pop songs. Even if those songs were played at punk rock speeds and volumes, and often dealt with difficult themes.

As their music evolved, their influence increased, and in the mid-80s, Hüsker Dü became the first band of their “scene” to sign with a major label (during a period when major labels were taking risks, looking to find the next big thing(s). Of course, the complaints of "sellout" rang out (as they did years later when Green Day transcended their punk roots and became more mainstream and popular.)  I saw Hüsker Dü tour in support of their first major label album, and it was a great, if incredibly loud show. Their second album for Warner Bros., 1987’s Warehouse:Songs and Stories, was a double album filled with well-produced, well-written songs that still had the energy of punk. It wouldn’t be a stretch at all to say that this album was one of the precursors of the “alternative rock” movement that became popular in the ensuing years. 

However, despite the quality and influence of Warehouse, it was also the end of Hüsker Dü. Over the years, Mould and Hart had developed a rivalry that was both artistic and personal, fueled first by their substance abuse, and later by Mould’s cleaning up and Hart going in the opposite direction.

One of the highlights of Warehouse is Mould’s “Ice Cold Ice,” a typically bleak and depressing but incredibly powerful song that uses cold and ice both metaphorically and literally.

In 2011, Mould was honored with a tribute concert at Los Angeles’ Walt Disney Concert Hall, mostly featuring Mould and his band playing with a series of guest stars, and it included this great version of “Ice Cold Ice,” featuring Dave Grohl:

The concert was, through a Kickstarter campaign, turned into a movie, but it doesn’t appear to be streamable at this time.

Sunday, December 22, 2019


When I think of snow and ice, I think of Scotland. And when I think of Scotland, I think of Jackie Leven. Yes, I have mentioned him before in these pages, that being no good reason not to bring him back again. His legacy of recorded material is immense, having been so prolific for his record label that he had to seek different contracts under different names to get it all out. Sadly missed, his brand of celtic soul impacts on and draws inspiration from his home and the characteristics that reminded him of it. Kate Bush may have offered 50 Words for Snow, I swear Big Jackie had 50 songs. Here are a few.

Snow in Central Park

From his full length solo debut in 1994, Snow in Central Park is arguably one of his better known songs, if any had a claim to that right, his appeal the epitome of cult, a world famous superstar only to those in the know. Of course, it wasn't even his solo debut, he having had (at least) two careers ahead of this, firstly as late 60s singer-songwriter John St. Field, and in scary punk/new-wave band Doll by Doll. And then there were the two alongside, Fife balladeer, Sir Vincent Lone and the Kirkcaldy David Sedaris, Jackie Balfour.

None of the below are in chronological order, but all display lyrical nods to the snowier, icier aspects of his oeuvre. Don't get me wrong, he could do songs about rain and wind as well, being no one winter pony. (Actually I jest, for although he could and did, he could also sing uplifting and cheerful songs too. Just less often. And not for today.)

Stopped by Woods on a Snowy Evening (A Robert Frost poem set to music by Leven.)

Your Winter Days

The Wanderer

Lammermuir Hills

Kirkconnell Flow

Washing by Hand

Finally, with all the above coming from his 20 odd studio albums, it is worth a mention is how he took his muse out on the on the road, leaving behind the often lush arrangements and instrumentation. Live it was usually just himself, a burly bear of a man, year round shorts, ripped denim shirt and battered guitar. A masterfully inventive player on that instrument, bringing all sorts of percussive textures to bear, tapping the wood and caressing the strings, the high point always his voice, a majestic croon, beauty from the beast. At one foot a pint glass with the vodka and lemonade he would occasionally seek topping up, at the other a microphone, to catch the constant rhythm of his foot. You can't catch him now, dead these 8 years, but there are a celebration of live albums also out there. The song below is typical Leven, describing the fear men hold inside. The fear men have without love, without a mother, a wife, a partner, and the dark places that such solitude leads, and the tragedy of it all. He knows these men and, if we are honest, so do we, all within us, but for better grace and luck.

Fear of Woman


Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Leftovers: Cutlery (that Cuts) (and Alabama)/A Knife and Fork

Rockpile: A Knife and Fork

I took some time off from this blog over the summer, so for the Leftovers theme I’m trying to hit some of what I missed--and this post covers three in one!

I have to believe that more food is eaten from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day than any other similar period during the year. At least in my family, this period is filled with big family meals, parties, dinners out, and many, many cookies, thanks mostly to my wife, the master baker. As someone who struggles with weight and diet and the related health issues that this has caused, it seemed appropriate to write about this song, a cautionary tale about overeating.

My introduction to the song came from its inclusion on the only studio album released under the Rockpile name, Seconds of Pleasure, despite the fact that the musicians (Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds, Billy Bremner, and Terry Williams) acted as the band for both Edmunds and Lowe on a number of solo releases. At the time of the album’s release, I remember being a little disappointed, despite the fact that there were a number of strong tracks, but as a fan of both Edmunds and Lowe, maybe I expected too much. I think that the critical opinion of the album has improved over the years, though.

What I didn’t realize until I started writing this was that “A Knife and Fork” is a cover—which is a little embarrassing for someone who sporadically contributes to a cover blog. It was originally written and performed by a mostly forgotten performer, Kip Anderson, back in 1967. The song was recorded at the legendary FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama (hey—that’s another theme that I missed), and was produced by Rick Hall. Check out the original version:

Look, I’m a big Dave Edmunds/Rockpile fan—ask my college roommates—and their cover of the song is good—I liked it then, and I like it now, although I was never a huge fan of when Edmunds’ voice sounds processed. But if you compare it to the more soulful, horn-filled original, the Rockpile version feels restrained. So, I have to say, the original is better. Because, in part, everything is better with a horn section.

Edmunds, to his credit, often covered obscure songs, giving them a new life—on Seconds of Pleasure, for example, in addition to giving Kip Anderson some royalties, he covered a lesser known Chuck Berry song.

Although I do expect to indulge during this festive period (and I already have), I hope that the situation isn’t as dire as the song portends.

Sunday, December 15, 2019


I initially thought I wouldn't make it to this party, my macbook's hard disk seeming to be in dire need of  palliative care, the icing on a week of disappointments. Yup, just as you guys are belatedly getting around to impeaching your bleach blond furball, we have elected ours back in, with a steaming majority. Steaming as in, well, you know. So Brexit has been "done" and, pending 5 or 6 years of expensive, extensive wrangling with Europe, our garage sale of goodies will be up for grabs. It is what it is, and chlorinated chicken can't be all bad.

In the UK, our politics is gauged by colour. Red is Labour, a sort of rather more socialist Democrat party, not communist by any means, if still a shade by far too goddam lefty pinko for your Republicans. They were trashed on friday. Orange is the colour of the traditional 3rd party in the usual two horse race we run here, the Liberals, or, as they re-badged some time back, the Liberal Democrats. They came, traditionally, 3rd. Or rather, 3rd in England, somewhat swamped by Scotland's resplendent bright yellow party, the Scottish Nationalists, dominant party in that aspirational stand alone nation for 3 elections now. And counting. And, much as I am despairing the blue tide of the Conservative party in England, more right wing than they have ever been, who have triumphed and some, I doff my bonnet to the SNP. If and when, my scottish parentage may offer me the safety net of a scottish passport, when and if ever should become a reality.

Billy Bragg is the nearest thing we have to a Woody Guthrie. (OK that's harsh on Ewan MacColl and other musical firebrands, but, in terms of success, sales, and ubiquity, Bragg has a greater claim to the accolade, in my humble.) I can't imagine he will have been raising any glasses in good cheer this weekend, if similarly, like me, probably downing some. Of course, he is known in the US, having been chosen by Nora Guthrie to add music to the reams of songs found within her father's legacy, she appreciating their shared stance about fighting (aka singing) for the undertrodden and overlooked. The song chosen would be as much at home in the US as UK; it is an american song after all. All feeling today, mind, as equivalently out of step.

I'm spoilt for choice in looking for something evocative enough for the SNP; music of the scottish tradition is within an equivalent renaissance now as was irish in the 1970's and 80's. In my cups, sentiment is all, and so it is the Battlefield Band to whom I turn, with this tear stained version of the old Charlie Rich standard. I'm not so naive to believe in the the shortbread tin school of scottish thought, as so savagely laid into by Dick Gaughan, another firebrand politico, but you never know.
I think the UK will dissect in the near future, a new referendum demanded by the SNP of the new government, allowing the scots their right to an independent future, if so sought. This time it will be closer. Meanwhile, in Northern Island, the Unionists (stay with UK) are for the first time in a minority with relation to the Nationalists (join the rest of Ireland).......

I was never that much into the Liberals, feeling them often more material for a protest vote or for tactical voting. Sure, they have had some good ideas in their manifestos, and some fascinating characters in their ranks, but their time has rarely seemed right. As for a song with an appropriate link, it is back north I go. The scottish northern isles, Orkney and Shetland, with their respective scatter of tiny islands and far-flung communities, have long been staunchly electing Liberal members of parliament. Too far north to ever consider themselves Scots, I think this is why they sleight the Nationalists, a greater affinity to the Vikings and Scandinavia than to other britons, whether scottish, english, welsh or irish. The song has no political axe, but is as good a place as any to introduce Orcadian songwriter Erland Cooper to these pages, one third of Magnetic North and the Erland of the earlier Erland and the Carnival. He describes the music of Magnetic North as psychogeography. And that's fine by me.


Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Leftovers: Family: Sister Sledge

purchase [ the song ]

So... I get the first  slot: a mix of Family and Leftovers.

Since the <family> theme is officially over and I never got this finished, I guess it qualifies as a leftover.

When I began writing this, I wondered why so many of the songs I initially scoped out for <family> are disco pieces or from the disco era. Maybe you have an answer?

There's Sly and the Family Stone and Mary J. Blige with "Family Affair" [ granted they are not the same song, but the name's the same]. Then, there's Sister Sledge, which I decided to zoom in on because ... it's family.

Sister Sledge were really all sisters with the family name Sledge. Four of them from Philly, PA. They are still touring - minus Joni, who died  back in 2017.

Singing backup on We Are Family is a [then] little known Luther Vandross (unlikely that you can make him out). Various other related tidbits: this was the Pittsburgh Pirates theme song in 1979 - the year they came back from 1-3 down to win the World Series; Joe Lieberman used the song as his campaign theme in 2003; the song essentials were used in "We are Pepsi Free"; The song made #1 on the R&B list back then and #3 in the album lists. The sisters have performed with or been on stage with Aretha, Al Jarreau, Pope Francis and a couple others.

There's absolutely nothing great about the lyrics - except that it fits a family of sisters:

We are family
I got all my sisters with me
We are family
Get up everybody and sing

Friday, December 6, 2019


OK, just a quick one, mainly because I cannot believe we have got this far in a thread themed 'Family' with no mention of Leicester's finest, um, Family. A quick rustle back through the back pages and it seems they don't get any mention in any other category at all. How can this be? Surely the sandpaper gargled vocals of Roger "Chappo" Chapman translate to more than any purely eurocentric vibe? Please tell me so.

So, if in doubt, go wiki, and it looks not, their US peak being with an inwithabullet 177 in the Billboard album charts, with 'Fearless', in 1977. What a shame, what a loss, as, when good, they were very very good. OK, and yes, when they were bad they were horrid, but that wasn't often. We're talking 1968 to 73. Very few bands achieved all killer, no filler.

No time for a history lesson, but I guess one issue was their inability to be pigeon holed within any one genre, hopping from style to style almost song to song, combined with an ever-changing membership that could include standard guitar, bass, drums with violin, vibraphone, trumpet. You name it and they probably did, encompassing rock, folk, jazz, funk, prog. The lot. All carried by the incomparable vocals of Chapman. Have some hits. And, if you can't be arsed, fer chrissakes, at least listen to Burlesque, the dirtiest bit of sleazy funk this side of Sleazyfunktown in Sleazyfunktownshire.

The Weaver/s Answer (1970)

In My Own Time (1971)

Burlesque (1972)

My Friend the Sun (1973)

After they split asunder in the early 1970s, Chapman and guitarist, Charlie Witney, carried on for a while as (Chapman-Witney) Streetwalkers, with, I guess, even less acclaim. Chappo then became, 'big in Germany', that country always retaining an enduring love for the knights in blue denim of 60s into 70s UK rock. ( And, yes, to save your navigation, Family do get a shout.) Astonishingly, after a mere gap of 40 years, a version of the band reformed, Chappo, no Witney, and they play, sporadically to this day, alongside Chappo's solo project, Roger Chapman and the Shortlist. (I wanna ticket!!!)

Burlesque (2013)

At least now if anyone searches 'Family' on this site, up will come the band, and that, say I, is as it jolly well should be.

Burlesque: you know you want it!

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Family: We’re A Happy Family

The Ramones: We’re A Happy Family

After a few prog-related posts in a row, we need a little punk palate cleanser, right? Sort of like how during a Thanksgiving dinner filled with heavy foods, you need something tart to shake things up. Which may be the first time anyone compared The Ramones to cranberry sauce.

Although this Family theme was designed to relate to the gathering of relatives during the Thanksgiving season, my two song selections have taken a little different approach. Last week, I wrote about a man contemplating patronizing a prostitute, but who ultimately passes, somewhat reluctantly, because he’s a family man. Today’s song, from possibly The Ramones’ best album, Rocket To Russia, is a satirical look at a dysfunctional family, featuring a closeted drug dealing father, a pill-addict mother, and a neglected, fly-eating sick baby, all of whom eat refried beans. This is nothing at all like my family, although when I was born, my mother and father and I did live in Queens, about 4 or 5 miles away from where The Ramones hailed from.

I’ve now been blogging long enough that I can’t remember if I’ve ever discussed how lucky I feel that my family, for the most part, gets along. This year, we had a relatively small Thanksgiving—my wife and I, our widowed mothers, my sister and her daughter, and my brother. Over the years our family table at various holidays have included my son and daughter-in-law (who were celebrating with her parents), said daughter-in-law’s parents (which gives me a chance to link to this again), my late father and father-in-law, my expat daughter, my siblings’ former spouses (and then their occasional “plus ones”), my sister’s son (off serving in Americorps), my brother’s kids (celebrating this year with their mother’s family), and occasionally some others.

It is always a fun time. There is, of course, laughter, good food, football (including sometimes of the European version) on the TV, a Thanksgiving-themed playlist created by the family music blogger, and, of course discussions, sometimes even of politics.

My college friend David Campt is an expert in fostering dialogues—his company is named “The Dialogue Company,” so it must be true. He travels the country trying to help people with different views engage in constructive discussions, often about race, but not exclusively. I hope that the pre-Thanksgiving interactive piece he co-wrote on The New York Times’ website about how to successfully engage family members with different views prevented bad feelings, broken crockery and spilled gravy at some dinner tables last week. But I count myself lucky that this isn’t an issue with my family—we run the gamut from liberal to very liberal, and there isn’t a MAGA hat in anyone’s closet.

And while that may result in a relatively drama-free Thanksgiving (assuming that I don’t either burn the turkey or start cooking it too slowly), it does ratchet down the stress level a lot. Which is nice, because even though my wife and I have been hosting Thanksgiving for our family for a while now, there are a lot of moving pieces, including a number of dishes that only get cooked once a year (including the all-important bird), so I’m glad that I don’t have to get into a debate with a Trump acolyte, knowing full well that I would eventually forget everything that I learned from David Campt, and revert to my more litigious bent.

So, I’m glad that I really do have a happy family, even without gulping down any Thorazines.

Sunday, December 1, 2019


What could reflect the joy and terror of families better than a wedding, especially after a few gargles have been downed? It was only during the penning of my last piece I realised how little these pages have featured Oysterband, possibly the band I have seen live the most, from a small folk club gig in about 1986, to a classy arts centre last month, by way of myriad gigs and festivals in between. Yup, I love this band, even if I occasionally don't, citing enough is enough, they then pulling some trick or other to haul me back. Bastards!

Anyway, this song comes from their 1983 record Holy Bandits, and is a glorious amalgam of Fisherman's Blues era Waterboys and the thrash folk-punk of the Levellers, back-filtered with a bit of a lick and a polish: at the time the Oysterband were described as "like the Levellers after a good wash", a somewhat back handed compliment to either band. Still a staple in their live shows, it reflects the more boisterous part of their repertoire and acts as ballast against some of the more thoughtful material. It is a glorious hooley.  As anyone who has been to lots of weddings can confirm, and I have had three of my own, the combination of booze and bonhomie can bring out the best and worst of individuals thrown together by dint of circumstance. If the adage is that you can choose your friends, but never your family, so too you can choose your spouse, but as with your own, the family comes gratis. And how often has the proud son of Mr Oil met with the beautiful daughter of Mr Water? The nuptials of the Petrol family with the family Flames come also to mind. (Mind you, it can and does work the other way too, my first wife and I always saying we could never divorce because of the parents, as in them getting on so well. Until, um, we did.)

"do you take this woman? 
 said yes I do 
I love her like crazy
and I think she loves me too 
but we'll do without the family 
if it's all the same to you 
happy ever after 

your mother is a flake 
my father's full of shite 
your sister says you married me 
in white just for spite 
well a party's not a party 
till it ends up in a fight 
happy ever after 

and there was my lot and your lot 
and us two in between 
this is the last time I get married 
this is the last time I get married

my brother's never short 
of a substance to abuse 
rum & glue & Thunderbird 
& wizz & Special Brew 
any minute now he'll show us 
all of his tattoos 
happy ever after 

nephews are obnoxious
nieces are too tall 
a dozen drunken uncles 
are pissing up the wall 
grandad is grinning 
but there's no one home at all 
happy ever after

for richer, for poorer, 
for better or for worse 
now we are married, a blessing or a curse 
kiss me & don't forget 
what you see is what you get

and the best man is the worst man, 
the best man is a beast 
underneath the table 
with the sister of the priest 
the way he's going at it 
she is probably deceased 
happy ever after 

granny's on the brandy
getting bleary-eyed 
guys I went to school with 
want to see me outside 
someone's pulled the bridesmaid 
anyone seen the bride? 
happy ever after

and there was my lot and your lot 
and us two in between 
this is the last time I get married 
this is the last time I get married "

I also feature (above) a video of this song, from barely two years ago, band, and audience for that matter, despite english being their second language, clearly still revelling in the song, as well showing the curiosity of melodeon, cello and fiddle in a six piece rock band. (OK, folk-rock band.) Together (below) with an example of the 'more thoughtful material' alluded to above, and probably the song, 'London City', they sing after leaving the stage following the featured, their traditional closer and encore for many a long year. And, in their 41st year, hopefully still to come.

Whet your thirst!

Friday, November 29, 2019


Well, I couldn't possibly say whether this post is a reflection on esteemed turkeyfest Thanksgiving, normally featured at this time of year, or not, being no celebrant, turkey being next month for us over here in Blighty, and, anyway, aren't you celebrating your freedom from "us"? (Which begs the question as to whether, in exasperation over the Greenland snub, your guy elects to take up our tousle-headed lookalike leader's offer to flog us off, or our health, lock, stock and barrel. Give or take an election in a fortnight, or two of your weeks, which ever is shorter.)

Drunk By Noon

So, the Handsome Family, or Mr and Mrs Sparks as they are known to friends, a little known institution until a recent stroke of luck, courtesy the first series of 'True Detective', launched into every living room in the land with the song that opens each episode. In these days of streaming, downloads, legal and otherwise, and youtubetomp3 software, money in music biz land is tight, the only real resource being touring, with then the merch table as profitable as the tickets. But you need money to tour too. Luckily, although they may dislike the concept and deny the vanity, the Handsome Family are cheap, basically husband and wife Rennie and Brett, she on bass, banjo and lyrics, he on guitar, keys and tunes. Both sing, but it is Brett's basso profound that is their main calling card. Over about a quarter century they have built an enviable body of work, with 11 albums, plus compilations, built on the back of solid touring, in the US and overseas. I first caught them back in about 2004, when they were part of a rolling roadshow, with and organised by venerable agitprop UK folkies Oysterband. The bleak mix of dark country and murder ballad that they revel in had me hooked.

When the Helicopter Comes

Always sort of a hidden gem, a secret passion, it must have been a huge boost to their profile and, I hope, to their income, to have the kudos of a boxset bonanza. (Here is an interesting article about the economics of such.)

Far From Any Road

Above is the song in question, but go search the back catalogue, there are myriad equivalent gems. As to 'Drunk By Noon', Rennie's lyrics are broadly unhelpful in interpretation of the absolute meaning or circumstance, but, if you are having the family over, and need to be, be my guest. To some decent music, of course......


Thursday, November 28, 2019

family: mother-in-law

purchase [ Ernie K Doe's versioj]

The saying goes something like this: You can't choose your family, but you can choose  your .... [??] - Fill in the blank, if you can.

[The answer is: friends]

I have to admit that I get along remarkably well with the the family I chose (my wife's family, that is...). And consider myself blessed for that. Yeah, they've got their faults. So do I. But we have managed to bungle along for the 35+ years my wife and I have recently celebrated.

That said, the <mother-in-law> problem is a standard of gossip (and marriage-related media of all stripes) but not so much of hit songs. Mother-in-law is always meddling, has seemingly had little kind to say (and more so for the outside wife who can't cook/doesn't iron/can't keep the house clean?) You tell me if there is a gender imbalance in this issue.

Now ... as for Ernie-K Doe. (Cool name, no?) It's pretty unlikely you have ever run across this name/this song. (Ernie K-Doe was on this planet from 1933-2001, and I don't think he was ever included in SMMs' In Memoriams when he passed. Wait ... that pre-dates SMM by an inch or two.)

His <Mother-in-Law> song - from '61 - made it to the #1 spot for Billboard/US. (#1!!!) It's more or less a one-hit-wonder, although he did appear on the charts a few more times at a lower ranking.
<Mother-in-Law> was written by Allen Toussaint. (If you knew Toussaint was an American, the name might direct you to the <French> part of the US, in this case Louisiana (which is famous for lots of things French - obvious from the reference to Louis.) And Ernie's link to the French? Well ... New Orleans. Which is in LA (not Los Angeles in this case, for those of you not familiar with US state codes).

The song's lyrics back up societal general perceptions:

The worst person I know, mother-in-law, mother-in-law
She worries me so, mother-in-law, mother-in-law
If she leaves us alone, we would have a happy home
She thinks her advice is a contribution
But if she will leave that will be a solution
And don't come back no more

Ouch! But true to the general perception. No?

Interestingly, his wife continued to operate the "Mother-in-Law" lounge after his death. Hmmmm ...

As for the musicality? Well... it's pretty standard '60s fare.

On the other hand, there is Eta James, who also came out with a song of the sane title,
Her lyrics are a bit different and the song clearly sounds different (given the limitations of what was commercially viable a  that time!) That said - the essential theme is the same: older/outside woman who interferes in the next generation's ... er ... affairs.


Monday, November 25, 2019

Family: Family Man

Mike Oldfield: Family Man

Like most people around my age, I was familiar with Mike Oldfield because of Tubular Bells, his 1973 masterpiece that became famous when part of it was used in the movie The Exorcist. But because his music was, for the most part, album side-long instrumentals, it was otherwise rare to hear Oldfield’s music on the radio.

And when I got to college and began working at WPRB, I was able to explore some of Oldfield’s records, although again, even at that college station, it was unusual to throw on a 20 plus minute song. Unless you were alone in the studio and had to run to the bathroom, which was down the hall.

But Oldfield is a remarkable musician, playing most of the instruments on his records and overdubbing wildly—by some count, he has played more than 40 different instruments on his various records, and his music is very much worth listening to. So, I do recall occasionally playing “Part I” of Tubular Bells (which features Viv Stanshall of the Bonzos introducing the instruments, because Oldfield liked this song) on the air, or a few of the shorter songs he began adding to his records as time went on, maybe in hopes of getting radio airplay.

In March, 1982, not long before I graduated from college, Oldfield released Five Miles Out, which included a few shorter, poppier songs, including “Family Man,” sung by Scottish singer Maggie Reilly, that was actually pretty catchy. In fact, the song nudged onto the singles charts in the UK and Canada. It tells the story of a man approached by a sexy prostitute, and his rejection of her—“Leave me alone, I’m a family man,” he sings—although part of his rejection is based on fear that if she continued her seduction, he might succumb. I liked the song, played it a few times on the air, graduated from college and moved on with my life.

A year or so later, I heard a song by Hall & Oates (a band that is not my favorite—although there’s this) called “Family Man,” and it sounded vaguely familiar. Somehow, back in the pre-Internet era, I was able to determine that it was, in fact, the same song. Although to their credit, H&O definitely made it their own. And they added some lyrics that changed the song so that the man decides to take the woman up on her offer, but she had already left, leading to some apparent regret. This version, not surprisingly, did much better commercially, reaching No. 6 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and No. 15 on the UK and Irish singles charts. Although what a cheesy '80s video...

Reilly also covered it, in 2009, but it is slick, commercial and not that interesting.  Maybe I’m being a music snob (which would not be surprising, would it?), but I prefer the original—although I have to admit that the H&O cover isn’t terrible, so if you like it better, I’m not going to think less of you.

Thursday, November 21, 2019


Well this was a stroke of luck, the two colours I haven't already covered, along with a cheeky pink for future reference, together giving an opportunity to offer a SMM debut to this much admired scottish group, active between 1979 and 1997. Never hugely successful in their lifetime, it is the accolades offered afterwards, by their peers and adherents, that have ramped up their reputation, even if their best known song, was not, strictly speaking, by them at all.

Confused? Song to the Siren, a song originally by Tim Buckley, appeared on a record by This Mortal Coil, more collective than band, the collection being, largely, of acts on nominal bandleader Ivo Watts-Russell's record label, 4AD. And within that was included Cocteau Twins, the performers on the track, and who subsequently included it within their CT repertoire. This Mortal Coil existed over three albums, 1984 - 91, the Cocteaus, as a unit, appearing only on the first, although with later member Simon Raymonde heavily involved with the second, leaving briefly the band he had decided to join, at the first sessions.

So, let's revisit this. Elisabeth Fraser, vocals, and Robin Guthrie, guitars and programming, had, along with John Heggie, on bass, formed in the scottish industrial port of Grangemouth, a dreamy mix of Fraser's ethereal vocal, lyrics largely indiscernible within a hazy swirl of effects pedals, anchored some propulsive baselines. When intelligible, the vocals remained, largely, still unintelligible, often being streams of sound rather than identifiable english. (The featured song here has words based around the latin names of various butterflies, but I guess you had worked that out......) After a trio of well-received records, Heggie left, leaving a gap they chose not to fill for the next record. Simon Raymonde, a multi-instrumentalist, then joined, left and joined again, apropos his This Mortal Coil responsibilities. Pink Orange Red comes from this time. Their closest taste of mainstream success arrived in the 90s, with Heaven or Las Vegas even denting the US chart.

Success is always a wily mistress though, with Guthrie retreating into dependency, casting friction on the band, not least with Fraser, by now his partner and mother of their daughter. With this limiting any build forward from that point, together with the time taken for rehab (his) and therapy (hers), the sound, having clarified and become possibly more commercial, retreated back into distort and shimmer. A further few releases and they were done, both as a band and a couple.

Raymonde and Guthrie have continued to work together, setting up the Bella Union record label, both individually and together, often in production and management of bands signed to the label. Fraser has led a quieter life, but has still cropped up in the occasional high profile collaboration, the best known being with Massive Attack, writing and singing the song below. Having had one abortive attempt at reunion, it seems unlikely the three will perform together again.

Here, below, is the acoustic version of Pink Orange Red. It can be found on their 1985 release, the EP Tiny Dynamine. The richer and more highly produced version at the top of the piece comes from Lullabies to Violaine, a 2005 4CD retrospective.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Red, Yellow or Orange: Red

King Crimson: Red

Trying not to overthink this, so I went with the first thing that came into my head when I heard what the new theme was. Red, the album, released in 1974, was King Crimson’s seventh studio album, and was supposed to be the last, until it wasn’t. It is probably the King Crimson album that I listen to the most, and I still think that it is great. For starters, at that point, the “official” band was a trio, all of whom were among the best in the business—Robert Fripp on guitar and mellotron, John Wetton on bass and vocals, and Bill Bruford on drums and percussion. They were augmented for certain songs by, among others, David Cross on violin (who had recently been kicked out as a "full" member), and Mel Collins and Ian McDonald (both of whom had been in prior versions of the band) on saxophones. Also, there’s a cellist, who is uncredited, and apparently is unknown to this day.

The song “Red” and the album are considered to be influential in progressive rock, but interestingly, they are different from what other prog bands were doing at the time—Yes, ELP and Genesis, for example, were more keyboard driven, with music that was filled with classical influences, while King Crimson’s sound on Red is harder, more metal even, although there are two more “ballady” songs on the record, including the stately “Starless,” which features atmospheric mellotron washes, and numerous jazzy passages. That’s why Red is cited as an influence by artists such as Tool, Primus, Kurt Cobain, Henry Rollins and Dream Theater.

The title track is an instrumental, in the vein of the earlier “Larks Tongues In Aspic, Part Two,” and it is “one of the more muscular pieces of Robert Fripp's, in particular the deployment of open strings and heavily attacked and syncopated bass and drums underlines this aspect.” That quote is from this post, which analyzes that song in truly granular detail.

Clearly, King Crimson’s complex and challenging music has been analyzed by music obsessives, including the band members (and management). So, you can read Fripp’s diary about how the song “Red” was pieced together. Here’s a typically dense Pitchfork analysis of the album. And here’s a piece by David Singleton, Fripp’s business and production partner, about the making of Red. Or, you can buy a 21-CD/1-DVD/2-Blu-Ray box set, The Road to Red, which features recordings of many of the concerts from the tour that preceded the recording of Red, so you can, if you are inclined, listen for improvisational sections that turned into parts of Red songs. I’m not that obsessive.

I’ve learned writing these posts is that sometimes you find something that says what you want better than you can, and when you do, just copy it. This is from a review of The Road to Red:

Red managed to encapsulate all the things that defined mid-'70s Crimson: ear-crunching instrumentals like the title track; improvisation-heavy excursions into the outer reaches of rock, jazz and beyond on "Providence" (recorded live on the penultimate night of Crimson's final North American tour, included in the current box); dynamic, mellotron-driven ballads that morphed into thundering solo opportunities for members past and present via a lengthy middle section that milked the hell out of just a few choice notes ("Starless"); and two songs ("Fallen Angel," "One More Red Nightmare") that suggested a shifting direction for Crimson, with even stronger song form than on [Starless and Bible Black] but delivered with the same—or, even, more—massive weight-bearing load of what was one of the loudest, most mind-blowingly powerful power trios in the history of rock music. 

Just to vary things up, though, the version of “Red” that I’ve embedded above is a live version recorded in Mexico in August of this year by the seven-piece version of King Crimson that features three drummers (!), Pat Mastellotto, Gavin Harrison and Jeremy Stacy (who also adds keyboards), along with Fripp on guitar, Tony Levin on bass and Chapman Stick, Mel Collins on flute and sax, and Jakko Jaksyzk on guitar and vocals (although not on this song).  You can download it here, for free!

Compare that to the original:

As I noted above, Red was supposed to be the last King Crimson album—and it is amazing that a band that was falling apart could create such a masterpiece--but a few years later, Fripp put together a band with Bruford, Levin and guitarist/singer Adrian Belew that eventually became a new version of King Crimson. The cover of their first album, Discipline, is red.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Red, Orange AND Yellow: Axis Bold As Love

purchase the whole Axis album. It's a classic that's worth every penny you spend.
[ Axis Bold As Love ]

Aaah... a confluence of luck and a subliminal message from beyond the grave bring this one to the page.

You see, as an amateur guitar player who hopes that some day he's going to have the time to devote to improving his technique by tracking other folks' methods, I periodically check out various "tutorial/ How to .." for songs I wish I could. More than once I have looked at versions of this one, perhaps filed them away for that future day when I do have the time, or simply enjoyed them for what they are: great examples of covers of the masters.

Some time within the past 10 days, I picked up the above version of Hendrix's Axis Bold As Love. There are a number such tutorials you can find @ YouTube, but this one I played again and again: smooth style, accurate representation of the original - and besides, it's a great song.

So great, IMHO, that I was surprised that I couldn't find any other dedications to it here at SMM (although I seem to have circled the song more than once). Further, it's not just Red, Yellow or Orange. It's all 3 at once.

I revere Hendrix as both a master of the guitar, but also as a lyricist. I percieve a depth in his word choices when, for example, he sings about

Crosstown traffic, so hard to get through to you
and figure he intends not just the modern=day difficulty of navigating city roads to get to his girl-friend, but also the underlying mental issues of dealing with allegorical additional garbage on the road there.

In terms of the lyrics of Axis, it is particularly colorful. And accurate. The psychological influences that colors have on the human psyche are in full play here:

My red is so confident that he flashes
Trophies of war and ribbons of euphoria
Orange is young, full of daring
But very unsteady for the first go around
My yellow in this case is not so mellow
In fact I'm trying to say it's frightened like me
And all these emotions of mine keep holding me from
Giving my life to a rainbow like you

The words, the story ... it is able to take me all over the place: visions of the "life-giving waters" and the "happy turquoise armies lay[ing] opposite" come easily as I listen. And I believe it is a combination of the lyric choices and the melody that supports it. Masterful indeed.

Saturday, November 16, 2019


Pick a colour, any colour. Well, from the three offered, and, bang, into my I Tunes search in goes yellow, coming up with the delightfully unwoke title above. Good as any, say I, little dreaming the deep and rich seam of history associated. And not a little fantasy/phantasy, as I soon learnt. So, just because I starting with Kacy and Clayton hipster central, don't for a second feel I am going to not immerse you in the full trad.arr.

Kacy and Clayton seem to have hit a rich seam of late. Having started off as mere celebrated Canadian folkies, by dint of association with Jeff Tweedy, he producing their last two recordings, and, before you know it, they are on trend and turning up on Aquarium Drunkard's esteemed Lagniappe Sessions. And good for them, say I. Gypsies comes from their earlier (and well entitled) 2015 debut, Strange Country. The song? Much earlier. A staple of the british folk song tradition of landed ladies running off with ne'er do wells and scoundrels, it has existed in many forms and has had many names. With yellow a colour I have never necessarily associated with either the romany or irish itinerant gypsy populations, the song also comes in as raggle tangle, as well as may other descriptors or titles. Here is a pretty good synopsis, even if it fails to mention some of the more mainstream connections, which is my job. So, no surprise, it has been covered by the great and good of the UK folk tradition, any variation of Watersons and Carthys, to the great and much missed Nic Jones (the definitive version, IMHO). But you may not have appreciated also the selection of more mainstream artists who have either also covered it, or used it as a starting block:

OK, so maybe not such a stretch, Mike Scott oft ploughing a rich seam of celtic into his big music, especially in the Spiddal years, but this is the closest to pure and unadulterated fiddle-dee-dee in his repertoire, his vocal shifting from his usual mid-irish sea amalgam to the pure scots of his Edinburgh birthplace.

Yup, Black Jack Dav(e)y  is another variant of the song, the lyrics and bits of the tune the same message. The White Stripes strip it back and amp it up, but it is all there. Tucked away on the b-side of a single, it's worth the search.

A pretty straight version here by Hooray For the Riff Raff, another Black Jack Davey. Now more an overtly americana act, this earlier piece sounds way more appalachian than any doo-wop loving child of the Bronx should ever produce.

Well, a bit different, and perhaps not what you's expect from the voice of Yazoo, orchestral and cod-operatic. Back to the (w)raggle taggle, I don't think it is one I'll seek out again.

That's much more like it. I confess I had never heard this version before, despite loving all of his work. Possibly put off by the running together of black and jack into blackjack, I had never seen it as being the same song, assuming a gambling and drinking connection, not unheard of in his song choices and writing.

Finally something completely different, ol' Taj here seems to be channeling Sam Cooke over an acoustic skank. It shouldn't work, but, o my, it does, it does. "My man Black Jack Davey" indeed.

That's seven. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5(!), 6, 7.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Red, Yellow or Orange: J Geils Band

purchase [Orange Driver ]

I'm guessing that there aren't too many of you who have heard of the J. Geils Band. I think you need to be of a certain age. Jay Giles passed away last year at the age of about 71. The man was originally a jazz trumpet player who later switched to guitar and went on to set up his own band - eventually naming it the J Geils Band. Although the band broke up in the 80s, they sporadically got together for reunion concerts after that.

The J Geils Band is classic blues - in fact it was originally named the J Geils Blues Band. Their first album brought them some notice with the song "Wait" - some nice blues "harp" from Richard Salwitz (aka Magic Dick) along side Geils' solid guitar and vocals from Peter Wolf.

Perhaps the band's next notable hit was Orange Driver, with essentially the same lineup and style: blues all the way.

Orange Driver's lyrics don't include many hints as to why the song carries the title it does. In fact, I challenge you to find any link to colors or fruit of the citrus variety in the words or the music. I couldn't. But that doesn't detract from the power of the song. Or the fact that it is named such that it fits our current theme.

If you're gonna listen to J Geils, you might also want to check out this one (Angel in Blue) from the 80s:

Friday, November 8, 2019

Spirit: Spirit

purchase [ I Got a Line On You]

Someone has to do this: there was once a band named <Spirit> and it seems wrong not to include them in this theme.

You must have heard the name Randy California - a prime example of re-branding (Randy Wolfe becomes Randy California). Incidentally, the grape-vine believes that the Randy Calıfornia moniker was bestowed by Jimi Hendrix. (see the California Wikipedia entry for more). If you follow music history, you may also have heard of Ed Cassidy (known by his bald head, RIP 2012)(I learned as a result of this research, that Cassidy also played with my man Ry Cooder in a band called Rising Sons in the mid/late sixties) The relationship between California and Cassidy is worth noting: Cassidy was California's step-father (which may possibly have been part of the idea behind their "The Family That Plays Together ..." album name.

Spirit essentially came out with one song that made the charts: "I Got a Line on You". But the band also made headlines when (it appears) Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page may have "borrowed" most of "Stairway to Heaven"s guitar work from Spirit's "Taurus".

Until California's death in '97, the band went through a number of permutations and come-back attempts (none particularly successful). But the name and the spirit lives on.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019


Some might say I am, again, entirely missing the point of this theme, submitting posts around arcane or unknown musicians, rather than jolly japes around the spirit world that befit the feast of St Michael (Myers). So be it, my defence arguably resting on the deceased nature of the musicians concerned. In this case, rather than the takentoosoon of cancer, this time it was the at least as ghastly act of suicide that took Mark Linkous, singer, songwriter and, in reality, the end-all and be-all of Sparklehorse.

Spirit Ditch

I would expect most readers of this site to know the name, even if little known in the civilian world of charts and videos. His band, which lasted between 1995 and his death, 15 years later, gave us 6 albums, including collaborations. These are a scatter shot of styles and influences, possibly denoting the scatter shot status of his brain waves, he having been no stranger to the use of mind-altering drugs, not least in their life-changing capabilities. And not in a good way, as you may below follow. They're good records, though. Spirit Ditch is from the first, vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot, and is as good a place as any to get to grips with his impossibly fraught vocals, a whispered scream of frailty. With stream of consciousness lyrics, it is hard to say quite what it is about, but the lifted transcript from a(n actual) phone call with his mother, she talking of a bad dream he had described her, gives a clue to the mindset. I like what I see as a lyrical nod to After the Goldrush: "I woke up in a burnt out basement", sensing some psychological kinship with Neil Young. Having said, he is just as capable, like Young, of a raucous wig-out like Someday I Will Treat You Good.

I first came across the band for their second outing, having read of the horrendous incident that pre-ceded its release, widely felt to preface much of the material. This was later denied by Linkous, saying it had already been written. (Musicians traditionally always deny any obvious inspirations to their muse, whether Bob Dylan or Nick Cave, mind.....) But I am drawn to such, and found the slightly more synth embellished textures of Good Morning Spider being to my taste. (Below I shoehorn in a track, later covered by Susanna Hoffs, if unreleased, in a lame attempt to fit in with the theme.)

Ghost of His Smile

Next album, the was it ironically entitled It's a Wonderful Life, is said to be more straight ahead, made without added stimulants (or downers). Ditching any firm concept of a band, it is rammed full with collaborations, from PJ Harvey and Nina Persson, to, Linkous' hero, Tom Waits. Whilst some of these extra voices add to the overall, largely I feel they detract, the earlier shambolic being key to my enjoyment. These songs are just too conventional. (Don't get me wrong, they're fine, it's the comparison. And the Waits' one is shit.)

Brian Burton, aka Danger Mouse, the now big name influential game changer for Michael Kiwanuka and Karen O, and electronic ambient artist Fennesz now entered Linkous' orbit, both and/or either intrinsically involved with the rest of the Sparklehorse canon. Firstly with Dreamt For Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain, which comes across as a bit of a muddle, with tracks redolent of each of their stylistic tropes, together with a leftover or two from the earlier album. Again, don't ignore it, just don't seek it first.

Getting it Wrong(?)

Chronologically the next should be In the Fishtank, Vol. 15, jointly credited with Fennesz, but delayed in release until after his death. I guess you have to be in the mood, but it smacks to me of too much self-indulgence. It looks a whole lot better live. So I will move swiftly to the last, this time a direct 3 way credit with both Danger Mouse and with David Lynch, the film maker, for his photography. Too many egos?  I don't know, but legal difficulties delayed the release by a year, during which Linkous took his own life. Designed as a feature for songs Linkous felt uncomfortable singing himself, this features an array of bussed in vocalists, some of whom work better than others.
I would prefer it to have been Linkous, personally, and, thankfully, he features on a couple. It works best when similar voices are used, like Grandaddy's Jason Lyttle, less when a different atmosphere is sought, like with Iggy Pop. A sum less of its parts, it features the song below, almost clairvoyant in mood, featuring vocals shared with Linkous and, again, Nina Persson. Because, all too soon, he was.

Daddy's Gone

Here's his obituary.

Finally, back to where I began, with the realisation of his talent bearing fruit, here is a remarkable cover version of Spirit Ditch, made by Nadine Khouri, the up and coming UK based melancholist.

Spirit Ditch

Spirit Ditch here, or, with and in respect to the relative newness of the cover version, AND here.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Spirit: Spirit in the Sky

purchase [greenbaum]

I was on a Lufthansa flight this past week where the film offerings included a bunch of films I'd already seen, and <Rocketman> - the Elton John bio, which I hadn't seen.

After I consumed that, further entertainment also included a made-for-TV short about Elton John, which, not having had my fill and with few choices, I also watched.
Included in the TV short was information I did not previously know - something about Elton as a prolific session musician in the mid- to late 60s. There was a reference to Norman Geenbaum's Spirit in the Sky.A little research shows that Elton did <certified> session work on that one and maybe quite a lot more [see the link].

Norman Greenbaum's Spirit in the Sky. Consider the idea of Spirits in the Sky. What kind of spirits? Where else might you find spirits besides "in the sky"? In the ground (but not yet risen  from their graves?). In your mind, of course. And in your soul. But mostly in the air/sky - you know ... where ghosts tend to float. OR .. it being the be-witching season ... maybe knocking at your door. What might Greenbaum have been thinking? Are there Internet links that enlighten us 50 years after the song came out?

A look at the lyrics seems to indicate what you'd expect:
... a friend in Jesus ...
... they lay you to rest ...
... Never been a sinner, never sinned ...

Pretty solidly related to standard "holy" spirit and such. All the same, it seems incongruous that a message of this sort should have made the charts in the late 60s. Maybe it wasn't the message but rather the medium. (That bass beat ... or ...?)
Musically, the song is fairly 60s: and it's really the only song Greenbaum "made it with" - the rest of his career appears to have been seriously below the level of this song.

And so - established that Elton John did some session work,, his version of the song (must have liked it enough to do so ....)

Saturday, November 2, 2019


The name of Stephen Bruton may be known to fewer than those who have heard his songs, and, if and when then, possibly when sung by others rather than by him. I was sort of amazed he hasn't previously had a shout here, given the love of roots oriented musics: blues, folk, country, in the many and various scribes who have written for the site over the past decade and more. If you like a bit of Willie or Kris Kristofferson, the chances are that you are familiar with his work. With a style that effortlessly bridges the oeuvres above, it is when he plays his own that the class really outs, aided and abetted by his lifetime perfecting his precision on guitar. Perhaps it was the experiences of working as Kristofferson's right hand man for nigh on twenty years, ahead of a similar role with Bonnie Raitt, that imbued him with such apparent ease with a song. And I can't help but feel, had he not died from the throat cancer that beset his last few years, that he would have become better known. But he did, in 2009, aged 60.

Spirit World is both the name of the featured track, and of the record it comes from, his fourth solo release, in 2002, on the prestigious New West record label, always a reliable home for quality americana and roots. Especially if you happen, like Bruton, you come from Texas. If you like a loping swagger down dusty byways, perhaps stopping to slake your thirst in a beat-up roadhouse, this is probably music you will like, and his other records have more of the same. Live? Well, his would be the sort of band booked to actually play that roadhouse. Here's the same song in a live setting.

Something I didn't know about him was his involvement with the soundtrack of Crazy Heart, the award winning film about a down and not quite out country singer, wedded to the bottle, ahead of being rescued by the love of a good woman. So far, so cliche, except it wasn't quite that simple, the good woman being a music journalist and happy ever after remaining, arguably, elusive. But, with Jeff Bridges, who blagged a deserved oscar for his portrayal, and Maggie Gyllenhaal, any tawdry sentiment is transcended. Based on a book, itself based loosely on singer Hank Thompson, many of the set pieces in the film are embellished with the real life experiences, on the road, of Bruton, himself a recovering alcoholic. (And, even if this weren't true, the character Deacon Clayborn, in the TV series Nashville, actually was certainly based upon him.) The job of the soundtrack was given to T.Bone Burnett, his first call being then to enrol his life-long buddy Bruton to the task, despite already his cancer biting hard. The bulk of new material for the movie was written by the pair of them, although Bruton was not to see the official release. He died at Burnett's home, so closely were they working, even right up to the end, this being six months ahead of the opening.( Here is one hell of an article, telling his tale so much better than can I. And please note the comments around his becoming, on attaining sobriety, a tireless rescuer of livers, rather than any lasting pitiful drunk.)

Somebody Else/Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart soundtrack)

Somebody Else(instrumental)/Stephen Bruton (Crazy Heart soundtrack)

There are a host of similar artists I love, dependable names in, usually, second billing, or third, to more lauded souls, yet providing the ballast that boilers the bigger name. Sometimes the accolades come, often they don't. I am thinking of Sonny Landreth and the late Neal Casal, journeymen players and singers, often overlooked in the chase for a bigger story. Do yourself a favour. Look 'em out.

Get Spirit here.
And Heart there.