30 September 2010
Jay Farrar & Ben Gibbard
"Absolutely Sweet Marie"
Original Dylan version found on Blonde On Blonde (1966)
Last year, a seemingly odd pairing hit the road, promoting a soundtrack that the duo had written for a documentary about - of all things - the time Beat novelist Jack Kerouac spent in Big Sur, California. The music Jay Farrar and Ben Gibbard created for One Fast Move or I'm Gone drew varied reactions. But the tour that the two undertook across the US garnered raves.
Farrar, the St. Louis based musician who became a favorite on the alt-country scene with the groups Uncle Tupelo and Son Volt, is a talented guitarist and harmonica player with a distinct sounding voice. Gibbard, front man for indie darlings Death Cab For Cutie, is an adventurous vocalist and guitarist from Washington state.
As the set list solidified, Farrar & Gibbard took to encoring with "Absolutely Sweet Marie." The original, recorded by Dylan in a Nashville studio, couldn't have sounded further from Opryville with its jaunty organ reflecting the swinging '60s. In this cover, performed at Los Angeles' El Rey Theatre on 23 October 2009, the arrangement is turned inwards, with pedal steel prominent and a great harp solo by Farrar. The lyric is in Farrar's wheelhouse, a Neil Youngish vocal take complimented nicely by Gibbard's harmony.
Dylan never performed "Absolutely Sweet Marie" live until the end of the 1980s, and only sporadically pulls it out of his tour bag now. In a 1991 interview, Dylan talked specifically about the phrase "yellow railroad" that appears in the last verse of the song:
That's about as complete as you can be. Every single letter in that line. It's all true. On a literal and on an escapist level.... Getting back to the yellow railroad, that could be from looking someplace. Being a performer, you travel the world. You're not just looking out of the same window everyday. You're not just walking down the same old street. So you must make yourself observe whatever. But most of the time it hits you. You don't have to observe. It hits you. Like, "yellow railroad" could have been a blinding day when the sun was so bright on a railroad someplace and it stayed on my mind.... These aren't contrived images. These are images which are just in there and have got to come out.
Original Listening: Bob Dylan, "Absolutely Sweet Marie"
Another Cover: George Harrison, "Absolutely Sweet Marie" (The 30th Anniversary Celebration, 1993)
Still Another Cover: Jason & The Scorchers, "Absolutely Sweet Marie" (Fervor, 1983)
28 September 2010
Here's the list of nominees announced for the 2011 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame:
Alice Cooper - Detroit rocker who brought theatricality in rock to a new level.
Beastie Boys - Pioneering samplers, rappers and musicians in their own right who helped bring hip hop to the masses.
Bon Jovi - New Jersey based pop stars who stepped out of the shadow of Springsteen and became arena concert heavyweights.
Chic - Influential dance band led by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards that can be traced to the epicenter of the disco movement in the 1970s.
Neil Diamond - Successful Brill Building pop song composer who became a solo phenomenon himself.
Donovan - English psychedelic folkie known for his own hits ("Sunshine Superman" and "Mellow Yellow" among others) and being upstaged by Dylan in Don't Look Back.
Dr. John - Originally known as 'The Night Tripper" for his Cajun-drenched gris-gris stage act, Mac Rebbenack has enjoyed a long solo career and partnered with many respected rock artists over the years.
J. Geils Band - Boston blues breakers led by the incomparable Peter Wolf.
LL Cool J - Queens rapper and actor, James Todd Smith was one of the first rappers to use a conventional song structure and move rap towards pop.
Darlene Love - Extraordinary voice who has worked with Phil Spector, Elvis Presley, U2, The Beach Boys, Johnny Rivers and Sam Cooke, among many others. Should be in the HOF for her performance of "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" alone.
Laura Nyro - Bold singer-songwriter from The Bronx who was just as at home with Gershwin like melody as gut-bucket soul.
Donna Summer - Her marvelous voice helped define the disco era, selling millions of records in the process.
Joe Tex - Texas soul master who is credited with foreshadowing rap.
Tom Waits - Gravel voiced song writing genius.
Chuck Willis - "The Stroll"! "C.C. Rider"! "It's Too Late (She's Gone)"! R&B pioneer popular in the 1950s who still influences today.
Pete Yorn's newest, PY, drops today on Vagrant Records. It's a rousing, edgy effort, befitting the personality of PY's producer, Pixies' member Frank Black (aka Black Francis). Above you can sample the first single "Precious Stone." In addition, ew.com allows you to stream the entire album from the New Jersey artist.
25 September 2010
TNOP's been lamenting the dearth of instrumentals in the pop music world lately, to the extent that we've started a regular feature remembering when they were in the vogue. So it is heartening that "Hurricane Season," a new jam from The Crescent City's Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, has broken out on to some independent FM radio stations' play lists. Click above and do a little dance. Et laissez les bontemps roulez.
24 September 2010
88Nine Radio Milwaukee Studio
[On occasion, our far-flung correspondents attend and review shows. Here's another installment.]
The wee Irishman from Dublin Town ambled through the doors of the make-shift - but earnest - studio at 88Nine Radio Milwaukee yesterday afternoon, softly apologizing to a select crowd for being late on arrival. He explained that the tardiness was unavoidable: coming off a plane bound from Minneapolis, the airline had misplaced his work instrument. Namely, his guitar.
On his short solo tour of the US and Canada, Conor J O'Brien aka Villagers probably would have enthralled the audience with a short set of tunes if he was forced to sing a cappella. But O'Brien was happy to report that his Japanese crafted acoustic instrument (affectionately nicknamed "Lola") was indeed accompanying him.
The Villagers front-man propped himself up on a stool that dated back to high school shop days and waited for the cue from the radio host to begin. Modestly clad in jeans, work shirt and high top Chuck Taylors, O'Brien silently fiddled with a couple of guitar chords. Then he launched into "That Day," the third single from the marvelous album Becoming A Jackal, nominated earlier this year for the Mercury Prize (which recognizes the top ten long-playing records from the past year in the UK and Ireland). His soft interpretation of the tune, in contrast to the CD's production, bravely brought to the forefront the literate story of unavoidable chasm that has developed between a couple.
The catchy pop of "The Pact (I'll Be Your Fever)" lightened the mood of the small room. Accompanied by a bossa nova like beat from his guitar, O'Brien deftly showed his vocal range on the last verse and chorus.
A new song followed, identified at least for now as "In A New Found Land You Are Free." The gentle, swaying melody betrays the angst and conflict of the lyric, which this reveiwer looks forward to hearing again. The final stanza stuck with me, though:
This new found land
Comes a new found grief
But in a new found land she is free
You are free
It immediately brought to mind the vast migration of Irish to the US and Canada (in particular to the latter nation, whether by coincidence or not, to Newfoundland) and the simple, human tales of struggle and sacrifice woven in Colm Toibin's great novel Brooklyn.
The solo Villager wrapped the mini-set up with "Ship of Promises," a tale that challenges the listener in the best Dylanesque tradition: clever social commentary? the yin and yang of an individual's daily struggle to fit in this world? the unsure journey of a romantic relationship? all of the above? Whatever the interpretation, the song once again confirms that this artist is a wordsmith with the goods to endure in the music business.
[Thanks to the great folks at 88Nine Radio Milwaukee for the kind invite and hospitality.]
"The Pact (I'll Be Your Fever)"
"In A New Found Land You Are Free"
"Ship of Promises"
23 September 2010
22 September 2010
"It's All Over Now, Baby Blue"
Original Dylan version found on Bringing It All Back Home (1965)
George Ivan Morrison's father was an avid collector of American blues and jazz records. Morrison grew up listening to American music like Leadbelly, Howlin' Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee, John Lee Hooker, Mahalia Jackson, and Lightnin' Hopkins. He grew up surrounded by every kind of American musical influence. From the age of 13, he was adept at playing guitar, sax and harmonica and played with a series of local showbands along with Skiffle and rock and roll groups.
In 1964, a group of young men in Belfast, Northern Ireland formed a garage band that would strike gold on the charts within a couple of years. They went by the curious name "Them" and had a true ace in the hole: "Van" Morrison. A Philadelphia DJ by the name of Georgie Woods coined the term "blue-eyed soul" in the 1960s to describe white artists who got airplay on black radio stations. This Morrison kid, even though Irish, had soul. "Gloria" and "Here Comes The Night" were gritty hits for the band; they still sound inventive over 45 years after their release.
With Them's second LP, Them Again, in early 1966, the group included a unique cover: Bob Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue," culled from the 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home.
Morrison had apparently become fascinated by Dylan: "I think I heard [The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan] in a record shop in Smith Street. And I just thought it was just incredible that this guy's not singing about 'moon in June' and he's getting away with it . . . The subject matter wasn't pop songs, ya know, and I thought this kind of opens the whole thing up."
The recording starts simply enough with a measured, funky guitar riff; but it takes a quick left turn into a dreamy, repeating keyboard line that becomes trance-like. Then Morrison takes over and breathes Celtic soul into the lyric. While Dylanophiles were (and still are) obsessed with who "Baby Blue" in fact may be, Van The Man's turn at the mike makes the lyric a true poem in the tradition of masters like Yeats.
The song was released as a single only in The Netherlands in 1966. It went away with a whisper. In 1972, the song was again issued as a 45rpm, this time in Germany, where it nudged up against the Top 10 in that country. By this time, of course, Morrison had already established himself as an important singer-songwriter and solo artist.
In his memorable review of Morrison's seminal Astral Weeks album in 1969, Greil Marcus harkened back to the importance of the Belfast native's interpretation of Dylan: "Only on Dylan's 'It's All Over Now, Baby Blue' does Van truly shatter all the limits on his special powers . . . Each note stands out as a special creation – 'the centuries of emotion that go into a musician’s choice from one note to the next' is a phrase that describes the startling depth of this recording. Played very fast, Van's voice virtually fighting for control over the band, 'Baby Blue' emerges as music that is both dramatic and terrifying."
Through a series of appearances in movie soundtracks as well as a prominent sample on Beck's "Jack-Ass" from Odelay (1996), Them's cover of "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" has come back into proper, respectable view of music fans. But in the interim 25 years or so, one of the best ever versions of a Bob Dylan song went mostly unnoticed accept for serious followers of Van Morrison and the bard from Hibbing, Minnesota.
Original Listening: Bob Dylan, "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue"
Another Cover: Brian Ferry, "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" (Frantic, 2002)
Still Another Cover: The Byrds, "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" (Ballad of Easy Rider, 1969)
21 September 2010
Garvey, who produced I Am Kloot's fifth album, Sky At Night, this past year (which was nominated for the Mercury Prize), is buoyed by recent recording sessions. "We're all buzzing off it," he explained. "You have periods of nervousness and then you have periods of elation. And we're all buzzing off it at the minute."
The lead singer says that Lippy Kids is "about three-quarters done" and that "it's quite a nostalgic thing. I've got a thing about growing up, not needing to, but a certain period of your life when - well kids are called 'hoodies' these days aren't they when they reach their teens. I remember it being an amazing important time, so I've written a lot about that."
Elbow's last effort from 2008, The Seldom Seen Kid, turned out to be a classic. We'll update you when a release date is announced.
In this world of seemingly endless musical catagories, the latest substrata is "noise pop." And apparently Sleigh Bells, the name Brooklyn duo Alexis Krauss (vocals) and Derek Miller (guitar) have adopted, are Exhibit A in the genre given their raucous and aggressive approach to their craft.
TNOP has been sampling their debut album, Treats, over the past few weeks. While taking it in as a whole can be a little overwhelming at times, ultimately our view is the same as Mr. Bowie's: "Let's dance."
Sleigh Bells is currently on tour with LCD Soundsystem and Hot Chip. In mid-October they will play a handful of solo gigs in the US. Check out the tour schedule here.
20 September 2010
Now, this: "Hey all, it's been a bit since a recording update. Well, recording is done! We are flying to New York tomorrow to mix and master the album and will have information about release date and when you'll get to hear a song or two SOON. Geologically soon but soon."
You may recall that at the end of December 2009 there was a cryptic note from Fleet Foxes promising new material in 2010. Although we've seen no other announcements for the remaining calendar year, here's hoping . . .
17 September 2010
If you're going to think of yourself in this game, or in this tradition, and you start getting a swelled head about it, then you've really got to think about who you're talking about. You're not just talking about Randy Newman, who's fine, or Bob Dylan, who's sublime, you're talking about King David, Homer, Dante, Milton, Wordsworth, you're talking about the embodiment of our highest possibility. So I don't think it's particularly modest or virtuous to think of oneself as a minor poet. I really do feel the enormous luck I've had in being able to make a living, and to never have had to have written one word that I didn't want to write.
But I don't fool myself, I know the game I'm in. When I wrote about Hank Williams 'A hundred floors above me in the tower of song', it's not some kind of inverse modesty. I know where Hank Williams stands in the history of popular song. Your Cheatin' Heart, songs like that, are sublime, in his own tradition, and I feel myself a very minor writer. I've taken a certain territory, and I've tried to maintain it and administrate it with the very best of my capacities. And I will continue to administrate this tiny territory until I'm too weak to do it. But I understand where this territory is.
-----Leonard Cohen, 1994 interview
I got a hot rod Ford
And a two dollar bill
And I know a spot
Right over the hill.
There’s soda pop
And the dancin’s free
If you want to have fun
Come along with me.
-----Hank Williams, "Hey Good Lookin'" (1951)
15 September 2010
Instrumentals have mostly become the equivalent of the musical dinosaur. Was it just a phase that saw its time in the sun? Or was it the victim of the constant splintering of the radio pie and subsequent takeover of the airwaves by a few conglomerates?
Well, TNOP misses 'em. And we have decided to make it our job in coming posts to call your attention to some of the greatest instrumentals ever recorded.
Julian "Cannonball" Adderley was a jazz alto saxophonist. A native of Tampa, Florida, Adderley made his bones playing with his brother Nat in Ray Charles' band in the 1940s. He also was a teacher of music at a Fort Lauderdale high school. (The education bug came from his parents, who were professors at Florida A&M University.)
Encouraged by his peers, Cannonball lit off to New York City in 1955. After making a name for himself by sitting in at various clubs, Cannonball recorded a series of sides for Savoy along with Nat, a coronet and trumpet player. This brought him to the attention of Miles Davis; Cannonball's blues-drenched sax would be an integral part of the classic Miles LPs Milestones and Kind of Blue. One of the other collaborators on Kind of Blue, pianist Bill Evans, would team up with Cannonball to later record two long players.
Adderley's style, known as "hard bop" (an idiom of jazz meant to emphasize the infusion of rhythm and blues, gospel and blues musical styles into the context of jazz), continued its popularity into the 1960s. The Cannonball Adderley Quintet went through a number of personnel changes, but notable members included Victor Feldman, Wynton Kelly, George Duke and Evans (piano), Ray Brown (bass), Louis Hayes and Roy McCurdy (drums), Yusef Lateef (sax) and brother Nat.
But the Quintet's surprise hit of 1966, "Mercy Mercy Mercy," was written by, and prominently featured the electric piano of, Austrian Joe Zawinul. On the recording that made it all the way to #11 on the Billboard Hot 100, Cannonball Adderley gives an intro to the song with a significant tip of the hat to Zawinul. The keyboardist then leads the band into the tune, a bluesy, rising number that accentuates the rhythm but stays true to the timeless jazz structure.
"Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" was recorded 20 October 1966 at Capitol Records' famous Los Angeles studio before some invited guests, who were treated to dinner and drinks as well as music. The crowd reaction adds to the excitement of the track.
Cannonball Adderley continued to be a significant player on the jazz scene for another ten years. He had started to go down the road to electronic jazz, just like Miles (the seminal Bitches Brew) and Zawinul (most famously in the group Weather Report, with saxophonist Wayne Shorter and bassist Jaco Pastorius). Adderley died from a stroke in 1975, at the all-too-early age of 46 years.
14 September 2010
(Thanks to TNOP producer Al Dugen for the tip.)
13 September 2010
08 September 2010
07 September 2010
Known always as "Buddy" to his parents and two older brothers, he learned to play various string instruments at an early age from them and starting singing with a junior high school friend at clubs and talent shows.
By the time Buddy was 19, he opened for Elvis Presley and Bill Haley & His Comets when the two stopped in Lubbock for concert appearances. Merging rockabilly with Chet Atkins style guitar, Buddy's unique "hiccup" vocals earned him a trip to Nashville. There he recorded some sides with his band The Crickets (Jerry Allison - drums; Joe B. Maudlin - bass; Niki Sullivan - guitar) for legendary producer Owen Bradley. A couple of those sessions resulted in a few sides released on Decca, and went nowhere. Decca didn't pick up a option to keep him on the label.
But agent and producer Norman Petty saw the potential in Holly and his mates. They recorded material in a more up-beat fashion in Clovis, New Mexico. Out of those sessions came the smash "That'll Be The Day" and "Peggy Sue," both of which were performed by Buddy Holly & The Crickets on The Ed Sullivan Show on 1 December 1957.
Most of you know the rest of the story, including the tragic plane crash that took the 22-year old Holly's life in 1959. But it is always worth mentioning the massive influence he has had on rock and roll history.
- It wasn't just Elvis that helped bridge the divide between black rhythm and blues and white based country and swing. Buddy Holly & The Crickets eventually won over the tough audiences at Harlem's Apollo Theater, the only white group playing with pioneers Chuck Berry and Little Richard.
- Forty years after Holly's death, Bob Dylan reminisced at the 1998 Grammy Awards in an acceptance speech about seeing The Crickets as a youth: "And I just want to say that when I was sixteen or seventeen years old, I went to see Buddy Holly play at Duluth National Guard Armory and I was three feet away from him...and he looked at me. And I just have some sort of feeling that he was — I don't know how or why — but I know he was with us all the time we were making this record in some kind of way."
- The Beatles didn't just name their group as a nod of respect to The Crickets. The Fab Four regularly covered Holly in their days apprenticing in England and Germany. They also recorded "Words of Love" and "Mailman, Bring Me No More Blues." Paul McCartney holds the rights to the Buddy Holly song catalogue. George Harrison saw Holly as a youth and patterned his rockabilly style guitar licks after many of his recordings. John Lennon recorded "Peggy Sue" on his Rock 'n Roll covers album.
- Keith Richards openly has discussed his admiration for Buddy Holly. He has been quoted as saying he too attended a Holly performance in London, where he heard "Not Fade Away" for the first time. The Rolling Stones' bone-shaking version of that song - itself a deep bow by Holly to Bo Diddley - is the classic version in the Holly covers canon.
- Bruce Springsteen told Dave Marsh in 1978 that "I play Buddy Holly every night before I go on; that keeps me honest." The Boss has covered Holly on stage numerous times, including takes on "Not Fade Away" and "Rave On."
04 September 2010
Late last year, Milwaukee's Jaill signed a two record deal with Sub Pop! Records, home of The Shins, Fleet Foxes and Band of Horses, so it was trumpeted as a pretty big deal by local scribes and music fans. The band has since received some lo-fi promotion, being pitched as a "psycho pop garage band" and wild party guys. Well, regular readers of TNOP know how we feel about the endless efforts to micro-define bands into particular genres, so . . .
Jaill's new album, That's How We Burn, was released at the end of July and is gathering steam on some radio stations and accolades from critics. We particularly dig "The Stroller" (stream above), a jittery, driving number that calls to mind the best of Echo & The Bunny men. You can also sample "Everyone's Hip" below. These guys, toiling in the musical trenches for almost a decade before their big break, sound tailor made for Little Steven's Underground Garage.
Jaill opens for Jenny & Johnny next week in Chicago at Lincoln Hall on 13 September and in Cleveland at Beachland Ballroom & Tavern on 14 September."Everyone's Hip" - Jaill
Jaill - Everyone's Hip by subpop