26 January 2011

Joni Mitchell: "Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire"

Inspired by some wicked cold weather (-26 degrees F) in Minnesota, whiteray at Echoes in the Wind did a cold theme column for his Saturday Single post last weekend. And the clip he used inspired me: Joni Mitchell's Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire.

This song is from the album For the Roses, her follow-up to her most lasting imprint on the music of her generation, Blue. For the Roses, though, is the only album of hers, from her five decades of recording, that the Library of Congress has chosen for the National Recording Registry. For the Roses is diverse, experimental, and, at times, perfectly in her well-honed groove. And its a groove all her own; her timing is hers and hers alone. There's no better example than Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire.

I found this album when I dedicated myself to completing my Joni education. When I put it on, this track grabbed me by the throat and has never let go. Lou Reed’s haunting Heroin on The Velvet Underground & Nico and Cold Blue Steel are the best two heroin/major addiction songs I know.

As for Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire's lyrics, I will let them speak for themselves -- here's the second half of the song:

....Red water in the bathroom sink
Fever and the scum brown bowl
Blue Steel still begging
But it’s indistinct
Someone’s Hi-Fi drumming Jelly Roll
Concrete concentration camp
Bashing in veins for peace
Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire
Fall into Lady Release
“Come with me I know the way,” she says
"It’s down, down, down the dark ladder
Do you want to contact somebody first"
I mean "What does it really matter?"
"You’re going to come now
Or you’re going to come later"

The topic is raw and gritty, but Joni's performance kills the pain -- it's beautiful, seductive, yearning, just like the drug you're needin’. As for me, there were more than a few commutes to work where Joni's Cold Blue Steel was the medicine I needed.

19 January 2011

The Original Santana Band: "Incident At Neshabur"

For those of us who became fanatics at the beginning, that original line-up, for a while, meant something special. They were hot off a mesmerizing performance at Woodstock. And as fate would have it I had just gotten my first record player. Santana's single Evil Ways was my first favorite song.

Touring on their first self-titled album, still riding high on the Woodstock film excitement about their performance, Santana was also the first concert I ever saw. The show was to me indescribably great. It was the night as a teenager I had my rock 'n' roll revelation. I was hooked and this music -- Afro-Cuban, latin, rock, jazz, San Francisco street music, with a full Latin rhythm section -- was the drug.

Then, in the fall of 1970, Santana released their quite astounding second album, Abraxas. Great as that album was -- some songs such as Black Magic Woman and Oye Come Va are still out there in the mix today -- the first musical fissures that would soon split the band were beginning to show. On Abraxas we begin to see guitarist Carlos Santana head in his musical direction (Latin-infused jazz) and keyboard player/vocalist Gregg Rolie in his (hard rock --that is, what was considered hard rock in the early 70s.)

Those fissures, apparent in tracks such as Incident At Neshabur featuring song co-writer and pianist Alberto Gianquinto, are some of the best music the original line-up created. As Rolie noted about this track (in an interview for the 1998 reissue liner notes), "We did time changes, colors, and things that were very sophisticated."

The best recorded performance of Incident At Neshabur was live in Japan in 1973, with long searing guitar solos tempered by jazz keyboards, on Lotus (1974). This version comes in at almost 16 minutes. The studio version below is much shorter, but more importantly, Rolie is still in the line-up, adding a rock sensibility that's an essential part of the mix.

The Original Santana Band will always be special -- no matter what Carlos achieved in his jazz fusion period. That original band had a distinctive magic. See what you think -- check out the track below.

The Original Santana Band: Incident At Neshabur (Abraxas version)

12 January 2011

Louis Jordan: "Saturday Night Fish Fry"


The first time I heard this cut it brought a big smile to my face. I recognized a phrase, a part of a phrase actually, that Chuck Berry had borrowed for his 1958 single Around and Around. Of course Jordon's influence on rock runs deeper. Popular with both black and white audiences, known as "The King of the Jukebox," Jordon made the music that rockers of the 50s grew up on. His brand of 40s New Orleans jazz would be one of the essential sources of the rock 'n' roll flood to come. So enjoy a little taste of what they're playin' at the Rampart Street Saturday Night Fish Fry.

05 January 2011

Don't Rewrite Mark Twain

Special Comment: An Associated Press (AP) article carried today by The Washington Post reports on a new combined edition of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer where the word "nigger" will be removed and replaced with "slave".

This would be a crime against literature. Twain scholar Steven Railton of The University of Virginia is quoted as calling this "a terrible idea." According to the article,

The language depicts America's past, Railton said, and the revised book was not being true to the period in which Twain was writing. Railton has an unaltered version of 'Huck Finn' coming out later this year that includes context for schools to explore racism and slavery in the book. 'If we can't do that in the classroom, we can't do that anywhere,' he said.
As one might expect, a quotation from Twain himself says it best. Back to the AP: "Twain was particular about his words. His letter in 1888 about the right word and the almost right one was 'the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.'"

Censoring the word "nigger" from Mark Twain's books robs our culture of the knowledge of a part of the word's historical context. How can students understand the meaning and impact this word has had if we pretend it never existed? In every work Mark Twain published he worked to use "just the right word". We don't get to change them.

01 January 2011

New York Times Critic's Pick: "A Streetcar Named Desire" (1951)

I posted a YouTube clip of Streetcar a while back and briefly discussed this classic. But I just don't have the chops to discuss the film as well as ace critic A. O. Scott does here. So I'm turning this post over to Scott and this New York Times video clip. A Streetcar Named Desire is simply too good a film for anything less than a well done review.