Five Things: Wednesday 22nd April

One Thing I’ll Miss Later This Week: The “Muscle Shoals” Film
PickI’m really looking forward to this documentary, but am not around to see it at the Sundance Festival in London this week. I wrote a reminiscence of the time that our band, Hot!House went there to record (find it here). Incidentally, the Rock’s Back Pages logo is the legendary Jimmy Johnson’s guitar pick (he lent us his car as well…)

I liked this review on imdb titled, The only puzzling thing about “Muscle Shoals” is how this story went so long without being told.
prettycleverfilmgal writes: “Have you ever heard of Muscle Shoals, Alabama? Let me rephrase the question – have you heard an Aretha Franklin song? Have you ever grooved to Wicked Wilson Pickett’s “Land Of 1000 Dances?” Have you ever thought, “Yes, Percy Sledge, that is exactly what happens when a man loves a woman!” Have you ever driven way too fast while the Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar” blasted through your speakers? If you answered yes to any of those questions, then you have heard of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, or at least you’ve heard the Muscle Shoals sound, the subject of the documentary Muscle Shoals from director Greg ‘Freddy’ Camalier. In the interest of full disclosure, these are my people ya’ll! I grew up just east of Muscle Shoals, also on the banks of the Tennessee River – “The Singing River” to the Native Americans who made their home there for millenia before Rick Hall founded FAME studios. Driven by a need to escape the crushing poverty and overwhelming tragedy that befalls him, Hall is the central figure in the story of the famed “Muscle Shoals Sound” – well, him and a group of homegrown, white-as-cotton studio musicians known as the “Swampers.” These men shaped what ultimately proved to be some of the finest rock, soul, and R&B America would ever produce.”

Thinking About Richie Havens
Introduced to him by Don Sollash, manager of Dobell’s Record shop (“I listened to jazz all day – the last thing I wanted to listen to at home was more jazz…”), I bought all of the late 60s-early 70s Havens’ LPs and loved them. I re-bought some of them last year on iTunes and gloried again to “I Started A Joke,” “This May Be The First Day,” “Handsome Johnny” and their like. Marcel called me up when they showed a Beatles At The BBC programme of cover versions, saying how great Richie’s awesomely strummed version of “Here Comes The Sun” was. His second guitarist and conga player have the damnedest time trying to keep up with him…  And this is lovely, from Richard Williams’ thebluemoment: “I interviewed Havens once, for the Melody Maker, and it gave me a good story to tell. It was at a hotel on Park Lane, in 1970 or 71. I went up to his room at the appointed time, knocked on the door, and was shown in. He greeted me with great warmth, and looked me straight in the eye. “Aquarius,” he declared. Er, sorry, I said, but no. Still that piercing look. “Sagittarius!” No, wrong again. “Capricorn!” Look, sorry about this, but… “Taurus!” You can guess the rest: he ran through the whole card before a process of elimination gave him the right answer. He didn’t appear at all embarrassed, and it certainly amused me. Then we got to talk. He seemed like one of the good guys.” I also like Havens’ story of walking on Hampstead Heath in 1974 and spotting Ray Charles from a distance, sitting on a park bench. “Suddenly I heard, “Hey, Richie. Get over here!” And it was Ray. He had extraordinary senses…”

Jackie DeShannon,“Put A Little Love In Your Heart” As Seen On TV (In A Cholesterol Spread Advert)
I heard this (probably DeShannon’s biggest hit, from 1969) on tv the night before her cover of Neil Young’s “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” pops up on my iPhone. Now most versions of this, even by good people, are dull and lugubrious. This one, in the hands of the estimable Jackie, is different. It starts straight, then an accordion enters and gets a Bacharach/Butch Cassidy feel going. It takes a left turn with the entrance of a pedal steel into a 5th Dimension/Bones Howe groove, and DeShannon pushes the vocal line away from the original, but in a good way. Oh, and it has an accordion. Did I mention that?

“I Bet Your Mama Was A Tent Show Queen”
Bob Gumpert sends a link to a fascinating piece by Carl Wilson (not the Beach Boy) on the Random House, Canada blog. It’s the strange story of, to quote the intro “a gay, cross-dressing, black singer named Jackie Shane, who scored a surprise radio hit in what was then staid and uptight Toronto.” His only surviving tv clip can be seen here, a compellingly diffident performance of Rufus Thomas’ “Walking The Dog”

Meshell Ndegeocello: Ronnie Scott’s, Tuesday Night
The drummer, Earl Harvin, sits on the left, his kit pointing across the stage. His mallets are at the ready. Chris Bruce, the guitarist, playing a modded Tele Custom from the 70s, crouches at his pedalboard. Meshell Ndegeocello, her angular bass worn high, counts the song down. And, like setting out a manifesto, they start playing “Tomorrow Never Knows”…
Turn off your mind relax and float down stream
It is not dying, it is not dying
Lay down all thoughts, surrender to the void,
It is shining, it is shining.
Yet you may see the meaning of within
It is being, it is being
Love is all and love is everyone
It is knowing, it is knowing
and underneath it all creep the contorted keys of Jebin Bruni, wrenching decayed and tweaked noises from his banks of vintage organs and synths and laptop screens.

Meshell

There is, in her music, enough of the familiar to feel comforted. Often the songs are known – tonight derives mostly from her album in tribute to Nina Simone – but the constituent parts are roughly handled. They keep you on the edge of your seat: how far will they push before it all collapses? Great holes appear, to be suddenly filled by the rolling thunder of the drums or a shard of guitar or a sliver of keyboard or the clanging slap of Ndegeocello’s bass. It’s as if all the comforting sureties of the songs have been stripped away — but it’s music of beauty. It’s just that it’s not afraid to be ugly, too, like it wants to encompass the whole experience of life. It’s really hard to do it justice: my hastily scribbled notes in the darkness have phrases like ghostly martial doo-wop liberally sprinkled. But I’m making it sound doomy and it wasn’t at all. There’s such joy in hearing these musicians play. The metal freak-out that ends “Feeling Good,” the girls at the bar providing the backing vocals for “See Line Woman,” the stunning bass solo that brings a double-time “Suzanne” to an end – this is all wonderful, wonderful stuff. A version of “Pink Moon” in honour of London, and the stark and short “Oysters” are the icing on the cake. If she plays your town, go.

Five Things: Wednesday 17th April

Words Fail, pt. 73
From the Evening Standard: The soundtrack to David and Samantha Cameron’s marriage is an album of Depression-era US folk music, the PM’s wife has disclosed. Time (The Revelator) is a 2001 collection of austere narratives by Nashville singer Gillian Welch. Peter Mensch, manager of rock stars such as Metallica and husband of ex-Tory MP Louise, discussed the Camerons’ tastes at a Tory function. “I asked Samantha Cameron, ‘Why Gillian Welch?’,” said Mensch, who manages the singer and invited the couple to her Hammersmith concert in 2011. “She said, ‘There was a record store  in Notting Hill where David and I used to live. I would say to the guy with the purple mohawk: “What should I be listening to?” He sold me Time (The Revelator). For the past 10 years David and I listened to it all the time’ .”

Lana Del Rey, Chelsea Hotel No 2
Nicely simple and atmospheric version of a song its author has often felt uneasy about. I’m not even sure anyone but Leonard Cohen should sing this, but the solemn and melancholy tune is a draw to a certain type of singer. I think my favourite version is actually Meshell Ndegeocello’s, where she creates such a slowed-down, sultry arrangement that it seems that she’s only singing the song for one person to hear, not an audience. I don’t think it’ll be on the setlist next week at Ronnie Scott’s.

From Our Woodstock Correspondent
The road from RT 28 to W’stock, formerly rt. 375, will be officially re-named Levon Helm Highway. Meanwhile, all Robbie has named after him is the house next door, and that’s not even official. (But a couple has moved in and are done a nice job renovating…) as ever, john c

What I Say
Yeah Yeah Yeah’s notice, posted on the doors of Webster Hall, New YorkYeah

Killing Them Softly
The soundscape of this beautifully shot film based on George V Higgins’ fine book, Cogan’s Trade, and recently released on DVD, is fantastic. It’s worth watching just for that, from the opening credits of crunching footsteps underneath a voiceover of Obama on the election trail. The election is a presence throughout the film, playing on TVs in bar and on car radios. From the creak of car seats, the roar of throaty engines and the rain on the windshield, to the clangs of echoing hallways, real care is taken. Music supervisor is Rachel Fox, piano pieces and musical ambiences by Marc Streitenfeld. Take a bow.

Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 21st November

Cover Me
Around the time of the singer songwriter boom of the early 70’s, cover versions used to be odd one-offs, musicians showing respect for their elders & forbears, and subsidiary to the act’s own material. Then covers became cute—hipper bands would cover less hip pop songs, thus hipping them up. Then it all seemed to go wrong when people stared making tribute cover albums. Steve McL, who posts interesting and entertaining covers, usually themed, at the excellent coverfreak, puts it pithily in his manifesto:

“You should only cover a song if you have a reason for covering it. Financial considerations don’t count. Bring something new to the song. Make it your own. You’re a musician, interpret the music! It can be good or bad, just make it different from the original. Otherwise, what’s the point? My mission here is to spread Good Covers in the hope that they will overtake the bland and boring ones. If I post one that you enjoy, tell your friends and help me in my lonely battle…”

This is all a roundabout way of saying that Meshell Ndegeocello’s album of songs associated with the late, great Nina Simone—Pour une âme souveraine [“For a sovereign soul”]—is great. So far, her reworkings of Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, Feelin’ Good (I know, daunting to even attempt), Don’t Take All Night with Sinead, and Young Gifted & Black with Cody ChesnuTT are the ones I keep going back to, but the whole album is a triumph, and in a week where I heard the Mumfords wanly strum through The Boxer, a necessity.

The First Thirty Seconds Of “Jive Talking”
Go on, listen to them. Chunks of muted guitar. Then a kick drum and a nasty, grungy synth bass. Then some sweetness with a little Chic-like rhythm guitar before the snare and a double-tracked Barry come strutting in. Actually the whole song is pretty wonderful, especially the great drumming of Dennis Bryon.

Leonard Cohen Screensaver. Thanks, Antonio Zazueta Olmos

Southern Soul Odyssey One
An email with this attachment from my relative Brett, taking a break from touring and holidaying in Alabama: “Trip Down Memory Lane!”

I’m put in mind of time spent in the Shoals. I found this scan the other day of Jimmy Johnson’s pick, which later served time as the rocksbackpages logo…


Southern Soul Odyssey Two

Coincidentally, we were talking about artworks where someone instructs others to do the work, with the visiting Bob & Sam Gumpert. I was obsessed at one time with Letterpress printing and sourced an order form for a great Printshop in the 80s called Tribune Showprint, out of Earl Park, Indiana. They printed posters for the Chiltlin’ circuit and Soul Shows, often on hand screenprinted ‘rainbow’ cards. Mark and I immediately got them to do posters and covers for Hot House, our band. How great—typing out the wording and enclosing a glossy 10 x 8, posting the order off airmail, and three weeks later getting 50 cardboard posters back.


I’m pretty sure that it influenced this…

Boris Vian, Man Of Vision
From the IHT auction catalogue (see last week). “The Pianoctail is a strange instrument, imagined by Boris Vian in his novel L’Écume des Jours. The renowned writer, who died in 1959, conceived this cocktail-making piano which would make a drink according to the notes played. An Americano is made when a major chord is played, and when a triad or tonic chord is played, you get a gin-fizz. The instrument was displayed this morning in a Parisian cinema, where the film is being shown tonight. March 20, 1968.”

“For each note there’s a corresponding drink – either a wine, spirit, liqueur or fruit juice. The loud pedal puts in egg flip and the soft pedal adds ice. For soda you play a cadenza in F sharp. The quantities depend on how long a note is held – you get the sixteenth of a measure for a hemidemisemiquaver; a whole measure for a black note; and four measures for a semibreve. When you play a slow tune, then tone comes into control to prevent the amounts growing too large and the drink getting too big for a cocktail – but the alcoholic content remains unchanged. And, depending on the length of the tune, you can, if you like, vary the measures used, reducing them, say, to a hundredth in order to get a drink taking advantage of all the harmonics, by means of an adjustment on the side.”

%d bloggers like this: