Saturday, April 9, 2022


Yeah, me neither, but it is what it is, and gives an obtuse pleasure more profound than, say, "Types of Horse" or "Continental Cheeses", although the latter could have some traction as a future theme. First I thought about witty puns and homophones, you know, pallbearers and the such aPAULing ideas. Then I moved on to the name, with which I have stuck. At first I was going to riff on alternate spellings, so Porl Thompson or Pòl Brennan*, but left off, feeling it too contrived. (Like it has ever stopped me before.) I assumed someone somewhere might already be considering the only living boy in New York, so avoided that one, or any other singer-songwriter casting a similar shadow. So, what was left?

I asked Alexa, and she didn't disappoint, reminding me of the estimable charm of Adrianne Lenker's band, Big Thief, whom I don't think have been included here before. Big Thief usually get described as indie, which, these days, seems a phrase of some redundancy, encompassing anything outwith a standard blues based rock orthodoxy, and where electric guitars are employed. I have also seen them written up as folk-rock, which also, at least in any anglo-celtic tradition, seems just wrong. Could they be post-rock, that term I don't really understand, knowingly dropped into conversation by erudite folk like, well, like me, actually. Never let it be said that understanding is a prerequisite to use of any word, idea or undertaking. (For the record, wiki tell me that post-rock is:"a form of experimental rock[3] characterized by a focus on exploring textures and timbre over traditional rocksong structures, chords, or riffs." Well, that clears that up, then.)

Frankly, does it matter? The sound and songs they make are often a delight of subtle twists of phrase and melody, borne along on the fragile and raw intimacy of Lenker's vocal. Unfair to call the band Lenker's really, as she has a separate solo life that began ahead the band, and continues, alongside. And that, perhaps, does fit more comfortably into a "folk" characterisation, acoustic and organic Indeed, she made her first album in 2006, before even attending Berklee College of Music, where she met the other members of Big Thief, all four of the original quartet graduates of that august institution. But she becomes identifiably the focus, such is the default of most vocalists.

Paul comes from their debut, often defined their masterpiece, which is handy, as that is exactly the same name they gave it themselves, back in 2016. It is one of those songs that instantly arouses interest. I guess I first heard it back in about 2020, ever late to the game,  possibly as the pandemic had me hunkering down, with more time to explore back catalogues and back pages, the present effectively on hold. A splurge on youtube viewing had me moving from track to track, album to album. Similar to when I first heard the National, suddenly I wanted to hear it all and hear them more. Thankfully(!), they haven't been that prolific, unless one discounts her solo work and the proto-BF stirrings of her duet work with later bandmate, and erstwhile husband, the guitarist Buck Meek. Since Masterpiece, there have been four releases, the latest being a freshly minted double, Dragon New Morning Warm Mountain, from barely two months ago.

I'm not going to link any more of their songs; I want that to be a delight for any self-sourcing this piece may provoke. But here's a live radio performance of Paul:

And a further version, stripped back in duet form, Adrianne and Buck style.

Enjoy your searching.

(*SWIDT, given the avatar for this theme!?)

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Paul Songs: Paula Y Fred

Latin Playboys: Paula Y Fred

When brilliant roots rock/Americana/Latin band Los Lobos joined forces with producer Mitchell Froom and engineer Tchad Blake for the 1992 album Kiko, their murky, quirky and layered production style added a new, experimental, facet to Los Lobos’ already diverse sound, and many believe it to be the band’s finest album. After Kiko, Los Lobos member David Hidalgo played some demos for Froom, who suggested that, instead of using them for a new Los Lobos album, they be used for a new side project. Enlisting fellow band member Louie Perez to form Latin Playboys, the quartet released a self-titled album in 1994 that took Los Lobos’ eclectic sound and pushed it to the limit, with all sorts of noises, distortion, and just plain strangeness. It was compelling and fascinating, even if I admittedly rarely listen to it from start to finish (but that’s pretty much true for me with most albums these days, I guess). 

Los Lobos came together with Froom and Blake for Colossal Head in 1996 and This Time, in 1999, and Latin Playboys released a second album, Dose in 1999 which was also pretty experimental, but had more distinct songs than the debut. 

One of those songs is “Paula Y Fred,” which The New York Times (yes, the Times actually gave a pretty long review to the Latin Playboys’ second album) described as “a cheerful son jarocho, sung in Spanglish, in which unrequited love leads to murder.” It is cheerful sounding, and my rudimentary Spanglish allows me to concur with their description of the plot, but I had to look up “son jarocho.” Wikipedia says that it is the “Veracruz Sound", “a regional folk musical style of Mexican Son from Veracruz, a Mexican state along the Gulf of Mexico.” You can read more about it at the Wikipedia link, or, I bet, at other sites that are more authoritative about Mexican musical styles. I listened to a few examples of traditional sones jarocho, and I think the Times is right. By the way, “La Bamba,” which Los Lobos famously covered, was originally a son jarocho too. 

Dose was the last Latin Playboys album, and Los Lobos would move on from Froom and Blake, using a different producer for their next album—lots of critics began to write that the production seemed to be getting in the way of the music, although in my opinion, all of their collaborations contained gems. But Los Lobos' desire for mixing sonic experimentation with the basic rootsy sounds never really disappeared, and it has enriched their music. As regular readers of this blog know, I really like Los Lobos (although I’ve had some issues with some of their live shows over the years). 

Look, I’m not sure what the point of this theme is, but it gave me the chance to revisit some interesting music that I hadn’t thought about in years, and I hope that this piece introduces you to Latin Playboys, or makes you go back and check them out again.