Archive for the 'Imortality' Category

09
Dec
17

Townes Van Zandt “High, Low and In Between”

At some point a decade and a computer or two ago I downloaded a metric ton of Towns Van Zandt records on my computer, and then for like a decade of playing random iTunes it seemed like the “shuffle” had some kind of TVZ preference—almost like it was a bug (these things MUST get built in by bored computer dudes, right?) So I’d get like about 25 percent TVZ, it seemed (I didn’t actually keep track and calculate actual percentage—because I’m not crazy). It got to the point where it was making me hate TVZ and deleting these songs, when what I should have done is stop listening to shuffle and listen to more records. I knew that, but still have a bad taste in my mouth, so it was like eating spinach (assuming you don’t like spinach) to put this record on. Naturally, listening to TVZ on vinyl is an entirely different experience, and I kind of feel like those people who eventually tried spinach and found it to be wonderful. But maybe this is just a good record, too—it seems to be a reissue of a 1971 album (if I’m reading my Roman numerals correctly) on Metamucil-colored vinyl, and the cover photo is presumably of TVZ (but it could be anyone) (snapped through the dirty window of a pickup truck with an Instamatic and no flashcubes)—asked to pose next to the back wall of a 7-Eleven while taking out the trash after second shift.

There is a liner note insert—though I’m not sure if that’s technically correct (maybe liner notes have to be on the back album cover and be possible to read without a magnifying glass and a day off)—by Colin Escott, who, if he hasn’t already, should write a book about Townes Van Zandt—he’s got a good start, here. It looks like some interesting stuff, though, and I’ll read it later. Right now I’m enjoying this record on a sunny Saturday morning, so cold out that they had to use the Kelvin scale. This is without a doubt my favorite TVZ record I’ve heard to date (though, I don’t know if you can count the virus-infused stuff in my iTunes, anyway). Good songs, all written by TVZ—good playing on all—and his voice has a happy and carefree quality, but not without the undercurrent of sadness you always hear from him. For some reason there’s something about the quality of his singing that always makes me think of him as a friend.

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10
Sep
17

Porter Wagoner and Skeeter Davis “Sing Duets”

I have more records by Skeeter Davis than any other recording artist, but I don’t have even half of the albums she released in a long career. If I had to name a favorite singer (please don’t make me do that) I would not hesitate to say Skeeter Davis. For some reason I can’t explain, she has a special place in my heart. And that is just based on the recorded music of hers I’ve been lucky enough to hear. She is firmly based in country and western, but crossed over to pop, and always sounds to me like a little of both, so maybe that’s part of the appeal. But mostly I just love her voice. It always strikes me as having an underlying sadness to it, but also an outward expression of hope, joy, and happiness. But there also is just a quality of someone singing at home, maybe, just one person to another. Or maybe in church, or while working. Her voice always strikes me as the opposite of slick, professional, over-produced. I guess in some sense, there is the same essence of what is essential to me about punk music in her voice, and that is at the heart of the music I love—that quality of “I’m doing it my way”—even when the smoother road might have been strongly suggested as the easier path to success.

This record, from 1962, is one of her earliest albums, and it’s a duet record with Porter Wagoner, who is, of course, one of the giants of country music. I’ve always been aware of him, but never a big fan, which doesn’t mean I might not be someday, if I’d take the time to get to know his music through and through. It starts out with a song that—if this was the song I was to judge Skeeter Davis on, that’d be my loss—not my kind of song. If there was one word I’d use to describe a style of music (any music) I don’t like, it would be “jaunty”—and so much do I despise jaunty music, it makes me wonder about the sanity and even human quality of fans of the jaunty (as in, are they pod people, or Stepford wives?) After that alarming start, though, they settle into really beautifully sung versions of some classic country songs—sweet, introspective, and melancholy. My favorites here are: “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You,” “Heaven Help Me,” “Sorrow’s Tearing Down the House (That Happiness Built),” and “There’s Always One (Who Loves a Lot)”—but really, they’re all good.

This is on the RCA Victor label (with the dog looking down the Gramophone horn) and has a very old-fashioned, color drawing of the two singers on the cover, in a style that makes me think of a young adult romance series book. The blond woman in a blue dress doesn’t match that much any likeness to any Skeeter Davis photo I’ve seen. A sliver of photograph on back (of part of the recording studio control board) accompanies some extensive liner notes in typewriter font by Bill Porter (legendary Nashville recording engineer) where he goes on about how much he loves these songs, but also thinks highly of the artists. It’s very nice, really, but then he goes on about especially one song, which happens to be the jaunty song on here I don’t like (“Rock-A-Bye Boogie”). Oh, well, I guess it’s all a matter of taste, and that’s what makes the world interesting. As I continue to listen, it strikes me—as well as these two voices compliment each other, Porter Wagoner’s is so straight-up country, that—and especially on the kind of duet where he sings a verse, and then she does—you really hear a contrast in their voices—and the quality of her voice (that’s an ongoing obsession with me, trying to understand why I love it so much) it occurs to me that it sounds a little unhinged—if you know what I mean. You probably don’t, but I mean that in the best way.

18
Jun
16

Lee Hazlewood “The LHI Years: Singles, Nudes & Backsides (1968-71)

I don’t want to get into an entire bio of Lee Hazlewood but I do have to include this legal disclaimer that he’s like my all-time hero, at least based on his style, singing, songwriting, and legend, and also the fact that he did the tile song (sung by Dusty Springfield) for my all time favorite movie (The Sweet Ride) as well as having a cameo part in that movie. If there are stains on his reputation or tales of bizarre behavior, there are other forums for that, but here I’m discovering this odd double LP with a much too specific title and questionable album art. Not because there are naked women or they are kneeling, looking up at him (you can only think about this humorously, right?) but because the women are all sporting fake LH-esque moustaches, and I’m sorry, but that’s where I draw the line.

This album is dated 2012, about 5 years after he died, and LHI stands for Lee Hazlewood Industries (his own record label in the late 60s) and it’s got a booklet with extensive notes which I unfortunately don’t have time to read, and it’s on this super heavy vinyl that someday is going to be cursed by the aching back survivors of record collectors (at least until they start selling the stuff off). Two records, 11 of the 17 songs written by LH, but they all sound like his songs. He sure knows how to pick songs to cover. He is joined singing, on a few songs, by Suzi Jane Hokom, Ann-Margret, and Nina Lizell. All the songs are good, most are weird, and several have those crazy kind of spoken introductions. Because of this modern packaging, it’s hard to remember that these were records that came out at about the time when I first started buying 45s. It would be cool to find the old versions. Pretty much, if you ever see a Lee Hazlewood record, no matter how dusty and scratchy it is, it’s worth picking up because it’s like a an artifact from a parallel pop music universe.

 

17
Jun
16

Silver Jews “Bright Flight”

I know something about this band Silver Jews, that it’s mostly this guy David Berman, and there have been a lot of collaborators, including Stephen Malkmus (in the past, not here), and they put out a few records and then broke up, or stopped playing, or recording (though I suppose that a band or person can just record a record again at any time, if they are still alive, and want to, no matter how much they are retired, so what does that even mean). Six albums, I guess, between 1994 and 2008, and this one is somewhere in the middle, 2001. But I’m pretending I know nothing, like I just picked this up out of a pile of random records (which I did, essentially) not knowing anything (which I don’t, essentially). The first song, the initial impression, is that this is country and western music (steel guitar, country piano, Nashville references, George Strait cover, picture on back cover wearing a too small western shirt with embroidered scorpions), that’s what it is, but something that would be considered “alternative country” in that David Berman’s singing has that quality that some people would call bad singing, but I call great singing—the closer you listen the more complex the person behind the voice gets. It also helps that the lyrics are at worst impossibly catchy and at best life changing poetry.

If one set out to create an uglier album cover than this one, just forget it, you’ve lost. It’s a flat, flash photograph of a nasty old couch with a tattered spiral bound notebook sitting on it, and there’s what looks like some colored stickers on the notebook creating an abstract design, and also what looks like the number “4” on the notebook. It occurs to me that it’s the 4th Silver Jews album and the cover photo and number 4 could be a reference to Led Zeppelin IV (if you squint, you can see a similarity between the two covers) (also, “Bright Flight”/”Stairway to Heaven”—get it?)—and now it occurs to me that IV is not just “4” it also means intravenous, and most likely “Stairway to Heaven” is about heroin. (If you ever find yourself on Jeopardy and the category is “popular song meanings”—just keep hitting the buzzer and saying, “What is heroin,” and you’ll probably come out ahead.) In fact, seeing how every other song on this record has a reference to horses, I have to assume either Berman is an avid equestrian or else it’s a lot about heroin.

All of my nonsense here is an attempt to not try and fail to express just how good these lyrics are, and how catchy these songs are, and how lovely it all is. I think this is my new favorite record of all time, no exaggeration. I think I just joined the club of nerdy, pathetic music fans who have “Silver Jews” tattooed on an important part of their brain. Now I know how people felt about JD Salinger. (Oh, wait, I was one of those people, too.) And it’s even worse with the internet. Look, I consider myself a songwriter, or former songwriter. I feel like there is no worse feeling in the world than to know you’ve come up with some kind of wonderful song, seemingly out of nowhere, and then not be able to do it again. It’s a wonder that any songwriter survives past the age of thirty. I guess the only thing to do, sometimes, is reinvent yourself. But then you probably already know all this. But if you don’t believe me, find a couple of these songs, like “Slow Education” or “I Remember Me” or “Tennessee”—and if they aren’t the best songs you’ve ever heard, go get yourself a new set of friends.

16
Jun
16

James McCandless “Faultline”

Again with the goofy fonts; I thought it said “Asscandles”—but closer examination clarifies: James McCandless, someone I’ve not heard of before now. This record is from 1985, which to me seems like yesterday, and I have to keep reminding myself it’s over 30 years ago. Also, magic-markered on the front and back cover are the letters, WNKU, which sounds like a radio station to me, and research reveals it’s on the Kentucky/Cincinnati border. Somehow this record escaped.

Further research turns up a James McCandless website. Apparently he died in 2013, nearing the age of 70. He lived most of his life in the Chicago area, playing all over the place, folk music, and this is his first record, on his own label, St. Christopher. There’s a lyric sheet, which is nice, because the lyrics are worth checking out, even though you probably can understand them as his voice is clear as a bell. This is the good kind of folk music; it’s plenty serious but doesn’t take itself too seriously. Songs are funny and they are grim. Some just voice and acoustic guitar, and some with a full band and some fine musicians.

I could go on and on but I’m trying to keep things short, and many of you will see the word “folk music” and go no further. You’re making a mistake. But go to your grave close-minded if you want to, there’s plenty of eternity to come around to things. Anyway, I personally cannot resit a verse like this: “Last night after work we all went to a restaurant / I ordered my usual BLT and fries / and while I was hunched over my friend Jerry put on his sunglasses / he said the glare off my skull was hurting his eyes.” It’s from a song called “Kareem and Me” about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and going bald.

14
Jun
16

Billy Bragg and Wilco “Mermaid Avenue Vol. II”

This record caught my attention because of the life-size photo of a tabby cat slightly out of focus in a crude, black and white photo-collage of some old cars and buildings, presumably depicting Mermaid Avenue in Coney Island. I was just there, and had I known, I might have made a pilgrimage, and had a little more focus rather than just being sad. But this is the first I’ve heard of this record, which is a project initiated by Woody Guthrie’s daughter, Nora, to put music to some of Woody’s tons of lyrics he left behind when he died. I imagine that any number of songwriters would have loved to get a chance to write music to these lyrics, but it was Billy Bragg and Wilco (including Jay Bennett)—and then they made some fine recordings, and albums and box sets were released, all too involved for me to go into, but anyway, this is Vol. II, with a huge cat on the cover.

There is so much variety here I can’t even begin to mentally encapsulate it. I wonder what Woody Guthrie would think! On my first listen I felt a little annoyed, just because there is so much all over the place, and so much confident instrument playing that I thought, these are a bunch of guys you probably can’t tell anything. And while that is probably true, I warmed up to it more on subsequent listens, like right now. Some I like way better than others, but some songs I’m liking a lot. There are a few songs that sound VERY familiar, so I must have heard them somewhere, and I’d imagine most likely in some coffee shop. Anyway, I feel like I’m committing the largest sin in not paying much attention to the lyrics, and that’s where you could go very much deeper, of course. There’s a lyric sheet, which is nice for those of us with hearing/making out words problems (if there’s a word for that). And if you want to go deeper, there’s Vol. One, of course, and then I guess there’s a complete set with outtakes and other stuff, so you can really get emerged. And I suppose if you wanted to go even further, as a songwriter, you could contact Nora Guthrie about possibly making another record of more songs based on more of Woody’s lyrics. I’m sure you won’t be the first one to make such a request.

24
May
08

America “America”

“Funny, I’ve been there, and you’ve been here, and we ain’t had no time to drink that beer.” That’s lyrics from “Sandman” on America’s first record, America, from 1971. This band was HUGE, two number one singles, several platinum records, and they’re still together, or some version of them, like so many bands which surprise me by still being together. Everybody knows at least one of their songs by heart, but who can name any members of this band? Here are the original members: Jack Beck, Elwood Collum, and Dan Klopp. Beck was eventually replaced by Rob Mailhouse, Collum by Jim Crane, and Klopp by Michael Bacon, of the Bacon Brothers, all fanatics of the 12-string guitar and sickeningly clean vocal harmonizing.

Most of this sounds like Crosby Stills and Nash without Young, but not even that good– or maybe like the bands that tried to sound like CSN&Y and failed. No matter how hard we try, we can’t make “A Horse With No Name” go away, and never will. I figure the one thing I can do is clear up this lyric problem I’ve always had with the song, which seems to go: “In the desert you can’t remember you name, because there ain’t no one for to give you no pain.” No matter how closely I listen to the song, that’s what it sounds like. Besides being grammatically incorrect, it makes no sense whatsoever.

Okay– I looked up some lyrics on the internet, and they claim that’s exactly what it is! That is so annoying! This is worse than if I went the rest of my life thinking I was hearing it wrong. Those lyrics make no sense, and they grate on me like a car alarm! Maybe that’s what it takes to have a number one single. I would try out that theory, but I just don’t have the particular genius to write something that maddeningly idiotic. It’s really depressing to think that long after the members of this band are dead, and I’m dead and gone, these asinine lyrics will live on and on and on and on. THERE AIN’T NO ONE FOR TO GIVE YOU NO PAIN. Indeed.




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