Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Years Eve - 1957



Guy Lombardo & His Royal Canadians ring in the New Year. Wonderful period piece from the immediate pre-Mad Men era. The shameless and incessant plugging of the sponsor, viewed now in Time's sepia-tinted glow, seems not so much mercenary as charming.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Digby on Republican Double Standards

Love this story. Hadn't heard it before.

Gosh, it seems like only yesterday that American singers could get themselves in big trouble by going to a foreign country and criticizing the President of the United States. They had their records burned, were subjected to death threats and blackballed from radio stations.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Herbie Hancock - Maiden Voyage

I could be posting something appropriate to the season, but the hell with it, this is what I feel like hearing. "Maiden Voyage" has gradually worked its way up from being an admired composition by a respected young jazz musician to being a jazz standard. Of course, it took a few decades for it to make that journey. From 1965, with Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, George Coleman on tenor sax, Hancock on piano, with Hancock's Miles Davis bandmates Ron Carter and Tony Williams on bass and drums respectively.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Krugman on Economic Growth in the Zero Decade

His comments are, let us say, Krugman-esque:

Let me quote from a speech that Lawrence Summers, then deputy Treasury secretary (and now the Obama administration’s top economist), gave in 1999. “If you ask why the American financial system succeeds,” he said, “at least my reading of the history would be that there is no innovation more important than that of generally accepted accounting principles: it means that every investor gets to see information presented on a comparable basis; that there is discipline on company managements in the way they report and monitor their activities.” And he went on to declare that there is “an ongoing process that really is what makes our capital market work and work as stably as it does.”

So here’s what Mr. Summers — and, to be fair, just about everyone in a policy-making position at the time — believed in 1999: America has honest corporate accounting; this lets investors make good decisions, and also forces management to behave responsibly; and the result is a stable, well-functioning financial system.

What percentage of all this turned out to be true? Zero.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Willie Nelson - Stardust

To mark the passing of songwriter Hoagy Carmichael on this date in 1981, here's "Stardust" by the pride of Abbott, Texas, Mr. Willie Nelson.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Big Brother & The Holding Company - Summertime

RIP James Gurley. I actually posted this song last August as one of several versions of the Gershwin standard, but now post it to mark the passing of Gurley, who plays lead guitar on it. According to some of the comments in news articles, he was probably more responsible than anyone else for bringing the sense of freedom and openness that in the hands of people like Jerry Garcia marked the guitar styles of the Summer of Love. On "Summertime" he cuts loose, tears it up, explodes the instrument, etc. But it's all still music.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Bob Dylan - Must Be Santa

Just to prove that life can still contain surprises, here's Bob Dylan singing the polka Christmas standard "Must be Santa."

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Rascals - Groovin'

Always one to anticipate, and then counter, expectations, may I present to you on the winter solstice...a summer song. Ladies and gentlemen, "Groovin'" by the Rascals.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Frank Rich on the Person of the Decade

Mr. R on who best exemplifies US public life in the last ten years. Hint: scammers and conmen and phonies, oh my.

If there’s been a consistent narrative to this year and every other in this decade, it’s that most of us, Bernanke included, have been so easily bamboozled. The men who played us for suckers, whether at Citigroup or Fannie Mae, at the White House or Ted Haggard’s megachurch, are the real movers and shakers of this century’s history so far. That’s why the obvious person of the year is Tiger Woods. His sham beatific image, questioned by almost no one until it collapsed, is nothing if not the farcical reductio ad absurdum of the decade’s flimflams, from the cancerous (the subprime mortgage) to the inane (balloon boy).

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Children - I'll Be Your Sunshine

In yesterday's post I said that the song featured Cassell Webb in power mode. In "I'll Be Your Sunshine" she's working in a much softer mode. Singers who can sing in more than one way are rarer than you might think. The string arrangement here, as on all the album's tracks, is by the Children's keyboard player, Louis Cabaza.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Children - Sitting on a Flower

"Sitting on a Flower" is yet another track from the Children's only album, Rebirth. The ones I've posted so far were sung by Steve Perron, but the Children had two lead vocalists, and this song features Cassell Webb in her power mode. The arrangement is authentic 1968 psychedelia.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Townes Van Zandt Sings Bruce Springsteen

Since Townes is considered to be a master songwriter, the fact that he's singing someone else's song is worth noting. But if you want to see a singer inhabit a song, watch his face while he sings. The sax player is not exactly providing the most sensitive accompaniment, but hey, it's an imperfect world we live in.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Krugman on the Economic Outrage du Jour

The Nobelist speaks.

I’ve been highly critical of Alan Greenspan over the years (since long before it was fashionable), but give the former Fed chairman credit: he has admitted that he was wrong about the ability of financial markets to police themselves.

But he’s a rare case. Just how rare was demonstrated by what happened last Friday in the House of Representatives, when — with the meltdown caused by a runaway financial system still fresh in our minds, and the mass unemployment that meltdown caused still very much in evidence — every single Republican and 27 Democrats voted against a quite modest effort to rein in Wall Street excesses.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Pixies - Caribou

"Caribou" was the first song on their first release on a record label. Nearly perfect, and a good example of why they should get into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame their first year of eligibility in 2012.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Elmore James - Dust My Broom

The real thing, in every sense. In this clip the succession of images repeats from the mid-point of the song, and for some reason ends with what looks like Sonny Boy Williamson II instead of Elmore James, but what the hell, it's still a good job.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Children - Pictorial

Sunday I posted a cut from the Children's Rebirth album. Here's another. "Pictorial" is the big centerpiece of the album, the "A Day in the Life" equivalent. The Children aren't the Beatles, but it's still a great psychedelic-era ride.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band - Mr Bojangles

The NGDB made this song written by Jerry Jeff Walker a hit, but it's been covered by nearly everyone. Thought it would be easy to find a lip-synced version from a TV show recorded back in the day, but it wasn't, so this will do. If you care about such things, this song is still a heartbreaker, because, well, the dog up and died.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Children - Beautiful

Some authentic sixties psychedelia that you've probably never heard of, let alone heard. "Beautiful" is from the only album the Children ever put out, Rebirth. They were contemporaries and I think label-mates of the Thirteenth Floor Elevators. The CD, as usual, also collects miscellaneous singles and unreleased tracks. I'll probably post some more tracks over the next few days, as like all good Sgt Pepperesque albums of the time, there's a wide variety of music offered therein to the listener.

This post is dedicated to the memory of Donald Eugene Curling. Don was something of a musical mentor, but I'd lost touch with him over the years. I just found out he died several years ago. Requiescat in pace.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Richard Thompson - When We Were Boys, At School

"When We Were Boys, At School" comes from Richard Thompson's 2005 release Front Parlour Ballads. He demonstrates both his usual dour view of human relationships and his skill at blending a folk-based guitar style with fairly sophisticated chord changes.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Neil Young - Winterlong

It's "Winterlong" cuz winter time is coming. Written in '69, recorded in '74, classic-era Youngster.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Willie Nelson - Moonlight in Vermont

From Willie's first album of standards, Stardust, in 1978. "Moonlight in Vermont" has no rhymes, which makes it very unusual for a popular song written in the nineteen-forties. Or indeed at any time.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Bird Lives

Coleman Hawkins plays, then Charlie Parker. According to the YouTube info, there are only two known film clips of Charlie Parker playing, and the other one is fifty-two seconds long.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Deep River - San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus

For Sunday morning, a hymn. In one of her autobiographical books, Maya Angelou talks about being somewhere in eastern Europe and having a polite stranger play Paul Robeson's version of this song for her, and the complex emotions that event raised in her.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Dvorak, Slavonic Dance, op 46, no 4

This is the version for piano, four hands, as they say, rather than full orchestra. Since the person who posted it at YouTube decided to disable embedding, you'll have to click on this link to hear it.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Lovin' Spoonful - Rain On The Roof

An adequate job of lip-syncing, an exceptionally poor job of play-syncing -- but what the hell, only musicians care about that. This is a song about what it feels like to be in love, and that's what matters.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Sly & The Family Stone - Thank You for Talkin' to Me Africa

Give thanks. "Thank You for Talkin' to Me Africa" is Sly's junk-influenced remake of his "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)." It's from 1973's There's a Riot Goin' On and is often held up as an example of what the words "deep funk" refer to. How slow can a song be and still make you want to grind?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Nick Drake - Time Has Told Me



Nick Drake explains to us the meaning of "a soul with no footprint, a rose with no thorn." First song on his first album. The delicate electric guitar work is by Richard Thompson.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Taibbi on Palin and Outsidership

Matt Taibbi explains the relationship between Sarah Palin and the press. H/t Atrios.

What the people who are flipping out about the treatment of Palin should be asking themselves is what it means when it’s not just jerks like us but everybody piling on against Palin. For those of you who can’t connect the dots, I’ll tell you what it means. It means she’s been cut loose. It means that all five of the families have given the okay to this hit job, including even the mainstream Republican leaders. You teabaggers are in the process of being marginalized by your own ostensible party leaders in exactly the same way the anti-war crowd was abandoned by the Democratic party elders in the earlier part of this decade. Like the antiwar left, you have been deemed a threat to your own party’s “winnability.”

Monday, November 23, 2009

Anita O'Day at the Newport Jazz Festival 1958

Life is the ultimate performance art. Being a good singer is great, but you also want some style and the right attitude. Or, to put it another way by focusing on just one detail, don't just listen to this: dig the gloves as well.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Frank Rich Explains Sarah Palin and the Americans

Leave it to Frank Rich to show a little more perspective than most in his evaluation of the Palin book tour, and what she might do in the future.

Even by the standard of politicians, this is a woman with an outsized ego. Combine that with her performance skills and an insatiable hunger for the limelight, and you can see why she will not stay in Wasilla now that she’s seen 30 Rock. The question journalists repeatedly asked last week — What are Palin’s plans for 2012? — is a red herring. Palin has no obligation to answer it. She is the pit bull in the china shop of American politics, and she can do what she wants, on her own timeline, all the while raking in the big bucks she couldn’t as a sitting governor. No one, least of all her own political party, can control her.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Friday, November 20, 2009

Duane Allman - Little Martha



Happy birthday to Duane, who would have been sixty-three today. Here he plays his own composition on acoustic guitar, noteworthy for someone who rarely wrote songs and was identified with the electric guitar. Dickey Betts supports him on another acoustic guitar, but otherwise it's all Duane.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Sir Douglas Quintet - At the Crossroads

Yesterday marked the tenth anniversary of the passing of Doug Sahm. "At the Crossroads" is one of his best-known songs, and in certain circles has been played to death. Still, it's worth hearing again. There are people who think it's an Ian Hunter song because Mott the Hoople recorded it, but that just means that Hunter knows a good song when he hears one.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Gilda Radner - Let's Talk Dirty To The Animals

The lovely Gilda offers a simple suggestion: Let's talk dirty to the animals. A song from the perennially delightful mind of Michael O'Donoghue.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Hubert Sumlin - Little Girl, This Is The End

Mr. Sumlin is joined here by an English guitarist from a band named after a Muddy Waters song. "Little Girl, This Is The End" is the only song from Sumlin's release About Them Shoes which he wrote and sings himself, although of course his guitar playing is all over it.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Birthday

I've posted this song before, but have a personal reason for doing so again today.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Henry Thomas - Fishing Blues

Probably every version of this song that you've ever heard derives from this one, recorded over eighty years ago.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Paul Simon - Some Folks' Lives Roll Easy

Just had this song on my mind. It's one of those songs where, if you meet someone who knows it, it's interesting to ask what they think of it. Often people notice its pleasant sound and can sing along, but never really notice how sad the lyrics are, especially the very end. Rather than describe it, I'll just let you listen.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Howlin' Wolf - Smokestack Lightning

Time for some Wolf. According to the notes, this was in England in 1964 with Willie Dixon and Hubert Sumlin.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Frank Zappa - Ship Ahoy

In 1981 the mind-bogglingly prolific Frank Zappa released a 3-LP set of nothing but guitar solos, called Shut Up 'N Play Yer Guitar. "Ship Ahoy" was recorded at a performance in Japan. I have only a vague idea what type of effect he's using on the guitar, but it sure sounds cool.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Krugman on the Republicans Again

Sometimes I wish that I disagreed with Krugman more, when he foresees a grim future.

Real power in the party rests, instead, with the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin (who at this point is more a media figure than a conventional politician). Because these people aren’t interested in actually governing, they feed the base’s frenzy instead of trying to curb or channel it. So all the old restraints are gone.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Art Ensemble Of Chicago - Oouffnoon

The influential jazz trumpeter Lester Bowie died ten years ago today. I only had a chance to see the Art Ensemble of Chicago once, but it was a wonderful opportunity -- I wish I'd had more.

Here they are performing live at the Ann Arbor Blues Festival in 1972. They were beginning to become better-known in the world at large, and were ready to tell that world who they were and what they were about. Here is Oouffnoon from that performance. In this particular song saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell gets most of the solo space, but Bowie is, as always, a key part of the group interplay.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Digby, Harrison, Obama, the Economic Crisis

Digby links to Edward Harrison at Naked Capitalism, and I link to Digby. It's just how these here internets work.

Obama certainly was predisposed to ignore the Krugman camp, which includes a number of other economists, like Harrison, who argued for bank "nationalization" and other more aggressive methods of containing the damage. As the termperamentally thrill seeking Bush threw in with the nuttiest foreign policy elders of his own party, Obama, being a far more deliberate type, threw in with the most staid and establishmentarian economic elders of his.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Sly & The Family Stone - If You Want Me To Stay

"If You Want Me To Stay" -- one of the great bass parts ever. Eventually it became a pretty common style, but apparently just about every bass line you've ever heard that sounds like this (such as "Miss You" by the Rolling Stones) is derived from this one.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Conservative Wave...May Have Crested

The conservative who drove a moderate Republican out of the race in the special election in New York's 23rd Congressional district lost to the Democrat. A seat that was held by Republicans since 1872 has now switched parties. Here's the story from the local paper, the Watertown Daily Times.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Mort Shuman - Amsterdam

Mort Shuman is best known as being half of one of the great Brill Building songwriting teams in early rock and roll. With his partner Doc Pomus, he crafted songs for many of the great acts of the era. But a few years later he became interested in the work of the French singer-songwriter Jacques Brel, and began working to promote him in the US. Shuman began to provide English translations for Brel's French lyrics, and eventually became part of a group that put together a review called "Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris," which ran for a long time off-Broadway. To top it off, he became one of the four performers who sang the songs every night. Here he sings Brel's "Amsterdam," an intense and grim portrait of life in the less-than-pretty parts of a port town.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Beatles - You've Got to Hide Your Love Away



If you haven't seen the movie, then some of the things you see may be inexplicable, such as Leo McKern wearing a manhole cover as a hat. But it's the song, and Richard Lester's sense of cool in the cinemaphotography, that matter here.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Frank Rich on Scozzafava and the GOP

More on the special election in New York's 23rd congressional district this Tuesday. Frank Rich uses it to discuss the current state of the national Republican party.

The right’s embrace of Hoffman is a double-barreled suicide for the G.O.P. On Saturday, the battered Scozzafava suspended her campaign, further scrambling the race. It’s still conceivable that the Democratic candidate could capture a seat the Republicans should own. But it’s even better for Democrats if Hoffman wins. Punch-drunk with this triumph, the right will redouble its support of primary challengers to 2010 G.O.P. candidates they regard as impure. That’s bad news for even a Republican as conservative as Kay Bailey Hutchison, whose primary opponent in the Texas governor’s race, the incumbent Rick Perry, floated the possibility of secession at a teabagger rally in April and hastily endorsed Hoffman on Thursday.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

October Surprise in NY-23

This is what is known as falling on your sword. From the New York Times:

Dierdre Scozzafava, a Republican, has suspended her campaign for the House and is encouraging supporters to embrace the Conservative Party nominee, Doug Hoffman.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Krugman on Health Care Reform and the Next Few Days

Dr. K states in a clear way what is true, obvious, and important, which of course is what distinguishes him from the usual political pundit.

Everyone in the political class — by which I mean politicians, people in the news media, and so on, basically whoever is in a position to influence the final stage of this legislative marathon — now has to make a choice. The seemingly impossible dream of fundamental health reform is just a few steps away from becoming reality, and each player has to decide whether he or she is going to help it across the finish line or stand in its way.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Nina Simone - My Baby Just Cares For Me (Live @ Montreux)



I guess it's obvious I'm on a Nina Simone kick at the moment, so let's at least vary things by drawing on YouTube today. Here she shows off her formidable piano skills. More or less filtering Nat King Cole through J.S. Bach, she takes a deliberately light Tin Pan Alley tune and turns it into something dazzling.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Bob & Marcia - Young Gifted & Black

To continue in the Nina Simone vein, here's a version of her song "To Be Young, Gifted and Black" by the Jamaican duo Bob and Marcia. Simone is mostly known for her excellent cover versions of songs by other writers, but this is one of her originals, co-written with Weldon Irvine.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Nina Simone - I Loves You, Porgy

This version of "I Loves You, Porgy" is the recording that first brought Nina Simone a wide audience. She recorded another thirty-five years, but I don't know that she ever did anything better. What a voice, what a mind, what a spirit.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Wilbert Harrison - Kansas City



This clip also includes two other numbers, tracing out a sort of story in song. The third one is the "answer" song to "Kansas City," which I had never heard before. The other two are okay, but the gem here is at the beginning: the Big Hit, a number one in 1959.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Tom Watson on Obama's Strategy

Not sure I buy this, but I certainly found it interesting. Tom Watson on his blog suggests that there is a good reason that the Obama administration is raising the temperature in the ongoing conflict with Fox News. He feels that it is not just a sign of irritation, that in fact the response to the malign idiocy of Glenn Beck et al. serves a larger purpose.

Strip away a lot of the noise and heat surrounding the public diss Obama is laying on Fox News, and what you're left with is a classic misdirection. It's Patton's phantom army massing to invade the Pas de Calais. It's Peyton Manning's audibles and play fakes before pounding it into the endzone. It's Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Wardrobe (The Closet) - Canal+



Ken Levine had this posted on his blog, but I figure there are a few people who read this blog who won't have seen it yet. Canal+ is a French film-making company.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Krugman on China and the US Dollar

The Nobelist explains some important but arcane (to most of us, anyway) issues of international economic policies.

Although there has been a lot of doomsaying about the falling dollar, that decline is actually both natural and desirable. America needs a weaker dollar to help reduce its trade deficit, and it’s getting that weaker dollar as nervous investors, who flocked into the presumed safety of U.S. debt at the peak of the crisis, have started putting their money to work elsewhere.

But China has been keeping its currency pegged to the dollar — which means that a country with a huge trade surplus and a rapidly recovering economy, a country whose currency should be rising in value, is in effect engineering a large devaluation instead.

And that’s a particularly bad thing to do at a time when the world economy remains deeply depressed due to inadequate overall demand.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Wilfred Owen "Dulce et Decorum Est" WW1 Poem Animation

Wilfred Owen, generally considered the best of the English poets who made World War I their subject, has been on my mind for an odd reason: some of the spam I've been getting uses bits of his poetry in the subject line. Welcome to the twenty-first century, I guess. On the other hand, another twenty-first century phenomenon is the spread of homegrown computer animation, such as this example. Owen seems to speak his own poetry. Not perfect, but still pretty cool. And the subject matter is, alas, still relevant.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Firesign Theatre - Mutt 'n' Smutt, Jul 27, 2002

I know there are people who like comedy who don't like the Firesign Theatre. I don't really understand these people. Maybe they don't like FT because, unlike a lot of comedy, you have to really pay attention to get it all. But I find it worthwhile it to do so, and so do enough other people to keep them going.

Here in a Mutt 'n' Smutt episode from their old XM radio show, they prove that even after several decades together, they can still put something together that's funny, sharp, and unmistakably Firesign. (Note: you need RealPlayer installed in order to play this clip.)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

John Renbourn - Lord Franklin

The great English guitarist John Renbourn gives his version of "Lord Franklin" here. It dates back to the nineteenth century, and is based on the true story of the polar explorer Sir John Franklin, who led the ships Erebus and Terror into disaster. The song imagines his wife waiting for his return. All members of the expedition were lost.

It was a well-known song among British folk musicians, and a young Bob Dylan learned it on a visit to England. Writing new words and altering the melody, he created "Bob Dylan's Dream" for his second album. Renbourn, here as a member of the band Pentangle, gives a solemn-but-not-deadly rendition, in some ways emotionally akin to Mississippi John Hurt's "Louis Collins" posted here a few days ago. Our hearts are broken, but what can we do? Sing, I suppose.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Chuck Berry - Anthony Boy

Just for the hell of it, another Chuck Berry song. Again the songwriting is worth noting: like the later "C'est la Vie," which tells a story set in Cajun Louisiana, "Anthony Boy" is set in, and is meant to evoke the flavor of, one of America's ethnic enclaves -- here an Italian-American community in the Northeast. Chuck Berry was and is a sharp-eyed observer of people, and nearly all of his songs are full of telling details about humans and their behavior.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Chuck Berry - Oh Baby Doll

I recently decided that Chuck Berry is a better songwriter than Bruce Springsteen, but don't have the space here to show my mathematical proof for why that's so. But I will point out that "Oh Baby Doll" is a good example of what sort of songwriter Berry is: a storyteller, with a sharp eye for the telling detail. Plus an eye for the audience -- the song was aimed at, and so is about, high-school students. There's also a topical allusion to the movie Baby Doll, the only Tennessee Williams work to have given a name to a type of negligee.

Happy birthday, Chuck.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Friday, October 16, 2009

Krugman on Health Care Reform, the Insurance Industry, and PR Skills

The World Wide Web being what it is, some of you may not know much about the current political struggle in the US to enact health care reform. Paul Krugman here explores the result of the report just issued by the insurance industry, about one of the reform plans being discussed, and how they seem to have misjudged its effect.

Last weekend, the lobbying organization America’s Health Insurance Plans, or AHIP, released a report attacking the reform plan just passed by the Senate Finance Committee. Some news organizations gave the report prominent, uncritical coverage. But health-care experts quickly, and correctly, dismissed it as a hatchet job. And the end result of AHIP’s blunder may be a better bill than we would otherwise have had.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Monty Python with the Roots - Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

On Late Night last night. Pardon the beer commercial, but it's an NBC link and thus unavoidable.

Terry Gilliam is a lovely dancer.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mississippi John Hurt - Louis Collins

Blood, death, a weeping mother, murder...all sung about so sweetly. Mississippi John Hurt probably wrote "Louis Collins" himself, about an event in his neighborhood. You may never hear a sadder song.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

John McLaughlin - Goodbye Pork Pie Hat

The U.K.'s finest jazz guitarist essays Mingus's ode to Lester Young, in an acoustic guitar (with overdubs) rendition.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Son of Columbus

Because it's Columbus Day, there's stuff out there discussing C. Columbus, Europeans in the Western Hemisphere, etc. Since that's already being covered, let's spotlight one of the most worthy children of Columbus, Ohio, Mr. James Thurber.

If you love comedy but have not yet read Thurber, you owe it to yourself to go find some. Be aware that when sifting through his collected works, not all of it is anywhere near as funny as the best of it is. So start with the best: My Life and Hard Times, which includes probably the best thing he ever wrote, "The Night the Bed Fell." And here's Thurber on his home town: "I have lived in the East for nearly thirty years now, but many of my books prove that I am never very far away from Ohio in my thoughts, and that the clocks that strike in my dreams are often the clocks of Columbus."

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Brook Benton - The Boll Weevil

The Nashville producer and record executive Shelby Singleton died on Wednesday at seventy-seven. He was less well-known than people like Owen Bradley and Billy Sherrill, probably partly because his taste ran more to novelty records than to maintaining sustained careers for his artists. (Unless they had sustained careers making novelty records, such as Ray Stevens or Roger Miller.) His first nationwide success as a producer was with Brook Benton's "The Boll Weevil," a number one hit in 1961.

Friday, October 9, 2009

John Lennon - Mother

I wanted to be sure that I wasn't repeating a post for John Lennon's birthday, but was surprised to find that I hadn't actually done a birthday post for him. So today's offering is "Mother," the opening track from his first "real" solo album. It's pretty well-known, but I chose it because it shows something about Lennon the singer. He had a wide emotional range -- some songs show his power, some his vulnerability. In this song, he shows both. It's also a nice example of the kind of song that Lennon wrote that few others could: it's very slow but very heavy, almost proto-grunge, with the piano leaving lots of space.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Smiley Lewis - I Hear You Knockin'



The original version, before Fats Domino, Gale Storm, Dave Edmunds, et al.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Red Army Chorus - Meadowland



I first remember hearing this song in a version by Jefferson Airplane. They didn't have a hundred people singing it, however, just a single organist. That version always appealed to me, but I like this version better.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Krugman on the Republican Attitude in General

The Nobelist talks about the eternal thirteen-year-old.

To be sure, while celebrating America’s rebuff by the Olympic Committee was puerile, it didn’t do any real harm. But the same principle of spite has determined Republican positions on more serious matters, with potentially serious consequences — in particular, in the debate over health care reform.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Janis Joplin - Trust Me

Saint Janis sings a Bobby Womack song, "Trust Me." Womack, the great R&B/soul singer and songwriter, also contributes acoustic guitar. Joplin's imitators tend to focus on her belting, which does appear in this piece, but tend to ignore the vulnerability, which predominates here. She died of a heroin overdose on this date in 1970.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Gail Collins on American Dreams

Gail Collins is a relative newcomer to the Official Pundit ranks, but is doing fairly well at it. Don't agree with everything she says, but then I don't agree with everything that anyone says. I particularly liked this part:

The White House had a dream of getting Chicago the Olympics. Didn’t work out. At all. And some people feel it was sort of weird for Barack Obama to throw himself into the fight with such ardor. They may have a point. But if the president is going to take a flier on an improbably and possibly delusional quest, I would prefer that it involve lobbying the Olympic committee rather than, say, invading a country.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Peter, Paul & Mary - Mon Vrai Destin

The death of Mary Travers has me listening to some of their stuff, like "Mon Vrai Destin" from their album called simply Album. I like the harmonics on the guitar in the right channel, as well as, always, what they manage to do with three voices. Props to Milt Okun, who was apparently the person who really crafted their sound.

The bells always inform me of my true destiny.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Miles Davis - Jean Pierre (Live in Montreal 1985)



Got Miles on the mind...

This sing-songy little melody was one he used often in his later years. Like a lot of the short motifs he came up with to use as a foundation for improvising, it's not as simple as it sounds. This band knows what to do with it.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Greenwald on the US Media's Coverage of Foreign Affairs

The one sometimes referred to as Glennzilla explains how to tell enemies from friends. Once it's all laid out like this, it seems pretty clear.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Miles Davis - Baby Won't You Please Come Home

When Mr. Davis left the planet on this date in 1991, he left behind a body of recorded work so large that it would take a good part of anyone's life to hear it all, just like it took him to create it. Case in point: "Baby Won't You Please Come Home" is a ballad that doesn't appear on any of his best-of compilations, but it blows me away. There's one moment when the logic that an ordinary soloist would follow when constructing a solo would require that he blow a quick run of several notes -- instead he plays two notes, quietly. Genius. Recorded in Hollywood, California on April 16, 1963, with Victor Feldman on piano, Ron Carter on bass, and Frank Butler on drums.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Frank Rich On Obama's Choices in Afghanistan

The Timesman lays it out. One thing that occurred to me reading this article: Obama may never get to do many of the things that he might have, because he's going to have to spend so much time and energy on the messes that Bush left behind.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Comedian Harmonists - Creole Love Call

Pre-Nazi Germany's favorite vocal group perform Duke Ellington. Everything that sounds like a horn is actually a human voice. And, if you're curious, there was a film made about the group in 1997.

Recorded in Berlin, September 1933.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Butthole Surfers - The One I Love

Psychedelic Texans cover REM in front of a group of human beings. Note the Gibbytronics at the end.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Trevor Rhone and "The Harder They Come"

If you're not familiar with the name Trevor Rhone, that's not unusual. But he was a key figure in a cultural touchstone of the last fifty years.

When the movie The Harder They Come was released in 1972, it did much to raise awareness of reggae music, as well as Jamaican culture in general, throughout the world. Trevor Rhone was one of the two screenwriters, but the only black Jamaican of the two. When you watch the trailer below, notice that much of what we see is about community, a vibrant world in which the story is set, that is in some ways more important to the movie than the plot. Trevor Rhone, British-trained but a native Jamaican, was well-placed to serve as a bridge between his homeland and the outside world. He made the most of the opportunity. He spent most of his life as a playwright in Jamaica, placed within, celebrating, and reflecting his community.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Danny Gatton & Joey DeFrancesco - Well, You Needn't

I think I've posted a track before of B3-meister Joey DeFrancesco with guitarist John McLaughlin. Here he is with Master of the Telecaster Danny Gatton, doing Thelonius Monk's "Well, You Needn't."

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Red Foley - Peace In The Valley

There are lots of things to say about Red Foley: that "Peace in the Valley" was the first million-selling gospel record, that he was the first country singer to record in Nashville, that he was Pat Boone's father-in-law, that he has two stars on the Hollywood walk of fame, that he died on this date forty-one years ago (thanks, Wikipedia!) -- but for this song let's just note two things. First, Foley sang this song at Hank Williams's funeral. Second, this recording is about as good an example of America's tortured race relations as you will ever encounter. "Peace in the Valley" was written by Thomas A. Dorsey, sometimes called the "father of gospel music," for Mahalia Jackson. Foley's vocal inflections are clearly based on those found in African-American gospel music. Was Foley stealing? Or did he truly love this song so much that he felt that to not copy, to instead "whiten," would in itself be disrespectful? My own feeling is that to see it as an either/or choice doesn't work, but then I'm familiar with the work of Eric Lott. I've noticed that not everyone is. It would be nice if more people were.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Friday, September 18, 2009

Belly Button Window -- Jimi Hendrix Cover



To commemorate the date on which JMH left the planet, a tribute. This guy obviously loves the song, and never overdoes it. The fact that he doesn't bother to fake an American accent, and that the video is homemade, just add to the appeal for me.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

RIP Mary Travers

An underrated voice. Here is a live recording of PP&M's version of the old song "The Water is Wide," with Paul on guitar, Peter playing alto recorder, Dick Kniss on bass, and Mary in front of thousands of people singing solo.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Krugman on Why the Stimulus is Not Enough, Part 3

Krugman has been doing some research.

So we’re something like 8 percent below where we should be. That translates into lost output at a rate of well over a trillion dollars per year (as well as mass unemployment). And we’ll keep suffering those losses, even if GDP is now growing, until we have enough growth to close that gap. Since there’s nothing in the data or anecdotal evidence suggesting any gap-closing in progress, this is a continuing tragedy.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Monday, September 14, 2009

Jim Carroll RIP



So this is the obvious choice now that Jim Carroll has died, but sometimes the obvious choice is the right one.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Frank Rich On Obama vs. Drama

Frank Rich, a former drama critic, looks for a little more clearly expressed passion from the central onstage character.

Health care reform, while an overdue imperative, still is overshadowed in existential urgency by the legacies of the two devastating cataclysms of the Bush years, 9/11 and 9/15, both of whose anniversaries we now mark. The crucial matters left unresolved in the wake of New York’s two demolished capitalist icons, the World Trade Center and Lehman Brothers, are most likely to determine both this president’s and our country’s fate in the next few years. Both have been left to smolder in the silly summer of ’09.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

George Jones - The Grand Tour

Happy birthday to George Jones, seventy-eight today. What a voice. "The Grand Tour" is, in a sense, the counterpart to his former spouse Tammy Wynette's song "D-I-V-O-R-C-E."

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Anniversary

Recalcitrant computer, so minimal post. Just a note that for anyone who was alive that day, this date will never again be ordinary.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Elvis Costello - New Amsterdam

"New Amsterdam" has been one of my favorite Elvis Costello songs since I first heard it. It was on the Stax-flavored Get Happy! album, but stood out as being much more low-key than the other tracks. I love the bass line in the chorus.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Krugman on the Public Option

Before the president speaks tonight, Krugman discusses the key sticking point in health care reform. In a nutshell: sooner or later Democrats have to take a stand against Reaganism — against the presumption that if the government does it, it’s bad.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Muddy Electric Mud

Recently got the Muddy Waters album Electric Mud, which has the reputation of being a disaster but which Chuck D among others has praised in recent years. It is an odd mix: in 1968 the young Marshall Chess, son of Leonard, decided that Muddy should be recorded in an "up-to-date" setting, i.e., quasi-psychedelic guitars and pounding beats. The results are...interesting. One thing to note is that Muddy is on form -- whatever the drawbacks of the final result, Muddy's vocals are strong and sure.

For my money, the best two songs are the only really new ones. (Of the eight tracks, five are re-recordings of songs that Muddy had done before, and one is a Rolling Stones cover.) Here's "Herbert Harper's Free Press News," complete with 1968-style title.

In addition, here's one of the musicians talking about the recording of the album, along with Howlin' Wolf's contemporaneous and similar The Howlin' Wolf Album.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Krugman on Economics as a Field of Study: Past, Present, and Whatever the Hell Comes Next

The maestro talks about his profession, and manages to make things clear without saying, "I told you so." Be aware that it's an NYTimes magazine article, and therefore pretty long.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Randy Newman - I Miss You


Breaking the unwritten rule to not post the same artist two days in a row unless there's a good reason, here's some more Randy Newman. For no good reason other than that I was thinking about this song. Love gone wrong...sigh.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Randy Newman - Texas Girl At The Funeral Of Her Father

Yesterday I was thinking about my family, and remembering my mother's mother. This song is dedicated to her memory.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

A Sort of Koan

Remember two things:

Life is too short to waste time trying to get everything perfect.

And, life is too difficult to be able to get away with being even a little bit sloppy.

Good luck!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Django Reinhardt with Stephane Grappelli - Sweet Georgia Brown



Along with the rest of the Quintette du Hot Club de France. For some reason the last fifty-five seconds is silence.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

RIP Larry Knechtel

When I started this blog, I didn't think I'd be doing so many "In Memoriam" posts, but there you go, the future always remains unpredictable. Today we acknowledge the passing of Larry Knechtel, session musician extraordinaire, who contributed to so many songs in the sixties and seventies that it would be impractical to list even a portion of them. But that's what a session musician does, play sessions, hitting about three a day on average, if the work is there. Do that a few years and you've done thousands of recording sessions. Some of them may be big hits.

Another distinguishing characteristic of the best session musicians is versatility, the ability to be proficient on several instruments. For instance, you probably wouldn't guess that the same person who played the prominent bass part on this song also did the prominent piano part on this song (in fact the piano is almost the only instrument for the first two-thirds of the song). I certainly didn't know it. So take a moment to remember Larry Knechtel, who wasn't famous enough to have his death make headlines on August 20, but whose work you've probably been hearing all your life.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Krugman on the Current State of Bipartisanship

The fact that common sense is seen as hate-filled radicalism and that hate-filled radicalism is seen as common sense seems to sum up our current national political landscape. But there are true believers, and then there are those who like to tell the true believers what to think of as true. Krugman explains:

We tend to think of the way things are now, with a huge army of lobbyists permanently camped in the corridors of power, with corporations prepared to unleash misleading ads and organize fake grass-roots protests against any legislation that threatens their bottom line, as the way it always was. But our corporate-cash-dominated system is a relatively recent creation, dating mainly from the late 1970s.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sonny Boy Williamson - Fattening Frogs for Snakes (Live Solo)



If the United States of America had, as Japan does, a program that would designate certain older citizens as national living treasures, in a similar fashion to the official designation of national monuments or historical sites, then Sonny Boy Williamson would have qualified. But we don't, and he died in 1965, so it's not going to happen.

His unaccompanied playing here shows a master at work. If you've ever tried to get good at playing a musical instrument, you can tell just how good his technique is here. But he's not showing off -- the song comes first, and everything he does supports it. And...it's live. Based on the sound of the applause, he's got a lot of people watching him, but he is cool and in control, relaxed but sharp. Add in great lyrics, and you've got something special. Which most people have never heard and never will. Oh well.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Beach Boys - All Summer Long

Since this is the last full week in August, it's time to wrap up the summer songs theme. "All Summer Long" is one of the Beach Boys' classic early summer-themed songs, and of course the lyrics serve as a kind of summing-up of their young attitude toward fun in the sun. But as bright as it sounds, it's a kind of valedictory about summer, looking back and remembering the good times but nevertheless saying goodbye. George Lucas used it very effectively as the last song on the soundtrack of American Graffiti -- I can't quite match that, but as a final offering in this series of songs it should work well.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ralph White - Summer Buildup

"Summer Buildup" is the companion piece to yesterday's song, and so to complete the diptych, is presented here. Plus it's pretty good.

As usual, Ralph White plays all the instruments himself.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Ralph White - Summer Daydream

Okay, it's true that "Summer Daydream" is not widely known as a summer song, but I like Ralph White, so...

Monday, August 24, 2009

Clyde Hill - Long Hot Summer Days

If you look for the name Clyde Hill in musical histories you likely won't find much, as "Long Hot Summer Days" is a field recording made in Texas in the 1930s. The Lomaxes, as was their wont, found a group of men (with Clyde Hill leading the singing) and recorded them. It's a nice example of African-American folk music drawn from deep traditional sources, in a style that may no longer exist.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Doors - Summer's Almost Gone

While preparing "Summer's Almost Gone," I got to thinking about the Doors again, and decided that they are sort of the counterpart to, or dark side of, the Beach Boys. They're both Southern California bands that you can't imagine having been nurtured anywhere else, but otherwise are pretty much polar opposites in terms of overall mood. It's telling that this summer song is about the fact that summer's almost gone and winter's comin' on -- the good times are over and we're going to be miserable, so get used to it.

Musically, it sounds like Robbie's on slide, Ray is playing at least three keyboard parts, and they've added a bass player (as they would sometimes do in the studio). John is his usual supportive self on drums, and Jim...well, he's Jim.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Who - Summertime Blues

With all respect to the original by Eddie Cochran, this is the version that's burned into my brain. And if you're up on your history of sixties rock, then you know that the Blue Cheer version, although released before this one, was inspired by the Who's version, which the Who had been performing live for several years before they recorded it, and which members of Blue Cheer had seen them perform in the Bay Area. So I guess if you didn't know that, then now you do. And the summer songs just keep on comin'...

Friday, August 21, 2009

Antonio Vivaldi - The Four Seasons: "Summer"

Although I prefer to credit the composer in the title of the post, it should be noted that this performance features solo violinist Simon Standage accompanied by the ensemble known as the English Concert, all conducted by Trevor Pinnock. Also, this piece is known to its mother as Vivaldi's opus 8 number 2, the Violin Concerto in G minor. And if this is not summer music, well then, what is?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Bruce Springsteen - Girls In Their Summer Clothes

Summer songs are usually about fun and sun, parties and barbecues, but there are other kinds of summer songs. Here the Boss contemplates aging, and what it means when your summers dwindle down to a precious few, so to speak. A nice little musical touch: note the way the chord structure changes slightly near the end.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Dimitri Tiomkin - The Green Leaves Of Summer

This is the original version of "The Green Leaves Of Summer," from the soundtrack of the film The Alamo. I'd heard the song for years before I noticed that there was something vaguely Russian about the melody, which seemed so weird for a song from a movie about Texas and Mexico that I chalked the perception up to some mild brain malfunction on my part. But it's true, and for a simple reason: Dimitri Tiomkin was born and raised in Russia. Tiomkin was part of the group of mid-twentieth-century Hollywood composers (including Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Bernard Herrmann) who left Europe to escape the Nazis and World War Two. As with all of us, his youth never really left him.

This version seems to put some people off, since it sounds rather old-fashioned. But I'm a sucker for a capella choral groups, and the blend of the many voices, from soprano to deep bass, always gets me.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Steve Kaufman - Green Leaves Of Summer

The summer songs just keep on comin'. This version of "Green Leaves of Summer" is by flat-pick guitarist Steve Kaufman, whose level of technique is always put at the service of the music, and not the other way around.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Brothers Four - The Green Loves Of Summer

Back to the summer songs. The Brothers Four were a group from the folk revival era of the late 1950s-early 1960s. "The Green Loves Of Summer" was written for the John Wayne movie The Alamo, and as has apparently been done for movies from time immemorial, it was decided that if a hit single could be managed, it would help boost the movie. The Brothers, then at the height of their popularity, were selected for that task. Apparently it succeeded pretty well. For what it's worth, one of the first things I ever learned on guitar was that opening minor-to-major chord change.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Jim Dickinson RIP

"Wild Horses" isn't really the best example of Jim Dickinson's skills in the studio, but it was all I could get my hands on at short notice. He's playing the piano here, and Muscle Shoals, Alabama (where it was recorded), was closer to his home turf than to the Rolling Stones'. If you're not familiar with his name, by all means check out his Wikipedia and Allmusic entries: he had a remarkable life as a musical collaborator. His sons Luther and Cody founded the North Mississippi All-Stars, who are also definitely worth checking out.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Les Paul



A brief break from the summer songs.

There's little I can add to the many tributes and remembrances of Les Paul that have appeared since his death two days ago. I do think it's worth pointing out that, while all that's being said about his technological innovations is true, there would probably be a lot less attention being paid to his passing if it were not for (a) the guitar that he designed and (b) the fact that it bears his name. Many years ago it passed into the highest reaches of rock music fame, which has happened to far fewer instruments than people.

Of all my own favorite Les Paul players, the first that came to mind was someone who was instead strongly associated with the Stratocaster: Mr. James Marshall Hendrix. But Jimi would pick up a Les Paul from time to time, in particular to play his original blues "Red House." If a Strat can look strange upside down, a Les Paul looks even stranger. But Jimi made it work, as usual.

Another connection between Paul and Hendrix is the story of how Les Paul "discovered" Jimi Hendrix in 1966, but that's a story you can find elsewhere.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Lambert, Hendricks, & Ross - Summertime

This version of "Summertime" is a nice example of Lambert, Hendricks, & Ross performing their specialty: taking other musicians' jazz arrangements and adding (or in this case, restoring) words. The basis of this performance is of course yesterday's post, the Miles Davis/Gil Evans version of "Summertime" from 1958. It's interesting to listen to the two versions back to back and hear how well LH&R take lines written for a multitude of horns and transpose them for three voices.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Miles Davis - Summertime

As the years pass, this is gradually becoming one of the best-known versions of "Summertime." An album of selections from Porgy and Bess was the second full-length collaboration between old friends Miles Davis and Gil Evans, and while it did not achieve the iconic status of Sketches of Spain from the following year, this track in particular caught a lot of ears. As always in their mutual efforts, Davis's indelible work on trumpet finds a nearly perfect setting in Evans's arrangements. The chords are based on but not constricted to Gershwin's originals, and are somehow simultaneously lush and airy.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Doc Watson - Summertime

This version of "Summertime" is probably closer to the Gershwin/Gershwin/Heyward original than any of the others I've posted. Doc Watson obviously loves this song and is not just recording it because it's popular. The care shown in both his guitar playing and singing is exemplary, but then Doc usually is.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Big Brother & The Holding Company - Summertime

This is probably the least straightforward of the versions of "Summertime" that I'll be posting here, as George Gershwin's chords and melody, and Ira Gershwin's words, are transformed by Janis Joplin et al into something far removed from the original. But it's still recognizably the same song, and the fact that it uses such a low-key and forlorn way to tell us that the living is easy still carries the same impact.

Monday, August 10, 2009

David Grisman, Jerry Garcia, and Tony Rice - Guitar Space / Summertime

"Summertime" is probably one of the most frequently recorded songs of the last century, so for the next few days, keeping the theme of summer songs going, we'll hear some of those versions. Here's one from the Pizza Tapes, which is a home recording made by the mandolinist David Grisman when he invited two of his guitar-playing musical partners, Jerry Garcia and Tony Rice, over to pick a little. They start off free-form, then ease into the familiar chords.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Patti Smith - Summer Cannibals

Okay, this summer song isn't really one I associate with summers past, but it's such a great song that we'll include it anyway. I feel the same way about Patti Smith that I feel about John Lee Hooker (who also spent a lot of time in Detroit): it's hard to listen to too much.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Nat King Cole - Those Lazy Hazy Crazy Days Of Summer

Another summer song I loved as a child, but now cast a more jaundiced eye upon. If you compare it with Cole's work here, you can hear the subtlety has been pretty much leached away. What he gained in return was a much larger audience, and hence more money to take care of his family. Which is hard to argue with.

In all fairness, this recording is a nice example of craft in the arts of songwriting and arranging, when the intent is just to grab the biggest audience possible. The song is easy to remember, easy to understand, has a positive feeling, etc. The arrangement has a zillion parts which never get in each other's way and all contribute to the overall effect. A bunch of smart people worked hard and spent a lot of money to make this record, and it succeeded for them by earning even more money. Think of it as the aural equivalent of a summer blockbuster movie. Nat Cole was as important to its success as Shia LaBeouf was to the latest Transformers movie: he's the person the audience remembers and a key element, but is not the person who put it all together. Maybe they should have used this song in the latest Transformers movie...or maybe not.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Chad & Jeremy - A Summer Song

This one is even called "A Summer Song." When I was a kid I especially loved the chord at the end. Now I'm old and jaded and...not so much.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Lovin' Spoonful - Summer in the City

Another summer song, and a fave of mine from way back. Like "Hot Fun in the Summertime," one of its distinguishing characteristics is that the opening few seconds contrast musically with what follows, but somehow set the mood for the rest of the song anyway.

Today's aural quiz: see if you can find the autoharp in this song.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Nada and the Imperial City

Nothing today, sorry. Time-loss spillover from an intense weekend.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Sunday, August 2, 2009

King and Herbert on Gates and Crowley

For all that has been written and said about the arrest of Professor Gates, there were some things I was expecting to hear that I did not. Now I have, thanks to Bob Herbert and Colbert King.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Sviatoslav Richter plays Liszt

The great Russian classical pianist Sviatoslav Richter (not to be confused with his contemporary, the great Russian classical pianist Karl Richter) died on this date in 1997. Here's a piece from a 1958 recital that he gave in Sofia, Bulgaria. The recording is a little rough, but the performance is excellent.

The entire recording (The Sofia Recital 1958) is worth seeking out. It begins with a complete "Pictures at an Exhibition," then continues with works from the nineteenth-century piano repertoire -- Schubert, Chopin, Liszt -- before finishing with a short piece by Rachmaninoff. The technique is magnificent but not flawless, which if you love this kind of stuff just makes it better, because then you know that the difficult passages that are perfectly executed were in fact actually executed, and not created by a recording engineer after the fact. And the passion that Richter brings to the entire performance -- no recording engineer could create that at all.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Krugman on Health and the US Government

Lucky you: I'm feeding you Krugman twice in a week. But until this health care madness is resolved, it's a necessity -- think of it as medicine.

So here’s the bottom line: if you currently have decent health insurance, thank the government. It’s true that if you’re young and healthy, with nothing in your medical history that could possibly have raised red flags with corporate accountants, you might have been able to get insurance without government intervention. But time and chance happen to us all, and the only reason you have a reasonable prospect of still having insurance coverage when you need it is the large role the government already plays.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Greenwald on What it Means to Have Principles

George Will is considered an intellectual heavyweight while Glenn Greenwald is considered a lightweight? I guess that's what happens when you don't follow the unwritten rules.

But the mentality reflected by Massing's view -- there are no "principles"; everything must give way to "practical considerations" of Washington officials -- is precisely what has become so rampant and is what accounts for most of the lawlessness and corruption in our political class. Instead of "the President shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed," we have: "Presidents should try to obey the law except when they decree there are good reasons to violate it." Instead of "in America the law is king," we have: "we can only apply the law when it won't undermine bipartisanship." Instead of "treaties shall be the supreme Law of the Land," we have: "we can't have torture prosecutions because they'll distract from health care." To "no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause" and "No person shall be . . . deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law," we have added: "unless there are Terrorists who want to harm us, in which case we spy without warrants and imprison people for life without charges."

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Kinks - Death of a Clown



Always loved this one. A rarity among Kinks songs, it was not written and sung by Ray Davies but by his brother Dave, the band's lead guitarist. The cool echoed piano intro has been clipped, unfortunately.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Left Handed Way - 48 Hour Film Project Asheville 2009



Cool all the way around. I particularly like the shot at about the three-minute mark where one face is in profile in the foreground, while the other in the background is carrying the narrative load, so to speak.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Krugman on Blue Dogs and Health

The Nobelist on the Blue Dog Democrats opposition to the Obama health care plan.

So what are the objections of the Blue Dogs?

Well, they talk a lot about fiscal responsibility, which basically boils down to worrying about the cost of those subsidies. And it’s tempting to stop right there, and cry foul. After all, where were those concerns about fiscal responsibility back in 2001, when most conservative Democrats voted enthusiastically for that year’s big Bush tax cut — a tax cut that added $1.35 trillion to the deficit?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Didion Speaks: On the Similarities Between Geological Dynamics and Human Personality

A hill is a transitional accommodation to stress, and ego may be a similar accommodation.
Joan Didion, Democracy

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Carla Bley Band with Johnny Griffin - Misterioso

The great bop saxophonist Johnny Griffin died a year ago today at the age of eighty. He was a member of Thelonius Monk's group in the mid-to-late fifties, and was an obvious choice for inclusion on the tribute album That's The Way I Feel Now: A Tribute to Thelonious Monk. (This was one of the series of tribute albums that producer Hal Willner masterminded in the eighties--others were for Kurt Weill, Leonard Cohen, et al.) But the Willnerian master stroke was to pair Griffin with Carla Bley, brilliant/eccentric jazz composer and arranger, who provided a lush big band arrangement of the Monk song "Misterioso." Griffin fits perfectly in the center of this piece, and grounds everything with a solo that somehow manages to be both relaxed and intense.

The whole piece is nearly nine minutes long, and provides a sort of epic journey in miniature. Bley was a skilled and intelligent arranger long before she did this work--for me it's pure pleasure to savor every detail. But whatever else goes on, Griffin's solid bop is the heart.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Stevie Wonder - Living For The City

After yesterday's post, I couldn't get the song that follows "Visions" on the record out of my mind. In some ways, with its story of unfair incarceration it's just as apropos to the situation with Dr. Gates, and the only reason I didn't use "Living For The City" first is that it's been heard zillions of times -- "Visions" is a lesser-known gem. But it's too good to pass up.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Stevie Wonder - Visions

Still have the H.L. Gates situation on my mind, and remembered this song.

People hand in hand
Have I lived to see
The milk and honey land?
Where hate's a dream
And love forever stands
Or is this a vision in my mind?

The law was never passed
But somehow all men feel
They're truly free at last
Have we really gone
This far through space and time
Or is this a vision in my mind?

I'm not one who makes believe
I know that leaves are green
They only change to brown
When autumn comes around
I know just what I say
Today's not yesterday
And all things have an ending

But what I'd like to know
Is could a place like this
Exist so beautiful
Or do we have to find
Our wings and fly away
To the vision in our mind?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words



A few months ago I had to listen while someone smirked and told me that the election of a black president meant that racial discrimination no longer existed in this country.

---------------------------------

From the vita of Professor Gates:

HENRY LOUIS GATES, JR.

EDUCATION
Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, 1969-1973
B.A., summa cum laude, Scholar of the House in History, 1973
Clare College, The University of Cambridge, Cambridge, England, 1973-1979
M.A., English Language and Literature, 1979
Ph.D., English Language and Literature, 1979

EMPLOYMENT
Harvard University
Alphonse Fletcher University Professor (2006-present), W. E. B. Du Bois Professor of the Humanities (1991-2006), Professor of English and American Literature and Language (1991-present), Chair, Department of African and African American Studies (1991-2006), Director, W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research (1991-present)

Duke University
John Spencer Bassett Professor of English and Literature, Duke University (1989-1991)
Cornell University
W. E. B. Du Bois Professor of Literature (1988-1990)
Professor of English, Comparative Literature, and Africana Studies (1985-1988)

Yale University
Associate Professor of English and Afro-American Studies (1984-1985)
Assistant Professor of English and Afro-American Studies (1979-1984)
Lecturer in English and Afro-American Studies, Director of Undergraduate
Studies (1976-1979)

---------------------------------

I don't know what else to say. This makes me sick.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Anthony Lane on Brüno

Much as I loved Borat, something about the Brüno film seemed off, and I hadn't bothered to see it yet. I don't qualify as a homophobe, so wasn't sure what was stopping me. But in the New Yorker, Anthony Lane reviews Sascha Baron Cohen's movie and I think nails the problem:

“Brüno” ends appallingly, with a musical montage of Sting, Bono, Elton John, and other well-meaners assisting mein Host in a sing-along. Here’s the deal, apparently: if celebrities aren’t famous enough for your liking (Ron Paul, Paula Abdul), or seem insufficiently schooled in irony, you make vicious sport of them, but if they’re A-listers, insanely keen to be in on the joke, they can join your congregation. Would Baron Cohen dare to adopt a fresh disguise and trap Sting in some outlandish folly, or is he now too close a friend? To scour the world for little people you can taunt, and then pal up with the hip and rich: that is not an advisable path for any comic to pursue, let alone one as sharp and mercurial as Baron Cohen.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Walkabouts - Feel Like Going Home

Seattle's finest (not to be confused with any purveyors of espresso drinks) perform a Charlie Rich song.

Peter Guralnick tells of being present when Rich performed this song in public, acknowledged that he had taken the title from one of Guralnick's books (which Guralnick had himself taken from an old recording, what would now be called an Americana song), and proceeded to dedicate it to Richard Nixon. This was near the end of the Watergate crisis, when the end was clear. Guralnick was horrified at first but was ultimately won over to Rich's perspective. Make of it what you will. The Walkabouts are joined by Mark Lanegan of Screaming Trees.

Frank Rich Explains the Sotomayor Hearings

FR on our current reality.
Yet the Sotomayor show was still rich in historical significance. Someday we may regard it as we do those final, frozen tableaus of Pompeii. It offered a vivid snapshot of what Washington looked like when clueless ancien-régime conservatives were feebly clinging to their last levers of power, blissfully oblivious to the new America that was crashing down on their heads and reducing their antics to a sideshow as ridiculous as it was obsolescent.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

John McLaughlin - Tones For Elvin Jones

"Tones For Elvin Jones" is from John McLaughlin's long-anticipated tribute album to his true musical hero, John Coltrane. It's not surprising that he wanted Elvin Jones, Coltrane's longtime drummer, to appear on it. (And of course this song, a McLaughlin original, is exactly what its title says, a tune for Jones himself.) Less expected was that the result would be a trio date, with Joey DeFrancesco on Hammond organ. It's a great album, with three musicians with deep technique and a profound love for jazz both supporting and pushing each other.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Mississippi John Hurt - Make Me a Pallet on the Floor



Been too long since I posted some Mississippi John Hurt, so here you are. Decent selection of still images to accompany the audio in this clip -- not always the case with these type of videos on YouTube.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Trabaci - Galliard III Based on 'La Mantoana' (The King's Noyse)



I've posted stuff by the King's Noyse before. Based on compositions and performance techniques from about four hundred years ago, it's a sound not quite like anything else.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Band - Out Of The Blue

Robbie Robertson sang the song "To Kingdom Come" on the first Band album, then did not take another lead vocal on record until eight years later. Apparently he felt that his high-pitched voice didn't fit the sound they had created, a debatable but understandable proposition. "Out of the Blue" is from the studio material recorded for The Last Waltz, although I don't think it's actually in the movie.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Deep Thought on Palin and Sotomayor

The people who feel that the attacks on Sarah Palin are mean-spirited, sexist, and not based on the facts are the same people who are attacking Sonia Sotomayor.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Frank Rich Explains Sarah Palin and the Republicans

In the aftermath of her decision to drop out and cash in, Palin’s standing in the G.O.P. actually rose in the USA Today/Gallup poll. No less than 71 percent of Republicans said they would vote for her for president. That overwhelming majority isn’t just the “base” of the Republican Party that liberals and conservatives alike tend to ghettoize as a rump backwater minority. It is the party, or pretty much what remains of it in the Barack Obama era.

Mr Rich says it here.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Los Lobos - When The Circus Comes

It was money, but it wasn't the money. It was the way the money was handled that just seemed to show a complete lack of respect. He owed me money and said he would pay it but didn't. Eventually someone in his family took care of it for him. There was more after that, but that was the beginning of the end. All those years, gone. Deaths and births shared. Los Lobos explain the situation.