Wednesday, March 22, 2017

PRISON: FRIEND OF THE DEVIL

Rather than dive straight into songs with jail, gaol or prison, I am going to run with the lyrics that alight always in my mind at any mention of prison. I refer to this perennial favourite, by the Darkstar hitmakers themselves. The first version I ever heard, and the one that sticks is the one below, 'Friend of the Devil', covered by Lyle Lovett. This was on my Grateful Dead entry level initiation, on a wonderful and recommended LP, 'Deadicated', a tribute to the band featuring, as well as Lovett, other dignitaries varying from Indigo Girls to Los Lobos, via Burning Spear and Suzanne Vega. It is terrific.


So why did I need this easy entrance? Primarily, fear. As a teenager in the UK, the Dead were a massive iconic template from far way in California. I had read and knew all about them, Haight, the Acid Tests, the Egyptian concerts and triple, quadruple sets featuring, if you were lucky, the aforementioned Darkstar, an old rock and roll standard and, at best, a couple of other songs, spread out and shpongled into epic proportion. It seemed all bit much, a bit exotic for my innocent ears. OK, I got there in the end, actually in my first U.S. jaunt, the sad, usual first american experience of us brits, the wonder(?!) of Orlando. I recall difficulty finding a record store, going on a mini-spree when I found one, jay-walking diagonally across a huge x-roads. Before I knew it I had 3 of their records, including the one with the original version, 1970's 'American Beauty'. (Am I allowed to say it isn't as good?)


I guess I should explain the prison relationship, it being all within the lyrics, a masterpiece of american western gothic, a lyric by Robert Hunter, longterm lyrical cohort to the tunes of Jerry Garcia. (In the interests of fairness, I need to add that New Riders of the Purple Sage guitarist John 'Marmaduke" Dawson also contributed to the song.) I love these story songs of derring do and it is one of the best in the milieu.

I lit up from Reno
I was trailed by twenty hounds
Didn't get to sleep that night
Till the morning came around
I set out running but I'll take my time
A friend of the Devil is a friend of mine
If I get home before daylight
I just might get some sleep tonight
I ran into the Devil, babe
He loaned me twenty bills
I spent that night in Utah
In a cave up in the hills
I set out running etc,
I ran down to the levee
But the Devil caught me there
He took my twenty dollar bill
And he vanished in the air
I set out running etc.
Got two reasons why I cry
Away each lonely night
The first one's named sweet Anne Marie
And she's my heart's delight
Second one is prison, baby
The sheriff's on my trail
And if he catches up with me
I'll spend my life in jail
Got a wife in Chino, babe
And one in Cherokee
First one says she's got my child
But it don't look like me
I set out running etc,
Got two reasons why I cry
Away each lonely night
The first one's named sweet Anne Marie
And she's my heart's delight
Second one is prison, baby
The sheriff's on my trail
And if he catches up with me
I'll spend my life in jail
Got a wife in Chino, babe
The one in Cherokee
The first one says she's got my child
But it don't look like me
I set out running etc.

As ever, the idea of the largely middle class and effete Garcia being in trouble for anything other than his consumables or his tax-return is a little bit laughable, but, hey, rock'n'roll! I have a nagging doubt and concern however as to who, or what was the devil, though. Answers on a postcard.

Meanwhile, get dedicated with 'Deadicated'.



Prison: Jailhouse Rock




As a theme, getting locked up carries a lot of weight and takes on various manifestations: there’s mental prisons of our own making; lonely cells behind actual bars; locks, and chains and the heavy burden of time, doing it and being crushed under it.

It’s really no surprise to see the number of songs related to some variant of the word ‘prison’, not to mention movies. Prison films make up a special genre all their own, and I’m sure you have your favorite. Something about a piece of art that depicts the horrors of losing one’s most fundamental right, their freedom, just begs for a deeper look, and creates in the depiction a purer form of empathy than exists in other genres. Something about being locked away, unable to control even the slightest aspect of your own autonomy, and often subject to the basest of human behaviors, creates in the viewer/listener a sense of fear and sympathy. Simply put, it boils down to: there but for the grace of God…No matter how awful the subject, the lack of freedom makes us pause and wonder. And feel what the prisoner feels.

But, there will be plenty of time to focus on a nice, dark bit of music inspired by prison. For now, let’s have a little fun.

Despite the inherent silliness of this song I’m choosing, or perhaps because the subject leans so precariously toward the dark and the serious, I can’t resist highlighting The Blues Brother’s take on the classic “Jailhouse Rock” for our theme of “Prison.”

The Blues Brothers movie—cable TV ubiquity aside—is a classic. Over the top, gratuitous, destructive, balls to walls in every way, including the straight up marvel of the live musical numbers, The Blues Brothers is one of the films that tends to overcome its own flaws and take on a greater sense of iconic the older it gets.  The musical performances, including Ray Charles, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and more are the strongest aspect of the movie. The all-out musical mayhem and the use of the city of Chicago as a set to pay tribute to some of the great voices of Rhythm and Blues is what make the film. James Brown’s burn down the house preacher scene, Ray Charles’ pawn shop jam, Aretha Fraklin singing R.E.SP.E.C.T in the diner, John Lee Hooker as a street musician. The movie would be great without the addition of the madcap antics of brothers Blues, the Illinois Nazis (“I hate Illinois Nazis!”), the entirety of the Chicago PD force, The National Guard, and the Good Ol' Boys…You know the movie. If you don’t, you should. It deserves the cult status it has earned and for a certain segment of us, the “We’re On a Mission From God” poster was standard décor for the dorm room.

The song itself? If you don’t know it was one of Elvis’ earliest and biggest hits, then you probably don’t know much about music. Here, John Belushi and partner Dan Aykroyd, both musical aficionados and true fans in real life, use the movies to enact their own living, breathing rock n roll fantasy while paying tribute to the King, much in the same way they did with other greats, such as Sam and Dave and Solomon Burke. A lot of people viewed the Blues Brother’s musical venture with cynical scorn: two Hollywood goofs play acting their way through a vanity project. But with the heavy weight additions of some of the aforementioned greats, a legit backing band, and a true love for Rock ‘n Roll, Soul and the Blues, the Blues Brothers output, at this far remove, seems like a lot more than shtick. And, their first album, Briefcase Full of Blues, did actually reach number one.

“Jailhouse Rock” is the end scene of the movie, last in line for a lot of amazing musical numbers. While most of the movie was done in Chicago, and was, according to Aykroyd a tribute to the city itself, the finale was shot in LA. Somehow, the entire band ends up prison, thought it was only Jake and Elwood that got arrested. Joe Walsh, from the Eagles, plays the prisoner who jumps up on the table and starts the riot.  Its not the highlight of the film but it is the Blues Brothers doing what they did: down and dirty R&B that passed for the real thing, because it is.


As for the original, by Elvis—have you ever listened to the lyrics?  It’s a great rock song that features that indescribable shuffle and strum that only the King could spin, the beat that changed the sound of pop music ever after. It’s such an iconic piece of musical history, the covers of it run into the thousands (Search Spotify if you doubt me…). But honestly, its an odd song, content-wise, and I always wondered about it. According to Rolling Stone, the “…theme song for Presley's third movie was decidedly silly… kind of tongue-in-cheek goof. The King, however, sang it as straight rock & roll, overlooking the jokes in the lyrics (like the suggestion of gay romance when inmate Number 47 tells Number 3, 'You're the cutest jailbird I ever did see')..." I feel like I need to add, not that there’s anything wrong with that, and there isn’t, but, seriously:  the song has forever struck me as odd, simply for the fact that it does seem to be a strange, poorly told, and in poor taste joke, that despite his uber-cool, Elvis really didn’t get what he was singing.  Maybe that’s an indication of the times, maybe there’s noting wrong with keeping an innocent sense of what the song is. Maybe we should just focus on the sound: the clock-work rhythm, the punchy up-down guitar, the spin out drums and Scotty Moore’s quick-step riff or wailing solo. When a song is as instantly iconic and recognizable as “Jailhouse Rock”, does it really matter who sings it (movie stars), or what it really means, so long as it gets played? And really, great songs, or movies, don’t really need to make sense to be good.






Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Prison: Prisoners of Their Hairdos


Christine Lavin: Prisoners of Their Hairdos
[purchase]

My recent run of television-related posts would suggest a discussion of The Prisoner, one of the great TV shows of the 1960s, and one of the first shows designed to blow the viewers’ minds, and I still might, but while it had a theme song (with a great credit sequence), it really wasn’t a music based show.

I’ve also recently written elsewhere about Jason Isbell’s cover of Thin Lizzy’s “Jailbreak,” so that’s out. As I perused my music library, I came across this song, which I hadn’t listened to in years, and which reminded me that you don’t need to be in a cell to be a prisoner.

Christine Lavin has been on the folk scene since the 1980s, and while she has had a long, successful career as a singer-songwriter, she never had the sort of national breakout that some of her contemporaries like Suzanne Vega, Tracy Chapman or Shawn Colvin, although she is incredibly well respected in the folk music world. Lavin writes mostly about relationships, and while she can write seriously, she is probably best known for her sense of humor. Many of her songs are laugh out loud funny. I sometimes wonder if her lack of fame stems from the fact that women folk singers are stereotypically supposed to be sad, tortured souls, and Lavin’s humor prevents her from being taken seriously. But that’s really too bad, because she has consistently written and performed great songs, not all of which are jokey.

In addition, she has long been an incredible supporter of other musicians, playing them on the radio, and working with them. I remember listening to her as the first host of WFUV’s Sunday Breakfast, playing music by artists she liked, sometimes even unreleased tracks. Even after friend (and fellow former WPRB Program Director John Platt) took over the show, Lavin would send him music to play, and she occasionally would sub for him. As much as I loved listening to John, which I don’t get to do as much since the station, in a bad move, pushed him to Sunday evening, when sports, TV, life and dinner usually take precedence (sorry!), it was fun to hear Lavin’s unique style every once in a while.

“Prisoners of Their Hairdos” is on the funny side of Lavin’s musical spectrum, and points out that some people’s coiffures are so distinctive that:

If they changed the way they combed their hair 
They'd never be recognized anywhere 
They're prisoners 

Lavin lists Crystal Gayle, Dorothy Hamill, Don King, Lyle Lovett, Gloria Steinem, Stevie Nicks Leon Redbone, Pee Wee Herman, Tom Wolfe, Pope John Paul, Ted Koppel, and Mary Travers as hairdo prisoners, and I’m sure we could think of more recent ones, since the song was released in 1991. An amateur golfer/more amateur president comes to mind…..

The song points out that ZZ Top are, similarly, prisoners of their beards, and Dolly Parton is a prisoner of her…….wigs. But, on the other hand, the B-52’s beehives, she suggests, are prisoners of the band.

There was a time where I had a great deal of hair, but time and genetics has rendered me almost bald, and now I keep my hair short, for ease of care. Typically, when I go to the barber, she asks me, “what do you want to do?” And my response is usually, “there really isn’t much you can do.” My daughter’s father-in-law (English really needs a word like machatenester or consuegro) shaves his head daily, and has tried to convince me to do the same. I’ve declined, because I don’t want to become a prisoner of my baldness.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Prison: The Midnight Special

Leadbelly: The Midnight Special

[purchase]

Coming off a lively week here last week, we now have one of the richest themes popular music has to offer. Prison is such a popular theme, I think, because it implies a yearning for freedom. Certainly, that is true of my first selection.

In choosing a version of The Midnight Special to present, I had almost 100 years of recordings to consider. Leadbelly is often credited with having written the song, but the earliest known recording is from 1923, before Leadbelly’s time. Leadbelly was the natural choice for me however for two reasons: his great performance was the first to popularize the song, and he was black. That is important, because this song is about an essential part of the black experience in America. When Leadbelly sings, “If you ever go to Houston/ You better act right…”, he goes on to describe behavior that only landed his narrator in jail because of the color of his skin. Today, a black teenager can be shot for reaching into his pocket for a bag of Skittles, so The Midnight Special is, sadly, still relevant. Credence Clearwater Revival did a brilliant cover of the song that made it a rock classic, but some of the resonance of the lyric could not help but be lost because the song could not have been about their experience.

The Midnight Special in the title is a train that passes by the prison where the narrator is living. It is an interesting symbol for freedom, since a train is, in a sense, a prisoner of its tracks, able to go only where they take it. Indeed, if a prisoner was somehow able to get to the tracks and jump a freight train in the night, the police would begin their search in the places the train goes, making the escapee easier to catch. But trains can also remind the listener of the Underground Railroad, so they are a powerful symbol of freedom. The writer of the song, however, probably wasn’t thinking that deeply. He just saw a light that belonged to something that had the power to take him away from his situation, even if only for a while.

Prison: Harbor Lights


Purchase <Harbor Lights >

Critics pretty much panned Rock Love, calling it Rock Bottom, not much to love. But, you might cut Steve Miller just a little slack: the album was marketed without his consent. While he was laid up after his motorcycle accident.

Me? At around that time, I did a lot of listening to Steve Miller - culminating with the Joker and slowly going downhill from there, even though I guess he's better known for Fly Like an Eagle and Abracadabra.

Harbor Lights is kind of morbid - the last lines/thoughts of a death row in-mate. In its favor is the acoustic treatment and vocal harmonies: none of them great, but decent enough to warrant a trip down memory lane to lead off our new theme,

Middle: Cody Jinks, Somewhere in the Middle


Somewhere In The Middle, by Cody Jinks Cody Jinks—that name, it’s made for country music. Texas-bred Jinks looks and sounds the part, too: massive, mountain man beard, 10-gallon pulled low over the eyes, and a deep, Waylon Jenning’s inspired baritone that comes out either bourbon smooth, or low and rough, like a long, rutted gravel road. Lyrically, Jinks covers the kind of territory that only a voice like his could: sin, redemption, regret, hard luck and bad choices, counterbalanced with sincere love songs that traverse the territory of the heart and soul with a soft, gentle tread.

Jinks has an interesting history, which he often addresses in his songs (the whole of his catalog has an auto-biographical quality). While he dwells in traditional territory now, far from Nashville and closer to his predecessors like Cash, Jennings and Haggard, he made his bones in a thrash metal band called Unchecked Aggression as lead singer and guitar player. The difference is striking. That deep, low-voiced delivery and his often minor-chord guitar combine, among other musical elements, to deliver something that is off-kilter in the most pleasing way, yet still rough and raw and full of gut feeling . Outlaw magazine (I love that title!), described Jinks’ music as “ majestic and ethereal while remaining somehow bareknuckle.” That’s an apt descriptor for Jinks’ take on traditional country—it’s a feeling, bone-deep, rather than a sound, a sense that pervades the whole of the aural landscape it creates. Jinks, along with his band The Tone Deaf Hippies, work in a rare panorama of mood and impression, dark, brooding, yet suffused with a honky-tonk balladeer’s sense of looking up from the bottom and still seeing the good.

“Somewhere in the Middle” comes from the 2010 self-released Less Wise (Jinks is homegrown and grass roots: he started out releasing his own music and making a name the old fashioned way: grinding it out on the road and making fans one by one). His 2016 I'm Not the Devil reached number 4 on the country charts, which is something that strikes me as one more telling note about Jinks’ homegrown appeal. The song itself—that’s why we’re here, right?—is a classic barroom ballad, a lilting waltz set to a backdrop of fiddle, steel guitar and Jinks’ beautiful slow rolling, low timbre drawl. Jinks is a phenomenal narrative writer and he tells stories populated by lost, down and out souls. He works in the tradition of a storyteller who takes autobiography and mixes it with traditional story elements to create a deep history of knowing insight and universality of theme for ghost chasers, big dreamers and lost, yet hopeful wanderers. Great narrative writers who play guitar and sing are often compared to Springsteen or Dylan, and I know that kind of comparison often draws a telling sigh that means, OK, here we go again, another wannabe…But, that’s the lament of the undereducated and the unappreciative: when it comes to telling tales of characters that leap off the page (or, the turntable in our case), there’s no better way to hear their stories than set to music. Cody Jinks’ is a natural when it comes to creating a visual biography. “Somewhere in the Middle” is a song that dwells somewhere between regret and satisfaction at one’s station in life, and how arriving at the place, in this case, the middle, depends a lot on what happens in a life where nothing is certain. Jink’s narrator tells us about the places he’s drifted and he’s learned from living a wanderer’s life. More importantly, the speaker seems to have found himself by getting lost, and in the people he’s met along he way:

I’ve known a lot of real good men, grad school or no school
I've called em' my friends
I'm somewhere in the middle and that's just fine. 
No, I don't give a damn how much money you make
If your last shirt has pockets, take all you can take
I'm Well, I'm goin' out with nothin' like I came in

That refrain, “I’m somewhere in the middle, and that’s just fine”, says it all: Jinks’ character has built a life from what he’s learned. And while being in the middle is fine, he also knows

Treatin' saints and sinners right
Is a good thing to do all the time
You never know who you're talkin' to
But always know who's watching you
Keep your feet movin' straight down the line

So, in the middle, somewhere else, wherever, if Jink’s brilliant brand of country teaches you anything it’s this: keep your eyes, and ears, open and keep your feet moving—there’s a lot of world out there, lot of people, too, and all of them have something to offer if you stay on the road long enough to find out.

As a side note, in January, Jinks released his brilliant take on the Pink Floyd classic, “Wish You Were Here” as a single. Seek this song out—it’s a perfect example of how Jinks does country: classic style tinged with a purely original touch to create what amounts to wholly original and perfectly familiar. That’s enough adverbs for one day…my ‘l’ and ‘y’ keys need a break…but sometimes, great music gets me all effusive…


Friday, March 17, 2017

Middle: (Still) Stuck in the Middle with You

I got scooped by our own Seuras Og. I was preparing my own take on the elephant in the room when I saw his. However, he made the mistake of saying that most covers of Stuck in the Middle with You are dire. I couldn’t resist the challenge. To be fair, there are a large number of covers of the song that range from unnecessary to unfortunate. If you are going to cover a song, I feel that you should take possession of it, and show the listener something new in how you approach. But here are five versions of the song that do just that.
65 Mines Street: Stuck in the Middle with You
[purchase]
This one may be the weakest of my selections, but I had to find a ska version. 65 Mines Street gives this one a minimalist ska treatment; there are no horns, and they give the performance a punk attitude. Still, they do find a new infectious groove to replace the one in the original version.
Venice: Stuck in the Middle with You
[purchase]
Venice does the most straightforward cover of the song in this set. However, I love the accordion and bottle neck guitar here. This one is a change not of the groove but of the flavor, and it really works.
Sara Colman: Stuck in the Middle with You
[purchase]
How should you approach doing a jazz version of the song? Sara Colman and her small combo remake the song into a slow burner with real heat…
Michael Buble: Stuck in the Middle with You

[purchase]

…while Michael Buble can afford to give the song a big band treatment that really cooks as well. Alas, we don’t all have a major label backing us, but it’s great when that backing gets put to such good use.


Dale Ann Bradley: Stuck in the Middle with You
[purchase]
Finally, Stuck in the Middle with You turns out to be a popular choice with country artists, including versions by Keith Urban among others. But once I found this tasty bluegrass version, I stopped looking for more. There are probably a few more worthy versions in the cabinet of musical curiosities, and I hope our readers will let us know about some of those in the comments.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

MIDDLE: STUCK IN THE MIDDLE WITH YOU

Cripes, I can't believe we have got this far without the elephant in the room, glowering impatiently, stuck, if you will, and awaiting attention. The boss has even pleaded vaingloriously, at least thus far, for the necessary wink to be tipped. So, by public apathy, let me bring you the late and the great Gerry Rafferty, paired with Joe Egan, together better(?) known as Stealer's Wheel.


But, I wonder, would anyone know the song but for it's mercurial appearance in the soundtrack of Tarantino's explosive debut, 'Reservoir Dogs' and of course I have linked to that scene. But, at least over here in the UK, the song had had a respectable life of it's own, hitting a 1973 number 8 in the charts. (Actually, a quick whiz to wiki shows me it did even better in the US, with a Billboard 6, no doubt abetted by the production of famed production team, (Jerry) Leiber and (Mike) Stoller of Elvis Presley fame.) Although the album produced another couple of relative hits, they seemed destined to be placed in one-hit wonderland, fading from grace thereafter, 2 later records peforming fairly poorly. (But worth chasing out.)

The break up of the band did not bode well for Joe Egan, disallowed from recording for 3 years by a court order, such was the depth of 'musical differences.'  After a pair of barely noticed discs in 1979 and 1982 he left the business. Rafferty fared much better, again despite the 3 year legal albatross,cementing his reputation with the enduring majesty of 'Baker Street', eclipsing his earlier success with a 3 and a 2, respectively, in the UK and the US. His dreamy vocal enraptured me at the time, and I picked up most of his subsequent work. Sadly, in later years, he became increasingly dependent on alcohol, the media picking up on various chaotic scenes, probably leading to his, to all intent and purpose, disappearance in 2008, give or take further reportage. He died of liver failure in 2010. R.I.P.

The songs live on, a fitter memorial than the newsprint. A remarkable fact is that, at the height of Reservoir Dog-mania, the then still alive Rafferty refused a re-release of the song, which would undoubtedly have been again a huge hit. Quite what the thoughts of co-author Egan thought around that seems unrecorded, but I am sure, and hope, he got some reward from the back catalogue surge.
Plus, I guess, the slurry of covers that have subsequently appeared. Here are the best of them. (Thankfully, of the 3 dozen odd, most are so dire that there is very little chance of this post shoulda having been on Cover Me!)


I'm not even sure if this is that good a cover, being a near copy, albeit with rougher vocals, and a nod, at the intro, to Tarantino. And is that sitar? Whatever, boys, it's Susanna Hoffs. Relax


I quite like the way that this one starts off completely against the grain, before again just apeing the vocal lines. Badly. Still, the Eagles of Death Metal have shown themselves brave in the face of a good deal worse than Mr Blonde, so lets give them the benefit of the doubt.

Do you know, I'm going to leave it there. I actually think it is a song beyond meaninful reinterpretation. Actually as is Baker Street. (Have you heard Waylon Jennings?)

So stick with it. Buy


Middle: Children of the Moon



Purchase this song (link)

Once upon a time - 30 years or so ago - the Alan Parsons Project was on my Heavy Rotation list. That would have been about the same time as Steve Winwod's <Arc of a Diver>, so we are talking about the early 80 s-  the time that Parson's <Eye in the Sky> came out.

Although Parsons is still doing his thing, it's likely that few of you would recall it: he is the engineer behind the Beatles' <Abbey Road> album. And Pink Floyd's <Dark Side of the Moon>. And Al Stewart's <Year of the Cat>. 


So ... in this day of employment woes, you might ask: what does an engineer do? Is that a viable career path for me? The Internet tells us that recording engineers "shape the sound -- setting up the equipment and sometimes actually producing the album".  Musicians that worked with Parsons note that he is known for going beyond the "duties" required by the job.


Around the 80s, Parsons decided to put his energies into a band of his own- the Alan Parsons Project, making use of his various contacts. The Project was just that, rather than being an established band, generally not playing live, the band made use of revolving lead singers and a small core of regular musicians.
At one point, Parsons'  music made it as far as the top 10 in several countries: the album containing this hit song went as high as #7. From the late 70s to the mid 80s, his music was at- or near- the top (Abbey Road and Dark Side of the Moon, of course, hitting the top spot)


Style-wise ... you need to keep in mind the time-frame and associated influences of the time period- (this is the era of late Yes, Genesis and various other groups that were expanding the 3 minute/Beatles pop hot to a 10 minute extended oevre) - the music pushed the limits of what was expected/standard: more that 3 minutes long ... deviating from the standard I..IV..V chord progression - verging on jazz ... jazz-rock or beyond.


Hopeless world - that's what the lyrics say//





My tenuous link: the lyrics: lost in the middle of ...

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

MIDDLE: Malcolm Middle(ton)


Grant me some poetic licence here, the boss says anything loosely based around Middle is kosher, and what can be more Middle than Middleton, which sounds as if it should be a small town in the, um, middle of, well, the middle, maybe. (Is there a Middleton? Well of course there is. In fact there are oodles of 'em.....) But this isn't about places, this is about people. Or rather, about a person, one Malcolm Middleton. Not Max Middleton, I should add, celebrated Jeff Beck and Chris Rea sidesman, but, being a good egg, let's give him a quick shout too.

So who is Malcolm Middleton? Afficionados of the late 90's post-rock scene in Glasgow, Scotland, will be familiar with the name, he being half of Arab Strap, along with Aidan Moffat. Blending coruscatingly blunt subject matter: squalor, drugs, drunkenness and despair, sung in broad scots, over somewhat rudimentary instrumentation of acoustic guitars and primitive electronica, they were arguably an acquired taste, I loved them.


(Subtitles did I hear you ask?) Between 1995 and 2006 the duo produced 6 studio albums ahead of calling it a day, although there have been a couple of re-unions, in 2011 and just recently. Here's what the Guardian newspaper had to say about one such show last October. Sounds aa absolute delight.

Middleton had actually launched his solo career ahead of the end of Arab Strap, with 2002's '5:14 Fluoxytine Seagull Alcohol John Nicotine.' Uncertain of the rationale of Seagull or John, I think the other words give away no small indication of his demographic. In fact he managed a 2nd record ahead of the break-up, in 2006, with another following fast in 2007, shortly after. This 3rd was remarkable in that it produced an initially strong contender for the U.K. christmas number one single for that year. This was the typically upbeat "We're All Going to Die":


Sadly it only made it to 31, not bad for an initial 1000 - 1 outsider, the exposure doing Middleton no harm.

Further records followed in 2008 and 2009 before he suggested he had had enough of the whole process. Thankfully there was some later reconsideration, with the last year or four showing a re-energisation, both under a new identity, the largely instrumental, 'Human Don't Be Angry', as well as, last year, under his given name. Here is a track from each, firstly '1985' by 'Human Don't Be Angry':



                                                 and 'Summer of '13'/Malcolm Middleton:


Picqued? Make a start

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Middle: Meet You In The Middle



Parker McCollum is an up and coming Austin-based country rocker. His debut, The Limestone Kid, is a captivating mix of sounds, immediately familiar to fans of Texas Red Dirt country, but full of a great sense of energy that pushes this collection past whatever genre label you’d want to apply. McCollum’s songs are made for radio, made for driving, but there’s also a touch of melancholy that puts him in some pretty interesting shared company as a songwriter. Think, really handsome cowboy poet, strumming away outside church, not really taking part in the service, but well aware of all that talk about sin and redemption. McCollum moves deftly from soul-tinged tales of heartbreak to rockers burning with country twang. His take on Americana covers a lot of landscape and he avoids the stereotypical lyrical and imagistic content so much ‘new’ country seems to traffic in. Despite his young age, McCollum is rooted not only in an old soul’s world view, but his sound has a distressed, age-worn feel that makes the music a little timeless, in the very best way.

McCollum has had some success with “Meet You in the Middle”, a perfectly penned bit of breakup poetry, talking about being left behind, and having to deal with all the parts of life that don’t seem to stop for heartache or the lowliness of feeling like you’ve been screwed over. I love how the song deals with an angry bout of loneliness, but set to a soaring soundtrack of pedal steel, a rolling lead guitar rollickingly picked like a banjo line, and a tempo that rises and falls in a mimic of the narrator’s emotional ebb and flow between sadness and strange optimism as he tries to catch up, but never gets that far.


The Limestone Kid is a fantastic album from a songwriter with a literary, poetic bent and a knack for writing the kind of songs that could fall into multiple musical categories and fit right in. This is country, to be sure, but it goes beyond the trappings of Texas and Nashville to traverse a landscape of McCollum’s own tuneful, addictively singalong-worthy design. This is a road trip collection of songs, and you'll be glad for taking the ride.