29 December 2006

Covering "Can’t Find My Way Home"

Doing justice to a great song in a cover version is tricky business. Even the greats can stumble.

Eric Clapton demonstrates both sides of the coin. In his cover of Jimi’s Little Wing on Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, he fails. Clapton also misses the mark on his cover of Bob Marley’s I Shot the Sheriff on 461 Ocean Boulevard. But Clapton nails Steve Winwood’s Can’t Find My Way Home every time out.

To get the word out, with a tip o' the hat to Carnal Reason, I note a recent, excellent cover of Can’t Find My Way Home by Alison Krauss on the Crossing Jordan soundtrack. As always, Ms. Krauss surrounds herself with musicians that would make the instrumental track alone sufficient. But Krauss goes on to find the heart and soul of this poetic quest for sobriety and peace.

28 December 2006

The Essential Albums: Kind of Blue

Kind of Blue
Album by Miles Davis
Released 1959
Recorded March 2 & April 22, 1959
Producer: Irving Townsend

John Szwed writing for Amazon.com:
This is the one jazz record owned by people who don't listen to jazz, and with good reason. The band itself is extraordinary (proof of Miles Davis's masterful casting skills, if not of God's existence), listing John Coltrane and Julian "Cannonball" Adderley on saxophones, Bill Evans (or, on "Freddie Freeloader," Wynton Kelly) on piano, and the crack rhythm unit of Paul Chambers on bass and Jimmy Cobb on drums. ...
From Wikipedia:
… [T]he sextet recorded all the songs to Davis’s satisfaction with only one complete take each. …. Kind of Blue was a startling change for its era, and was almost instantly recognized, both critically and commercially. Though precise figures have been disputed, Kind of Blue has been cited as Davis’ best-selling album, and as the best-selling jazz record of all time.
And there's a very good reason this is the most popular jazz record of all time. It is unsurpassable as an introduction to jazz. You love it the first time you hear it; you love it even more the 500th time. You can use it as background music for a romantic dinner or as hangover medicine. It's pure, perfect joy for your soul.

25 December 2006

19 December 2006

Waitin' on My Man

{Revised 20May2008}

Series: The Essential Albums

Me, I’ve been feeling like a broken down old man for a while now. But then I read about the great Stones show Monday night outside D.C. (the band’s current lineup’s average age is 61), and I realize I still got a few good years left, if I don’t waste them. So, Paco, do something useful.

Turner Classic Movies (TCM) runs a series on the weekends called “The Essentials”. The idea is that if you wanted to consider yourself well-versed in film classics, you better be familiar with these films.

Ripping off that good idea, here’s the first installment of The Essential Albums.

With the release of Velvet Underground & Nico in 1967, Lou Reed and company invented a new kind of rock and roll. At the time the album was released, of course, it went nowhere. No sales. No critical acclaim. But it has been said that everyone who bought one of those initial release copies from ‘67 formed a band.

Trust me readers, if you give this masterpiece a few spins, you will understand why it has long been regarded as one of rock’s seminal records. And if you study the record (lyrics and music), you will learn more than a few lessons about life.

Then, dear reader, get the remastered CD. I didn’t say download a few MP3s of songs you like. This is an album. Show it the respect it deserves. Or ignore all of the above and find out what time "American Idol" is on. It’s your life; I’m just sharing some ideas.

17 December 2006

Heartaches & Highways

The Very Best of Emmylou Harris: Heartaches and Highways


Me, I was brought up in the vinyl era, when one was taught to hate “greatest hits” albums. The reasoning was sound. Greatest hits albums simply tear up an artist’s real albums and you are at the mercy of producers merely selecting tracts according to their whim.

But those were the days of vinyl. Now there is CD album format that can summarize an artist’s career: retrospectives on Billie Holliday, Sun House, and The Allman Brothers, John Fogerty, Robert Johnson, among many others.

Recently, in an album covering her career-long body of work, from a duet with Gram Parsons to a stunning new track with her original producer, Emmylou Harris’ Heartaches and Highways delivers the goods.

After the duet with Parsons, Emmylou does an elegy to his untimely passing. With “Boulder to Birmingham” we see the beginning, along with Willie and Waylon and the boys, of modern alternative country music. Harris precousiously co-wrote this song, a musical tribute to Parsons -- her songwriting did not fully blossom until almost 20 years later.

Then, right away, another classic.

I consider Townes VanZant’s “Pancho and Lefty” one of the greatest songs ever written. Here, Harris takes this ballad and turns the story to gossamer. Her voice on this melody makes you forget you are listening to lines like:

[Pancho’s] horse was fast as polished steel,
He wore his guns outside his pants,
For all the honest world to feel …
The dust that Pancho bit down South,
Ended up in Lefty’s mouth.”

The singer and the listener must both work to stay with the story.

One album this collection does not do justice to, in importance, is “Wrecking Ball” – this album marked her consummate “song miner” achievement which began her first really serious move into songwriting.

There’s an old yarn about George Jones and Keith Richards during a duet recording session together, late in Jones’ career. When George arrived, he first greeted Keith across a full bar that Richards had set up for their mutual comfort. Though Richards didn’t know it, by this time in his career Jones had quit drinking, and both musicians had a big laugh over Keith handing George a mixed drink as they met.

The range of George Jones’ influence, from “Keef” to Emmylou, is clear here as Ms. Harris includes two songs Jones recorded first. Emmylou does both “Together Again” and also “Beneath Still Waters” as “pure country”, though heavy on the rhythm guitar and world class harmony vocals.

In sum: Back in the late 70’s, when it came to seasoned white girls slogging it out on the crossover R&B circuit, Bonnie Raitt and Emmylou Harris were it. Both artists continue, to this day, to refine music crafts they grew up on.

Heartaches and Highways
tries to sum up her career with songs. But there’s a better way to sum up her career: she’s been everywhere working with everybody for 30 years.

Emmylou is a thread in the tapestry that Carole King started o’ so long ago.

12 December 2006

His Blood on My Hands

After writing about Kacy Crowley’s song “Blood”, from her Moodswing CD, I had a number of requests for the lyrics. Because nobody seems to be able to find them (on the net or printed), here, reluctantly, as a historian of modern culture, and given my reverance regarding correct deciphering of sung rock lyrics, is my humble attempt to transcribe them from the MP3 CD on my boom box on the porch over coffee in the brisk morning:

He was too deep for his own good
He was the kind of person, nobody understood
I said I love you, more than you love me
But I meant something entirely ugly

One year it rained on Christmas
He said, ‘Let’s just pretend we’re in Paris.’
But I wasn’t having it,
No I was killing it.
I think his soul is so out of training, and

Oooh, his blood rushed somewhere silent, and
Oooh, his words just disappeared.
He was fragile and
Sometimes I like that
I’ve got his blood on my hands,
and my hands, and I’ve tried.

It was the year that my horse broke
It was the year that I almost lost everything
I pushed him away
Only for my freedom
It tasted like salt
Like salt on my skin

Oooh, his blood rushed somewhere silent, and
Oooh, his words just disappeared.
He was fragile and
Sometimes I like that
I’ve got his blood on my hands,
and my hands, and I’m trapped.

I can’t make what’s wrong
Right again
But I can shine it up
Bright again.

Just when you think you’re forgiven
There’s no material, left for confession.
You’ll be standin’ there
Sorry and unworthy

Look closer: guilty and bloody

Oooh, his blood rushed somewhere silent, and
Oooh, his words just disappeared.
He was fragile and
Sometimes I like that
I’ve got his blood on my hands,

Oooh, his blood rushed somewhere silent, and
Oooh, his words just disappeared.
He was fragile and
Sometimes I like that
And I’ve got his blood on my hands,
And I’ve got his blood on my hands.
And I’ve tried.

(c) 2004 Stable Records and/or Kacy Crowley. All rights reserved to Ms. Crowley.

Damn, its even better if you’ve heard her sing it. All assistance in correcting errors gladly welcomed.

10 December 2006

"Shooting Star" Revisited

repost from

Bob Dylan's "Shooting Star"
(c) 1989 Special Rider Music (Jim's adaptation, summer 2005)

Seen a shooting star tonight
And I thought of you.
You're trying to break into a world
You never knew.
I wonder each night
If you'll make it through.
Seen a shooting star tonight
And I thought of you.

Seen a shooting star tonight
And I thought of me.
If can become, if I can be strong
As you need me to be.
Will I miss the mark,
Trip at the starting line?
These things, only the Lord can see.
Seen a shooting star tonight
And I thought of me.

I listen to my heart, I listen to my friends
I read your letters, and I melt in your hands.
I pray for guidance, I pray to be wise
But it's up to us, we've got to decide,
Is our future together,
Or nine time zones apart?
Do I only need money, or some new strength in my heart?

Seen a shooting star tonight
Fade Away.
I grabbed for it's dream
And used it to pray.
For the courage to bring us, through this wilderness.
Seen a shooting star tonight
Slip Away.

08 December 2006

Yo, Keef, no decent songs in the last 20 years?

Moods for Moderns

Posted by Paco Malo on March 10th, 2006 at 10:18 pm (music)

Back before the Net and the digital music revolution, a friend of mine used to make me “Mix Tapes”. Years after one of those tapes itself was in the wind, Shawn Colvin’s hauntingly luminous cover of Your Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go kept playing in my head.

For the basics of making a mix tape, or now burning a mix CD, see John Cusack in the film High Fidelity.

This friend is now sending me some very noteworthy MP3 files:

Squeeze Inn and Santa Fe by Kimberly M’carver on Cross The Danger Line

Badass by Kacy Crowley on Tramps Like Us

Sunny Day by Deana Carter on The Story of My Life

Happy Trails.

07 December 2006

The Essential Albums: Derek and the Dominoes: The Layla Sessions

Posted by Paco Malo on June 18th, 2006 at 6:04 pm (music)

The Essential Albums: Derek and the Dominoes: The Layla Sessions (1990 box set, originally recorded August to October 1970). In the early 1990s the editors of Rolling Stone magazine chose the Top 50 albums of the last 40 years. Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs was in the top five, the editors calling it “music for the gods”. The Layla Sessions contains the original album on disc 1 of its 3 discs, only slighty remixed without meddling with the original producers’ (Tom Dowd and the band) work.

Why Essential? Because if you think you know, without this record, what a Strat (see comment 1) can do in the hands of Duane Allman at the height of his powers; and what this band, with Clapton and Allman inspiring each other, Cocker Power and coke jet fueling the recording sessions, a broken-hearted Clapton channeling Robert Johnson, you’ve still got some homework to do.

In short, certain definitional elements of electric guitar and blues rock are here, and only here. And as with so many rock artists, death or giving up substance abuse make periods of their work unrevisitable. Definitions lock. And so it is with The Layla Sessions.

Disc 1, the original double album: if there’s a flaw here, you won’t here about it from me. Of course, the song Layla — the original, not the atrocious acoustic arrangement so popular today — along with a half dozen other songs (e.g. Won’t Get Fooled Again by The Who) ruled the rock world in the early ’70s. Layla remains iconic today.

But one great song does not make an essential album. From the opening track I Looked Away, through Clapton’s harmonics in his solo in Bell Bottom Blues, through the Clapton/Allman guitar pyrotechnics in Key to the Highway, to the wistful Thorn Tree in the Garden that closes the record, there’s not a weak track here. This album is searing documentation that for 3 months in 1970, Derek and the Dominoes was the best rock band in the world.

Disc 2 contains 5 jams that truely represent the multi-day recording sessions that gave us the original album. From the liner notes: “Jam V [is] throttled into gear by Duane’s daredevil bottleneck as it skids up the fretboard until it digs in somewhere over the pickups …”. Each jam has its own special revelation. For example, Jam IV is a combination of the Allman Brothers Band with the Clapton and Whitlock.

And Mean Old World from disc 3. I don’t know the story of how this song didn’t make it onto the original album, but blue-eyed blues has no finer moment than the acoustic duet version with Clapton and Allman making music history on this brutally fine disc of outtakes and alternate versions of the album’s songs.

Right down to the liner notes — which tell the story of Eric and Duane meeting — and select session track i.d. charts, The Layla Sessions is an essential part of the “end of the 60’s” rock story. And still fun to listen to today.

05 December 2006

All My Answers Turned Out to be Questions

Posted by Paco Malo at Carnal Reasoning on December 14th, 2005 at 10:31 pm (music)

On December 8, 2005, in Lakeland Florida, Alison Krauss and Union Station Featuring Jerry Douglas demonstrated that the gumbo of Southern Appalachian bluegrass, cross-over country rock, gospel, and pure acoustic instrumental perfection is alive, well, and currently touring America.

The closest thing to an explanation of their gig — right down to the Conway Twitty finger twirl and hip roll the band taught the crowd, and Alison’s reminiscences about homemade yeast biscuits — is offered in an interview buried deep in Martin Scorsese’s film of The Band’s last concert, entitled “The Last Waltz”. Drummer, singer, songwriter, and southern music historian Levon Helm explains:

… Near Memphis – cotton country, rice country – the most interesting thing is probably the music. … That’s kinda the middle of the country, you know, back there, so, bluegrass, or country music, you know, if it comes down to that area, and if it mixes there with that rhythm, and if it dances, then you’ve got a combination of those different kinds of music: country, bluegrass, blues music. [Robbie Robertson, off camera, adds, “A melting pot.”] Scorsese then asks Helm, “And what’s it called then?” Helm answers with assurance, “Rock n’ Roll.”

Alison and her train station crew don’t play rock and roll. But their show is an Appalachian stew executed with such grace, and demonstrating so much talent, that they bring converts to all the musical forms in their set list. First timers think they are just going to a concert; but after they listen to these musician’s musicians, they leave the show, just having found that Yahweh cuts us sinners a break now and again.

For me, dobro maestro Jerry Douglas adding Duane Allman’s instrumental composition “Little Martha” to his solo medley was a special treat. He speeded it up, robbing it of some of the nuance Allman gave his recording of the song, but overall the medley was clear evidence that Douglas is unsurpassed on slide guitar. Jerry Douglas, you da man!

Band leader Dan Taminski was the glue that held it all together. Taminski, rather than demonstrating the flat-top guitar pyrotechnics he had demonstrated on Austin City Limits this summer, anchored the “guitar/mandolin/bass harmonies” behind Krauss’ lead vocal. Generally, as a conductor would, Dan pulled all the virtuosos around him together to create musical magic.

Every musician on stage, whether plucking an acoustic string instrument or sparingly hitting a snare drum with a brush, seemed to have one goal: to showcase Alison Krauss’ luminescent voice.

Alison’s voice, my God, Alison’s voice. On three songs in particular on this special night, she demonstrated a gift that’s a blessing to hear. The literal and figurative show stopper of these songs I’ll get to shortly. From the main set, she and the band performing “Gravity” made me cry and God smile. “Lucky One” rang out like a church bell and made the hall and everyone in it glow.

Add it all up, and this could be the finest band – and one completely unaffected in their presentation (no stage antics here) – on the road today.

I’ll close with the lyrics of the song they leave the stage with, just before the house lights come up, and we have to go back to out lives – “A Living Prayer”:

In this world, I walk alone,
With no place to call my home.
But there’s One who holds my hand,
The rugged road through barren lands.

The way is dark, the road is steep.
But He’s become my eyes to see.
The strength to climb, my griefs to bear,
The Savior lives inside me there.

In Your love I find release,
A haven from my unbelief.
Take my life and let me be
A living prayer, my God, to thee.

In these trials of life I find
Another voice inside my mind.
He comforts me and bids me live
Inside the love the Father gives.

In Your love I find release,
A haven from my unbelief.
Take my life and let me be
A living prayer, my God, to thee.

Take my life and let me be
A living prayer, my God, to thee…

Nuff said. Amen.

Dust Pnuemonia

The Essential Albums: Woody Guthrie's Dust Bowl Ballads

At the start of Bob Dylan’s career, he looked, sounded and played like Woody Guthrie. Fact is, nobody ever made Pete Seeger madder than Dylan going electric at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. Many argue, whatever the reasons for Seeger’s reaction, that Dylan’s going electric was part of his way of saying to the early ’60’s folk movement that he wasn’t going to be their new Woody Guthrie.

Woody was one of a number of artists, John Steinbeck his only equal, who set upon the task of both describing the Depression and also doing something about it. Indeed, when Guthrie saw John Ford’s film version of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, he was so moved he promptly went home and dashed off a two part single, “Tom Joad”, that Steinbeck felt captured his entire manuscript in a 7 minute song.

More recently, discussing Guthrie’s best work, as Bruce Springteen put it, nobody knows how to write songs like that anymore.

Guthrie was a product of a shattered childhood and of the road, describing the America he saw as no other did. This 1940 album, his best, focuses on the Dustbowl, with a glorified outlaw or two thrown in.

When Bono sings “all I’ve got is four chords and the truth”, he’s not talking about U2; he’s demystifying Dylan emulating Guthrie. Any singer/songwriter who may be said to have spoken for his or her generation must emulate Woody Guthrie — that’s why Dylan tried, Springsteen tries, Bono can only fail because he compromises to get things done, and many others try.

I even play one of Woody’s songs (from this album), “Pretty Boy Floyd”. After discarding traditional history for, what was more real to his audience, myth and legend, Guthrie made a sinner a saint (tip a de ole hat, Mick) and closed the song with:

As through this world I’ve travelled, I’ve met lots of funny men Some will rob you with a six-gun Some with a fountain pen As through this world I travel, As through this world I roam I ain’t ever seen an outlaw, Drive a family from their home.

Where Woody does not discard traditional history is in his graphic description of North America’s Depression era Dust Bowl, a man-made natural disaster that ravaged the prairie east of the Rocky Mountains from Texas to southern Canada. Sure, I can go to the library or Wikipedia and learn about the Dust Bowl, but I won’t play and replay the raw facts except as presented by Woody.

Guthrie took tragedy and made it art. Combining varying currents of social activism, humor, and gut-level reality (taken in stride), Guthrie delivers simple masterpieces. He used admittedly borrowed melodies as his canvas and deceptively simply lyrics as his brush strokes:

… Boy, ’twas black as night in that little ol’ Oklahoma shack… it was so dark the electric light looked like a cigarette butt… an’ the wind a-shakin’ the house until we thought she’s a-comin’ down any minute… We sat there in the front room together with the kids on the bed… we didn’t say a word for a long time… then Pa said So long, it’s been good to know yuh, So long, it’s been good to know yuh, So long, it’s been good to know yuh, This dusty ol’ dust is a-gettin’ my home, An’ I’ve got to be driftin’ along. …. Well, we all went on down to the church t’ see each other for the last time, we thought… lemme tell you what happened… I’ll just tell it my own way here… The church was jammed, and the church was packed, An’ the dusty old dust storm blowed so black Preacher could not read a word of his text, An’ he folded his specs, an’ he took up collection, Said: So long, it’s been good to know yuh, So long, it’s been good to know yuh, So long, it’s been good to know yuh, This dusty ol’ dust is a-gettin’ my home, An’ I’ve got to be driftin’ along. (from Dusty Old Dust (So Long It’s Been Good To Know Yuh))

If you want add an invaluable, and often humorous, perspective to what you know about Depression-era North America, get yourself a copy of Dust Bowl Ballads. And drop the “do re mi” to buy the CD; the foundation that owns the rights to Woody’s songs takes good care of their cut.

03 December 2006

Zoo Station

U2: A Glance Back at Achtung Baby 15 Years After

(Repost from Carnal Reason with two comments also reposted)

In 1991, 3 years after the release of U2’s fine-but-over-hyped “Rattle and Hum” — my God, U2’s “Exile on Main Street”, absurd — I was churning with anticipation of what the masterful Irish quartet would do next.

There are a lot of train songs out there, but none as mesmerizing, none that start an album with a shroud of rock-n-roll fog, like “Zoo Station”. A thunderous churn that draws you in, and then I’m ready, I’m ready for the laughing gas, I’m ready for what’s next, … I ready for the shuffle, ready for the deal, ready to let go of the steering wheel, I’m ready — for the crush. But then Bono’s echoing voice reassures you, as you leave the mountain tunnel and enter the station, It’s alright, it’s alright, it’s alright, hey baby … it’s alright. But it ain’t alright, there’s no relief, just the churning guitars and rhythm section, and your face pressed up against the glass. At this zoo station, as in the dream sequence early in Ingmar Bergman’s film Wild Strawberries, the analog clocks have no hands to indicate the time.

Track two: “Even Better Than the Real Thing”. Here Bono’s little love poem becomes a mere distraction. Adam, Larry and and Edge pull this train out of the station, swaying for balance, before Edge takes it up to full throttle with the fastest rhythm guitar right hand in planetary history. But somehow the ride quiets down, and from the softness emerges an Edge slide guitar solo that sways, spins and whiplashes the listener — then drums, bass, and rhythm guitars build to another crescendo.

Where did they get that sound? I’ll tell you where: if you’ve got Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois producing your record, it’s not just four mates meeting the task of getting back on track after “Rattle and Hum”. Between them, Eno and Lanois have the best record producer resumes of the last thirty years.

Track three: “One”. Great message, great hit single, but more overworked than “Freebird”. Put it in the vault for a while.

Track four: “Until the End of the World”. Now we’re back on track, but Larry makes it clear from the beginning were entering a dark forest, una selva oscura, and your baby’s no help. We’re still havin’ fun, eatin’ the food, drinking the wine, except you [baby], you were talkin’ about the end of the world. While Bono buries his head in his notebook, scribbling end-of-relationship poetry, Edge and crew bring this train out of the forest to our destination, the deep blue Mediterranean.

Track five: “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses”. As the artfully synthesized breaks screech to a halt, there’s no silence, rather distortion-heavy waves crashing into a blinding white beach. And on the beach stands a lone poet with a broken heart, who has finally found his voice. You’re dangerous, cause your honest. You’re dangerous, you don’t know what you want. Well you left my heart, empty as a vacant lot, for any, spirit to haunt. … You’re an accident, waiting to happen. You’re a piece of glass, left in a beach. …. And the lyrics just keep getting better. Then Bono shows what he can do with those pipes and the waves are ringing, not crashing. Next a musical bridge dream sequence and one final grand chorus where I can’t taste the saltwater kisses Bono can’t leave behind. And enough outta me. Almost.

In “So Cruel” I’m only hanging on to this damn life raft only to watch you go down, my love. The last time that happened was when Neil Young took his baby down by the river to shoot her, shoot her dead. Love like that does not surface in rock poetry every day.

But enough talking about a great record; just go turn up the volume and give it a spin.

U2 hasn’t made their “Exile on Main Street” — yet. Maybe nobody ever will make another “Exile” and survive to talk about it. And U2 are survivors. With “Achtung Baby”, U2 moved from great to timeless. Maybe “Achtung Baby” is their “Let it Bleed”. Just remember, she’s a piece of glass, left in a beach; love is blindness; and you can’t always get what you want, but you get what you need.

And fade to black.


1. John K. Dooley said:

Oye Paco!

Rock music is so dead, and U2 is just another shovel load thrown into the grave. If I didn’t believe there weren’t already too many laws on the books I’d advocate for a moratorium on guitar bands.

The twilight of rock music was the last rays of the setting of Elvis……Costello last in the 80’s.

Rock music R.I. P.

Last one out the door lift the needle off the turn table.



2. Paullinator said:

I honestly believe that they could have released Achtung Baby as a single — with only the first song as the album — and I might have been just as happy. Zoo Station can be played endlessly clickity clack down the tracks for all I care (something that Paco Malo showed me when he refused to play anything else but that song over and over for an entire year). Still, I’m glad to have the imagery of saltwater kisses (my favorite phase on the disc) and the passionate worship of love that U2 served up for us in the remaining songs. (damn, I made myself gag)

Technical point/question : Did Edge really have “fastest rhythm guitar right hand in planetary history” or was that a mastery of guitar processor “toys”. I think the latter.

With respect to with Mr Dooley’s comments, I almost agree that Elvis Costello killed rock and roll when he created the less than zero banality of albums like Imperial Bedroom and so on. But aside from this chuckle about EC’s derailment, I can’t see spending any time arguing further the point of whether or not rock and roll is dead. There cannot be too many greater years for rock than 1977-1979 when Elvis released My Aim is True and This Year’s Model (see also releases by Talking Heads, Ramones, Sex Pistols, the Clash, and so many others) there’s too much ground breaking R&R history since the 80s to ignore… (see F. Black, Cobain, Veder….)

Rock and roll doesn’t die. It “steals” away into the night.