Friday, 17th April

VISUAL OF THE WEEK

DaveWedding reception, Somerset. At the Maverick Festival a few years ago there were lots of well-known names in the, uh, Americana field, but they were all left for dust by Stompin’ Dave, our pick of the weekend. A great Rev. Gary Davis-style ragtime picker, a fine frailin’ banjoist, an excellent flat-foot dancer – Dave does all these things with brio and style. To hear him play as everyone arrived back from the church was a treat.

MY FAVOURITE PIECE OF WRITING ABOUT PERCY SLEDGE THIS WEEK
Mick Brown, in The Daily Telegraph: “But if “When A Man Loves A Woman” was very much a product of its time it was also, magically, a piece of work that transcended the moment and the place in which it was made: a song that seemed to have been circling the heavens, just waiting to be called down to earth. The greatest pop music has a magical capacity to speak to the heart, articulating the inchoate feelings that one can barely articulate oneself: This is how love feels, how love hurts. “When a man loves a woman, can’t keep his mind on nothing else…” You KNOW that’s right. From a small dusty town in northern Alabama, the song reached out to me, a love-struck teenager in South London, a textbook of all the longing I felt for the girl on the dancehall floor, whom I could never tell exactly how I felt, and never would.”

JOE BOYD ON SAM CHARTERS
From his email newsletter, kindly sent on to me by Mick Gold: “When I realized that music was still out there to be discovered and that producing records would be my life, it was, remarkably, that same Sam Charters who gave me the tip that opened the door to my professional career. In the winter of 1965, the night before leaving for Chicago (on business for my then-employer George Wein, producer of the Newport Jazz and Folk festivals), I found myself sharing a table at the Kettle of Fish bar with Sam. We and the other Greenwich Village blues hounds had gathered to hear the first New York performance of the just re-discovered Son House. When in Chicago, Sam urged me not to confine myself to South Side bars in my quest for great blues, but to head to the North Side and check out a mixed-race band under the leadership of Paul Butterfield. I mentioned the tip to my friend Paul Rothchild, newly appointed head of A&R at Elektra Records. He joined me in Chicago, signed Butterfield, added (at my suggestion) Mike Bloomfield on lead guitar. Six months later I had my reward: a job opening Elektra’s London office – on my way at last!”

JIMI: ALL IS BY MY SIDE (SLIGHT RECOMMENTATION)
Why is it that biopics often run out of steam halfway through? For the first 45 minutes this is great – as flighty and diffident-seeming as its title character, nicely shot and beautifully played. Andrew Buckley is great as Chas Chandler, as is André Benjamin as Jimi, and the music score is very clever. Denied any Hendrix tracks, director John Ridley has Waddy Wachtel replicate the sound and feel of both the Curtis Knight band and the Experience, with help from Leland Sklar and Bob Glaub on bass, and Kenny Aronoff on drums. The real star of the show, though, is Imogen Poots as Linda Keith, and it’s when her character becomes less involved that the story starts to sag, losing the vivacity and energy that she brings.

AND ON THE PLAYLIST THIS WEEK…
The Festival of the American South was held at the Royal Festival Hall, about 10 years ago, maybe more. One night was a songwriter’s circle hosted by Charlie Gillett, with Guy Clarke, Allen Toussaint, Vic Chestnutt, and – on this track Dan Penn, with Joe South adding inimitable Tennessee guitar. Probably unrehearsed, with some stumbling rhythm guitar, but a wonderful, wonderful vocal on a track written by Penn with Spooner Oldham and made famous by Percy Sledge.

Five Things Extra: A Few Of My Favourite Things

Words and Music, Box, Cox & Roberts
Found when moving, ukulele sheet music. Ghost Riders on the trail of the Lonesome Pine, before fetching up in Woodstock…

Across

Michael Douglas as Liberace in Behind The Candelabra, the single most vivid Hollywood performance of last year.
“Why do I love you? I love you not only for what you are, but for what I am when I’m with you. I love you not only for what you have made of yourself, but for what you are making of me. I love you for ignoring the possibilities of the fool in me, and for accepting the possibilities of the good in me. Why do I love you? I love you for closing your eyes to the discords in me, and for adding to the music in me by worshipful listening.”

Donald Fagen, Subterranean in Gestation, Eminent Hipsters
“I must have been about 8 years old when my father, like so many second-generation American dads, decided to get his family the hell out of the city and make a run at upward mobility in the suburbs. After a couple of false starts, we finally settled into a ranch-style home nestled among hundreds of its near-identical brothers in Kendall Park, N.J., a typical housing development circa 1957. The development was not very fully developed. I was not amused. Sawdust still hung in the air. To walk out of the sliding glass doors onto the slab of concrete that was the patio and gaze across an ocean of mud at one’s doppelganger neighbors was, well, awesome. My parents, gazing out the window of  the kitchen of the future, delighted in the open space, the gently curving streets and the streamlined look of the cream Olds Dynamic 88 all cosy in its carport. But for me, a subterranean in gestation with a real nasty case of otherness, it was a prison. I’d been framed and sentenced me to a long stretch at hard labor in Squaresville.”

Fascinating stuff about The Boswell Sisters (check out “We Just Couldn’t Say Goodbye”) and Henry Mancini, and I’m only a third of the way in.

Favourite Songs Of The Year
Lorde, “Royals”
Synth bass. Beats. No other instruments, just a punchy lead and great backing vox. A top melody. And pop-star skewering lyrics to die for:
“I’ve never seen a diamond in the flesh/I cut my teeth on wedding rings in the movies/And I’m not proud of my address/In a torn-up town, no postcode envy…
But every song’s like gold teeth, grey goose, trippin’ in the bathroom/blood stains, ball gowns, trashin’ the hotel room,
But everybody’s like Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your timepiece/jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash…”
followed by her curtly dismissive: “We don’t care, we aren’t caught up in your love affair.” Thrilling.

Dan Penn, Zero Willpower
The Muscle Shoals documentary made me listen again to Dan Penn’s Do Right Man from 1994. Writer of “Dark End Of The Street” and “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” among others, the album was recorded in the Shoals and features many of the town’s greats. This track was always a favourite, and listening again to the perfectly weighted rhythm section of Roger Hawkins and David Hood – like the suspension on a bridge – to the stately horns and organ, to the helicopter-like tremolo of Reggie Young’s guitar, I’m struck by its perfection. Nobody plays more than the song needs, or less than it deserves.

Robbie Fulks, “That’s Where I’m From”
Bob Dylan said in 1990, There’s enough songs in the world. The world don’t need any more songs…  and I knew what he meant. Bob weakened his case, of course, by writing “Love Sick”, “High Water (For Charley Patton)” and “Sugar Baby” a few years later. In some genres, you may as well give up, modern Country, especially. As the Country mainstream does the thing it does every decade or so and flirts with AOR, and the alt-end just gets more singer-songwritery (i.e. like smooth-sounding versions of Lucinda Williams) I didn’t expect to find a new Fulks album so moving. Do I need another acoustic bluegrass ’n’ country album? Well, yes. Especially one recorded in three days by Steve Albini in Chicago. Ken Tucker, writing for npr, puts it perfectly: “With Gone Away Backward, Fulks has made an album that feints in the direction of nostalgia while grappling very much with the here and now. Even for a singer-songwriter known for his clever twists and turns, it’s a considerable achievement. It partakes of folk, country, bluegrass and honky-tonk even as the shape of the songs and the content of the lyrics close off much chance of any one of these genres claiming the music as its own.”

Fulks had recorded “That’s Where I’m From…” a few years back in a more traditional arrangement with a full band and pedal steel, and it’s interesting to compare and see how much deeper the song’s become, supported this time round with a couple of guitars, bass and mandolin. A sound that’s totally naked – you could be sitting in a room with them. Every note perfectly placed. And a lyric that summons the fantastic ‘Cosmopolitan Country’ of the late 60s, of Tom T Hall and Tammy and George, as it limns the thoughts of a man far from his past:
“Back in the driveway/The end of the workday/How fast that world disappears
A fresh lawn, a pine tree/A neighbor just like me/Who’s worked all his life to get here…”
And he thinks back on…
“Dad doing battle/With dirt hard as gravel/And summers the crops never came
We’d shoot down a pheasant in flight/And sing songs about Jesus all night…”
And the chorus kicks in…
“That’s where I’m from/Where time passes slower/That’s where I’m from/Where it’s yes ma’am and no sir
You can’t tell I’m country/Just you look closer/It’s deep in my blood
A white collar, a necktie/That’s where I’ve come/Half-naked in the moonshine/That’s where I’m from…”
Then, after a glorious interlude of guitar interplay, the killer couplet: “If you’ve ever heard Hank Williams sing/Then, brother, you know the whole blessed thing…”

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