Wednesday, January 30, 2008

All Over But The Shouting

"But the fact is, I think, is we were a great little garage band - and that´s what I want to be remembered for." So says Paul Westerberg, and he´s right of course. Although the late Bob Stinson maybe on the mark as well by debunking the whole thing in his typical fashion as "Replacements, shmeplacements". 

I just finished All Over But The Shouting, an oral history by Jim Walsh (Voyageur Press). A fun book I found impossible to put down, filled to the brim with remembrances and anecdotes on what was undisputedly one of the greatest bands of the eighties. It´s not definitive or perfect, but then again, the Mats themselves never were either, right? As it´s not a straight biography but more or less a rather fragmented collection of quotes it´s sometimes hard to know just where you are in the band´s history. Also, as the tons of people who contributed are all insiders you need to have at least a basic knowledge of Replacements lore to really enjoy it. 

If you´re a fan though, you´ll love this. Probably the funniest quote in the book is by the daughter of guitarist Slim Dunlap. She remembers: "The ironic thing is, when Bob Stinson left the band I was crushed because they were my favorite band, and in my mind they were disbanding. And then my dad joined them." Cool or what? So grab yourself a beer or two, crank up the stereo and start reading. And here are some personal faves by way of a soundtrack: Johnny´s Gonna Die is from Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash, Answering Machine from Let It Be, Here Comes A Regular from Tim, and If Only You Were Lonely is a b-side. "Somewhere there´s a drink with my name on it..." The Replacements: when they were good, they were very very good. And I´ll drink to that.

Replacements - Johnny´s Gonna Die MP3
Replacements - Answering Machine MP3
Replacements - Here Comes A Regular MP3
Replacements - If Only You Were Lonely MP3

Monday, January 28, 2008

Lanegan revisited

As promised, here´s some more Mark Lanegan stuff. I´ve always been a fan of his first band the Screaming Trees, and albums like Buzz Factory, Uncle Anesthesia and Sweet Oblivion (with the powerful Nearly Lost You) still get played regularly around here. Lanegan´s solo work proved quite different from the psychedelic grunge the Trees dished out, and showcased his extraordinary dark voice on moody albums like the beautifully arranged Whiskey For The Holy Ghost (including the exquisite Borracho) and the tasteful covers collection I´ll Take Care Of You.

Last year saw a fascinating collaboration with the Soulsavers. Lanegan provided the vocals for the British electronica duo´s It´s Not How Far You Fall, It´s The Way You Land. The gospelish opener Revival is a killer, but the rest of the songs are not too far behind. Lanegan´s next project will be a long awaited teaming up with Afghan Whigs vocalist Greg Dulli as the Gutter Twins. Although I´m usually not too fond of the whole supergroup trip, this one sure looks like a potential dream combination. Two great white soulsingers (which they are of course, their grungy background notwithstanding) for the price of one, right? Idle Hands hasn´t really convinced me yet, but let´s put our judgements on hold until Sub Pop releases the full album Saturnalia next month.

Screaming Trees - Nearly Lost You MP3
Mark Lanegan - Borracho MP3
Soulsavers - Revival MP3
The Gutter Twins - Idle Hands MP3

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Spiritual stuff

Embroidering on yesterday´s Jesus Dread thingy, here are three versions of a song called Spiritual. A dark, soulsearching, brooding plea to a saviour. Now I´m an atheist myself, but that doesn´t stop me from enjoying songs with a religious theme. Same as I can walk into a grand cathedral (or a beautiful Hindu temple) and admire the art and the atmosphere there, or read a chapter in the bible (or the Buddhist teachings) and enjoy its literary merits, music based on faith can warm the hart whether you believe or not.

Spiritual is a moodpiece of the highest order, written in 1995 by Josh Haden for Spain´s debut album The Blue Moods Of Spain. "Jesus oh Jesus I don´t want to die alone, Jesus if you hear my last breath, don´t leave me here, left to die a lonely death I know I have sinned but Lord I´m suffering..." A song more or less made for someone like Johnny Cash, who covered it on Unchained (´96). Cash can sing the Memphis phonebook and I´d buy it, but I guess his age and rep gives this interpretation just that little bit extra. Nice sparse arrangement too. The Soulsavers (featuring singer Mark Lanegan, formerly of the Screaming Trees) also did a worthy version of this song on last year´s surprising It´s Not How Far You Fall, It´s The Way You Land. You can´t get much more atmospheric I guess. More on the Soulsavers and Lanegan in the next post btw, folks. I really can´t decide which version of the three I like most, so please post a comment if you have a preference and why ok?

Spain - Spiritual MP3
Johnny Cash - Spiritual MP3
Soulsavers - Spiritual Mp3

Friday, January 25, 2008

Jesus Dread

I´ve never been a fan of Mick Hucknall (of Simply Red fame), but I sure do appreciate him financing one of the great reggae reissue labels, the mighty Blood & Fire. It´s been digging up and dishing out the most amazing stuff from the forgotten vaults of Jamaica for years now. One of the artists the label introduced me to is Vivian Jackson, better known as Yabby You. His first single Conquering Lion started with the words "be you, yabby yabby you", and that´s what customers asked for in the record shops of Kingston. And the moniker stuck. Apart from being a great singer and songwriter with an ear for infectious melodies, Yabby You also made his mark as a producer and discoverer of new talent. 

The exemplary 2 disc compilation Jesus Dread 1972 -1977 collects tons of roots reggae gems from his early days, including hard dubs from the great King Tubby and songs from protégés such as Wayne Wade, who was only 13 (!) when he recorded the wonderful Man Of The Living. And if you´re curious about the album´s title: a Jesus Dread is a guy with dreadlocks who, like Yabby You, rejects the rasta doctrine that Haile Selassie - Rasta Far I -  is the supreme being also known as God. 

Yabby You - Love Thy Neighbour MP3
Yabby You - Conquering Lion MP3
Wayne Wade - Man Of The Living MP3

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Ladybirds (22 of them)

Tonight I´d like to put the spotlight on 22-Pistepirkko, for no other reason that I think they´re a great band. Although they started back in 1980 and are still going strong as we speak, they´re relatively unknown. Maybe it´s because they´re from Finland? Now I don´t know an awful lot about that northern country, but rock ´n´roll isn´t the first thing that comes to mind. Snow, moose, reindeer, ski jumping and legendary footballer Jari Litmanen; that´s it for me I´m afraid.

But 22-Pistepirkko (yup, that´s Finnish for ladybirds) are up there with the best of them. True Scandinavian splendor. Rattly guitars, the odd slide, whimsical organs and whispered vocals. Although they are often experimental and tend to mix a lot of styles together (pop, folky stuff, electronica, blues, lofi), their songs nearly always have a catchy chorus you can sing along to. I have to admit I don´t own all off their records, but you can´t go wrong with Bare Bone Nest (´89), Big Lupu (´92) and Rumble City, La La Land (´94). You can order them through the band´s website. Suomi rules, got me?

22-Pistepirkko - Night Train Miss MP3
22-Pistepirkko - Bubblegum Couple MP3
22-Pistepirkko - Wild Billy MP3

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Avalon Blues

Some time ago a friend of mine (hey bud!) asked me if I had any albums by Mississippi John Hurt, so I promised to burn him a copy of Avalon Blues. I finally got it done tonight, and decided to share it with you too, dear reader. All because Avalon Blues (subtitled The Complete 1928 Okeh Recordings) is one of the finest country blues collections you´ll ever hear.

Hurt was a true original. He was self-taught and stylistically indebted to no one. The reason for that: no blues singer that could have influenced him ever played near Avalon, the hamlet in northwestern Mississippi where Hurt (born in 1892) lived most of his life. He got his break recording for the Okeh label in ´28 by word of mouth, and travelled to Memphis and New York City for two now legendary sessions. But soon after the Depression hit the States, Okeh went out of business and Hurt - apparently not embittered at all - went back to sharecropping and playing local jukejoints. "New York´s a good town, but it´s not for mine..."

He finally got his reward when he was rediscovered in the sixties folk revival and enjoyed quite a lot of success playing live and making albums until his death in ´66. Shame he didn´t live to see the royalty cheque he was entitled to when Dylan did a great cover of his Frankie (now titled Frankie & Albert) on Good As I Been To You in ´92.

Mississippi John Hurt - Frankie MP3
Mississippi John Hurt - Avalon Blues MP3
Bob Dylan - Frankie & Albert MP3

Monday, January 21, 2008

Balcony days

It´s one of these January weeks that makes one especially happy to be living in the Catalan capital of Barcelona.  Apart from great atmosphere, great food and great football, to name but a few, the mediterranean climate sure agrees with me. And as I used to live in much colder climes (Holland, England and to a lesser extent Ireland), I sure do appreciate a clear blue sky and a bit of warmth in winter... Rain and sleet, be gone.

It´s been 19 degrees centigrade and sunny for days now, which gives you the privilege to sit on the balcony in just a t-shirt for a couple of hours each afternoon. Spring really starts here in early March, but some plants are already budding out now, the odd bee is flying about and even the bats have woken up from their hibernation. And I´m enjoying every minute of it. No doubt we´ve got a few chilly days still ahead of us here - although it never snows and subzero temperatures are unheard of -  but I´m already dreaming of a long hot summer. "Time to discover what fun is about".

The Undertones - Here Comes The Summer MP3

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Gender benders

It´s hard to pick your favourite Big Star song, but I guess for me it´s Thirteen, the ideal mix between folkrock and powerpop. "Won´t you tell your dad get off my back, tell him what we said ´bout Paint It Black..." Alex Chilton and co recorded it for their debut album #1 Record way back in ´72, but it still sounds as fresh as today´s headlines. It´s obvious that the teenage subject is only thirteen years of age, but I´ve often wondered how old the Romeo singing it must be... A teenager, or just some dirty old man? I could never really figure it out, so you choose.

Magnapop, from Athens, Georgia, did a great cover of this gem on their selftitled ´91 debut. Notice how the guitars kick in big time after 20 seconds or so, which makes this loving version quite different from Big Star´s all acoustic approach. The female vocals by Linda Hopper give the lyrics an extra twist: now it´s a girl of undefined age longing for a 13 year old boy... Nice gender bender. "Would you be an outlaw for my love?"

And speaking of gender benders: you can´t go wrong with the Raincoats covering Lola by the Kinks. The original already raises some serious gender issues, but to add to the confusion the all-girl Raincoats don´t even think of changing Ray Davies´ original he-form. "She picked me up and set me on her knee, and said little boy won´t you come home with me." Priceless.

Big Star - Thirteen MP3
Magnapop - 13 MP3
The Raincoats - Lola MP3

Friday, January 18, 2008

Yo, how does it feel?

A whole book on one song sounds a bit rich, even if the song in question is Like A Rolling Stone. But in Like A Rolling Stone - Bob Dylan At The Crossroads, author Greil Marcus showed it could be done. Easily. Anyway, this post is not about that book, it´s about a cover version of Dylan´s masterpiece that Marcus mentions quite enthousiastically. About an outfit called the Mystery Tramps and their hiphop-stylee cover version of Like A Rolling Stone. And since I´m both a Bobcat and a sucker for curios, I just had to check it out .

The cd single was released in 1993 on ä records and is long out of print, but I managed to hunt it down and yo, it´s not bad at all. Funny enough it starts with a sample of the original intro (that masterly organ riff by Al Kooper). The - white - rapper is hamming it up just a bit too much for my liking, but the talking girl ("spare change, anybody?" and "hey! where´s my stuff") cracks me up every time. Plus it´s rather alienating to hear such a familiar song in such a completely different musical setting. "This is a story about a girl who goes from riches to rags, and it´s a drag, so check it ouuuut."

Mystery Tramps - Like A Rolling Stone MP3

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Got a broke down engine

Finally got my iMac back from the repair centre. And guess what: the hard disk was broken and they had to put in a new one. Set me back 200 Euros plus. No sorry no nothing from Mr. Computer Repair Man. "Yeah, that happens sometimes." Just my luck. Happened only two months after the one year warranty from Apple had expired, and I didn´t even get to use it for 4 months as I was living abroad at the time...

So now I´m busy rebuilding and mourning the loss of my address book, bookmarks and - even worse - loads and loads of MP3´s. You guys all make back ups right? Well, I didn´t. Anyway, glad to be back on track now. Bluesman Blind Willie McTell was already singing about these kinds of problems back in the thirties. "Feel like a broke down engine, momma ain´t got no driving wheel." Haven´t read it yet btw, but there´s a very promising book out on Blind Willie by Dylan scholar Michael Gray: Hand Me My Travelin´Shoes - In Search Of Blind Willie McTell.

Blind Willie McTell - Broke Down Engine MP3

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Treasure chest anyone?

It's not often that you discover a CD that resembles a treasure from some long forgotten cave. I stumbled upon one recently though, and it's called The Very Best Of Ethiopiques. A double album on the Mateca label, it contains many a gem from the heyday of Ethiopian music. Now I for one never knew that this poor African country even had a flourishing music scene in the sixties and seventies, let alone that it produced such exciting sounds.

In the years between the end days of emperor Haile Selassie's reign and the emergence of a brutal new regime in the mid seventies, some great stuff was being recorded in the Addis Ababa scene. The diversity of musical styles is striking: some tracks sound more or less as one would expect of 'world music', but you also get funky instrumentals with horns a la The Bar Kays or Junior Walker & The All Stars, soul singers just as inspired as James Brown or Wilson Pickett, and plenty of jazzy stuff to boot... The singing is all in the main Ethiopian language Amharic, so you won't understand a word of it, but that all adds to the mystique. Open Sesame...

Tlahoun Gèssèssè - Tchuhetén Betsèmu MP3
Mulatu Astatqé - Yèkatit MP3
Alèmayèhu Eshèté - Tchero Adari Nègn MP3

Monday, January 14, 2008

Mercer's back

Allright... back with a vengeance (albeit on somewhat ancient equipment for the time being) and with a sign of life from the one and only Glenn Mercer. Once he was the leader of the mighty Feelies, the archetypical eighties cultband from Haledon, New Jersey. They never made it big commercially, but they had a huge impact on lots of new bands back then. R.E.M. or Yo La Tengo anyone? I bet you they listened to Crazy Rhythms and The Good Earth a lot... Most of my friends still get that faraway look in their eyes when the Feelies are mentioned. Gone, but certainly not forgotten. 

After the demise of the Feelies Mercer played in a lot of different combos, most recently Wake Ooloo. A hiatus of four years followed, but now there's Wheels In Motion, his first ever solo effort (Pravda records). As he sings in In Real Time: "When it's time to tell the story, take your time and get it right". Well, I guess he did. A quality collection of well-crafted songs, Wheels In Motion has all the ingredients you would expect from a proper Feelies album.

Stop press: most Feelies albums are very hard to find on CD, but all four will luckily get a re-release later this year, so you can start saving up already. But be sure to pick up Wheels In Motion first ok?

Glenn Mercer - Two Rights MP3
Glenn Mercer - In Real Time MP3

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Patience is mine said the Lord...

I'm having some serious problems with my iMac at the moment, so please bear with me. Normal service will resume as soon as the >*$"~! thing is out of the techie lab. Soon, soon.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Keep hummin´

I had never heard of Johnnie & Jack until Bob Dylan suddenly opened quite a lot of his concerts with a song called Humming Bird back in 2001. I fell in love with it right away. This was when His Bobness employed what I think was his last truly great live band, featuring guitarists Charlie Sexton and Larry Campbell, who also provided some stunning vocal harmonies. Soon I found out that Humming Bird was originally recorded by a duo called Johnnie & Jack.

Johnnie Wright and Jack Anglin were stars on the Louisiana Hayride in the fifties and scored many a hit until Jack´s untimely death in 1963. He met his fate - can you believe it - in a car accident on the way to the funeral of Patsy Cline. Johnnie & Jack may sound like a true brother team, but they were just brothers in law. Wright is long married to country singer Kitty Wells by the way, and managed her career next to his own. As far as I know both are still alive and must be well in to their nineties now.

Humming Bird is an ode to a named train that ran from Cincinatti to New Orleans since 1946. "I love to hear your lonesome whistle whine..." Where this song is pure country in the tradition of the Louvin Brothers and Bill Monroe, Uncle John´s Bongos is more of a novelty song, poking fun at the then flourishing beat generation. It became famous in Dylan circles when the former spokesman for a generation based his own Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum (from "Love & Theft") on it.

Johnnie & Jack - Humming Bird MP3
Bob Dylan - Humming Bird (Live Paris 29-4-´02) MP3
Johnnie & Jack - Uncle John´s Bongos MP3
Bob Dylan - Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum (Live Paris 29-4-´02) MP3

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Way out there

I first came across Archie Shepp through Nick Cave. Way back in the eighties I was listening to a Dutch radio show in which Saint Nick was asked to present his favourite music. I vaguely recall him spinning some old blues stuff, some Elvis, Dylan and Cash; the usual suspects so to speak.

But then he played a song called Blasé by jazzman Archie Shepp and that bowled me right over. What a sound! Bluesy, way out there and not like anything I´d heard before. Worth the price of admission alone for that threatening piano intro. Shepp´s tenor playing is sparse but very effective and the inclusion of 2 blues harmonicas towards the end works surprisingly well.

There´s some seriously heavy shit going on in the lyrics: "Blasé ain´t you big daddy? You who shot your sperm into me, but never set me free". Right on. Jeanne Lee is the singer and yes that´s the mighty Philly Joe Jones on drums. The other 4 songs on the Blasé album (´69) aren´t half bad either by the way. "This ain´t a hate thing, it´s a love thing". Thanks for the tip Nick.

Archie Shepp - Blasé MP3

Friday, January 4, 2008

Cheers Stipey

It´s Michael Stipe´s birthday today. Well, happy birthday, Stipey. Can´t say I´ve listened to your music much over the last couple of years. R.E.M. never was my favourite band, but up until Document I faithfully bought your records and liked them quite a lot. I never did understand your mass appeal, but you´d probably say the same...

Your later albums frankly bored me a bit. But I give you this: even when you became a big millionselling rockstar you never made the headlines with cliches like lost weekends, dating airhead models, coke binges, reunions (admittedly easy as your band always stayed together), rehab stories etc. etc. And you actively campaigned against Bush. That´s cool enough for me.

So I´d like to celebrate your 48th birthday with a grand old song of yours, from Fables Of The Reconstruction. And with a beautiful song by fIREHOSE about you, which may very well be a deliberate pastiche of both the sound and the lyrics of Athens´ finest. Alright, you can cut the cake now.

R.E.M. - Green Grow The Rushes MP3
fIREHOSE - For The Singer Of R.E.M. MP3

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Lee, where are you?

Picture this: a seedy bar in Oslo Norway, some time in the late eighties. Three local youths spend most of their nights in this watering hole. Make that every night, except for the rare occasion they´ve got a gig with their band. In between beers, the guys are always bugging the bartender to play their favourite albums. The one they request most of all is Naked Child by Lee Clayton. Just their kind of music, raw country rock from Nashville. 

One night a stranger in a long black coat walks up to them. He´d like to know just why they always want to hear that particular album. "Who wants to know?" they ask, just a tad irritated at the intrusion. "Well, I´m Lee Clayton," the guy replies. The rest is history. They decide to team up together and soon they´re playing all over Europe. A live album, Another Night, is recorded at the end of the tour in Oslo. Where else? But that´s also more or less where the Lee Clayton story ends. Sadly we haven´t heard much from him since. It´s about time he walked into another bar somewhere.

Lee Clayton - I Ride Alone (live in Oslo) MP3

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Day of the Triffids

Over the past two years, Domino Records re-released three classic albums by one of my beloved bands of the eighties, the Triffids. Hailing from Perth, Australia, they moved to London in ´84 and gave themselves 3 months to make it.

Commercially they never really succeeded, but Born Sandy Devotional (´86), In The Pines (also ´86) and Calenture (´87) all prove that artistically they sure did. It´s hard to pick a favourite. Most of my friends go for Born Sandy, where the lush and lyrical major label debut Calenture has always been my personal pick. Lately I prefer In The Pines though, obviously the odd one out because it was recorded lo-fi in a sheep shed back in Oz. All three reissues are overflowing with bonus tracks, and - a rarity - that´s a case of all killer no filler too. Singer David McComb tragically died in a car crash in ´99: these reissues make one hell of an epitaph.

The Triffids - Stolen Property MP3
The Triffids - Jerdacuttup Man (demo) MP3
The Triffids - Bury Me Deep In Love (demo) MP3

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

A cool drink of water...

 what you need the morning after the night before, right? Especially on January 1st. So that´s exactly what you´re going to get. Tommy Johnson´s woman gave him gasoline though. Shit happens. A song covered by many (Howlin´ Wolf did a great version) but never surpassed, because the guitars here are as sharp as razorblades and Johnson´s voice is pure icewater. Probably my favourite delta blues song of all time, and that´s saying a lot. You can find it on the Document album pictured above.

Cool Drink Of Water Blues was revived in the eighties by The Gun Club on their fine Fire Of Love debut. A good choice by Gun Club head honcho Jeffrey Lee Pierce, as his voice is quite similar to Johnson´s. Sorry I can´t put up that version - got it on vinyl only. Jeffrey Lee´s home recording - from the posthumous Early Warning on Sympathy - is not too shabby either though.

Tommy Johnson - Cool Drink Of Water Blues MP3
The Gun Club - Cool Drink Of Water Blues MP3