Friday, November 29, 2019


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

Drunk By Noon

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

When the Helicopter Comes

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

Far From Any Road

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


Thursday, November 28, 2019

family: mother-in-law

purchase [ Ernie K Doe's versioj]

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

[The answer is: friends]

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

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

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

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

The song's lyrics back up societal general perceptions:

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

Ouch! But true to the general perception. No?

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

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

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


Monday, November 25, 2019

Family: Family Man

Mike Oldfield: Family Man

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

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

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

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

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

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