Friday, May 20th

lakestreetONE LAKE STREET DIVE: A DAUGHTER SPEAKS
In the half cinema-half club that is the Scala we see Lake Street Dive. Afterwards I asked J about it.

Dad What did you think?
Daughter They were constantly surprising – there were ballads, 60s style pop, country, jazz – it really felt like being at a roadside bar, and the only thing missing was the cigarette smoke! Vaping doesn’t feel the same! 

D I thought they really looked like they were having a good time.
D Yes! They had a great rapport with the audience, and with each other. You really felt they were four friends making great music together, who just happened to be giving a concert – to another bunch of friends! In sitcom terms, Bridget the bass player looked kooky and fun, Rachael the singer was the glamorous one, one boy a little serious and studious (the guitarist), the other a little showy (the Italian drummer). He did an excellent solo on a rented kit (coincidentally painted in the colours of the Italian flag!).

D Did you have a favourite song? Had you actually heard much before we went?
D I only knew a couple, but I think “Saving all my Sinning” was my favourite live – it had a great intro about growing older and saving up all your bad decisions for a party night. And I thought the cover they did of the Kinks “Lola” was a perfect fit for their sound. I really like their sound, it’s very rich, considering there are only three instruments. Oh, apart from when the guitarist plays trumpet, but that still makes three, as he puts down the guitar!

D I think the fullness is down to subtle percussion and really nicely worked-out guitar parts…
D Yes, but I think the bassist is the key to their sound. On one song it was just Bridget behind Rachael for the first half and there didn’t seem to be anything missing…

D I thought the first encore was terrific, all of them clustered round one mic doing “Nobody Knows What I’m Doin’ Here”. I tried to video it, but I held the phone the wrong way up…
D Typical! That was great, but the song that touched me the most was “So Long”, dedicated to Prince – the sound of longing really stayed with me…

TWO ON TOM HANKS’ FASCINATING DESERT ISLAND DISCS THERE WAS…
Hands up who’s never heard Dusty Springfield’s “Doodlin’”. I can’t be the only one, surely. How did I miss it? Whoa, my knowledge has such enormous holes in it. Whatever, what a track, with its lovely slinky drumming and psychedelic strings. Oh, yes, and a spectacular lyric! Starting with “Usin’ the phone booth/makin’ a few calls/Doodlin’ weird things/usin’ the booth walls – yeah!” It continues in a restaurant: “Later the waiter/had me arrested/took me to Bellvue/where I was tested…” and at the hospital with the doctor… “Showed him hidden thoughts that linger/find an outlet through your finger”. I head over to Wikipedia to find that “Doodlin’” is a composition by Horace Silver, with lyrics added by Jon Hendricks (of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross). It has become a jazz standard. Reviewer Bill Kirchner suggests, “Take a simple riff, rhythmically displace it several times over D-flat blues harmonies, resolve it with a staccato, quasi-humorous phrase, and you have “Doodlin’”. Thanks, Bill. Time to listen to it once more, while chuckling at Hanks’ calling David Byrne “Weird Dave” as he chooses Talking Heads “Once in a Lifetime”.

THREE ROBBIE FULKS HAS A NEW RECORD OUT
I hope it matches his description of his new, redesigned, website: “The new look – from the Russian Tea Room to the Trump Tower! What a snazzy makeover we’ve gotten here at the worldwide. The friendly navigational tools are sure to make blog-reading and record-shopping like falling off a log. The magnificent (except for the subject) photos taken by Andy Goodwin provide an environmental hue so warm and deep and cosy, you’ll be tempted to bring your business partners here to butter them up and shoot them. Many thanks to Mike Sosin of the fledgling Bloodshot record label of Chicago, Ill. for bringing this website to life and ignoring all helpful input. Be sure to let us know what you think! We can’t wait to ignore you.”

FOUR SUTTON HOUSE
As the oldest Tudor House in London, Sutton House is fascinating, but when you get to the room upstairs, time periods co-exist. Over time the house had fallen into disuse, and it was squatted in the 1980s by a local group who wanted to turn it into a community centre and neighbourhood hub, but they were moved on after several months. Their aim survived, though – the National Trust took it over and it’s now used for local events as well as being a window into the past. What’s nice is that the squatters are paid tribute to by an approximation of how the room looked when they were there.

sutton

And the caption tells us that “this eye was painted by an anonymous squatter in 1985. It is said to be the emblem of the rock group PSI”. That may be Psi Com, Perry Farrell’s first group but I can’t find that image anywhere. I can tell you that the record on the deck is by the Thompson Twins.

FIVE MICK VS MILES
My friend Mick Gold had kindly invited me to a screening of “Miles Ahead” and I having said yes excitedly, sadly had to cancel. The next day, Mick sends his thoughts. “Aaargh! You didn’t miss much. For a start, the script is awful, Ewan MacGregor is totally unbelievable as a Rolling Stone journalist with a Scottish accent who knows nothing about music, there is an evil record producer who is a cardboard villain, and the whole thing is orchestrated by blaxploitation guns & car chase clichés that don’t even work.
“But I think it’s weirder than that. I don’t think it’s cynical. I think it’s a labour of love gone wrong. Maybe it reveals that Don Cheadle is a fine actor but has no taste and no writing ability. I understand he spent nine years getting the movie made – he wrote it, produced it, starred in it, directed it, crowdfunded it, and poured his own money into it. This was not some cynical quickie movie.
“The sad thing is I think Cheadle is striking as Miles: he looks good, he does the voice well. Only problem is its farrago of bad Superfly and tortured genius cliches. Not everyone was as miserable as me. There was laughter and applause at BAFTA, and I sat next to two editor friends who said to me afterwards, That was great. When I said, That was awful, their faces fell.” 

In other news, it’s BobWeek on rocksbackpages, and full of wonderful writing on the Iron Range’s favourite son, so head on over and get a subscription now… [end of marketing plug].

Five Things: Wednesday 5th March

What’s Not to Love? Or Kill?
Looking for I don’t know, some picture of something, I noticed a few really interesting images come up in my google search, and that they belonged to a blog, Murder Ballad Monday. I’ve only just begun to delve into it, but if the post devoted to Norah Jones’ “Miriam” is anything to go by, it’s riveting. Highly recommended. A few weeks ago I caught NJ doing the revenge songs from the album this song was on, produced by Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton, on Sky Arts’ Live From The Artists Den. Standing at the keys she had an intensity at odds with her rep and a terrific band to boot.

The Grit Stays in the Picture
Why do so few documentary makers retouch or clean up or adjust the exposure of the photographs they use? Studio City, a really likeable doc about the Van Nuys, Los Angeles studio where Buckingham Nicks met Fleetwood Mac and Nirvana recorded Nevermind  is particularly bad on the loRes/Overexposed/Scratch scale. I understand if you can’t source the originals easily, but the amount of “shit on the blanket” (as the printers used to say) was catastrophic. I could barely concentrate on the talking heads for exclaiming each time another 80s promo pic or candid studio Polaroid covered in gunk was lovingly panned over.

Accent – Up There With Meryl Streep!
Andre Benjamin catches Jimi’s voice amazingly well in All Is By My Side. And I’m not ashamed to say I’m really looking forward to this.

One paragraph from a lovely post on Robbie Fulks’ website about flying/snow/grandfathers/children/rock clubs and Fats Waller
“I must admit that I have had it with rock clubs. Airports have their hassles and troublesome personnel. But after navigating through them, something definite happens: you get from one place to another. After navigating the shoals of silliness at a rock club, you’re right where you started: obscure, penniless, and a little sad. It seems to me that the daily operational grind of these places – wiping down last night’s spilled drinks and body fluids with strong bleach, stocking the bar, transporting in the sound man and one dozen other miserably paid mortals, hauling in the drums and other big pieces, setting up hospitality, sound-checking, and so on up to load-out – is not commensurate to the social value of the service, which is to let young people exhibit their talents (usually imaginary) to an audience (also known as a handful of acquaintances cajoled and shamed into coming) in a professional production environment (!), so that the act can ultimately gain enough of a toehold, through multiple appearances in these disreputable sick wards, to climb to a height in the music firmament from which it can create artistic works in financial security and perform for acres of ecstatic consumers, forevermore, amen (and for this pipe-dream, there is no number of parenthesized exclamation points equal to the author’s derision).”

And on the anniversary of Richard Manuel’s death (March 4, 1986)…

Band

…a contact sheet from The Band at the Royal Albert Hall, June 1971 shot by my English teacher, John Cooke

Five Things Extra: A Few Of My Favourite Things

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

Across

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 7th November

Best Music-Related Tok Pisin Phrase
“The Prince of Wales spoke in the local language called Tok Pisin as he introduced himself as the nambawan pikinini bilong Misis Kwin—the number one child belonging to Mrs Queen. It is a creole language widely spoken in Papua New Guinea. Tok is derived from the English word talk and Pisin from pidgin. Much of its vocabulary has a charm of its own. For instance, liklik box you pull him he cry you push him he cry is an accordion…”

The Video That Killed A Career
Alexis Petridis wrote an interesting piece about the new book, I Want My MTV, a few weeks back, and mentioned eighties arena rock star Billy Squier and the video for the track Rock Me Tonite, directed by Kenny Ortega. I finally got around to watching it, and it is quite the most deranged and strange video ever made (it often makes lists of the worst videos of all time), after which Billy’s career tanked. As I watched it I felt sad for Billy, and perused the usual sidebar links to other Billy Squier videos. I alighted on one where he’s sitting on a high stool in a lecture theatre, alone except for a blonde Telecaster, capo’d at A. I clicked the link. He’s playing a smallish fundraiser, fairly recently. He has a suit jacket on, and looks like a better preserved, more dignified Joe Perry. The guitar is powerfully amped, and he starts a strutting riff as he plays In The Dark. It’s terrific. A fairly generic eighties rock number, he gives it 110%, wailing and bending strings like a man possessed, and for as long as it plays you want to be driving down a road, really fast, at night.

Nail. Head. Ladies & Gentlemen, Robbie Fulks
On sifting and sorting and downsizing his CD collection: “Scrapping fat glossy packages by the likes of Timbaland, Nelly, Luke Bryan, and T.G. Sheppard (to be clear, and not to inflame everyone, I like a few songs by all these guys okay, but can’t justify the permanent storage of dozens of them) reminds me of the passing nature of fashionable taste, and the extravagance of the moneyed sector of the music industry in satisfying it. The photography on the Timbaland record that has somehow come into my possession looks like it cost a hundred thousand dollars. The booklet is so thick you can hardly coax it from the jewel case. If some dude turns a goofball idea into a popular hit and everyone dances around and enjoys the summer more, it doesn’t seem very objectionable. But when you give a moment’s thought to the year-of-vaccines-for-Bangladeshis’ worth of art design, the carbon footprint of multiple buses crisscrossing the country for years on end, and the transfer of millions upon millions of dollars from work-weary parents to summer-enjoying kids… you almost have to weep.”

Albert Hall Ceiling

No Day In The Life references here, no siree…

What Has Happened Down Here Is The Wind Have Changed
Listening to jazz clarinetist Sammy Rimington sing River Stay Away From My Door on Saturday night, I’m put in mind of the effects of Hurricane Sandy on friends on the East Coast. Rick in NYC: “It’s weird and slightly creepy walking back into the deep dark of lower Manhattan below 30th Street at night. I expect highwaymen with every breeze.” And John in Woodstock: “A bunch of big old trees came down, leaving us cold and dark and off the grid until early this morning. The soundtrack is chainsaws, nothing but chainsaws.” As the song’s lovely Carmichaelish melody unfolds, Sammy sings plaintively over the top: “Don’t come up any higher/Cause I’m all so alone/Just stay away from my bed and my fire/Cause that’s all I own…”

The Sammy Rimington International Band, Headcorn Village Hall

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