Saturday, July 20, 2019

Alabama: Alabama Bound

purchase [Doc Watson]

As I noted last post, the train is a classic element of music from the south -be it the blues or country. Whether it is the rhythm of the wheels on the rails that matches the musical beat, the role the railroad played in the escape from the south, the resemblance of the whistle and some of the sounds you can get from the harmonica or the loneliness that can come from being on the road.

Herewith 3 versions in somewhat chronologichal order of the classic that combines once again Alabama and trains:


Doc & Merle :

Arlo Guthrie

and just for silliness:


Don't know why this didn't come to me sooner. Possibly because I could never work out who Alabama 1 and Alabama 2 might be, and possibly because I always need a smartarse comment to blot my copy. But, let's run with this, who would be 1 and 2? There have been a number of groups with alabama in their title, but fewer with that as their only name. But there are two. Namely, Alabama and Alabama. Presumably the dissolute aggregate of reprobates that formed the Alabama 3, and of whom there were more than 3, named themselves in respect of that......

 Of course they didn't, but quite why they did  remains a mystery, with as much info as I can muster included here. Plus what I have learnt, in the time honoured tradition of near duplicable names, in the USA the band are legally required to be known as A3. Under normal circumstances they would, I guess, also be a mere footnote in the history of odd UK bands who dabbled in country and related, never western, world famous in Islington and the strange festivals that crop up on the fringes of the UK circuit. (See also the Rockingbirds.) But luck came a'knocking and a'knocking big, when, in 1999, the makers of The Soprano's chose their song as the theme.

The band came together sometime in the early 90, the 2 main front men, Robert Spragg (AKA Larry Love) and Jake Black (AKA the Very Reverend Dr. D. Wayne Love), meeting at an acid-house party at a south London squat. Whether true or not, it's a great story, even if one the record companys struggled to buy into, most dismissing them as a novelty troupe. Not until 1997 did appear their debut, 'Exile of Coldharbour Lane', the title a play on the name of the Rolling Stones' 'Exile on Main Street', Coldharbour Lane being a historically disreputable road linking parts the South London Boroughs of Camberwell Green and Brixton. Many of their titles play similarly, with songs called 'Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlife' and 'The Devil Went Down to Ibiza.'

Chucking elements of country music into a blender with electronica and dance music might seem an unwieldy mix and it often is, and can often be a limited avenue to explore. There are few who have chosen any similar path, but, strangely, it is mid-period Chumbawamba, perhaps unsurprisingly on the same label, they remind me most, predominantly on account of the equivalently manic experience of the live show. For to get the point of this band requires the live experience, a maelstrom of lights, beats, flailing limbs and a feral audience at one with the ritual. I gave never been to a pentecostal church in the deep south, communing with serpents and talking in tongues, but my feel is that the frenzy therein may be kindred. It is no coincidence the early working name of the band was the First Presleyterian Church of Elvis the Divine (UK), the title giving a hint of their ethos, along with the stage names outlined above. (The parentheses here make me chuckle, wondering if the legals team had found a similarly entitled US organisation. STOP PRESS, they did!)

Astonishingly the band have made it to 20, seemingly constantly on the road. Their last record, 'Blues', their 6th or 12th, depending on the degree of official attached thereto, came out in 2016, designed to bring in the feel of the delta blues the acoustic offshoot of the band had been touring alongside the bigger and noisier version. Whilst the album is the big band version of that, it, against expectation, works, showing off arguably better the genuine love and feel for the musical styles distilled in the band. When, suddenly, Jake Black died earlier this year, I felt this would be the death knell of the band, but far from it. Indeed, there is scarcely a mention of this on the band website, but his obituary does give a quote on the subject from his bandmate. They tour on, relentlessly.


Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Alabama: Mobile

Purchase [  Let It Rock]

If you had no other American reference to go by, you could be forgiven for confusing the pronunciation of the Alabama city of Mobile. There are at least 3 forms, but one is correct. 'Course, it's not the only US city name to throw the unsuspecting, is it?

Located on I-10 (which is inherently kind of a cross-roads -as are all of US Interstate hiway cities), Mobile, like the state itself is classic Deep South, and that includes the good as well as the better known bad. Hey, the city that lays claim to the first Mardi Gras must have (had) something going for it beyond the fact that it is the state's port city (AL doesn't have much coast anyway.)

While the city is hardly bereft of music recording studios, its better known role in music is more as a source of lyric inspiration. As in Chuck Berry's Let It Rock.
It doesn't appear that Berry experienced the train gang referred to in his lyrics, but, growing up in the South, he certainly had all the background necessary to put together a valid narrative incorporating the right themes in a song. And Alabama has gone back and forth on the use of chain gangs even after a mid-90s general halt to their use.

But rather than a song about gangs, trains or the deep south for that matter, it's a rock and roll song about how life is just plain tough, a song about the blues. And it sounds a lot like Berry's most famous song, don't it?

Friday, July 12, 2019


Being neither resident in the state, or even the country, my observations from afar lead me to feel Alabama doesn't get much good press, even in the medium of popular song. Especially in the medium of popular song. And when the only two positives come from Al Jolson and Lynyrd Skynyrd, you know you're in trouble. (Nah, I take that back about Skynyrd, I bloody love that song, but it only exists as an attempt to justify the place from the ire of others. But we all know that. Right?)

Moving swiftly on, there is one Alabama icon that really does make me gleam, that being this astonishingly lasting vocal group from the state. Granted it can not have been an easy start in life, born both blind and black below the Mason-Dixon line in the pre-war years of the great depression. But maybe, just maybe, being at the now anaethemically named Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind gave these boys a start they mightn't have otherwise achieved. For they were boys, just 9 years old as they gave their first concerts, in the school chorus as the Happyland Jubilee Singers. The idea of blind gospel singers seems somewhat of a lame trope these days, a cliche to fill gaps in our knowledge, yet it was actually quite a big deal back then, the Happyland Jubilee Singers getting their big break from a 'Battle of the Blind Boys' music competition. (Beat that, Simon Cowell, although X Factor does increasingly feel it is muscling in on disabilities.) Up against the Jackson Harmoneers, the publicity gave both bands a boost, as they became the Five Blind Boys of Alabama and the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi respectively, touring both together and, sometimes, as each other. The Alabama version got a record contract and a hit, in 1948, and that was the end, all but, of the rival version.

Gospel was big in the 1950, and it was to this genre the boys stayed true. Original founding member Clarence Fountain had this to say about this decision. Of course, as the decades have rolled by, there have been many instances where they have seemed to sing of more secular themes, but never have they sung a lyric where an ambivalence about to whom the song is addressed cannot be drawn. Thus, as the 60s became the 70s, with R'n'B and Soul taking great strides through the white dominance of the day, so the Blind Boys were there, reminding all as to where these musical forms had a common home. (Indeed, how many of the giants in those styles hadn't started off in the church? Aretha and Al were certainly no exceptions.)

It wasn't because any of this I was drawn to the group, almost more despite the religion. I have little truck with it myself, probably since, as a teenager and when asked, ahead of having my appendix out, my father proclaimed me as heathen. (The nurse duly wrote that down.) But I do love a harmony vocal, but, rather the honey smooth, the more raggedy the better, think Lindisfarne and the Jayhawks, so when the Blind Boys starting cropping up on albums I was listening too, my attention was picqued. These were often tribute albums, whereby the great and the good would queue up to pass cover on their peers, such as Richard Thompson. And then came Solomon Burke's majestic comeback in 2002. So, when in 2004 they collaborated with Ben Harper, more so because of their involvement, this was a record I had to have: 'There Will be a Light'. And again, in 2005, with 'Atom Bomb', they having been now tucked under the wing of Peter Gabriel's Real World record label. Astonishingly, a full 50 albums into their career, suddenly they were hot property, filling concert halls both alone and in cahoots with musicians from all walks and at all stages of their careers. True, there have had to be changes along the way; there are none of the original 5 left, let alone performing, newer members snucking in seamlessly over the decades, different voices, different timbres, the overall sound, the overall performance remaining little changed. The current line-up does however still include Jimmy Carter, also a pupil at that Alabama Institute, but too young for their debut in 1939. Whilst a touring member ahead of that time, it was only officially in 1982 that he made his recording presence as a member. Nonetheless, his legacy with the originals is sufficient to consider him as one. Here's his take on it all. (Clarence, mentioned above and in the interview, died last year.)

I can't even begin to give full due acclaim to this wonderful institution, coming so late to their game, having to be born and whatnot, but, scattered both within the piece and below, enjoy some musical heaven.

Finally, and with enormous excitement, I can report I am finally getting to see them live, next month, at the Cambridge Folk Festival, here in the U.K., alongside Amadou and Maryam, blind husband and wife world music titans from Mali, who themselves met similarly, at Mali's Institute for the Young Blind. I cannot wait.

Any of these....

Thursday, July 4, 2019

(In)dependence: Nobody Slides My Friend

purchase [ Outlaws and Angels  ]

I cannot claim to be a die -hard Willie Nelson fan - but you would have to be from another planet to not know about him. Like me, however, you may not know much about his music, except that he is generally categorized as <country> or perhaps <outlaw country>, but he has also been and done many more styles.

I would place him on a pedestal for his commitment to his music, but also for his vociferous backing of a different life-style.

And that would seem to fit the bill here: it's (in)dependence. Willie Nelson would appear to have that in spades. Beyond his more than 60 years singing songs, he has used his voice to speak his mind, and lived a life that both stands apart and stands for what he believes.

Nobody Slides, My Friend is not among his best known songs. The message is in the title and the lyrics tell how:

you can run and hide
you can scream and shout
if you're living a lie, it will eat you alive

Tuesday, July 2, 2019


Shhh, can you hear that? No, me neither. Not even the sound of a dropped 'H' is assailing my ears. Which is nice, if sort of lonely. While the membership of this merry band of bloggers gets ever smaller, sorry, more select, I'm sort of wondering where my buddies are. I suspect it is summer holiday time in Tarrytown and I know Turkey is short of one of us right now, possibly explaining why I am here instead, but I could do with a hand. Or two. Mind you, this is probably the only way I can gain any sway in the year end stats.......

I love this song, as good as any a reason to give it a hammering. It came first to my ears as a wee boy, it, 'Forever Changes' by Love, being one of the few records owned by my big sister's boyfriend, later husband. (The others were 'Honky Chateau' by Elton John, 'Please to See the King' by Steeleye Span and something, possibly a 'Greatest Hits', by Cream, a good if limited selection.) I didn't take to some of the noisier tracks of 'Forever Changes' but really liked the two written by Bryan Maclean, this one and 'andmoreagain', learning this fact as I devoured the sleeve notes. To be fair, I loved it until the strings and trumpet came in, trumpet being the devil's horn to my youthful ear, only later appreciating the additions as a masterstroke. Apparently the idea of Arthur Lee, guitarist and singer on most, maybe all of the rest of the tracks, and, arguably, leader of the band, later if not necessarily then, it is the hook that has stuck over the years. Lee had reason for the upper hand at that stage, being the only musician with any great competence, the original of the song cut with Maclean's vocal and the Cutting Crew, the famed session team, on backing, much as with the Byrds initial forays into the recording studio. This apparently left Maclean in tears, with Bruce Botnick, yes, that one, the engineer, then allowing the band a second crack at it themselves, the intervening frantic rehearsals cutting the much needed mustard at the second attempt, with added harmony vocals from Lee. (Much as I have tried, I cannot find that earlier version, but Maclean did record it again, later in his career.)

It has had a few covers over the years, most tending to replicate, understandably, the trumpet. Calexico, the mariachi influenced tex-mex collective fronted by Joey Burns and John Covertino, go a whole step further and give it even more of a centrepiece. They play Cambridge Folk Festival next month in the UK, I guess mainly to promote their 2nd album with Iron & Wine, but I will be sorely disappointed if they don't play it. (I'll let you know.)

The Damned were and are punks as seen by a cartoon illustrator, a vibrant and lively force on the scene for over 40 years. Never as infamous as the Sex Pistols or as name-checked as the Clash, they were actually the frontrunners, their debut single being the first of the class of '77 to get a release, of course on Stiff records. A number of personnel changes over the years, members leaving and, sometimes, returning, the one constant has been Dave Vanian, the draculike on vocals. Their style has gradually morphed into drawing on proggier aspects, with All Again Or ushering in this period.

Finally, ignoring rather more mundane runouts, such as the Boo Radleys and Sid 'n' Suzy, a more leftfield version comes from Sara Lov, erstwhile collaborator with neo-classical/electronica artist, Dustin O'Halloran. For the soundtrack of a movie and later appearing also on a tribute to that particular film maker, Wes Anderson, it remembers just enough of the original, ahead of launching into a new and delightful space. And no trumpet. Which, oddly enough, I find myself missing. Like I am now dependent on it.

Love Calexico Damned Lov

Saturday, June 29, 2019


Summer days, a holiday, time on your hands, so where does that take you? Yup, quite possibly here, happy juice, the water of life, the scourge of society that keeps us loose at the edges. Context clearly is all, so here's my disclaimer, but I'm off to Turkey today, where, so far, the grog is still legal. So some unashamed odes to the results of overdoing it. (Kids: just say no.............)

Why is it always country music that is the first thought for hooch ditties? Probably on account the inescapably deep well of inspiration the drink has offered the singers and writers, from Hank through, well, Hank Jr, Hank III, everyone really. This old staple, 'Drunkard's Dream' comes from the well worn hand of trad.arr. and was popularised in the 1920s, via an initial transit from the folk songs of old england. (Original title 'Husband's Dream', surely casting a slur on the effects of matrimony.) This version comes from an excellent 1972 recording by Gene, not Gram, Parsons, although he too was both a Byrd and a Burrito.  Covering all tropes in the country diaspora, 'Kindling' is a record that still gives me pleasure.

But before I forget, a message from our sponsor. No, don't do that neither, but I make this point, together with an instrumental version of this Stevie Wonder classic to avoid the wisecracks around don't drive blind, inevitably greeting the song as Steveland sung it. O my aching sides. Not. In the N'Awlins marching band tradition, the Dirty Dozen Brass band come over as no strangers to an ice cold pitcher.

A hit for Johnny 'Guitar' Watson before he was Johnny 'Guitar' Watson, this 1953 toe-tapper was billed as being by Young John Watson, only shortly after he ditched playing piano for guitar. With a vast catalogue behind him, in blues and, later, in jazz, he was hitting his 40s as he reinvented himself as a sharp-suited and booted funkateer. Sadly, on the crest of yet a 3rd breakthrough, he died, on tour, in 1996.

It's back to country, this time to the dynasty of Cash/Carter. Actually daughter of June, she was step-daughter to Johnny and step-sister to Rosanne, learning her chops on the road from an early age, in the family band. Arguably a wilder child than her near sibling, she ended up in London after a couple of failed marriages, cutting an album with Graham Parker's Rumour on backing duties. a year or so later saw her hooking up with Rockpile, married to the bass player, Nick Lowe, once of Brinsley Schwarz, producer to Elvis Costello and later (and still) a name in his own right. This track comes from 'Musical Shapes', the album arising out of that relationship, never as much of a success as it deserved to be.

The title of this charming song possibly comes ahead of the last one, as, if you can remember what you failed to accomplish, that implies memory. In the real world, or so I am reliably told, being TDtF, is, however, more often relegated to the wastes of TDtR, few being upstanding enough to joyfully recall such peccadilloes with honesty or candour. Upstanding perhaps the wrong choice of word. I find the original of this song, by the Dead Kennedys, a little too full on for my taste, this gallic take offering a more sophisticated european stance on blotto.
Brewers Droop were a UK blues-rock band in the early 70s.

Well, that's what any self-respecting drunk, if that is not an oxymoron, would say, don'cha think? Actually written by the devoutly teetotal Richard Thompson, apparently his avoidance of alcohol came more through his personal experiences on the road with the famously convivial Fairport Convention*, rather than his later conversion to Islam. (*It's number 4.) Norma Waterson is from the fabled folkie family, the Watersons, mother of Eliza, husband to Martin Carthy. Mean nothing? Go check.......

We're back in N'Awlins again, via Sweden, where this bluesman was born. I suspect he knows here what he was singing about, struggling with his own demons of addiction until a decade ago, now channeling many of his efforts into 'Send Me a Friend', a charity/self-help group to help musicians struggling with similar.

Ha! You know you can't have the above, like the Dubliners who provided the portal for this piece, without some form of payback. Squeeze, themselves no strangers to the odd ditty round the manifestations of a life liquoric , or rather Difford/Tillbrook, the writing team, actually pitched this song to Frank Sinatra, laughably thinking the subject matter might be up his street. Sadly, he declined, but that doesn't matter now.

I hope your heads will be fine after this tribute to Bacchus and his many and varied gifts.
And plink plink fizz.
Imbibe away.......

Thursday, June 27, 2019


I don't know about you, but I love playing with words, adding and subtracting the prefixes that conjure up meaning, sometimes discovering more about the derivation of the meaning in a more nuanced way. This can creep up on you in a most insidious way, itself making me wonder why sidious isn't used more often, or ever, as its opposite. (Which led me again further to an interesting website which, in turn, has me wondering why no Darth Depende, but that is another story.)

OK, the/a state of independence aside, let's drill down into what there is to celebrate. Over here, of course, we don't, July 4th being just the day the state of dependency on this nation was lost. (It would be a holiday here every day, were a party thrown every time the once pink parts of the map changed colour.) And, as the recent ghastly kowtowing to Trump demonstrated, perhaps is not now the parent state now dependent on the child? And, in terms of folk to rely on, leading the country and all that, child really is begetting on the man......... If the picture above says anything, surely it is that. Anyhow, that's yer ten pennorth of politics, let's talk Santana.

Just how many of the Woodstock class of '69 are still performing, and, possibly, still performing at the top of their game? Carlos Santana has just brought out another record that seems to be suggesting he is doing just that. At a time and an age when merely to issue a new release can herald automatic fanfares of a return to form, often more, its true, in hope than in anticipation and reception, he may well have cracked it. Of course, there are a number of Santana's, the frantic percussion heavy latino rock that burnt the stage alive at Max Yasgur's farm, the mellower and jazzier mid period, morphing into a mystical fusioneer and, latterly, the elder statesman pumping out largely lacklustre material, "enriched" by special guests. I am a fan mainly of the first period, up to and including 'III', 'Caravanserai' onward, through 'Borboletta' and the John McLaughlin diversions sometimes failing to hold full interest. (The 'Caravanserai' mob here announce my soon to be arranged period of pillory, but I have tried, really, I have tried.) I think that once he had that hit with the fella from, FFS, Matchbox 20, I knew the rot had set in, and 'Guitar Solos' seemed to cement that, even if the conceit of that project, in my opinion, was no worse than any other vocalist thrashing through an album of covers. Santana's voice is, after all, his guitar.

I had high hopes for Santana 'IV', the old band brought back after their own stab at recreating thatt same time period, but both it and 'Abraxas Pool' disappointed. The next outing, hand in hand with the residual Isley Brothers, 'Power of Peace', was better, if seeming a vehicle more for they than he. So why should this one, 'Africa Speaks,' be any different, as they too were acclaimed as the rediscovered grail? Could it be the presence of Rick Rubin, the catalyst behind many a revitalised career, from Johnny Cash to Neil Diamond? Or is the presence of one Concha Buika, a veritable powerhouse of afro-flamenco influences? I have been following her career for some time, marvelling at her vocal prowess in several genres. Santana has never much used a female voice to any great extent, if Flora Purim will forgive me, and, if it has taken Rubin to sow this seed, well done that man. Listening to this record has had me excited about Carlos Santana for the first time in many a long year. OK, it is arguably a Buika vehicle with added Carlos, but the namecheck will boost the sales no end, the hopeful ever hopeful. It is outside SMM's usual structure to put up any video from music so new, and I am not going to change that now*, but here is some Buika to whet any appetite.

So, when you ain't got no one to depend on, when your old heroes are all out to pasture and recycling processed self-parody, who are you going to call. I'm thinking Rick Rubin might be your man. Not bad for an old hip-hop producer, say I

*Go on, then, no one's looking.....

It's speaking, you listening?

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Same Name/Different Artist: Eric Somebody

purchase [461 Ocean Boulevard]

Andrew Jackson and John Milton are both credited with some version of "the mind has a life of its own". In choosing "Eric" names for my post, I figure I must have been at least subliminally influenced by local advertising for this week's <Istanbul> concert from Eric Burdon - maybe not "a mind of my own"? There are banners and posters all over the city announcing the event.

I had decided to go down the path of looking into the prevalence of the name "Eric" over time (and comparing it to the prevalence of my own name) and realized that it may have been influenced by the posters:

I only once ever came face to face with an "Eric" (as opposed to variations such as Erik) - and that was the headmaster of my private boarding school back in the '70s - his name even shows up in a Google search.(hereby putting an end to the question I posed last post).

The popularity of names waxes and wanes over the years: my own did not even rank in the US Social Security list of popular names the year I was born, but more recently has ascended to somewhere in the top 200. Eric, appears in the top 20s for most of the latter half of the 20th century, dropping to the low 100s in the 21st. You can ponder for yourself why names come and go: is it fame-association or something else?

So ... Eric <somebody?> wherein Mr Clapton most probably figures at the top of the list, but is not the only major musical Eric to figure in that list of "Greats". Naturally, limiting ourselves to a first-name of Eric is going to come up with a variety of genres:

Eric Burdon - from said concert.

Eric Gale,

And then there's Eric Carmen of the Raspberries

and Eric Weisberg of  Duelling Banjos fame

Friday, June 21, 2019


When I was a boy I was always suspicious of Marcs, feeling them to be a little affected in their ways, a name for hairdressers and models, not actually realising that the name, in that spelling, is a diminutive, for Marcus. Marks always seemed more manly. Anyway, this is not a tale of two Marc/ks, being a little more complicated than that, as Marc Almond is one person and Mark Almond, or to be more correct, Mark-Almond were a core of two, but with anything up to another 30 associated. Let me explain........

Jon Mark, guitar/vocals, and Johnny Almond, sax and flute, were a pair of jobbing musicians in the 60s, each earning a pedigree from a combination of sessions and the company they kept. Mark was in the short-lived 'Sweet Thursday', alongside Nicky Hopkins, later becoming bandleader and musical arranger for Marianne Faithfull's nascent works. Almond was kept busy in 'Zoot Money's Big Roll Band', also including later Police-man, Andy Summers, and the ex-Animal, Alan Price's 'Alan Price Set'. Meeting on the sessions scene and becoming members of the legendary John Mayall's band, like all Mayall alumni, the logical next step was to form a band. Arguably jazzers more than rockers, their music was a hybrid of the two, with hints of the later Steely Dan in some of the moods evoked. Augmented by a swathe of the great and the good in both genres, with the likes of Billy Cobham, Dannie Richmond and Steve Gadd present on occasion, individually if not collectively, and that is just the drummers. They actually lasted way longer than just the first two albums I am familiar with, with a number of reunions, ahead of finally calling it a day in the mid 80s. Mark still plays music, producing new-age and celtic fare, actually gaining a Grammy for a record of tibetan chants in 2004. Almond died in 2009.

Marc Almond actually was a Mark, leaving this behind him as he started his musical career. (What did he leave behind him? Do keep up.) With training in performance art, his childhood idols were Marc Bolan and David Bowies, hints of whom remain evident in his extravagant feyness. It was whilst he was at college that he met Dave Ball, the pair forming 'Soft Cell' in around 1980, with massive worldwide success arriving in 1981 with 'Tainted Love', a song by Gloria Jones, the wife (and widow) of Bolan, originally the b-side and segued with 'Where Did Our Love Go', the Supreme's hit. More slow burning in the U.S. than Europe, it got as far as number 8 on the Billboard chart, but later held the record for the most number of consecutive weeks on the chart. Some further success followed but the band were short-lived, splitting 3 years later, bar a later (or the inevitable) brief reunion tour.

Since then Almond has had a varied career, veering between distinctly arthouse material and more obvious chart-bothering, such as gloriously over the top duets with Gene Pitney and with Bronski Beat. His camp persona and theatrical overtones seemed  entirely appropriate for Gallic chanson styles, and one success came with his covers of Jacques Brel, 'Jacques', and then a more varied set in a similar style, 'Absinthe'. Later years saw him move to Moscow and work with russian artists on traditional folk song based material. In 2004, and back in London, he sustained a life-threatening motorbike accident, taking some few years to recover. Sustained by a decidedly odd covers album, he has since been been energetically pursuing increasingly widespread projects, with collaborators as disparate as neo-classical composer, John Harle, and, as above, boogie-woogie TV presenter and ex-Squeeze pianist, Jools Holland, with whom he has toured extensively.

I feel some irony that, given the purpose of this piece, to demarcate the differences between the similarly named artists, now, in 2019, the idea of Marc Almond fronting Mark-Almond would seem strangely not so odd. A pity it can't happen.


Monday, June 17, 2019

Same Name/Different Artist: Squeeze

Squeeze: Take Me I’m Yours

I’ve always felt that Squeeze, despite some significant commercial success, never really got the respect that it was due. Top notch songwriting (to the point that Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook were often compared to Lennon and McCartney, which is a tough standard to live up to, but even being mentioned in that class is pretty good, right?), tight playing and great hooks made them popular in the UK, but less so in the US. Maybe there was something “too British” about them that didn’t translate so well here. But I’d stack up their second through fourth albums, and a handful of later songs, against anyone in their genre.

Plus, they played at a huge all-campus party at Princeton in 1982, and were great. I think.

This band was formed in 1974 by Difford and Tilbrook, who added Jools Holland and eventually drummer Gilson Lavis and bass player Harry Kakoulli. They decided to call themselves “Squeeze,” after the pseudo-Velvet Underground album of the same name. Their self-titled debut album (produced by former Velvet Underground member John Cale) was released in the UK in 1978 (although the two singles were actually produced by the band).

And here’s where we get to the theme.

In the United States, the band and the album  were called UK Squeeze, because a bar band from Connecticut called “Tight Squeeze” had registered the name, and the record company was leery of legal challenges. I’ve scoured the Internet for some audio or video evidence of this “Tight Squeeze,” but have been unable to locate any. Which may be a blessing (sorry, former members of Tight Squeeze, if you happen upon this blog post—send me some music and maybe I’ll edit this).

Guess what? Difford and Tilbrook and Co. were also called UK Squeeze in Australia. Because there was also a band from Sydney with that name. And while information is sparse on these guys, I did find a couple of videos, neither of which I find too compelling, but it does seem like they were popular in Australia, Germany and Scandinavia, and lead singer Robin Lee Sinclair has had a solo career, mostly as a country singer and Roy Orbison impersonator.

Our featured song, from the UK band, is “Take Me I’m Yours,” from the debut album that caused the identity crisis.

Saturday, June 15, 2019


Woah, this might cause some ruffles, SMM being often/usually/mostly a rap and hip-hop free zone, with the name above capable of causing resonating ripples of fear amongst our faithful readership. (Hi, Mom!) Panic not, whilst I have heard of the Bobby Valentino, mainly through search engine malarkey, I am unfamiliar with his body of work. And I am told body is the correct word. In the plural. O, go on, then....... 

I refer to the other Bobby Valentino. I dare say you may have seen him, on videos, perhaps more often than necessarily known who he is. A staple on the UK scene for 30 odd years, he has popped up on many a bands output, whenever violin is required to give some additional flavour. Thus, if you remember the the Bluebells, Style Council, Big Country and the Christians, whenever you hear fiddle, chances are it's him. He has also appeared with artists as diverse as Tom Petty and Mark Knopfler. The brother of notable arranger and member of the Art of Noise, Ann Dudley, he is probably best known for his part in the UK top 10 single, 'Young at Heart', by the Bluebells, from which he belatedly received a writing credit, having successfully convinced a judge of the integral part of his violin part. Used extensively in a VW worldwide advert, which gave an even more successful return hit, this income has probably kept him in 'tache wax and hair oil ever since.        


Yes, it is also his distinctive appearance, a Clark Gable lookalike, that has arguably as much kept him in the limelight as his playing, although, to be fair, he is no slouch, able also on guitar and mandolin, posessing a  delightful baritone croon. I have caught a fair amount of his lesser known and more full-time musical activities, being an acknowledged fan of pedal-steel maestro and maverick, B.J. Cole. Valentino and Cole have had a long running involvement together, first as members of Hank Wangford, the singing gynaecologist's band(s), secondly in their own intermittent country-rock band, Los Pistoleros, with ex-Graham Parker and the Rumour guitarist, Martin Belmont. They are an absolute hoot live, and still  gig from time to time, other commitments willing. Valentino has also made a trio of solo recordings, or perhaps the same one thrice, as many of the songs are duplicated across each of them, as well as on Pistoleros recordings. I'll forgive him for this as I am a fan. He has also been a longterm occasional member of another favourite band of mine, The Men They Couldn't Hang, featured here. In fact, I have just bought a ticket for a duo gig, Valentino with Phil 'Swill' Odgers, one of the lead singers/writers of said band.

As an afterword, perhaps buoyed by his earlier success, he took the Bobby Valentino I haven't discussed to court, enforcing the once named Bobby Williams to change his stage name to Bobby V. (I wonder what this fella would have had to say about that?)

You're in the groove, Jackson, is his best record!

Thursday, June 13, 2019


So which Jones do you want? Mick, Mick(e)y, Mike or Michael? And which do you expect?
Let's be honest, Jones isn't such an unusual name, to the extent potential siblings David and Thomas may turn up in related contributions, but with Jones, M, we really are spoilt for choice. But I am not going to touch on the Micks of that ilk, too obvious, so how about a brace of Mickys, additional e optional.

I don't know so much about Mickey Jones beyond his being the drummer in the Dylan goes electric tour of 1966. Yup, me too, I had always assumed that Levon Helm had that seat, but he had quit the transitional Hawks --> Band shortly beforehand. Jones, having been drumming for other giants of the counter culture like Trini Lopez, was hired, staying until the fabled motorbike crash that took Dylan off the boards for a while. Jones took the opportunity for a change in career, via a short spell with Kenny Rogers and the First Edition, yes, playing on that song. He then spent the remainder of his career playing bit parts in films memorable and unmemorable, playing characters credited and uncredited, like 'Burly Miner' in 'Total Recall' and 'Mechanic' in 'National Lampoon's Vacation'.

Micky Jones, however, was possibly instrumental in one of the best and most long-standing Jam bands these islands have produced, and certainly the best from Wales, being that principalities version of the Grateful Dead. What do you mean you have never heard of Man?

Man formed out of the ashes of a not entirely unsuccessful 60s band, the Bystanders, who had some minor chart success and were regulars on the radio, when 'needle time' restrictions required there to be bands willing to play live, often performing cover versions of chart hits. However as the dawn of the 70s approached, a core of that band, principally Micky Jones, on guitar and vocals, wished to try a new direction, having been vitalised by some of the music outpouring fro the West Coast of the U.S, Moby Grape, Quicksilver Messenger Service and the Dead, guitar bands with well-honed improvisational skills, able to freewheel a 3 minute LP track into a 10 -20 minute live behemoth, sometimes longer. Initially more popular in mainland Europe, particularly Germany, the style of gigging there, involving multiple sets over a single evening, on successive nights, as a 'residency', ring any bells,  assuring their jamming competencies were put to the test. A test they passed and surpassed. A regular line-up was never quite achievable, as Jones apart, there seemed almost a revolving door policy on several members, leaving or being sacked and being recruited on several occasions. One famous member was Deke Leonard, known in his own right, left and joined again on at least 4 occasions. Perhaps best known, in his later, sometimes contemporaneous bands, was drummer Terry Williams, later of Rockpile and Dire Straits.There always seemed someone available, old or new, able to dep at moments notice, their myriad live recordings bearing witness to an astonishing array of recruits, including one John Cipollina, erstwhile member of Quicksilver Messenger Service, a case of influence joining influencee. I got to hear the band at their peak period, the early 70s, during which the most characteristic studio recordings were made. 'Be Good to Yourself at Least Once a Day' exemplifies both their style and their attitude. Coming out in 1972, this record had 2 tracks on each side, each a free wheeling extemporisation around fairly simple themes. Live, of course, only the stag curfew held any limit. It was no secret they were fans of the weed, their best known song, 'Bananas', being a celebration, in its short vocal interlude, to cannabis sativa and why. The album also gives a good potted history of Welsh rock which, despite his having been in one of his 'between' (sacked) periods, was penned by Leonard.

                                                                                                   Bananas 1972

Between 1977 and 1983 the band retired itself, the flavour of the day no longer being for long hair, dope and guitar solos. But you can't keep a good man (ouch, sorry) down and they lurched back into life, still very much under the de facto leadership of Micky Jones. Recruiting, yet again, Leonard/ also on guitar, and longterm bassist Martin Ace, together with an only once changing drummer, this line-up lasted an astonishing 9 years, ahead of then recruiting a keyboard player back into the fold. Health issues then began to arise. Jones developed signs of a brain tumour in 2002, having to leave for treatment. Intriguingly, given the title of this piece, his place was taken by his son, George. Clearly not that one. When Jones Sr. returned, Leonard again left, so George stayed on. A further deterioration meant another absence, with Martin Ace's son, Josh, replacing Micky, until the band eventually split, in 2006. Micky Jones had further tumours and eventually died as a result, in 2010. Leonard had a number of strokes and died in 2017. Various other band members have also died, often of respiratory related conditions such as lung cancer or emphysema, should all that heavy duty spliffage leave you to draw any conclusions. End of the story?

Of course not! Man continue to play, now under the helm of last man standing Martin Ace, along with his son, and Micky's son, the latter 2 having spent a spell playing under the 'Son of Man' name, ahead of becoming absorbed back into the mothership. Sort of son is the father of the man, man!

                                                                                                   Bananas 2017

Here, should this extraordinary history entice, is a greater historical detail, from the band's own site. Meanwhile, as the band have always said, quite whatever it means, keep on crinting!!!

I like to eat bananas
'Cos they got no bones
I like marijuana
'Cos it gets me stoned

Be good!

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Same Name/Different Artist: Ian M(a)cDonald

King Crimson: The Court of the Crimson King
[purchase In The Court of the Crimson King]
Fairport Convention: Time Will Show The Wiser
[purchase Fairport Convention]
Quiet Sun: Rongwrong
[purchase Mainstream]

Surprisingly, there are a few Ian McDonalds or MacDonalds who are prominent in British music, although maybe it isn’t all that surprising, since I bet it is a pretty common name over there (and here, for that matter, according to Google). And there are some connections among them. So, you need to pay close attention here, or you might get lost.

Let’s start with multi-instrumentalist Ian McDonald, born in 1946 in Osterly, England, best known for his woodwind playing. This McDonald participated in sessions in 1968 with Michael and Peter Giles, Robert Fripp and McDonald’s then-girlfriend, Judy Dyble (who had recently been replaced in Fairport Convention by Sandy Denny). After some personnel shifting, the nucleus of Fripp, Michael Giles and McDonald, along with Greg Lake, became King Crimson, releasing the classic In The Court of the Crimson King. He left the band after that record along with percussionist Michael Giles, and recorded an album as McDonald and Giles (although Giles also appeared on King Crimson’s second album as a session musician).

McDonald became a session musician playing on, among other songs, T. Rex’s “Bang a Gong,” before guesting on King Crimson’s great Red album, with plans to rejoin the band, until Fripp (temporarily) disbanded it. Moving from the sublime to the ridiculous, he became a founding member of Foreigner (with one of the Mick Joneses), forcing me to mention that execrable band (Note—it is hard to type while holding your nose).

Thereafter, he was a member of the 21st Century Schizoid Band, essentially a Crimson cover band featuring mostly former (and future) members of King Crimson, has backed a number of other musicians, including former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett, former King Crimson singer/bassist John Wetton, Dyble, and others, and has guested with Asia.

Moving on to Ian Matthews MacDonald, also born in 1946 (9 days before the guy above), in the delightfully named Barton-upon Humber, England, although he later moved to the not delightfully named Scunthorpe. In 1967, this MacDonald was recruited to join Fairport Convention, and sang on their first two albums, the first of which included Judy Dyble. At some point, he changed his name to Ian Matthews, to avoid confusion with the King Crimson McDonald. When Fairport Convention began to move away from American folk/rock music and toward British folk, Ian found himself not invited to recording sessions, and quit/was fired before the release of Fairport’s great Unhalfbricking album.

Matthews then formed Matthews’ Southern Comfort, an essentially Americana album, initially featuring a number of members of Fairport and their circle—his second album spawned a hit cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock.” After that, he was in and out of various bands and released solo albums with very occasional commercial success, and changed the spelling of his first name to Iain.

British music critic Ian MacCormick changed his name to Ian MacDonald and is best known for a book, Revolution in the Head, a critical history of the Beatles. But this MacDonald was also a musician, providing lyrics to the band Quiet Sun, which featured his brother Bill MacCormick and future Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera. He sang backup on Quiet Sun’s excellent “reunion” album Mainstream. Maybe he is on this song. Sadly, he committed suicide in 2003 after suffering for years with depression.

There’s also an American actor named Ian MacDonald (born Ulva Pippy in 1914), possibly best known as villain Frank Miller in High Noon (although in 1949’s Come to the Stable, he played Mr. Matthews). I have no idea if his character’s first name was Ian, or Iain, for that matter.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Trees/Grass: Mark Knopfler's Redbud Tree

purchase [ Redbud Tree]

I like Mark Knopfler. I mean .. I don't know him to like him in that sense, but from back in the
days of <Sultans of Swing> and  <Money For Nothing/I Want My MTV>, and through his collaboration  with Chet Atkins (one of my favorites), film sound-track work, various session work and further projects with Clapton, the man has retained my respect. Respect for his musicianship,
respect for what I can sense of his personality. Respect for cutting out when he deemed he'd had enough of the kind of lime-light that Dire Straits must have brought upon his head.

It appears that he commands a similar like-ability/respect from fellow musicians: the list of people
his has collaborated with is best seen at Wikipedia:

Even with the relative <drive/rock fury> of Dire Straits, I think you can sense a certain laid-backness to the man/his style. Maybe that is why he seems to fit in so well with other musicians (with a like mind?)


As in they coulda/woulda/shoulda, Trees were the band Fairport Convention could have been if Dave Swarbrick hadn't been knocking about, a heady infusion of psychedelia and trad.arr. Contrary to current accepted dogma, Fairport weren't the sole progenitors of ye olde folke-rocke, merely the ones who took it first and foremost into their entire modus operandi, for 'Liege and Lief', having really only dipped their toes in and out before, gradually mingling elements of a folk tradition into their initially more american singer-songwriter palette. Trees were arguably ahead of them at that moment, with a potent stew of their own songs, a mix of meandering guitar based whimsies and folk club standards, applied with the same patchouli scented rhythmic brush. Plus, without a fiddle, they could resist the temptation of a jig and reel based sensibility, which would later give the genre a bad name. There was a slew of similar bands, vying for attention alongside, most, too, cast to the ranks of also-rans. I'm thinking Comus, Dando Shaft, Mellow Candle and Tea and Symphony. (Deliberate non-mention of Dr Strangely Strange and the Incredible String Band, each worthy of pieces of their own.)

The Garden of Jane Delawney

                                                            She Moves Through the Fair
                                          Both from 'The Garden of Jane Delawney', 1970

Coming together in 1969, a collection of friends and acquaintances, loosely related to the UK University of East Anglia. A 5 piece of 2 guitars, one each of acoustic and searing electric, bass and drums, vocals were provided by Celia Humphris, the friend of a friend, who was auditioned predominantly as none were otherwise strong enough in that department. Here's a pretty good interview with Humphris. (Don't panic, the translated article follows directly the italian!). Record companies were eagerly recruiting in these days, and multi-record deals were plentiful to any possible contenders, so, within months, the relatively inexperienced ensemble were signed to CBS. Whilst they perhaps failed to deliver the promise on the front of success, the critics loved 'em and the plaudits were plentiful. As so often the way, radio DJ John Peel played no small part in bringing their name into the open, citing that he wished he could devote a whole show to their music. But fame wasn't beckoning, good reviews failing to translate into sales, and so, after two records, they folded, a lifespan of barely 3 years. A 2nd version launched briefly, this time adding the by now de rigeur fiddle, although Humphris was the sole remaining original member.


Polly on the Shore
Both from 'On the Shore', 1971

Remarkably for a band of it's time, there have been, as yet, no re-unions, no reformations, possibly adding to the mystique. Performances have occasionally been mooted, without ever quite taking off. But the recordings have remained in print, slowly and steadily selling, buoyed by re-issues and helped by the odd stroke of luck: of all bands, Gnarls Barkley, maverick soul/electronica duo, sampled their song, 'Geordie', on the song 'St Elsewhere', the opening and title track of their 2006 debut.

                                               Tom of Bedlam: 'Trees Live', 1973 (later line-up)

I would say the time period 1968 - 1972 was as fertile a period in music as any before or since. The fact that it coincided with my formative years was a wonderful stroke of luck, if perhaps explaining my opinion. And whilst I have loved music since that time and discovered music from before, if not necessarily to the actual recordings, it is often to the musicians who then first paid their dues that I most frequently return.

Take a walk through the Trees.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Trees/Grass: Stumpy Meets The Firecracker In Stencil Forest

Happy The Man: Stumpy Meets The Firecracker In Stencil Forest

It has been a while since I’ve written about prog rock, and I initially considered writing about two songs from one of my favorite Genesis albums, Selling England By The Pound, “The Battle of Epping Forest,” based on a real gang war, because “forest,” and/or “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe),” about a groundskeeper who says, “Me, I'm just a lawnmower/You can tell me by the way I walk.”

But no, let’s go deeper into the prog rock weeds.

Prog, at least back in its heyday of the early/mid 70s was really a European thing. Most of the famous bands associated with the genre are English, German, French, Italian, etc. But there were American prog bands. Back in 2015, Rolling Stone published a list of the 50 Greatest Prog Rock Albums of All Time, and fittingly, most were from European bands, most of which you have probably heard of (including the aforementioned Selling England By The Pound, at No. 6. The highest ranked U.S. album was from Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, One Size Fits All (Canadians Rush, though had albums ranked 3 and 11.)

Bringing up the rear, at 50, was the self-titled debut album from a band that many consider the greatest American prog band of them all, Happy The Man, maybe, the greatest band that you’ve never heard of.

Formed in and around James Madison University in Virginia in 1973, the band predictably went through lineup changes before settling down, moving to Washington, D.C., and becoming well-known enough that Arista Records signed them. And at about the same time, the newly solo Peter Gabriel met with the band and demoed a couple of songs, before Gabriel decided to go in a different direction for his first album. I kind of wish he had stuck with HTM, though, because it probably would have been great.

These guys could play, with complex songs mixing Zappa, Gentle Giant and Canterbury Scene type songs with more Genesis like ballads. What they really couldn’t do was sing, or write lyrics (often an issue with bands of this type). But if you stick to the instrumentals, you will be blown away.

“Stumpy Meets The Firecracker In Stencil Forest” is a great, knotty instrumental, featuring great guitar, sax and synth playing, and if the often excessive length of prog songs turns you off, it is a compact 4:16. (And look, just because the title references a “stencil forest,” that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have trees. The Black Forest isn’t black, and is filled with trees. Rain forests aren’t made of rain. Bighorn National Forest isn’t filled with sheep. Just saying.)

After releasing their debut, Happy The Man toured around the country, opening for bands as diverse as Renaissance and Hot Tuna, and recorded and released a second just slightly less amazing album, Crafty Hands. Neither album sold at all, and Arista dropped them. A third album was recorded in 1979, but not released until 1983 (I’ve never heard it), and keyboard player Kit Watkins left to join the somewhat more famous British band Camel. Other members of HTM formed and played in obscure bands or as solo acts over the years, and there was a brief reunion in the early 2000s.

If you like this genre of music and haven’t heard of Happy The Man, check out this song, and their first two albums (feel free to skip the three songs with vocals, but they do have some merit).

Sunday, June 2, 2019


(It's extraordinary the things you discover in this job, one being the difference a space between 2 words can make. And the similarity. 'Dead Grass' is the name of an album by the late great fidler extraordinaire Vassar Clements, of whose music I have been a fan since I was 15. 'Deadgrass' is the name of a band who peddle the self same concept as did that album, albeit as a current working live band. And whose bio seems resolutely to avoid any reference to the earlier. Funny that.)

So, 'Dead Grass', then? More or less as it says on the tin, the music of the Grateful Dead through a bluegrass filter. Arguably not as great a leap as it sounds, Garcia's pre-Dead background in jugbands and his lifelong love of and sidetracking into banjo based acoustic hillbilly music being well known. I have racks of this stuff from Old and in the Way, through myriad duet sets with David Grisman, a celebrated mandolin player, also a member of OaitW. Vassar Clements, himself no stranger to Garcia and the band, having played on 'In the Wake of the Flood' and been also a 3rd member of OaitW, was, or certainly looked, much older school than his cohorts, and had an interesting life.

Born in 1928 and self-taught on the fiddle, he soon came to the attention of Bill Monroe, joining his Bluegrass Boys, barely as he turned 20. After a few years live experience he was ready for greater recognition, spending time with many of the bluegrass giants, including playing, alongside Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs on this masterpiece. However, the middle of the 60s saw him fall prey to the bottle, and it seemed it had fully let him down, he scraping by in dead-end jobs.

Newly sober and developing a new name for himself, in sessions, he was fortunate enough to find himself swept up into the commotion of a groundbreaking moment in american music, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's 'Will the Circle Be Unbroken', in 1972.

This fabulous collaborative piece of work was the idea of the Dirt Band and their then manager, to team up their no mean talents with those of the generation behind them, putting a bunch of longhaired hippies into the room with a bunch of distrustful short-back-and-sides elder statesmen, like Roy Acuff, Jimmie Martin and the aforementioned Scruggs. Astonishingly it gelled, the recorded between song dialogue reflecting the initial suspicions. Clements featured heavily, arguably, alongside Doc Watson, the blind guitar-picking maestro, coming off the best of an impressive roster. From there, his second wind was off, Grateful Dead sessions, work with an immediately post Allman's Dickey Betts and a solo career.  As mentioned earlier, he joined up with Jerry Garcia, Dave Grisman, bass player John Kahn and another ex-Bluegrass Boy, Peter Rowan, on guitar, to form Old and in the Way. With Garcia on banjo, they had a modus operandi of playing both traditional songs and grassed up covers of contemporary songs. Whilst no Dead songs made it on to any of their records, I would think it strange if they didn't sneak the odd one into their live sets, no doubt fuelling the idea for 'Dead Grass', which appeared in 2000, arguably helped along by the 'Pickin' On' series. For me, 'Dead Grass' has the greater whiff of authenticity, Clements being a tangible link to the band, the songs remaining songs, proper songs with vocals, rather than the slight sterility of meticulously rehearsed instrumentals.

In the intervening years Clements had remained busy, taking forward his concept of Hillbilly Jazz, a freewheeling amalgam of blue grass, western swing, jazz and old-times standards. The similarly entitled 1975 album is a thing of some wonder. Seldom ever can Bob Wills and Benny Goodman have sat alongside each other in the song credits. Very much Clement's project, backing musicians included David Bromberg and longtime Elvis drummer, D.J. Fontana. I remember reading about this record a year or two after 'Will The Circle', never ever seeming to be able to find a copy. I finally remedied that about 15 years ago, about the time Amazon were becoming a player, and from whom you could get anything. A joy better late than never.

There were a few more similar recordings, but the ever itchy fingered Clements kept stretching his boundaries, including a fascinating duet live recording with Stephane Grappelli, their styles seemingly poles apart, the Hot Club de Paris translated to a log cabin in the Appalachians. It shouldn't, but it works, believe me. Towards the end of his life; he died in 2005, he was exploring the blues, his final recording being 'Livin' With the Blues', another belter, alongside the likes of Elvin Bishop, Maria Muldaur and likeminded genre-defining harmonica man, Norton Buffalo.

I love fiddle music and how it can touch any style. If my top three exponents include Sugar Cane Harris and Dave Swarbrick, Clements is surely the king.

Oo, before I forget, final word, Deadgrass.


Saturday, June 1, 2019

Trees/Grass: Green, Green Grass of Home

(Merle Haggard version above)

purchase [Tom Jones ]

<Green, Green Grass of Home> may well be the first Trees/Grass song that comes to mind for people my age. Possibly followed by <Tie a Yellow Ribbon>. I cannot say that either of them does much for me besides bring back memories - we were severely exposed to both as they sat atop the charts for longer than I would have placed them there.

For me, Green, Green Grass was a Tom Jones hit. I've brought this next point up before, but since we are talking memories... My pop music exposure during Tom Jones' Green Green Grass period was via a short-wave transistor radio connection to pirate radio Radio Luxembourg, more than 1,500 miles away. This meant that the signal came and went such that you mostly caught snippets of the song.

In perusing the Wikipedia article for the song, I was struck by the number of known covers of the song beyond Tom Jones: Johnny Darrell and Porter Wagoner, credited with the first public exposures, and then Jerry Lee Lewis, Joan Baez, Elvis, Nick Cave, Kenny Rogers - and believe it or not, the Grateful Dead.

I also had not fully focused on the lyrics - certainly registering the general melancholy, but ascribing that to an aspect of what I assumed Country music was like. And perhaps not totally wrongly - there are no few songs that lament the state of some po' boy on Death Row, for that's the story the song tells. If you hadn't noticed:

There's a guard, and there's a sad old padre,
Arm in arm, we'll walk at daybreak
Yes, they'll all come to see me in the shade of that old oak tree,
So they lay me 'neath the green, green grass of home

The Voice, Myanmar above

and the Dead, - well ... Bob Weir with ... above