Five Things End of Year Part 1

The reasons that I don’t write about everything that I see and hear each week are many and various. Sometimes it’s laziness, sometimes I just can’t find the time to do something justice, sometimes I don’t want to be too negative, so I just let the subject slide, and sometimes everyday life gets in the way. So here are some things that slipped through the net in 2018. [All photos enlarge when clicked]

Celeste Boursier-Mougenot’s BEAUTIFUL AVIARY, with birds landing on and triggering electric guitars, and her drum kit played by cherry stones that fell from the ceiling – set off by visitors’ mobile phone signals – were part of the Voyages a Nantes art fair. Nantes is well worth a visit. There’s always something art-related happening, it’s the home of LU Biscuits and Les Machines de L’ile (the giant elephant, among other huge mechanical puppets), the Loire is gorgeous and it’s a quick drive to the seaside town of Monsieur Hulot.

I really loved the BOB DYLAN EXHIBITION at the Halycon Gallery in Bond Street, but not for the exhibits that were the basis of the show, rather lame drawings illustrating selected lyrics, uninterestingly handwritten by Bob. The bookshelf with Bob tomes (above) was an inspired idea, the Steel Gates still look pretty, but the best came on the back wall downstairs – a fantastic art piece in itself: a wall of cards from the Savoy “Subterranean Homesick Blues” shoot by D.A. Pennebaker. And, alongside, a rather good fifteen minute encapsulation of Dylan’s career ran as a film loop.

Oh, and this was a pretty good use of photography, too…

Two brilliantly AMERICAN THINGS that I unaccountably forgot to mention. The 749 song requests that the organist at Fenway Park, Josh Kantor, received this season (and played)! But, as he told one follower, “Your dream of a world where every ballpark has organ instrumentals of Pile songs may be a long-shot at best.” And this beautiful song map of the USA from the brilliant Dorothy (check out their Electronic Music Stamp Set).

In the New Yorker, this extraordinary piece by John Seabrook on STEVE MILLER’S COLLECTION of 450 guitars. “I had two humidified rooms,” he said the other day, during a visit to the Metropolitan Museum’s Department of Musical Instruments. “I had a hidden room next to the studio. I’d say, ‘Open, sesame,’ ” and a door would open, revealing a guitar forest of rare mahoganies and rosewoods…” When he’s asked to be on the board of Jazz at Lincoln Center, “I walked in and said, ‘Jesus, this is a real fuckin’ board. That’s the guy who built the building. That’s the guy who raised the twenty million.’ ” And now there’s the guy who wrote, “Ab-ra-ca-dabra / I wanna reach out and grab ya.”

From JEB LOY NICHOLS’ regular column at Caught By The River, on “As I Don’t Want To Take A Chance” by Wee Willie Walker: “I remember as a child, driving along the Texas coast with my father, listening to the radio, and telling him that the song playing was “the best song ever!” When the next song came on, I dismissed it, saying “this song is awful.” He stopped the car, and we stood on the beach. After a few minutes he said, listen to everything! Who are you to turn up your nose at someone’s hard work? You can’t say that anything is the best. I don’t want to hear that. You can’t dismiss anything. That’s like standing on the beach and saying you got a favourite wave. It’s nonsense. Music, he says, just keeps coming.”

In graphic news, who doesn’t love a piece of data that reveals the most and least “HIP HOP” WORDS? From The Pudding.

Sadly, I didn’t enjoy DEVA MAHAL at St Mary’s Music Hall in Walthamstow – an odd gig in a newish venue under the umbrella of the EFG London Jazz Festival, for no good reason. A noodling piano player, a somewhat robotic drummer, a bass player who seemed to be in a different postcode and a rather ineffectual guitarist, all served up with a muggy sound mix, rendered the soul / RnB of her debut album formless, with her voice just one more murky instrument trying to reach the congregation…

My FAVOURITE TV MOMENT may well have been Trini Lopez on one of those ghastly Andre Rieu broadcasts on Sky Arts from somewhere like Vienna (best city in the world for quality of living for the ninth year in a row, apparently). Trini was sporting his fantastic Gibson Trini Lopez model from 1964. [For Guitar fans only: It’s a 335 with mods, mostly in the form of diamond-shaped f-holes and neck inlays, with a Firebird six-in-line headstock. It’s Dave Grohl’s favourite guitar, which is why his signature Gibson is based on Trini’s]. It was utterly bizarre – an orchestra playing “If I Had a Hammer” featuring a rather frail vocal performance from Trini, Andre fiddling like Rome was burning, and an audience who looked like they were at a young fogey’s convention, going batshit crazy.

I’ll end Part One with a favourite video clip discovered this year. Guitarist FREDDY KOELLA, playing Professor Longhair’s “Big Chief” on guitar, which is a tricky thing to do. But Freddy plays the hell out of it, complete with a lovely breakdown solo. He’s some kind of genius. Part Two later this week…

Monday, December 17th

In home news, it’s been good fun watching the ghost of John Redwood turn up in tv studios this week – what a ghastly, low-grade bunch the current Tories are. The week culminated in being at a party where I witnessed a cabinet minister dancing to The Doobie Brothers. It doesn’t get weirder than that… Elsewhere, good to see that a Special Edition of Monopoly commemorating the Trump Presidency has been released. It’s lovely to see Five Thing’s Woodstock correspondent, John Cuneo, on the cover of the December 17th edition of the New Yorker. Congrats, John! I’ve also been vaguely annoyed by the trails for the new series of Soul Music on Radio 4, with a BBC voice telling us that the first episode is Joni Mitchell’s song, “The River”. It’s not “The River”. That’s Springsteen. It’s just “River”. I’ve decided to put all the live reviews that I’ve failed to write into a Five Things Extra! next week (I need that deadline, as you know). Here’s what’s been occurring this week.

{ONE} MUSIC FROM BIG PINK [REDUX]
I now own what seems to be about twelve copies of the Band’s first album – this is possibly the best. A loving essay by David Fricke finds some new things to say and Bob Clearmountain’s mix gives the tracks a new-found presence. It ends with a total gem – the isolated vocal tracks for “I Shall Be Released”. With the heavenly piano, plangent guitar strums and snare-wire beat taken away, the vocal blend is front-and-centre – just exquisite. [Hear on the Music Player to the right].

“It is surely the only rock album of its era and stature that promised a way forward while sounding like it could have been conceived and cut to 78 rpm between world wars. Robertson and Manuel, at that point the Band’s primary composers, wrote like determined modernists with public-domain souls, digging at the previously unmapped common ground of Appalachian folk, old Atlantic R&B 45s, Louisiana Hayride broadcasts, the treble lightning of the mid-sixties Dylan and the grooving spirit of the San Francisco ballrooms.” – from David Fricke’s liner notes.

{TWO} CREDIT WHERE IT’S DUE
Little Mix, on Graham Norton’s couch, asked to sing a verse one of their hits in Japanese, do so, brilliantly. Obviously set up beforehand and obviously rehearsed, but none the worse for that.

{THREE} JONNY HANNAH EXHIBITION AT VOUT-O-REENEY’S
As usual, a lovely show from Jonny, Fast Cars and Ukeleles. Fine painted uke, with an idea I’ve not seen before – painting the notes on the machine heads. On this night, the show had added DJs – the one I caught was excellent illustrator and teacher, Geoff Grandfield, a man with a passion for rare 45s from Detroit and Chicago (and scratching out the acts to keep them that way). Sadly missed Rob Ryan’s set – another time, Rob.

{FOUR} REMASTERED
“If someone says he’s not his brother’s keeper, then he’s wrong, ’cause he is…” – Johnny Cash.

Netflix’s new series opened with Barbara (Harlan County USA) Kopple and Sara Dosa’s excellent film looking at Cash, a walking mass of contradictions, and his visit to sing “redneck country music songs” at the Nixon White House in Tricky Dick and the Man in Black. It’s 1968, Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison has just gone to No1 in the charts and Richard Nixon has just moved into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It starts and you’re thinking, way to go, Johnny… “I thank God for all the freedoms we’ve got in this country. I cherish them, even the rights to burn the flag. You know, I’m proud of those rights [crowd boos]. But I’ll tell you what, we’ve also got – let me tell you something… shhhh… we’ve also got a right to bear arms, and if you burn my flag, I’ll shoot you! And I’ll shoot you with a lot of love, like a good American…”

It then details the “Southern strategy” that Nixon used to win the ’68 presidential election. “It has been used by every Republican candidate since – dog whistles to racists, dog whistles to conservatives using key phrases like the silent majority”, one contributor points out. John Cash, his son, says of the invite… “My daddy refused to sing the two songs that the President [or maybe H.R. Haldeman, Cash’s biggest fan in the White House] requested…” And someone else says, “Who was going to show up at the White House? Johnny Cash of “Folsom Prison Blues” or the rebel, the guy who was photographed “flipping off the Man” or the God-fearing family man with a baby on the way – the Gospel-singing Johnny Cash?”

There’s a stunning section that follows Eartha Kitt taking LBJ to task when she was an invited performer at the White House, as Carole Feraci (one of the Ray Conniff singers) says, “President Nixon, stop bombing human beings, animals and vegetation” while holding up a placard saying Stop The Killings – there’s a quick cut to Ray Conniff, who, with a terrible grin/grimace on his face agrees with the man who shouts “Throw her outta here…” “All right” says Ray…

And in 1969 came The Johnny Cash Show, a quintessentially American experience, but which famously cast its net wider than country music for its guest performers. As we know, he had Dylan, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Pete Seeger – these were not people who had even really been on national tv before, a brave move at the time. The film is really worth watching, especially for the riveting performance at the White House.

{FIVE} LET’S IGNORE LOW’S CHRISTMAS MESSAGE
“If you were born today
We’d kill you by age eight
Never get the chance to say
Joy to the world and
Peace on the earth
Forgive them for they know not what they do”
– from “If You Were Born Today”, on their rather gorgeous Christmas album.

Tuesday, August 15th

ONE TELL ME THAT IT ISN’T TRUE
“I have been in the industry long enough to know when I’m in the presence of a genius and Chris Martin is just that. In years to come, Britain will look back at him as a modern-day Shakespeare. He is an incredible recording artist, an incredible songwriter, but where he really comes alive is performing live. If you get the chance to see Coldplay live, do it – you ain’t gonna regret it.” – Jay-Z in an interview with The Metro UK, late July 2017

TWO ZIMMER & FRAMES
On the evidence of the first ten minutes, I thought that Dunkirk was going to be virtually dialogue-less. Unfortunately, it isn’t, and all the dialogue does is give voice to the most hackneyed element of war films – that we need narratives to balance the visceral thud and dogfight screams. In many ways, it’s a stunningly immersive film, with Nolan’s bravura time-shifting and powerful visual sense keeping you slightly taut and breathless throughout. Allied to this is Hans Zimmer’s cracking score which seems as if it’s forever on the brink of breaking into soaring melodies and swelling strings but finding itself overpowered and mashed into the noise of cranking machinery and bullets tearing through metal.

From Business Insider: “Very early on I sent Hans a recording that I made of a watch that I own, with a particularly insistent ticking, and we started to build the track out of that sound. And then working from that sound, we built the music as we built the picture cut. There’s an audio illusion in music called a ‘Shepard tone’ – it’s an illusion where there’s a continuing ascension of tone. It’s a corkscrew effect. It’s always going up and up and up but it never goes outside of its range. And I wrote the [Dunkirk] script according to that principle. I interwove the three timelines in such a way that there’s a continual feeling of intensity. Increasing intensity. So I wanted to build the music on similar mathematical principals.” Apparently, it helps if you imagine the Shepard tone as a barber’s pole – remember those?

THREE HARRY STYLES?
Distracting to see the ex-1Directioner as one of the soldiers trapped on the beach – his face is distinctive, the part is quite large, and it draws you out of the action as you strart to process it. I have nothing against Harry – he has very good taste in drummers (Sarah Jones, who I saw with Alex Taylor a couple of years ago, is a really considerable talent). But you just keep thinking how many young actors could have benefitted from Dunkirk on their CV.

FOUR MY SENSES ARE FILLED UP ALREADY, THANKS
What in God’s name was BBC4 thinking when they put John Denver at the Wembley Arena in 1979 in a prime time Sunday night slot. What in God’s name was I thinking, watching it? Good Lord, the cheese-fest that is the John Denver songbook made 45 minutes feel like a life sentence. He had a super expensive band with him, the best that money could buy, but even they couldn’t fight their way out of some of the lousiest material ever written in the name of music. No cliche was left unturned by his unctuous persona. “I wanna Rock ’n’ Roll!” he said, strapping on a Gibson 335. There followed a cover of “Johnny B Goode” that was beyond saving, even by James Burton. Aside from Burton, there was Hal Blaine on drums, Jim Horn on sax, Herb Peterson on guitar, Emory Lee Gordy on bass and Glen Hardin on keys. So he basically had Elvis’ band plus Blaine, all in the service of, “Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy / Sunshine in my eyes can make me cry / Sunshine on the water looks so lovely / Sunshine almost always makes me high.”

FIVE (A) SONG OF THE WEEK 1 THE ROOTS FEAT. BILAL “IT AIN’T FAIR”
So you’re talking about Curtis Mayfield’s wonderfully delicate yet tough vocal tone (and this performance on the Old Grey Whistle Test) and that very night this terrific track is broadcast on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. From the Detroit soundtrack, the upcoming film about the riots of ’67 by Kathryn Bigelow.

FIVE (B) SONG OF THE WEEK 2 DAVID RAWLINGS “CUMBERLAND GAP”
… with Gillian Welch, of course, from new album, Poor David’s Almanac. The most immediate song – no, it’s not the Lonnie Donegan one – is a wonderful Harvest-era Neil Young-like duet that trudges through its Kentucky landscape with backwards guitars and a pentecostal Hammond. (FYI: The Cumberland Gap is a narrow pass through the long ridge of the Cumberland Mountains, within the Appalachian Mountains, near the junction of the U.S. states of Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee.)

FIVE (C) SONG OF THE WEEK 3 GLEN CAMPBELL “GUESS I’M DUMB”
I’d never heard this before, an entirely extraordinary lost pop classic. As Richard Williams writes, “Recorded at the same time as the Beach Boys Today album, it’s a prototype of what we were going to hear on Pet Sounds the following year: a carefully wrought song of tortured self-examination set to an imaginative adaptation of the techniques originated by Phil Spector… the mono mix is a masterpiece. I’ve described the individual elements separately, but you’re supposed to hear them as one giant instrument, as if recorded by a single microphone.”

And this, from Amanda Petrusich’s lovely reminiscence of Glen Campbell in the New Yorker: “I met Campbell once, at the Nashville airport. All of my belongings (including my laptop, which contained an early and otherwise unsaved draft of a magazine feature I’d spent months reporting) had recently been stolen from my rental car. It was parked in a garage downtown; one of its rear windows had been smashed in with a rock. During the ensuing hubbub – phoning the cops, explaining the compromised state of my Kia Sephia to the rental-car agency – my flight back to New York City had departed without me. I was consoling myself by drinking a great deal of beer at an outpost of Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, the famed Broadway honky-tonk. This must have been in 2009.

I looked up and saw Campbell wandering around with his wife, Kim Woolen. (They’d met on a blind date – he took her to dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria, with his parents, and then to a James Taylor concert.) Campbell hadn’t been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s yet, not in any official capacity, but it was clear, even then, that he wasn’t quite himself—that certain ideas or bits of language were receding, drifting out of reach, like paper boats fluttering across a pond.

I approached and brazenly asked for a photograph – I suppose I felt like I had little left to lose in Nashville that afternoon. They were so gracious. You know, it wasn’t that bad, losing my stuff and missing my flight. There would be more stuff, more flights. He threw a big arm around me and we grinned.”

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.

raydylan

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

If you’re receiving the e-mailout, please click on the Date Headline of the page for the full 5 Things experience. It will bring you to the site (which allows you to see the Music Player) and all the links will open in another tab or window in your browser.

A Late Return and 7 Things, Thursday 19th January

Happy 2017 to all, if such a thing feels even vaguely on the cards. Strangeness seems to be all over the cards at the moment – here’s some recent examples…

ONE PROOF-READING ERROR OF THE WEEK
As I browsed Waterstones’ racks I saw a new Random House reissue of Tom Wolfe’s The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby. And when I read the back blurb, it introduced me to a music producer I didn’t know…

wolfe

TWO CHRISTMAS UNIVERSITY CHALLENGE
Bumptious Will Hutton’s team didn’t seem to understand the rules of the game – buzzing when they didn’t need to, and conferring when they shouldn’t – in possibly the lowest scoring match in UC history. The poor scores were compounded by the other team seemingly having no knowledge of pop culture, even though their captain, Chris Hawkings, was introduced as a 6 Music DJ. He put his head in his hands having failed to recognise Revolver, Blonde on Blonde and Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme from their track listings. I know the heat of the moment leads to blankness, but I’m sure his return to work would have been made jestingly uncomfortable after the show was broadcast.

THREE BLACK MARIAH
Mariah Carey is always present through Christmas and the New Year, isn’t she? Here, jazz pianist Liam Noble talks of his feelings about “All I Want for Christmas is You” on his blog, Brother Face, in brilliant fashion. Here, discussing her choice of notes:

“It all starts pretty conventionally; bells, chords, warbly R ’n’ B vocals. But listen to that line at 0:25 “…I just want for my own/More than you could ever know”; on the words “own” and “know” – that note, an Eb, it’s very unstable in G major. And each time, the melody just jumps back on to the tonic note, a highly illegal move in melody writing. In board game terms, it’s like going up the snakes and down the ladders. Over and over through this song, the melody lingers around this same note like scratching a flea bite that only gets worse with the itching. At 2:39, in the bridge, she lingers on that Eb in the bass on the words “and everyone is singing”, the beat surging optimistically on, the chords reflecting a deep disquiet.”

And this, on the accompanying video:
“Viewed today in all its shaky, grainy nineties-ness, it looks like… flashback footage of a murder victim from a Scandinavian thriller… I made a list of some of the images;
Spinning Santa heads
The woods, deserted
Standing alone in the woods, deserted, as the sun rises
Disembodied hand and forearm reaches for something
Holding an incongruous rabbit aloft
Unexplained digging in the snow (where is the rabbit?)
…All I Want For Xmas Is You. In a box.”

FOUR BLUE MARIAH
2016 was made better by the fact that Amanda Petrusitch appears regularly on the New Yorker’s culture blog, and her writing on Carey’s New Year’s Eve appearance in Times Square, “Mariah Carey’s rather Perfect Farewell to 2016” was vintage:
“Carey famously sings in what’s called the whistle register – the highest range of tones a human being can organically produce. It is extraordinarily unusual for a grown person ever to make sounds that piercing, although babies and small, angry children can sometimes get themselves there without much help. On the studio recording of “Emotions,” Carey arrives, miraculously, at a high G, all those octaves up the scale, during a run at the end of the word – and why wouldn’t this be literal? – “high.” Is it pleasant to the ear? It sounds, to me, like a rabid bat has just flown up and under my sweatshirt, and we are both shrieking dementedly in terror.”

“…Something was wrong. From the outset, Carey was catastrophically behind the beat. Two men appeared at her elbows, presumably to help her traverse a short staircase. (This is something she likes: being accompanied down short staircases.) “Just walk me down,” she said, smiling wanly. “Well, happy new year!” Some fussing. “We can’t hear.” Carey flipped her long, shiny hair, fiddled with a gold necklace, put a hand on her hip. “All right, we didn’t have a check for this song, so we’ll just say it went to No. 1,” she announced, striding across the stage in heels. “And that’s what it is.” This routine went on for an uncomfortable amount of time: a bit of singing, a pronouncement, some striding. When it came time for the G7 note, Carey was not holding the microphone anywhere near her mouth, but there it was, nonetheless: that wild, clarion G7, blaring from the speakers…”

You can watch some clips here, if you feel the need. This side of the Atlantic we had the charmless Mr Robbie Williams, whose facial grimaces were enough to sum up 2016. His choice of the first song to sing when the strokes of midnight were just passed was the head-scratching one of “New York, New York”. Having watched the City of London attempt to out-firework all the other cities of the world, the least we could have expected was Lord Kitchener’s “London is the Place for Me”.

FIVE THIS IS JUST SO COOL…
Shelly Manne, the Jackson Five, The Grammy Awards 1974. Found at Marc Myers exhaustively fascinating JazzWax blog, where it drew this note from Flip Manne, Shelly Manne’s wife. “Happy New Year! Regarding that clip of Shelly with the Jackson 5 that you posted, I was backstage with him that night at the 1974 Grammy Awards. He was on a turntable stage that was supposed to turn around as soon as they came down the ramp but it temporarily malfunctioned. As a result, he was late turning and had to come out playing with no idea where they were in the music. Shelly had amazing timing and it always saved him.” This is the only time we’ll ever hear The Jacksons cover The Staples, War and the Detroit Spinners, and how modest is Gladys Knight’s acceptance speech? Of course, Manne was the percussionist thanked for his “drumstikly pasteurized conktribution” on Tom Waits’ Small Change.

SIX YOU KNOW, I’M JUST NOT CONVINCED…
Personally, it’s usually a good friend that makes a great wine come alive, but Fiona Beckett, argued in a Guardian wine review that, “if wine is to come alive for people, it needs more of this sort of synaesthetic approach. Music, for instance, can actually change your perception of food and drink, according to research carried out by Professor Charles Spence at Somerville College, Oxford. And, as it happens, Oddbins has been pursuing this line of thought for a while now, pairing its wines with different soundtracks. The exotically smoky Cantine San Marzano from Salento is somewhat whimsically recommended with Paul Simon’s “Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes”, while Samuel Delafont’s Libre Cours Rouge 2015, an exuberant blend of pinot noir and grenache, is partnered with Paul Anka’s “A Steel Guitar And A Glass Of Wine” (though, personally, I’d go for Lou Reed’s “Dirty Blvd”). [Ed’s note: try and find two more diametrically opposed songs! Guess which the line, “Give me your hungry, your tired, your poor – I’ll piss on ’em/that’s what the Statue of Bigotry says…” comes from].

Anyhow, back to Fiona: “Great Western Wine in Bath has teamed up with a company called Stylus Vinyl to pair a classic album with one of its wines. This month, they’ve matched David Bowie’s Hunky Dory with El Brindis Monsant 2014, Franck Massard’s ballsy blend of samso and garnacha. You may disagree about the appropriateness of the soundtrack, but it’s a welcome departure from seeing wine purely as a commodity, and instead start to view it as part of a broader, cultural experience.

My pairing? A cheeky Ribera Del Duero with Red Ingle and The (Un) Natural Seven, featuring the wonderful Jo Stafford – billed here as Cinderella G. Stump – taking Perry Como’s Temptation to the cleaners. My dad loved Spike Jones (along with Jonathan Winters, Bob Newhart and Stan Freeberg), so I’d always been exposed to this musical insanity. It’s not something that you need to hear often, but may be appropriate in this Inauguration Week. Hear it in the music player on the right if you dare.

SEVEN AFTER ALL THIS IDLE SCHEMING, CAN’T WE HAVE SOMETHING TO FEEL…
On the occasion of the passing of Nat Hentoff, legendary jazz writer and all round extra-ordinary fellow, Marc Myers ran an interview that he
’d done in 2009
Marc: Is there a link between jazz and justice?
Nat Hentoff: Oh sure. When Max Roach was teaching at the University of Massachusetts, I was auditing a class there. Afterward we were talking. He said, “You know, what [jazz musicians] do, each of us as individuals, is listen to one another very carefully to make this thing work. And out of that process comes a whole that has its own identity. That’s exactly what the U.S. Constitution is all about.” How right he was. Thinkers coming together to create something that has enormous purpose.

If you’re receiving the e-mailout, please click on the Date Headline of the page for the full 5 Things experience. It will bring you to the site (which allows you to see the Music Player) and all the links will open in another tab or window in your browser.

 

 

Wednesday, December 14th

ONE JAZZIE B: FROM DOLE TO SOUL, BBC 4
This documentary started lazily, but gradually sharpened up to be a fascinating portrait of black experience in 80s London. “The media painted us all with the same brush, but we were all different strands of that brush… not everybody in south London and Brixton enjoyed West Indian food – no we didn’t. We were sick of chicken and rice and dumpling and all that stuff, ’cos that’s what we were raised on. We aspired to the Wimpy Bar – we wanted to eat chips. I was born and raised in England. I wanted to be like my mate at school. I wanted to go fishing down on the River Lea. I wanted to play Subbuteo, I wanted to roller skate. I wanted to have those kind of experiences. I played Ice Hockey, for Christ’s sake!”

TWO RICHARD HARRIS IN A COMMENT ON thebluemoment
On a post about the Stones’ new album: “May 12, 1963 (Sunday) they played an afternoon “R&B” session at The 51 Club (Ken Colyer’s place). We were in London, up from Wales for the opening concert that night of Ray Charles’ hugely anticipated first British visitation, so wandering through Soho just to kill time, we drifted in. Yes, they cranked through the Chess Best Of anthology rather well, loud and tight, and with embryo attitude! I do remember they also did “I’m Moving On” with a two chorus break, the second with the bass lifting up an octave. We stole that! The Stones at a pivotal, enthusiastic point and Ray & that Band on one London Sunday… to be alive etc…”

THREE LORRA LORRA ROBBIE ROBERTSON THIS WEEK…
from an animated (!) interview by Andy Kershaw on Radio 4, to a very interesting Michael Simmonds piece in Mojo. The Kershaw interview felt to me to be treading old ground (the Starlight Lounge story is told in the Last Waltz and in every book about the Band ever written), but reading the interview in Mojo reminds me that there’s more than one side to any story. I was idly looking at robbierobertson.com when I came upon this gallery of his guitars. I singled out one Telecaster, partly because of its extraordinary appearance, partly because of its extraordinary history.

robertsonguitars

Then I went off on a detour around Chuck Berry. First, a wonderful piece by Peter Guralnick, where he discusses a series of meetings with Chuck Berry, where the subject of poetry’s influence on the words of Berry’s songs comes up.

It’s here, too, in this interview shot for “Hail! Hail! Rock ’n’ Roll”, with Robertson and Berry looking through Chuck’s scrapbook. It’s fascinating how subtle and tender Berry’s thoughts are.

FOUR A LOVELY IDEA…
Tyler Coates in US Esquire on the news that no, Bob won’t go to the Nobel Ceremony, but yes, he has written a speech for it: “Usually when one RSVPs “no” to an invitation, it isn’t necessary to submit a long explanation or – perhaps even more ballsy – a script to be read to the people who did show up to the party. Then again, we’re talking about a guy who ghosted on the people who simply wish to bestow upon him one of the world’s most coveted awards. Would it be too much to ask for a member of the Swedish Academy to stand up in front of the crowd, silently hold up Dylan’s speech on cue cards and drop them to the floor?”

The reality was a moving rendition of “Hard Rain” by Patti Smith, beautifully chronicled here by Amanda Petrusich on newyorker.com (she’s the author of Do Not Sell at Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World’s Rarest 78rpm Records, a fantastic book.)

FIVE REST IN PEACE, HERB HARDESTY
Not only a kick-ass saxophonist on those great Fats Domino records out of New Orleans, but for those of us who saw Tom Waits touring in ’79, a fabulous trumpet player, too. Follow this link to hear him on the glorious medley of “Summertime/Burma Shave” essayed on that tour. Apparently, his trumpet was custom-made by Henri Selmer Paris, one of two made in France by a master craftsman; the other was owned by Louis Armstrong.

AND FINALLY… PHOTO OF THE WEEK
Halfway up the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, we come across this…

gaga

If you’re receiving the e-mailout, please click on the Date Headline of the page for the full 5 Things experience. It will bring you to the site (which allows you to see the Music Player) and all the links will open in another tab or window in your browser.

Thursday, October 20th

Mark, you don’t need to tell me this is too much Dylan…!

ONE RING NO BELLS
In one of the best among the plethora of the Why Bob Dylan is a worthy Nobel Prize winner pieces – as my friend Graham emailed, “an anagram of Blonde on Blonde is BD done Nobel (although there’s an o, n and l leftover)” – Richard Williams mentioned a song that may be obscure, but is a great piece of work – “’Cross the Green Mountain”, written for the movie Gods and Generals. Dylan’s fascination with the Civil War as a country-defining event was chronicled in Chronicles, of course, and thus is a natural fit. It’s memorable not only for its fine lyric but for the extraordinary sombre slow march created by the musicians – that chugging electric rhythm, the ghostly organ, the keening violin and the tension-and-release press rolls on the drums.

 It’s a-one off, really, in the Dylan canon, and comes from a fertile period of writing songs for films – from “Things Have Changed” for Wonder Boys, through “Waiting For You” in The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood to the wonderful “Tell Ol’ Bill”* from North Country and “Huck’s Tune” from Lucky You. Most of these were finally collected together in Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8.

That said, the song’s video (it loses about four verses) is one of the stranger ones I’ve ever seen, for Bob’s hair and hat alone.

 This is from a terrific piece by Tom Junod in US Esquire from 2014 [that can be found here]: “When Ron Maxwell, the director of Gods and Generals, got it into his head to ask Dylan for an original song, his music coordinator laughed at him. But when he asked, he got a reply from Dylan’s management right away, and both Maxwell and his wife wound up listening to “Cross the Green Mountain” with Dylan and his band at a studio in the Valley. “He was there in his New Balance shoes,” Maxwell says. “He was a bit shy, I want to say. We said hi and shook hands. When they played the song back, he was looking away. I heard the whole thing, taking notes. At first I was thinking, That’s a lot of verses. Then it was finished, and I stood up and he looked at me. I said, I really like it. He said, You do? You like it? I said, I more than like it – are you kidding? And he relaxed and all the band members relaxed. The tension left the room. They let me know they were all fans of [Maxwell’s first Civil War movie] Gettysburg and watched it over and over again on the bus.”

*Google the outtakes for this song – they must have tried it ten different ways, at every tempo known to man…

TWO LANGUAGE CORNER
We can thank The Donald for at least restoring some great and underused words to the English language, such as Prig & Blowhard. This piece on the decrepit state of Trump Tower’s public spaces, and what it says about the man, is brilliant.

THREE UGLIEST ALBUM COVER OF 2016?
Kings of Leon, take a bow. And don’t do any more chat shows, if last week’s appearance on Graham Norton’s show is anything to go by. Coming off like sulky teenagers is so, well, 1980s…

kolFOUR PETULA CLARK, “LETTER TO MY YOUNGER SELF” THE BIG ISSUE
My biggest piece of advice to the younger me is something I don’t think she could do. It would be to find your own voice. Something only you have. It’s not easy. Some people find it right away. It seems to me that Amy Winehouse found hers right away. But it took me a long time. I had to go through a lot of experiences. I don’t think I found it until I was into my 30s and working in America. I was learning along the way but my real voice didn’t come out until then. I think there’s something in my voice that I can’t describe – I’m not even sure what it is. Lots of singers sing better than me but what makes you an individual, makes you stand out, is almost impossible to define.

FIVE THANK YOU, JOHN
For sending me two Dylan related things. One: a fine drawing (I don’t know who for, with John it could be from the scrapbook, or for the hallowed pages of the New Yorker). John’s latest NY cover of Trump was unceremoniously bumped (just like Trump will be on Nov 8, I hope) on the day before hitting the newsstand, by, of course, the Bob Nobel News…

johnTwo: this great excerpt from Carol Bayer Sager’s new autobiography, titled Writing Lyrics With Bob Dylan Is Weird, something that I think we all suspected, but without the great detail that CBS goes into. In Bob’s chilly barn, she looks in her bag for a pen:
I had my usual yellow-lined legal pad and he gave me a pen when I couldn’t find mine in my overstuffed bag which included a wallet, a card case, a makeup bag in case I was sleeping over, Kleenex, Chapstick, a small collection of star crystals in a small silk pouch which I carried because I was afraid to stop carrying them in case they were protecting me, a croc case for my Lactaid and my Stevia, cards with people’s names on them I no longer knew, a mirror given me by Elizabeth with undistorted magnification, my eyeglasses, a rubber tip that a dental hygienist had dropped in one day, and scores of useless other things that just kind of piled up in there.
“Thank you,” I said, taking my head out of my bag long enough to take his ballpoint pen, which I wished had a thicker tip.
I refocused. “So, do you have any ideas of what you feel like writing?”
“Well, I’ve got a little bit of an idea.”
He mumbled his words very softly. I thought he said “I godda libble bid a deer.”

If you’re receiving the e-mailout, please click on the Date Headline of the page for the full 5 Things experience. It will bring you to the site (which allows you to see the Music Player) and all the links will open in another tab or window in your browser.

 

Friday, October 14th

clintonsA late posting for most of this, covering more than just the last week, in the usual slightly disorganised way. In breaking news, I’m obviously glad that Bob got his due, finally. Twitter, predictably, provided amusement (left). And great to see that Bob was in fine voice at the Desert Trip last weekend in California. A fantastic and ominous Masters of War (here) was even relevant to the current election:
“Let me ask you one question,
Is your money that good?
Will it buy you forgiveness,
Do you think that it could?
Well I think you will find
When your death takes its toll,
All the money you made
Won’t buy back your soul…”

ONE NOTES FROM THE MERCURY AWARDS: A DREAM
As I sat idly wondering if one could write a song with lyrics entirely provided by episode titles from The Real Housewives of Orange County (“Ooh baby baby/You’re swimming with the sharks/Beneath judgy eyes/and Tahitian Skies…”) I remembered that I’d watched the Mercury Awards the other day while, as Tom Waits would say, several sheets to the wind. I had jotted down notes on a page of that day’s Guardian, but when I came to look at them I couldn’t understand how any of it fitted together, so here they are, as a piece of abstract poetry, perhaps.

A weird walk-through alphabetised history of Mercury’s/J for J/Klaxons instead of Amy W/Skepta genuinely modest/almost only genuine moment in a night of untrammelled narcissism…

Unappealing 1975/ripping off Bowie’s “Fame”/a strange and ferociously efficient sound/“Blurred Lines” was sued…

Radiohead out-of-place before a musical chicken-in-a-basket crowd/not really listening…

Benjamin Clementine/what happens when a good backstory and striking looks come together/song is a farrago of music theatre clichés run through a Nina Simone simulator…

Michael Kiwanuka/the Terry Callier du nos jours/left his song at home/so little movement in this dullness/“Fantastic Stuff” appaz, according to/Lauren Laverne – smug host…

TWO IT’S LATER THAN YOU THINK
A confusing episode of Later, which is almost too exhausting to parse, containing as it did men walking around the stage in the name of grime, t-shirts alternately commemorating Buddy Rich and rallying the “Give 17-year-olds the Vote” segment of the audience, and even acapella songstresses. What did we learn? That Lisa Hannigan has an extraordinary voice, especially at the closing of her song; that Barry Gibb has sort-of-lost his extraordinary voice and his new band compensates with three extra guitarists (one his son), that Slaves are throwback rubbish, and that Jools slightly overplays when sitting-in with Norah Jones (who had a really tight band, great drummer, interesting guitarist). Oh, and that Declan McCann (t-shirt owner, below) is precociously interesting, but only if you happen to be under 25.

declan

THREE NEIL YOUNG COVERS
On the extended version of that episode of Later, Norah Jones lit into a tune that made me look up – Neil Young’s “Don’t Be Denied”. It’s a song that almost defies a cover– it exists in a ragged (wonderfully so) version cut live on the ill-starred Time Fades Away tour, and is a piece of caustic autobiography set to music, mostly about Buffalo Springfield. She has form where Young’s songs are concerned, playing this song live at NealFest in 2015 and playing “Down by the River” at The Bridge Concerts with Young himself. I assume it speaks in some way to her about her experience of the music biz – she did it well, giving it the right shade of downbeat anger. It sent me back to another odd Young song cover – a track on David Bowie’s Heathen, a CD that I’d bought as my wife loves the wonderful “Everyone Says Hi”. It’s “I’ve Been Waiting for You”, from Young’s first solo album, a strange and brilliant piece of work. Bowie covers it with keening and brassy synths and truckloads of echo, but keeps the original arrangement pretty intact. As does Chip Taylor on a third NY cover version that I found buried deep in an iTunes folder – “Words (Between the Lines of Age)” from MOJO Presents: Harvest Revisited, which suits his parched voice to a T.

FOUR JOHN PLATANIA PLAYS “ANGEL OF THE MORNING” WITH CHIP TAYLOR

platania
I’ve been listening obsessively to John Platania’s guitar solo on “Sweet Thing” since it was released on Van Morrison’s It’s Too Late to Stop Now Vol 2, 3 and 4. Hard to believe it didn’t end up on the 1974 record as it matches any performance on the original two-disc set. And here he was, accompanying Chip Taylor in a tiny room downstairs at Clerkenwell pub, The Slaughtered Lamb. Taylor, last of the Yonkers Cowboys, weaves stories of growing up with his brothers (one, Barry, a Volcanologist, the other, Jon Voigt, actor) in New York in the early fifties as Platania drapes beautiful filigreed guitar lines around the shoulders of Taylor’s deceptively simple four or five-chord country songs. This is not Nashville country, but a kind of cowboy country, a mesas and plains music, big on telling tales and dispensing sage advice. Each and every song was electrified by Platania’s sure touch – one moment Tennessee rockabilly, the next an orchestral pealing of notes tumbling down – and if the heart came from Taylor’s whispered and wry voice, the soul came from John’s Stratocaster.

FIVE “I’M TRAVELLING LIGHT, IT’S AU REVOIR…”
A few favourite paragraphs from David Remnick’s great New Yorker piece on Leonard Cohen:
And then, like my mother, [Cohen] offered what could only have been the complete catalogue of his larder: water, juice, wine, a piece of chicken, a slice of cake, “maybe something else.” In the hours we spent together, he offered many refreshments, and, always, kindly. “Would you like some slices of cheese and olives?” is not an offer you are likely to get from Axl Rose. “Some vodka? A glass of milk? Schnapps?” And, as with my mother, it is best, sometimes, to say yes. One day, we had cheeseburgers-with-everything ordered from a Fatburger down the street and, on another, thick slices of gefilte fish with horseradish.

Leonard studied; he worked at the clothing factory, where he picked up a useful skill for his career as a touring musician: he learned to fold suits so they didn’t wrinkle. But, as he wrote in a journal, he always imagined himself as a writer, “raincoated, battered hat pulled low above intense eyes, a history of injustice in his heart, a face too noble for revenge, walking the night along some wet boulevard, followed by the sympathy of countless audiences… loved by two or three beautiful women who could never have him.”

And this lovely quote from Dylan, when Remnick asks him his thoughts on Cohen… “When people talk about Leonard, they fail to mention his melodies, which to me, along with his lyrics, are his greatest genius,” Dylan said. “Even the counterpoint lines – they give a celestial character and melodic lift to every one of his songs. As far as I know, no one else comes close to this in modern music.” There’s also a delightful bit where Bob talks about the similar craft (and crafty-ness) shared by both Irving Berlin and Cohen.

AND FINALLY… PLAY VINYL WITH NEW £5 NOTE
From What HiFi “The plastic £5 note isn’t just waterproof, tear-proof and recyclable, it can also hold a tune… The new fiver is made from polymer (plastic) and is claimed to be stronger, cleaner and safer as a result. And it seems the new hardier design brings into play plenty of other uses – such as acting as a needle on a vinyl record. YouTube user Michael Ridge tested the fiver on an Abba record. It’s not quite as simple as it looks. Ridge also used a contact microphone and a small amplifier to muster up the sound. But, yes, the new £5 note does do the job of a particularly poor needle.”

If you’re receiving the e-mailout, please click on the Date Headline of the page for the full 5 Things experience. It will bring you to the site (which allows you to see the Music Player) and all the links will open in another tab or window in your browser.

Tuesday, 15th March, updated 30th March

I failed to post a Five Things before leaving on a trip to the States, so here it is, slightly amended, on our return. Extras to follow on Woodstock & Detroit, people…

MARINA HYDE ON FIRE!
“In the meantime, we must turn our attentions to Kanye, who places his personal debt at $53m, explaining to the world: “If I spent my money on my ideas, I could not afford to take care of my family. I am in a place that so many artists end up.” Like various notables before him, Kanye declares: “I wanted the world to know my struggle.” (Then how about writing a $10 book entitled My Struggle? There must be at least 5.3 million ironists who would buy a copy of the German edition.)

Admittedly, his wife did claim this week to be “transferring 53m into our joint account”, but the suspicion must be that Kanye wishes to place himself on a more independent footing than one underwritten by the Bank of Kim. Not that he is against bailouts. In fact, the sense that Kanye is simply too big to fail was my takeout from a series of tweets he posted shortly after the debt ones, imploring Silicon Valley bigwigs to invest in his “ideas”. These ideas remain tantalisingly unspecified, though the past few days of tweeting alone have yielded such standouts as: “I don’t personally like suit jackets any more”, “I believe that Kim is our modern day everything”, and the peerless “super-inspired by my visit to Ikea today”.

But back to his plea for financial intervention. Lost in Showbiz would argue that what is taking shape is nothing less than a new theory of celebronomics: a theory that argues that an entirely free Kanye West market is not the most beneficial model for society. Yes, you can hope that the billionaire private sector plays a part. But governments have a responsibility to intervene at various stages in the cycle in order to provide the shared goal: full Kanye. Thus, far from encouraging thrift in a downturn, the state should actively encourage spending on Kanye West products. I hereby christen this theory Kanyesian economics, in honour of its leading thinker, and implore governments across the world to subscribe to its principles without delay.” – from The Guardian.

CALUM STORRIE’S EXCELLENT METHODOLOGY!
From Calum’s likeahammerinthesink blog, this excellence issues forth, complete with a how-to:

calum

  1. Locate obscure lounge album on vinyl…preferably with ‘erotic’ overtones (and in this case with rain effects and bells).
  2. Digitize Track 3, Side 2 (Il se fait tard).
  3. Copy track and reverse copy.
  4. Add echo.
  5. Slow the whole thing down by 50%.
  6. Fade to silence.

And the result? Beautiful. You could do an entire film soundtrack using this method.

JACO’S JOURNEY!
The DVD arrives in the post, directed by the excellent team of Stephen Kijak & Mr Paul Marchand. There is so much here, from Pastorious’ love for the guitar playing of Willie ‘Little Beaver’ Hale to his encyclopedic knowledge of big band jazz, learned from his father (a pro jazz singer – “there was no bad music played in our house!”). Loved this bit of Super 8 of an early Pastorious band in Miami, with Jaco on drums…

pastorious As a teenager, the only clothes he owned were two pairs of cords and three t-shirts – a wardrobe that would fit into his Fender bass case. When he joined Wayne Cochran (I’ve said it before, but you just have to check out Wayne Cochran on YouTube), the tuxedo (that all band members had to wear) was too big for his wiry frame, so he’d wear his compete wardrobe under it. Jerry Jemmott interviews him in 1984 for a bass lesson DVD and lists his accomplishments, telling him that a generation of bass players have been inspired by him, and ends up asking him, “How do you feel about that?”. He looks up, slightly lost in a mist and says, “Just gimme a gig!”

Jemmott – bassist on King Curtis (and Aretha) Live at Fillmore West, among a fairly awesome ton of credits – is an eloquent presence throughout: over Jaco duetting with himself on Coltrane’s “Naima”, he says… “that voice, it’s the voice of music, the singer in the horn. It’s not the rhythm section – the rhythm section is there doing the work to support it, we’re  the setting for the ring, to let the diamond shine brilliantly… so our job is to support that stone – but he was able to become a stone, also”. And, at the end of a story about prising the frets off his Fender after his upright bass fell foul of Florida’s humidity, Jemmott says… “And the rest is history!” Pastorious nods, but his eyes drop, and his expression tells the story.
And if, a little like Janis Joplin, his legacy is not quite the sum of its parts, there are still moments of swooning marvellousness. If you’re interested in the art of musicmaking it’s a must-see, despite its sorrowful arc. And I’m no fan of bass solos, but I’ll make an exception for this take on Hendrix’s “Third Stone from the Sun” – along with sundry other Hendrix tunes. After a miasma of feedback he quotes “The Sound of Music” before putting the bass on the stage and spraying harmonics until he picks out a delicate melody and walks off, vulnerable in the midst of virtuosity. nb. Don’t miss some hilarious South Bank Show footage of Melvin Bragg introducing the programme’s documentary on Weather Report in the ’80s… Melvyn’s hair is, as always, a thing to behold.
 

INTERNET + DATA = GLORIOUS MADNESS!
I mean, really, this is some kind of voodoo. I know I have a penchant for this sort of stuff, but this is as good as the HipHop Billboard No 1s from a couple of weeks ago. Every Noise at Once – every genre, every tributary in that genre. Check out Geechy Wiley’s “Last Kind Word Blues”, one of the strangest, most naggingly mysterious blues ever written. You could, as Em would say, lose yourself in the music. Personally, I’m just off to negotiate my way around dark psytrance.*

musicmap

 

AND FINALLY…
… do yourself a favour and read this exceptional piece by David Remnick in The New Yorker, on the complex majesty that is Aretha. As the time draws nearer that we all may be able to see the Amazing Grace concerts – as filmed by Sidney Pollack – Remnick pays tribute to America’s greatest voice. As the Prez says, “American history wells up when Aretha sings. That’s why, when she sits down at a piano and sings “A Natural Woman,” she can move me to tears – the same way that Ray Charles’s version of “America the Beautiful” will always be in my view the most patriotic piece of music ever performed – because it captures the fullness of the American experience, the view from the bottom as well as the top, the good and the bad, and the possibility of synthesis, reconciliation, transcendence.”

* I did. But you’ll be pleased to know that I’m recovered now…

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.”

 

%d bloggers like this: