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

SPIRIT: SPIRIT DITCH/SPARKLEHORSE

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

SPIRIT: SPIRIT WORLD/STEPHEN BRUTON


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.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Spirit: The Spirit of Radio


Rush: The Spirit of Radio
[purchase]

I’ve openly discussed my love of prog-rock in on this blog, so you might be surprised to discover that I’m not a big fan of Rush. They are one of those bands who I’ve never particularly gotten into, maybe in part because I have never spent much time really listening to their substantial output, but there are a handful of Rush songs that I like. One of them is “The Spirit of Radio,” from the 1980 album Permanent Waves. Why this Rush song as opposed to any other? I can’t give you a good answer, but I think that it is probably a combination of the song’s relatively straightforward structure, the somewhat surprising reggae touch at the end, and most of all, its message.

When I first got interested in music, you could still find relatively free-form radio stations that weren’t afraid to play deep tracks and long songs, and there were still DJs creating thematic sets and talking, knowledgeably, about the music. I learned so much about music from listening to, mostly, WNEW-FM during my high school days. The three members of Rush are all 8 or 9 years older than me, and came of music listening age during a time when radio was even more wide open.

But like so many things, once someone realizes that money can be made, people, or more likely, companies, with big bank accounts step in, and the distinctive character of whatever it is gets lost in favor of standardization and the profit motive. The days of free-form radio are mostly over, at least on the commercial part of the dial, and that’s a shame. Most stations play a very circumscribed set of songs, narrowly formatted, and often the DJs are just people with good voices, without the knowledge, or love, of the music that they play. At the time that Rush released “The Power of Radio” this trend was speeding up, and it was certainly something that I, sitting in the dorm-basement studios of WPRB, was acutely aware of.

As Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson said about the song:

That song was really a statement of where radio was going, where it had been. Growing up in the early 70s, FM radio was such a free forum for music; you’d have DJs who would play stuff for an hour. They’d just talk about the songs; there were no commercials or anything. So free-form, really a platform for expanding music at the time. And then it was moving more towards a format, and away from that freedom, becoming more regulated, more about selling airtime. It just speaks about that, really. 

The irony was that the song that attacked radio became a hit, and presaged a move by the band toward more radio friendly music, at least for a while.

Not only is “The Spirit of Radio” a shot at radio programmers, it is also an attack on bands that Rush believed were more in the business for the money, and not the art. In one of the most well-known lines from the song, which consciously echoed Simon & Garfunkel’s “Sounds of Silence,” Lyricist Neal Peart wrote: ‘The words of the profits are written on the studio wall, concert hall/Echoes with the sounds of salesmen.’ The salesmen, in his opinion, being the disingenuous front men of bands who told each city that it was the greatest, or that its fans were the best.

These days, of course, we don’t have to rely on radio stations to discover music anymore. There are tons of other places to hear music—streaming services, the Internet in general, satellite radio, and so on. On one hand, that’s great, because access is now in the user’s hands. But on the other hand, this model has made music much less profitable, preventing some artists from having the resources to create their art to the fullest (although it also has probably cut back on a good deal of excess). Maybe worst of all, though, is that this model makes it easy for listeners to stay in a rut. Most Sirius XM stations, for example, play a small slice of music, and when you choose music on streaming services, it is easier to pick music or artists that you already like, than to search for something new and good in the mass of available songs. That curatorial service that a good FM DJ provided, which allowed me to simply tune to 102.7 (or to have listeners tune to 103.3, when I was on the air….) and have my musical horizons broadend is mostly gone.

Friday, October 25, 2019

WITCH: CRAFT or QUEEN/EDWYN COLLINS

I've wanted to do this post for a while, just waiting for the right opportunity, serendipity offering perhaps the least obvious way to shoehorn it in. Collins, erstwhile pin-up poster boy for Glasgow 80's band, Orange Juice, has had a (brief) mention here before, but given his current renaissance, a fight back against most expected odds, and on the back of a new and acclaimed album and tour, time to stake his claim as an ongoing artistic presence of merit.

The two photos are decades apart; that much is obvious, but, following his pair of devastating brain haemorrhages in 2005, when it was assumed he might never fully function again, not only is he writing, singing and performing, he has become a pillar of his home community, Helmsdale, in the far north east of scotland, a small coastal fishing community, from where his forefathers had arisen. Initially unable to speak, one strange quirk of such a brain injury can be the retention of ability to sing. Following surgery and through intensive therapy, he was able to build up from only 4 words/phrases: 'yes', 'no', 'Grace Maxwell' (his wife's name) and, intriguingly and prophetically, 'the possibilities are endless'. True, he can no longer play his earlier and visceral guitar, at least by himself: his right arm is significantly weakened, but, with another person making the chords, he can still strum and pick. Making music again these past twelve years, a momentum of appreciation has built up, as his powers and prowess have built back up, using the recording studio almost as an instrument. 

I can commend a documentary made in 2014, The Possibilities are Endless, recounting his progress until then. This year saw his latest record, Badbea, an older name for the ancestral home to which he had returned and where he had his own studio built. (More accurately, Badbea is the name of the clearance village, to which the local clans were herded, ahead of being "emigrated" to the new world: read about it here.)  The picture of the bekilted Collins is from the 2010 Helmsdale Highland Games, at which he had been asked to be chieftain, able to reprise the role of his grandfather decades previously.

So far and so few witches, you say. Yes, indeed, so let me draw you to a superlative sampler of Collins' earlier output, ahead of the event described, featuring Orange Juice and his early solo works. Entitled Edwyn Collins & Orange Juice: A Casual Introduction, 1981-2001, this came out in 2002, it's need more a reflection of some slight industry dissatisfaction with his direction, the business wanting more poppy fare than the angrier material he was putting out following the demise of that group. It is an excellent sampler and an excellent round-up, ideal to prepare the palate for his current. The OJ hit single is there, in a unique melding of both the 7" and 12" versions, Rip It Up, alongside still standout highlights of his live repertoire, Gorgeous George, and, single, A Girl Like You
(Witches? I'm getting there.......)
Also included are a pair of covers, coincidentally linked by their subject matter of, you guessed it.

Witch Queen of New Orleans
Quite why this cheesy one hit wonder was chosen has continued to baffle me, an ear worm that burrowed into my youthful hatred back in 1971, by the weretherealorweretheyMemorex native indian band, Redbone. I learn, in fact, that their credentials were actually genuine, and that they had a number of hits, even if Witch Queen was the only one to cross over to my side of the pond. And, to my horror, having always devoutly skipped this version on playing this cd, I played it for this piece. You know, it's OK. It IS definitely and desperately cheesy, sure, but more in a mature scottish cheddar way than a monterey jack. It is only available on this disc.

Witchcraft
Showing off Collins' masterful croon, this is a cover from the great american songbook I am usually so wary of, although, written by Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh, and dating from 1957, I guess it could have featured in my last post on this theme. Collins here has me thinking more of mid to late period Motown, the time of big ballads and slinky synths, and is, more generally, a style, Motown, to which he increasingly returns, motor city horn arrangements being especially prevalent on Badbea.  Frank Sinatra loved it so much he cut it thrice, but other and more modern versions have included everyone from Robert Palmer to Robert Smith, by way of even Siouxsie Sioux. They all diminish in comparison.

So maybe not so witchy, but hopefully will still cast a spell on any unknowing ears.
The featured album is tough to find, but newbie, Badbea, isn't.
Here's a taster.






Thursday, October 24, 2019

Witch: Yes, I'm a Witch



purchase [ The album ]


The following is all possibly "fake".
How would you know?

Yoko Ono is an artist? (True/False?) Yes, I guess so.
You are what you claim to be? Well ... that's certainly part of the road to your destination. But it generally doesn't guarantee it (see the various unknowns I try to include every now and then in my post of famous people's songs [Jimi   Herbie]. It's a fact that some of us are better positioned for one reason or another (and some are luckier)

Is Yoko Ono a witch? The jury seems to be out on that one.

You don't need my history lesson about Yoko to guide you towards your decision. (you can get your own here). On the other hand, I was one of millions that tracked the story of John and Ono in real time (because I was born in the 50s).

Yoko was one of the primary reasons the Beatles dis-banded? (maybe). Yoko "twisted" John's mind. (love tends to do strange things to your perceptions). Etc ... etc...

Does/Did Yoko Ono bring a new (artistic) dimension to John's (read: the Beatles at that stage) perceptions? (yes). Was it (artistically) creative? (Um ... yeah) Does that mean that she should be making her own albums at this point (2019) in time? ( uh ... no. But I am clearly biased from the start.)

I think the first time I really noticed Yoko's musical influence (yes - knew, but didnt register back in the 70s), was Plastic Ono Band - the husband/wife collaboration




Other input towards our theme - (witch or not) -Yoko is somewhere in the picture(like a true witch)
I'm Losing You


Watching the Wheels Turn (again .. Yoko here or not?)

  




Pardon the extensive parentheses - they seemed needed to separate my wandering thoughts this time around ...


Tuesday, October 22, 2019

WITCH: BEWITCHED,BOTHERED AND BEWILDERED


The Great American songbook is something that has me normally running for the hills, especially when utilised as a vehicle for ageing rockers who have overdrawn on their inspirations. Most such vanity projects have given such a bad name to the originals that one could be fooled too that the originals are cheesy and cheap.  And sometimes they are, but there are a bevy of writers of such reliability that any such fear is misplaced. These would include Cole Porter, the Gershwins  and Richard Rodgers, cited mainly as three who transcend the celluloid vintage of their origin and can hold their heads up against often the most lumpen of current interpreters. My title song, above, as played out by Ella (do I really have to add) Fitzgerald, was written by Richard Rodgers (music) and Lorenz Hart (lyrics). Although Ella was not the first, and, as someone I totally didn't "get" until maybe a decade ago, arguably she provides the definitive  version. Quite how I couldn't see past the elderly and bespectacled, grandmarmy-like woman she had become, now defies me, it taking my Uncle George, a jazz lover who instilled in me the love of music if not, initially or necessarily, his tastes, to get me to see with my ears open, hear with my eyes open. He played me some Aretha Franklin, shocking me with his eclecticism, seamlessly then comparing and contrasting with Ella, getting me to allow both in my appreciation.

It's a great song, though, isn't it? From a 1940 musical, Pal Joey, it was originally sung by a Vivienne Segal on Broadway, reprised in a revival, 14 years later, with an ongoing life of it's own since then, with perhaps the most bizarre appearance coming in the UK royalty biopic, The Crown, as possibly sung by King George V and his daughter, Princess Margaret.
Here are three of the better contemporary versions. (With apologies to those who would say otherwise, Frank doesn't count as sufficiently contemporary.)


Boz Scaggs has one of those voices that hinges on the cusp of being just, and only just, right, fitting no definition of being good in any accepted classical sense. But, on the right material, perfect. Personally I am no lover of peak Boz, his disco years, Lido Shuffle and all that, much preferring his earlier and later more blues based work. But here, the juxtaposition of his strained holler alongside the consummate lounge jazz setting, is a glorious peanut butter/jelly combination. It comes from a 2003 release, But Beautiful: Standards, Volume 1. Strangely, no second volume has yet appeared.


Rufus Wainwright adores this stuff and it adores him. Many say he sings like a corncrake; I have to say I differ, finding his high camp self-belief so intoxicating as to have me forget the sentimentality of (some of) his material and the archness of his presentation. This version shouldn't really do it, as he milks the saccharine and cloys it to near curdle. But I love it. Just don't tell anyone. This comes from the film of Alan Bennett's The History Boys, my imagination that Bennett himself would be not amiss to crooning along with it.


Yes, that Jeff Lynne, Mr E.L.O. Astonishing, as I really cannot abide most of his output, in particular some of his trademark mannerisms, the echolalia backing vocals, for one, which threaten to appear here, retreating, thankfully,  just as swiftly. This avoids the tweeness he often can bring to material, his voice managing to sound warm and genuine. It doesn't even make me think, that much, of the Beatles. Like the Boz Scaggs above, this comes from an oft overlooked record in his canon, Long Wave, in 2012, a album entirely of covers from the 40s and into the 50s.

Of course, there are some other crackers, Linda Ronstadt and Sinead O'Connor, as two women who have the pipes to nail it, each capable of singing the phone book and still sounding sweet. And clunkers aplenty, mentioning no names.

Bewitched? Boz, Rufus, Jeff. Or just Ella.


Monday, October 21, 2019

Witch: Herbie Hancock/Witch Fire





purchase [Witch Fire ]


Herbie Hancock? ... I had a vinyl copy of one of his albums way back at the end of 60's. It was so long ago that I have a hard time remembering which one it was (I certainly no longer have a copy)
Wait ... does anyone even know his name today, let alone still have vinyl copies of this stuff?

The man has come up with 41 live albums, 12 studio, sixty-two compilations, five sound-tracks, thirty-eight singles ....I can hardly continue. Oh yeah ... he's also got a song that fits our current theme. Well, .. actually more than one (considering the above lengthy repertoire): the man has credits on <Witch Fire> as well on <Witch Hunt>. The titles sound awfully similar, no?

Witch Fire, from the Smoking Keys album, is credited to - can't find anything. There's relatively little online about this album. The first Google link takes you to a site in Asian/Chinese characters and not much else. The Google images link includes a screen shot of an album of the same name, but the trail seems to peter out about there. Except that that link resolves to give you a list of songs on said album. And another link (if you enclose the album title in quotes, leads you to (WTF): a link about Blue Cheer (now that's history for you) - "Peterson is at the wheel *smoking, keys* in the ignition but the motor is silent"

There's more online info about Witch Hunt, credited to Wayne Shorter from his '66 album <Speak No Evil>, which includes a number of ECM studio alumni: Shorter, Freddie Hubbard, Ron Carter, and Herbie Hancock. (ECM going back to the end of the '60s and a major jazz publishing influence throughout the 70s and still thankfully going today)

But .. back to the story line (witches, Herbie Hancock)...
Herbie Hancock makes Rolling Stone's list of top "Stoner" albums, but not for this one (although that should come across as slightly auspicious - Halloween, anyone?)

Witch Hunt/James Easter:

Witch: Anne Boleyn 'The Day Thou Gavest Lord Hath Ended'


Rick Wakeman: Anne Boleyn 'The Day Thou Gavest Lord Hath Ended'
[purchase]

Today, we are going to debunk two myths.

First, Anne Boleyn, King Henry VIII’s second wife and Queen of England from 1533 to 1536, was not a witch, although she has been accused of being one in popular culture. In fact, her execution was based on (probably false) claims of adultery, incest, and high treason designed to get her out of the way so that Henry could move on to wife III. But she was an incredibly divisive figure in English life of the day, ascending to the throne after the controversial end of Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon and otherwise contributing to the move of England from Catholicism to Protestantism. The politics of this period is fiendishly complex, with lots of players and shifting alliances, so, I’m not going to even try to explain all of this. I do recommend reading Hilary Mantel’s novels about this period, Wolf Hall, and Bring Up The Bodies, or watching the PBS adaptation of them, Wolf Hall, in which Claire Foy portrays Anne (before being cast in The Crown as the young Queen Elizabeth II, who was a descendant of Anne’s older sister Mary, a mistress of Henry VIII before her sister took her place. Like I said, complex.).

It seems that the witchcraft allegations stemmed from two main sources all derived from basic misogyny—first, if you were a powerful woman, and had enemies (and Anne fit that bill perfectly), it was likely that you would be called a witch. For example, while many contemporary commentators remarked on Anne’s beauty, brilliance and charm, one Catholic writer, long after her death, described Anne as having a “protruding tooth,” a “large wen (growth) on her neck,” and six fingers. You know, sort of like a caricature witch. There is no claim, however, that she wore a pointy hat, rode a broom, or weighed as much as a duck.

The second basis for the claim that Anne Boleyn was a witch is based on a comment reportedly made by Henry VIII, not the most reliable of narrators, to be sure, that he had been “seduced and forced into his second marriage by means of sortileges and charms.” “Sortilege,” however, appears to have been used to mean “bewitched or enchanted” in both the supernatural and non-supernatural sense, and there is significant evidence that Henry was smitten by Anne’s beauty, intelligence, charm, and expertise in flirting, and not so much by witchcraft.

If you are really interested in delving more into this question, check out this page.

Myth 2—Rick Wakeman’s 1973 album, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, is a terrible example of the worst excesses of progressive rock. Yes, it was a concept album about historical figures, and yes, it is mostly Wakeman showing off his talent on various keyboards and synthesizers, and yes, there are moments of pomp and excess (which, to me, can have their place, anyway). But overall, the album contains beautiful music and great musicianship. And there are many, many worse examples of over the top prog pretension, so I think that, in retrospect, at least, the album holds up reasonably well.

The album was inspired by Wakeman’s dissatisfaction with his playing on his first tour with Yes, and his attempt to find a personal style. In an airport in Richmond, Virginia, Wakeman bought a copy of The Private Life of Henry VIII by Scottish writer Nancy Brysson Morrison, and the chapter on Anne Boleyn reminded him of a musical idea he had previously recorded. Wakeman decided to focus on each of the wives, “interpreting the musical characteristics of the wives of Henry VIII. Although the style may not always be in keeping with their individual history, it is my personal conception of their characters in relation to keyboard instruments.”

Listening to his take on Anne Boleyn, can I hear “a tribute to her feisty temper and valiant courage that she maintained while standing up to her husband,” as the Allmusic reviewer heard? Maybe, but overall, it is a nice piece, and not, to my hearing, excessive or bombastic. Plus, it has Bill Bruford on drums, which to me is always a positive.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Witch: Softer, Softest


Hole: Softer, Softest
[purchase]

I’ve written before about my admiration for Hole’s album Live Through This, and in that piece, I summarized Courtney Love’s difficult life, so I won’t repeat the details here, except to note that if her life has been marked by addiction, wild behavior and anger, she came by it honestly. She is someone that I have found fascinating but not always in a good way. But I think that she has produced a bunch of good music over her career. There has been a lot written by young women who identify with her anger, her pain, and her attitude, and as an older man, I can’t understand her music the same way, but I don’t think you can listen to Live Through This without being moved by it.

“Softer, Softest” is a song that I really hadn’t paid much attention to, but in researching this piece, I think that it is one of the most poignant songs on the album. Introducing the song on MTV Unplugged in 1995, Love stated that it was “about the girl that always smelled like pee in your class, and she was me," so clearly it is autobiographical. The song’s lyrics appear to be about an abused girl, likely with the knowledge of her mother (or, at least, a female caregiver), because the litany of abuse is interrupted with the following lines:

Burn the witch 
The witch is dead 
Burn the witch 
Just bring me back her head 

This is, of course, heartbreaking, and I don’t really think that there’s much more to say, other than, listen to the song.

Instead, let’s discuss whether Courtney Love is a witch, an issue which has a certain amount of currency on the Internet, with a number of sites claiming that she definitely is, although others point out that she has publicly discussed Buddhist chanting. I don’t know enough about witches to know whether you can be one and be a Buddhist. At the same MTV Unplugged show, Hole covered Donovan’s “Season of the Witch,” although it wasn’t televised at the time, and was only released later. (That would be a good song to discuss in this theme, but Seuras Og already did so a couple of years ago, linking to Hole’s version). Love is friendly with Stevie Nicks, who has written songs about witches (and Love has covered “Gold Dust Woman,” Cover Me's No. 1 Fleetwood Mac cover of all time), but I’m not sure that is really evidence. Also, when she performed on Later... With Jools Holland in 1995, Love introduced a song by mentioning that she had “hexed” a “jerk” who was now losing his hair (probably former boyfriend Billy Corgan).  No one, to my knowledge, has tried to determine whether she weighs as much as a duck. Although she has dressed up as Donald Duck.

Love’s daughter, Frances Bean Cobain has been pictured wearing what appears to be a Wiccan moon necklace, her Instagram user name is “space_witch666, and her Twitter handle is “The_Space Witch.” Of course, her daughter’s beliefs aren’t necessarily those of her mother’s, a distinction that Love, considering her childhood (and the lyrics to “Softer, Softest”), would probably agree with.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Strange/Weird: Little Miss Strange




purchase [Electric Ladyland] because the whole album is one you should own if you are into owning your music

When I think back on it, my first listen to Electric Ladyland was one of a few musical experiences where I can remember most of the 5 Ws. I was maybe 14 and I had an invite to a limited audience, listening studio to hear the work. I left the room changed. In truth, I had already been "experienced" a year or so earlier when a friend played the Are You Experienced album, and I recall an even more abrupt awakening then - never had I heard anything remotely like this before. But even with that experience behind me, Electric Ladyland was ... stunning. electric. different. The sound system in the "auditorium" was pretty good: we are talking about the days when "stereo" was still cutting-edge, and good stereo with decent Hz rates and quality speakers even more esoteric - all of which meant that the phase-shifting and Hendrix's cross channel effects were pretty novel.

If I don't insert too much of my current perspective into this, Little Miss Strange was one of the weaker cuts from the album. I prefer the more melodic Rainy Day, Dream Away and 1983 ... A Merman [...]

When I listen to Little Miss Strange in 2019, it now seems obvious that it wasn't a Hendrix composition (indeed it wasn't: it is a Noel Redding piece) Curiously, by the time recording on Electric Ladyland had begun, Bassist Redding wasn't playing much of the bass on the album - Hendrix himself and the Jefferson Airplane's Jack Cassady were taking on some of the bass playing. Although I do believe the liner notes say that Redding did play on LMStrange.

The 1968 Rolling Stone review of the album calls this song the most commercial of the songs on Electric Ladyland. Hmmm - I guess I am not terribly representative of the commercial market: I would have chosen something more melodic, like the above (Rainy Day or even All Along the Watchtower). But the overdubbed guitar tracks (in 5ths is it?) work pretty well to provide an element of harmony to a song that comes across to me as kind of raucous overall.

And, yeah, this too, from the Randy Hansen Band:


Wednesday, October 9, 2019

STRANGE/WEIRD: WEIRDO - THE CHARLATANS


'Charlatans UK', that is, one of those raggle taggle of bands having to append their country of origin to their name, at least in the states, to differentiate themselves from some earlier same-name who could sue. Thus we also have the 'UK Squeeze', at least initially, 'The Mission UK', 'The English Beat' and 'London Suede'. Strangely not ever in reverse, with no Skid Row USA or Outlaws USA, to differentiate from their british forbears, let alone the nonsense of prime 60s psychedelicists 'Nirvana' having to add UK when some Seattle upstarts, previously named 'Fecal Matter', stole their name decades later.....

Weirdo/Between 10th and 11th; 1992

Hey ho, rant over, and as good a way to start this piece as any, by commenting on that strangeness. But, you know these guys anyway, they got to a Billboard number 1 with this very song. OK, it was one of the Billboard subsets, Best Modern Rock, lasting in that spot for a full week in 1992. Modern rock doesn't seem such a bad title, as more accurate definitions struggled. Lumped in with Madchesteror Baggy even, in the UK, they were neither from Manchester nor particularly comparable with those that were, the Stone Roses and the Happy Mondays, not least in the emphasis on a driving hammond organ led sound and a distinct northern soul and mod influence. I think it this, for then, retro sound that caught my ears, largely unenamoured by the rest of the pack. From their second album, Between 10th and 11th, itself named after the the venue they played their first US gig, perhaps suggesting this was where they were setting their sights. (The venue? New York's Marquee, or as we call it in this country, the Marquee US.) Sadly the momentum was lost somewhat when the keyboard player, Rob Collins, was arrested and imprisoned for his involvement in an armed robbery, arguably a foolish move when on the cusp of breaking america. Stories vary.

One to Another/Tellin' Stories; 1996

However, he was still there for their next three records, for even if US sales were next to no more, they were gradually building up ever a bigger name at home. The fifth record, Tellin' Stories, went platinum, arguably bolstered by the injection of some dance/electronica tropes courtesy Tom Rowlands (Chemical Brothers) and Martin Duffy (Primal Scream). The latter had became involved as Collins had only managed half the album, ahead of driving off the road at speed, without his belt belt and with excess alcohol. He died.

A Man Needs To Be Told/Wonderland; 2001

I felt the band were never quite the same again, never as cohesive, becoming more under the influence of the undoubtedly charismatic singer, Tim Burgess, even if, keyboards aside, the guitarist and rhythm section remained largely constants. Album number seven, Wonderland, even tried a change in focus, as Burgess steered a country influence, triggered perhaps by his longstanding Dylan fixations. Guitarist Mark (no relation) Collins even added pedal steel to his repertoire, even if it is Daniel Lanois on the record. Next came a backflip toward dance again, with the appearance of more of Burgess's previously guarded falsetto. Whilst the critics poured admiration on these releases, I personally felt a sense of desperation creeping in, and although their popularity as a live draw remained, sales were receding. Simpatico, number nine, wasn't even given the opportunity of a US release. It actually took a web giveaway to kick things back into gear, although You Cross My Path did get a more formal hard copy release later in the same year, 2008. Much more like it, this was a blunt reminder of who they were and what they were capable of, blending their original sound with a host of bolder ideas, but with a swagger and confidence missing over much interim output.

Oh Vanity/You Cross My Path; 2008

Bad luck returned to their ranks a few years later, their drummer, Jon Brookes, collapsing on stage during 2010, later receiving chemotherapy and surgery for the subsequently diagnosed brain tumour, only playing with the band again briefly ahead of succumbing three years later. Two albums, in 2015 and 2017, have followed, the band playing on, a soulful older statesmanlike hue beginning to appear, if the second of these trades arguably too heavily on the presence of guests, Paul Weller and Johnny Marr. So, what now and what next? Their website shows only they are still sporadically on the road, with no signs yet of any new material, give or take this year's record store day release of old and variations.

Talking In Tones/Modern Nature; 2015

Plastic Machinery/Different Days; 2017

Postscript: I toyed with putting up the lyrics of the featured song, as much as anything to see if I could make it fit my own view that it was the song that provoked one Thom Yorke and his band, Radiohead, to respond with this. Sadly the lyrics couldn't give me that indulgence, I finding it impossible to guage quite what or who the weirdo in question might be, possibly even Burgess himself. But, and without checking to see if the chronology makes it even possible, nice idea, innit!

Strange/Weird: Goodbye Stranger



purchase [ Goodbye Stranger]

The longer SMM continues, the harder it gets to be original. Be it chosing a theme or nailing a song (harder still ... a band) that hasn't been previously posted. SMM has done a couple of Supertramp's before, but it looks like this is the first appearance of this song here.

There isn't much that's weird about Supertramp (far as I know) except for a strange conspiracy theory espoused by a Daily Mirror contributor that links 1979's Breakfast in America to 9/11 (read all about it here). In general Supertramp didn't particularly aim for the weird - certainly not in their musical style: it ws mostly designed to "hit")

Along that path, <Goodbye Stranger> is straight down the third-base line: probable base-hit into the charts. The album contains a number of top hits that - at the time - cemented Supertramp's place in history: The Logical Song, Take the Long Way Home as well as this one and the title track. Roger Hodgson and Rick Davies wrote hit after hit throughout the 70s and 80s before disbanding.

In a way, 1979 seems like a strange dream now: Breakfast in America. What a difference 40 years makes.  Back then, breakfast in America was a popular destination. Strange how time and events change our values. For those of us outside the US, is a trip to the US such a major goal? For those of us inside, do we still want all those people coming to have breakfast with us?

Saturday, October 5, 2019

STRANGE/WEIRD: COMFORT OF STRANGERS - BETH ORTON

I suppose there is some assumption that strange and weird are the same. Perhaps the easiest way to dispel that is with a substitution. The idea of the comfort of strangers is a long held balm, having companionship without any knowledge or judgement of your back story. The comfort of weirdos is just wrong, I think. Usually, anyway.

Beth Orton has had a long career, only fleetingly making her way into these pages. Probably a bigger name on this side of the pond, she has had quite a game with the avoidance of genre typecasting, making her idiosyncratic way between electronica, folk and, even, a brief dabble with neo-soul.

Don't Wanna Know (About Evil)

Early work was almost exclusively in dance/electronica, collaborating first with William Ørbit ('Ray of Light'), and later with Andrew Weatherall ('Screamadelica'). However, her future direction was defined possibly more by the Japan only single she made with Ørbit, released under the name Spill, and shown in the clip above, a cover of one of John Martyn's better known songs. Her first work under her own name came 4 years later, in 1996, with Trailer Park, led ahead by the single, another cover, this time, demonstrating an eclecticism of source material, of the Ronettes. However, it was her own songs that were the more noticed, a heady mix of plaintive and faltering vocals, underpinned by thoughtful electronic sounds and beats. First featured in her superpinkymandy album, collaborating still with Ørbit, see how the song below has shifted from its initial sound, to how it reappeared on Trailer Park, with Weatherall now at the controls.

She Cries Your Name

Touring the U.S. with the near all female festival collective, Lilith Fair, brought her into contact with american audiences for the first time, as she made influential links with soul man Terry Callier and with country stateswoman, Emmylou Harris, who appeared on her 2nd album, Central Reservation, and 3rd album, Daybreaker, respectively. Gradually she was making an imprint, with Daybreaker selling north of 150k in the states.

Comfort of Strangers

And so to 2006 and the album that heads this piece, it finding her forsaking, largely, the electronica aspects for a more organic sound. Perhaps the title is apt, as, yet again she has another producer, Jim Rourke, both Ben Watt (EBTG) who produced much of the earlier two albums, having been ditched, along with her record company. Likewise, in the same way as Johnny Marr and Ryan Adams had writing co-credits on earlier albums, this time M.Ward just happened to be on hand for a share of the title track.

Magpie

A prolonged delay then followed, as she was preoccupied both with parenthood and the ravages of auto-immune gut affectation, Crohn's disease. Nonetheless, having spent some of the intervening time picking up guitar techniques from no less than Bert Jansch, 2012's Sugaring Season, was heralded as her best, and features contributions from Laura Veirs and, by now, her husband, Sam Amidon. Again, this is predominantly espousing her earlier style, more folk than 'tronica. So quite why she went back full circle for her next outing is anyone's guess. Whilst lauded at the time, Kidsticks I found lacklustre in songs and glib in the simplicity of the synthesised backing tracks. It made more waves by upsetting Joshua Tree lovers, the original video for song, 1973 having to be withdrawn. Thankfully, when I caught her live, in 2018, she was back to the simpler relative acousticity, herself, a battered six-string and solitary additional backing from (electric) guitar. I wrote about it, she getting but a fleeting mention. I await with interest as to her next magpie step and to which strangers will give her comfort.

Don't let her be a stranger.


Friday, October 4, 2019

Strange/Weird: Stranger In The House


Elvis Costello: Stranger In The House
[purchase the expanded My Aim Is True]
[purchase My Very Special Guests]

I’m still being influenced by watching the 16 plus hours of Ken Burns’ Country Music, so here’s another post that sort of ties into it. One of the ways that Burns breaks up the flow of narration over still pictures or showing snippets of films and videos is through brief commentary by a number of different talking heads. And while seeing Marty Stuart, or Rosanne Cash, or Willie Nelson, or Merle Haggard discussing the music—or even lesser known figures such as Ray Benson or Jeannie Seely—didn’t seem strange because they were from the country world, it was initially a surprise when Elvis Costello popped up. Until I quickly remembered the Costello had long been a country music fan.

Despite the fact that Costello was, from the start, marketed as an “Angry Young Man,” and as part of Stiff Records new wave sound, his debut, My Aim is True had some very country-ish sounds—starting with the fact that the backing band was made up of members of country-rock band Clover, including future Doobie Brother John McFee playing lead and pedal steel guitar. But they decided to keep the two most country sounding songs off the album—“Radio Sweetheart” (which was the b-side to the “Less Than Zero” single and “Stranger in the House,” which was included as a bonus single in the early pressings of Costello’s second, and much less country sounding, album, This Year’s Model.

Only a few years later, Costello released “Almost Blue,” a collection of country covers which seemed shocking at the time, but has probably aged better than anyone thought.

“Stranger in the House” could pass for a classic country song—it has all of the right themes, and it was written by Costello with George Jones in mind. Jones is someone who I was aware of, understood that his voice was legendary, and knew that he had a serious alcohol problem. But watching Country Music, it became clear that Jones was country music incarnate. Born in Texas, he started playing guitar as a child, and fell in love with country music listening to the Grand Ole Opry on the radio. His father was an abusive alcoholic, and he left home at 16 to be a musician.

Married four times, his third wife was country superstar Tammy Wynette, who had her own issues, and their relationship, while commercially successful, was “stormy,” as Jones’ alcohol and drug use spiraled out of control and led to mental illness. And yet, his talent was such that as bad as he got, he kept making comebacks—sometimes even with Wynette, even after they D-I-V-O-R-C-E-D.

Jones recorded “Stranger in the House” as a duet with Costello for a 1978 album, My Very Special Guests” which featured duets with singers from country and other genres.


It set the stage for another #1 hit in 1980, “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” and more recordings, despite continuing substance abuse issues. But in 1981, Jones met the woman who would become his fourth wife, Nancy Sepulvado, and she helped him (mostly) clean up his act. He continued to record and perform (and complain about the state of country music), until his death in 2013.

When you listen to the duet version of the song, it is striking how good a song it is, while Costello tries mightily, it is clear that vocally, Jones was at a completely different level.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

POWER: DIRTY OLD TOWN

Most of us when we think about power, we look at the outcome: heat, light, government. Let's now look briefly at the flip and the mess left behind. With tiny Greta now bestriding the world, I think it only fair. The main thing the industrial revolution showed us was soot. And this hit home hard here in UK, arguably the first home for the coal fires of industry, and certainly first to take it for granted.

Ewan MacColl

Ewan MacColl is a name of some importance in the world of folk music. I'll bet you know at least one of his songs, even if it is just this one. A complicated and seemingly difficult man, he was born James Henry Miller, in Salford, near Manchester in England. Of scottish stock, his father was a passionate trade unionist who had been drummed out of Scotland for his firebrand workplace politicking, these views etched deep into MacColl's psyche. Looking for work at the time of the great depression, street singing provided as much income as early jobs. A member of the Young Communist League from his teens, agit-prop theatre became his home up to, during and after the war, writing,  directing and acting. A brief spell in the army ended in either his deserting or being dismissed, depending on whose story you heard, but it seems his political persuasions had brought him to the attentions of the power that be.

Industrial Landscape: L.S.Lowry, 1955

Whilst the theatre provided his home and most of his activity and income, it is his music that has had greater posterity. Increasingly drawn to folk music in the 1950s, he was instrumental in the success of the still extant record label, Topic, releasing a slew of albums for them over the next few decades. And this was not folk as in trad.arr., old songs sung sweet, these were his own songs, fiercely opinionated and anti-establishment, if in the folk tradition. Think Woody Guthrie. Or, perhaps even, Billy Bragg. As well as offering a pointer to more of his music, here is a link to something I wrote a year or two back, which offers also some greater insight on the man.

'Dirty Old Town' is no call to arms, being one of the love songs he was more than capable of writing. But the words also reflect, if casually, the reality of most northern UK cities, the fumes and stench of pollution providing the backdrop to lives stunted thereby. Yes, the situation is better now, some might say as a result of knowledge and changes of practice. Or is it merely by the fact that the factories have all closed?

The song has had a fair few covers over the years. Here are a few of my favourites. I think it no surprise that both the Pogues and the Specials should find something of resonance in the song, their experiences, disaffected youth in post-punk London and Coventry perhaps not that changed from MacColls dirty old Salford of two decades earlier. Quite how or why LaVette chose the song remains uncertain, but the first few comments under the youtube clip suggest a recognition within any post industrial town anywhere,

The Pogues

The Specials

Bettye Lavette

Salford
London
Coventry
Detroit

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Power: Power Failure




purchase [Broken Barricades]


There are probably few people on Earth who have never heard <A Whiter Shade of Pale> in some variation, and most of those listenings would be the Procul Harum original. Curious that that is probably the only Procul Harum song most people could name. (File under "one-time wonders". 10 million copies sold. Bing Crosby's <White Christmas> has sold 50 million.)

If, like myself you were actively listening to rock music back then (~1970), you likely would have listened to more of the band's work. Aside from <Broken Barricades> where the song was originally released, you might have listened to/owned copies of <A Salty Dog>,the eponymous <Procul Harum> and if you continued beyond ...maybe some more because they kept the show going for some time. At present, they're planning tours into 2020. With some of the original members!

Life on earth has come to where a power failure means a near total collapse of everything. No lights, no freezer, no internet. You're aware that 100 years ago it wasn't this way. But how many of us today would know how to survive/deal with this calamity: make your own candles? Preserve your food beyond a day or two? Communicate with anyone beyond your (shouting) immediate circle?
Probably not possible without power (of the electric variety).

There are a number of reviews of Power Failure, but probably none better that this (link), where the authors detail most everything you can imagine: specific choice of lyrics, recording situations and much, much more.

I recommend you visit the link, but if you choose not to, a few hi-lites (highlights?):
- the lyrics make extensive use of gerunds: climbing, crashing, falling ...
- the original (live) conceit was centered around a lengthy drum solo (as in: the power goes off and only the drum is able to make sound)

Leo Kottke's version:

Monday, September 23, 2019

Power: Atomic Power



Uncle Tupelo: Atomic Power
[purchase]

This is going to be one of those posts that tries to create a fusion of different things. Let’s see if it works, or if it turns out to be like “cold fusion.”

Remarkably, although I’ve mentioned them in writing about Jeff Tweedy, Jay Farrar, and Wilco, I’ve never written a post on this site about Uncle Tupelo (although I did a long one at Cover Me). I wasn’t aware of the band during their existence, and learned about them after discovering Wilco and Son Volt, the two bands that were formed when childhood friends Tweedy and Farrar could no longer coexist. I wrote in detail about Uncle Tupelo’s history in that Cover Me piece, so, if you are really interested, go check it out, and come back here when you are ready.

R.E.M.’s Peter Buck heard Uncle Tupelo perform a cover of the Louvin Brothers’ song “Great Atomic Power” at a concert, and contacted the band after the show. The three musicians found a great deal of overlap in their musical interests, including bluegrass, and decided to do an acoustic project together. The band’s prior album, Still Feel Gone was, for the most part, a rocker, so it was a bit of a risk to follow it up with an acoustic album, and their record company was pressuring them to move to an even more rock-oriented sound, to compete with the emerging grunge sound. But Farrar and Tweedy were, as always, headstrong, and pissed at their label’s failure to pay them royalties, so they must have figured, “Fuck it,” we’re going to work with Peter Buck, and do an acoustic album.

That album, March 16–20, 1992, mixed classic country tunes with originals that fit seamlessly with the older songs. Roadie Brian Henneman, who later founded the Bottle Rockets, even got to play the mandolin that was used in “Losing My Religion.” Uncle Tupelo’s cover of “Great Atomic Power” is very faithful to the Louvin Brothers’ original, and it is a very, very odd song.



It mixes the imagery of a devastating nuclear explosion with Armageddon, and asks the question—when that horrible time comes, will you be ready to meet your savior? As the lyrics inform us:

There is one way to escape and be prepared to meet the Lord
Give your heart and soul to Jesus, 
He will be your shield and sword 
He will surely stand beside and you'll never taste of death 
For your soul will fly to safety and eternal peace and rest 

The Louvin Brothers, Ira and Charlie, were popular in the 1950s and 1960s, and came from the gospel tradition, as many country singers did, so the fire and brimstone is not all that surprising. Charlie seemed to be the stable brother, while Ira was an alcoholic, who engaged in erratic and often abusive behavior, including toward his brother. Ira was married four times, and wife number three shot him four times in the chest and twice in the hand after he allegedly tried to strangle her with a telephone cord. Ira once made a racist remark that so angered Elvis Presley that Elvis refused to record any Louvin Brothers’ songs, probably costing the duo significant royalties.

Ultimately, Charlie had enough, and the brother act broke up in favor of separate solo careers. Ira and wife number four died in a car accident in 1965, when a drunk driver hit their car; Charlie lived until 2011, and recorded and performed until close to the end.

The Louvin Brothers make a brief appearance in Episode 4 of the Ken Burns documentary, Country Music, before the documentary moves on to a more popular act, The Everly Brothers, which is ironic because a suggestion that the Louvins change their sound to be more like the Everlys reportedly depressed Ira and contributed to his alcoholism.

As I write this, I’ve watched four episodes of Country Music and am enjoying it immensely. I really know little about the history of country music—it was not something that I listened to growing up in the NY suburbs. Like the blues, much of my knowledge of the genre has come from listening to covers, like “Atomic Power,” and going back to listen to the originals. And as I have become increasingly interested in Americana music, I find myself more interested in the music’s roots.

I’m someone who finds how things start to be fascinating, so it has been interesting learning about the long background and history of country music. One of the things that I have found striking is that even in its earliest days—going back to the 19th century—one of the hallmarks of country music has been nostalgia for older, simpler times. And I get that, although it often seems that there’s a real fear of trying anything new and radical. Which is why Elvis Presley, who came from a country and gospel tradition clearly scared the crap out of, and was rejected by, the establishment. And it is interesting, too, that when the Louvin Brothers, who were traditionalists, chose to write “Great Atomic Power,” about something new and scary, rather than write about the potential of the new technology, they (and co-writer Buddy Bain, a musician and DJ) focused instead on its destructive power, and tied it to traditional religion.

For what it is worth, what made Uncle Tupelo stand out from the crowd was the way that they fused the tradition of old time country music with the new energy of punk, so it is also interesting that March 16–20, 1992 sounds so traditional. It is a bit of an oversimplification, but as time went on, it seems like Farrar (and Son Volt) has more often followed the country tradition of looking backwards, while Tweedy (and Wilco), have tended to look forward, including more rock and experimental influences in their music.

Of course, the potential of atomic power was touted by many, and numerous nuclear plants were built in the US and elsewhere, because of the desire to move away from depleting and polluting fossil fuels, until, at least in this country, the tide turned against them due to the danger of accidents and the difficulty in safely storing the radioactive waste. However, there seems to be some attempt to revive the industry, as it becomes clear that use of carbon based fuel continues to damage the environment, although its serious risks continue to be an obstacle.

The risks, of course, are real, as Chernobyl and Fukushima, among others, remind us. And I recall, that during my sophomore year in college, one of my roommate's friends stayed with us when his college was closed because of the partial nuclear meltdown at Three Mile Island. A few years later, when I was a very junior associate at a very large Wall Street law firm, I was mostly working on two cases. One was the representation of Drexel Burnham, in the various investigations arising from the Mike Milken/junk bond issues. The other was representing Public Service of New Hampshire in proceedings to determine whether the costs involved in constructing the Seabrook nuclear power plant were reasonable, and could thus be passed along to the ratepayers. For the first one, much of my work revolved around gathering and reviewing Drexel Burnham documents to see whether they were responsive to an ever growing number of government subpoenas. The second one had me and a slightly more senior lawyer traveling regularly to Philadelphia to prepare our clients and monitor extremely dull hearings about arcane engineering issues.

Neither of these were particularly interesting, and I did have some qualms about representing a nuclear plant, but that’s the way it goes as a young lawyer at big firms. One day, though, the senior partner on the Drexel case offered me the opportunity to spend a week (with other lawyers) at Drexel’s office in Beverly Hills. This was during the winter in New York, so it seemed like it would be fun. And, in those days, we all flew first class and stayed in fancy hotels. I was excited. Shortly after that, the senior partner on the Seabrook case offered me the opportunity to spend the same week in the small town in New Hampshire where the plant was, doing work in a makeshift office on the construction site. I, not at all regretfully, told him that I couldn’t, because I was going to Beverly Hills. A little while later, I got a call informing me that I was going to fly to California, spend half the week there, then take a redeye to Boston and drive to Seabrook. I will never forget that one day, I was staying at the Biltmore Hotel in Beverly Hills and walking around Rodeo Drive in warm weather and the next day I was tramping through the mud in the cold, and staying at the Hampton Falls Inn, a motel near the plant. At that point, I was no fan of atomic power, great or not.