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Posts Tagged ‘musicians’

“Thunderbolt’s Goodnight”

Posted by purplemary54 on August 22, 2017

This.  This is why I love Josh Ritter so much.

“Thunderbolt’s Goodnight” is one of the tracks off his forthcoming album Gathering, so I don’t really have any sort of commentary other than “wow.”  Ritter somehow manages to reach inside me and squeeze my heart until it feels completely wrung of every last emotion.  And he’s done it consistently, album after album.  There is always at least one song that just kills me.  It’s why I’m going to see him twice in the next few months–at Fingerprints in Long Beach in September, and at the Teregram Ballroom in January (I even splurged a little on the VIP package, which entitles me to a swag bag and an exclusive pre-show acoustic set with all the other VIP purchasers).  He’s just so. . . I hate to say authentic, but that’s what he is.  No.  “Authentic” has lost much of its meaning.  A better word would be genuine.  He seems to be singing from a place of genuine emotion.  Whatever his songs mean to him–whether they are drawn from his life or complete fiction, it makes no difference–they come from someplace real within him that he genuinely feels.  And that genuine feeling makes me really happy.  Even when it makes me want to cry just a little.

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Glen Campbell

Posted by purplemary54 on August 8, 2017

He did better songs.  Some of them were truly beautiful and brought tears to my eyes.  But to me, Glen Campbell will always be the Rhinestone Cowboy.

While he will always be best remembered (and rightly so) for his own, numerous hits, I think it’s important to note here that Glen Campbell was also once in the Wrecking Crew.  L.A.’s answer to the Swampers at Muscle Shoals, the Wrecking Crew were a set of crack studio sidemen that played on just about every hit recorded out here in the 1960s.  He was a consummate, versatile musician and singer.  Upon being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease a few years ago, Campbell embarked on a touring and recording spree to get as much of his extensive musical memory and talent down before he was robbed of it forever.  Alzheimer’s robbed Campbell of himself, and it finally claimed his life today at 81.

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“This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)”

Posted by purplemary54 on July 24, 2017

I recently got the chance to see the Talking Heads’ concert film Stop Making Sense at a movie theater and I jumped at it, largely because I had never actually seen it from beginning to end.  Ten minutes here, five minutes there, I’d watched it in fits and starts and MTV clips for the last thirty odd years; it was high time I corrected this, as it turns out, grievous gap in my music & movie viewing.

Stop Making Sense was directed by the late Jonathan Demme and presents a show from the Heads’ tour to support their 1983 classic Speaking in Tongues.  What the film drove home to me more than anything else was how percussive and textural their music is.  I mean, yeah, you know that if you’ve ever heard a single Heads song, but I don’t think it ever really sunk in until I watched the concert in its entirety.  The Talking Heads managed this weird part Punk, part performance art, part tribal chant sound thanks to electronic keyboards and the crack rhythm team of Tina Weymouth and Chris Franz.  I don’t know how much their music comes from their marriage or how much of their marriage comes from their music, and I don’t care.  I just want to listen to them match themselves to each other’s heartbeats and David Byrne’s artistic vision.  Repeatedly.

The closest analogy I can come to in describing the Talking Heads’ sound is a Jackson Pollock painting.  Pollock’s drips and splashes and splatters build up, swirling around and on top of each other until it’s impossible to distinguish any one thread or color from the whole.  Looking at Pollock, I sometimes feel as if I could thrust my hand into the center of the painting, and come out with a tangled mass of color strings wrapped around it.  The Talking Heads weave sound the exact same way.  No one instrument is dominant over another, although each sound is distinct in and of itself.

The touring band they put together to help flesh out the studio sound was unbelievable.  These were crack musicians and singers who were far more than just hired guns; they were part of the group.  Which was vital to making the sound work.  They had to work together as seamlessly as the splatters in a Pollock.  And in the film, there is no preference of the “official” band members over the touring musicians.  They aren’t treated with less respect or as if their contributions were secondary to the success of the shows.  They’re just the other members of the band.

So you’d think for my song I’d choose the version of “This Must Be the Place” from the film.  And yeah, it is great, but when I was searching for the song on YouTube, I found the previously unknown to me music video for the album cut.   This video features the Talking Heads as configured for the Stop Making Sense tour.  They are together watching home movies of themselves, although they seem less like home movies and more like fantasy visions.  Or, if I can throw my own interpretation in, like some kind of ideal of who each person maybe feels they are.  The place where they feel most at home.

I chose this video because, like all the best songs and visual arts, it took me someplace I didn’t expect to go.  The video shows them all at home, together, the way a family would be (it even includes Weymouth and Franz’s toddler).  And the clip not only reminded me of a value I hold very dear, it also added a dimension to the song I hadn’t fully considered before.  “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” is a love song, pure and simple.  But it’s not just a romantic love song (although it obviously can be, especially if you listen to Shawn Colvin’s stellar version); it’s a love song about family–chosen family.  Because your romantic partner is nothing if not chosen family.  And so are your friends, and the people you work and create art with.  Love in all its glorious and myriad forms.  And all those glorious keyboards and percussion instruments and voices help demonstrate the beauty and complexity of love, the way it thrums and builds and grows until you can’t tell one from another.  Until you can’t imagine being anyplace else with anyone else doing anything else.  And it doesn’t matter what it looks like or who you share it with.  It’s perfect just as it is.

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“Friend of the Devil”

Posted by purplemary54 on June 30, 2017

I’ve never hidden my dislike of jam bands and their extended, indulgent, often pointless meanderings.  I make an exception for the Grateful Dead, because they’re just so damn good.  But even so, I tend to prefer their studio recordings to the endless iterations of their live shows.  I commend the Dead’s commitment to their fans by having special recording sections at their concerts.  And I admire the fans for their relentless sharing and trading of those recordings.  I just don’t have the patience to listen to fifteen minute versions of songs that should have been done in three and a half.  Or to have nineteen versions of that same song.

What gives the Grateful Dead such an edge over most other jam bands is the quality of their songwriting.  Primarily written by band members and de facto Dead member Robert Hunter, their catalog runs the gamut of emotions–sad, tender, joyful, rebellious, melancholic, easygoing songs that ring true even if you’re not a California hippie.  “Friend of the Devil” is one of my favorites because it’s a little tougher to classify.  It can lift your spirits, quiet your soul, and soothe your wounds.  All at the same time.

It’s also a tight little package that doesn’t need too much extraneous window dressing.  While the Dead might be well-known for their drug-fueled jammy live shows, they were formed musically by the Rock & Roll singles of the 50s and 60s.  (Covers of songs like Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away” were staples at their concerts.)  Their musical sensibility was three and a half minutes long.  Mind expanding drugs like LSD led to time expanding music, but the heart of almost all their jams were simple tunes that told a story or conveyed an emotion easily and compactly.  If those songs weren’t the roadmap of the Dead’s musical journeys into the light fantastic, they would’ve become lost in the ether.  Yeah, you can take a song like “Friend of the Devil” and create a sonic mural that goes on seemingly forever.  But the key that makes the Dead so good is that you don’t have to.

Posted in Music, Rock, Singer-Songwriters | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Repost: “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim”

Posted by purplemary54 on June 16, 2017

This one is from way, way back on the jukebox’s playlist.  At a recent First Friday event, one of the musicians rekindled my childhood-nostalgia fueled love affair with Jim Croce’s music by playing “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,” which naturally led back to this classic.  (Her name is Mary Bee, btw, and you can find her on Facebook.)  I left in all the stuff about satellite radio even though we don’t have Sirius in the car anymore.  

I don’t really know how well Jim Croce is remembered; my barometer for his level of fame is sort of broken.  Croce is one of those artists that has always been a favorite in my family, so I grew up knowing who he was and listening to his music.  The second single I ever owned was “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.”  Croce had a music hall sensibility.  His songs often told stories, sometimes sounding like something from the 1940s.  But then he could turn around and pen the template for the quintessential 70s love song (“Time In a Bottle”).  He wore a lot of musical hats for someone who died at 30.

“You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” is one of his story songs, full of the same kind of unsavory characters that made “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” such a success about a year later.  The plot is that a “pool shootin’ son of a gun”  named Big Jim Walker has cheated an Alabama man named Willie McCoy, “Last week he took all my money, and it may sound funny, but I come to get my money back.”  Everyone warns him that Big Jim is not someone to tangle with.  “You don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit into the wind.  You don’t pull the mask of that old Lone Ranger, and you don’t mess around with Jim.”  When Jim arrives, he is beaten, stabbed, and shot by Willie, who importantly goes by Slim.  Because at the end of the song, “you don’t mess around with Slim.”

These days, a tune with this subject matter and level of violence would be a rap song (and probably be more graphic and explicit).  It would probably raise the ire of some conservative parents group who would claim that children would be psychologically damaged if they heard this song.  The album would surely be labelled with a warning sticker.  It certainly wouldn’t get played on the radio.  In 1972, this made the Top Ten of the mainstream singles chart.  Times have indeed changed.

Looking back, there’s a lot of songs I knew all the words to when I was still in single digits that media watchdogs would be shocked about.  I mean, I remember sitting in the back of my aunt’s 1969 Duster (on top of the lowered back seat, no child safety restraints of any sort) singing “The Gambler” at the top of my lungs.  I had “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” memorized when I was four.  Of course, I had precious little comprehension of any of these lyrics.  “Afternoon Delight”?  That was just a fun song about fireworks as far as I was concerned.  I thought the razor kept in Leroy’s shoe was like the plastic kind my daddy shaved with.  I’m sure I asked the occasional uncomfortable question about the things I heard, but for the most part I was kind of oblivious.

I think most kids are kind of oblivious to things like that.  If they don’t understand it, they ask questions or they automatically translate it into something they understand.  Which makes me even more annoyed at the level of censorship I hear on broadcast radio these days.  A few years ago, around the time of the famous Wardrobe Malfunction, everyone became deathly afraid of the FCC and groups like Focus on the Family.  Radio especially began self-censoring to avoid even the slightest hint of something that might be offensive.  Suddenly, songs began getting cuss words stripped out.  Other songs, such as “Walk on the Wild Side,” which used to be relegated to the early morning hours got banned altogether.  (Funny story: Long before any of this, I heard “Walk on the Wild Side” on K-Earth 101, and to keep their wholesome image intact, they edited out the verse about Candy.  Never mind the transvestite, the overdosing junkie, or the male prostitute.  Just get rid of the girl performing oral sex.)  It’s one of the reasons I’m really starting to like satellite radio.  I can hear Roger Daltry ask “Who the fuck are you?”  I can hear about all the degeneracy of Lou Reed’s New York nightlife.  And I can hear about how Big Jim Walker got murdered by some guy named Slim.  And I don’t have to worry about anyone imposing their morality on me.

And once again, a song has taken me somewhere I didn’t expect to go.  And that’s just another reason why I love music so much.

 

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Gregg Allman

Posted by purplemary54 on May 27, 2017

In yet another blow to Rock & Roll, Gregg Allman has passed from this plane at 69.  He had a long career but he was at his best as the singer and organist for the Allman Brothers Band.  They were blues and rock and psychedelia rolled into one rollicking package.  While it can be argued that Duane Allman’s mythic guitar had a more lasting impact on music, you can’t say that Gregg didn’t help shape the Allman Brothers’ sound in equally crucial ways.

You also can’t say that Gregg Allman didn’t live the Rock Star persona to the hilt.  He was as hard-living as the characters he sang about, and he paid that price in more ways than one.  Losing Duane and ABB bassist Berry Oakley in eerily similar motorcycle accidents within a year of each other were not only a huge personal losses but ones that changed the sound of the Allman Brothers Band.  His tumultuous marriage to Cher and years of substance abuse made Gregg tabloid fodder.  And those years of drugs and alcohol led directly to the health problems that plagued him in his final years.  He spent much of the last few years playing as often as his body would allow him to.  His voice had grown ragged, but I’m sure the music gave him some measure of peace.

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Chris Cornell

Posted by purplemary54 on May 18, 2017

Fuck.

This is not what I expected to be doing this morning.

I’m going in for my annual mammogram this afternoon.  I’ve got to run a couple errands today.  Maybe a load of laundry.  I checked the news on my phone to see if there were any interesting developments in the Russia investigation.  I did not expect to see that Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell had passed into the next plane last night in what Rolling Stone’s website is reporting as a “possible suicide.”  Fuck.

Cornell’s voice was a force of nature, which was exactly what a band like Soundgarden needed to become a Rock powerhouse.  He could wail and groan like a hurricane, then drift down to a whisper of a breeze.  He was as relentless and undeniable as the wind.  And I cannot believe he is silenced.  He was only four years older than me.

I was never a Soundgarden superfan, although I always enjoyed listening to them.  My favorite Cornell song is actually “Hunger Strike” from the Temple of the Dog one-off, which was itself a tribute to late Mother Love Bone singer Andrew Wood.  Cornell teamed with the surviving members of that band and some new kid named Eddie to play and sing for a life cut short.  Cornell’s voice meshes perfectly with Eddie Vedder’s.  And the chorus seems like an aptly fitting description of the musical landscape the last couple of years: “I’m going hungry.”

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Chuck Berry

Posted by purplemary54 on March 18, 2017

I’ve got two or three other posts I’m working on right now, one of them a much more personal remembrance, but this news today has to come first.  Dammit.

The passing of Chuck Berry at age 90 isn’t really a surprise; his health had been slowly failing for years.  But it is sad to see one of the original Rock & Roll greats leave us.  Even though I now concede Elvis Presley’s undeniable talent and status as the King, for many years I argued that Berry was the true King of Rock & Roll.  He did so much to create and shape the sound so many of us love so much.  He made some of the greatest music I’ve ever heard, and I never get tired of hearing it.  His guitar style was iconic.  His performances were magnetic and charismatic.  Yeah, he was kind of a jerk as a human being (and more than a little problematic for this feminist), but he was a legend.  The world is a slightly poorer place without him.

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“Tougher Than the Rest”

Posted by purplemary54 on February 13, 2017

My adoration for Shawn Colvin knows no bounds.  As a songwriter, she pens intensely, deeply, personal songs that are somehow universal. As a performer, she can take other artists’ songs and turn them into her own intensely, deeply, personal experiences.  It’s a gift that as a music fan I do not take lightly.

In 1994, Colvin released Cover Girl, a collection of songs she loved by artists she loved; it is to this day one of my favorite albums.  In 2015, Colvin decided it was time to collect a few more covers and released Uncovered.  I finally got a copy for myself and although I don’t think it’s quite as passionately felt as Cover Girl, I think it shows her gift of turning covers into her own quite nicely.

Take “Tougher Than the Rest” for example.  This song by Bruce Springsteen originally appeared on his Tunnel of Love from 1987, an album that is full of some of his most intensely, deeply, personal songs (it’s his divorce album, presciently written and released before his divorce from Julianne Phillips).  Colvin switches a few pronouns, and presto, it’s her song not Springsteen’s.

If you know anything about Colvin’s history, you know how utterly heartbreakingly poignant this version is.  She imprints herself all over the romantic yearning for a real relationship.  She’s had a rocky romantic life, due in part to her struggle with mental illness.  When she sings the title refrain, “honey I’m tougher than the rest”, you know it’s true.  The last verse really gets to me.  She delivers it so quietly, so matter-of-factly: “Well it ain’t no secret, I’ve been around a time or two.  I don’t know baby, maybe you’ve been around, too.  But there’s one more dance.  All you gotta do is say yes.  If you’re lookin’ for love, honey I’m tougher than the rest.”  Her eyes show all the hope and fear those words encompass.  Just one dance, just one chance to prove she’s the one for him.  I like to think she did, but of course, that’s where the song ends.  There’s room for both love and heartbreak.  How the story turns out is up to the listener.

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“A Whole New World”

Posted by purplemary54 on January 29, 2017

Some years ago (at least three, but probably more) the Disney behemoth began advertising its Hawaiian resort Aulani with this utterly enchanting version of “A Whole New World” from Aladdin.  Even in the little bit they played in the commercial, I was in love with it.

I’ll be the first one to admit I don’t know much about Yuna, the singer who created this song (anyone who does can click here).  But she gives me the general impression of being quite charming.  I also believe she is a Muslim, which means she is persona non grata in Trump’s worldview; all Muslims are terrorists to him.  Even the one’s who sing songs as wholesomely American as Disney songs.  Of course, this particular Disney movie is now suspect in Trump’s vision of the world.  It is, after all, set in an Arab country and features brown people as characters.

I didn’t mean to make this one political at all.  The song is just an innocent romp meant to further the Disney-fied romance between Aladdin and Princess Jasmine.  And this cover is, as I stated earlier, utterly enchanting.  I just wanted to share it with you.  And to remind you that not all Muslims are out to get Westerners.  Some of them just want to create music.

 

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