Friday, November 8, 2019

Spirit: Spirit

purchase [ I Got a Line On You]

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 5, 2019


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

Spirit Ditch

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

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

Ghost of His Smile

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

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

Getting it Wrong(?)

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

Daddy's Gone

Here's his obituary.

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

Spirit Ditch

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

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Spirit: Spirit in the Sky

purchase [greenbaum]

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

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

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

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

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

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