Some Kind of 2014: What I Learned…

Bruce Springsteen has really good taste in music books
New York Times Book Review: What are the best books about music you’ve read?
Bruce Springsteen: “At the top of my list remains Greil Marcus’s Mystery Train, followed closely by Peter Guralnick’s Last Train to Memphis. I’d include Dylan’s Chronicles and a recent book by Daniel Lanois, Soul Mining, that gives insights into the making of music I found unique from any other book out there. Sonata for Jukebox, by Geoffrey O’Brien, has some lovely chapters in it, particularly its opening discussions of Burt Bacharach’s career.

So I read “Soul Mining”. And Bruce is right…
Notwithstanding my ambivalent view of Dan the Man (and the book has plenty of odd-slash-annoying tributaries that slow it down) the chapters on recording sessions are totally fascinating, and he is such an enthusiastic and expressionistic describer of the creative process that I was willing to forgive a lot. Anyone who can reference both Sly’s “In Time” and Link Wray’s “Fire and Brimstone” in a discussion on what a drummer needs to know is alright by me. One is a drum machine made to play like three drummers, the other seems to be people hitting suitcases and mason jars. Both great.

A couple of excerpts: The Neville Brothers Yellow Moon: “I loved having Eno around with his nonstop stream of sonics. The Nevilles were very curious about him. At an impressed moment, Art Neville leaned over to me, pointed to Eno, and whispered in my ear: “Where did you find this cat?” Art was so impressed that he paid him the greatest compliment, “That’s some cold-blooded shit”. Art knew what he was talking about. Check out his hit from the fifties called “Mardi-Gras Mambo” – definite soul, with a kick-ass sax solo, tone big as a house.”

The one-point source: “I was recently impressed by a Blind Willie Johnson recording… it gave me the sensation of a one-point source. It felt like I was standing in front of him, rather than listening to him. There was a darkness in the guitar, a warble in the voice, but the two ingredients had unity. I believe the human ear finds comfort in these more snapshotlike technically non-complex recordings, like the human eye finds comfort in a movie scene shot with one camera.A recent visit to a friend’s restaurant reinforced this… He couldn’t afford a big sound system, and so only had a small blaster on his open kitchen counter. A lack of funds might have led to a stroke of genius. The cook got to be the DJ – the cook, who is obviously in tune with the action of the room…” Later he talks about plugging both his and Dylan’s guitars into one amp, a small Vox, and how musical the resulting blend was. “The one-point source is a musical friend. If rock ’n’ roll was meant to be spontaneous, perhaps options are the enemy.”

By law, all adverts now come with pop soundtracks
The best ones made you listen again to great music: Chanel’s bonkers Coco ad had Kiera Knightley dispensing tester bottles at a Sixties Black & White party before disappearing and then reappearing in a speedboat under a bridge, all to the Zombies’ timeless “She’s Not There”; Suzuki put James Brown’s “I Want You So Bad” to work, following their previous use of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins “I Put a Spell on You”. And in a newly-recorded and distressed version, “You’re the One that I Want” in an even more mad Chanel ad – Surfer mom, directed by Baz Luhrmann, with Gisele Bündchen, music by Lo Fang. Ludicrous.

Owe Thörnqvist is still going strong

Sept 24 Owe
I love this poster for his 85th celebrations, pasted up around Stockholm. I researched Owe, and found that he is an 86-year-old Swedish troubadour. Go, Wikipedia, Go! “In 1955, Thörnqvist released his first record. His musical style spans over both rock, rumba and calypso; his texts are characterised by word play and humour. Thörnqvist was one of the first people to do stand-up comedy in Stockholm in the 1950s. In 1963, Thörnqvist provided guest vocals and performed the song “Wilma” on the Flintstones episode The Swedish Visitors. In 2004, Thörnqvist received The King’s Medal in the 8th size for his many contributions to Swedish culture as a songwriter, singer and composer.”  He looks so happy. I wonder what the King’s Medal in its 8th size is, and what you need to do to get, say, the 5th size?

Lana Del Ray is the most interesting vocalist working in mainstream popular music
I may have been an early adopter here. I loved “Video Games” long before it became the most played and played-out song of 2013, issuing from any radio or shop that you walked past. I think that Ultraviolence may be my favourite pop album of 2014. There’s so much going on here… she’s a tremulous fifties-grained vamp in “Shades Of Cool”, her voice swirled into the sandpapered-cinema strings-reverb of Dan Auerbach’s genius production. She’s funny, too, playing up to a critics’ view of her in “Brooklyn Baby” (or maybe it’s just a diss to Brooklyn) “Well, my boyfriend’s in a band/He plays guitar while I sing Lou Reed/I’ve got feathers in my hair/I get down to Beat poetry”. Whatever, it doesn’t matter. What matters is the extraordinary widescreen use of her voice, multi-tracked over scrubby Nancy Sinatra guitars and ghostly strings. And she swears better than most people – check out the way she sings this refrain… “You never liked the way I said it/If you don’t get it, then forget it/So I don’t have to fucking explain it…” The woozy change time verse/chorus on “West Coast”, flipping the dial from surf rock to Fleetwood-Mac-at-a-narcotised-crawl is just wondrous. Hey, don’t worry, I know I won’t get many takers for this view…

And what I learned this year (in pictures):

Ukeleles always sound good outdoors (here, the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain seen at the Walthamstow Festival)

EOY Ukes

My mum’s recall of First World War songs was excellent (At the Royal Academy of Music Exhibition)

EOY Bette

Dylan Thomas’s poetry sounds best when read by a Welsh Shepherd in Fitzroy Square (in a Shepherd’s hut, with sheep, natch)

Fitzroy Shepherds

It’s really nice to discuss the work of Bob Dylan in the South of France (here, the view from Michael Gray’s house, looking not unlike a recent Bob painting).

IMG_4712

If you’re invited to a Private View, don’t arrive at the end of the evening
At Jonny Hannah’s I arrived for the last number of Sandy Dillon and Ray Majors’ set, which sounded impressively bayou in tone. Catching up with them afterwards we talked of the strange machinations of the music business, and Sandy’s incredible homemade electric keyboard/thumb Piano, dubbed The Thing.

Sandy

Timing is key to junk shop finds
I managed to wander past this one – with its potentially rare guitars – when they were closed, and we were about to leave town. So these two in Truro, one a Stella, sadly got away…

Mimi’s Phone_20141114_004

Five Things: Wednesday, 28th May

Hal Blaine
In donating to Denny Tedesco’s Kickstarter campaign to get his Wrecking Crew documentary released, my treat, or reward, is a copy of Hal Blaine’s biography, which is fascinating, if plagued by the weaknesses of a self-published book: terrible proofreading, a fair amount of repetition and the kind of stuff an editor might ask (like – where’s the chapter about recording Bridge Over Troubled Water?). All that notwithstanding, it’s full of interesting detail on the man who, as Richard Williams wrote, “…virtually created a style by himself and became an elder statesman among West Coast session percussionists”. Here’s one of my favorite details: “Phil Spector is the only producer I’ve ever known who always had an extra 2-track recorder running constantly from the beginning of every session. Everything said or played went on tape, and it was quite a trick. Musicians often walk into the studio cold and start warming up in their own way before the tracking begins. They come up with strange riffs, and when asked what they’ve played they never remember. Not so at Phil’s sessions. He would ask, play back the lick and say, ‘Remember that, I want it on the front of the bridge’. Phil would pick out the nuggets he wanted and by playing them back, make them history (so many musicians play incredible warm-ups and never know it).” See the music player on the right for Hal live with S&G.

Eric Yahnker, Sticks & Drones, Paradise Row Gallery, Newman Street
Cactus Guitar/Bizarre Ferlin Husky-Mariah Carey interface/Obama watches Miley on wrecking ball through White House window. (click to enlarge).

Gallery

Daniel Lanois, The Barbican, Monday
From the opening two songs, both played solo on the pedal steel that sits towards the back of the stage, I start to anticipate a great gig. As clouds of distortion weave around the edges of the theatre, parting to reveal a clear shaft of melodic sunlight, I remember what I always loved about Lanois’ sound. Like a curdled, clotted version of Red Rhodes, he’s the master of the almost-resolved filigree, of the blur coming into focus, of a heavenly melody. As the last notes die away in a swoosh and buzz someone in the audience shouts “Turn the volume down!” And it all goes a bit south from there. “I’ll do whatever you want if you come up on stage. Otherwise I’ll see you after the show…” He straps on his gold top Les Paul and, although there are flashes of brilliance, he’s just not a very interesting songwriter and a fairly woeful lyricist. And despite great bass and drums from Steven Nistor and Jim Wilson it doesn’t really catch fire for me, especially when Emmylou Harris comes on to play Wrecking Ball. The problem of playing one album in sequence, especially one that is so locked in to a particular sonic palette is that there’s almost no room for the music to breathe, and it’s not helped by Emmylou’s unvarying approach to each song. I’ve never really warmed to any of her records and I finally realised why – I find her voice unyielding and somehow lacking warmth, warmth that her duet partners, be they Dylan, Earle or Parsons, bring in spades. I felt bad that I didn’t enjoy it more.

From Our Woodstock Correspondent
John Cuneo writes: Having a bunch of colleagues over tomorrow, and they’ll all have to drive through town while this is going on. Such a goofy place this is… “It takes a lot to laugh, it may take seven hours of lip-synching Bob Dylan for Linda Montano to cry. The performance artist, known for her endurance pieces, will be impersonating the former Robert Zimmerman atop a 14-foot lift in front of the Kleinert/James Art Center in Woodstock on May 24 from noon to 7 pm in honor of Dylan’s 73rd birthday. The Dylan endurance outside the Kleinert/James stems from Montano’s realization that her family members look like Bob Dylan. She adopted the Dylan persona in order to “be like my brothers, having always wanted to be a man as a child—knowing that they were always getting the better cultural deal,” she says. Montano’s interest in Dylan, and other historical figures whom she has portrayed, like Mother Theresa, are intricately linked to her investigations of the blurred boundaries and interconnections between art and life: between being, having been, and wanting to be—not be anything at all. Here’s Linda Mary Montano posing as a young Bob Dylan. New York City, 1989.

Linda

Only just caught up with this…
…“Royals” cover in Lorde’s home town. Bruce adds a judicious ”fucking” into “Every song’s like, Gold Teeth, Grey Goose, trippin’ in the bathroom…” and changes ”We crave a different kind of buzz” to “kind of love”, Queen Bee to King Bee (nice Muddy Waters link there) and generally gives it a bang-up performance.

 

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