Wednesday, 15th March

ONE FAVOURITE ALBUM REVIEW OF THE WEEK
Alex Balk in The Awl, reviewing the Magnetic Fields 50 Song Memoir.

[Headline] Album Good
[Sell] Take my word for it, or this other guy’s. Or find out yourself.
[Text excerpt] …anyway. I’m not a big “let’s get all descriptive as fuck in the review” type guy, because Jesus Christ, just tell me if it’s worth checking out and I’ll figure out the rest on my own. But I know some people need more convincing. Here’s the best review I’ve read so far, if someone going on and on about things is your thing… [there follows a review from Slate, a Spotify playlist and a video link].

TWO NEVER NEVERLAND?
It seems a lot for a 5 Bed house, but it is 2,700 acres and perfect for a vineyard, apparently…

zoopTHREE GOOD GOD, THE NME GETS WORSE…
From its Kong-wrapped advertising cover to Geri Halliwell’s Soundtrack of my Life, it’s a shock how redundant the free NME is now. There is literally nothing of note in the whole sorry thing. It’s mostly Q&As that barely rise above the “what is your favourite colour?” level, and the Straw/Camel interface moment is discovering that the NME Awards are now sponsored by a hair shampoo company, VO5, and their advertorial is headlined, “Get gig-ready hair”. Really.

FOUR SUB-EDITOR STAR OF THE WEEKwsjFIVE THINGS THAT I READ AND ENJOYED
1) Thanks to Every Record Tells a Story for reminding me of those Junior Parker records that came out in the late Sixties/early Seventies. An influence on Al Green, who dedicated “Take Me to the River” to “Little Junior Parker, a cousin of mine, he’s gone on, but we’d like to kinda carry on in his name…” he was famed for writing and recording “Mystery Train” and the blistering “Feelin’ Good” at Sun in 1953. Thereafter, his career plateaued, but the soul/blues albums of this later period are great, and had some inspired song choices. My favourites were the Percy Mayfield cover, “Rivers Invitation”, sung against clipped funk guitar and fatback shuffle drums, an eight-minute take on Willie Nelson’s “Funny How Time Slips Away” with a loooong spoken intro. But finest of all, as ERTAS’s Steve says, is a version of the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows”. Quiet and compelling, the simplicity of the guitar playing is genius, as is Junior’s vocal, especially on the closing couplet, “So play the game Existence to the end/of the beginning, of the beginning…

2) The New Yorker profile “Jack White’s Infinite Imagination”, by Alec Wilkinson:
Last summer, Jack White bought a house in Kalamazoo, Michigan, that he had seen only in photographs. He wasn’t planning to live in it, except perhaps occasionally on retreats—he lives in Nashville. He was drawn to its past. The house was designed by George Nelson, a figure in American modernism, who mostly designed furniture. “A George Nelson house, there’s not too many of those,” White said in a car on the way there.

[The previous owner Dave] Corner sat on a couch and White sat in a chair beside him, as if on a talk show. White asked Corner what his favourite part of the house was. “This living room,” Corner said. “It’s so peaceful.” The room had windows that rose to the ceiling, and beyond the windows were woods. White asked what the rain sounded like on the flat roof. “Like heaven,” Corner said. White said that in Nashville he’d had microphones installed under the eaves of his home, so that he could hear the rain better. He has two young children, a boy and a girl, from his second marriage, and he said that his ability to make the rain louder had led them to believe that he controlled the weather.

3) This amusing piece by Alan Swyer on Narratively, about being Ray Charles’ interview “stand-in”: “It began innocently enough. After thousands of interviews, Ray had come to hate the process, and told me he was particularly dreading a session with a journalist who stuttered. Come on by and sit with me, Ray said. If you’re there, maybe we can figure out what he’s asking and get the goddamn thing over with. Only when I arrived for the interview did Ray inform me that instead of merely keeping him company, I — not he — would be doing the talking. Ray was a prankster, so I assumed he was joking. The reporter blanched when he learned who would be answering his questions, but I figured that once we were under way, Ray would laugh, then take over…”

4) This piece from last December that I finally got round to reading on Slate, about Stevie Wonder’s classic period, by Jack Hamilton: “Most Americans follow up their 21st birthdays with a hangover; Stevie Wonder opted for arguably the greatest sustained run of creativity in the history of popular music.” Thrill to the fact that top-to-tail, Wonder created “Higher Ground” in three hours…

5) And finally, Richard Williams’ excellent piece on Bob Dylan’s largely under-appreciated 1966 acoustic opening halves, on thebluemoment. Always drawn to the atmosphere of these hypnotic versions, where songs stretch and expand timelessly on Dylan’s whim, I felt that songs regarded as slighter, like “Fourth Time Around”, were raised to the level of “Visions of Johanna” by the performance. Here’s a note I got from Ray Lowry, having sent him the 1966 bootleg Guitars Kissing & The Contemporary Fix that surfaced about six months before the “Judas” concert was officially released. I’d discussed it at length while commissioning a cartoon from him. I’d said, don’t ignore the first half, but Ray, a rockabilly at heart – one of the reasons he got on so well with The Clash – only had ears for the hopped-up vocals and the hipped-up whipcrack of the guitars.

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The first rays of Summer-like weather (well in London, anyway) led me to chose Joni Mitchell’s version of “Summertime” in the music player on the right.

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Five Things, Wednesday 27th August

From Denny Tedesco’s Kickstarter project comes a Spector Symphony
“My biggest mistake in making this film was my estimating time. As of today, I’m on my 6607th day since I started shooting the The Wrecking Crew. That is 18 years, 1 month, and 2 days since that first day when I brought together Hal Blaine, my father Tommy, Carol Kaye and Plas Johnson. With the money that was raised on Kickstarter, we paid off the most important bill, which was the Musicians Union. The great thing is the musicians will be receiving payments for their work. I apologize for the delay and I really appreciate your patience and support. We know the film will be released theatrically in a limited market that allows us to earn national press and reviews. DVDs and Downloads will go out after that theatrical run. In the meantime, I continue to cut outtakes. Today’s short film involves Pianist Mike Lang, a Beatle, Cher and Harry Nilsson.”

My knowledge of Mike Lang is limited to the fact that Tom Waits used him on several albums, rather than play the piano himself, which, come to think of it, says quite a lot. And he’s also a very good interviewee. You can hear “A Love Like Yours” in the music player on the right.

CristinaFrom Britt Julious’ Britticisms blog comes a tale of self-plagiarism
Looking for some info on Cristina’s second album (inspired by Dave Heasman’s comment a couple of weeks back) I found this: “Cristina’s Sleep it Off: an album so unsuccessful that sleeve designer Jean-Paul Goude simply used the same aesthetics a year later for the cover of Slave to the Rhythm by his muse, Grace Jones.” There’s an interesting early Prince cover on the album I’d not heard before, “When You Were Mine”. I don’t know if it was done before or after the Bette Bright version, which I had as a picture disc, and remember fondly.

From my Brother-In-Law comes an urgent message
“Hey Mart, Tim and I are wondering if you can interpret the titles on this Dylan cover album from the 60s by Aufray. It’s in the house we’re staying in…” Nick and Tim

Hughes

Job done (my favorite is the translation of “Motorpsycho Nitemare”) I looked up the wonderfully named Hugues Aufray, who was in Dylan’s orbit in the mid-60’s. The following is from an RFI Musique piece: In 1965, Aufray chante Dylan was released, his first album of French covers of Dylan songs.

Hugues Aufray: I’d made a couple of records by 1961 when Maurice Chevalier invited me to New York to represent France at a charity gala. I discovered the most amazing city, the capital of the 20th century, filled with the most extraordinary artists. I went back to New York the minute I could, playing as a support act to Peter, Paul & Mary at The Blue Angel. I spent six months there and one night I ventured down to the Village to this real dive, Gerde’s Folk City, and watched this young guy with a harmonica. He was already singing the songs that went on to become absolute classics. For me, translating Dylan was something I wanted to do on an artistic level as well as a human level. It’s like when you read a fantastic book and you want to share it with your friends. The problem was that back in 1962-63, nobody in Paris knew who Bob Dylan was. (Record label owner) Eddie Barclay didn’t want to hear about anyone recording Dylan covers! The other problem was that Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman, took almost two years to get back to me and authorise the French covers.

On recently finishing a third album of Dylan songs: The record company suggested I do an album of duets, getting guest artists to record new versions of my greatest hits with me. I thought that was a bit of a rehash… but I went away and thought it over and decided that if I took the same concept but applied it to Dylan songs everyone would get a lot more out of it… ever since I’d written the French version of “Forever Young” I’d hoped to record it with Johnny Hallyday. I can’t imagine anyone better than Johnny singing May you stay forever young! What I really wanted to do was bring out Dylan’s melodies. These days, he’s into the idea of destructuring his songs on stage even if that means disappointing his fans… The thing is, Dylan’s never appreciated being followed by a pack of people who don’t really understand who he is. And he doesn’t mind pissing people off. What I’ve tried to do is restore the primitive musicality of the songs. I collaborated closely with the American musicians on the album – most of whom have worked with Dylan at some point – trying to come up with arrangements which would bring out the melody, the harmony and the poetic cadence of each song. When Jane [Birkin] came into the studio [to record “Just Like A Woman”] she had a few problems with the melody and the fact that the lyrics were in French… And to be honest I didn’t know what to make of the final version. But when I played it to my friends and associates they all said “Wow! It’s brilliant! She takes the same musical liberties as Dylan himself!”

From the pages (or should that be screens) of Narratively…
Narratively is a great online magazine (and at the moment it’s Jazz Week, with pieces on Lee Morgan, the grandchildren of the 1940’s East LA Barrio denizens picking up Zoot Suits again, a busking saxist and Nick LaRocca of the ODJB). I really liked this story of an artisan New York trumpet maker, told by Melissa Smith, with photos byEuniceChoi.

“Most people don’t know who Josh Landress is. Most people will never know who Josh Landress is. If he is lucky, people will eventually know of him, long after he has stopped doing what he is doing. Josh Landress makes trumpets. It takes him approximately seventy hours over the course of two or three months to finish building one, and even then he can’t be sure his clients will be happy – an economic reality that could dissuade even the most committed craftsman… Popular brands are churned out in factories by the thousands. In his ten years bending, tweaking and molding brass, Landress has made forty-nine. He earns money mainly by repairing factory-made trumpets—Bessons, Bachs, Benges and Schilkes—hammering out dinks, filling up cracks, cleaning gunk that has accumulated inside, replacing mouthpieces, tweaking valves.

The steps for making a horn aren’t necessarily complicated, but they are painstakingly tedious. Landress is a stickler for construction. He does all of his work in his cramped studio, a job which in the wrong hands could be considered a bit thankless. To make the lead pipe, Landress begins with a sheet of brass. He cuts it to size using a template. He files the edge, eliminating any burrs, then folds and hammers it over a mandrel, a steel form in the shape of a tube. After the sheet is shaped, Landress seals the seam by heating the tube with a miniature blowtorch while adding silver, a bonding agent. When that’s done, he lets the brass cool in order to manipulate it. Heating and cooling change the molecular structure of the metal so it’s more malleable, and Landress can bully it into shape. He cleans the tube, puts it back on the mandrel, hammers again to flatten the inside, then wedges it between two metal rollers to smooth out the shape and round off any rough edges, particularly around the seam. Then he goes back three steps and starts again; heats, cools, shapes; then again, heats, cools, shapes, until he considers it perfect. To show me what perfect doesn’t look like, Landress lifted a lead pipe up against the light, pointed out a faint line running along the interior, a seam that he hadn’t successfully burnished out, and threw the pipe into the recycling bin.”

From the Streets of Stockholm (more next week…)

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