Sunday, June 29, 2008

Haruki Murakami - Dance Dance Dance

Click here to go to Amazon and buy this book

"High class call girls billed to Mastercard. A psychic thirteen-year-old drop-out with a passion for Talking Heads. A hunky matinee idol doomed to play dentists and teachers. A one-armed beach-combing poet, an uptight hotel clerk and one very bemused narrator caught in the web of advanced capitalist mayhem. Combine this offbeat cast of characters with Murakami's idiosyncratic prose and out comes Dance Dance Dance. It is an assault on the senses, part murder mystery, part metaphysical speculation; a fable for our times as catchy as a rock song blasting from the window of a sports car."

I have a terrible habit of getting excited by the thought of books...the need to own them which results in piles of books I really want to read, but don't seem to get around to for a long, long time (this is currently the case with Brick Lane). In full dreadfully materialist honesty, very much the same can happen with CDs...and DVDs too. Perhaps I have a problem!
Anyway, I am not here for a shrink session, but to talk about Haruki Murakami and, specifically, his book Dance Dance Dance. The above introduction (mine, not the official 'blurb') results from me purchasing Norwegian Wood I really don't know how long ago. I only finally got around to it this year and, once I did, it made me want to read all of his novels! Dance Dance Dance was my second of his, and I finished it just recently.
I love Murakami's lyrical style of prose, his 'human' characters with bona fide human faults and confusions, and the subtle references to songs and pieces of music - placed so perfectly that they almost become characters in themselves, like when a song is so intrinsically tied to a memory that even hearing those first few bars conjures up vivid images in your head.
I am also a fan of the surreal - in art, in film, in literature - and Murakami nails this, without it ever seeming contrived, and without crossing that (for me) all-important line over into true fantasy or science fiction writing.
I can see Murakami books as I read them. The character-centric details, for example the descriptions of a woman's ears in this specific novel, make imagining almost unnecessary...the list of players really does come to life. I really hate it when a film is made of a book and the characters do not look like they did in your head, it spoils the whole illusion - I have always thought this, from reading Mallory Towers books as a child and feeling that the pictures on the front of the book did not represent the characters that I saw.
Some examples (from the first 30 pages of Dance Dance Dance):

"A fat maid walked the halls with elephant strides, ponderously, ominously coughing."

"High school girls came bustling along, their rosy red cheeks puffing white breaths you could have written cartoon captions in."

"Precipitate as weather, she appeared from somewhere, then evaporated, leaving only memory."

"A real live hotelier by the looks of him. I'd met enough of them in my line of work. They are a dubious species, with twenty-five different smiles on call for every variety of circumstance. From the cool and cordial twinge of disinterest to the measured grin of satisfaction. They wield the entire arsenal by number, like golf clubs for particular shots."

Haruki Murakami's writing often reminds me of another of my favourite authors, in a number of ways: the surreal imagery; the journey inside the protagonist's mind (which is often somewhere far short of 'peachy' in terms of mental health); the intimately detailed descriptions; the poetic turns of phrase; the personality and idiosyncrasy. The writer of whom I speak is Richard Brautigan (although all of the above could also be true of Tom Robbins), whose work I urge you to read if you are unfamiliar with it to date. Although not as well-known as Jack Kerouac and the like, he was one of San Francisco's beat poets and, whilst his books are very 'of the time', they are so beautifully written that, in my opinion, there is no issue about them being dated.

I came here with the intention of actually writing a book review of Dance Dance Dance, but it seems to have turned into an all-out rant. I kind of like it that way, and think I will just leave this as my stream-of-consciousness first 'bash', without self-editing or worrying about my own writing style and vocabulary. It gives you all the more reason to read the book, rather than just the precis!
I was especially pleased to be able to find five whole songs of the same title! Here they are:

Dance Dance Dance - Lykke Li

Dance Dance Dance (Live) - Neil Young

Dance Dance Dance - The Beach Boys

Dance, Dance, Dance - The Steve Miller Band

Dance Dance Dance (Yowsah Yowsah Yowsah) - Chic

Buy Dance Dance Dance

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Big Brother 9 - Kathreya - "I look like a potato"!

It doesn't matter that Big Brother 9 is only three weeks in...this is for sure the series highlight! I felt like a lunatic guffawing on my own as I watched it...and again just now when I found it on YouTube. Kathreya to win!

P.s. Sorry to lower the tone with such low-brow fodder but, well, it's "hirarious"!

Here are a few mp3s that might appease you:

Big Brother - Stevie Wonder

House of Fun - Madness

Wicked Game - Chris Isaac

You and I are a Gang of Losers - The Dears

Friday, June 27, 2008

SUPER-exciting news from the Throwing Muses camp!

There isn't much to tell just yet, but word is out from Kristin Hersh that there will be a new Throwing Muses album in the new year - their first since 2003. Kristin had the following to say with the posting of her most recent song, Moan, over at CASH Music:

"Moan" brought to life a fistful of Throwing Muses songs. I honestly didn't think I would ever write another Throwing Muses song. For some reason, I assumed my guitars were only capable of bringing about convenient music. Of course, music is hardly ever convenient. It imagines you have nothing better to do than serve it. It not-so-gently suggests that you refrain from eating and sleeping and paying the rent until you've given it everything it asks for.

Which is fair, 'cause it only asks for physicality and sociability. It needs a body (no matter how long it takes, how much it costs and how many people it takes to get that barn up off the ground!) and then it needs to walk out into the world, wearing its new clothes, so that it can start living its new life. It pays us back in dividends by telling us what it learned out there in the ether, before we met it.

And by letting us play. The other Muses are ready to work. Which is maybe a past life re-visited, but it's also a dream come true. Songs don't know the word "past", anyway. Songs are forever now.

I asked Kristin a little more about this, excited and disbelieving of what I had read. She responded by saying:

Thanks for being so excited...Yes... I've been practically assaulted by Muses songs for the past couple of weeks. I'm not sure what's responsible for this but it's been pretty intense. Our house is upside down.

I immediately got in touch with Dave [Narcizo] & Bernie [Georges] -- and they're willing. So sometime this fall we'll get going on the record and will try to have it out in the new year.

I will endeavour to keep you updated, and you will also be able to find out more information, as it becomes available, from Kristin's new website and/or by registering for e-mail updates from the Throwingmusic website.

If you can't wait until next year, there are free downloads available, also at Throwingmusic or, of course, you can buy their previous albums.

Here is Hersh's latest digitally-released song Moan:

Moan - Kristin Hersh

If you like it, be sure to head across to CASH to put some money in the tip jar!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Not talked about nearly enough: Ted Hawkins

Do you remember the first time you heard Jimmy Cliff's voice on Many Rivers To Cross or Sam Cooke on Touch the Hem of His Garment? Do you remember how it stopped you in your tracks, made you sit up and listen and, ultimately, blew you away? Ted Hawkins' voice has the same effect on me, but he is talked about and cited amazingly infrequently. I feel, therefore, that it is my duty to write about him, and perhaps even introduce his music to some new ears.

Busker, con, wanderer. Ted Hawkins was many things, but labels and descriptions are not nearly so important as that voice...a voice that should not be forgotten and, indeed, will not be forgotten by those who have heard it.

Born in Lakeshore, a small town not far from Biloxi, Mississippi, on 28th October 1936, Hawkins' life was a tough one from the outset. His story is the blues...the unwanted son of an alcoholic prostitute mother and absent father, institutionalised by the age of 12, hoboing his way around the States and playing for pennies on the boardwalk of Venice Beach, drug addiction, the death of his second wife just two months into their marriage, unrecognised and under appreciated. It is almost ironic that Hawkins died within a year of starting to get the recognition he deserved.

By all accounts, the musician in Hawkins was awoken during a stint in the reform facility Oakley Training School in 1948 (his formal education came to an end when he was asked to leave grade school due to poor hygiene), where he received encouragement from a piano teacher and his voice was noticed by the wife of the superintendent. A visit to the school by New Orleans pianist Professor Longhair inspired him further and he began to write his first songs and performed in a talent show.

It was not long before he was once again in trouble with the law, receiving a three year prison sentence at the age of 15 for stealing a leather jacket. During this spell of incarceration (at Parchman Farm), his mother would die of cirrhosis. Upon his release, he began to travel around the United States, hitching free rides on freight trains from Mississippi to Florida, New Orleans, Chicago, New York and finally, by the mid-1960s, Los Angeles.

Hawkins started to perform on the boardwalk of Venice Beach, making a small income from the passers by, but finding himself unable to achieve any greater attention, or to keep out of trouble on any consistent basis, spending many spells in prison and addicted to heroin. He is purported to have known Charles Manson in jail, describing him as a great guitar picker who had helped him with his own playing. He played his guitar 'Vestapol' style, with open C tuning, which is known to be especially tough on the fingers. Busking eight to ten hours per day just to make his rent money, Hawkins took to wearing a black leather glove on his left hand, which became something of a trademark. Underneath this, he would wrap his third finger in gaffer tape. The glove did not slide easily along the neck of his guitar and therefore he used to use lots of talcum powder as 'lubrication' - people who saw him perform sometimes associate this smell with him.

Absorbing various types of music and making little distinction between genres, it really is difficult to pigeon hole his sound - an amazingly soulful voice over blues roots with shades of folk, country, gospel, and perhaps even reggae. Music writer Peter Guralnick has called it "a rural adaptation of contemporary soul music". Hawkins' idol was Sam Cooke and he was noted for his covers of Cooke, Otis Redding and Curtis Mayfield, as well as Bob Dylan and Simon and Garfunkel, during his street performances.

As Ted 'Soul' Hawkins, he recorded his first single Baby/Whole Lotta Woman in 1966 for the Money label, but it was not until 1971 that someone really took notice. This person was Bruce Bromberg, who had seen Hawkins busking in Venice Beach. They cut some tracks together but, shortly afterwards, Hawkins would once again wind up in prison. These recordings were eventually released eleven years later, in 1982, by Rounder Records as Hawkins' debut album Watch Your Step - it was not until after the album came out that Ted was released from California Medical Facility in Vacaville, clean of heroin and ready to return to his 'job' as a boardwalk entertainer, sitting on his milk crate and serenading the crowds.

In 1986, Andy Kershaw of UK's Radio 1 travelled to the US, unannounced, to record with Ted. Championed by Kershaw and enjoying a greater level of renown in the UK than in his homeland, he was persuaded to move there and capitalise on this relative success. He moved to the seaside town of Bridlington, East Yorkshire and released his second album Happy Hour. Following an appearance at the notorious Glastonbury festival in 1989 and a 1990 tour of the UK and Australia, Ted returned to his adopted home of California - stories differ as to whether this was because he was more comfortable with the anonymity that he had grown accustomed to there, or whether he was actually deported.

It was the title song of Happy Hour that first served to introduce me to Ted Hawkins' voice. It reminds me of my childhood when, fooled by all those major chords (Hawkins used major chords exclusively which, despite frequent lyrical heartbreak, lend his songs an upbeat feel) I really did think that it was just about having a good time. Seeking out this song and listening for the first time as an adult, the emotional punch packed a big double-whammy. Here are some of the lyrics:

"Welcome to happy hour
Blinking on the neon sign
She won't mind if I stop for just one
I could still make it home in time

As my eyes grow accustomed to the smoke and dim light
I see the jukebox near the door
There she is in another man's arms
Slow dancing across the floor

So this is happy hour
Two drinks for the price of one
People laughing and having fun
What a great place to be
Welcome to happy hour
They gather here every day
Cheating is one of the games they play
This time it's on me"

Happy Hour - Ted Hawkins

Don't Make Me Explain It - Ted Hawkins

Buy Happy Hour

It was in 1994 that Hawkins' major label debut The Next Hundred Years was released on Geffen, and this is when he finally began to receive some attention in the US, and toured extensively. By a cruel twist of fate, he died within a year of its release, suffering a diabetes-related stroke on December 29th 1994 and passing away on New Year's Day 1995. He was survived by his (third) wife of almost thirty years, Elizabeth, and their five children - Elizabeth, Tina, Carmen, Adrienne and Theodore.

Jimmy Guterman has this to say:

"Without a doubt, 1994 was the happiest, most successful, most satisfying year of Ted's life. His unexpected death from a stroke on New Year's Day 1995 was cruel and tragic, but he passed on knowing that his music had finally connected, he passed on having been loved and accepted for the most constant thing in his life: his music"

There Stands the Glass - Ted Hawkins

Ladder of Success - Ted Hawkins

Buy The Next Hundred Years

Less than two months before his death aged only 58, the whole show of Ted's performance of November 5th 1994 at McCabe's Guitar Shop in Santa Monica was recorded, and was ultimately released as The Final Tour. This would be a great place to start with his music if he's new to you, and the songs arguably sound better than the studio-recorded versions...Hawkins was, after all, first and foremost a live and acoustic artist. Here, his astounding cover of the Webb Pierce standard There Stands the Glass starts the show, with a wailing opening note and absolutely pitch perfect delivery. His a capella cover of John Fogerty's Long As I Can See the Light is spine-chillingly beautiful. The emotion in his voice is heartbreaking...and heart-warming right at the same time. He sounds truly at home.

Buy The Final Tour

Ted Hawkins was an incredible natural talent who did not receive the limelight he was due, and he should not be forgotten...he is not talked about nearly enough!

Other noteworthy songs (a selection from many):

All I Have To Offer You Is Me, I Got What I Wanted, Bad Dog, Revenge of Scorpio, Missin' Mississippi, Green-Eyed Girl, Long As I Can See the Light (John Fogerty/Creedence Clearwater Revival cover), Groovy Little Things, Green-Eyed Girl, Afraid, Cold and Bitter Tears, Strange Conversation, I Got What I Wanted.

TED HAWKINS (1936-1995)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Jay Brannan - some preview tracks from his upcoming album 'goddamned'

I have to admit that I have never heard of Jay Brannan before today. I receive a fair few PR e-mails each day and, to be brutally honest, most of it is dross, or at the very least badly targeted (how often have you seen me write about hip hop on this site??). This one, however, caught my eye...or rather my ear. Here is what the e-mail had to say:

"Jay has never released an album in the traditional sense, but has sold out shows in New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris, Toronto, Tel Aviv and Vancouver. The New York Times has written stories about him, The Tripwire has sung his praises and his video for the song "Housewife" is going to a Paste video of the day.

He got his break performing his song "Soda Shop" in the John Cameron Mitchell movie Shortbus. "Soda Shop" ended up being the best selling song on the soundtrack (released on Team Love Records) and a video Jay recorded of himself performing the song in his bathroom ended up getting over one million plays on Youtube. He's continued to make more videos since then and they've racked up over three million plays to date.

Jay is going to be self-releasing his first full length, goddamned, on July 1st"

I can tell you, in addition to this, that Jay comes from New York, via California (although was born in Houston, Texas) and that most of his listed influences on MySpace are female...Lisa Loeb, Ani DiFranco, Liz Phair, Tori Amos and the like. This is no coincidence...his voice is one of the most feminine male singing voices I have heard in a long time; but, strangely, I do not mean that as any sort of insult (or I really wouldn't be posting the songs here). Call me a fag hag (can a gay woman be called a fag hag?), but I really like the tunes I was sent.

It would seem, from having a bit of a look at his blog and YouTube vids, that he is indeed a YouTube phenomenon, a la Lucy In LA, or the abominable Chris Crocker. With so much crap out there, it is refreshing to see someone singing original songs and in tune! The songs are gentle, emotional, acoustic affairs. The very lack of bells and whistles is extremely appealing and gives these folksy songs an air of honesty in keeping with his direct-to-audience YouTube videos and website bio (with a little poetic licence on the latter!). The lyrics can be touchingly mundane, about washing dishes and grilling turkey burgers, and showcase a tender sense of humour.

All in all, this is one I'll definitely be, I presume, will my gayboy friends, as he's certainly easy on the eye! Have a listen for yourselves and see what you think:

At First Sight - Jay Brannan

Housewife - Jay Brannan

Half-Boyfriend - Jay Brannan

Visit Jay's website, blog, MySpace and YouTube channel.

Pre-order goddamned here (N.B. Whilst the album is available digitally from 1st July, the actual physical CD will ship 15th July - self-released on his own label Great Depression Records).

Here are those videos:


Soda Shop

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The weekly round-up from over at Star Maker Machine - Footwear

My posts this week:

- Slip In Mules - Sugar Pie DeSanto (this one went down espcially well)

- Red Shoes (The Angels Wanna Wear My) - Elvis Costello (plus a lovely cover by Hem)

- In These Shoes? - Kirsty MacColl

- Red shoes edition - featuring Chris Rea, Tom Waits, Sawyer Brown, Elton John, Kate Bush, Throwing Muses and David Bowie

- Big Shoes - Jill Sobule

- Boots or Hearts - The Tragically Hip


- Walk A Mile - Holly Golightly (get more Holly Golightly in this live music review)

This week (my third as a contributor over there) there were more songs than ever that were on my shortlist, but that were posted by others before I got around to it...some seriously great tunes. But, as ever, there were still a few more. So, below are some tracks that I just didn't manage to fit in, and which nobody else posted either.

Boogie Shoes - K.C. and The Sunshine Band

Earth Boots - Galliano

Try Walking In My Shoes - Depeche Mode

I even considered Venus In Furs because of its "shiny, shiny, shiny boots of leather"!

It has only just been decided that we can post 21st century tracks over there...previously, the rule was 20th century tracks only (with the odd naughty exception if you could give a good defense!), so here are some noughties songs that fit the 'footwear' theme:

Step On My Old Size Nines - Stereophonics

Eleanor Put Your Boots On - Franz Ferdinand

Dancing Shoes - Arctic Monkeys

Billy the Kid's Dream of the Magic Shoes - The Mountain Goats

Pretty Shoes - Jens Lekman

And, just to round things off, how about a couple of (decent) 'novelty' songs?

Hole In My Shoe - Neil

Nigel Planer as Neil Pye, the hippie from The Young Ones...fabulous stuff! (It helps if you are familiar with the character, however!).

Kinky Boots - Patrick MacNee and Honor Blackman

Honor Blackman holds the, ahem, honour of being the only octogenarian I would still 'do'! She is ridiculously hot...and still so classy and vivacious.

P.s. If anyone has an mp3 of Nick Heyward's song Rollerblade, please please please could you get in touch - I had that song on cassette single and loved it, but can't find it available anywhere now...I would love you forever! :o)

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Live Music Review: Holly Golightly and The Brokeoffs, Newcastle Cluny, 17/06/08

This is the third time that I have seen Holly Golightly live and, as always, she was excellent. Unfortunately, after a late start (in fact, we waited so long for things to kick off that Weary Blues From Waiting came around twice on the background CD...but there are no complaints from me about that!), there were still only about 35 people there to see the spectacle; this was a shame, but it did lend a certain intimacy to the gig – an atmosphere that may well have been different with a larger audience.
My evening started out with sitting outside, Holly to my left, smoking, and a young girl in between us throwing up...things did not look promising! It ended with chatting to Holly and Dave after everyone else had gone, whilst waiting to give my friend, the booker, a lift home. I have been fortunate lately, to have met some great people and to actually have chance to chat with them at some length – Tift Merritt, Romi Mayes (I must get around that review!) and now Holly Golightly and Lawyer Dave.

I can tell you that the rider for this evening included: Jim Beam, Coke, seedless grapes, Braeburn apples and Budweiser...and I felt at some strange advantage knowing that Davey's pint of coke on stage was laced with bourbon!

'The Brokeoffs' is just one man, the aforementioned Lawyer Dave (who looks like a more handsome, more rough around the edges, long haired version of a young Michael J. Fox), who first appeared for the support slot, before returning to the stage with Ms Golightly. He is a formidable guitar player, switching between slide and picking, and accompanying himself with foot-controlled drum and cymbals – as well as singing. Very impressive co-ordination! He made a joke, when back on stage for round two, with he and Holly both on guitar, about playing the bass with, erm, a certain appendage on their next tour.

Just as important as the music tonight was the craic...these guys are relaxed and completely at ease with one another, and there were stories, jokes and anecdotes aplenty, from the toilets at a festival in Denmark (a trough!), via the tyre fire in New Jersey that hasn't gone out for 35 years, to the fact that the song Devil Do makes them the “goth wedding band of choice” (and a query about why goths say they want to drink blood when they are all vegetarian!). I reckon these guys would be great fun at a wedding, and would hang around getting pissed with the guests afterwards.

The signature Golightly plodding, Rockabilly stomp, the short, snappy songs, the resurrection of old, forgotten tunes amongst her originals and the inimitable sense of humour were all there – we had a warning song about Jaegermeister (“Wasted away on that medicine bottle and I can't remember my name”), one about “the time I broke Holly's left arm with my horse” (a hobby horse) and a song about Dave's imaginary friend who is pissed off with him (Jesus Don't Love Me Any More). There was also a discussion about Dave's first experience, being from Texas, of the Eurovision Song Contest – he liked the ice skating apparently!

Song highlights included You Can't Buy A Gun, Black Night (which I had no idea was not a Holly Golightly original until tonight – it was written by Jessie Mae Robinson, who never got to record it herself, in 1935. Mother Earth was another that I had no idea she did not write – apparently it is another song from “before electricity”) and the sweetest children's song about being afraid of the escalator. We also had the banned-in-America ditty with the lyrics “I let my daddy do that”, which showcased Golightly's Wanda Jackson-esque growl, and this was swiftly followed by a “domestic violence song” - we were definitely not in PC mode tonight!

In fact, we finished on another domestic violence that I had always presumed to be sweetly romantic before - “I want to hug you, kiss you, squeeze you til my arms fall off”. There was no encore on this occasion, or I was going to ask for Walk A Mile – I later found out that they haven't worked this song through together yet, so it's a good job I didn't, but I've been promised it for next time! All this and I haven't yet mentioned Holly's little curtsy with the applause after each song, or told those of you that might not be familiar with her yet about her work with Billy Childish and Thee Headcoatees, or her 14 albums. These are things you can, and should, find out for yourself. I would strongly recommend her album Truly She Is None Other as a starting point.

mp3: Black Night - Holly Golightly

mp3: You Can't Buy A Gun - Holly Golightly and The Brokeoffs

Visit Holly's website or have a listen over at MySpace...then buy her albums!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The weekly round-up from over at Star Maker Machine - Advice

Artist: Tad Lauritzen Wright

The theme in the week just gone over at the collaborative blog Star Maker Machine was 'advice'. There were a total of 45 posts and 71 tracks, so there's plenty over there to be listening to and learning about.
My posts were as follows:
- 10 more don'ts from Divinyl (with tracks from Leonard Cohen, The Byrds, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Doris Duke, Peggy Lee, Willie Nelson and Sinead O'Connor, Guns n Roses, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson, The Cramps and Michael Jackson!)
- House of the Rising Sun - 4 great, and very different, versions
- The 'setting feminism back 100s of years' edition (songs from Annie Lennox, Tammy Wynette, The Exciters and Betty Everett)
- Choose Life - PF Project feat. Ewan McGregor (from the Trainspotting soundtrack).
There were tonnes of other fantastic songs posted, and quite a few I did not already know, so head over there to have a look!
Here are a further 5 from my short list (there was also a very long list!) that I didn't manage to get around to:

The new theme is 'footwear', so wish me luck! And any suggestions (although I, again, have a loooong list!) are welcome...

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Randy Newman - Sail Away (plus some other great tunes)

Here's a post that I didn't get around to over at Star Maker Machine...

Sail Away - Randy Newman

"In America you get food to eat
Won't have to run through the jungle
And scuff up your feet
You just sing about Jesus and drink wine all day
It's great to be an American.

Ain't no lion or tiger - ain't no mamba snake
Just the sweet watermelon and the buckwheat cake.
Everybody is as happy as a man can be
Climb aboard, little wog - sail away with me."

The song Sail Away is Randy Newman's masterwork. A sweet-sounding song that is relatively simple, musically, for a Newman song and is in a major key, it is deceptive until you listen more intently. It is only then that the true horror of the lyrics hits home - this is a recruitment pitch for the slave trade.

Newman is known for writing his lyrics from the perspective of a character far distanced from his own life and experiences and, in this case, he 'plays' an American slave trader trying to seduce Africans aboard a ship to the New World, portraying America as a land of plenty and, ironically, freedom.

And the irony is precisely why this song works. Newman is the king of satire and is one of the few people who could have got the balance spot on in writing this song - whilst it is sardonic, it is at once both beautiful and shocking. A perfect blend, if you like, of sympathy and irony, beauty and monstrosity. The picture above is intended in this spirit.

There have been a great many covers of this song, including by black performers such as Ray Charles, but none has bettered Newman's original, which comes from his 1972 album of the same name.

My favourite line is "the sweet watermelon and the buckwheat cake" - if you listen, there's just something about the way the words fit the rhythm and music; I can't quite explain it, but it just sounds so perfect and I simply can't resist it. I have the same feelings about the line "don't I know you from the cinematographer's party" from Paul Simon's I Know What I Know.

Here are some of the better cover versions:

Sail Away - Kirsty MacColl

Sail Away - Harry Nilsson

Sail Away - Joe Cocker

Sail Away - Bobby Darin

Sail Away - Linda Ronstadt

Listening to Sail Away always reminds me of two other songs which, whilst not about slavery, are about immigration and being an outsider in a new country.

The first is Woody Guthrie's earnest, but excellent, Deportee:

"600 miles to the Mexico border
They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers and thieves.

We died in your hills, we died on your deserts
We died in your valleys, we died on your plains
We died in your trees and we died in your bushes
Both sides of the river, we've died just the same.

Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye Rosalita
Adios mes amigos, Jesus y Maria
You won't have a name when you ride the big airplane
And all they will call you will be deportee."

Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos) - Arlo Guthrie

Deportee - Cisco Houston

The second is Ry Cooder's Across the Borderline, which I actually heard first by Willie Nelson on his album of that name:

"When you reach the broken promised land
And every dream slips through your hands
Then you'll know that it's too late to change your mind
Cause you've paid the price to come so far
Just to wind up where you are
And you're still just across the borderline."

Across the Borderline - Ry Cooder

Across the Borderline - Willie Nelson

Click on the links below to look at my 'boat posts' over at Star Maker Machine:

The Coal Boat Song - Stompin' Tom Connors

I Courted A Sailor / The Sleepless Sailor - Kate Rusby

The Boatman - The Levellers

Luxury Liner - Gram Parsons (and also Emmylou Harris)

Lukey - Great Big Sea/The Chieftains

Ferry edition - Neil Young, Tanya Tucker, and Gerry and The Pacemakers

Monday, June 9, 2008

Al Green - Lay It Down

I had saved this post for Sunday, as it is a perfect Sunday album...but then we had a power cut. Typical! Anyway, it's a pretty good Monday album too...or Tuesday, or Wednesday etc. etc.

Released in the UK on May 26th (May 27th in the US), Lay It Down finds Al Green on form, back with his classic 1970s Southern soul sound.

Picture the is Sunday morning, you have just squeezed yourself some fresh OJ, you are at the breakfast table with the newspaper spread out before you, and you want some music on whilst you read, to ease you into the day. This is that record.

There is no major stand-out track here, but this is no bad thing. The journey is smooooth from start to finish, all of the songs beautifully handled and all worthy of a place amongst the rest.

Production is courtesy of Ahmir '?uestlove' Thompson, former drummer with The Roots and current producer du jour. And he's done a very admirable job, with a sympathetic treatment of Green's signature sound and no jarring attempts to modernise.

Despite guest vocals from Anthony Hamilton, Corinne Bailey Rae and John Legend, as well as some help from the Dap Kings' horn section, the Reverend remains the star here, with guest appearances complementing his voice, rather than overshadowing or distracting from it. Fortunately, the use of these newer names does not come across as an attempt to 'get down with the kids' and this really is as close to a classic Al Green album as I can imagine him making nowadays. Any of these tracks could sit merrily alongside his older work and not feel out of place/not up to scratch.

People are saying that the album is dead, but if this release is anything to go by, they are wrong, so wrong. It works brilliantly as one complete piece of work, is pure soul from start to finish and is bloody lovely! Get your groove on!

Just For Me - Al Green

What More Do You Want From Me? - Al Green

(mp3s removed at copyright holder's request)

Buy Lay It Down here.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Yet MORE free stuff from Nine Inch Nails!

I was here less than a week ago talking about Nine Inch Nails' latest free to download album and, guess what, there's more...and newer!
If you go here, you can download Lights In the Sky: Over North America 2008 Tour Sampler. It features five from Nine Inch Nails, of course, but also one from each band that will be supporting them across their tour: A Place To Bury Strangers; Does It Offend You, Yeah?; Crystal Castles; and Deerhunter.
Get it while it's hot!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

“Though the flame of liberty may sometimes cease to shine, the coal can never expire”: Some diamond songs about coal mining

I made my first post over at Star Maker Machine yesterday. It is a fabulous group blog which has a weekly theme for posts - this week it's boats. The song I posted was The Coal Boat Song by Stompin' Tom Connors (head over there if you want to listen to/download that track) and, when I started typing 'coal boat' into my iTunes to look for it, I realised just how many great songs there are with 'coal' in the title! So this got me thinking and, following a bit more research, I decided to also include songs about mining...and a few that just use the word 'coal' and have bog all to do with coal mining, just because I like them! Oh, and the quotation in the title is by Thomas Paine. Behold.

The start of it all...songs about coal:

Blue Tattoo (Coal Town Road) - Sandy Denny
and the same song, albeit under a different title:
Coal Tattoo - The Kingston Trio

Coal Miner's Blues - The Carter Family

Loading Coal - Johnny Cash

Coal Miner's Daughter - Loretta Lynn

Working In A Coal Mine - Lee Dorsey

Sprinkle Coal Dust On My Grave - Orville Jenks

Coal Train Robberies (Demo) - Elvis Costello

Coal Smoke, Valve Oil and Steam - Johnny Horton

More songs...about mining and miners:

The Springhill Mine Disaster - Luke Kelly (The Dubliners)

Miner's Prayer - Ralph Stanley and Dwight Yoakam

Miner's Refrain - Gillian Welch

The Dying Miner - Woody Guthrie

Songs about coal mining that contain neither of the words 'coal' or 'mining' in the title!:

Sixteen Tons - Tennessee Ernie Ford

Dark As A Dungeon - Merle Travis

Which Side Are You On? - Natalie Merchant

Big Bad John - Jimmy Dean

My Young Man - Kate Rusby
(see a beautiful video/photo montage to go with this song here. This also links nicely with the weekly theme over at Star Maker Machine, as it houses a 'secret' track - the traditional The Big Ship Sails on the Ally-Ally-Oh. My second post at SMM features Kate Rusby too).

Songs that really have very little to do with coal mining at all, but are worthy of inclusion nonetheless:

Old Chunk of Coal - Billy Joe Shaver

Coal to Diamonds - Gossip

Diamonds and Coal - Incubus

A fantastic collection of songs, I think you will agree.

Update: I can't believe that I forgot to include the following has only just occurred to me!

If I Had A Son - Vin Garbutt

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Live Music Review: The Wailin' Jennys at The Little Theatre, Gateshead, 26/05/08

Set list:

Beautiful Dawn
Bring Me Little Water Sylvie (Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter)
Glory Bound
Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child (Traditional)
Paint A Picture
Racing With the Sun (Ella Jenkins)
Deeper Well (Emmylou Harris)
Weary Blues From Waitin' (Hank Williams)
Bold Riley (Traditional)

One Voice

I was blown away by The Wailin' Jennys. This was a gig I had been anticipating eagerly for months, having bought my ticket what seemed like eons ago, stoked to have read that they were coming to Gateshead. Only later did I find out that attending this gig would mean foregoing the Bank Holiday extravaganza that is the Evolution Festival (at which Duffy, CSS and New Young Pony Club were playing, amongst others)...never mind, I was going to see The Wailin' Jennys!

I have never before seen them live, but as soon as I heard their debut album 40 Days I loved it...and I haven't stopped loving it since. The song I was hoping that they would play tonight was Arlington and, as you can see from the set list above, I didn't have to wait long. The Jennys' voices on this song were stunning. I don't know how else to put it...I could simply type the word 'beautiful' in big letters and stop there!

Founding members Ruth Moody (guitar, banjo, accordion, bodhran) and Nicky Mehta (percussion, guitar, ukelele) are now joined by Maine native Heather Masse (double bass), the third 'third Jenny', after the departure of first Cara Luft and then Annabelle Chvostek, and also, for their live performances, a male violinist dubbed "Wailin' Jeremy".

The band, who hail from Winnipeg (what is it with this UK blog and its seeming obsession with Canadian music?) initially formed when three solo performers, Moody, Mehta and Luft, came together for one performance and decided it sounded so good that they'd give things a go together. With Ruth as soprano, Nicky mezzo and Heather a deep alto, the three part harmonies, which were often a capella during the show, were like honey dripping off a warm knife. Like the rays of sun that fight through the chink in your curtains to warm your face as you lay idly in bed of a Sunday morning. Enough flowery similes? Good.

Third song Bring Me Little Water Sylvie was a capella, with Masse taking the lead, and reminded of the spine-tingling Didn't Leave Nobody But the Baby (Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch and Alison Krauss) from O Brother Where Art Thou. This was followed by the first song that Ruth (resplendent tonight in a gorgeous red dress and heels) wrote on the banjo, Glory Bound (from their second album Firecracker), which was introduced as "a non-denominational gospel song"...ah, bless! Before they started the song, Mehta shared a banjo joke (apparently a favourite form of entertainment between the group members) - "What's the definition of perfect pitch? The sound of a banjo hitting an accordion in a dumpster" (here's another one for you Nicky, courtesy of Chatham County Line - "What's the difference between a banjo and a hand grenade? Nothing. Once you hear either, it's too late!").

We the audience were encouraged to join in with Glory Bound, which elicited a general titter...Moody sang our part ("Hallelujah") in a crystal clear soprano voice, which she then encouraged us to repeat back to her...I'd say that mimicking her ridiculously pitch perfect tones was nigh on impossible...still, we tried our best!

Next up was Drivin', a number written by Masse, and therefore a song which does not appear on either of the Jennys' albums to date, as she has only subsequently joined the group (around 18 months ago). This was followed by the traditional spiritual Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child, which started out a capella and then kicked in with an irresistible beat of bodhran and snare. And on it went, uniformly wonderful.

All of the harmonies in this set were beautifully mapped out, the lasses barely hitting a bum note between really was impressive. A couple more sing-a-longs and the Jennys left the stage, coming back for just one song, the heartbreakingly lovely One Voice.

All this review and I haven't even mentioned how bloody stunning Nicky Mehta is...mesmerisingly attractive. I have decided that my 'thing' must be dark-haired straight girls that sing in vocal harmony groups (d'ya reckon that's niche enough?); and surprisingly thin ones, at that, given my general penchant for fat lasses! So, if anyone out there wants to hook me up...?

Arlington - The Wailin' Jennys

Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child - Odetta
Bold Riley - Kate Rusby

Music video for Beautiful Dawn
(N.B. The third Jenny, here, is not Heather Masse but original Jenny Cara Luft)

- Wailin' Jennys website

- Wailin' Jennys MySpace

- Buy their albums here

Monday, June 2, 2008

Bo Diddley: December 30 1928 - June 2 2008

I have just heard the news that the great bluesman and rock n roll pioneer Bo Diddley, aka 'The Originator', has passed. He died at home in Archer, Florida of heart failure, aged 79.
Using his signature rectangular guitar to pound out the "Bo Diddley beat", he was there at the very outset of rock n roll that crossed the racial divide, and was a source of inspiration to countless musicians during a musical career than spanned over half a century.
Born Ellas Otha Bates in McComb, Mississippi, he took the surname McDaniel after being adopted by his mother's cousin. After learning the violin as a child, he decided to take up the guitar after hearing John Lee Hooker play. He started out performing on street corners in the early 1950s, recording his first demos in 1954.
Diddley was inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation in 1996 and was honoured with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998, amongst other accolades.
Read more about the seminal Bo Diddley over at Wikipedia and at this website.

Who Do You Love - Bo Diddley

You Can't Judge A Book By the Cover - Bo Diddley

Bo Diddley - Bo Diddley

The Story of Bo Diddley - The Animals (lyrics)

If your eyes are on me, you're lookin' at country!

If you were to make a top 10 list of your favourite country music singers, who would feature? Who would you agonise over having to boot to number 11?
This is the question my new pal Paul over at Setting the Woods on Fire is asking in his country music poll. He invites readers of his blog to submit their personal lists (with reasons, if they feel like explaining themselves!), which he will then aggregate to compile an all-time top 10 list.
As it stands, here is who is in the top 20, with a couple of weeks to go:
1. Johnny Cash
2. Hank Williams
3. Merle Haggard
4. George Jones
5. Willie Nelson
6. Townes Van Zandt
7. Waylon Jennings
8. Patsy Cline
9. Gram Parsons
10. Emmylou Harris
11. Loretta Lynn
12. Buck Owens
13. Bob Wills
14. Louvin Brothers
15. The Carter Family
16. Steve Earle
17. Dwight Yoakam
18. Lucinda Williams
19. Gillian Welch
20. Doug Sahm
Outraged that Loretty isn't in the top 10, or that Hank isn't heading up the list? Or that Dolly doesn't even feature?? Then head across to have your say!
In case you are interested, here is the list I settled upon for now (and an mp3 for each):
1. Willie Nelson - Blue Eyes Crying In the Rain
3. Loretta Lynn - The Pill
4. Merle Haggard - Mama Tried
5. Patsy Cline - He Called Me Baby
6. Wanda Jackson - Hot Dog! That Made Him Mad
7. Townes Van Zandt - Tecumseh Valley
8. Dolly Parton - Love is Like A Butterfly
9. Gram Parsons - Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man
10. Ray Charles - It's Crying Time Again
Also-rans would include: Gillian Welch, Lyle Lovett, Emmylou Harris, John Prine, Kitty Wells, Be Good Tanyas, Sam Baker, The Band and the mighty George Jones.

Have your say!