Tuesday, June 23, 2020


That's the point of it, of life, wherever you are, the excitement and anticipation of a day yet to unfold, whether a definite day pinned on the calendar, or an arbitrary aspiration of a future different from the now. We call such days Lollo Rosso in my house, when we have had one and while we await one. Why? Italian lettuce, doncha know. Italian red lettuce.  Red lettuce/red letters? (I know, I'll give you a moment to repair your sides.)

My i-pod is crammed with songs about shit days; it is the basis, arguably, for the entire genre of music, the blues. So where's the hope, the optimism? If we disregard that happy-go-lucky music is so often a happy clappy pap of little merit, let's, instead, celebrate when it isn't.

Better Days/Bobby Charles

Where better to start than the down-home charm of Bobby Charles? A southern swampy country soul man in the style of Dan Penn, he moved in all the right circles, if never quite making it in his own right. I was alerted to him a couple of decades ago, via a friend pointing me in the direction of his first and eponymous album, a slow burner that first dropped in 1972. An acolyte of the Band, he actually appears in their Scorsese-helmed "farewell" performance, The Last Waltz, if edited out for the cinema cut. Rick Danko, of said band, produced his debut, the rest of the group offering cameos, as did Dr John, whose then band later backed him in the Last Waltz. Here's quite a nice bio. Cut short, the album didn't sell and, though later a cult record to many a current mover and shaker, he quietly ploughed his furrow, with several more popping out of his home studio until his 2010 death. This song, the title song from his chronologically second, and best, album, Better Days, which actually took his death, 36 years later, to give it a formal release.  What I hadn't, however, realised is that he was the author, as a much younger man, of both Bill Haley's See You Later, Alligator and almost the signature tune of Fats Domino, Walkin' to New Orleans. So maybe most of his better days were behind him, but the laidback drawl suggests he was never discounting the dream. The royalty checks possibly helped too.

(This is for the)Better Days/Band of Bees

Sticking with funky sounds, you could be mistaken for thinking this, vocal timbres apart, comes also from the Louisiana delta country, such are the distinctive keyboard burbles and understated guitar witterings. But you couldn't be much further wrong, with Band of Bees (or the Bees) coming from the UK's Isle of Wight, yes the festival one, and the record released in 2007. Like the rest of their work, a delightful summery breeze of slightly retro themes, allied with the trippier vocals of a "Madchester" influence, if you will, with more musical chops. Lovely, if with any new songs long overdue.

Better Days/Roseanne Cash (via Guy Clark)

Guy Clark is another wistful reference, maybe his name better known than his music. Certainly any fan of Steve Earle will be familiar with the name, given his recent tribute album thereto. Along with Townes Van Zandt, to whom Earle has also paid reverence, he was part of the nascent Texas scene of dusty troubadours that Earle always aspired to. Indeed, back in 1995, his career on the rise, Van Zandt's on the wane and Clark, well, pretty much where it always was, the three of them played a benefit together, recorded as Together at the Bluebird Cafe. The cause, of all things, was for the dental health of the dustbowl disenfranchised. Clark has always seemed a quiet and unassuming guy, who latterly kept an eye on the increasingly fragile Van Zandt, happier at home with his wife than endlessly promoting his hefty and respected repertoire. In 2011 a host of his friends and admirers put out a terrific two disc tribute, This Songs For Him; A Tribute to Guy Clark, The song above, as performed by Roseanne Cash, comes from that. Here's his own version. He died in 2016.

Better Days/Elliott Murphy

Another? Well, eschewing the Bruce song that this piece invites, have instead something occupying a similar territory. OK, you got me, I'm joshing with you, it IS the Bruce Springsteen song, if in a rootsier and acoustic format that bounces along with some considerable vim. And, rather than expectant of any better future, this celebrates that these are indeed now, already, better days. (Better than glory days? Hmmm..., I wonder.A: yes.) Murphy is another spectre on the sidelines, better name dropped than numbered amongst purchases. But he's well worth a punt, his easy going Long Island lope not a million miles removed from his more famous New Jersey neighbour, with whom he has often appeared and collaborated. Now a dedicated europhile, based in Paris, he has over 35 records to his name. Where to start? You could do a lot worse than his debut, 1973's Aquashow, released in the same week as Springsteen's debut, they both immediately grabbing the new Dylan tag so beloved of rock journalists. Last of the Rockstars gives a taste.

So let's agree, raise a glass, slainte mhor, to Bobby, Elliott, Guy and the Bees! Better days, bring 'em on!!

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