Wednesday, December 28, 2011

the RILLY rill thang


Repeated contemplation of the "Cosimo Matassa Story" box set (incidentally, Matassa is STILL alive and well and apparently holds court at Matassa's Market,1001 Dauphine St., NOLA) led me to go on a Little Richard jag (as his biggest hits were recorded at Matassa's J&M Studios) and buy (and read) Charles White's biography as well as the ultra cheap 5 CD "5 Classic Albums" set...the latter being indispensible for the faithful as it collects all his pre-hit recordings, all the work from his most successful period, and then the gospel he devoted himself to immediately after his retirement from pop; admittedly casual fans will probably find all but except the Specialty recordings pretty dispensable.

For months, I toyed with dipping into Richard's early 70's oeuvre especially "The Rill Thing" cut at Muscle Shoals with the house band -- then some of the savviest, funkiest players on the planet. There were lots of ecstatic reviews posted at Amazon and the circumstances surrounding this project certainly SHOULD have yielded a smokin' album.

On the evidence of his live performances (witness the festival film "Let The Good Times Roll" or the DVD of his set from the Toronto Peace Festival) he clearly was in fine voice. Moreover this inarguably was an apt backing crew who could channel the home-cooked blues and gospel that had originally formed Richard's musical persona (check out the Muscle Shoal production on the Staple Singers' "Be Altitude") and frame that as FM radio-friendly post-rock 'n' roll.

I finally broke down and ordered the $7 Collector's Choice reissue of "The Rill Thing" (rather than the MUCH pricier the Rhino Handmade box set of ALL his Reprise recordings, the others being usually described as non-essential), it arrived and I gave it a batch of eager listens, eventually concluding that it was creditable but ultimately disappointing.

As I'd speculated, Richard's vocal performances are exemplary - raw, powerful, emotionally galvanizing. It's the repertoire that underwhelms, being largely bland and pro forma...even the Muscle Shoal Swampers could only inject so much sass and character. And not quite enough to redeem most of the material.

There are some exceptions. "Dew Drop Inn" is a paean to the legendary Rampart Street venue that nurtured many of NOLA's great R&B and rock 'n' roll performers It was co-written with Esquerita, one of Richard's early influences, and reprises the structure of his seminal NOLA-recorded sides while updating the basic sonic vocabulary, but strategically, selecting contemporary elements of style most solidly connected to seminal rock 'n' roll. Interestingly enough, the one hit this album yielded "Freedom Blues" is another co-write with Esquerita, and while this one is framed more substantially as current "rock" it's still smartly flavored with vintage touches. Another highlight is his take on "Greenwood, Mississippi" written by Travis Wammack who also contributes blazing guitar here. Once more, the song is an obvious descendant of music Richard loved as a youngster; it's a bit more Country than the rest of the album, but classic Country & Western music was essentially blues performed by white artists who added the influence of the English ballads that'd been passed down in their families for generations. So Richard's performance plugs C&W back into its blues roots with explosive results that presage the sound of the nascent Southern Rock movement.

The rest of the material is afflicted that going-thru-the-motions feel endemic to much of the music from this time period. Rock had become big business, a profession, and musicians who'd started out with something vital to say about the wonder, the mystery, the challenge of living, had said it all -- but had to keep saying SOMETHING to keep earning a livelihood. They had the knowledge and skills to to keep producing conventionally accomplished material but very little of it was exciting, revelatory or the even vaguely necessary. Sadly, "The Rill Thing" by and large was no exception.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

HooDoo U Think U R?


I was recently reading Offbeat, the monthly arts & culture magazine outta New Orleans (yes! I've gotten that silly that I paid for a subscription to keep up with the goings on half a continent away!)and came upon an extended obituary for Wardell Quezerque. His is a name that I'd never encountered till I start regularly reading Offbeat but looking over the testimonials included here from the likes of Dr. John (who's musical career started as guitar player in Wardell's band), and seeing his various accomplishments over a long and distinguished career, it became immediately clear that he was a major player on the NOLA music scene -- apparently in a league with the likes of Allen Toussaint when it came to writing, arranging and producing amazing, distinctive and often highly successful tracks.

Going over his discography, one that stood out immediately was Jean Knight, who's "Mr. Big Stuff" was a national pop hit that I remember from my college days -- funky as shizzle! With it's cannily syncopated bass, chicken scratch guitar and high steppin' drums it registered as archetypal "funk" in my teenaged brain. Having attained some little grasp of its place in the overall context of Afro American musical stylings passed it's obviously rooted in New Orleans' unmistakable rhythmic traditions (I'd like to say "unique" but as those traditions have been so influential, elements of that sound in fact permeate American musical culture).

Doing a little searching I found a couple Jean Knight titles that covered this period, covering a wide range of prices - from $4.83 to $30+. On further study it turned out that this was the same repertoire issued at various times with various cover art in various countries. As usual I opted for the bargain price (leaving me with more money to buy more music with!)

A few weeks later my "Mr. Big Stuff" CD arrived and I eagerly popped it on, being instantly entranced by the title track - every bit as spikily beat-driven and stark as I remembered. As the album proceeded...well, I found a mixed bag, at least for my tastes. A fair amount of weepy soul ballads, a number of songs that basically were "Mr. Big Stuff" knock offs and...some more sharp and spicy stunners!

I do understand that this sorta programming makes perfect sense for long playing product of the time -- you wanna make an album that takes you on a trip and moves from style to style with plenty of variety, changing tempos and moods and this does that quite nicely. As per the soundalikes -- well, pop music and R&B was a very singles-driven business, most especially on the indie label level. An artist started by cutting tracks for singles, that'd be released in succession with the hope of achieving a national or at least regional hit by the 3rd or 4th, at which point the label would compile the singles sides and record enough additional tracks to fill out an album. In the pop world the policy of biting the style is a time honored business strategm, in fact major labels have made fortunes following such policy - witness Columbia cloning the Snap! sound via C + C Music Factory and Whitney Houston via Mariah Carey in quick succession... and so on. SO...it was established policy to follow up a hit with a nominal rewrite of same -- and usually with great success. This is a strategm that DOES work well in the single market, on mainstream radio (again, MANY a superstar career is predicated on copying a preceding star's successes) -- but as part of an album, not so much.

Ultimately, if you're a funk fan, "Mr. Big Stuff" is something you'd likely wanna cherry pick via iTunes or Amazon digital or whatever other download service you favor. If you just dig vintage soul and treat this as a compilation -- either "Mr. Big Stuff" you'll find is the original album with bonus tracks (but the initial release was in fact a couple singles collected and supplemented with tracks recorded to flesh out a full album) -- you'll prolly enjoy the mix of booty shakers and ballans and find the copycat numbers as amusing and instructive.

Once I'd listened to this it made me pull out "The Best of Ann Peebles" and "The Best of Betty Wright" and I must say -- while I do dig the high points of Ms. Knight's album -- both of the former make for far more consistent listening. Peebles stays with mid-tempo material pretty much throughout -- always staying at a slow boil rather than kicking into heavier jams. But this is super soul-stirring with grooves provided by the same incredible house band and producer that created Al Green's classic material. Betty Wright is much more high octane, dirty-assed and rambunctious. Betty, infamously, was little sister of "Little Beaver," guitarist for the Florida-based studio musicians who eventually started recording and touring in their own right as KC and The Sunshine band. I also pulled out my copy of Betty's debut album -- and must report that it's less consistently pleasing.

Earlier this week I was blabbing with my dear old pal Glenn Morrow (Bar/None Records) talking about "Treme" and NOLA music and wound up talking about Jean Knight and Wardell Quezerque, and he mentioned that he'd snagged some great vintage NOLA soul and funk jams from an indie label called Tuff City. And checking that site (http://www.tuffcity.com) clicked on "New Orleans" and saw that the first item listed is "Various Artists / Wardell Quezerque: Sixty Smokin' Soul Senders" which appears to be filled with amazing tracks! So you KNOW what I'm picking up next!

Monday, November 7, 2011

They make me SMiLE


In my mind - saying anything about this official release of a substantial block of sessions for the legendary "lost" Beach Boys' album "SMiLE" is pure punditry. Fans already bought it, or DIDN'T buy this particular assemblage of "SMiLE" material, and it's simply not relevant to many other folks. And pop critics around the world have made their declarations, marked by varying degrees of critical acumen and historical perspective.

I've got at least 4 different bootleg verions of this material and I know that are MANY more extant. And then there's Brian Wilson's reconstruction of it, recorded with his regular touring ensemble.

Nonetheless, just before release date I was poking around online, and noticing write ups in print. I glanced at the Deluxe version - 5 CDs of session recordings, 2 vinyl LPs and 2 7" singles for about $140 and while I mighta ponied up a nice chunk of change for all the CDs -- to HAVE TO also pay for the various vinyl artifacts seemed like an egregious means of pumping up the price. I dig that this package was aimed as super service to the stone-fans and can respect its creation utterly; but I couldn't buy in.

So, day before in-store date I called my local record store to see if they'd be carrying the two CD package and was told that in fact they were selling it that very day already - so's I hopped in the wheels and whizzed out there and back and started listening on the drive home and then played it repeatedly for the next few days.

So...well the current recension of structure of "SMiLE" proper is familiar from Brian's recreation which the producers of this set admit to using as their basic template. Moreover, a significant number of these actual performances (or minor variations thereon) have been issued previously on "Smiley Smile" (a lot of "SMiLE" repertoire recast in minimalist settings, entirely apposite of the grand originals Brian had been working on so feverishly) "20/20" "Surf's Up" and as part of the "Good Vibrations" box set. So...

I was STILL thrilled to hear something akin to what the Beach Boy's "SMiLE" ought to have been trumpeting from my big old component speaker. The proper songs here are among the more sophisticated and melodically gorgeous Brian has ever written. The instrumental backing by the Wrecking Crew is confident, full blooded and a visionary recasting of the Wall of Sound they erected in so many Phil Spector sessions. The other Beach Boys' singing and harmonizing is intoxicatingly tuneful, emotive and determinedly ambitious -- which kinda gives the lie to the myth that they were in any way hestitant about their participation. No doubt they had SOME misgivings and Brian took those as rejection per se - but NO WAY could they have turned in the performances documented here unless they were committed to making this project work.

All that being said -- in some ways, to hear this is a bit of anti-climax. "SMiLE" of course was the follow up to the brilliant "Pet Sounds," but in one important respect they are entirely different projects. "PS" is a song cycle with each number being among the most brilliantly written pop-rock ever, all given lush yet restrained orchestral treatments. Famously, "SMiLE" was described by Brian as a "Teenage Symphony To God" and indeed a lot of its structuring follows the convention of symphonic composition rather than pop song writing.

"SMiLE" does have some incredible songs per se - but then there're a goodly amount passages that are instrumental, or with wordless vocals and many of these pick up melodic themes from the proper songs and develop/treat them in various ways. So to pop-trained ears, it seems at times that "SMiLE" is cluttered with filler - endlessly repeated restatements of different passages from "Heroes And Villains" -- because it IS constructed that way; in fact to ears who's basic vocabulary is the pop song that description would apply to the works of Beethoven, Bach, et al. Not being trained in this tradition, I did run my theory by a concert pianist pal and he concurred that the conventions Wilson applies here qualify as symphonic composition per se. And as Classical composers in turn did pinch melodic materials from the popular songs of their day, Brian's basic intent here would appear entirely plausible.

Whether you'll dig it or not, finally, will be a matter of individual taste, but hopefully the above makes it make SOME sense.

But this brings us to another issue -- why the project was shelved in the first place.

The liner-notes to the double CD set argue -- convincingly -- that it was, ultimately, down to shortcomings in recording technology at the time. Before undertaking "SMiLE" Brian had taken MONTHS to create "Good Vibrations" which yielded the Beach Boys' first (and I believe, only ) million selling single. First he recorded a wealth component parts - multi versions of each potential component. Then he had to piece it all together - literally. His writing and recording was conceived of as creating discrete modules which were then spliced together "exquisite corpse" making for some startling, artistically brilliant juxtapositions of timbre, tonal density and melodic themes. And it was done by slicing up 2" tape with hand held razors and then sticking it back together. The end results were, of course, phenomenal and encouraged him to attempt a whole album done in this pointillistic and painstaking manner.

The release of the Beach Boys' "SMiLE" sessions show that Brian had been entirely successful in completing phase one of the project - creating all the individual components, 'cause HERE THEY ARE and they sound incredible. But when it came to piecing it all together - conceptually, not to mention physically - the task proved too much for him. He was not merely arranging these compositions from this dizzying array of ingredients - he was actually WRITING the songs as he went along via his assemblages. Instead of banging out a series of ideas on, say, piano, and then developing them in a finished score and THEN working on the arrangements, he was banging out his ideas with a series of ensemble recordings and then developing song structure by sequencing those group recordings.

The history of these sessions is pretty infamous: Brian's mental state had never been entirely stable and his drug use during this period destabilized it further still. Meanwhile, when the rest of the band began their work on the sessions it'd appear that they were not entirely supportive -- that they at least questioned Brian's intents and motives ALL THOUGH they gave their all to turning in the best work they were capable of -- the proof is in this pudding!

The task that Brian was facing would have been daunting to someone under the best of conditions -- remember, he was not merely assembling these components according to pre-arranged plans - he was writing the overall songs through this process. And having to keep track of all the different versions of each different component he'd recorded! And his were NOT optimal conditions.

So it's only know with digital editing technology like Pro-Tools that it becomes feasible to first of all categorize all these components in a systematic manner and to be able to call up any one instantly - stick passage Q, after passage see - listen to how that sounds and then try passage M and so on. Imagine what it was like doing this by digging thru reels of 2" tape, duping the passage in question, making your splice, rolling tape -- and then to go back to piles of tapes searching for a different variation, duping that... Geez, that'd drive anyone batty!

Meanwhile as to the second disc of material included in this set -- honestly, with all the odds and ends and alternate takes from these sessions that have been issued over the years, I didn't really need 'em. Having a good attempt at "SMiLE" per se was more than enough and having listened thru the second disc a couple times, I doubt I'll return to it. This makes me especially glad I didn't plunk down the $140 for the BIG box -- not that I don't understand the fanatic doing just that.

One final note: I was overjoyed at Brian recording "SMiLE" himself some seven years ago. As an act of personal closure it was clearly a profound moment for Wilson. And it seemed in harmony with a society-wide tide reviving idealism and visionary culture of the 1960's that appeared on the brink of toppling the stony, entropic, poisonous edifice that the Republican Party and its confederates amongst the ultra rich had inexorably created from the Reagon administration onwards. Well, we all know how the latter turned out...

But as masterful a piece of work as the reconstructed "SMiLE" was, it was hard to ignore Brian's diminished capacities on several fronts. So this "SMiLE" was quite an an achievement, but somewhat bittersweet. Now, to hear him and the rest of the band performing this transcendent material of their youthful powers and ambition...is just sorta prodigious.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Louis Jordan


I'm not gonna front -- there's tons of people intimately familiar with the life, career and musical output of Louis Jordan. Hitherto, I was NOT amongst them. I KNEW the name but it registered as "old swing dude." And nothing more, shamefully.

But as I was reading the Little Richard biography I came across a segment where Richard mentions his early repertoire once he started gigging in earnest and he mentions Louis Jordan's "Caledonia" a song that currently rings a bell owing to the Rebirth Brass Band's rambunctious version. So I start poking around online, note that he was also responsible for "I'll Be Glad When You're Dead" that I know as well via Rebirth and much effusive praise being tossed his way.

So I order up the JSP box "Louis Jordan And His Tymany Five" - $22 + $3 shipping, wait a couple weeks and it appears in the mailbox this past Monday afternoon. And I must report that as Harry Smith (Anthology of American Folk Music) said of the Magickal Childe edition of the Necronomicon - "This is something you'll like; if you like that kind of thing." Though I must admit that this cat was unusually influential.

This collects his work from 1938 - 1950: 131 selections. There's a lot of great lively, big band numbers that swing like a garden gate in a hurricane, full of the joie de vivre that premium dance music ought to and of course that WAS the primary intent of this much. Lively, upbeat, punchy. So if ya dig pre-bop jazz standards (as does Mrs. W.) you'll find plenty to please ya here.

Then you come across a selection of songs that provide obvious templates for the earliest R&B and rock 'n' roll. Songs like "Caledonia" whose piano parts and sax riffing wound up as essential parts of the rock vocabulary. Here's a video link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OCH_n9CTTbA 1947's "Early In the Morning" marries boogie woogie piano with loping Calypso-flavored bass resulting in an ensemble sound that Professor Longhair would eventually adapt as his signature piano style (playing the bass parts with his left hand). You'll also find songs like "I Hear You Knockin' But You Can't Come In" and "Let The Good Times Roll" (here's a video link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YdQJ3Q0uhYE) that were covered or borrowed from to create some of the most iconic songs in the rock 'n' roll canon

Jordan also cut a dizzying amount of songs in a novelty vein that attained such popularity that they became basic parts of popular American culture - songs like "Open the Door Richard" that my often kinda racist old man still will start singing spontaneously - 60 years later. Songs that showed up on popular 50/60's children's show - Captain Kanagaroo, "The Green Grass Grows All Around."


It's really kinda shocking and humbling to realize how pervasive Jordan's influence has been on a wide spectrum of music over a protracted period of time.

I realize that most folks out there already knew that and that I'm late to the party. But I'm glad I finally got here!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Directly From My Heart To You


"Little Richard 5 Classic Albums Plus Bonus Singles" has arrived and it's certainly worth the $7.50 + $2.98 shipping. There are four CDs here
The first comprises Little Richard's first two album for Specialty
The second contains his third and final album for the label + tracks from compilations, film and live cuts from his Australian comeback tour.
Third disc features his first two gospel albums
Fourth disc is all single sides
There are NO liner notes - just a track listing on the back that does let you know what album the various tracks stem from.

The first two discs -- well I'm glad to have ALL the Specialty material instead of a just a greatest hits. I don't think there's anything left to say about the these performances -- this is a feral yet stylish as rock n roll ever got. I've said this before and I'll stand by it: everything important about rock n roll TO ME is contained in these performances. I'd trade the entire subsequent history of rock music for this in a heartbeat. Nothing that came after added anything but veneer and froufrou. Period.

Disc three had me really intrigued as the idea of Little Richard performing gospel -- as if blues and R&B aren't essentially secular lyrics set to gospel jams in the first place -- was highly appealing. But as I listened through these...it appears that Richard felt the need to change his singing voice as well as his lifestyle and message in embracing a sacral path. His singing is nothing but fine, but it's more plummy, restrained and polite. Meanwhile, he's joined, and often overwhelmed, by a full choir on the majority of tracks. So while "Pray Along With" are fine gospel albums per se, they do NOT feature Little Richard bringing his signature incendiary voice and ecstatic singing style to the gospel genre. Which is sorta strange as his "rock" style is so clearly influenced by the most extremely expressive and inspired gospel performance style in the first place. So this disc winds up being primarily of educational value. But important in that this is what Richard gave up his burgeoning pop career to pursue -- so it's fascinating to hear what he had in mind when he made that move.

Finally, the last disc is mysteriously labelled "singles, A & B's" Some titles overlap with the repertoire of his first two albums. Slapping that on, ya note very quickly that none of this is rock 'n' roll. There're blues, jump blues, early R&B etc. And Richard's not quite sounding himself, singing a bit higher pitched, somewhat smoother. So I grabbed the Richard biography, look up the discography and lo and behold these are all his pre-Specialty! All well and good and creditable performance in already popular styles -- but all pre-dating his stylistic quantum leap into the wild, wooly and shockingly fresh style he'd go on to do.

SO...for $7.50 (+ shipping) this set gathers together practically all the material from the start of Little Richard's career -- his first three precedent-setting albums, the single sides he cut before them, the gospel he abandoned rock to pursue and a few tastes of his first comeback. Some of this stuff is GREAT and the rest is wonderfully instructive.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

What costume shall the poor girl wear...


I've wistfully read about the All Tomorrow's Parties festivals for many year as it's never been especially convenient to attend; this series was inaugurated in the UK and recently introduced an U.S. based edition, but put on in the Catskills. So I was excited by the announcement of the US version moving to Asbury Park, NJ. And at the same time apprehensive. Memories of attending Lollapaloozas at various sites around the country, Woodstock II, Smokin' Grooves, etc. still sting. Parking a township away, slogging thru mud, bad food abounding etc...oy! And mind you, I've usually attended in an official capacity so had backstage access, VIP parking and all those amenities -- and I still dread the basic experience. My ideal of a great concert venue crystallized at the OLD 9:30 Club in Washington DC - good sound, nicely designed and relatively intimate space, dance/standing room in the main room, a long hallway with plenty of seating opening off to one side where you could rest your legs as necessary, and a back bar where you could escape all together IF YOU FELT LIKE IT.

I figured poor, little Asbury Park would be utterly swamped by the influx of music freak hepsters: nowhere to park, nowhere to grab a quick bite. Long lines everywhere. But in fact it was as idyllic as can be. We parked a block and half from the main drag - metered street parking (which was electronic so we could just put in for 6 hours then and there and not have to feed the meter). Ticket pick-up was calm and orderly. Once we had tickets we met a friend at the Convention Center which housed two of the venues, walked outside and had drinks on the veranda overlooking the beach and ocean and despite somewhat hiked prices -- still kinda lovely. Between acts we grabbed a bite at the venue at Aqua, an indoor restaurant and the chicken salad wrap was quite nice if -- again, somewhat overpriced ($14 for a wrap? but, hell, this is a resort town, this is what they do! Yr paying for proximity to the ocean and whatnot.)

I realize all the above gives my age away, that I'm focussed on the creature comforts. Well, ya know, I seed a couple shows in my time. Lotta great music. And at a certain point the contexts become a significant factor in rating a night out!

We saw two acts - The Pop Group and Swans - both recently reformed.

The Pop Group put on a good show. They played all the key tunes in their back catalogue, opening with "We Are All Prostitutes", including "She Is Beyond Good & Evil" in the set list and hitting all the key points in between. They threw in a Subway Sect cover (which unfortunately I couldn't identify). And put on a good show. Mark Stewart was in good voice, fierce, feral and sounding slightly unhinged singing his fiery songs of Marxist anguish -- all as relevant now as in Thatcherite England (if only the world had made any progress since then in terms of socio-economic justice and this had seemed quaint, instead of spot on). And the band was biting, spikey, playing their terse, twisted funked riffs.

But, I sensed that the wife and my journalist friend were less than impressed coz they sounded -- well, kinda normal. Coz the fact is that they wound up being mightily influential being one of the first acts to create reckless, high energy, punk-edged funk. And influence a buncha punky art funkers like the minutemen who in turn inspired folks like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sublime and...The Rapture...etc.

I fear lotsa folks saw The Pop Group as a buncha overwrought middle aged guys playing pro forma rock-funk...not realizing they created the forma!

While I was as eager as the next to hear their classic repertoire it would have been nice to see them produce a body of new work based on their original stylistic innovations with 30 years of added innovation, wisdom and skill added.

And that's what we did get from Swans. Now, I work with these guys so my opinions SHOULD be suspect. But I'll state this -- their nearly two hours long show (normally 2 1/2 hours when they're headlining in their own right instead of being part of a festival program) was either unrecorded new songs, tunes from last year's new album release + one old song - a radically retooled "I Crawled." It saw bandleader M. Gira pushing his musicians and listeners into new territory once again. Very loud (tho I didn't need earplugs and was quite comfy) in order to create particular acoustic phenomena you get with particular levels of volume and sonic density ala LaMonte Young, Glenn Branca. Sometimes very slow with bone crushing salvos by the massed ensemble being separated by a good 15 seconds silence(slap yr desk - count 15 seconds on a watch and slap it again to get a sense of what that feels like); tho those spaces are far from silent, being filled by the mass chords resounding, the different instruments resonating with each other, the overall sound slowly disintegrating -- and thru lengthy repetition the listener is effectively re-educated to actually hear every bit of it where normally, done for a few seconds at the end of a Metallica song it'd just register as "grandiose ending."

And other songs quicker, shapelier with wonderful layering of askew, cantileverd riffs building these monstrous, forbidding sonic edifices. Really a fascinating concert experience that is - perhaps - aimed at deprogramming listeners from their normal listening habits, getting them to just suspend all expectations and fully immerse themselves in the sound as music eddies back and forth from these deep static pools of sound-as-dark-matter to waves of concussive force. It starts out sounding monstrous and forceful, then seems to grow boring from the repetition and then suddenly transforms into being fully mesmerizing and delivering you into a delicious trance state.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Beauty's STILL on duty

When I was wallowing in the "Cosmino Matassa Story" - 4 CD set (absolutely stunning - if you wanna hear the language of vintage rock and roll being wrought - here it is!) the Little Richard tracks included got me contemplating the wonder of this man and his importance to modern music - which is, frankly, incalculable. I had a single disc Specialty collection which is largely sublime already. Bought the Charlie Gillett biography -- which Richard did extensive interviews for and which COULDA been issued as an autobiography "as told to." Wuddever. And that's as trippy and outrageous as I'd've hoped and that I remember reviewers noting.

This leads me to keep contemplating picking up his Reprise recordings, already owning "King of Rock N Roll" on vinyl. Rhino has a box with all three recordings that's a bit pricey - but you can also score each separately for about $7 -- so price wise that's more attractive a proposition.

BUT every time I'm grazing Amazon's listings I kept stopping at "Little Richard: 5 Great Albums +" = "Import-only four CD set containing six of the Rock 'n' Roll pioneer's album plus bonus tracks. Includes the albums Here's Little Richard, Little Richard Vol. 2, The Fabulous Little Richard, Pray Along Vol. 1, and Pray Along Vol. 2." and THAT sells for $7.50 NEW. And considering that used copies of his first two albums sell for about that APIECE -- hard to beat this deal - not with a stick! So I put in my order yesterday. Of course the mastering could suck - any accompanying artwork could blow -- tho in this pure content culture that's not so hard to deal with (esp. once you've learned to accepted the JSP Jelly Roll Morton box - I think the liner notes are literally written in 3 point type! and there's no sorta design consistency between each piece in the set - but - for $15 -- ya get a lotta insanely wonderful music)

Friday, September 23, 2011

"Bobby Charles" has arrived


The "Bobby Charles" CD arrived yesterday and I was aching to bust it out the second it showed, but I knew it wouldn't function as background whilst I was working. So waited till dinner time and...initial impression that this is as prime as folks like Andy from Vetiver have been saying all along. On the surface -- it could be a buncha outtakes from "The Band." Charles sounds a lot like Rick Danko vocally if you're not listening to closely. The phrasing, the timbre. And the backing is provided by...The Band and their Woodstock running buddies who would go on to form Hungry Chuck. And then the writing...but on reflection -- there's the basis of The Band and their manager Albert Grossman (whose Bearsville label released this album) attraction to this cat which otherwise might seem odd and arbitrary.
This record was recorded in the earlier 70's and Charles' career started in the 50's and pretty much peaked by 1960, having scored hits with Fats Domino and Bill Haley both covering his songs, "Walking To New Orleans" and "See You Later, Alligator" respectively. 10+ years is always an eternity in the world of pop music. But right from the start, Charles was notable for mixing elements of downhome R&B, country, New Orleans funk and traditional Cajun music -- pretty much the same blend that The Band would utilize and strike paydirt with.
So there's an element of tribute to an inspiration or longtime hero here (and with Levon being a native of Arkansas and the rest of the band being buffs of rockabilly and other vintage music it's understandable that they'd have known his music both the hit covers and his own recordings). Often that leads to unsatisfactory results -- putting a vintage artist in a contemporary setting; it can sound a little desperate and a little pathetic. But in this case, these songs and these instrumental settings seem like a perfectly natural evolution of Bobby's fundamental artistic impulses and predilections. It'd be interesting to research whether he'd arrived at this on his own over the years, or whether on encountering The Band's ouevre he understood its relation to his previous work and comfortably made the leap then and there. It hardly matters.
"Bobby Charles" is an utterly effortless, wholly graceful and thankfully unpretentious and unselfconscious fusion of peculiarly American music styles that is as comfy and elusive as the perfectly worn pair of jeans.
PS I popped for an import copy for $5 + $3 postage rather than the Rhino boxed set. That third disc of interview material...+ single edits, etc. seemed more appropriate for a lifelong fan that had ALL his other work.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

G'D.A.y


One of the more intriguing figures on the New Orleans music scene is one Glen David Andrews. Trumpet player, vocalist, member of a number of different brass bands over the years.

Andrews had been a popular figure on the thug scene having written one of its anthems "Knock With Me" (with the Lil Rascals Brass Band). Like many he was shocked by the shooting of Hot 8 Brass Band drummer Dinerral Shavers, at the time of his death also a teacher working to get kids into marching bands and off the streets: Shavers was shot by an acquaintance of his stepson's, most likely targeting the latter and not Dinerral. Galvanized by Shaver's senseless slaying, Andrews was a key voice in the march on City Hall to protest escalating street violence that made New Orleans the murder capital of the U.S. for a while with "a per capita rate in 2006 of anywhere from 63.5 to 72.6 per 100,000 residents" (Times Picayune).

Having scored a scored a used copy of Lil Rascals "Buck It Like A Horse" I found myself oddly dissatisfied - there's certainly a lot of raucous, high spirited brass band instrumentals here -- definitely prime stuff -- but it's all overshadowed by the lead off track, the notorious "Knock With Me, Rock With Me" which is mainly group call-and-response over driving hand-percussion. Andrews has a great, gruff voice and the raw energy and excitement of the performance is thoroughly exhilerating. The lyrics meanwhile are a captivating patchwork of street slang catch-phrases like "Gimme a dime; I only got 8" that are baffling to an outsider but nonethless cause instant ear worms.

So I've been left hungry for more for a while now. Finally took a look around Amazon and the site of Louisiana Music Factory for work under his own name and grabbed the download of "Walking Through Heavens Gate" - used copies are $15, then you added $3 shipping. The other release posted at Amazon is "Dumaine Street Blues" - physical copies are $50.

"Walking Through Heavens Gate" is a total joy. With a little academic study, or just listening and paying attention you gotta know that gospel, blues, early jazz and brass band music have been inextricably interwoven all along. They each borrowed melodies, lyrics, rhythms and such from each other right from the start and throughout their history. On "Walking Through Heavens Gate" Andrews pointedly puts it ALL together in one beautifully potent, percolating package - putting his gritty, blues-drenched leads in front of a gospel choir who are in turn supported with a high stepping brass band featuring a full complement of inspired and passionate soloists, then flavoring that with hot blues guitar.

And OF COURSE it works, as any brass band worth its salt knows the hymns that are played in the funeral procession headed towards the cemetery, while the jazz tradition emerges from the lamination of ragtime playing strategies and use of layered rhythms with plangent blues tunes, which in many cases were simplifications of sacred songs. So all the relationships between these styles are spelled out, fully developed creating for an entirely explosive fusion that will kick your spirits into high gear no matter how blue or blase you might feel. If what Kanye West said about George W. Bush is true - the music on offer here would be his worst nightmare given musical form.

PS if you go to Andrews' own site - "Dumaine Street Blues" is available as a $10 download.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Lee Dorsey most surely can!


Earlier this year I'd went and purchased an Australian twofer of Lee Dorsey's "Yes We Can" and "Night People" album. Having devoured an Arista greatest hits that'd been languishing in my collection till the "Treme" fever was on me, I was hungry for more, and some quick online reading led me to believe "Yes We Can" would be a good choice, teaming Lee with Allen Toussaint and The Meters. The least expensive way to snag with was in this pairing with "Night People." Now, written accounts heap high praise on "Yes We Can" as an epitome of prime New Orleans funk and denigrate "Night People" as an overproduced disco sellout. And honestly I find both judgements highly misleading.

"Night People" is indeed light on patented NOLA rhythmic strategms and distinctive brand of funkiness. But rather than slick, disco what's on offer is still distinctly Southern-fried and soulful stylings, but Memphis' variants ala vintage Al Green. Lee of course acquits himself admirably as ever in the vocal department. And backing musicians include the Queen of New Orleans soul Irma Thomas on backing vocals and idiosyncratic keyboard wizard James Booker. You can hear an awareness of disco convention on "Night People" but Toussaint's strategy is more to focus on the immediate precursors to disco rather than employ the robotic beats, glossy orchestral arrangements etc. So you sense he was making overtures to the market without submitting to disco orthodoxy per se.

"Yes We Can" is a still more perplexing project. Coz, rather than the streamlined yet straightahead funk work-outs of Dorsey's hit singles Toussaint had written and produced he and the Meters created an album of unabashed art music - based in funk and other New Orleans tradition but taking it into very ambitious and, I daresay, visionary directions. The title song kicks things off merely with lethal funkitude -- establishing the mastery of the genre by those involved. And then with "Riverboat" they take it off into the great beyond. Syncopations here don't just limn out a hip shaking beat, they expand, convolute, turn in on themselves and then out again, directing the overall architecture of most songs' composition out into demanding and exotic shapes. It's not for nothing that Van Dyke Parks covered this song as well as "Occapella" on his uber-arty homage to indigenous American eccentricity - "Discover America."

Finally, "Yes We Can" emerges as one of the great American art music records right up there a "Pet Sounds" "Oar" or "Sister Lovers" only funk based.

And here's a quick list of funky art music
Shuggie Otis "Freedom Suite"
D'Angeleo "Voodoo"
Terrence Trent Darby "Neither Fish Nor Flesh" (and big hunks of everything he released afterwards)
and y'all know 'bout Prince...tho I will state that any of his albums - listened to 10 years after their initial release (and thus all media brouhaha and personal expectations have burned off) sound mighty fine.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Howchie's Muso-Nerd Record Club: #1

Bobby Charles - eponymous
As obscurities go, this one's pretty well known. It's a 1970 effort cut in Woodstock around 1970 with The Band and other habitues of the area. I may have owned it once but sold it in a great 80's vinyl sell off prompted by wife #2 aka The Junkie. I dumped lots I regret in those heady post punk days.
"Bobby Charles" has a fiercesome rep for (white) funky, swamptastic lassitude. Rhino Handmade is selling some fancy expensive version but you can get straight versions NEW for $5 and change. At some point I think Andy Cabic from Vetiver -- a BIG fan -- was going to pen liner notes for an indie re-issue a couple years back and was super stoked. But clearly WEA thought better of licensing it.
While knowing about this record, vaguely, since release, I've never had a super yen for it. But when I got the "Cosimo Matassa Story" box (a GREAT deal - TONS of superb, dirty-ass music for super CHEAP -- see earlier blog entry), Bobby got some major shout outs in the liner notes. And the man DID have some impressive credits i.e. writing "Walking To New Orleans" for Fats Domino and some other early R&B hits. So my curiousity was picqued and as I like to start at the beginning grabbed "After A While, Crocodile -- The 50's Anthology."
So this comprises Bobby's own recordings for Chess and Imperial (two major boosters of New Orleans music back in the 50's) and it's pretty prime stuff. Bobby's an incisive writer, effortlessly knocking out instantly catchy riffs and catch-phrases. His vocals tuneful but with a nice raw edge (you can understand why Leonard Chess was shocked, upon meeting him, to find out he wasn't African American). And most of these sides were cut at Cosimo Matassa's with the top players from Paul Gayten and Dave Bartholemew's bands backing him up. So you shouldn't be shocked that this sounds like archetypal R&B and early rock 'n' roll coz these musicians in fact MINTED the archetypes as they worked out the arrangements and delivered the solos and riffs for Fats Domino, Little Richard, Professor Longhair as well as for local heroes and heroines who may not have got heard far outside of their home turf but the artists who did hear em grabbed onto that vocabulary and spread it far and wide.

I know that "Bobby Charles" WON'T sound like THAT but I'm betting his talent was equally applicable to other stylistic conventions and supporting casts. We'll see in a week or two!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Enjoying Macho (and fey) Gay hip hop from NOLA

I'd love to see some brainy critic deal with the issues of having a transgendered performer e.g. NOLA's Katey Red appropriating the basic rap format and having it be a celebration of a dance primarily performed by women, consisting of an incredibly athletic orbiting of da booty. I'm kinda happy to have lived along to see such a sex-political mash up!
http://www.dlisted.com/2011/06/09/hot-slut-day

And further up the battle lines - here's a video from fellow Sissy Bounce superstar (and I don't use the term lightly) Big Freedia
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-cT6SwFIHA&feature=fvsr

Big Freedia's sound is clearly much more macho - macho, gay, rap?

JUST ENJOY IT

X-Treme-ists

We watch "Treme" every Sunday night. Read this blog http://www.nola.com/treme-hbo every Monday morning and the re-watch the episode Monday night. Great fun.
To supplement the excellent commentary:
for those who might want to grab some of these experiences for home enjoyment:

*"(Every Time I Hear) That Mellow Saxophone" - performed by Cyril Neville in this episode - you can find Roy Montrell's original on the excellent - "The Cosimo Matassa Story" a four CD set with a good 120 songs that you can purchase for as little as $13 new if you look around.
http://www.amazon.com/Cosimo-Matassa-Story-Various-Artists/dp/B000QCQG28/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1308140131&sr=1-1

You'll find ALOT of the original versions of songs you've heard on the series on this collection and a good number of these songs appear playing on jukeboxes, or on car radios, etc.

*in one of the scenes at the Cajun Mardi Gras celebrations - they perform and there's a short sermon spoken at the grave of Dennis McGee, one of the fathers of Cajun music. Recently Tompkins Square records released a 2 CD set by Amede Ardoin, "Mama, I'll Be Long Gone" with the vast majority of songs featuring Amede AND Dennis McGee.
http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_2_88?url=search-alias%3Dpopular&field-keywords=amede+ardoin+-+mama.+i%27ll+be+long+gone+the+complete+recordings+of+amede+ardoin+1929-1934&sprefix=amede+ardoin+-+mama.+i%27ll+be+long+gone+the+complete+recordings+of+amede+ardoin+1929-1934

Amede is credited as one of the fathers of Zydeco - performing and recording from the late 1920's to the mid 30's. Legendarily he accepted a handerchief from a white woman to wipe sweat off his face at a performance and thereafter was beaten so severely he was committed to a mental institution where he remained till his death, not long after. SO... even around 1930 one of the most influential area musical units was racially intergrated.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Collectin' Dust


"Hello, my name's Howard and I'm a record collector."

As absurd as acquiring material possessions ultimately is...it still can bring much cheesey pleasure. I still derive much pleasure and shallow satisfaction from acquiring musical recordings via the most convenient and practical formats possible. Having piled up a buncha CDs -- I'm stickin' with that format as much as possible. I've allotted "X" amount of living space to my "working collection" which boxes stack up in the basement (up on bricks to clear the annual basement flooding). I periodically purge, but carefully as I always feel the fool when rebuying CDs for whatever reason -- when I realize that I actually WANT that music after all having discarded the disc previously -- or because (shamefully) I forgot I already had it.

All those disclaimers being stated -- one of the major impetuses to acquiring music I've come across lately is the HBO series "Treme" which I do enjoy immensely as previously stated. Their use of music is adroit, their taste and knowledge of the singular current state and DEEP history of it is intoxicating and, to me, addictive.

I've had a lotta fun hunting up the music I've been exposed to thru the show and spent TOO MUCH time recently in such searching. So, I'm sharing my homework with you based on the latest "Treme Explained" column from the New Orleans Times Picayune - you can read the column here:
http://www.nola.com/treme-hbo/index.ssf/2011/05/treme_explained_santa_claus_do.html

I will state that, to date, you can often find great bargains buying things used or new from the discounters trading at Amazon Marketplace. If you've got the time I'm sure you can find other outlets to get this stuff from. And let us not forget the mighty Louisiana Music Factory on Decatur Street in NOLA. Who also sell online via http://www.louisianamusicfactory.com/

So here's some relevant passages and then links to the shizz:

"Delmond drops the needle on "Tom Cat Blues," a Jelly Roll Morton and Joe "King" Oliver duet recorded in 1924. Bach. Stravinsky. Brothers totin' barges and liftin' bales. Pops. "
(He's playing the Milestone, 2 LP vinyl release which is currently available on CD)

http://www.amazon.com/1923-24-Jelly-Roll-Morton/dp/B000000XW2/ref=sr_1_3?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1305553031&sr=1-3

"Raymond Weber has a steady gig with Dumpstaphunk, which conflicted with his shooting schedule on "Treme." "
(this is an AMAZING band led by Ivan Neville - Aaron's son; this link is to their first EP which is 100% guaranteed great from start to finish - This coulda been the follow up to Fishbone's "The Reality of My Surroundings.")

http://www.amazon.com/Listen-Hear-Dumpstaphunk/dp/B000V7KH28/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1305553084&sr=1-2

""Les Ognons" by the Baby Dodds Trio, a cut on the "Jazz a la Creole" album Antoine attempted to save before evacuating in season's one's finale flashback, plays as the filmmaker (played by Yolonda Ross) tours the Backstreet Cultural Museum with Albert and Sylvester Francis"
(originally I bought this for the version of "Indian Red" - allegedly one of the first adaptations of Mardi Gras Indian chants to pop format but DAMN this whole thing is so utterly seductive, from the Hot Jazz [I actually prefer their version of Jelly Roll Morton's "Wolverine Blues" to any of his I've heard] that opens it to the rollicking vocal Jazz tunes sung in French to the 4 high-stepping Indian numbers that finish the set -- the best make-out music since Edith Piaf)

http://www.amazon.com/Jazz-Creole-Baby-Dodds-Trio/dp/B000056O0S/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1305553155&sr=1-1

"While he sews, Delmond listens to a 1938 recording by (Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress) of Jelly Roll Morton describing Mardi Gras Indians traditions."
(since Delmond is spinning vinyl I'd imagine this is from the 12 LP series released decades ago; but all that material and more remastered for this CD box that also includes Lomax's oral history on Morton, much material taken from Jelly Roll's remembrances recorded here -- If there ever was a "mind movie" worth experiencing this box is THAT. To hear Morton's living testimony to life in the 19th century is an extraordinary experience; his story-telling is incredibly vivid and rich in small details, depicting a way of life that is long departed and wonderfully exotic. AND YET, many elements have survived to this day in popular culture -- just not recognized as stemming from sources over a century old. I can think of no more lovely experience than sitting on the back porch on a hot day, listening to this from start to finish sipping cold wine or beer).

http://www.amazon.com/Complete-Library-Congress-Recordings-Morton/dp/B000GFLE36/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1305553202&sr=1-3

In the studio, Aunt Mimi does that bounce dance while Katey Red prepares to record. Katey and "the rappers you see in episode two (Big Freedia and Sissy Nobby) are the three most prominent 'sissy bounce,' or openly gay, MCs on the scene,"
(it's shocking how expensive CDs of this are! $30, $60! AND MORE. As much as I love physical product the price differential between this download-only compilation and buying CDs is just TOO huge. This "Bounce Essentials" is pretty prime stuff. Immediately appealing, highly distinctive. Unique to New Orleans. It's fast paced, relentless and the rhythmic invention in the rapping (often with multiple rappers creating nicely complex cross rhythms) makes this -- to my ears -- some of the most refreshing music coming out of the hip hop tradition in a long time.)

http://www.amazon.com/New-Orleans-Bounce-Essentials-Explicit/dp/B003YBW6AO/ref=pd_sim_dmusic_a_1

(and here's a best of from Big Freedia -- if you think you can predict what one of the top "Sissy" MCs is gonna sound like and what he'll rap about, prepare to be shocked)
http://www.amazon.com/Big-Freedia-Hitz-Vol-1/dp/B00354V99O/ref=sr_1_cc_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1305553279&sr=1-1-catcorr

(And there's nothing in this episode that comes from this set but alot of the vintage [50's, early 60's] R&B and rock 'n' roll [the kinda stuff that would one day inspire Elvis Presley and a generation of white rock 'n' roll tributists] and music of that ilk is contained on this 4 CD box set that you can still find NEW for $13 + shipping - "Cosimo Matassa Story")

http://www.amazon.com/Cosimo-Matassa-Story-Various-Artists/dp/B000QCQG28/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1305553372&sr=1-1

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Under Heavy Southern Manners


Besides deriving a great deal of entertainment and musicological information from the HBO series "Treme," I find myself learning manners and unlearning various cultural prejudices.

On a trip to New Orleans that happened immediately before we started watching the series, we walked into Louisiana Music Factory -- a brick and mortar record retail store on the notorious tourist strip, Decatur Street, that prides itself on a very extensive collection of music by New Orleans and Louisana related artists. I was a little buzzed and feeling a bit on the arrogant side as a long time student of non mainstream musics. I walk up the counter asking for a recommendation for local funk. The man pulls out the latest Galactic CD and I turn up my nose, saying: "Ya got anything that I wouldn't find Amazon that I wouldn't have heard of?" To which he testily replied: "There hasn't been a good local funk band since the Meters broke up!" And then pulled out the first Dumpstaphunk CD. This in fact wound up be a major find in my mind -- a rip snortin', butt shakin', hard edged EP - very funky, very hooky. Great stuff.

Eventually we see the episode where Elvis Costello is recording with Allen Toussaint and as the session breaks up, the horn section invites Elvis to the Spotted Cat (I thinks) to see Galactic and the latter responds "That's white guys playing funk?" Everyone in the room including Touissant -- all African-American -- immediately starts heaping the kudos on Galactic and Costello half heartedly agrees to make the scene; which he never does. The scene shifts to the gig and Galactic in fact sound amazing, playing to a very racially mixed crowd all getting down. And it hits me -- I had been just as much a biased twerp as Elvis friggin' Costello - OUCH!

Another case in point -- we've been visiting New Orleans about yearly since about 1996. Clearly we love the place. But had pointedly been dreading and avoiding the "Dixieland Band" scene -- live gigs, recordings etc. IF we went to shows it was more the Alt Rock outfits like James Hall's Pleasure Club. The brass band and "Hot Jazz" just seemed too hambone and contrived to pander to corny tourists' expectations. But when the first "Treme" opened with Rebirth Brass Band leading a second line...my head nearly exploded! What an incredible and, to my virgin ears, unique rhythm! The rowdy but expert interplay between the brass instruments was utterly intoxicating. A couple weeks after watching that episode, I'd forgotten exactly what music had appeared but just recalled there was something unusual and insanely insinuating...which led me to a bit of exploring into the brass band tradition, current and going as far back as I readily could. I dug thru my collection and found a collection of country brass bands recorded for the Smithsonian Institute, a Dirty Dozen Brass Band collection and made various strategic purchases online and on a return trip to New Orleans. Last trip thru I couldn't believe our luck when we stopped at Cafe Du Monde and one day found the Tornado Brass band playing for tips out front and another day discovering an outfit of adolescents taking their first tentative stab at this.

In the opening episode of the second season of "Treme" the character Delmond Lambreaux is hanging with a buncha New York jazz hepsters after performing at some snazzy club high in a NYC skyscraper. Talk turns to New Orleans and they wind up congratulating him on NOT sounding like he's from New Orleans and avoiding the "minstrel show" influence of a music scene that consciously panders to the tourist trade (as if NYC and its jazz clubs could survive two weeks without its tourist trade!) Up to now, Delmond has pointedly been trying to, at least outwardly, deny his roots, but suddenly he comes out swinging, talking about Hot Jazz being, in fact a living tradition. And quickly the scene cuts to Bonearama performing at Tipitina's to a packed crowd, playing music that sounds nothing like post-bop jazz abstraction or like anyone's idea of "Dixieland." The music is funky, swinging, original and PEOPLE ARE DANCING TO IT. When is the last time anyone danced to jazz in NYC outside of a big band revival show at Roseland (can't say if those even happen anymore)? And yet jazz WAS dance music! In fact it was sexing music created to accompany the shennanigans in the brothels of Storyville, the otherside of Rampart Street from the French Quarter. SO -- again I realize, in these Northern hepsters, what a tool I'VE been for many a year.

And no doubt i'm still a tool. But I'm being learned.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Treme DVD review


I really should be doing a video rant ala Crayton but...I ADORE this series. Brilliant writing, it's flaunting conventional wisdom of narrative flow and pacing makes for a uniquely immersive viewing experience. And its richness of obscure, yet accurate details of the history and experience of living in New Orleans invites a level of active participation that proves highly addictive. BUT...

The DVDs screen DISTINCTLY DARK - appreciably darker than the original broadcasts. So are simply technologically flawed -- and there's no reason for this other than HBO's lack of quality control.

As per the extras:
"The Music of Treme" in-episode viewing mode - perfunctory and ultimately pathetic. The pop up boxes list song title and the person performing it on screen, no mention of the writer or the performer that the song is most closely associated with or any of their history.

For instance, in the scene where Annie is accompanying pianist Tom McDermott at a private party and they're playing "New Orleans Bump" (could be titled, "New Orleans Blues" - I'm writing this in a rush early Saturday morning) - the pop up window says: "New Orleans Bump" Tom McDermott. There's no mention that it was written, originally performed and recorded by Jelly Roll Morton and as Morton is one of the originators of Jazz and inarguably one of the seminal figures in New Orleans music history that information might have also been useful.

Moreover, a lot of music is not thus notated at all -- the Mardi Gras Indian chants, songs playing on the radio or jukeboxes, etc.

The audio Music Commentaries are also shockingly lame. In the scene noted above the commentators say "That's Jelly Roll Morton." No explanation whatsoever of who he was, no mention of his musical achievements and place in New Orleans music history.

What really makes all this especially irritating is that a number of folks have pointedly offered up highly detailed and fairly engrossing commentary on the series that does all the things you'd hope you were getting in purchasing this DVD set for instance, the Times Picayune's "Treme Explained" column:
[...]

NPR also provided a useful line of commentary.

So - the "Treme" series itself is one of my favorite television viewing experiences in DECADES. Engrossing, revelatory and educational (my music collection devoted to NOLA based music went from a couple Meters' albums, Lee Dorsey and Fats Domino to -- well a HEALTHY selection going from Jelly Roll to Mystikal and many points in between. But this DVD set is technologically inadequate and the extras I mention -- seem like a grudging after thought. In all fairness, we're still digesting all the extras and thus can't say anything about the documentaries included as of yet. Hopefully they'll be meatier.

Notwithstanding, I am eagerly looking forward to season 2. During a visit to NOLA December 2010, as we were leaving our hotel in the financial district, heading for the airport we happened upon the "Treme" crew filming a scene in the hotel restaurant, which was being used to portray chef Jeanette in NYC -- "cooking her way back to New Orleans" as a PA told us. YAY.

PS for folks who do get involved in deeper study on the people/culture/music of New Orleans there's an amazing free archive of video footage shot in 1982 by famed folklorist Alan Lomax here: [...]

Monday, April 11, 2011

Jeff Buckley alternate history

“I’ve always played in bands – always. I only go out and play solo to make money to pay the phone bill and the rent.” - Jeff Buckley, 1994

Twenty-six year old Jeff Buckley signed to Columbia Records on October 29, 1992. He would record two solo shows the following July and August for his first release, Live At Sin-e, named for the East Village coffee house where these performances were captured and soon after set off for Woodstock, NY to record Grace, his full-length studio debut.

In between, Jeff gigged tirelessly around his adopted hometown of New York City, playing small out-of-the-way bars and coffee shops like Bang On, First Street Café, Tilt, Cornelia Street Café among others. Jeff hoped to make himself visible to other musicians, seeking to attract players who would appreciate what he was doing and want to be part of it.

As he once explained, “I got out of the loop by putting myself in a situation where only musicians who came to my shows and saw me for what I was would approach me.”

Bassist Mick Grondahl was the first to be drawn in. “During the show I noticed the interesting choice of cover songs he was playing,” Mick recalls, “and he played a lot of complex chords, and of course he had that great voice. I was quite impressed and we got to talk later at a party about music. He left an impression.

“In July [1993] he was playing the New Music Seminar at Fez, and I went and stood in line – I didn’t even have any money to get in. Luckily I saw Jeff coming out from behind the curtain while we were waiting to pay. He was singing ‘L.A. Woman’ and I sang the next line. We exchanged numbers, and I went in to see the show and he had evolved even more. He came out and did Nina Simone ‘Be Your Husband.’ We got together at Nightingale’s, played pool, and then jammed back at his apartment.

“About two weeks after he and I started playing together, [drummer] Matt Johnson was the first guy we auditioned and we hit it off really well. Matt remembers Jeff looking at him and smiling and just feeling a connection between all of us. And that first night we played together, within an hour, we wrote ‘Dream Brother.’”

Matt looks back and reflects, “It may be true that few people have the talent that he did, but he didn't seem to believe in any cult of genius or special club for entering the musical space. I think he wanted to see what someone, or anyone, could make.”

“Every guitar idea I put out they would close in on as the music happened,” Jeff recalled about the first time the three made music together.

Grace would be recorded by this trio. After Live At Sin-e was released December ‘93, Jeff toured North American solo for the next two months to support it; he sorely missed his band. When Jeff returned to the East Village that March, they reconvened and added a fourth band member, a good friend, actor and budding guitarist Michael Tighe.

“Michael had never played in a group,” Mick points out. “We auditioned people who played a lot longer, people who had played very complex music, but to Jeff it was more about enthusiasm and potential. We wanted to recruit people who were almost disciples to Jeff’s music. If people were too set in what they were doing there wasn’t this chance to instill the new music that could come from the way that Jeff worked.”

Road Manager Gene Bowen recalls, “Jeff used to call Michael “Chico” and I used to envision Jeff as an old man at the end of his life, just sitting on his back porch with Michael, because they were just so close. There was just such a connection there.”

“First impression?” recounts Tighe, “A cartoon wolf. Playful and silly with eyes of pain and wildness.”

On June 1, the quartet plus Gene clambered aboard an Econoline van packed with instruments and amps and the great adventure began. Tighe remembers, “When I first came up to the Econoline van I felt like I was joining the circus.”

“We loved the van!” reminisces Grondahl. “It was difficult to have six people in there with all the gear, but we were together and we shared the time very intimately: a little too intimately sometimes! We listened to music during the long stretches of driving.”

“The guys all got creative – about halfway through the tour they figured out a way to suspend hammocks from the ceiling of the van over the bench seats,” recounts Bowen. “So one person could lay on the bench seat and another person could lay in the hammock because there was no room in the van at all.”

Their first date was three days later at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, New Jersey. “They were in the rehearsal space for weeks, and the guy from the studio told me that he hadn’t heard them play a single note off of Grace, “ Bowen remembers. “They were in there just jamming, playing the same riff for hours. Management rented out the club so they could get the feeling of playing on stage – but the club was empty - to get ready for the tour. After the Stone Pony, we played the Red Creek Inn in Rochester and the tickets were $5 each and 32 tickets were sold.”

Of the Rochester show Tighe remarks: “I was so nervous and made some mistakes. I felt like I was giving birth or being born or something like that.”

Mick continues, “I remember thinking that for people seeing us for the first time, it might be a bit off-putting. It was so different; Jeff’s voice, the style, the way the shows were organized… because we didn’t have a set list, we worked on the spot. We were asking something of the audience, which was patience because we wanted to make each show unique. They were intrigued of course by Jeff’s humor and the mystique that he could project, but mainly his voice and guitar were so stunning.”

Once these U.S. dates ended, the group went immediately to Europe for a month-long tour which kicked off in Dublin on the day Grace was released, August 23. Weeks after these shows were finished, the band toured America again. “There was a real momentum after that first U.S. tour,” Bowen recollects. “When we got to Europe we were in an actual tour bus.”

They spent the rest of the year on this American tour and were filmed performing “Lover You Should Have Come Over” for Chicago’s JBTV and “Dream Brother” at New Orleans’ Howlin’ Wolf club.
By the time they got back to Europe, Grace had achieved significant success and there were TV appearances to attend to on top of touring. The band filmed a potent “Grace” for The BBC’s “The Late Show” in London shortly after arriving. They performed “So Real,” “Mojo Pin,” and “What Will You Say” in Frankfurt, Germany on the “Aus Dem Sudbahnof” program a month later.
In between, they’d flown to Japan to do club dates and Jeff turned in a stunning solo rendition of “Hallelujah” for MTV Japan. Before heading home, they appeared on England’s “MTV’s Most Wanted” playing “Eternal Life,” “Last Goodbye” and “Vancouver.”
“Traditionally, I think European audiences are more forgiving and more open,” Mick muses. “It doesn’t need to be the buzz of the week to give it a chance. I personally felt like there was more acceptance. By that point, we had started to come together more as a band, so we had more to offer the audience. They were much more keen on us being on TV in Europe than in America. They wanted to capture it even through there wasn’t a lot of hype behind it – they recognized it as something important.”

That Spring, the band headlined over Soul Coughing, then opened for Juliana Hatfield across North America, and spent Summer appeared at a series of European festivals including Glastonbury, Roskilde and Eurockeenes in France, where a tender version “Lilac Wine” was lensed. The Grace World Tour ended in September in Australia and the group settled down to write material for their next album collaboratively.
Buckley’s connection to his bandmates had become so strong that he thought of working under a band name. Mick states, “I proposed the name ‘Two Ninas’ and Jeff liked it a lot, but people were against using another name because the ‘Jeff Buckley’ name was so well known. Jeff liked the idea of band name and that was the closest we ever came.”
Looking back on their time together, Mick says, “Jeff was just a great guy and we all just loved spending time with him. He was really there for us as a leader.”

The band played a final Australian tour early the following year in Australia, after which Matt Johnson left the group. With Parker Kindred on drums they gave one last performance February 11, 1997 in New York, after which Jeff moved to Memphis, TN. Having tried his best to write songs as collaborations with the rest of the band, he decided to go it alone to polish the songs he’d be writing himself since recording Grace.

Jeff Buckley died in Memphis on the evening of May 29, 1997 of an accidental drowning.

“Artists just need to shut the fuck up and listen to what exactly is coming from inside. You just have to find exactly what you should be doing, and if you didn’t have that thing, you would die. Perish, slowly or quickly, violently or like a chump. And every choice is made from that. I have to do this, I’m made to do this. I can’t do anything else. I tried. I don’t really feel fulfilled any other way. Maybe when I get older, it will change. I’m sure it will.” - Jeff Buckley, 1994

- Howard Wuelfing , with Amy Yates Wuelfing

(Jeff Buckley quotes from previously unpublished interview material from February 24, 1994 by Amy Yates Wuelfing.)

Gene Bowen: Founded Road Recovery, dedicated to helping young people battle addiction by harnessing the influence of entertainment industry professionals who have confronted similar crises and now wish to share their experience and knowledge.

Mick Grondahl: Lives in Copenhagen, Sweden with his wife and daughter and continues to play music.

Matt Johnson: Plays music both as a solo artist and with other artists such as Rufus Wainwright.

Parker Kindred: Continues to play music working with numerous artists, including Antony and the Johnsons.

Michael Tighe: Lives in New York City and is currently working with a New York band, "The Tiggers."

interviews conducted by Amy Wuelfing; narrative written by Howard Wuelfing, editted by Amy Wuelfing

Jeff Buckley oral history

Jeff Buckley: I’ve always played in bands – always. I only go out and play solo to make money to pay the phone bill and the rent.

After releasing the Live at Sin-e EP, Jeff played a series of solo acoustic shows around New York City in early 1993, looking to attract musicians to form a band with through his live performances.

Mick Grondahl (bassist): …I was backstage hanging out and I noticed Jeff, and he was definitely someone who made me curious. Backstage, he was very focused on tuning his guitar and cleaning it, and preparing his set. During the show I noticed the interesting choice of cover songs he was playing and he played a lot of complex chords, and of course he had that great voice. I was quite impressed and we got to talk later at a party, and we talked about music. He left an impression.

Later that year, he was playing the New Music Seminar at the Fez, and I went and stood in line – I didn’t even have any money to get in. Luckily I saw Jeff coming out from behind the curtain while we were waiting to pay, and he was singing “L.A. Woman” by the Doors and I sang the next part, and he remembered me. We exchanged numbers and I went in to see the show and he had evolved even more. He came out and did Nina Simone “Be Your Husband.” We got together at Nightingale’s, played pool, and then jammed back at his apartment.

Jeff Buckley: Micky and I sat down at my place. It was late in the evening so we had to play quietly …

Mick Grondahl: About two weeks after he and I started playing together we auditioned Matt [Johnson - drummer]. He was the first guy we auditioned and we hit it off really well. Matt remembers Jeff looking at him and smiling and just feeling a connection between us. And that first night we played together, within an hour, we wrote” Dream Brother.”

Jeff Buckley: Every guitar idea I put out they would close in on as the music happened.

Gene Bowen (road manager): He toured overseas for a couple weeks to support Live at Sin-e and he was describing how it was great and he loved it, but the absence of a band was really apparent to him. He always wanted to have a band and then he finally got the band, but then he had to tour solo to support the Sin-e EP. He missed the band and couldn’t wait to get back. He was really about the band and the personal connection that he had with each of them.

Mick Grondahl: Michael [Tighe] joined when Grace was pretty much wrapped up. He had never played in a group. He knew some blues stuff and few riffs here and there. We auditioned people who played a lot longer in New York, people who had played very complex music, but it was more about enthusiasm and potential. We wanted to recruit people who were almost disciples to Jeff’s music. If people were too set in what they were doing then there wasn’t this chance to instill the new music that could come from the way that Jeff worked.

Michael Tighe (guitarist): He knew that I played guitar but we never got around to playing together until he asked me to audition for his band. It clicked. I felt honored, excited and a little afraid to be playing with these older musicians who had been living in a world of gigs, touring, jamming, writing, recording. A world I wanted to live in.

Gene Bowen: Jeff used to call Michael “Chico” and I used to envision Jeff as an old man at the end of his life, just sitting on his back porch with Michael, because they were just so close. There was just such a connection there.

Michael Tighe: First impression? A cartoon wolf. Playful and silly with eyes of pain and wildness.

Mick Grondahl: We were in many ways four parts of the group, and it felt like a band and Jeff accepted us as having equal say. It was very much a democracy – he was the leader but he also listened to us and thought about what we had to say. The relationships that band members have between each other are more important than ability.

Jeff Buckley: They’ve become my family.

Gene Bowen: I remember he talked about trying to come up with a name for the band, so that it wouldn’t just be “Jeff Buckley.”

Mick Grondahl: I proposed the name “Two Ninas” and Jeff liked it a lot, and we all liked it. But the record company was against using another name because the “Jeff Buckley” name was so well known.

June 1st, 1994, the band plus Gene Bowen and a soundman set out in a 15-passenger Econoline Van on their first extended tour.

Michael Tighe: When I first came up to the Econoline van I felt like I was joining the circus. Because of our childhood and our upbringing, both Jeff and I really liked the nomadic lifestyle of touring. In a lot ways, I think Jeff was most comfortable when he was on tour.

Gene Bowen: It was all of us and the equipment in the van and about halfway through the tour, they figured out a way to suspend hammocks from the ceiling of the van over the bench seats. So one person could lay on the bench seat and another person could lay in the hammock, because there was no room in the van at all.

Mick Grondahl: We loved the van! We liked being on the road and partying - we didn’t have a lot of groupies or anything like that. We really enjoyed just hanging out with each other and playing music. We were all learning a lot about what music each person liked and we would play it all on the CD player.

Michael Tighe: Mostly Mick played music – he kind of hogged the stereo. He was the coolest one in the band and had the “coolest” music. We were all interested in what Mick was listening to, so he was the DJ of the van. Jeff played James Brown Live at the Olympia a lot on all the tours. People who had been around on different tours would be like, “Oh my God, you’re still listening to this?”

Mick Grondahl: Jeff could listen to a song a couple times and then he would be playing it onstage the next night. He could remember the lyrics, the chord changes, the arrangement and then sometimes come up with a new arrangement.

And he would do that with is own songs, just do a new arrangement and I would walk the wire with him and follow along, not knowing exactly how we were going to play chorus now that we just did the verse in a whole different way. It was exciting and most of the time we would land on our feet. It built great confidence between us. We never played the songs the same way. Each night was different.

Gene Bowen: The band had been rehearsing for the tour, but they weren’t rehearsing the songs from the record. The guy from the studio told me that he hadn’t heard them play a single note off of Grace. They were in there just jamming, playing the same riff for hours. Management had them play the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, NJ. They rented out the club so they could get the feeling of playing on stage – but the club was empty. Since they weren’t rehearsing the album, the thought was that getting them on a stage and rehearsing would help them get ready for the tour.

Michael Tighe: At the dress rehearsal at the Stone Pony, that was day we realized that we had spent too much time just jamming and we needed to get the set a little tighter. We were very ill-prepared, actually.

Gene Bowen: After the Stone Pony, we played the Red Creek Inn in Rochester and the tickets were $5 each and 32 tickets were sold. That’s the first show the band ever played together. So we went from playing an empty club to a 32-paid club.

Michael Tighe: I was so nervous and made some mistakes. I felt like I was giving birth or being born or something like that.

Mick Grondahl: I remember thinking that for people seeing us for the first time, it might be a bit off-putting. It was so different; Jeff’s voice, the style, the way the shows were organized… because we didn’t have a set list, we worked on the spot. We were asking something of the audience, which was patience because we wanted to make each show unique. They were intrigued of course by Jeff’s humor and the mystique that he could project, but mainly his voice and guitar were so stunning.

It took time for the set to get up to speed, but we wanted it start slow and build from nothing. Not just bowl people over and play the catchiest song at the very beginning.

We felt excited about the music, so if no one really showed up to the shows, we were at least doing something that appealed to us.

Michael Tighe: The first time I really remember the band coming together and gelling was a show in Woodstock, which was fitting since Grace was recorded there.

Gene Bowen: There was a real momentum after that U.S. tour. When we got to Europe we were in an actual tour bus. And we figured out that we could do a tour bus for the US when we got back. From that point on, it was a bus and it made the grind that much easier.

Mick Grondahl: It was trade off – when we had the van we could stay in hotels, but when got the bus we just stayed on that the whole time. It was the moving hotel. And we didn’t have the same intimacy we did before.

Michael Tighe: That was when famous musicians started to come see us and it was almost too much to handle – I couldn’t believe that it was happening. Maybe it was because I was very naïve – but I thought that superstars only mingled with other superstars. To me, we were this alternative band that was really popular in Europe and Australia but we hadn’t really broken in the U.S., but here we had Paul McCartney and Jimmy Page coming to see us.

Jack Bookbinder: There were far more promotional opportunities in Europe for Jeff, just because of the way that Live at Sin-e was promoted from the beginning. In France, Jeff was one of the top pop artists in the country and you couldn’t say that in America. He just had something that people there connected to.

Michael Tighe: I don't remember anything about the television tapings except that I would always think about Hendrix on the BBC to get me fired up.

Mick Grondahl: Traditionally, I think European audiences are more forgiving and more open. It doesn’t need to be the buzz of the week to give it a chance. I personally felt like there was more acceptance and more of a feeling of security. By that point, we had started to come together more as a band so we had more to offer the audience. They were much more keen on us being on TV in Europe than in America. They wanted to capture it even through there wasn’t a lot of hype behind it – the recognized it as something important.

Michael Tighe: I really loved Japan because I have a really romantic relationship with Asia – but I remember that Jeff didn’t like it. The audiences were so, so well behaved it was almost frightening. There was dead silence before every song, and after a song there was a swell of loud applause. Then as soon as he touched his guitar or cleared his throat, it would go dead silent again. Playing in Japan was like going to another planet.

The band would continue to tour the U.S., Europe, Japan and Australia until September 1995. Afterwards they took time off to try and write collaboratively.
They played its last show with drummer Matt Johnson on March 15th 1995 in Sydney, Australia.

Jeff Buckley died in Memphis on the evening of May 29, 1997 of an accidental drowning.

Jeff Buckley: Artists just need to shut the fuck up and listen to what exactly is coming from inside. You just have to find exactly what you should be doing, and if you didn’t have that thing, you would die. Perish, slowly or quickly, violently or like a chump. And every choice is made from that. I have to do this, I’m made to do this. I can’t do anything else. I tried. I don’t really feel fulfilled any other way. Maybe when I get older, it will change. I’m sure it will.


Gene Bowen: Founded Road Recovery, dedicated to helping young people battle addiction by harnessing the influence of entertainment industry professionals who have confronted similar crises and now wish to share their experience and knowledge.

Mick Grondahl: Lives in Copenhagen, Sweden with his wife and daughter and continues to play music.

Matt Johnson: Plays music both as a solo artist and with other artists such as Rufus Wainwright.

Parker Kindred: Continues to play music working with numerous artists, including Antony and the Johnsons.

Michael Tieghe: Lives in New York City and is currently working with a New York band, "The Tiggers."

interviews conducted by Amy Wuelfing, editted by Amy and Howard Wuelfing

Saturday, April 9, 2011

totally wire-d


We dragged azz up to NYC on Wed. to see Wire at the Bowery Ballroom coz, as is too often the case, the tour skipped over Philly. Having asked around I realize that this is often because local promoters -- primarily meaning the local operatives of Live Nation -- weren't willing to pay their going guarantee. Sigh. (and yet, friggin' Cut Copy sold out the Trocadero!)

Anyway we get there early as venue site said doors open at 8PM, tix said 8:30PM - so who knew when they'd go on. Texted around and old DC punkcrony Don Fleming had locked down a table and seats - WHOOPPEE! (at my age getting to sit rather than stand for a couple hours, definitely considered a positive.

The set commenced with the pulsing electronic instrumental piece "99.9" from "Send" played back via recording or pre-programmed synth, empty stage. As it ended, the group matter-of-factly walked on stage, plugged in and burst into "Comet," a little artpunk masterstroke from "Send," next quickly shifting gears into the musically more nonchalant but lyrically vitriolic "Please Take" ("fuck off out of my face, you take up too much space" - HAR!) And onwards they went.

By the end of the third encore they'd played nearly two hours. Happily they played the bulk of the new album "Red Barked Tree" -- and that was essential. I like to hear my favorite songs by any given band as much as the next couch potato, but watching a veteran band do that actually depresses me as it feels like a capitulation, an admission that their glory days are behind them and that they can't come up with anything new that matches their best old stuff. In effect, they shift from being a working band to an act. Not that the results of that are bad, just different, and to me, sad.

In Wire's case they put their latest work front and center, but with two hours at their disposal offered up a tasteful, interesting selection of material from their back catalogue, pulling selections from throughout their career, all three main phases with lots of numbers from the first three album -- "Map Ref"! -- but a healthy dose from their "pop" period: "Kidney Bingoes," "Silk Paws," et cetera -- one of the encores was a relaxed re-reading of "Drill." Great programming. Entertaining, instructive, lots of variety. A lot of great songs with clever if simple arrangements.

And that's what you come to see -- coz this is not a theatrical band, not flamboyant or visually exciting. Neither is technical prowess especially important to what they do. Most of the songs are constructed out of exceedingly simple riffs and rhythms. But they're all a bit off kilter, sometimes subtley, sometimes quite grandly and then overlaid with strong but straightforward melodic hooks. This is stuff that just about any decent musician could play -- indeed, they took the NJ Wire tribute band Ex Lion Tamers out with them in the 80's to play a greatest hits set drawn from their first three albums -- and anyone COULD write. But Wire were the first to consciously develop early punk's minimalist program and apply that to deconstructing the idea of rock song and reconstruct it as something more like sonic sculpture (I'm stealing an old idea I stuck in my review of "Pink Flag" for the Unicorn Times in DC) and then maintain that agenda in varying degrees on successive albums - even as they added more and more elements of more orthodox pop songwriting and execution.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

April laundry list

Sunday, March 27
attend closing day of "Silk Road" exhibit at University of Pennsylvania Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology.
This exhibit was cut short because of controversy over exhibiting natural mummies buried some 4000 years ago in the Tarim Basin of China who were obviously not of Far East Asian stock and accompanied by distinctly European artifacts. This fuels calls for autonomy by the ethnic groups currently occupying the area.
In fact Chinese authorities were looking to recall the exhibit before it hit Philly but as it had been organized by a U. of PA faculty member in the first place, that member got them to allow it to reach Philly, tho only for a severely abbreviated run.
As the exhibit mainly consisted of grave goods - clothing and some figurines - it was visually striking but not too instructive. I did get a hoot out of the grave markers which were labelled: phalluses and vulvas - the "vulvas" looking like huge boat paddles. Hmmm

Thursday, March 31
Cut Copy at the Trocadero.
Amy loves this Australian band. Catchy, stroppy dance rock ala vintage mersh New Order et al. The show was sold out -- giving the lie to OMD who passed over Philly saying it was "Dead, like Detroit." Well I guess dead to old has-beens! HAR.
The audience went wild and the dance floor was packed and in furious motion. Reading the "Dance of Days" book I think this is what Ian MacKaye was hoping to see at Fugazi shows.

Saturday, April 2
meeting with Shayna and the Catch at Yaffa Cafe, East Village, NYC
Very cool, eclectic Brooklyn based band. Perhaps a 21st century analogue to Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians. Catchy, smart, with a swinging, acoustic sound inculcating influences from jazz, folk, pop. Lead singer Shayna Zaid has a great dusky voice and amazing stage presence. Really knows how to sell a song. Was a child star in Thailand.
meeting with Mia Doi Todd at 7A. But that was packed so we went over to Tompkins Square Park, watched the inhabitants barfing and peeing in garbage cans. Went to some coffee shop on St. Marks that mixed Nutella into the hot chocolate. Of course I LOVE Mia. One of the finest, most sensually pleasing writers and performers I've ever encountered. her last record "pop" record, Gea, opened with a song that evoked Nick Drake like NOTHING I've ever heard before. The new one "Cosmic Ocean Ship" really sounds like some long lost gem produced by Joe Boyd in 1968. Just breathtaking.
mike watt at the NorthStar Bar, Philly
watt is easily the most respected and beloved figure in American punk. Well, Ian MacKaye's up there too! He's out touring his third opera "hypenated-man" with a great band comprising ex Slovenly guitarist Tom Watson and local Pedro drummer Raul Morales. Fierce but sweet shit. watt allowed his writing to be informed by the example of his old group the minutemen on this one. Short, pithy but oddly catchy little songs. All referencing particular figures in the paintings of Hieronymous Bosch! That's watt for ye.

Sunday April 3
Reunion of my old college band, Bad Taste and the Crabs (sounded cool in 1973!) in Maplewood NY. The drummer's day gig is at Harvard; the lead singer's a lefty union lawyer. We caught up on 35 years' worth of old times, had some lovely cold "sloppy joe" sandwiches (beef, turkey, cold slaw and Russian dressing - with crust cut off the bread) and then tried to make some music. We largely played around with the singer's repertoire -- and he still performs at rallies, strikes etc with his Solidarity Singers. So lotsa Joe Hill and old school labor rally songs and some Dylan. Started out tentative but when he lit into "Halleluja I'm a Bum" it got me to test out the pipes and add a harmony and honestly, it started to catch fire at that point.

Monday April 4
starting watching DVD set of "Treme." I love this series and note more and more places depicted we've hung out at (the Bacchanal!). Still love it but LORDY the Special Features pretty thin. The textual "Music Commentary" basically is a pop up box that lists song titles SOMETIMES and then one of the artists who'd recorded said song in the past. So some cat plays a Jelly Roll Morton song and the screen lists "New Orleans Blues" and "Tom McDermott", the cat performing; no mention of Jelly Roll. Then the audio commentary -- for that seen they say, "Yeah, Jelly Roll Morton." As if folks these days know who exactly that is, or what his importance is to New Orleans music and the initiation of the jazz process. OY! If you're looking for great commentary than NOLA.com has posted DETAILED running commentary on the music, locales and historical figures alluded to in the series.

Wednesday, April 6
meeting singer Arrica Rose at the Vig on Spring Street, NYC for drinks
meeting Don Fleming (producer, Velvet Monkey, Gumball mainstay, label owner, staffer at Alan Lomax Archives) at Bowery Ballroom where WIRE are performing. OH YEAH!

and it only gets busier.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

David Byrne guests with If By Yes @ Le Poisson Rouge



Last night, If By Yes played the second of three March NYC shows (the last is 3/25 at Mercury Lounge) with the core line up of Petra Haden (vocals), Yuka Honda (keyboards), Yuko Araki (drums), Hirotaka “Shimmy” Shimizu (guitar) being supplemented with guitarist Nels Cline (Wilco) and bassist Trevor Dunn (Mr. Bungle). They were also joined by David Byrne who duetted with Petra on "Eliza," a song on their debut album, "Salt on Sea Glass" that he co-wrote and duetted with Petra on. The expanded line-up will also play Elysium in Austin TX 3/19 during SxSW and Largo in Los Angeles 3/22 - the date of the album's release on Chimera Records.

Sean Lennon of Chimera has stated:

Way back in the 20th century, Petra Haden and Yuka Honda first crossed paths when they were members of That Dog and Cibo Matto (respectively). Since then they’ve each had one foot in pop music and one foot in the avant garde. Petra has released groundbreaking vocal projects Imaginaryland and Petra Haden Sings The Who Sell Out, while also singing and composing TV commercials for Toyota Prius. Yuka has released 3 experimental electronic albums on John Zorn’s Tzadik label, while also producing Japanese pop artists,including Miu Sakamoto and Maki Nomiya.

The two started writing songs together in 2002, but it was a slow, long distance project. They live 3000 miles apart (NYC / LA) and would collaborate intermittently, using frequent flier miles...
As IF BY YES, they are joined by guitarist Hirotaka “Shimmy” Shimizu and drummer Yuko Araki, both long time members of the Japanese band Cornelius, and on their debut album, Salt On Sea Glass, special guests include David Byrne (vocals & lyrics) on “Eliza”, guitarist Nels Cline, and remixes by Keigo “Cornelius” Oyamada.
Sail away on scintillating solar winds. If By Yes is guaranteed to seduce you with their utterly exquisite and playful sensibilities,
futuristic rhythms, and other-worldly sounds.

http://www.myspace.com/ifbyyesmusic
http://www.ifbyyes.com/