Thursday, November 27, 2008

just grumpy, I guess...

Well, obviously the answer to yesterday's question is...the Neil Young has been pushed back a week, and the Fireman just didn't get ordered. No big conspiracy...just an annoyance for CD shoppers that's all.
The new Best of disc from Blackie and the Rodeo Kings arrived last night in the mail. It's an advance review copy art. And I love those great album covers A Man Called Wrycraft does for B&RK! This time it's an adaptation of the poster that hangs in my office. The lettering has been changed to reflect the songs chosen to populate this "greatest hits" collection. It's called Swinging From the Chains of Love and it really does feature some of my favourite B&RK tunes. From the early Willie P. Bennett songs to the newer self written tunes this disc has it all. Including an unreleased track with Richard Bell "Caves of Jericho" and the obscure B&RK tribute to Johnny Cash "Folsom Prison Blues".
Also listening to Jeff Beck's performing this week which just reiterates why I love Jeff Beck...the most amazing melodic guitarist.
Trying to complete a collection of Ry Cooder session tracks I dug up some stuff from soundtracks My Blueberry Nights, tribute CDs, Our New Orleans and Enjoy Every Sandwich, albums by Hello Stranger, Robert Francis, James Taylor, Steve Vai, Ersi Arvizu, and Aaron Neville and the African musicians Ali Farka Toure and Toumani Diabate disc on which Ry plays Kawai piano and Ripley guitar! Hmm.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

HEY! Where's that new Neil Young release?

So after supper last night, I washed the dishes and then drove out to Best Buy to pick up the new Neil Young CD Sugar Mountain. There was something else I wanted too. The Fireman Electric Arguments by Paul McCartney and Youth. When I got there, and it's a good half hour away, no Neil Young, no Fireman, just G&R Chinese Democracy and the new Kanye West. They showed up on the website browse I did earlier in the day. The sale prices looked good, better than any place else. But the discs were simply not there! How many times has this happened to you?
I received a couple of invitations by e-mail from Macca to buy his new CD which would be released on November 25th. And yet, they didn't manage to get 'em into the stores. Neil? Well, we've been waiting for the major Archives project for I guess I shouldn't be surprised. The material is old though...real old. Shouldn't be a big problem getting that done. One thing though...Did you realize Neil was filming his shows WAY back in the day? What a planner!
I hope that this stuff will show up soon, I'm leaving time in my schedule to listen. I have space on my iPod too!
Still trying to get a copy of the new JD Souther. They didn't have much faith in it I guess, maybe it was a name recognition issue..."who'll remember him?" Until then I'm listening to Border Town his best of collection. I scooped it as a torrent. No stores carried it. Hey! Record companies! Get your stuff in the stores and people will buy it! There's still lots of folks like me, who want to hold something tangible as they listen to new music.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Yank Rachell...

"Yank" Rachell came from Brownsville, Tennessee. He was born in 1910, and legend has it that he was eight years old when he was out with the pigs, and met a man who had a mandolin. He came home one pig short, and carrying a mandolin! He was perhaps best known as the accompanist to Sleepy John Estes. I know that's where I first heard of him, from an early Ry Cooder record. Cooder talked about Estes and Rachell in interviews, and Ry also played a mean blues mandolin, so it gave us northerners a broader context for the blues than the British bands at the time were giving us. There was more to the blues than just Chicago blues recycled through England. There was real, original blues music being created by real, original blues musicians. I recall buying a Skip James LP, some Mississippi John Hurt and some Bukka White all on vinyl for the ridiculously low price of 39 cents! I still have those albums, and lots more.
Yesterday a CD came in the mail from Yanksville Records. It's called A Tribute to the Legendary Blues Mandolin Man James "Yank" Rachell, 1910-1997. That's quite a mouthful, but it's pretty much exactly what you get. Twenty-one tracks by artists like John Sebastian, Mike Seeger, David Grisman, Stanley Smith, Peter Rowan, Rich Del Grosso, and others who donated their time and effort to this project. And it's a goodun!
Mainly blues, as you might expect, and mainly focused on the mandolin, as you might also expect. But it's not some show-offy tribute disc like the standard thing we've seen lately. This is authentic music played honestly in tribute to a master. Production was overseen by Mike Butler with Al Smith, and engineered by Steve Creech
(with Brian Hanson and Shae Saylors). It sounds brilliant!
Yank's grand-daughter Sheena turns in a bravura performance on "Lake Michigan Blues" backed by Mike Butler on mandolin, Jim Lynch on slide guitar, Craig Smith on drums, Al Stone on bass and Guy Vreeman on Hammond B-3. But it's hard tob single out any one performance, they're all good. Karen Irwin's "My Mind Got Bad", Jim Richter et al, on "Brownsville Blues", Sebastian and Grisman doing "Tappin' That Thing"...I love it!
The monies raised will help out the Rachell buy your own copy! It's well worth it! The website is here.

Monday, November 24, 2008

another day, another disc...

Spent a couple of days on business in Toronto last week, and I had a bit of time to do some CD shopping. Still wasn't able to locate the new JD Souther album but I did get the LIVE EP from Mudcrutch, which comes in a double wallet cardboard sleeve just like vinyl records used to! Only four songs but good stuff. I found the new Charlie Haden disc called Rambling Boy which finds the jazz bassist paying tribute to the music of his youth...bluegrass! With special guests Elvis Costello, Rosanne Cash, Vince Gill, Pat Metheny, Ricky Skaggs, Dan Tyminski, Bruce Hornsby, most of the extended Haden family, and some Nashville session guys, it's a dandy album. Beautifully recorded and played. And the songs are like a history lesson only taught by one of those really interesting teachers who loves his subject! I recommend it!
Another jazz player was on my shopping list...McCoy Tyner...who calls his new album Guitars. What? Isn't he a piano player? Indeed, but this is an album of duets with guitarists, Marc Ribot, John Scofield, Bill Frisell and Derek Trucks...and Bela Fleck on banjo! It's the surprise album of the month. And it's extraordinary. Tyner is a monster, and so are his guests!
That's about it for this edition. I'm looking forward to the new anthology from Blackie & the Rodeo Kings, the new Richie Havens (bought on eBay) and the tin box DVDs of Dr. Syn with Patrick McGoohan! Maybe it'll be under the Christmas tree for me. Can I wait that long? Hmmm.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

some thoughts after reading an editorial in Performing Songwriter...

In the November issue of Performing Songwriter magazine, the one with Hall & Oates on the cover, there's a note from the editor about the loss of her iPod, and her reaction to that event. She didn't really care. It was unfortunate, she says, and she certainly wasn't happy about the loss of the value of the iPod...but she goes on to talk about how music has been changed by the invention of these ubiquitous items. She talks about how new albums, remember those, would come out and you'd rush top the store to buy this big slab of vinyl packaged in a 12" square of cardboard...inside there'd be pictures, lyrics and liner notes in a font that you could actually read and maybe more. Then all your friends would come over because they'd heard you had the new Beatles' album, or Stones album, or (I think she talks about Carole King and Heart) whoever...and you'd sit in the basement, or the living room, or maybe even your bedroom and crank the volume up, listen to the WHOLE album front to back...BOTH sides! That was an experience! A shared experience that made the music into a tangible thing. I recall buying, not an album but, a 45! A single...remember those. The first single released on the Beatles' new label, Apple. The green apple on one side held the words, "Hey Jude" and the sliced apple on the other side (the B-side) said "Revolution". We were on shifts at our high school, and I didn't have to go in until the afternoon. So in the morning, at 9:30 when the store opened, I rushed over to Hal Wagonner's Melody Lane (an independent record store) and bought the 45, hot off the press. I came home with a couple hours to spare and called two friends. "Don't play it til we get there!" they begged. The suspense was killing me. The 7" black vinyl disc was elegantly packaged in a black glossy sleeve with script that said "Apple Records". I flipped it back and forth to admire the label, Apple, half an clever, so simple. Finally they arrived, these friends, and we hunkered down to experience the new Beatles' record. Over seven minutes long...we played it over an over, then we flipped it over and played "Revolution" over and over, just soaking in the music. Of course we had seen the short films they had made for the David Frost we knew what to expect, but the music just flowed over us and through us, until my Mom called down the stairs, "You boys'd better get a move on!"
That's the kind of experience that you don't get any more. You root around the iTunes site, and download a song for a buck. Then you plunk it on your iPod and you go about your business. When it comes up in the roatation you're just about to climb on a bus. The driver says, "Step to the back please!" There's no focus on the song, there's no shared response, there's no fun. OK, maybe there's no scratchiness from the flawed vinyl, but there's no elegant sleeve either. No foldout lyric sheet. When I load music onto my iPod it's usually from CDs I already have, that I want to spend more time with. I want to listen to them there's definitely a place for the handy-dandy listening device...but if you've never rushed to the local independent to pick up the latest release from a much loved singer, or band you just can't know hopw much of the listening experience you're missing!

Monday, November 17, 2008

JD Souther...

Last night at Hugh's Room in Toronto, the semi-legendary JD Souther appeared. He looks older, still ruggedly handsome, the beginnings of a beard on his chin. His voice still rings out high and clear on songs like "Faithless Love", "The Best of My Love", "Silver Blue", "White Rhythm and Blues" and a selection of new tunes form his just released album If the World Was You. He carries three guitars, all Gibsons (L-1s?), two sunburst and one blonde. The blonde is in G-tuning and is used for only the couple of songs. The middle guitar, is standard tuning, used for virtually everything else. There seems to be a problem with the installed pickup and it gives off this buzz, that drives JD crazy. I couldn't really identify any electronic buzz, because the buzzes from JD's rather clumsy fingering was much more noticeable. Of course, he did make a comment about "someone of [his] skill level" so I guess he's well aware of his limitations. It just came as a bit of a surprise to me. But then, if you've always had the best musicians in LA playing on your what!
It's his songs and his voice we came to hear anyway, not his prowess on the six-string. The songs are still classic and the voice is still clear and high, a beautiful thing really.
He's not a big man, but he takes the stage with confidence and personality. He was more personable than I'd expected him to be. Funny, charming, a bit sarcastic, but I agreed with him, "Why sit so close to the stage if you're going to talk?" he inquired of a couple. (Our table was next to the stage too, so I worked very hard not making comments.)
He played through his whole archive. Songs made famous by Linda Ronstadt, or the Eagles, were done JD style. Sloppy guitar intro, then fingerpicked or strummed accompaniment to his Orbisonesque tenor. The guitars sounded dandy loud and clean. Oh, the 3rd one? It was used for one song only late in the show.
The new songs blended seemlessly with the classics, so I went back to the merch table to pick up a copy of If the World Was You and they were all gone. Sold Out! Even the vinyl, which JD said would make vinyl lovers "go ape-@#$%". He had to borrow someone's copy of the 2 disc vinyl in the middle of the show, so he could read the words to one of the new songs. He could only remember the third verse! He laid the lyric sheet on top of the piano, pulled his readers from the inside pocket of his jacket, and proceeded to play the tune. Relaxed and fun. Who would have thought JD Souther would be fun? Check him out at JD
Oh, a young New Jersey girl opened the show. April Smith, who had plenty of merch, played a Taylor guitar that was bigger than she was...she has a powerful voice and writes intelligent and witty songs, but she doesn't make full use of the tone contained within that big musical box! Listen to a song here

Friday, November 14, 2008

James Hill...

Went to see James Hill last night. He plays the ukulele. He's Canadian from B.C., but he now lives in Nova Scotia. That's almost as far away from B.C. as you can get (except for Newfoundland, but then you might bump in to Lester Bilbo)! James Hill. Remember that name. When people talk about certain just know what instrument he plays. Don't you? Or Bela Fleck. Or David Grisman. Or Jimi Hendrix. Say the name and you've identified the Gibson guitar, the banjo, the mandolin, the Stratocaster. Well, James Hill is in that category. He and a small handful of others (like Jake Shimabukuro) virtually define the ukulele.
The ukulele (pronounced oo-koo-lay-lay) was brought to Hawaii by Portuguese cowboys. The Hawaiians thought that to sound it made was like dancing fleas, so they called it uku (flea) + lele (jumping) and they started laying it like crazy. The best ukes in the world are still made in Hawaii. And some of the best players still come from there (like Jake Shimabukuro) but not all! Nosirree! James Hill is one of the best, and he proved it last night at the Legion in Waterdown!
As I pulled into the parking lot, I thought, "Wow, there's a lot of people here." I had to park all the way 'round the back. There were generations of people from 8 to 80, and beyond. My ticket number was 290, and from the looks of things...there were maybe 100 more! The crowd was filled with anticipation. Most of them were uke players and students. Most of them carried their uke with them. About a hundred kids sat on the floor around the stage. We sat in the very back row. They were the only seats left!
James came on as promised at 7:00. He's tall, lanky, with long dark hair, and a beard which accents his fine features. He stepped over the kids, took the stage and took control of the audience by playing "Skipping Stone", an original piece which simulates the joys of skipping stones on the lake. This was followed by Antonio Carlos Jobim's "One Note Samba" which Hill has turned into a showcase of all the sounds a uke can make, melodic, harmonic, rhythmic, percussive. He did it all. Look for that one on YouTube! It's amazing.
There was never a dull moment. Whether telling stories about the history of the uke, or his life delivering pianos on the East Coast, he was charming and entertaining. And the music was stunning. Relaxing, exciting, melodic, dischordant, even awe inspiring at times. And by 8:20 it was all over. An hour and a quarter, but the best $15 I've spent in a long time.
After the show I talked to James for a minute or two, I've been reviewing this guy's musical output since he was the star pupil of the Langley School...but we'd never met until last night. He was as warm and charming face to face as he was on-stage.
James Hill...don't forget that name.
Oh, afterwards we retired to the bar downstairs for a pint or two, and lo and behold...a guitar circle. The Skyway Bluegrass Club was holding its weekly guitar pull. We stayed for the whole repertoire. Another southpaw actually loaned me his Morgan guitar for one tune. Thanks mate! James Hill and his coterie arrived just in time for the last couple of songs and a couple of ukes joined the guitar/banjo/mandolin/standup bass mix. All in all, a splendid time was had by all.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Used music?

Isn't music meant to be used? Of course it is. That's what we put it out there for. First the creator uses it, all the notes and chords and beats and everything that makes up music in the first place. Then the producer uses that raw material to shape it into his vision of what the performer meant. And if you don't think that's an interview with a producer some time...any producer. Sure they try to be sensitive to the performer and present her in an honest and sympathetic way...but too many times will you read about major artists having songs changed by their producers. It's probably a good thing. Well, back to the argument at hand...then the record company uses the music, as a sales tool. Everybody wants to sell their music...that's why they make it. OK, people without record deals, who only play in their basdement, maybe they don't want to sell it...but they wish they could! Then the listener, or consumer comes along and "consumes" the music. They buy the CD, or mp3s or they might even steal them from bit-torrent sites, they learn how to get FLAC files to play, you know the drill. They use songs to dance to, to sing along with, they use them for exercise, for special celebrations like weddings and birthdays. Music is used to create moods in movies and on TV. Even reality TV has music. Alfred Hitchcock asked Bernard Hermann (who was scoring Hitch's film Lifeboat) "Where does the music come from in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean?" And Hermann replied, "Same place the camera does!" Hitch allowed the music!
Doctors use music in surgery, kids use music as they play, we use music at funerals.
Music is meant to be used music...only makes sense right?
After all...somebody paid for the album once, so the license was paid.
I just traded a bunch of CDs that I wasn't listening to anymore for a bunch of CDs that I'm going to listen to for a while. Things I had missed, or ignored in order to buy the things I was now tired of...things I had 'used up'!
When Neil Young first released On the Beach in 1974 I bought it on the day it came out. Rushed home, put it on the stereo. Thought that the packaging was a bit odd (little did I know what Neil's packaging would look like in the future) and then the music...Yikes! I couldn't stand it, it seemed so raw, unfinished, sloppy. I had followed his career with interest from Buffalo Springfield on. I even knew about the Mynah Birds! I saw them in the audience at the Merv Griffin Show one night. But this? After the classic albums Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, After the Goldrush, Harvest this was too much to take. I felt like I was being used. Tonight's the Night restored my faith but then came a long stretch of duds as far as I was concerned. Zuma, Long May You Run, American Stars & Bars, I just lost interest. It wasn't 'til the last couple of years that I really got back into Neil's music. The Archive material has covered my favourite that's been great. And suddenly I found myself starting to appreciate these lost years. The raw guitar solos, the "sound". So when I chose On the Beach as one of my was a calculated gamble. Wow! It's got some great stuff on it. How did I miss it? I don't know. Maybe I was using other music, and didn't have time for Neil. But now he fits in to my framework again. A great lost album. Don't tell me I have to find a copy of American Stars & Bars now! Not Trans though...please!
Also found a couple of Daniel Lanois discs, shine and here is what is just to complete the collection and the deluxe 2 disc set of U2's Boy. This was the first U2 album, and I loved it from the moment I first heard "I Will Follow" being played in a record store in 1980! The Joe Strummer DVD The Future Is Unwritten was also there...and what a film it is! Don't miss it!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Warren Zevon's first album (reissued)

Okay, I know, it's not his first album. But it's really the first one that counts. I have a copy of the real first album on vinyl, that I bought in a department store for 99 cents! But this one is his first album on Asylum Records. Produced by Jackson Browne and featuring some of LA's elite as backup singers, and musicians. It introduced Zevon's peculiar brand of songwriting to the world in a big way. And even more than 30 years later it sounds bright and different than all the other country-rock stuff that was pouring out of LA in those days.
Rhino has put together a 2-disc deluxe set, with the original album on the first disc, and a second disc of demos and alternate takes that serve to flesh out the original album and show us just how fully formed these songs were when Warren and Jackson went into the studio. The demos include "Frank and Jesse James" which was even more fascinating since I had just watched Brad Pitt in the Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford in the past week. Other demos? "The French Inhaler", "Hasten Down the Wind" (in a full band version), "Carmelita", and others. Some solo piano, others with backup (alternate takes) and even a live version of "Mama Couldn't Be Persuaded" from a radio show.
The historical value of these tracks overtakes the limited audio quality of some of the early demos. The warmth of Zevon's voice, the comfortable piano work, gives a hint of the man behind the myth.
Have you read I'll Sleep When I'm Dead? An amazing biography by Warren's ex-wife, it left me wondering what people saw in this virtually irredeemable drunken bully. But there's always real humanity in the lyrics and melodies. He didn't write songs like all those other Rodeo Drive cowboys. There are no werewolves or mercenaries on this album...but the citizens of Zevon's world are us, and our neighbors. "He agrees, he thinks she needs to be free, then she says she'd rather be free..." life is confusing and Zevon captures all that confusion, and gives the listener a sense that...there's somebody out there who understands.
Read the book about Warren's parents, and then listen to "Mama Couldn't Be Persuaded". You'll see what I'm talking about.
The demos were beautifully translated by Jackson Browne's sensitive production to create what has to be one of the 70's classic albums. Phil Everly, a couple of Eagles, some Fleetwood Mac, a Beach Boy and Bonnie Raitt join some of LA's choice session guys (David Lindley, Bob Glaub, Bobby Keys et al) are all here, but this is Warren Zevon's show, his songs, his voice, his vision. And I for one, am glad to have this deluxe package to enjoy.