Monday, January 25th

IMAGE OF THE WEEK
Best thing we bought in Paris last weekend: from the Vanves flea market – it’s hard to resist Monks playing music, I find. Best thing we saw but didn’t buy: this Philips’ Rosita music centre.

Paris

ONE. ENOUGH SINGER-SONGWRITERS, ALREADY
Ian Gittings wrote about the plague in The Guardian: “Jamie Lawson, a Devon-born singer-songwriter had put out three albums over a decade-long career to almost blanket indifference… Ed Sheeran released the fourth last year [on his new record label], expressing hope that it would pick up play at “my dad’s dinner parties”. This should have been the kiss of death but was instead inexplicably regarded as a recommendation: on the verge of his 40th birthday, Lawson saw the record go to No 1. This precipitous rise from obscurity is baffling, as Lawson is such an unremarkable, journeyman talent. In the currently cluttered field of showily sensitive male singer-songwriters, he possesses no discernible selling point. He is Sheeran without the endearing glimpses of wit and humanity; Damien Rice minus the depths and the dark side [actually I think Gittings is letting him off lightly here, it’s even worse than that – Ed].”

Fronting a functional band with an ingratiating grin apparently welded to his face, Lawson primarily suggests some ghastly amalgam of James Blunt and Ben Haenow. His excruciatingly sentimental lyrics could be the handiwork of a moonlighting Clintons cards copywriter: the jaw-droppingly platitudinous “Someone for Everyone” (“Don’t worry/If you can’t find love in a hurry”) could very easily be retitled There are More Fish in the Sea, or At Least You’ve Got Your Health.”

And one of those “showily sensitive male singer-songwriters” is Jack Savoretti. I saw him do a couple of songs as a short support act to Paulo Conte, his record company playing up his Italian heritage in hopes that Conte fans would flock to follow Jack too.

Last week he played the Graham Norton Show, and while he seems a nice enough fellow, his performance was a patchwork of all the current crop’s failings. There was a sub-Coldplay chord sequence powering music that exists on some glassy plane entirely separate from the voice, with no interaction and no give and take. Far from it being a social activity, this is music that doesn’t move about the room, talk amongst itself or tell an interesting story. It just sits there like an Ikea sideboard, neat and bland, with a flimsy and hollow core. So even though the band can play, and he can sing, it’s all for nothing. His vocal was at 10 on the emotional richter scale by the end of the first chorus, and there’s no way here for the listener to invest in a narrative arc. And it’s all topped off with a ridiculous lyric, blathering on about the fall of Empires and such like, topped off with the awful title phrase “If I could catapult my heart/to where you are”. Just imagine that line in your head. Go on. Whoa! Enough negativity! Here’s something I liked…

TWO. INSTRUMENT CORNER
Bob G sent me this link to Behold, an interesting Photo blog, where Ed Stilley makes an Outsider Artform of guitars. “God Instructed Him in a Dream to Make Guitars and Give Them Away to Kids, So He Did”. Can’t beat that for a headline. And the solution to limited access to parts results in a truly unique 12-string guitar.

THREE. A NICE PIECE IN THE NEW YORKER
Elon Green on Mavis Staples’ new album, which will release in mid-Feb followed by a new documentary, Mavis!: “The new record, Mavis thought, presented an opportunity to do something different. Radically so; her inspiration came, in part, from Pharrell Williams’s galactically popular “Happy.” She’d sung it to herself each morning, and it had, more or less, lodged itself in her brain. “When the world was just so upside down, [Williams] brought a lot of people up with that song,” Mavis said recently. “I’ve been making people cry for so many years, and I just want to sing something joyful.” And at the end, this: “As for Mavis, she has only one regret about the record, set for release on February 19th. “I wish I could have gotten old Dylan to write a song for me,” she said. A lifetime ago, Mavis and Bob Dylan were in love. “We may have smooched,” she says in the documentary. Dylan, in fact, went to so far as to ask Pops for Mavis’s hand in marriage. He was denied.”

FOUR. THIS YEAR WE’RE LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS FILM…
The Jaco Pastorious documentary, co-directed by Stephen Kijak who did such a great job with Scott Walker in 30 Century Man. One YouTube comment from StevieDebe kind of sums up the end of the story: “When I met him on the street, 6th Avenue and 3rd St, I said Are you Pastorius? He said, That’s right, Jaco Pastorius, best bass player in the world… can I borrow $16? To which I said gladly yes! It has a nice trailer, with an imperious Joni Mitchell – “I like originals… pause, drags on her cigarette… Jaco was an original”. It could be time for me to drag out my old chestnut, “The Night I Met Joni (and Jaco)”, except that I won’t. You can find it here if you’re so minded.

FIVE. A FASCINATING PIECE IN VANITY FAIR…
by Michael Lewis, where he takes on the mantle of William Goldman to illuminate the strange route movies take to get made. This is apropos of The Big Short: “ Having said all that, the movies that have been made from my books have, in my view, been pretty great. It’s no use trying to shift gears here and claim credit for this. There’s no obvious correlation between the quality of a movie and the quality of the book it springs from: good movies have been made from bad books, just as bad movies have been made from good books.

Each of the three times I have sat in the darkened room and watched for the first time a movie of my book I have felt simple delighted surprise. With each movie the surprise has been greater. The Blind Side wasn’t that hard to imagine as a movie – at the heart of the book was a bizarre and moving family drama. Moneyball was hard to imagine as a movie, but at least it was about baseball and thus organically linked to popular culture. Wall Street, even in the aftermath of a financial crisis that has cost so many so much, is not. The behavior of our money people is still treated as a subject for specialists. This is a huge cultural mistake. High finance touches –ruins – the lives of ordinary people in a way that, say, baseball does not, unless you are a Cubs fan. And yet, ordinary people, even those who have been most violated, are never left with a clear sense of how they’ve been touched or by whom. Wall Street, like a clever pervert, is often suspected but seldom understood and never convicted.”

 

Monday, December 21st

Sorry, I forgot the link to Henry “Red” Allen’s red-hot performance. It is now added…

VISUAL OF THE WEEK
This video, shot by Eric Feigenbaum, for Charles Bradley singing “Changes”.

bradley

EVEN THE SILENCES SOUND EXPENSIVE…
I was trying to put my finger on why Adele’s “Hello” doesn’t convince, and then Clive James in The Guardian did it for me: “It could be said that Adele is Mama Cass born again, but she needs a song to match her voice. I have listened several times to her smash hit, “Hello”. I was hoping that the shapely beauty of her opening phrase would hook me for what remains of my forever. But the opening phrase never really arrives. The whole number is one of those big ballads in which the singer whispers her way through a verse section that hasn’t got a melody and then goes soaring and bellowing into a chorus section that hasn’t got a melody either. The virtuosity leaves you yawning with admiration. Whitney Houston drove herself bonkers yelling stuff like that, and Celine Dion at full volume puts up such a barrage that she might be part of Canada’s anti-missile defence system. But Adele still has time for better things.”

BOBCAT BIRTHDAY!
Through the generosity and efforts of my loved ones I was totally surprised this week by the arrival of The Holy Grail. Nothing to do with Dan Brown – it was the 18-CD Collectors Edition of Vol 12 of The Bootleg Series. It’s an extraordinary object, with facsimile 7-inch vinyl, books of essays and ephemera, original filmstrip of a release print of Don’t Look Back, and more Dylan than you can shake a stick at.

I’ve barely started on the box set itself, as Columbia decided that – if you’d bought it – they’d give you the Christmas gift of all Dylan’s live shows from February to December 1965. So positive tsunami of songbytes streamed down to my mac. Of note so far: 1) the erroneous iTunes info that the Royal Albert Hall is in Manchester (!). 2) the chance to play “Compare the Drummer!” as Forest Hills and the Hollywood Bowl have Levon Helm (with Harvey Brooks on bass), the Berkeley Community Theatre has Bobby Gregg, and the previously issued 1966 UK tour has Mickey Jones. Me, I love the sledgehammer that was Mickey, pushing and goading both band and singer onto ever more fantastic heights. 3) the chance to hear “Positively 4th Street” played live in fairly decent audio at Berkeley Community Theatre with Bobby Gregg on drums. 4) as far as I know, the only acoustic version that exists of “Tombstone Blues” – feeling like a cousin to “It’s Alright, Ma” – recorded live at the Contemporary Songs Workshop at the ’65 Newport Folk Festival. The audience are so hip that they actually laugh in all the right places.

I WISH I HAD MORE RIVER…
River was the most intriguing detfic of the year, as visually striking as London Spy, only way, way better (coherent, grounded, not in love with itself, didn’t filtch an ending from Thelma & Louise). River’s epicentre was a powerful Zapruder-like sequence of the shooting that triggers the story – endlessly replayed in an attempt to discern any clues hidden within it. Its co-star, the excellent Nicola Walker, was asked by The Guardian’s Stuart Heritage if she has a clause in her contracts that she has to sing in all her shows (she sings in both River and Unforgotten, the other policier that she was the lead in, most memorably Tina Charles’ “You Make Me Feel Like Dancin’”):
“Yeah, that’s just what I do now. I turn up and I say: It’s very important that I sing 1970s disco hits. Wasn’t that weird? Things like that, you don’t really think about when you’re doing the job, and then they both come out together. I’m not a singer, but I enjoyed it because Stellan (Skarsgård)– even though he was in Mamma Mia – makes a great deal of the fact that he’s not a singer. He’s very good at making you feel like you can do anything.”

RED ROCKS!
One of the things I most enjoy about writing Five Things is the chance discoveries made when I’m checking spellings or dates. You always learn something new, or find some compelling performance. I was sent a scan of a Christmas card that trumpeter Henry “Red” Allen sent years ago, by Tony Standish, an Australian book seller and old friend of the family. And, as is the way of these things, came across this amazing performance from a 1964 Jazz625 with Alex Welsh’s band. Henry starts by listing great New Orleans musicians over a comping piano and walking bass – “I was there with ’em, I couldn’t miss ’em, my father had the band, Henry Allen Snr, New Orleans!” before launching into a blistering “St James Infirmary”, the song Dylan leaned on when he wrote “Blind Willie McTell”. Check the stance, legs tensed as he takes a short break, and the section where he just hollers St James! three times. Actually, the whole vocal is terrific, as is his long solo – avoiding most of the usual clichés – and when the song comes to an end, he just shouts and starts it up again. Then after a shared round of solos it ends again, only to have Henry conduct the band to vamp as he tops it off with a terrific bit of long-note showmanship.

x-red

Extra! Bob Dylan & his band, RAH, 21st October

“Why can’t I be more conventional
People talk
People stare
So I try
But that’s not for me…”
– “Why Try to Change Me Now”, covered on Shadows in the Night

These things we know: that Bob has a great band, from the rock steady rhythm section, equally at home with brushes and bows as sticks and fingers – to the dazzling front line of guitar and pedal steel; that he has an unsurpassed choice of songs to sing; that he won’t respond to requests no matter how many times the audience shouts out their particular favourite song; that he will always be his own man, ploughing his own furrow.

This we didn’t know: that he could sing, live in concert, timeless songs of the 40’s and 50’s with a believable, vulnerable – but above all careful – voice.

It made him less cavalier with his own songs, too, and the contrast of the pedal steel and brushes-driven Sinatra songs gave his 21st century blues numbers more snap and bite – “Pay In Blood” was terrifying, phrase after phrase flung from the stage like Muddy Waters backed by Johnny Winter; “Long and Wasted Years” becoming a second cousin of “Brownsville Girl”, both in melody and narrative delivery.

He pays homage to the American music that still fuels him in the way he chooses to walk onto the stage. The first half kicked off with guitarist Stu Kimball playing an acoustic piece of western folk (think the “Pat Garrett“ soundtrack, or “Red River Valley”) as the rest of the band filed on. For the second half Kimball played an electric country blues, Mississippi via Chicago, for the band’s entrance. As he said in Chronicles, “Highway 61, the main thoroughfare of the country blues, begins about where I began. I always felt like I’d started on it, always had been on it and could go anywhere, even down in to the deep Delta country. It was my place in the universe, always felt like it was in my blood.”

I also thought of this quote, said when he was 21 and talking of the tradition that he wanted to work in… “I don’t carry myself yet the way that Big Joe Williams, Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly and Lightnin’ Hopkins have carried themselves. I hope to be able to someday, but they’re older people. You see, in time, with those old singers, music was a tool – a way to live more, a way to make themselves feel better at certain points.”

And even at his most forward-thinking, smashing the conventions of popular song, there would always be the blues: “Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat”, “Highway 61”, “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry”. You wonder what his 1966 self would make of him singing Sinatra at the Albert Hall in 2015. I bet he’d be fine with it. He was 1966 in 1966, and he didn’t need to be that again. He’d be pleased that he still honoured his roots every night that he plays, whether it’s Crosby and Sinatra, Wolf and Waters, or Williams, Holly and Berry. And, as he encored – with a wonderfully rolling and tumbling, piano-led version of “Blowin’ in the Wind” that was almost-country (but mostly Bob), and a coruscating “Love Sick” – I kept coming back to that verse from “Why Try to Change Me Now”. It struck me as both the fulcrum of the night’s set, and of his entire enormous, chaotic, poetic, mind-blowing, career.

Monday, 12th October

VISUAL OF THE WEEK

BobSHB

From the promo short for the next Bootleg Series, number 12, film of Bob looking at a music shop window the day that “Subterranean Homesick Blues” goes on sale (as does Cilla’s new single!).

IF YOU NEED CHEERING UP…
Then you may need to watch Salman Rushdie reciting the lyrics of Canadian rapper Drake…

Or listen to letter G of Joe Boyd’s A-Z, which features fascinating insights into the poetry of Lucinda Williams’ Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, and the story of its tortuous gestation. She left Rick Rubin’s label in tears – after playing the first version of the album to him, his only comment concerned adding tambourine on one of the tracks – and ended up finishing the album for Polygram with E Street keyboardist Roy Bittan producing. Bittan himself recently talked to Rolling Stone about it: “Lucinda was making the record down in Nashville, and I think she hit a wall. She wasn’t grooving in the studio and was having difficulty finishing it off. I knew her bass player, so they wound up flying me down to produce the thing. I was told the whole thing had stalled. We wound up re-cutting most of the tracks, though the drums and bass parts were pretty good… Lucinda is just this tremendous, authentic, fantastic artist. She reminds me of Bruce, even though they have very, very different styles. She’s a great songwriter with an extremely beautiful, vulnerable voice. I produced the record, but unfortunately they already made a deal where Rick Rubin mixed it. I would have liked to have done that. But he did a great job.”

ON THE OTHER HAND, IF YOU NEED DEPRESSING…
Then find the latest advert for the launch of a new perfume, Decadence. Apparently, Adriana Lima captures the glamour and luxury of the fragrance in a mesmerising TV campaign. No. What happens is that, thanks to Marc Jacobs, the Marvelettes fabulous, Smokey-produced, “The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game” is sullied by a truly poxy faux-sleaze tv ad, that doesn’t scream decadence as much as it screams desperate cliché.

A FASCINATING INTERVIEW…
from every record tells a story, although in this case it’s the photos that do the talking –“Incredible Archive of Lost Photos Unearthed of Led Zep, Bowie, Rolling Stones…”
So why didn’t you go on to be a professional photographer?
Bottom line is, I really wasn’t suited to being a photographer. I was as blind as a bat! I could have passed as a poster child for kids with “Coke bottle” glasses. So I had to look through thick lenses, then through the viewfinder in the dark with the lights flashing and changing and reflecting into my glasses – when I did this, it wasn’t about the photography. It was about the moments and the music and the people that I was watching and was so passionate about. To me it was all so unreal and unbelievable that this pasty white, skinny, tall, long-hair kid was standing ten feet from Bob Dylan and George Harrison. That’s what it was all about for me.”

FROM JAZZWAX…
the ever-interesting blog by Marc Myers, comes Yogi Berra on jazz. Berra was one of those characters that you knew of growing up on a diet of Mad Magazine, as I did. I’m not sure I ever knew really what he did or meant to Americans, but I did cotton on to the fact that he mangled the English language in ways that were extremely funny. He was, in fact, a great baseball player for the New York Yankees, but as Wikepedia has it, “he was also known for his malapropisms as well as pithy and paradoxical quotes, such as “It ain’t over ’til it’s over,” while speaking to reporters. Simultaneously denying and confirming his reputation, Berra once stated, “I really didn’t say everything I said.”

Yogi Berra Explains Jazz:
Interviewer: Can you explain jazz? 


Yogi: I can’t, but I will. 90% of all jazz is half improvisation. The other half is the part people play while others are playing something they never played with anyone who played that part. So if you play the wrong part, it’s right. If you play the right part, it might be right if you play it wrong enough. But if you play it too right, it’s wrong.
Interviewer: I don’t understand.
Yogi: Anyone who understands jazz knows that you can’t understand it. It’s too complicated. That’s what’s so simple about it. 

Interviewer: Do you understand it? 


Yogi: No. That’s why I can explain it. If I understood it, I wouldn’t know anything about it. 


Interviewer: What is syncopation?
Yogi: That’s when the note that you should hear now happens either before or after you hear it. In jazz, you don’t hear notes when they happen because that would be some other type of music…
Interviewer: Now I really don’t understand.
Yogi: I haven’t taught you enough for you to not understand jazz that well.

IN US TV NEWS!
THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT: It’s worth subscribing to their YouTube channel – the music spots are often interesting, and they upload them for each show. The Kendrick Lamar performance from a couple of weeks ago was staggering, and there’s an affecting, if slightly stumbling performance on the anniversary of 9/11 by Paul Simon (strangely not looking like Paul Simon), playing “American Tune”*.

CARPOOLING WITH JAMES CORDEN: Try as I might to dislike James Corden, I can’t. Get past the first feeble joke of this segment, and it’s very funny. The premise is that James can only use the carpool lane to get to work on his new chatshow if someone travels with him, and he uses this idea with the show’s musical guests – so he’s accompanied by Iggy Azelia, Justin Beiber, Mariah Carey, Rod Stewart at al. Here’s a link to the Stevie Wonder episode – the love Corden has of the Wonder back catalogue is palpable, and he’s clearly thrilled to have Stevie along for the ride.

[*Fascinating fact: Mandy Patinkin recorded the song in Yiddish on his 1998 album “Mamaloshen.” Now, don’t all rush to iTunes…]

Friday, 25th September

bobedge

VISUAL OF THE WEEK
This may be some form of Holy Grail. I tried working out how long this would take to listen to – I’m not even sure I’ve heard all of the 6CD Basement Tapes yet – and came up with 32 hours (379 times an average of 5 minutes per track (obviously some are uncompleted takes, but some will run longer and there’ll be lots of chat). I’ve put something on the music player on the right that will be included – an outtake/alternate version of “I’ll Keep it with Mine (or, Bank Account Blues)”.

Excerpts from a few things that I liked recently but forgot, or only just got round to reading

SHOUT-OUT TO THE DRUMMER’S MUM
Charlotte Church writing in The Guardian: “But, in the face of overwhelming scientific consensus against it, how can anybody possibly think that drilling in the Arctic is OK? There have already been many, much more scholarly and informed articles and books written on the subject than I could offer, such as Rick Steiner’s essay on Arctic drilling, Terry Macalister’s book Polar Opposites: Opportunities and Threats in the Arctic; and Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben and Annie Leonard, published in June. I wouldn’t have read any of them had I not been approached by my drummer’s mum, who spoke to me extensively in my kitchen about the (at that point) intended drilling plans, and encouraged me to sign the Arctic Declaration. I implore you all to go speak to your own drummer’s mum.”

KEITH RICHARDS INTERVIEWED BY SCOTT RAAB, US ESQUIRE:
Do you know that José 
Feliciano lives in the same town as you in Connecticut?
“I do know that, but I’ve never met him. We’ve never crossed paths, even though Weston is a very small town – there’s a gas station and a market.
So you’re actually the 
second-best guitarist in Weston, Connecticut.
“I’d go for that. He’s a far better guitar player than me.”

I don’t think so.
“No – I mean technically, classically. I ain’t trained that way. I force the thing to do as it’s told.

I don’t know much beyond the sounds I hear.
“Thank God, nor do I. The technical aspects – my horror is doing interviews with Guitar Magazine or something. I’ve got my favorite axes that I 
do know quite a bit about, 
but when they start to go, “Is that the Gibson S3?” – I don’t fucking know. It works all right for me.”

Listening to Crosseyed Heart, Keith’s new album, I’m struck by the youthfulness of his voice, and the fact that, in places, he sounds like Mark Knopfler. Hell, in places it even sounds like a Dire Straits record…

SUBSCRIPTION ADVICE
Tune in to Joe Boyd’s A-Z. He’s up to F! The first [A] is partly about Andy Razaf, lyricist on “Gee, Baby, Ain’t I Good to You”, “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Honeysuckle Rose”, the second [B] about Rastafarians in Jamaica and the birth of Reggae. Toots & The Maytals song “Bam Bam” is the B of the A-Z. “Those trombone parts were overdubbed by Rico Rodriguez, a great Rasta trombone player. Toots had no written arrangements, he would just go into the studio and hum a melody line in Rico’s ear, and Rico would try and follow it. When he got one line done, Toots would them hum a harmony, and once they’d got that done, we’d move on to the next bar. It was a very, very slow process – they went in the studio about nine, and emerged about four in the morning with blood trickling down Rico’s chin from his split lip. But he was grinning…”

That’s as far as I’ve got, but they are highly recommended for information illumination par excellence.

ONE MORE PIECE OF FILM (FOR THE ROAD)
Watch this staggering film. I was sent there by Jonny Trunk in his always amusing 50p Friday emails: “I managed to license some very good music this week by the amazing Ernest Berk. He was a ballet dancer, teacher and modern creative thinker who turned to avant-garde composing for his own ballets. All I can say is wow. And then wow again. I came across him a few years ago and it’s taken me years to track down some music and actually license it. To give you a flavour of what lies ahead here is one of his scores, made for David Gladwell’s 1964 An Unitled Film for the BFI. Hold tight. I suggest you do not look if you are a vegetarian. [Ed’s note… Type lovers, check out the titles, where more prominence is given to the words FOR THE than either the filmaker or the BFI. David Gladwell, best known as an editor (Lindsay Anderson’s If… and O Lucky Man!) filmed this short at 200 fps. As the BFI says, “it depicts a series of pastoral scenes from a British farm, edited together to produce a suggestion of violence in contrast to its visual beauty”].

Friday, 18th September

auction

IMAGES OF THE WEEK
From the upcoming (September 29th) Rock & Pop auction at Sotheby’s in London, these eight lots are my favourites. A spare £150,000 may get you Bob’s original “Hard Rain” lyrics… [From the family of Elisabeth (Lily) Djehizian, the first wife of Hugh Romney (“Wavy Gravy”). Lily met Romney whilst working as a waitress at the Gas Light and was closely associated with many of the artists working in Greenwich Village in the early 1960’s, most notably Lenny Bruce.] Click to enlarge – check out the great Beatles’ (U.S.A.) Ltd. typography.

WELL THIS RAISES THE GAME A LITTLE BIT
Spellbinding six-minute overview of the current state of Kendrick Lamar’s music on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Lamar makes most current music look dumb and pallid. It isn’t just the crack rhythm section or the compelling jittery shapes he throws as he sings, it’s the delivery and the timing. He romps through the mid-section with the fantastic beat of To Pimp a Butterfly’s “King Kunte” dissing musical frauds– “I can dig rappin’, but wait! a rapper with a ghost writer? tell me what happened!?“ The song relentlessly builds by moving up a semi-tone every chorus, the two bass players powering it on and on, before it morphs into a effects-driven jazzy end section with an amazing repeated vocal riff on “lovin’ you is complicated…” Staggering.

NOT STAGGERING
Is it just me, or is this as tuneless as I think? One of Apple’s new Apple Music adverts with Leon Bridges, or as he’s known in our house, Aloe Blacc without a decent song. The others aren’t much more convincing – I’m not sure Shamir or Flo Morrisey are doing anything not done better before.

BEST TELEPHONE TREE HOLD MUSIC THIS WEEK!
…and the winner is: Southern Electric, with the Miles Davis Quartet (Miles on trumpet, Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Philly Joe Jones on drums) playing “When I Fall in Love (it Will be Forever)”. It was on repeat and made the resulting 25-minute wait way more pleasant.

FROM MARK MYERS’ WSJ PIECE ON THE MAKING OF STEELY DAN’S “DEACON BLUE”
Strangely, Mr Christlieb is referred to as Pete…
Mr Fagen: “When everything was recorded – the rhythm section, the horns and the background vocals – Walter and I sat in the studio listening back and decided we needed a sax solo, someone to speak for the main character. We liked the sound of a tenor saxophonist who played in Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show band, a cat who blew like crazy when the show went to a commercial. He had this gutsy sound, but we didn’t know who it was.”

Mr Becker: “We had our producer Gary Katz ask around and he found out it was Pete Christlieb. Pete had invented any number of cool harmonic devices that made his playing sound unique. He just sounded like a take-charge soloist, a gunner.”

Pete Christlieb: “I went over to the studio one night after the Tonight Show finished taping at 6:30 p.m. When I listened on headphones to the track Tom [Scott] had arranged, there was just enough space for me to play a solo. As I listened, I realized Donald and Walter were using jazz chord changes, not the block chords of rock. This gave me a solid base for improvisation. They just told me to play what I felt. Hey, I’m a jazz musician, that’s what I do. So I listened again and recorded my first solo. We listened back and they said it was great. I recorded a second take and that’s the one they used. I was gone in a half-hour. The next thing I know I’m hearing myself in every airport bathroom in the world.”

EXTRA! FOR ALL YOU NIGHTHAWKS OUT THERE…
It’s Pete Christlieb’s sax on Tom Waits’ wonderful Nighthawks at the Diner. I found this piece on its recording, a Dan Daley interview with Bones Howe… We started talking about where we could do an album that would have a live feel to it. We thought about clubs, but the well-known ones like the Troubadour were toilets in those days. Then I remembered that Barbra Streisand had made a record at the old Record Plant studios, when they were on 3rd Street near Cahuenga Boulevard. It’s a mall now. There was a room there that she got an entire orchestra into. Back in those days they would just roll the consoles around to where they needed them. So Herb and I said let’s see if we can put tables and chairs in there and get an audience in and record a show. I got Michael Melvoin on piano, and he was one of the greatest jazz arrangers ever; I had Jim Hughart on [upright] bass, Bill Goodwin on drums and Pete Christlieb on sax. It was a totally jazz rhythm section. Herb gave out tickets to all his friends, we set up a bar, put potato chips on the tables and we had a sell-out, two nights, two shows a night, July 30 and 31, 1975. I remember that the opening act was a stripper. Her name was Dewana and her husband was a taxi driver. So for her the band played bump-and-grind music –and there’s no jazz player who has never played a strip joint, so they knew exactly what to do. But it put the room in exactly the right mood. Then Waits came out and sang “Emotional Weather Report”. Then he turned around to face the band and read the classified section of the paper while they played. It was like Allen Ginsberg with a really, really good band.” From Tomwaitsfan.com

nighthawks-soundonsound

Bones Howe’s original layout diagram for the live recording.

Wednesday, 9th September

…including one thing from a couple of weeks ago…

Lonnie

LONNIE HOLLEY AND ALEXIS TAYLOR, DAVID BYRNE’S MELTDOWN, QEH
It’s tough to be a support act – unfamiliar music played to unfamiliar faces, only a few waiting for their favourite tunes. And Alexis Taylor at first seems an odd pairing with Lonnie Holley, as his new album, Await Barbarians, is all Seventies electric piano-driven singer-songwriterness, albeit with lovely Wurlitzer and restlessly inventive guitar [I missed the guitarist’s name].

What gradually pulls me in, though, is the wonderful drumming of Sarah Jones. On a couple of songs (the ones that seem to be teetering on the edge of turning into Neil Young’s “See the Sky About to Rain”) she sounds just like she’s stepped out of the Hi Records Studio in 1972 – the kit compressed and gated so the hats are as loud as the snare, with that deliberate, almost ponderous, beat. It’s wonderful. Her whole approach is really considered, like she feels herself to be totally at the service of the songs, treading carefully through a set of short, sweet tunes – including a cover of “Don’t it Make My Brown Eyes Blue”, where Alexis floats over the song, aided by great distorted guitar. The one exception to this mood was towards the end, when they played a beast of a thing (called something like “Vortex”) that alternately sounded like a Kurosawa soundtrack and Can at their most driven. This was where Sarah Jones took the lead with a swaggering set of tom rolls allied to a mighty beat that gradually drew the other musicians in and built to a blistering crescendo.

During the interval, a couple of rows down, David Byrne is chatting to Robert Wyatt. The QEH is maybe half full as the lights go down. The crowd greet the main act ecstatically, a woman behind me almost sobbing with delight-slash-hysteria, her hands clasped together in supplication.

Stage left, drumkit, stage right, cello. In the middle behind a bank of keyboards, Lonnie Holley, covered in rings and scarves. I have no idea what to expect. “Here we go, here we go… here we go”, says Lonnie softly, his fingers starting the fluttering, repetitive figures on the piano that will set the style for the next hour. These flurries are given shape and dynamics by the excellent cellist and by Lonnie’s voice, often melodically entwined. The drumming is free but receptive to the nuances of Lonnie’s direction. From what I could make out, most of the spontaneous lyrics are platitudes about mother earth and treating each other well, but it’s the mellow and soulful sound of his voice that catches you. It’s a hypnotic thing, found in, say, Al Green’s or Marvin Gaye’s oeuvre – coming from the Gospel tradition, but played out in a certain kind of soul music as seduction. Whatever, it was like being enveloped in warm bathwater, or more accurately, a flotation tank, with the outside world banished for as long as he performed. Priscilla Frank put it nicely in The Huffington Post: “From the rings on his fingers to the words in his mouth, Lonnie Holley is always at work on the art that is Lonnie Holley. He’s a scavenger and a shaman, a performer, a storyteller and a genuine spirit. Despite the relentless barrage of tragedy Holley faced throughout his life, he salvaged his very being like a discarded object left in a sewage pipe, and turned it into something wildly beautiful.” And that’s what the ebb and flow of his show was – beautiful.

A very nice set of B&W photographs of the soundcheck by Stuart Leech, shot for music website The 405, can be found here.

SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT
As we set off for Stockholm for a literary festival in Uppsala, where we’ll read some of Sam Charters’ poetry and celebrate his life, I looked for some performances by Peps Persson, a Swedish bluesman who Sam produced. I loved Peps’ first album, especially his version of “The Sky is Crying”. His voice sounds a little like Dave Van Ronk’s (who Sam also produced) on this terrific track “Samma Lea, Snae Blues”. The long-held note at the beginning of the second verse is beautiful, the band cruise with just the right amount of low down groove, just the right amount of precision, and the drummer’s leap to the cymbal at the end is great.

YABBA, YABBA, HEY
Glad to see my favourite post-rock, math-rock combo Battles are back in the fray. This video catches them playing about-to-be-released song “The Yabba”. Always fun to watch John Stanier drumming, and love the way he comes back in at around the 6:00 mark as the song reaches its chaotic conclusion.

THIS WEEK I STUMBLED UPON… 1
I was idly looking for stuff about how Willie and Al Jackson and Howard Grimes got the “Willie Mitchell drum sound” and, as is the internet’s way, I ended up at Al Green playing “Simply Beautiful”, which does not contravene the Trades Description Act in any way, shape or form. And if you like that, check this – his incredible performance of the Gibb Brothers’ “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart”. I had an mp3 of this performance, but didn’t realise there was video… brilliantly directed, too. The opening verse shot in half-profile; the way Al bears down on “mend”, the enraptured kid in the front row. Oh, to be in that tv studio in New York in 1973…

THIS WEEK I STUMBLED UPON… 2
A Post-MusiCares Conversation with Bill Flanagan
Bill: I noticed that some people who were not at the event read the transcript of your speech and didn’t get that some of it was tongue in cheek. When you said, “why me, lord?” in the room you were laughing and so was the audience. In print, some people thought it was all serious.

Bob: Yeah, well you had to be there.

Bill: How did you select all the performers for the Musicares tribute, was that difficult?

Bob: “It really wasn’t. Most all of them had recorded versions of those songs over the years. Garth had made “Make You Feel My Love” a number one hit. Tom Jones had done an incredible version of “What Good Am I.” Beck had recorded “Leopardskin Pillbox Hat.” Bonnie had recorded astonishing versions of “Standing in the Doorway” and “Million Miles.” So no, it wasn’t that hard. I’d even seen Alanis Morissette sing “Subterranean Homesick Blues” somewhere and I couldn’t believe she got that so right, something I’d never been able to do. Neil of course, he’s been doing “Blowin’ In the Wind” for a while and he does it the way it should be done and that song needed to be there. Some people called up right away and wanted to be on the show, so Don Was found a few songs for them. But mostly, they were all recorded versions that we were hearing except maybe for Aaron Neville’s version of “Shooting Star.” I could always hear him singing that song. He’s recorded other songs of mine, all great performances, but for some reason I kept thinking about “Shooting Star,” something he’s never recorded but I knew that he could. I could always hear him singing it for some reason, even when I wrote it. I mean, what can you say? He’s the most soulful of singers, maybe in all of recorded history. If angels sing, they must sing in that voice. I just think his gift is so great. The man has no flaws, never has. He’s always been one of my favorite singers right from the beginning. “Tell it Like it Is,” that could be my theme song. It’s strange, because he’s the kind of performer that can do your songs better than you, but you can’t do his better than him. Really, you can’t say enough about Aaron Neville. We won’t see his likes again.”

TAKE-AWAY PLAYLISTS
Every so often in a shop or cafe you hear something so out of the blue that you have real difficulty placing just who it is, even though you may know the song well. This happened post-dropoff at the McDonald’s on the edge of Stansted Airport. In between the Calvin Harris and Taylor Swift came Polica, who stood out (to me, anyway) like a sore thumb. It’s always nice to hear things you like, unexpectedly. The same thing happened in Pret recently when Jenny Owen Youngs “Led to the Sea” was playing… If you don’t know Polica, start with “Dark Star”. Two drummers, synth, bass, multi-tracked and staggered vocals and a fabulous horn part. What are you waiting for? For Jenny Owen Youngs, start with “Fuck Was I” (as in “What the fuck was I thinking?”). If you like that, try “Woodcut” (The Age Of Rockets Remix), or “Nighty Night”.

JAZZ, NICE (ACCORDING TO SHORTLIST MAGAZINE)
“Looking to fine-tune your style for autumn? Need a new fashion father figure? No musical genre turned out more sharp Gs than jazz…” Dig the fashionista’s take on Max Roach

Roach

Wednesday, April 8th

VISUAL OF THE WEEK

Dylan DeanBob Dylan watches Dean Martin, at home in Woodstock, Summer ’64, from a great set of photos by Douglas Gilbert. “In July of 1964, one year before his music changed from acoustic to electric, I photographed Bob Dylan for LOOK magazine. I spent time with him at his home in Woodstock, New York, in Greenwich Village, and at the Newport Folk Festival. The story was never published. After reviewing the proposed layout, the editors declared Dylan to be “too scruffy for a family magazine” and killed the story.” [Thanks, Bob G].

HOLD ON THERE A MINUTE!
Yes, we all laughed when Peter Bradshaw sent Grace of Monaco up at the Cannes Film Festival. “It is a film so awe-inspiringly wooden that it is basically a fire-risk. The cringe-factor is ionospherically high. A fleet of ambulances may have to be stationed outside the Palais to take tuxed audiences to hospital afterwards to have their toes uncurled under general anaesthetic”. And it’s a very funny review, but having actually seen Diana, with Naomi Watts, a film he uses as an unfavorable comparison, I have to disagree about his heirarchy. Grace may be an undemanding watch, but it’s nicely shot and has a great cast of dependables (Langella, Jacobi, Parker Posey, and Kidman herself). Yes, the plot is nothing (rich people trying to keep their gilded colony afloat), but it actually looks like The Magnificent Ambersons in comparison to Diana. Maybe the music is somehow to blame – Christopher Gunning’s score sounds like Hollywood-orchestra-by-the-yard stuff, and it doesn’t suit the rather cool shooting style of the film, and, at times, drags it into near-melodrama.

CROWDFUND ONE MUSO DOCUMENTARY…
And you come across the radar of a lot of other people trying to crowdfund muso documentaries. “Hey, My name is Steve Duddy and I’m the executive producer of a brand new documentary titled Porcaro: A Band Of Brothers. The Porcaro family is one of the most prolific and iconic families in music. Jeff, Mike, Steve and Joe Porcaro helped shape pop and rock music as we know it today.” All true, but I’m just not convinced there’s a two-hour documentary in it.

HUSH NOW, DON’T EXPLAIN
For me, Billie Holiday was a singer from childhood Sunday mornings, remembered as sun-drenched and suffused with warmth. Too young to appreciate the complexity that she bought to anything she sang, there was still a sense of melancholy and yearning that was half-understood, and put away until one could fully appreciate it. You never hear any popstrels wanting to be Ella, do you? It’s always Billie. That kind of pain travels across time and distance, so the sweet-voiced singers lose out. And, hey – sad songs probably travel better than the happy ones. So, now it’s the centenary of Billie’s birth and Radio 4 have author Julia Blackburn and singer Rebecca (runner-up of the seventh series of The X Factor) Ferguson talking about her. Blackburn’s book, With Billie, was beautifully reviewed in The Guardian by filmmaker Mike Figgis, back in 2005:

“Billie was part of my life growing up on a council estate in Newcastle. My father was obsessed with her and her one-time accompanist, Teddy Wilson. There were two LPs that became central to my understanding of Billie. One was The Billie Holiday Memorial, on Verve records. In her book, Blackburn describes hearing Billie for the first time, while listening to this album. The first track is “I Cried for You” and has Johnny Hodges on alto sax introducing the song. The LP was a compilation of some of her finest tracks and ended with her devastatingly sad version of “For All We Know We May Never Meet Again”. I know every track by heart, every click and each moment where the needle would stick. Blackburn seems to have had the same experience.

When I first started collecting albums myself it was difficult to find any I could afford that my dad didn’t already own, so I would look at cheap editions of LPs. Most were not so good, but I did find one that my dad didn’t have. One of the tracks was “Fine and Mellow”, and I later learned that it was taken from a TV show called The Sound of Jazz. It is my favourite Billie track of all time and I know every note by heart. She is accompanied by Ben Webster, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Gerry Mulligan and Roy Eldridge. Blackburn talks about this track in her book, but I would like to add a different slant. Years after first encountering the LP, I saw a documentary about Billie which included the complete TV footage of “Fine and Mellow”. It was the most profound experience to see how the music was animated: the way the musicians and Billie interacted with each other, the way she moved her head when Young was playing his solo. I’d go as far as to say it is my favourite piece of film of all time. There is no other jazz footage I am aware of that comes even close to this in describing the beauty of jazz improvisation.” Wonderful.

I also found these reminicences: “Jazz critic Nat Hentoff recalled that during rehearsals, Billie Holiday and Lester Young kept to opposite sides of the room. During the performance of “Fine and Mellow”, Hentoff recalled, “Lester got up, and he played the purest blues I have ever heard, and [he and Holiday] were looking at each other, their eyes were sort of interlocked, and she was sort of nodding and half-smiling. It was as if they were both remembering what had been – whatever that was. And in the control room we were all crying. When the show was over, they went their separate ways.”

Arranger and bandleader Ray Ellis: “I would say that the most emotional moment was her listening to the playback of “I’m a Fool to Want You”. There were tears in her eyes… After we finished the album I went into the control room and listened to all the takes. I must admit I was unhappy with her performance, but I was just listening musically instead of emotionally. It wasn’t until I heard the final mix a few weeks later that I realized how great her performance really was.”

On Woman’s Hour, Rebecca Ferguson does a fine version of “Don’t Explain” – she doesn’t overly over-soul [or should that be over-jazz?] and there’s a lovely grain to her voice – hear the way she sings “You are my joy… and you are my pain”. It’s remarkable to hear her speak in a quiet, almost dour Liverpool accent, then sing like this.

JUST LOVELY
This wonderful remincence of Muddy Waters by John Moore, on The Guardian’s music blog: “A couple of weeks into guitar lessons with a lovely schoolteacher called Jill, who had written a song for Rags, the Blue Peter Horse that was broadcast on BBC1, I was able to play “Oh Where, Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone?” – a sad lament to a lost pooch. As I strummed it for Peter, hopefully, I felt sure it would earn his approval. It didn’t. He was polite enough, of course, but as my parents beamed with pride at their six-string wunderkind, he asked if this was really the kind of thing I wanted to play.

Come to think of it, no, I replied. Then the suburban epiphany began, and the devil’s music came to Wokingham. The man in the sharp suit, with the cigarette glowing in the side of his mouth, picked up my guitar and began to play.
“Gypsy woman told my mother, before I was born/You got a boy child comin’, gonna be a son of a gun…”

The words, and sheer brutality of the riff, almost broke me in two.

And that’s when it started, year zero: from teenybopper to bluesman in one evening. As far as I was concerned, the little dog could stay lost, all I wanted was a John the Conqueroo, and a black cat bone – which, with our own midnight black, ancient moggy, was a distinct possibility.

Hearing a 12-year-old boy with a chorister voice, growling that “He’d Just Like To Make Love To You”, was enough to make our next-door neighbour Joan cry with laughter. I went electric soon after this, and she wasn’t laughing then – and I got called much worse than Judas. My love of Muddy Waters has stood me in good stead. At secondary school, it earned me the protection of the school psychopath. He’d learned that a boy in the first year had been blowing a blues harp on Winnersh station as the downhome train came in. He loved Chicago blues, and until he was expelled for arson, I was untouchable.”

SOMETHING I LEARNED

Sharon
That Sharon Robinson, great Leonard Cohen collaborator, is not a front person; some people work best in the engine room. Coming into the front room that is west London’s Bush Hall, we’re treated to the kind of performance that requires ‘notes’ – from a musical director, promoter or friend, whoever will say: “Don’t play that song, rehearse that one some more, don’t cover the electronic keyboard with a shawl that makes it look like she’s trying to reach the dead, do away with the pre-recorded drum tracks that bring John Shuttleworth to mind and hire a percussionist instead, don’t be exposed up there while your son doesn’t really cut the mustard as accompanist, with erratic timing and lack of articulation…” The trumpet player was great, but there needed to be more sonic variation.

Also, if Leonard’s songs take up fifty percent of your set, you really need to tell illuminating anecdotes of your time working with one of music’s finest and most interesting lyricists. Something about the working relationship, with a sense of detail that will make an audience feel special. Sharon Robinson has a wonderful voice, and sings with conviction but lacks the killer instinct of the true performer. It was not unenjoyable (in fact we may have been the only people to not love it – the audience were pretty ecstatic) but it would have been so much better with a great rhythm section at an intimate club like Ronnie’s.

In a week of such nostalgia (not even mentioning Linda Grant’s lightly cringe-inducing piece on the potential passing of Joni Mitchell by, in effect, saying  “You may be saddened by Joni dying, but I will be the most saddened person ever. I will, I promise – the most saddened person in the whole of the world. She wrote my life – did I tell you how sad I’d feel?”) here’s hoping next week’s blog will be a little more forward looking.

Saturday, 7th March

VISUAL OF THE WEEK

Bob Vid

From Mr Dylan’s bonkers film noir for “The Night We Called It A Day”.

FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT IN THE FIELD
Tim uses my ticket to a Guardian screening of Midlake: Live in Denton as I wasn’t around, and files this report: “The film was a bit disappointing. Everything was shot handheld, going in and out of focus, etc, which gave it the look of a home movie. The hometown footage, randomly scattered throughout the concert, added to the home-movie vibe, shots of band members and friends having a barbecue, walking around town, etc. Denton came across as more normal – population 120,000, two universities – than quirky and the band seemed very sincere but not especially interesting musicians. Knowing nothing of their music, I didn’t hear any lyric or riff that caught my imagination. That said, the Q&A with lead singer Eric Pulido was enjoyable. He came across as very honest, open and, yes, sincere. It says something about the changing face of rock ’n’ roll, though, when you hear a musician discuss his work/life balance, reveal that he sits on his hometown’s historic buildings commission and say that he is currently listening to a lot of ELO, Supertramp and Wings…”

MISTER DYNAMITE: THE RISE OF JAMES BROWN
An excellent example of building a documentary by getting all of the blocks in place: great interviews with people who were there, or who had specific musical points to make, and fantastic source films (whether home videos, tv shows, news broadcasts or features). But most importantly of all, the confidence to not cut flashily away from incredible footage of the songs themselves – to let the groove run long enough to mesmerize the viewer, and reveal the musical heart of the story.

There was so much here. No matter how many times you’ve seen the TAMI show footage it still staggers. This was Brown’s breakthrough moment, thrust before a huge white audience, beside The Stones, The Beach Boys and Gerry & The Pacemakers, among others. As his ‘Cape Man’ Mr Ray, says, “He come out there like a shot out of a gun, man, dancin’ all across the stage. It’s kinda hard to beat, when you’re an artist that can sing and dance”. Mr Ray then gets his moment, flinging the cape over Brown’s shoulders as he mimes collapsing from sheer fervour – as Mick Jagger (in a very funny interview) says, “It’s obviously an act, but you worry about him!”

Following the smash and grab of “Outasite!” and turning up the emotional volume with “Please Please Please”, the band prepare to go into “Night Train”. Drummer Melvin Parker’s eyes smile as he remembers that moment. “Sam the bass player whispers in my ear, says ‘Melvin, let’s see if those guys can keep up with this…’ and it’s Night! Night! Train!” He mimes smashing down his stick on the snare – “It was off to the races!” They then proceed to play it at a sensational tempo, but James and his three back-up boys look like there’s nothing they’d rather be doing. The fluid glide of the camera moves back across the stage with Brown as he does the push-ups, the astonishing Ali-like shuffle, the dervish splits, and catches his grin of satisfaction as he saunters off the stage, his work done.

“TOO WHITE TO BE BLACK, TOO BLACK TO BE WHITE”: GARLAND JEFFREYS AT THE MUSICIAN, LEICESTER
It’s dark in the mean streets of Leicester’s industrial quarter, and I was glad when I saw a light, a single point surrounded by the hulks of abandoned buildings. It’s the front window of the Musician, a tiny club. Great. This is where you want to connect with a gloriously rootsy r&b/rock band: pretty much one long room, a bunch of die hard fans, a compact stage – and on it a group of people who really, really know what they’re doing. This is a band who sound as muscular and dense and driving as you’d want, without sacrificing any detail. They’re locked in tight, Charly Roth’s keys answering Mark Bosch’s guitar as the bass and drums (Brian Stanley and Tom Curiano) lock like Al Jackson and Duck Dunn. When they left us with a tribute to his Syracuse University student friend Lou, they played “I’m Waiting for The Man” with a perfect lowdown Memphis undertow. The sound is terrific, better than one has a right to expect of a whistlestop date following a visit to Scotland the night before. On Facebook, Robert Maddock reported that “Malc the soundman has been there forever, and he said it was the best performance he had ever witnessed at the Musician.”

There was an elegance, a finesse to what they were doing, even as they thundered through “Til John Lee Hooker Calls Me”, dizzying blues licks spinning from Mark Bosch’s guitar over the song’s Junior Parker chassis, making the recorded version sound polite. There was the easy familiarity of music loved for a long time and played with friends – I have no idea if it was, but that’s what it sounded like to me. A good guide for a gig is how often the musicians smile at each other, over small mistakes or turnarounds they pull off dead on time. And Garland’s band were smiling a lot. In ways, it had the feeling of the early E Street Band, a lot of passion and humour in the music, rooted in r&b but with rock and latin seeping in. It was that New York brew of “Spanish Harlem” and “Stand By Me’, added to the Doo-Wop of Frankie Lymon and the street corner bands, with a side order of VU.

The best thing is that the songs are properly rooted – songs, as my friend Michael would say, “that sound like they’re from somewhere”. Often they’re reportage from his life: the centerpiece of the set was a chilling “Mystery Kids”, about his fearful wait for his father to arrive home, that I can’t do justice to now.* “Coney Island Winter”, “It’s What I Am”, “Roller Coaster Town” – each one great. And from someone who’s had a career as long as his, in a business that is rarely easy, there’s not a trace of cynicism about Garland Jeffreys. He warmly talks to locals who he apparently knows from a transplanted-to-New-York musician, and asks after their grandkids. It’s something to see.

The audience (all 85 of us) raise the roof and there’s much glad-handing and back slapping. I moved off into the night, the songs running around my head as I got lost in the circles of the centre, passing empty office blocks with hoardings promising a new dawn of luxury apartments with gyms and saunas and twenty-four hour concierge services. In my head I was still standing on Coney Island, twenty two blocks from the city…

More next week. Oh, and I’d also like to thank bassist Brian Stanley for a fascinating conversation that covered NY musicians, Late Night Show bands, Real Estate and Michael Jackson’s drummers.

AND ON THE PLAYLIST THIS WEEK…
Having watched the making of Aja a few weeks ago, I’m surprised to see The Bloomsbury Theatre lists an afternoon chat with its producer Gary Katz. So I’ve spent some time listing to The Royal Scam (not least for Paul Griffin’s amazing piano playing on “Sign In Stranger”). Here’s the tracking session for that song, which runs a little slow, and also the track for “Kid Charlemagne”, before overdubbing. The line-up is (approximately) Bernard Purdie on drums, Chuck Rainey on bass, Larry Carlton and Walter Becker on guitars, Don Grolnick on Fender Rhodes, Paul Griffin on Clavinet (KC) and piano (SIS).

Wednesday, 25th February

VISUAL OF THE WEEK

BobworldBob’s World. We just live in it, according to this Slate Map. It lists every place mentioned in a Dylan lyric. Although the one I clicked on at random seemed wrong: surely the “Brighton girls are like the moon” line in “Sign on the Window” refers to Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, and not Brighton, East Sussex?

A QUOTE TO QUOTE
My favourite paragraph of newsy rock criticism so far this year, which encapsulates the mundanity of BRIT-schooled talent. Mark Beaumont in the Guardian… “This year’s fresh lump of unreconstructed fossil fuel being lobbed into the music industry’s spluttering furnace is critics’ choice winner James Bay, the latest in an endless stream of lowest-common-denominator trad singer-songwriter money-spinners, with an inexplicable 8m YouTube views, but this time – crucially – in a hat. The hat, let’s make no bones, is magnificent, a charcoal Panama worthy of the latter years of Razorlight, but its resplendent brim hides a chronic deficiency of personality, presence and ideas.”

OSCAR MUSIC
So in the last six weeks we manage to watch almost every major film in Oscar contention and stay up to watch the show, which turns out to be a damp squib, strangely underpowered. It’s a consequence, I think, of Neil Patrick Harris’s rather laid back and ironic presenting style, which didn’t get the required reactive energy from the audience. The opening musical number was a bravura technical display, and funny enough, but it was downhill from there. It reached a nadir with Lady Gaga singing a medley of all the songs from The Sound of Music which seemed to go on all dawn. Straight. With no contemporary ‘edge’. It was all we could do to stay awake. Maybe we were asleep and it never happened, it was all just some terrible hallucination.

So, on that note, my nominations for musical performances in the films of 2014 would be as follows:
1) Drummer Carla Azar (Wendy & Lisa, PJ Harvey, Jack White), who is terrific playing Nana, the drummer in Frank’s band in Frank, the amusing (and somewhat tragic) fictional re-telling of the career of Chris (Frank Sidebottom) Sievey.
2) Charlie Sexton, long-time Dylan sideman, in the wonderful Boyhood, playing Ethan Hawke’s brother, and some lovely guitar behind Hawke as he sings a (pretty good) self-written song.
3) The scene in Selma where Martin Luther King phones Mahalia Jackson late at night for some support, which comes in the form of a mesmerizing song… and then an FBI phonetap log comes up on the screen…

MLK

4) Antonio Sanchez’s improvised drum score for Birdman, the only music in the film (apart from a minute of Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 2 in E Minor). Fascinating to hear how it came together, in Vanity Fair’s piece: “An accomplished improvisational musician, Sanchez knew how to improvise to the beat in his own head or with other musicians onstage. But improvising to actual images, especially those that had not even been filmed yet, was more of a challenge. So Iñárritu pulled a chair up to Sanchez’s drum kit and talked him through the movie, motioning every time that Keaton’s character would advance to the next part of the scene.

“So [Iñárritu] would be sitting in front of me with his eyes closed and all of a sudden he would raise his hand. And I would think, OK, that means Riggan opened a door, so I would switch or do an accent or do something with the texture. We would try the scene again and then try a different kind of intensity and color… A lot of people think of the drums as a monochromatic instrument… and a lot of people do play that way but I have been experimenting with playing on the sides, the wood, on the rims, with my hands, with brushes, mallets, branches—anything to get a very wide range sonically.” He even stacked cymbals to make them sound less washy and sustained and more dry and trashy.

Iñárritu played the demos during rehearsals to make sure they worked. And they did, but he and Sanchez both agreed that the drums sounded “almost too good, too pristine” for a movie set inside an old Broadway theater. The two re-teamed in L.A., and Sanchez re-created some of his improv-ed tracks with a different drum kit that had been detuned and outfitted with vintage heads. The two also took the drums onto the street to experiment with hand-held moving microphones so that they did not have to rely on reverb, echo, and volume effects for some of the scenes in which Keaton walks through Times Square, weaving in and out of crowds alongside an actual street musician.”

ON THE PLAYLIST THIS WEEK
Annoyed that I’m out of town on Friday – having just heard that Garland Jeffreys is playing in West Kensington – I check to see which other towns he’s playing on this short tour and discover that we can hit Leicester on Sunday night on the way back, and see him there. Who doesn’t love “35mm Dreams”, “Wild in the Streets” and “Ghost Writer”? I know I have, since 1975. As the New Yorker put it: “Last month, the Village Voice published its list of the sixty best songs ever written about New York City. Coming in at No. 7 was Jeffreys’s “Wild in the Streets,” a hissing, insinuating, insistent piece from 1973. No argument here, but you could print up a list of the Brooklyn native’s catalogue, tack it to the wall, step back ten paces, and throw a dart, and you’d be almost guaranteed to hit another great New York City song. Jeffreys, who is seventy-one, is still a dynamo.” And I can’t wait to hear him sing “In the heat of the summer/Better call up the plumber/And turn on the street pump/To cool me off…/With your newspaper writers/And your big crime fighters/You still need a drugstore/To cure my cough…”

AND…
I’m hoping that Mark Bosch is on lead guitar. From photos on Jeffreys’ website it seems he is – when I saw him with Ian Hunter’s Rant Band, I thought him a “passionate and note/feel-perfect Seventies/Eighties Noo Yawk (think Leslie West or Mike Rathke) player, matching Hunter every step of the way”.

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