16 December 2013

"Santa Claus is Comin' to Town" (single, 2010), Bruce Springsteen

This cover by Bruce is nowhere near new, but I still think it's worth a spin. Given the newer Christmas music dished out these days, give me Bing Crosby with The Andrews Sisters, or, in this case, Bruce Springsteen with the E Street Band on a cold December day.

01 December 2013

Townes Van Zandt , "Dead Flowers" (Jagger, Richards; 1971) (live)

As Keith might say, 'I think you may know some of this one.' Iconic Texas singer/songwriter Townes Van Zandt tackles the Stones country classic. Townes' cover ends up closing out, brilliantly, the Coen Brothers The Big Lebowski (1998).

Townes' demons got the better of him and he's passed on. His influence most certainly has not.

27 November 2013

Jimi Hendrix Would Turn 71 Today

I rewatched Jimi Hendrix perform the currently definitive cover of The Star Spangled Banner in the original Woodstock (1970) documentary recently.

I wondered, would the high regard for Jimi's cover hold up over time? My money is on Jimi holding onto the lead regarding the national anthem. He shifted gears and, for those willing to take the ride, will continue to bring war back in a war poem.

Rest in peace, Jimi.

12 November 2013

Etta James: "I'd Rather Go Blind" (1968)

Etta James in 1960

I cut my teeth on Rod Stewart's 1972 cover of the soul classic I'd Rather Go Blind from his Never a Dull Moment album. Now I realize Etta James is responsible for creating the definitive version of this song four years earlier at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Indeed, Ms. James handed off her co-writing credit for the lyrics -- a collaboration with Ellington Jordan.

For anybody wondering why Stewart is a "white boy lost in the blues" compared to Etta James, here's my evidence:

27 October 2013

Lou Reed Goes to the Otherside

Lou Reed (1942-2013)

Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/lou-reed-velvet-underground-leader-and-rock-pioneer-dead-at-71-20131027#ixzz2iwvfk8vG 

I try to focus on genre pioneers 'round here. When it comes to New York City rock 'n' roll, Lou is, was and always will be the man. Requiescat in pace.

26 October 2013

A Film of an Unfilmable Novel: Jack Kerouac's "On The Road" (2012)

For all of my 56 years, it was assumed this classic, genre'-defining, beat generation novel was unfilmable. But, as usual, patience pays off.

20 October 2013

Delta Blues Rock for the Angels -- Specifically, Mephistopheles

Epoch-marking, breakthrough Mississippi Delta blues that would become the definition of what-we-do for the late 1960s and early '70s rock guitarists from Keith to Eric by way of Muddy Waters. Johnson played "live to the mic" with only one acoustic guitar, on 1930s recording equipment. And his one guitar filled the aural space of an army of guitars, in the cut below anticipating the solid body electrics such as Fender Stratocaster. Riveting.

There's nothing based in legend about Johnson's musical legacy.

11 October 2013

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band: Rockin' in Rio (2013)

Touring on his remarkably powerful latest release, Wrecking Ball (2012), Bruce and the band show how to move an audience without gimmicks. Here they perform Raul Seixas' Sociedade Alternativa (literally, Alternative Society) to a home audience in Brazil.

His Portuguese gets the job done.

04 October 2013

"Heaven done called another blues singer back Home."

On this date in 1970, Heaven done called Janis Joplin back Home. Rest in Peace, Janis. 
And thanks.

25 September 2013

Fats Domino: "Give Me Some" (released 2006)

From the Wikipedia contributors, regarding this post-Katrina Fats release:
.... Domino also released an album in early 2006 to benefit the Tipitina's Foundation, which supports indigent local musicians. The title song was recorded after Katrina, but most of the cuts were from unreleased sessions in the 1990s. ....
The cut below is not only a little taste of the musical gumbo that is New Orleans music but also a tour of New Orleans' famous soul cuisine. Amusez-vous!

16 September 2013

New Film on J.D Salinger (2013): Finally, Confirmation That There is a Vault of Unreleased Work

J. D. Salinger

The beginning of access to the unpublished works of J.D. Salinger is foreseeable. I've waited three decades to say I'd confirmed my hope -- my craving just to know, well, more about the Glass family. This unseen work from Salinger's six decades of self-imposed exile may indeed be published soon.

 The public seeing, indeed discovering, this treasure may be on the horizon.

28 August 2013

50 years ago .... "A Change is Gonna Come"

Fifty years ago today, The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said it his way. At that same event on the Mall in DC, Bob Dylan said it his way. But if Dylan isn't your cup of tea, how about this 1963 track from Sam Cooke.

25 August 2013

Rory Block, "Twelve Gates to the City" (2012)

This tune opened up more avenues of exploration than I can count. I know right now is I've got brush up on my Rev. Gary Davis, learn some more about Jerusalem and definitely keep an eye on this country blues guitar master.
As the AllMusic.com guide put it, "[S]he does a remarkable job of channeling the basics of her subject's technique and grafting it onto her own inimitable style."

16 August 2013

Roy Orbison: "Mystery Girl" (1989) (".... Am I left to burn, and burn eternally ...")

Bono and The Edge wrote this song for Roy. It was Roy's last record (released posthumously).

02 August 2013

Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell - "California Soul" (1969; 1970)

I had this album, but I still didn't understand the influence Motown was having on the industry. I came to learn that Motown was built to generate crossover records of the highest quality. California Soul is a good, early example. Two stars, one at an early peak, Tammi recently passed -- Valerie Simpson filling in the spaces. With Ashford and Simpson writing and producing most of the songs, a pure crossover style, in both music and appearance -- this record charted pop but failed to chart R and B. This style lasted. Evolved, but lasted.

This single is an aural paradise.

26 July 2013

Rolling Stones: "Factory Girl" (1968), (With Some Silly Censorship on the Side)

(From top to bottom: The Original Cover, LP Inside Photo Art 
and The Cover Released in December of 1968)
July 26, 1968 - Mick Jagger expected to celebrate his 25th birthday with the release of the Rolling Stones album, "Beggar’s Banquet," the first time his guitar playing was featured on a Stones record. The release was held up, however, because label executives feared that the cover, featuring a filthy men's room urinal with graffiti on the walls, would be judged offensive. The album was finally released in December of 1968, but with an all-white cover made to look like an invitation. By: All Things Music Plus
My colleague Richard Stranger brought this to my attention. Much ado about nothing, looking back. I love that original cover art, but more importantly, the music this album contains is essential listening. Beggar's Banquet also marks the beginning of a period of blues rock productivity that that has few rivals.

Here's a deep album, non-rock cut that's always been a favorite of mine.

18 July 2013

"Either he's going to have to stand and fight, or take off out of here."

Joni Mitchell at her post-Blue (1971) finest, from her 1976 folk / jazz album Hejira -- Jaco Pastorius on bass on this cut, Coyote.

Dig it ladies and gentlemen!

01 July 2013

It Wasn't So Hard

My first attempt making a YouTube video, such as it is.

29 June 2013

"Methamphetamine" - Old Crow Medicine Show (redux; studio version)

Since Ronnie Van Zandt of Lynyrd Skynyrd died, I have been waiting for someone to pick up this fallen torch and run with it. Neil Young has kept the flame alive -- take the acoustic version of "Keep On Rockin' in the Free World" from his album Freedom, for example -- but now Ronnie's heirs are on the job.

Old Crow Medicine Show
will. "... [r]ock You Like A Hurricane, Meth-am-pheta-meeeen" -- and this story is set in the poorest part of Appalachia, with roots down to northern Florida. You can beat the South at Appomattox, but stubborn hillbillies, crackers and rednecks (me included) just won't sign up for most of the Yankee agenda.

It's only too late if you think it is -- give a spin to "Mother's Little Helper" (Stones), "That Smell" (Lynyrd Skynyrd), "Keep on Rockin'" by Neil, and "Meth" by our young Medicine Show friends. And "Don't Forget this fact, we can't get [David Ruffin] back, Cocaine." (-- J.J. Cale classic song broken by me to honor the late Temps lead singer.

In this drug war, just who is the enemy? Eh?

28 June 2013

Robert Jordan's guapa

I just finished rereading Hemingway's story of the mountain resistance fighters in the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s, For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940). This time, I looked up the word guapa, a Spanish term of endearment, roughly translating as "My lovely". Once that Sicilian thunderbolt hits Roberto, rabbit and guapa are his only ways of addressing his crop-headed beauty Maria. 

I'm glad I looked it up.

27 June 2013

Remembering Bobby Bland

Bobby "Blue" Bland, one of the most influential blues, soul and R&B singers of our time, passed away this past Sunday at the age of 83.

I first heard the song Stormy Monday performed by The Allman Brothers Band, only discovering Bland's definitive version years later. I thought this track would make a fitting remembrance of this legend in his own time.

22 June 2013

The Velvet Underground -- Alternate Lou-approved Outro to Cut from "Loaded" (1970): Sweet Jane

This is is one of the only LPs I ever "borrowed" and never returned. I guess I stole it but this record was so fundamental to my late-70s-'til-now musical development, well ....

Hear what all this fuss out of me for the last four decades is about just below.

(Bye the bye, Maureen Timmons and The Cowboy Junkies do a rock solid cover of this essential song.)

31 May 2013

"Payin' the Cost to Be the Boss"

B. B. King's 1997 all-star duet album Deuces Wild released a plethora of genre-stretching collaborations showing blues roots everywhere. The track below lists not only Mick Jagger but The Rolling Stones as well. And yes, it is the whole ’97 line-up of the Stones with Darryl Jones on bass.

Enjoy (that is, dig it.)

25 May 2013

To Good for the Basement Series: A Timeless Ronettes single, Part of Phil Spector's Wall of Sound

I discovered the song Paradise many years ago on a box set -- Phil Spector's Back to Mono (1958-1969) (1991) -- that belonged to dear departed friend. Thanks again, Dana!

I read recently that Ronnie (top center above) has a minor romance with Stones guitarist Keith Richards. I have to admit, I'm a little envious. It sounds like two kids having a good time together.

The Wikipedia contributors, at The Ronettes discography, tell the back story to Paradise concisely:
The Ronettes recorded many songs for producer Phil Spector which were not released until after the group disbanded in 1967. Today, some of their originally unreleased songs are just as critically applauded as their biggest hits. Paradise was not released until after the group broke up [-- on an earlier Spector collection, Phil Spector Wall of Sound, Vol. 5: Rare Masters Vol. 1 (1976)] ....
And let me share just one anecdote, again from the Wikipedia contributors, about when Ronnie met Keith Richards for the first time on The Ronettes first tour of the U.K. in 1964:
On their first night in England, The Ronettes were brought to a party at Tony Hall's house where they were introduced to The Beatles. ... But for Ronnie, one of the biggest thrills was meeting Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones, who were the opening act for The Ronettes opening act on their UK tour. ... Richards, who wrote of his relationship with Ronnie: "The first time I ever went to heaven was when I awoke with Ronnie (later Spector!) Bennett asleep with a smile on her face. We were kids. It doesn't get any better than that."
There is no better way to learn more about Phil Spector's groundbreaking "Wall of Sound" than to listen to the original recordings. So give this clip a few virtual spins and you will get a little taste of Paradise -- you may never want to come back.

20 May 2013

"... No, I don't belong to her, I don't belong to anybody ...."

The master tapes for this formerly unreleased Dylan treasure were given to the film's director Todd Haynes, after a frustrating search, by Neil Young. Personally, that tells me something about the quality of the song. Originally an outtake from The Basement Tapes (recorded 1967; released 1975), this song appeared for the first time on the I'm Not There Soundtrack (2007). I'm relishing it.

And here's another Basement Tapes gem that shines in the film. I'd never heard this song and now it's a favorite of mine; Jim James and Calexico give us a great cover.

I may have more to say about the two disc soundtrack to Haynes' film when I've better absorbed this wall to wall AAA set of covers that were the film's starting point. For now, dig these treasures reborn.

20 April 2013

Randy Newman: "Rider in the Rain" (1977)

Randy Newman took a shot, for a while, at being the great American songwriter / storyteller. I guess it wasn't payin' the bills so he took his talents to Hollywood. In many ways, our loss.

For example, from his 1977 album Little Criminals:

06 April 2013

Television Pioneer in Movie Criticism Passes: Roger Ebert (1942 - 2013)

In my case, indeed for much of my generation, we grew up watching Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert debate the merits of new films on TV. The last of these two pioneers are now in a movie palace in the sky.

Rest in peace,
Robert Ebert

23 March 2013

"A Streetcar Named Desire" (1951): Brando Breaks Out

Tennessee Williams

Marlon Brando, 1947

I just finished rewatching director Elia Kazan's 1951 film of Tennessee WilliamsA Streetcar Named Desire, the breakout film role for Marlon Brando combining his raw talent and "method" acting style in creating his character Stanley Kowalski. While the story clearly revolves around Vivien Leigh's character Blanche, one can't help but notice Brando's dominating presence.

As for Blanche, she gets to go first. flustered upon arrival, the last leg of the trip done by steetcar -- Blanche notes, "Daylight never exposed so total a ruin." She is clearly in a mental state or ruin.

The Wikipedia contributors, discussing Tennessee Williams' 1947 Pulitzer prize winning play and it's acclaimed screen adaptation discussed here, put it this way:
Tennessee Williams plotted out a narrative of powerful allegory. The story line unfolds as the drama of life primed by two divergent forces on an unavoidable collision course. It is the dreamscape world of culture and refinement represented by Blanche DuBois in conflict with harsh, unadorned reality epitomized by the character of Stanley Kowalski.
When all the money was gone, when Belle Reeve, the family mansion in Auriol, Mississippi, has been recklessly mortgaged into oblivion, sisters Blanche (Vivien Leigh) and Stella Kowalski (Kim Hunter) were faced with a dilemma. Blanche, failing to save either Belle Reeve, or her virtue, comes to"visit" Stella and Stanley living in the back end of the New Orleans French Quarter. Blanche is in very fragile condition. Stanley, on the other hand, is as a raw force of nature, contemptible of the airs of wealth and refinement Blanche displays.

Stanley is also suspicious of why Blanche left her family home in Mississippi, which in turn is breaking up his sensual paradise with Stella. Stella is forced to choose her allegiance -- no simple matter. But as the play evolves, Stella stays neurtral but sympathic to Blanche's situation.

The longer Blanche stays, the bolder Stella becomes, leading to dangerous arguments, the result of Stanley's growing frustration. After one violent fight between Stella and Stanley, Brando enters American film culture histroy with this passion-driven scene.

It's a credit to Williams and Kazan that, once the forces of the Production Code got through toning down the film, the carnal lust between Stella and Stanley remains apparent. Moreover, the conflict Blanche's presence brings to the small Kowalski apartment, and Stanley's disdain for all Blanche represents, remain forcefully intact.

Marlon Brando, building on his starring role in the original Broadway production of the play, began changing screen acting permanently, bringing his own style of method acting, 'whereby actors create in themselves the thoughts and feelings of their characters, developing lifelike performances.' (For more, see Method Acting.)

Brando, here and in subsequent roles such as Terry Malloy in Kazan's 1953 On the Waterfront, paves the way for such talents as Robert DeNiro, Jack Nicholson, Al Pachino, and this year's Academy award winner for best actor, Daniel Day-Lewis. But in Streetcar, as Stanley Kowalski, Brando is himself an emerging talent, bringing a raw, brooding, lustful intensity to his performance that made Stanley the perfect foil to Blanche's delicate, fragile and fading refinement.

When these forces collide, Tennessee Williams' and Elia Kazan's solid craftsmanship shape a successful powerhouse drama starring the multi-talented combination of Vivien Leigh, Brando, Kim Hunter and Karl Malden, giving us a rarely equaled work of art on film.

All I will say beyond that is see the Kazan film. If I haven't convinced you, the trailer below just might.

12 February 2013

Happy Mardi Gras

Throw me somethin', Mista!

Over 8 years ago, I quit drinkin'. I remember at the time, I made a list of places I love that I better not visit for a while. At the top of that list was my beloved New Orleans. And I spent a good bit of time last night rollin' through some fine memories of many a Mardi Gras celebration I thoroughly enjoyed.

But, without regret, I know my Mardi Gras days are behind me. To be frank, it's the most alcohol-soaked, wonderful celebration this country (the U.S.) has to offer. Now it's not lost on me that in some of the most special cities in the world, Carnivale is being celebrated to mark the last day of reverie before Lent kicks in tomorrow.
And damn it, I want to play too. So, to all those partying today around the world, I offer this wonderful tune from a band everyone should know or learn about, The Meters.

04 February 2013

Some History of "Time is on My Side"

Irma Thomas (2006)

This song is most often associated with the 1964 cover by The Rolling Stones, due primarily to the fact that the Stones made it an international hit. The song however, as many songs do, has an interesting history prior to the Stones cover. Time is on my Side started out as a jazz composition by Jerry Ragovoy (under the pseudonym Norman Meade), with only a few thoughts for lyrics.

Songwriter Jimmy Norman, fleshing out Ragovoy's lyrical ideas ("time is on my side" and "you'll come running back") completed additional lyrics just prior to the Soul Queen of New Orleans, vocalist Irma Thomas, recording the song before the Stones in 1964. So let's hear Irma performing the song on her home turf with a tremendous backing band including composer Allen Toussaint on paino, among other New Orleans legends.
Laissez le Bon Temps Rouler!

Irma Thomas (live), Time is on my Side

29 January 2013

Sister Monica Parker, "Never Say Never" (2012)

This is one of those tracks that, the first time I heard it, I fell in love with it. Sista Monica can wrap her soulful voice around a song like nobody I've heard since Sam Cooke -- comin' from me that high praise.

From her Soul, Blues and Ballads album, here's a taste of Sista Monica Parker:

11 January 2013

Rickie Lee Jones: "Flying Cowboys", Redux

Steely Dan guitarist Walter Becker only did one really important thing musically while he and Donald Fagen an Becker were taking their long hiatus (1981-1993). Guitarist / Producer-for-this superb album, released in 1989. Becker creates an ideal sonic format for Jones' neo-beat poetry/lyrics: smooth, almost-jazz arrangements that stay in Rickie Lee's trademark groove. There's even a soulful lesson delivered in a cover of Gerry and the Pacemakers' Don't Let the Sun Catch You Cryin'.

I try to avoid quoting Rolling Stone magazine here, but this time they nailed it:
While it explores a wealth of themes and musical styles, the album unfolds with the ongoing grace of one long song. What provides unity to the album's varied elements is its seductive rhythmic flow, the down-home surrealism of Jones's lyrics, the clarity and intelligence of Walter Becker's production and, of course, the sensual elasticity of Jones's extraordinary singing (Rolling Stone, Nov.2, 1989, Reviews ).
This is by far my favorite Rickie Lee Jones record, though I can't pretend to have heard them all. Let's just say that the "rhythmic flow" of this album will draw you in and never let you go. To wit:

10 January 2013

Emmylou Harris - "Plaisir d'Amour" from "Stumble into Grace " (2003)

Emmylou Harris - Plaisir d'Amour 
(traditional; The McGarrigle Sisters, harmony vocals)

This traditional French song turns up twice in classic cinema of the late '40s and '50s -- once "performed by" Montgomery Clift and once by Deborah Kerr, brilliantly in Tea and Sympathy. Emmylou's is by far the definitive interpretation.

07 January 2013

Two Divas for the Ages: Aretha Franklin and Annie Lennox

Aretha Franklin and Annie Lennox

Here, from The Rock 'a' Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary Show, we find a very special collaboration. The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, joins with British '80s rocker Annie Lennox to perform one of Aretha's timeless hits, Chain of Fools (original, 1967). To my mind, Annie's on of the few artists alive who can hold her own on stage with living legend Aretha Franklin.

The more I thought about this live performance, adding Aretha's original became imperative.