Friday, February 5, 2021

Walls/Obstructions: Crown of Creation


purchase [Crown of Creation]

Digging around for a possible alternative using the obstruction co-theme, what to my surprise but ... the Airplane again. Actually, it shouldn't be much of a surprise: For the most part, much of the 60's music scene was a process of breaching  the walls of "the establishment", and that establishment being an obstruction to peace, love and understanding. 60's music was a veritable cabal of mop-heads and irreverent protesters determined to undermine through music, to exhort the pop music masses to follow the evil ways of rock and roll.  Near the forefront of this rebellious movement was Jefferson Airplane. They were not alone: certainly CSNY, SDS, the Black Panthers .... heck MLJ ... but the Airplane certainly pushed the limits with their cry to Break Down the Walls... 

The song Crown of Creation is pre-Volunteers, the album/song of <break down the walls>), but the energy is clearly building even as early as  the Airplane's first "JA Takes Off". Jeff Tamarkin's "Got A Revolution" is an entertaining and informative history of JA if you want to dig deeper.

Written by Kantner, the lyrics are inspired by and their use officially approved by John Wyndham is his book The Chrysalids, a 50s sci-fi novel about a post-apocalyptic civilization that survives after the destruction of a sinning technologically advanced culture. Although this came out a year or so before Volunteers, the not-so veiled messages that society is out of tune with reality is present.

Z-Man's review remarks at Allmusic note that Crown is "unnerving ... a portentous forwarning of what mankind's enmity could someday provoke" while rating the song a B+ (Triad and The House at Pooneil Corners from said album get A's). Tamarkin says "The song pulsates with a martial rhythm ... the agitated energy reflects its time .."

The qualifying lyrics: "... they cannot tolerate our minds ... we cannot tolerate their obstruction"

Coincidentally, as happened in my last post, there is also a band of the same name, this time from Germany.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Walls/Obstructions: If Walls Could Talk


purchase [ Paradise and Lunch  ]

I find myself pre-disposed to prefer the Ry Cooder version of this because that's where I first heard it (and the version I, myself, play in open-D tuning). And because I have posted again and again and again and ... songs by Ry Cooder. My first SMM guest post as a possible SMM writer included a reference to Ry.

Ry Cooder fully credits Bobby Miller (of course he would) on his '74 album Paradise and Lunch, but I never dug deeper into the story of the song. Now that I have, I see that there was much that I missed. I knew that Ry regularly focuses on music that is at the roots of contemporary pop/rock. But without that exploration, I have been missing some great music.

Miller, known as a producer and songwriter, doesn't appear to have left a recording of himself performing the song. Me, I find it hard to imagine that a songwriter didn't also play the song in some version himself, but we'll have to rely on the version he first produced for/with Little Milton back in the '60s. I assume it was what he himself might have played - if in fact he played an instrument. I can also see what might have attracted Ry Cooder to come up with his own rendition. "It's the same old song .." but with a different beat. The original Little Milton version was released on the Checker label, a subsidiary of Chess records.

The notion behind the lyrics is certainly not new. What goes on behind closed doors that the walls could tell us about if only they could speak is a theme as old as ... well... the hills that could also tell a lot of stories. There's a peepin' tom side to it as well as an element of eternal truth about the human condition.

Geraint Watkins and the Dominators have a version

as does Koko Taylor

Here's a version by Dr Feelgood

And another from Duke Robillard that harkens back kind of to the original by Little Milton (at least in the strumming intro)

Oh, yes, and there's also a band of the same name

Sunday, January 31, 2021


 Hang on, what the bejasus has this to do with walls, I hear you say, the perfectly decent back to Bakersfield project by Jay Farrar and his revolving door of troubadours? More about building bridges, surely, between the goddam longhair americana hippies and the more trad what Hank did iterations of a redder necked country. Yebbut, but go check out the track listing, with at least three tracks referencing walls and barriers. See? That's good enough for me.

Big fan of Son Volt, as much as for Jay Farrar being there to assist at the birth of No Depression/Alt Country and all the many myriad names to try and disguise the solid bloodline of, or the musical origins and forbears of the style. Country rock was good enough for me in the 70s, but I guess that name suggests the need and presence of a drum kit, so fair play. Farrar and his for-a-while buddy, Jeff Tweedy had been the impetus within the band Uncle Tupelo, a honey of a group that, ahead of clashes of personality, produced some glorious music. Did they do any songs around walls or obstructions? Not as such, but this one acknowledges the truth that most doors have a need for surrounding masonry.....

Screen Door

Anyhow, moving on, and with Farrar moving out of Tweedyshot, and with Uncle Tupelo essentially having become Wilco, Farrar needed gainful. Son Volt began as a band in 1994, Farrar hooking back up again with Tupelo original member and drummer, Mike Heidhorn, himself also having, some time before, fallen out of step with Tweedy, recruiting the Boquist brothers. Hitting the red dirt ground running, their debut, Traces, was well received if not so well bought. That line up, plus additional instrumentation, produced three albums before Farrar called quits; as the principal writer, it was effectively his band. A wall link? Well, I believe that creosote is sometimes applied as weather proofing to wooden walls?


Five years later and Farrar seemed ready to pick up the brand again, initially with the same members. However, following a solitary appearance on an Alejandro Escovado benefit/tribute album, this was not to be, and a near totally new set of sidemen were recruited. This version, shedding and adding as required, have since pursued a somewhat erratic course, careering from style to style. You want some Dylanesque ballads? Tick. Barroom brawlers? Likewise. But, for me it was and is Honky Tonk that hits their lodestone. Perhaps this is because that is the style of music I like best within the broad church of country, with, here, the sounds and influences of Merle Haggard and Buck Owens spilling through into this recording with affection and respect. Predominantly acoustic of guitar, bar the essential wail of pedal steel, with twin fiddles and the never more mournful vocal of Farrar, this format ideal for his world weary tones And, add the premium of three songs based around walls, there is nothing to obstruct the right of this album to lead this thread.

Brick Walls



Beautiful stuff! OK, the lyrics may be a little hokey, but, hell, that's the M.O., they have to be; an effortless recreation of the fabled Bakersfield sound, that must even had Dwight Yoakam eating out his own heart. The steel, variously by Mark Spencer and Brad Sarno, is just exquisite. Given Farrar has now embarked on a 25 years later revisioning of his Son Volt output, with last years re-released Traces, with additional unreleased material, I can't wait for, gulp, 2038.

Build it up!