Sunday, December 10, 2017

THE END: The End Has No End

Purchase The Strokes, The End Has No End

The Strokes. In 2001, their debut, This Is It, was perhaps one of the greatest rock albums of the past 20 years. In retrospect, 15 plus years on, it's still an amazing album, but its greatness is measured against the disappointment of their subsequent albums. And I realize it is utterly subjective and a little unfair to hold The Strokes up to their freshman brilliance. The bar was set so high on This Is It that it would have been impossible for even the most steadfast band, with the deepest talent pool and the best of extracurricular habits, to repeat. And while the Strokes have had scattered and occasional genius on each release, it's been a game of a diminishing ratios.

So statistically, 2003's Room on Fire had more great songs on it than 2006's First Impressions of Earth, which is still a relatively cool album, but not nearly as luminous as the two before. 2011's Angles barley deserves a message--it sounds like bad disco, and you have to dig all the way to the end to get that good track ("Life is Simple in the Moonlight"). I don't even know what to say about 2013's Comedown Machine, except that perhaps The Strokes were just having is on, telling a little joke.

Which in the Strokes case, is at least interesting. As in, even bad, they are an interesting band.  They music they create is of its own genre, really. And when it doesn't work, its only disappointing in comparison to their stunning talent for making uncommon commotions. So, need I even say that I don't think anything will ever equal the stellar, stunning brilliance of This Is It? The stand out tracks are the ones that sound most like their first songs, and when the Strokes are good, my god, they're amazing. When they're not, they are oddly, still an interesting band. Just not a very good one.

One of the best songs from Room on Fire is "The End Has No End", a little bit of shaggy pop, with a brilliant sashaying rhythm guitar and a bubbling,  lead line that sounds like a computer from a 1970s cartoon--think Mr. Peabody feeding calculations into his machine. The drums are classic finger taps on thin glass until the whole thing winds out into a lit-up chorus and a dissonant back and forth between the guitars and Julian Casablanca's laconic snarling anger. It comes up, it goes down, it sounds like it comes from a space age that we read about in science fiction novels from the 60s. Like I said, when the Strokes are brilliant, they are nothing shy of first-class rocket ship pilots.

So, why aren't they always brilliant? I don't know, but its OK: we just don't understand.


Been thinking a bit about ends recently, as in end of times rather than the other ends of, well, anyone. That can be depressing thinking, either choice actually, but, let's face it, the world ain't actually being done any great favours by those that have earnt(?) the right to control it. So how best to lift the mood and bring a smile to proceedings? I find a rousing raggedy chorus of purpose to be an apt and welcome remedy. So who better than the never more ragged, vocally anyway, Jayhawks. Short of early 70s Lindisfarne, no-one does it better. Love it, especially when comes the awkward and never more effective collision of Mark Olson and Gary Louris is there, something that real life failed ever to make for a permanent connection. Their 1992 - 95 recordings, 'Hollywood Town Hall' and 'Tomorrow the Green Grass', albums 3 and 4 respectively, are perhaps the best examples of how to 'do' americana, and are certainly my favourite.

This song, however dates earlier than that, and one I first picked up on that green Rykodisc 20th anniversary sampler that you really ought to have. Rykodisc are one of those labels that just guarantee
satisfaction, always a reliable source of good music, in no small part due to the Joe Boyd connection, Ryko having bought his label, Hannibal, and thus granted much wider attention to his roster. A man who can do no wrong, his pedigree is impeccable. (Whaddya mean, you don't know who Joe Boyd is? Until I get round to a post wholly devoted, go here. Or better, read this.) Anyhow, I digress, the song, apart from that inclusion, that comes from the band's somewhat tentative second step, 'Blue Earth', in 1989. Their debut had been a low-key and local production and release, this being an attempt to woo the majors. Unfortunately circumstance allowed it to be little more than slightly enhanced demos, Louris having even left the band through an injury, wooed back to overdub his guitar and vocal parts onto the Olson penned songs. He stayed. Derided as primitive at the time, it is both template and masterclass for what would follow, with a little added rough polish.

The song is a treat, but I can't say I fully understand the lyrics, it may be best that way. But given the frequency with which live versions of it abound on the youtube, including the one I show, I can't help but feel it a metaphor for the on-off relationship between Louris and Olson. After Louris rejoined the band, Olson left in 1995, the band continuing without him. In a hiatus nearly a decade later, the pair hooked up as a duo, 'From the Jayhawks', and toured, ultimately appearing on each other's solo albums and, in 2009, a creditworthy acoustic duo effort, 'Ready for the Flood'. 2011 saw Jayhawks, the band,  reconvene, lasting 3 or so years before Olson again skipped camp, albeit after the excellent 'Mockingbird Time'. The band, helmed by Louris continues sporadically. I don't know (and I don't wish to check) whether the Olson-free band play 'Ain't No End' and hope they don't, as my vision of/for the song is that there ain't no end to the possibility of a Jayhawks band with both of 'em. Whimsy? Maybe. And probably deeply insulting to the exemplary other members, one also that fails to recognise the actual greater commercial success of the band between the Olson memberships. Such is life, I need both in my Jayhawks and it's my piece!

Here's the original.

Friday, December 8, 2017

The End: Both Ends Burning

Roxy Music: Both Ends Burning

Roxy Music is one of those bands that have a handful of songs that I like (basically, the band’s “greatest hits”), but I never really spent time with their deeper tracks. Strangely, I think that it is Bryan Ferry’s voice that has put me off, despite the fact that I recognize that it is a fine voice. There’s a certain smarminess that I’ve never really liked, and his lounge lizard persona never appealed to me. I’ve been a bigger fan of guitarist Phil Manzanera and original synthesizer/effects man Brian Eno (and even multi-instrumentalist Eddie Jobson, who was in the band for a few albums) than I ever was of Ferry or Roxy. Despite my reservations, I do recognize that the band was influential, straddling the worlds of prog, glam, dance and new wave music during their career.

“Both Ends Burning” is from Roxy’s fifth album, Siren, the blue one with Jerry Hall, one of many Ferry girlfriends to grace the band’s albums over the years, on the cover (see above). It’s the album that had “Love Is The Drug” on it, which I’m willing to bet was the first Roxy Music song that I ever heard. Siren is a transitional album, where the quirkier edges of their early work began to smooth out, and that is probably why it was popular, but also why some critics found it less compelling.  “Both Ends Burning” is a good example of this—it is a relatively straightforward, mid-tempo rock song about the rigors of living a hard life, including long stretches on the road, but it also has odd synth and guitar bits and textures that makes it memorable. And Ferry’s louche, world-weary delivery works perfectly for the song.

Over the next few years, Roxy Music became more of a Bryan Ferry vehicle (even as Ferry was releasing solo albums), and became slicker and slicker, culminating with Avalon, which was popular, lushly beautiful and to some degree, dull. And I say that, acknowledging that there are a couple of songs on it that I do really like. While the band performed live over the years, in various configurations, Avalon turned out to be Roxy Music’s last studio album, or, as we call it here, The End.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The End: End of the Innocence

purchase [End ]

I've seen cover after amazing cover of this song.
It's a pretty solid song: the lyrics can take you to all sorts of places:

it speaks to the future
it speaks to the end
it speaks to hope

At this time in history - because once it will be history - it's tough not not to get political. I got [too] political in my last post at considerable risk to being shut down (yes, that what happens in some parts of the world when you speak your voice)

What better chance to once again bring the issues to light:
In many ways, the days we are living through ARE in fact the end of our innocence.
Fake News - and worse - is all pushed aside to make room for ... less or worse ... Sudan's drought, N. Korea's nukes.. or things as mundane(!) as the UK's Brexit .. today's news ... WTF have we come to?!?!

How on Earth did Leno manage to bring this group together? It's like my dream team of music:
Jackson, Shawn, Bonnie, Bruce & David - The End Of The Innocence - TV Show

Saturday, December 2, 2017


Have Scritti Politti ever appeared in these pages? I don't believe so and that is a shame. They were, and indeed still are, a fine band, if sometimes unfairly lumped in with other flotsam and jetsam of the 80s, even if their sound is almost the epitome of all the studio tropes of that era, gated drums and stabbed synths. But, look below that exquisite candy coat of production sheen and there is a whole lot more going on. This song wasn't the first or only hit, there having been several more ahead of it, at least on my side of the pond, but it was the biggest in the US, a number 11 in 1985.

So who, or what, were Scritti Politti? Most people would agree that Green Gartside is Scritti Politti, the creator, influence and writer, sole standing presence throughout the history of the band. A lanky and somewhat serious young man, originally from Cardiff, at school, aged 14, he founded a branch of the Young Communist League, enthusiastically embracing Marxism, the ideology and imagery leaking through into his lyrics, even if the practicalities of living such a life later waned. The dawn of the punk era was manna to such thinking, all self-conscious espousal of the trappings of fame and a do-it-yourself ethos extinguishing the earlier expectations within the music scene; of polish, practice and perfection. So, in contrast with the counter-intuitive, even ironic polish of later work,  the first recordings were primitive and sparse, like this, P.A.s, from 1979. Watch the vid to see how every bit of the process was in-house and self-made, from the sleeves to the distribution. Hell, they even wrote a booklet on how. Unfortunately the struggling artist starving in a garret does not fame or fortune make, and the lifestyle prove disruptive to Gartside's health, a collapse on stage necessitating a tactical retreat to South Wales. During this time he gradually morphed his tastes from spiky guitars to the the soul and funk of Star and Motown, suddenly realising that pop didn't have to be pap. And, whilst he cast aside some of his political idealism, certain aspects remained. How many commercial breakthroughs stem from a diligent thesis on the theory, studiously researched and jotted down in student notebooks?

The lightbulb moment came with The Sweetest Girl, a digital remaster of the original demo which features above. Another (and still) devotee of the Marxist cause, one Robert Wyatt, is on piano. The familiar style is already present, chopped keyboard motifs and a slightly dubby rhythm, if here clearly programmed. But it was his voice, a clear and pure higher register croon, embalming the listener, that is the most striking feature. The boy can sing! Although distribution difficulties delayed the eventual release, Songs to Remember, the 1982 LP, was a substantive UK success, but Gartside was again disillusioned.

Again it was black music that was giving new motivations, this time the emergent rap and hip-hop scenes. No small coup was it then when he came to the ears of veteran producer Arif Mardin, who effectively relaunched the band as a slick and subtle dance act. I love the fact that the opening salvo, Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin), was produced by the producer of Aretha Franklin. Cupid and Psyche 85 is one of the consummate releases of the decade. I wholeheartedly love it, a listen of any of the tracks instantly spinning me back to times of mullets and shiny suits rolled up to the elbow. A minor dent in the US charts, as was the next single, The Word Girl, with its more overt reggae influence, it wasn't until Perfect Way broke that America really caught ear of Scritti Politti. Staying sure to this style, if expanding on all the the jazz-funk slants, 1988 brought Provision, another jewel of, now, Gartside's own production, along with now firmly cemented band member, Dave Gamson. Also featured on the record was, of all people, Miles Davis, who had himself separately covered Perfect Way, making for a second time round success. His appearance makes for one of the most exquisite brief appearance of a trumpet in popular music, as below.

So where now for SP/GG? True to pattern came another period of reflection and reconstitution in his homeland, effectively retiring for 7 years, ahead of 1999's Anomie and Bonhomie, hip-hop now dictating the main thrust. If honest, I here found myself losing my hitherto staunch patronage, although 2006's White Bread, Black Beer went some way to draw me back, being also a return to the more politicised statementing of his early career. There was now also a return to touring, after a 25 year hiatus, Gartside now sporting a beard and other trappings of conventionality, as befitting his elder statesman persona. But the voice is unchanged, remarkably, as this brief clip from this year can show.  I have yet to catch him/them but live in hope, the UK summer festival scene awash with the indian summers of seemingly every band ever.

A final aside are the extraordinary dual folkie side-projects that Gartside has embarked upon, appearing in many a Joe Boyd curated tribute show to the likes of Nick Drake and Sandy Denny. With little apparent influences showing previously, even Boyd himself was surprised by the knowledge and respect given by Gartside to this material. This is a guise within which I have witnessed him play, a shy quiet giant in a green corduroy suit and silver whiskers. Wonderful stuff to finish with. (This clip is 5 years earlier, but it looks the same suit!)

Here also is a wonderful short that gives a bit more of the backstory to this enigmatic man/band.

Find all these recordings and more here......

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Leftovers: Two Words: Empty Pages

purchase [John Barleycorn]

I was on the road when SMM did the Two Words theme back in late July, so I couldn't contribute. There aren't too many people these days who are able to take a few weeks off with no internet connection, but that's what I religiously do once or twice a year, often in July and August. Yes, I've got a smart phone that <can> connect, but when you're roaming in another country, you end up wanting to severely limit your connectivity due to the cost.

Take it from me, there's something cathartic about truly logging off. Forget connecting to the Internet, I don't even answer the phone. Overseas call? ... It just costs too much.

Cost it is, then. Penny-pinching, frugal, thrifty, parsimonious, miserly. Whatever.

This 2-word song <Empty Pages> didn't come to mind back in July - it is a leftover from Thanksgiving: John Barleycorn being one of my first thoughts about the Thanksgiving harvest. The album falls in the prime of Winwood's years. Yeah, Steve Winwood still does a very credible vocal and decent tickle of the 88 keys, but there hasn't been much composition since ... way back then.

Empty Pages, on the other hand, is a classic example of Winwood's sensibilities: the keyboard solo has a light touch and the melody is unforgettable. I think they call it ... classic. The right notes in the right place. Light notes. The song kinda trips along (if not the light fantastic, it's the rock alternative).

Following the  John Barleycorn album, the band headed off their own ways - each to his own. Winwood headed first to the short-lived Blind Faith and for some reason, like a moth, circles back around again and again to Clapton.

Heh! If they showed up again in my neighborhood, I wouldn't miss it - saw them together in Blind Faith in Seattle 1970 and then again in Istanbul in 2013?.  Me? Like a moth to the fame, it's worth every hassle each time. Whether they're alone or together.

Way back in 2010 SMM blogger bwrice (!?)  posted about this song under the Discoveries theme. The music for that link no linger resolves, so - although I repeat a previous SMM post, I am also bringing it up to date so that you can once again actually listen to the song.

And  a promo from the new album:

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Leftovers: Large Numbers—A Million Miles Away

The Plimsouls: A Million Miles Away

I’m kind of surprised that no one has ever written about this song on Star Maker Machine. Although someone did write about a different song with the same title.

This is one of those songs that you had to have heard, many times, if you listened to the kind of radio in the 1980s that I suspect most writers on this site, past and present, listened to. It is simply a great example of power pop, a genre that I love, and which I have written about often. (Strangely, while writing this, I’m listening to King Crimson’s Larks’ Tongue in Aspic, about as far away from power pop as you can get). It often appears on lists of best power pop songs, sometimes in the top position, and on other lists of great 80s songs.

The Plimsouls were essentially a one-hit wonder band led by Peter Case. Case had previously been in another short-lived band, The Nerves, with Jack Lee and Paul Collins, who are best known as the original performers of “Hanging On The Telephone,” before breaking up. Lee, who wrote “Telephone,” is mostly remembered as a songwriter. Collins went on to form The Beat, sometimes known as Paul Collins’ Beat, to distinguish them from the band known in America as the English Beat. And Case, after the Plimsouls, embarked on a solo career, mostly in the Americana area. Despite the generally lack of commercial success for these bands, they are considered to be influential in the new wave/power pop world.

“A Million Miles Away,” for all of its inherent quality, would probably have been ignored if it hadn’t been featured prominently in the iconic 80s movie, Valley Girl, in which the band appeared, playing the song, and another, in a bar.

Luckily, it wasn't.

Leftovers (Down): Down to the Waterline

Dire Straits: Down to the Waterline


Dire Straits burst on the scene in 1979 with a combination of literary lyrics and incendiary playing. Sultans of Swing seemed to introduce Mark Knopfler as the newest guitar god, so some listeners probably overlooked the fact that the song also invoked a powerful sense of place, and sketched memorable characters in just a few lines of lyric. Down to the Waterline was the followup single, and the guitar playing here is still pretty fiery. But the song is also a powerful reminder of Knopfler’s talent with words. This time, the song describes a series of passionate stolen moments with a strong sense of the here and now. But the last verse reveals that these were a series of memories, despite their immediacy. That shift in perspective is a feature that is often found in the short stories of the masters, and Knopfler does it with only as many words as are absolutely needed.

Over the years, Knopfler would show that he had no desire to be a guitar god. He is still widely admired by his fellow players, but the fireworks disappeared starting with the third Dire Straits album, Making Movies. The literary quality of his lyrics, however, was a constant, first with the rest of the Dire Straits albums, and then throughout Knopfler’s later career as a solo artist. Even a song like Money For Nothing, with its lowbrow narrator, is a powerful evocation of character. All of that talent as a writer was on display from the beginning, and Down to the Waterline is a fine example.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

All the Fixings: Gravy Waltz

Sarah Vaughan: Gravy Waltz


Joe Williams: Gravy Waltz


Let me start this post by talking about Steve Allen. Allen was the first host of what would eventually become known as The Tonight Show. Allen was a comedian, but he also was a piano player and song writer. Allen claimed to have written 8,500 songs, but there are different ways of counting. Take Gravy Waltz for example. The tune was written by Ray Brown, who was the bass player at the time for the Oscar Peterson Trio. Steve Allen had nothing to do with the writing of the music, but he did add the lyrics after the fact. Oddly, although a version of the song was used on Allen’s show, that one was an instrumental. The record of that version was credited to “Steve Allen with Don Trenner and His Orchestra”, and the songwriting credit on the label was for “R. Brown- S. Allen”. Although the piano is featured prominently on that recording, Allen was not the player. Still, Allen’s lyric is a good one, but one must look elsewhere to hear it. I looked to two of the best jazz singers active in 1963, when the song enjoyed a burst of popularity.

Sarah Vaughan is still a legendary figure today. Her Gravy Waltz is a celebration of the importance of family. Her voice had a soulfulness that instilled this song and so many others with a powerful emotional depth. By contrast, Joe Williams is perhaps lesser known today, but was at least as famous at the time. He was known as Big Joe Williams from his long stint with the Count Basie Orchestra, and he had also made a name for himself as a blues singer. His Gravy Waltz, despite his blues pedigree, was more of a light-hearted romp. So, dear readers, I offer you to different moods from Steve Allen’s lyric. Either way, our Thanksgiving feast here an Star Maker has some fine gravy.

Friday, November 24, 2017

All the Fixings: MFO

Purchase [MFO]

I've waffled back and forth for 10 days about this theme, but I am going to go with this one. Seems to me that I have likely been down a similar path before, being that I post to you from .... Turkey. 

No better time than the present to go for this: the holiday and the political climate being what they are. US-Turkish relations are at an all time nadir. The list of grievances is long. 

A summary look at both sides of the various crises: 2 months ago, the US consulate stopped issuing visas. Turkey responded in kind. Then there's the long running issue of the PKK affiliated YPG that the US has been supplying with arms in Syria (both sides agree that the PKK is a terrorist organization, but ...) And simmering in the background is the Turkish claim that a religious leader holed up in Penna. is behind the recent coup attempt, but evidence presented to the US hasn't convinced the American courts that there is enough to extradite the man. There's the recent NATO drill where the faces of the best of Turkish history were used as "the bad guys". Oh, and there is the court case of the Iranian-Turkish money laundering scheme in contradiction to the US embargo which may well involve some sensitive implications for powerful men. [It\s bad enough that this post would well get me blocked from further SMM contributions.]

All this said, what better time to celebrate what may be the best group that Turkey has ever come up with. Yes, there's Tarkan - a rare Turkish artist who has actually made it into the World charts more than once - and he brings a melange of East and West,something that Turkey singularly can lay claim to as the country that has land mass in both Europe and Asia. Istanbul is one cool city as a result. And there are many more Turkish music artists that I could recommend, many of whom make the best of East-West fusion. In addition to a healthy collection of other eclectic styles. It's a scene with checking out.

But it is Mahsar-Fuat-Ozkan who hold the top spot in many people's heart. They've been around for more than a generation. They're kind of a local CSNY: folk-rock. They're getting on in years but still at it with regular concerts even if their albums are getting fewer and farther between.But it's theire classic that have nailed for them a place in the local psyche. And maybe now in yours.

Turkish pop for your post-turkey day listening:

Monday, November 20, 2017

All The Fixings: Linger (The Cranberries)

The Cranberries: Linger

Continuing my sub-theme of Thanksgiving foods that I didn’t like as a child but do now, we turn to cranberry sauce. Growing up, my best recollection of this staple side dish was a thick cylinder of bright red jiggly jelly, lying on its side on a plate, still bearing the indentations of the can from which it had been extruded. There was never any sense that this was a food that could be prepared from natural ingredients; instead, it was almost like a prop, put on the table because it was supposed to be there, not because there was any sort of clamor for it.

Then, I had my wife’s homemade cranberry sauce (see picture above), created from a bag of actual cranberries, and treated as a (near) equal to the other dishes that graced our Thanksgiving table. Sure, it was still bright red, and sure, it was still sweet, but it looked like actual food that a person would want to eat, not some sort of alien goop in tube form. There was a freshness, a tartness, and even some texture to the dish. And therefore, it helped to set off the richness of the turkey, gravy, potatoes, stuffing and other items that fought for space on my too small plate. Mix up a piece of white meat turkey, with a forkful of cornbread sausage stuffing and crown it with a dollop of crimson cranberry sauce, and you have created something sublime.

Of course, the chosen song really has nothing to do with Thanksgiving at all—it is a lament about the feelings that remain after a love has betrayed you—but it is one of my two favorite songs by the Cranberries, an Irish band from the 90s, fronted by Delores O’Riordan, who has a beautiful voice and a thick Irish accent. I remember when they came out, thinking that they pretty much sounded like the Sundays, an English band from the slightly earlier 90s, fronted by Harriet Wheeler, who has a beautiful voice and an English accent (although I think she may be of Irish heritage). A quick search of the Internet indicates that I’m not the only one who has made this comparison. Both bands also had some early success, then sort of faded from public consciousness.

I could have chosen to write about the other song I like by the band, the more rocking “Dreams,” but thought that there was a tenuous connection to the Thanksgiving dinner table, where we would all “Linger.” Unless there was a good football game on.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

ALL THE FIXINGS: Frogs, SPROUTS, Clogs & Krauts

I confess to always feeling and being a little bit lost when this yearly staple comes around, not even sure entirely for what the thanks are being given for. (Is it the right to be free from your colonialist oppressors and for free speech? Good luck with that!) And all the fixings is what you eat with your turkey, right? Over here we eat turkey a few weeks later, for Christmas, a meal so set into tradition that I, for one, am glad it comes but one a year. I don't know what you guys eat with it, but it is the sprouts that cause most concern to many of my compatriots. Brassica oleracea, the brussel sprout, that miniature cabbage that, when boiled to buggery, has all the taste and texture of a dirty dishcloth. Thankfully, unlike bread sauce, chestnut stuffing and roast potatoes, there are a host of songs about this most flatulent of vegetables. Well, one, and strictly, not even that, a mention. In not even a song, just in the name of a record.

The Rumour were a terrific band, a collection of already rock-hardened veterans from the UK pub-rock circuit, corralled together as the tightasthis backing band of Graham Parker, tight yet loose, somewhat similar in style to a british Little Feat. Just too early for punk, Parker swept his howling wind into the decaying inspirations of early '70s rock music, with a return to snappy, angry songs, morphing the styles dismissed by prog into an aggressive and raucous joy. Good as his songs are, great they became with the inspired backing of Brinsley Schwarz (of the eponymous band) and Martin Belmont (ex-Ducks Deluxe) on guitars, Bob Andrews (also in Brinsley Schwarz, the band) on keyboards, Andrew Bodnar on bass and Stephen Goulding on drums. Like the Band, the direct comparison, I think, deliberate, all could sing. And, as was de rigeur for the day, they got their own deal, producing 3 LPs in their own right.

Max was the first, sturdy meat'n'potatoes rock, very much in the vein of Parker, including a great cover of Duke Ellington's 'Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me', alongside some self-compositions and one from Nick Lowe, another alumnus of Brinsley Schwarz, the band.

But it was the 2nd record, 1979's 'Frogs, Sprouts, Clogs and Krauts', that really gave them a character of their own, albeit one that failed to set the charts alive. The title a play on their respective ancestries, within a mongrel UK, with french (frogs), belgian (sprouts), dutch (clogs) and german (krauts) blood represented in their veins. The theme was loosely around that of the new Europe, the sense of hope following, shall I call it, BRENTRY (sic), six years before, a pole apart from todays ill-considered BREXIT. On Stiff records, it required a certain quirkiness to be included within that roster, sounding nothing like their earlier release. I loved it, never finding anyone who has even heard (of) it, let alone liked it, to this day.

A 3rd album appeared in 1980, 'Purity of Essence', a bit of a backward step, stylistically, depending upon which version you heard, it being markedly different in the versions related in the US and the UK. But the writing was on the wall. Andrews left the band, as in the backing band, the same year, ahead of Parker dispensing with all of them, bar Schwarz, the year later.

An afterword is the more recent regrouping of the band, again behind Graham Parker, in 2010, as part of Judd Apatow's feature film, 'This is 40.' To my knowledge this led to no leaderless band material. Pity, but I can confirm they were as solid an outfit as ever, with GP, based upon a live performance I caught in 2015.

Spread the Rumour!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

All The Fixings: Pecan Pie

Golden Smog: Pecan Pie

Getting older mostly sucks. I’m sore, I take medication, I have to watch my diet, and on and on (actually, I just can’t remember everything about getting old that sucks). One good thing, though, is that I now enjoy foods that I never thought that I would like when I was younger. So, hello, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, nuts of all kinds, beets, spinach, squash, sweet potatoes, and yogurt. Sorry, broccoli and seafood, I’m still not there (notwithstanding the one oyster I gulped down at Husk in Nashville, a restaurant everyone should try to go to), and I don’t expect that to change.

Pecan pie always looked kind of gross to me. You had these huge nuts that looked like tiny brown brains entombed in some sort of sticky goo. Usually, it was easy to walk right past it to something with chocolate, lots of chocolate. Because chocolate is what desserts are supposed to be. I’m not sure when my opinion changed, but it turns out that pecan pie is not just good, it is amazing. Sweet, smoky and what turns out to be the perfect ratio of goo to crunch. And sometimes there’s bourbon in it. And sometimes there’s chocolate. And sometimes there are both bourbon and chocolate.

The song “Pecan Pie,” is by Golden Smog, the so-called alt-country supergroup that I have written about at length here, and there, so I won’t repeat myself. It was written by Jeff Tweedy, and was originally rejected from Wilco’s first album. Unlike some of the other songs on Golden Smog’s debut, Down By The Old Mainstream, which rock, “Pecan Pie” is more folky and stripped down, with acoustic guitars and mandolins. I’ve seen it described as being about dessert and longing, and that’s about as good a description as I can think of. At the end of this goofy performance at a high school benefit in 2013(!) you can hear Tweedy, a pretty fair songwriter, remark that it is the best song that he has ever written, although you can’t always take him seriously. Nevertheless, he has been known to play it at both Wilco and solo shows (sometimes with Golden Smog friends), so clearly, he enjoys it.

Thanksgiving is a great holiday, at least for me, who was lucky enough to grow up in a family that got along. (And were, and still are, all politically pretty close in our beliefs, mostly preventing fights at the table.) In fact, when I was a kid, I lived up the street from my aunt (my mother’s sister) and uncle, and my uncle’s brother’s family also lived in the neighborhood. There were 9 kids, and all of us considered (and still consider) ourselves cousins, even though that wasn’t completely true. We would have huge Thanksgivings, with the three families, plus grandparents, and I can’t remember ever having any real stress.

Of course, over time, Thanksgiving morphs. People move, grow up, marry, divorce and die, changing the dynamic. I remember having to alternate spending Thanksgiving with my parents or my wife’s family, which then merged into a single affair, now at our house. My son has started to alternate years with his fiancée’s family, and a divorce has forced a nephew and niece to only be available every other year. My daughter lives in Spain, and last year was the first Thanksgiving without my father. And this year, my in-laws are not coming, because my father-in-law finds the travel too difficult (so we are bringing them leftovers on Friday). So, it will be a small-ish group getting together next Thursday, for good food, drinks and conversation.

My wife will be making a chocolate pecan pie. All will be good with the world.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

All the Fixings: Let’s Turkey Trot

Little Eva: Let’s Turkey Trot


Ian & the Zodiacs: Let’s Turkey Trot


Back in the days when I moderated here, I would have defined our new theme as “All the Fixings: post songs about items on the table at Thanksgiving.” So we might get songs about cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie before we are done, but the meal centers around the turkey, so that must be our starting point as well. I will be looking for the ultimate version of Turkey in the Straw for this theme, unless someone else beats me to it, but let’s begin with a look at the state of the music industry in 1963.

It would prove to be a year of major upheaval. Four lads from Liverpool would come to the United States, and begin to change the sound of popular music forever. But the year began innocently enough. In February, Little Eva released her third single, Let’s Turkey Trot. Like The Locomotion, it was written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin. Little Eva got her start by babysitting for the couple, and they thanked her when they heard her voice by writing hits for her. Like The Locomotion, Let’s Turkey Trot was an attempt to launch a dance craze, but that part never happened. The Turkey Trot was a real dance, and, as Little Eva sings, it would have been danced by Little Eva’s grandparents, to ragtime music. The dance was briefly popular in the years leading up to and through World War I, but it was considered risqué. There was eventually a church led campaign to wipe it out, and the fox trot wound up being both more acceptable and more enduring. So I am not sure why Goffin and King thought the turkey trot should live again, but the British invasion halted that idea. Let’s Turkey Trot reached # 20 on the charts, but that was a disappointment after Little Eva’s earlier success.

The song was popular enough to inspire cover versions, however. Jan and Dean’s version was not one of their better moments. But the cover by Ian & the Zodiacs has something to tell us about pop music in 1963.The band was as talented as many of the merseybeat bands who followed in the wake of the Beatles, but they never caught on, except in Germany. One problem was that they were never able to get green cards to perform in the United States, which kept them from gaining traction here. They also may have been hurt by the fact that most of their material consisted of covers. Still, the Beatles did plenty of covers of American hits in the beginning, so I offer this version of Let’s Turkey Trot as a glimpse of what the song might have sounded like if the Beatles had covered it.

Finally, I wondered what the dance itself looked like. For the answer, I had to dig up this clip fromNCIS:

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Train: Silver Train

Purchase Silver Train: The Rolling Stones  or Johnny Winter

Goat's Head Soup, by the Rolling Stones, came out in 1973 and marks the next to last entry into what I believe is one of the great artistic and creative runs by any band, ever.

This string of greatness started in 1968 with Beggar's Banquet, wherein the band left behind the psychedelic niceties of the Flower Power era and emerged from that silliness as full fledged rock n roll roughnecks, carrying on switchblade sharp and full of  ballsy, cock-sure swagger on their next five albums. Let it Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Exile on Main Street. Goat's Head Soup gave way to the  glorious finale, It's Only Rock 'n Roll. The Stones cemented greatness with these albums; aspirations of pure genius, despite, or perhaps because of, the chaos in the world around them. Their reactions to the madness of the Viet Nam era, their own bad habits and the darkness they sought out through their own arcane desires and misguided investments into the under world of substance abuse--all of it comes out in these albums. And the legends, even if it's only that--legends--make the accomplishment of these albums even more astounding. Lesser mortals would have faded long before approaching anything quite as grand as the Stone's '68 to '74 run.

To have produced such greatness, so many amazing rock songs, sounds and words that were iconic almost as soon as they were pressed to vinyl and will remain so, for as long as rock 'n roll is rock 'n roll? It's amazing, akin to the New Testament of the Bible of Rock. Prophetic and significant, timely and vital still. Fresh blood still runs in the grooves of these albums and will continue to be an influence on music in perpetuity.

One of my favorite tracks off Goat's Head Soup is the 6th track, "Silver Train". It's almost an afterthought, after an opening set of five utterly iconic songs ("Dancing with Mr. D", "100 Years Ago", "Coming Down Again", "Heartbreaker", and "Angie").  It's a guitar boogie, with a harmonica/train whistle warning sounding throughout, as if telling you to get off the tracks. The guitars chug and slide, playing havoc off one another, but it's Ian Stewart's piano, building from a rhythm check into something that threatens to derail the whole song into a beautiful chaotic wreck that moves this track at such a fevered pace.

In researching the song, I didn't realize that the title was a reference to Johnny Winter, the albino guitar king, who, after hearing a demo of the Stone's version, recorded "Silver Train" himself and released it on Still Alive and Well. His version came out just a few months prior to the Stones', and it is pure jam, too.  Johnny Winter is best known for "Rock n Roll, Hoochie Koo", which is really kind of nuts, when you listen to what he did on the guitar and hear how hot he could light up a fret board. Too bad his genius is often relegated to getting lazy football fans our of their seats on game day...

I give you both versions today. I've had my acoustic in Open G for a few weeks now, working hard at learning "Tumblin' Dice" (off Exile), but I'm going to give "Silver Train" a go, as well. Nothing better than learning from the best...

Friday, November 10, 2017


I was slow to get on the techno train, electronica/dance a difficult ask of my guitar shaped ears. Half the battle was getting my head around the genres, so many and various seem the sub-stations, from techno to dubstep, deep house to psy-ambient, slimewilt to naughtystep, I just get bogged down in the detail. But it seems there isn't much ever explored on this site, perhaps a giveaway to our ages, or maybe the still lingering lip-service to not including anything too recent, as was the unwritten rule in the downloadable mp3 days of blogging. But the truth is that I love much of it and have taken it and all it's labels I don't understand to my heart, even if the only dancing I do is in the car, whilst driving.

This guy, Banco, or Toby Marks to give him his given, is one of my favourites, ploughing his furrow of world music sample-based soundscapes for some, gulp, near 30 years. His amalgam of afro and reggae, middle-eastern and pan-european folk musics, underpinned and over layered by dense percussion and dubby bass-lines, never fails to lift me. In a truth I find extraordinary, but maybe unsurprisingly, and like so many in electronic dance music, he started his musical odyssey in a heavy metal band, as the drummer. Then, following a move to Portugal: Banco de Gaia is portuguese for Gaia's bank, Gaia being the earth mother and personification of all life in greek mythology, he invested in a digital sampler, just as the rave culture was sweeping mainland europe, having been swept out of his homeland by police crackdown and legislature. The track I have featured here is from an early release, remaining his best known piece of music, subject to numerous remixes and revisions in the intervening years. The rhythm is unmistakably and intrinsically that of a train, carried along with a panoply of Tibetan sounds. Or Tibetan sounding sounds. It was a 1995 UK independent album chart topper and has found it's way onto innumerable compilations of both straight world music and dance music ever since.

Marks has continued to produce music, usually self-produced and released on his own label, a true cottage industry. He has also toured solidly, both as a DJ with decks and, more recently, as a live band. I was lucky enough to catch him in that former guise at Bearded Theory music festival last spring. And terrific it was, I still having no idea "how" he, or any other musician reliant on computers and decks does it, fitting it all together so seamlessly and seismically intricate. Detractors say it is cheating, all pre-recorded ersatz spontaneity, but it so isn't, lacking only an explanation of how I can know that. (If you are a detractor, go bite on your prejudice and experience it in a live setting. You may even become converted.)

Have some live, the same tune, by the band:


Train: Talking Vietnam


Our fearless leader made it clear when announcing this theme that we should consider all of the meanings of the word “train” when posting. I’m always game to try jumping the tracks, so I wanted to write about something other than a mode of transportation before this theme left the station. Now, I know that they say that people don’t want to know how the sausage gets made, but here are some behind the scenes secrets about how I (and I suspect most of the writers here) approach a theme. First, you hope that something jumps out at you immediately. Failing that, you pore over your music collection hoping for inspiration. Finally, there are sites that allow you to search for words in song lyrics. That’s how I decided to write about Phil Ochs’ “Talking Vietnam.”

I’ve been watching the Ken Burns/Lynn Novick documentary The Vietnam War recently, and I’m still in the relatively early years of the conflict—at the point that the United States is poised to go all in, and send hundreds of thousands of soldiers to fight a war that most of the American leadership privately believed was unwinnable. So, writing about a song about the war made sense. I also wrote my senior thesis back in the Stone Age about television’s coverage of the war, so it is something that has interested me for years. I was almost 14 when Saigon fell, and was against the war, but was just a few years too young to really have remembered the details of the fighting or the protests. But by the time the US involvement ended, I was certainly aware of what was going on. Another thing about writing these posts is that I do research.

Turns out, Ochs’ “Talking Vietnam” is considered to be the very first protest song that specifically mentioned Vietnam. It was released in 1964—months before the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, which was probably the first time that a significant number of Americans found out that our country had been involved in that obscure, far away country for years.  In fact, a slightly different set of lyrics to the song were published in Broadside's September 20, 1963 issue! So, it is pretty remarkable that Ochs was already so pissed off, and so well informed, that he could write such a powerful, detailed protest song.

The first stanza of the song is:

Sailing over to Vietnam, 
Southeast Asian Birmingham. 
Well training is the word we use, 
Nice word to have in case we lose. 
Training a million Vietnamese 
To fight for the wrong government and the American Way. 

Ochs recognized that while at that point, the American mission was officially “training,” in a war, trainers by necessity fight alongside their trainees. In 1964, Ochs also already recognized something that took our leadership years to understand—if they ever did—that the South Vietnamese government wasn’t at that time, or ever, one that in any way inspired its people. And while the failure of the war was, of course, caused by many different things, I think that there is a fair argument that the lack of a government in the south that had the loyalty of its people was the root cause that doomed anything that was tried.

Stanza three:

Well the sergeant said it's time to train 
So I climbed aboard my helicopter plane. 
We flew above the battle ground 
A sniper tried to shoot us down. 
He must have forgotten, we're only trainees. 
Them Commies never fight fair. 

Again, Ochs points out the disingenuousness of the position that the American soldiers were there (at that point) for training, not combat.

The final mention of training is in the next stanza:

Friends the very next day we trained some more 
We burned some villages down to the floor. 
Yes we burned out the jungles far and wide, 
Made sure those red apes had no place left to hide. 
Threw all the people in relocation camps, 
Under lock and key, made damn sure they're free.

Again, Ochs is somewhat prescient, referring to soldiers burning villages. Clearly, this was not unknown, but it wasn’t until 1965 that Morley Safer’s report on CBS showing this actually occurring became a sensation. Of course, American troops remained for another decade.

As a student of history, I believe that the world today is affected by the past. I’ve written here and elsewhere about how this country is still dealing with issues from the Civil War, and how the whole world is still affected by World War I. I also think that you can draw direct lines from the Vietnam War era to problems that we are facing today.  Remarkably, Phil Ochs seemed to see it coming before almost anyone else.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Train: Train in Vain

The Clash: Train in Vain
Back when the original wave of punk rock was hitting the US, I took to saying that punk would die off when the musicians learned to play their instruments. I was not completely right. Bands like the Sex Pistols literally died off when members succumbed to drugs. There were also those who stubbornly stayed with the style long after they were capable of more, and their music began to sound less and less authentic. But when I was right, we got vital and amazing music from people like Johnny Lydon, and we eventually got two tone ska. And we got the best of The Clash. The Clash never lost their rebelliousness, continuing to make the music they wanted to, and in complete disregard to market dictates. Their monster hit with Rock the Casbah was taken by some as a sell out, but I view it more as the marketplace catching up to them than the other way around. Before that happened, however, there was Train in Vain. The song comes from the album London Calling, which has many of the band’s best songs of political and social criticism. But Train in Vain has a classic theme for its subject: a relationship gone wrong. In the hands of The Clash, the song was propulsive rock, and very powerful. But there were other ways to hear it.

Annie Lennox: Train in Vain
Annie Lennox heard classic R&B. Her version became one of her biggest songs as a solo artist. It reveals a singer with legitimate chops as a soul shouter. She displays a grit here that was never a part of her vocal style with the Eurythmics, although their late rock experiments hint at it. This arrangement has a synth horn section that is little more than an idea, gone almost as soon as it appears. I would love to hear an old school R&B version that uses a live horn section all the way through the song.

Dwight Yoakam: Train in Vain
You could say that Dwight Yoakam brought a punk sensibility to country music when he debuted. He has always delivered high energy performances on his albums. Here, he blends his Bakersfield-inspired sound with bluegrass, to great effect. Now, Train in Vain has banjo and mandolin solos, and it all works beautifully.

Smocking Flamingo: Train in Vain
It was to be expected that there would be at least one Jamaican version of Train in Vain. The Clash, as they branched out from punk, were inspired by both ska and reggae, and their work in these genres was almost certainly a major inspiration for the two tone ska movement. Smocking Flamingo is a reggae and ska instrumental jam band, and the song suits them perfectly.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Train: Train of Angels/ JoeSatriani

Joe Satriani's Train of Angels has the driving force of trains.
It has the driving force of Satriani's guitar style.

The Internet [world] agrees: Satriani is more or less immediately recognizable, Having heard him once, most every one can identify him when then hear him again. his web site says he's " the most recognizable guitar voice of his time". Maybe so.

I am always in search of music that is legally free. I equally follow sites that legally publish media that may not be advertised as free - but, because of the vagaries of the rules governing "free", end up being legally free. As a result, I was surprised [and impressed] to find the above link to some of Satriani's works available for free online.

There are several other bands who embrace [some form of] free distribution of their work. [I've hit on the Grateful Dead again and again here], but each new discovery makes me feel better. I likewise share mine - but I do covers, and that's nowhere near the same as giving away originals.

Saturday, November 4, 2017


WhaaaaatTF? Surely a serious muso (sic) site like this wouldn't mess up so big time as the above heading? Rod bloody Stewart, fer chrissake... But hang on, hold that thought for a moment. And of course I know it isn't the original, but, whisper, it's better, an unpopular viewpoint, but still mine. Plus  it came at a time when there was still, just, a smidgeon of credibility in the Stewart cache. I think it initially appeared as a new song on the 'Greatest Hits' compilation of 1989, one of the first CDs I ever bought. A massive worldwide hit as a single, it probably introduced the name of its writer, Tom Waits, to many and certainly then to me. Like many, I then sourced the original, finding Waits' voice a step too far for my sensibilities, a situation that remains to this day, no matter how hard I have tried. But Stewart glides his rasp effortlessly through the sweeping chorus, deservedly winning the Grammy for best male vocalist that year, the richly layered backing pepped by Stewart's one-time boss, in his eponymous group, Jeff Beck on slide guitar.

So what is it with Stewart, a man whose music I had earlier loved, both with the Faces and alone? If 'Greatest Hits' was one of my first CD purchases, 'Sing It Again, Rod' had been one of my first on vinyl. My generation had been endeared of his boozy and shambolic persona, with the uncanny knack of both having a way with his own words and music, and being able to pick plum covers. The rot had seemed to set in with his transatlantic crossing, SWIDT, to be with Britt Ekland. As ever is the way, the fickle british uber-fans took umbrage with his fame and fortune and left him to their wives and girlfriends to enjoy, whose patronage lingers to this day, as my elder sister can testify. The odd gem could still be cherry-picked from his catalogue: the boy could still know a good song when he heard one, although that tolerance became ever more strained by his discovery of the great american songbook. Was he the first rocker to plough this lucrative furrow? Though I doubt we would have been spared Mr Dylans's forays into similar territory, I can think of many who might not have had that thought had Stewart, or his bank-manager, not had that thought first. ( I lie awake in dread of the forthcoming Seal tux'n'tapdancing travesty 'Standards.')

So, too, what is it with Waits, a supremely talented songwriter, whose songs, when covered by other voices, I adore? Am I alone in finding his corncrake throat-clearing anaethema? I sometimes think I must be, my friends and peers all seemingly in awe of him and his deranged Charlie Chaplin meets Charles Bukowski image, with his musical arrangements more of the foundry than the footlights. Or do I troll? (No, which is why I also include, for balance, or proof as I call it, his version of 'Downtown Train' below, with a couple more to take away the taste.)

Everything But The Girl

and Mary Chapin Carpenter

Get some versions here.
Me? I'm heading back under my bridge.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Train: Somewhere Down The Crazy River

Robbie Robertson: Somewhere Down The Crazy River

Writing for three different music blogs often results in crossover posts. I wrote about The Jam here recently, and have just submitted a piece about another Jam song to Cover Me. And I recently wrote about The Last Waltz at Another Old Guy, so I guess that I have Robbie Robertson on my mind.

Strangely, though, this song popped into my head, despite the fact that its title doesn’t have the key word in it, and would seem more appropriate for a Boat theme. And yet, it works.  It took Robertson 11 years before he released his first, self-titled, solo album in 1987, and tried to stretch beyond the Americana sounds that he played for so many years with The Band. The album was produced by Daniel Lanois, who was also working with U2 and Peter Gabriel at the same time, and all of the members of U2, as well as Gabriel and members of his band all appear on the album. Lanois’ typically dreamy, atmospheric sound pervades the album.

“Somewhere Down the Crazy River” is an odd song. Robertson only sang lead on two Band songs, and Levon Helm has claimed that Robertson’s mic was off during the Last Waltz concert (and the Internet rumor mill has his mic off during most Band shows), so it is not Robertson’s singing that he will be remembered for. According to Lanois, he secretly recorded Robertson telling a story about hanging out with Levon Helm in Arkansas, fishing with dynamite on hot nights. Because that’s apparently what one does. Meanwhile, Robertson was fiddling with a Suzuki Omnichord, which Lanois also recorded, and he superimposed the storytelling over that, creating the basic tracks for the song. In between the spoken word parts, which have a sort of Tom Waits feel, Robertson sings, perfectly well, I might add:

Catch the blue train
To places never been before
Look for me
Somewhere down the crazy river
Somewhere down the crazy river
Catch the blue train
All the way to Kokomo
You can find me
Somewhere down the crazy river
Somewhere down the crazy river

In each case, the second “Somewhere Down the Crazy River,” is sung, somewhat distorted, by Sam Llanas of The BoDeans. Also featured on the track are fine bass playing and drumming by Tony Levin and Manu Katché, both of  Gabriel’s band (among other things). And Bono is somewhere in the mix, too. It is curiously compelling, which is a tribute to the combination of Robertson’s charismatic, deep voice, his storytelling ability, Lanois’ production and the talent of the musicians. And despite its unconventional sound, it was released as the album’s first single, and was successful.

The video for the song (above), was directed, like The Last Waltz, by Martin Scorsese, whose infatuation with Robertson’s face was still in force. Robertson’s lust interest is played by Maria McKee, at the time the lead singer of the pioneering “cow-punk” band Lone Justice, who were a mid-80s “next big thing” that never happened. Which in itself was sad, since McKee’s voice is incredible (and her solo career never went anywhere, either). She sings on a different song on the album, and one can only assume that she was chosen to be in the video for her looks. When asked about her “acting skills,” McKee was quoted as saying: "... what did I do, I was just being licked by Robbie..."

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Train:Locomotive Breath

purchase [Locomotive Breath]

I confess that I was old enough to be in the demographic of those who purchased the Monkees <Last Train ...>. No excuses: that (and many others like Aretha and the Temptations and the Box Tops) was how I got into "pop". But I wasn't writing @ SMM  back in 2009 when a variation of the train theme came around once afore. There were posts galore - like pages and pages of posts!

But even back then, despite their best efforts, the SMM team couldn't exhaust the <train> theme.
Before I get to Aqualung's Locomotive Breath, it's worth pointing out that the chug-chugging locomotive motion is a staple of rock, not far removed from the "twist", that arm & leg flailing dance style that generated such fear about lost generations gyrating to evil music. It must not have been lost on Ian Anderson when he and his wife penned Locomotive Breath.
(Let's not go deeper into the Spanish etymology behind "loco")

One reviewer pointed out that there are few songs that truly capture the energy of the train: the massive engine that pulls heavy metal wagon after wagon over hill and dale (and the men that feed the beast inside a la John Henry) Louis Jordan's Choo Choo Ch'Boogie is a great song and it gets us part way there towards the train experience but it lacks the weight/heavy that Jethro Tull brings to bear.

Locomotive Breath takes it a step further. In reality, there's always Ian Anderson's style: nearly breathless chugging that emulates the true choo-choo of the locomotive the song names.

Aqualung itself is a fine album in many ways. It was the album that made Jethro Tull big, and Locomotive Breath was one of the charting hits. That's not to say that their albums Stand Up and Benefit weren't pretty good, but it was Aqualung that turned the corner for them.

There is a snippet of an interview with Ian Anderson at SongFacts' page for the song and a link to the full interview which you might read if you want to go deeper.

Whatever Anderson's original intentions for the album, and however the band finally recorded the song, the train effect is ... effective. The flute as a vehicle and in particular, Anderson's breathy flute style is well-suited to the locomotive metaphor.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Train: God’s 9:05

J Shogren: God’s 9:05


Our new theme may be deliberately ambiguous, but it gives me the perfect excuse to share a favorite train song. We have a rule here at Star Maker Machine that a song must be at least five years old. It must have stood the test of time, and shown staying power. So I could not share this one last time we looked at trains, because it was too new at the time. That is no longer the case, so here it is. J Shogren has one of the most wonderfully sly senses of humor of any songwriter I know. Here, he imagines that we all board a train to the afterlife when we die. We hand in our tickets, most of us, and the train is either an elevated train or a subway, with us having no choice in the matter, usually. But Shogren imagines such a train being boarded by two characters from legend, John Henry and Casey Jones. Such men would never be content to simply wait and see where such an important train would take them. Their training, you might say, would give them more options than that. So it’s a stretch, I admit, but there is another way the song could be said to fit our new theme.

J Shogren is an artist I discovered for my old music blog, Oliver di Place, and I am happy to say he has become a friend since. He has one of the most extraordinary bios of anyone, musician or not, that I know of, and I encourage you all to seek out that information. You may ask when you see it if it is just an elaborate tall tale, but I researched it, and it is all true. I will leave the details for you to discover, in hopes that you will also find more of his music.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Listen: Hear Me Lord

purchase [Silver Linings]

Time's just about up for the <listen> theme and I confess I haven't found the time to go as deep as I had hoped for this one and I still have to put up the next theme. I could have left it for our traditional <leftovers> theme after Thanksgiving, but .. no. So, I'll take a page from the early days of SMM when many posts weren't much more than: "Here's one for you."

There are famous quotes that say "you hear but you do not listen."
There are others that say "You listen but you do not hear."
Is this any different from the dichotomy between seeing and looking?

I guess it is fair to include a song that includes "hear" but not the listen of the current theme.
Heck ... any song that includes Bonnie Raitt is OK any time.

This one sounds a bit like Paul Simon from Graceland.
Hear Me Lord from Raitt's 2002 album Silver Linings was written by Oliver Mtukudzi of Zimbabwe and you could do worse than to head off down that path for a listen or two.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Listen: Stop, Look and Listen/Jeff Beck

purchase [ Blow By Blow]

It may have been Beck-Ola that turned me on to Jeff Beck but I can't really single out a particular piece from the album that has stuck with me. On the other hand, my copy of the 1975 Blow By Blow 33RPM album probably had worn out grooves from being played so much. It's no longer in my possession to check.

<Stop Look and Listen> from the "Flash" album almost a decade after Blow By Blow wouldn't be in my list of Jeff Beck favorites. The song just happens to fit our theme and Beck hasn't had much written about him here.

I actually saw him in concert ... must have been about '72, in Philly.

Listening to Beck again after a few years, I am struck by how eclectic he is: there are elements of all sorts of musical styles.

Beck has paid his dues: one of the Yardbirds, almost one of Led Zeppelin, known by all in the field, played with ... you name him/her.

ConsequenceOfSound has a raw review of his latest =- after a 6 year absence. You might enjoy checking it out. I did.

The album from whence Stop, Look and Listen comes (Flash, from 1985) is noted as a time when Rod Stewart re-united with the Jeff Beck group. (Come again? Rod Stewart and the Jeff Beck Group? Guess I didn't know that!) The <Flash> album itself has various other curiosities on it: covers of "Wild Thing" and "People Get Ready" Beck himself [apparently] didn't particularly care for the album, but it did pretty well on the charts.

But maybe my favorite Beck:

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Listen: Are You Out There

Dar Williams: Are You Out There

Dar Williams is about 6 years younger than me, and grew up about 12 miles as the crow flies from me (or about 25 miles driving, on a route that takes you virtually past where I am writing this). Which is a long way of saying that we both lived in the New York area, at roughly the same time. Meaning that we had pretty much the same choices of radio stations to listen to, growing up.

I’ve written ad nauseam about how I became a music fan, and how important for me it was to listen to the radio as a teenager—mostly WNEW-FM—until I headed off to college and WPRB. That was how you learned about music then, for the most part, and where the DJs were people like you who really cared about the minutiae, about the trivia, about the connections, about good segues, about the music. And also, in those days, the DJs, and musicians, were not reticent about talking about politics and other issues, because the radio stations weren’t run and programmed by some conglomerate devoted to creating a uniform, sellable product that sounded the same wherever you happened to be.

So, when I heard this Dar Williams song, about the importance that listening to the radio had to her, it clearly resonated with me. In preparing to write this piece, I found a bunch of live videos of Dar performing this song, often with her introductions included. She sometimes talks generally about the power of radio to introduce listeners to music, and always mentions that the song was inspired by her listening, in her teenage years, to WBAI, a radical, left wing station probably best known for having played George Carlin’s Filthy Words routine in 1973, which resulted in an iconic Supreme Court case that defined the government’s ability to regulate obscene and indecent material on the airwaves. Williams talks about how the station’s discussion of all sorts of conspiracy theories made her think, and the music opened her mind. In addition, there are references in the song to WRSI, 93.9 “The River,” a station in Northampton, Massachusetts, where she was living when she wrote the song (and which is also, I must add, the home of Smith College, the alma mater of my wife and daughter, where I was last week to attend the groundbreaking for the school’s library renovation).

For me, WBAI was something that I respected, but never listened to—too much talking, not enough music for me, but the song is really universal, at least for those of us who grew up obsessed with radio (and are still obsessed). I’ve long been a fan of Williams as both a songwriter and singer—she was probably one of the first artists that WFUV got me hooked on, her appearance at the Clearwater Festival in the 90s was the main lure for my family to attend our first one, and her song, “When I Was A Boy,” was a family favorite, reminding us of our daughter as a child, around the time the song was released.

Dar, and Lucy Kaplansky and Richard Shindell, joined together in Cry, Cry, Cry a few years back, but after one album and some touring, they went their separate ways, for the most part, reuniting last summer at Clearwater for a fun, if sloppy and under rehearsed set. They are back now on the road for a mini-tour, which will be stopping in Tarrytown this weekend, and my wife and I will be there, despite having to fight our way through the Halloween parade and block party right by the Music Hall.

Listen: Listen to the Lion

Purchase Van Morrison's "Listen to the Lion" or from the masterful St. Dominic's Preview

Van Morrison's "Listen to the Lion" is an 11 minute epic, a magisterial hymn. Orchestral, blooming with strings, a shower of cymbal and piano trills and delicately teetering guitars that flash like lightning over the seesaw vocal line, where words and utterances of grunts, guttural inflections and non-verbal cadences and tones--so much more than "ohs" and "ahs"--sound equally poetic.

No one but Van Morrison could deliver a song like "Listen to the Lion." For all that I said above, hallmarks of Van's music from the 60s and 70s, plus the poetic vibe of a transcendental troubadour delivering soulful, heartfelt reflections on one's place in the mystic lacework of the universe, there is something special, yet utterly intangible, about his music.

"Listen to the Lion" shouldn't really work--it has none of the snap jazz kick of say "Moon Dance" or the dirty swagger of Them's "Gloria" or "Here Comes the Night". But, like much of what he did on that incredible string of 1968's Astral Weeks to 1973's Hard Nose the Highway, the music doesn't so much defy as transcend classification. There's pop, soul, jazz, folk--a veritable jukebox of genre and sounds. (Van Morrison was--is--if nothing else, a master of soul.) Yet, to me, there was always something indefinable in Van Morrison's music. How did he create such off-center harmonies, singing with a vocal delivery like the rise and fall of a mad hatter on the run?

Van Morrison's music, from a certain period, is like the amalgamation of everything good about music, perhaps what God would have envisioned when He invented the idea of music. Everything is there: a fleet of musicians playing an array of instruments that only rarely make it on to a rock record. The vocalizations are incantation, repetitive like a grand soul singer, and he always manages to cast a spell with that stuttered, off-track floating delivery.  He rises from despair to joyousness, carrying emotion on a wing in the air, and while a phenomenal writer, he needs little more than a few repeated phrases to create a poetic image rich in tone and as colorful as a painted masterpiece. The brilliance in "Listen to the Lion" is in it's breathlessness. A hushed masterpiece; an epic ballad of an imagined diaspora, a payer to a higher being, calling the soul to a journey that has no true destination. An evocation of something spiritual and beautiful that is unnamable. An invocation of the animal soul inside us, growling to be released.

"Listen to the Lion" is visceral, beautiful, a prayer sung rather than spoken.  Proof of a thesis I didn't know even existed: That vocals are far more important than words.