Monday, December 18, 2006
Recently listening to: Nothing but the cricket.
Much later, Overton continued, he looked up to see Clark standing in front of him and wearing a most uncustomary cowboy hat.
"You looking for a country record deal?" he asked the looming Texan.
"Oh, hell no," Clark snorted. "It's just cancer."
One day - I swear by all the powers of the air and the sky - that a
young GIRL will be born to clean skinned anonymity in a peaceful rural
village where the long arm/clutches/tentacles of the evil
overlord/king/wizard/madman will reach only rarely but when they do will
result in the leaving of a beloved sibling/father/friend under
Bereft, the young leather clad girl will unwittingly find a
talisman/staff/egg/sword/book which will open to her new worlds of
seeing and thinking. Initially unwilling to use the mighty
powers/skills she discovers she has/was born to/just got lucky with, a
kindly/fierce mentor (with a dark, sad secret past) will appear and
guide her on the path to greatness/heroism/bardic tales of
bravery/really lame armour. Along the way she will also gather an
unlikely group of friends/allies/animatronic pals to aid her - although
hopefully none of them will sing.
There will be a mighty battle, and someone nasty will die - although it
will look bad for our heroes there for a while.
Rightness and goodness will finally triumph and the people will be free
to wear bad/over-the-top/glittery/aluminium costumes once again.
And because girls rule, the way will NOT be left open for a sequel in
such a blatant way that will cause normally 'good' children to swear
loudly and proclaim 'NO WAY - THAT ISN'T FAIR' and stomp off out of the
cinema in a huff.
CGI dragon looked cool tho'
Thursday, November 30, 2006
1.Open your music library.
2. Put it on shuffle.
3. Press play.
4. For every question, type the song that's playing.
5. When you go to a new question, press the 'next' button.
6. Don't lie.
Opening credits: Mary's Place -- Bruce Springsteen
Waking up: Born to Run -- Bruce Springsteen (Live Acoustic -- Chimes of Freedom EP)
First day of High School: Tougher than the Rest -- Bruce Springsteen (no, seriously! I had to check it was om "shuffle" but it is ... )
Falling in love: Somewhere Along the Line -- Billy Joel (HA!)
Fight song: Takin' Care of Business -- JJ Cale
Breaking up: "German, Why Not? Learn German with Deutsche Welle." Episode 5.
Prom: (A film of My Life As An American, apparently) Tangled Up in Blue -- Bob Dylan
Life: Space City -- Drive-By Truckers
Mental breakdown: Everything -- Volebeats
Driving: Rocket in My Pocket -- Bottle Rockets and David Lindley
Flashback: Entitled -- Deadstring Brothers
Getting back together: I Gotta Have Somthing I Ain't Got -- Willie Nelson
Wedding: Ballad of Forty Dollars -- Tom T. Hall
Birth of child: Working on the Building -- Elvis Presley
Final battle: Five Long Years -- Buddy Guy
End credits: Talk With You -- Danny Kirwan/Fleetwood Mac/Honeyboy Edwards/J.T. Brown/John McVie/Otis Spann/Peter Green/S.P. Leary/Willie Dixon
Here are five off the top of my head. Of course, add yours to comments.
"Black Books" Nils Lofgren (Album: Acoustic Live) Plenty of people have heard this via the Sopranos soundtrack, but not enough. Lofgren's voice is ... molten. It sounds pixie-ish and brittle but you can't break it with a stick. He's not always hit these heights in his solo career but this is a truly haunting and beautiful song.
A neat segue to Nils's sometime employer Bruce Spingsteen. You might think nothing The Boss has ever done could be possibly be obscure but tucked away at the very end of The Rising is "Paradise." At the same time this came out, Steve Earle was copping it for his vanilla John Walker Lindh song, and here was the Boss with a ditty about suicide bombers and their victims just begging to be misinterpreted, and it never got a mention. Which just goes to show, the idiots who make the most noise are usually the ones paying the least attention. Some days, "Paradise" can make me cry. In the end is a sentiment you don't hear alot, the sun upon our face is all we have, which makes the lies told in the name of paradise all the more tragic.
I sink`neath the water cool and clear
Drifting down, I disappear
I see you on the other side
I search for the peace in your eyes
But they're as empty as paradise
They're as empty as paradise
I break above the waves
I feel the sun upon my face
"Meet Me in Music City" Bobby Bare, Jr (Album: From the End of Your Leash) Son of 60s country star (the original "Streets of Baltimore" for you Gram Parsons lovers) and one of the more original voices going round, does rock, indy folk, alt.country, a mixture of all three, and some other stuff, all at once. Irreverent and mostly affectionate tribute to his actual home town and my spiritual one.
I was born at the Ryman Auditorium.
During the Martha White portion of the Grand Ole Opry.
Roy Acuff cut off my umbilical,
And tied me off with his yo-yo string.
That whole album could be one of the best never heard actually but for sentimental reasons this is my favourite. If you subscribe to eMusic they have it there.
"Jail" -- Dan Bern. (Album: The Swastika EP) Which Dan Bern song to choose?? This is the one I probably come back to mostly, highly singalongable and with a message. Sure the message is about the hypocritical war on drugs so nothing new, but he does it with style.
OK, it's easy to find great songs no-one's heard from obscure singer-songwriters but let's end with another big one. The biggest one, in fact. You know Bob Dylan right? And you know that old chestnut "Blowin' In the Wind," but you haven't really heard it 'til you've heard the live version included at the end of Masked and Anonymous. Recorded in at the Santa Cruz Auditorium in March 2000, not on the official soundtrack and unreleased apart from a some Japanese rarities. Sublime perfection, unarguably the world's greatest ever singer proves once again no one does Dylan, like Dylan. Don't even bother disputing this with me.
Crossposted at Road to Surfdom.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
PS. The last post was FEM's 600th. Seriously, watch that Dylan musical video if you haven't, it will make your day. This is 601.
Friday, November 10, 2006
So I'll sadly not get to see it, unless it is revived by the North Ryde Musical Society or something. Happily the "Like a Rolling Stone" segment was performed on US TV and posted for all to see. It's truly ... remarkable.
And Corky St. Clair agrees.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
Except. Faith Hill's reaction when that American Idol poppet won the big gong for chicks. Don't know if she was serious but I hope so: Brava, La Hill! There should be more of it.
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Over the fold is my Dwight review, a setlist, some choice Yoakam YouTube moments and the Flaming Sword of Righteousness is retrieved from the pool room to deal with a certain Sydney music writer. Yeah, you all know who I mean.
It’s been ten years since DY rode into town, back in 1996 I was a poor student and the $40 odd bucks tickets were then fed me for half a semester. (Sample diet: $1 hotdog from the 7/11, $2 schooner at the Randwick Labor Club) So I didn’t go. Ten years later tickets and tickets are $100 but you can complain about not getting your money’s worth when you get 2.45 hours and 40 odd songs. Namely:
Blame the Vain
I Want You to Want Me
Streets of Bakersfield
Please, Please Baby
If there was a Way
Turn It On, Turn It Up, Turn Me Loose
What I Don't Know
Ring of Fire
Nothing's Changed Here
Home for Sale
Pocket of a Clown
Stop the World (And Let Me Off)
The Distance Between You and Me
The Heart You Own
Three Good Reasons
Just Passing Time
Home of the Blues
Smoke Along the Track
Honky Tonk Man
Thusand Miles from Nowhere
Buenas Noches from a Lonely Room
…… deep breath … almost finished! …
Two Doors Down
Sunny Side of the Mountain / Miner’s Prayer
Dreams of Clay
This Drinkin' Will Kill me
It Won't Hurt
Today I Started Loving You Again
It Only Hurts When I Cry
Fast as You
Crazy Little Thing
Under Your Spell Again
I’d seen the 40+ setlist for his recent American gigs and was a bit perplexed, you know, that’s a lot of songs. Even if they are two minutes long. Yes, there are a few medleys – the four song Buck tribute and the Sunnyside of the Mountain/Miner’s Prayer bluegrass interlude – but they were full songs not snippets. And yes the segues between them songs were tight – sharp - but each song was fully realised pushed to the limit. No short changing. The band? Smoking. The rhythm section of Kevin Smith, slappin' that upright bass in a very attractive fashion, and Mitch Marine on drums. Up front with Dwight Eddie Perez, sometime of the Mavericks, erased all memory of Pete Anderson with his good natured and skilful guitar hero routine. Dreamy Josh Grange, who I have on a couple of recordings with Victoria Williams, wore a frock coat with lacy trim but handled the various guitars, organ, accordion and banjo like a one-man second/third/fourth coming of The Band.
The man himself had an extremely nifty grey suit with brown detail. I'm not sure but his boots could have been pale blue, or maybe white but the light deceived me? Either way. Hot. I’m certainly not one of those narks who insist the night is wasted unless the performer yabbers on at us constantly, Dwight was economical in his chat but not distant. His tribute to Buck Owens was funny and moving, and he had some funny banter with Kevin about his bass slapping. Maybe I'm easily pleased. Dwight was 50 last week and for me his voice has improved with age, it’s richer than what you hear on Guitars, Cadillacs Etc Etc and he sounded really, really great -- even if the being in the front row you give up a little quality for proximity. Proximity pays off though when you get a close up of his trademarked swerves and grinds, and I was particularly fond of the bits when he sat legs splayed on a stool for the slow numbers. And when the band suddenly jagged into a ripping-it-up number and he flung the stool across the stage, well. Hot. Wish I had my camera.
Yes, Dwight is, of course, hotter than a two dollar pistol which brings us to that fool Bruce Elder's ridiculous 'gig preview' in the Herald. Even worse, I sought out his review of the 1996 gig which starts with this gem of solid gold frakwittery:
AT last the most vexing question about Dwight Yoakam can be answered. Why does he wear a hat all the time? It's there to hide the scar from the charisma lobotomy he's obviously had.
What a creep.
Bruce Elder: The Only Person in the World Who Thinks Dwight Yoakam Has No Charisma.
That should be on his tombstone. Idiot.
You can see Dwight at YouTube with Letterman, Leno and Conan O'Brien -- decide for yourself if he is stumbling and dull. Perhaps he just knows a sour dickhead when he is forced to talk to one. Idiot.
And check out too this flat footed performance of Intentional Heartache. You also get a good look at the current band in this one. And Today I Started Loving You Again from the same show, just because.
Also, love me this song: Sorry You Asked
So, a brilliant night. Brilliant performer. And let's not let another ten years pass, before we do it again, OK?
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
Tonight the adventure continues with Dwight Yoakam at the Capitol. This is the only review I've seens of the shows so far -- apart from at the DY message board. Forty songs!
Thursday, October 26, 2006
In October a blogger's mind, naturally, starts to turn to your end of year Best Of. It's been a strong one many several promising releases stil to go (including a new Lucinda Williams? Maybe??) but one solidly in the top couple is Cyndi Boste's Foothill Dandy.
I won't whinge about why she isn't a household name, but please take it as read. It sells her short to say you won't hear a better Australian album this year, because this can hold its own against anything that's made the cover of No Depression. I've been a fan for years, since reading a Rhythms article in 2001 which made me buy Home Truths. Strengths are many, from her extraordinary voice (her website describes it "raw sugar and milk... blue cotton and silk", which is as good a guess as any, all I know is that it breaks my heart) and captivating songs. One thing about Foothill Dandy which strikes me too is the outstanding production, it really sounds like a product which has had money, skill and love lavished over it. I'm sure the skill and love is true but I'm not so sure about the money, which makes the depth of the sound a great triumph. I'm a big fan of the country-soul sound and we don't hear enough of it in Australia. Doing Nashville is one thing, but doing Muscle Shoals takes something special. But listen to "Best Kept Secret" on this album, that's how its done. There's straighter country numbers, but every song has a rich gloss of blues and folk elements too, plus potently used pedal steel, organ, fiddle, harmonica giving the whole thing a truly satisfying richness. "One Time" has a swirling 60s sound and every time I hear it I'm astounded it isn't all over the radio. This stuff, you shouldn't need a blog to tell you about. I'm told the album is being played on 2RRR's country shows, so good for them.
So what I'm saying is, if you're not already aboard this train, you'll want to be. If you're in Sydney, get along on Sunday. I can gurantee you a great time, the band will utterly rock and Cyndi will knock you out. Gig details in the post below.
Friday, September 29, 2006
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Friday, September 15, 2006
Cyndi Boste is one of our real treasures and her newest album is great. I'll be talking about it more soon. Meanwhile Tim at Surfdom likes what he hears too. Do like the man says, and buy the record.
Thursday, September 14, 2006
After the World Trade Centre was removed from the landscape, some US media corporations banned seemingly innocuous tracks such as Imagine by John Lennon and Peace Train by Yusuf Islam (the former Cat Stevens) from their playlists.
is an urban myth.
Oh, I suppose someone somewhere might have done something and individual DJs will always exercise their own judgement (as they should), but as an egregious example of corporate censorship or whatever, it did not happen. Clear Channel as a relentless music homogonising machine has alot to answer for but not this one I don't think.
Sunday, September 03, 2006
Saturday, September 02, 2006
Friday, September 01, 2006
In the ABC foyer, David Wenham stood right next to me. After that, it was a wonder I could even breathe.
Coincidentally, Bob's Theme Time Radio show this week was on the topic of "Radio."
Thursday, August 31, 2006
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
“I want all the fans, musicians and media to know that my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer's about a year ago. It hit him so hard and fast that he is now living in a skilled nursing facility. He would enjoy receiving a card, photo or note from you.” - Anita Kleinow (daughter)
The address for the mail is here.
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
First, The Pride of Jesse Hallum. 1980. Made for TV and "recommended by the National Education Council," although not the "National Traffic Council" probably given the amount of illegal driving our hero does. I saw this many times as a kid (the local video shop must've had it) but all I remember was that Cash was illiterate and learns to read and one scene in which he sounds out letters. "C for Cup." I used to like to imitate the drawl "C fer Currrrrrrrp." Still do. Buy me a few beers sometime and ask nicely.
I'm sure this film is little seen, and it's time to shine a light. Sure, it's a crappy Made For TV light which wobbles alarmingly if you make any sudden movements, but it's Cash and therefore worth 93 mins of your time.
Jese Hallum is a widowed Kentucky coal miner. Here he is, pensive at his wife's grave.
He has a Harry Kewell lookalike son Ted and a daughter with scoliosis. Here she is with a pet chicken, name of Minerva. Not related to the Chicken in Black, we hope. Without surgery she will "grow humped up and breathless."
So Jesse packs the kids into the
He can't get a job because he can't fill in an application or read the operating instructions.
I should also say, Jesse is not just any Kentucky coalminer. He is a Kentucky coalminer from Muhlenberg County which as many people reading this (OK, as everyone reading this except people reading only because they are related to me) will know, this is a reference to the John Prine classic "Paradise."
And daddy won't you take me back to Muhlenberg County
Down by the Green River where Paradise lay
Well, I'm sorry my son, but you're too late in asking
Mister Peabody's coal train has hauled it away
How many of you are singing along right now? I knew it. Anyway, Cash sings the song in the movie and the melody is all over the place, picked out freakin' endlessly on guitar and banjo. Some might call this creating a unifying musical theme to support the narrative superstructure, others that it is labouring the beejeezbus out of the sucker. I take no sides. That banjo, by the way? ... well, see the final screenshot for who is wielding it. He also sings Billy Joe Shaver's "An Old Chunk of Coal."
Finally, Jesse ends up at the fruit markets lugging round produce for Salvatore Galucci, played with A-Super-Mario-Brother-in-a-pasta-sauce-ad nuance by Eli Wallach. "You-a good-a boy-a Jess-a!"[insert flapping arms here] A sleazy looking Sopranos dude tries to cheat Sal with low quality apples, but Jesse exposes his game. He might not have book learning, but he was Homecoming King at the School of Hard Knocks and Apple Grading. Galucci tells sleazy dude to sling his hook, whereupon sleazy dude roughs up Galucci, whereupon Jesse lays some Kentucky thunder on his ever-lovin' fruit cheatering ass. Sometimes, you've got to fight when you're a man. Oops, sorry. That's the Kenny Rogers Movie Marathon. Next year, maybe. This earns him Sal's devotion and a promotion.
Did I mention the prissy school marm is Sal's daughter? This fact will return to assert itself as important later in the narrative.
So. What else? Oh yeah, it turns out young Ted is barely literate too but he is a track star so skated through his old school. School Marm (her name is Marian)wants to bust him back to junior high but Jesse says he's being picked on for being from Kentucky and demands he stay where he is, and the Principal -- eye on the upcoming track meets - lets him. Jesse 1 Marian 0. Conflict!
More conflict. Jesse runs a red light and is pulled over by a smarmy big city cop who gives him attitude about being a hillbilly, informs him his licence is months out of date and rips it up.
To get an Ohio licence he has to ----- take a written exam! This never happened back in the holler, where his wife did all the paperwork and a relative at the traffic bureau rubber stamped his papers. What Will Jesse Do?
Sal, not being completely stupido, twigs that Jesse can't read about 30 seconds after meeting him. He speechifies about coming to this great country as an illiterate peasant from the distant land of Upper Complete Hamovia and working hard blah blah blah man he is today yadda yadda. Long story short: learn to read or you no work for me. My Mariana, he says, she help you. Jesse nixes this idea but -- the first part in the swallowing of the titular pride of Jesse Hallum -- goes to her and she finds him lessons.
Jesse is impatient though. He can't afford the two years the teacher tells him it will take to learn. He quits. Sal lets his daughter cook him breakfast and then emotionally blackmails her into personally teaching his Jess. Ah, fathers and daughters and that delicious dynamic of guilt. She agrees.
And here is the famous "C for Cup scene."
Progress is made. Jesse is happy. All this, by the way, is being kept a secret from his kids. Jesse naively thinks he has been fooling everybody all this time.
The timeline is a bit fuzzy but after a Rocky-like montage of hard studying scenes Jesse attempts to read The Wizard of Oz to his still hospital bound daughter. She's excited by this because he has never read to her, mom used to do that. Now, I was pretty disappointed with this scene. It should be the big emotional turning point; for the first time he is reading a story to his sick daughter. Halting and stumbling over words, but he's actually reading. To his joyous daughter! For the first time! But the scene is flat and not the big emotional pay off it should be. Even an average midday movie can be elevated by deft handling of such moments but the director really missed an opportunity.
So anyway, Ted gets in more trouble and Jesse finally feels ready to take that driving test. But in the test, he pikes, loses confidence, screws up the test paper and storms out in a blaze of banjos. Damn your pride Jesse Hallum!
Then he gets in a road rage stoush and ends up in the clink. Cue banjos of regret.
Then Ted flunks out and Jesse -- not quite so canny as ol' Sal -- gets an inkling that maybe ... just maybe Ted can't read neither. He tests his theory by making him read Psalm 40 which Jesse has memorised but Ted can hardly decipher. Jesse finally comes clean on his illiteracy to discover his kids already knew. In fact, so did everyone back in Muhlenberg County. Duh.
The film ends with Jesse and son in remedial reading classes at Summer school. Predictably, the class is taught by an milquetoast in a brown suit, ineffectual in front of a class of slackers with boom boxes until Cash takes control, pulls himself to full height and tells the kids they don't want to live like him.
"Me and my boy -- we're going to learn to read!"
Except for the music credits. And on banjo, Mr Earl Scruggs. Cool.
Knowing how Johnny Cash loved reading and surrounded himself with books, I'm sure the story had resonance and he's most effective when regretfully explaining the life of lies and "faking it" he had to lead to make it so far without reading, and cold reality that what worked in his old home town was not going to fly in the big city. It's probably the least interesting of all the Cash films I've seen but it's not without merit. The banjo, for instance.
Expecting Rain has a million and one reviews and in the Ozblogisphere, see Catallaxy.
UPDATE: For whatever reason, Bob likes to give exclusives to Edna Gundersen at USA Today. Some great quotes in this interview. Whenever I hear her name, I think of Edna Kpabappel, can't help it. Sorry to all the Ednas.
Friday, August 25, 2006
Fascinating profile of him in Peter Guralnick's "Feels Like Home." Done in 1971 Rich is a middlingly successful singer, but had never achieved the fame of other original Sun stablemates or that his prodigious talents would suggest. His wife seems more frustrated about that than he, but there is an air of disappointment about the whole thing. It all changed the year or so after of course when Behind Closed Doors broke through big time in '73. And when fame came it was "be careful what you wish for." Interesting to get that comparison, before, during and after getting what you thought you wanted.
UPDATE: FXH joins the fun.
Thursday, August 24, 2006
Thinking: Modern Times is out and about on bit torrent sites but I'm saving myself until I get the real thing. Which will probably be Monday which means my first listen won't be until Tuesday. 6pm live blogging, here.
Reading: The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia by Michael Gray, more later. Anyone got it?
Listening: The new Greg Graffin album.
Watching: Coming up on the weekend - "My Johnny Cash Movie Marathon." Can you feel the excitement? And a banjo thing, by request.
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Friday, August 18, 2006
Thursday, August 17, 2006
Darcy James Argue's Secret Society
I like this from the latter:
I don't know about "most significant post-Dylan songwriter" -- that's an impossibly tough call -- but Randy Newman is a shoe-in for both "most underrated" and "most unfairly maligned by people who have never heard a single goddamn thing he's done outside of 'Short People' and his Pixar soundtracks."
Amen! You know who you are, ignorant people. Plus, the painting that accompanies that post is awesome. I want it.
Russ, a friend of mine, sent me the notes he wrote for a compilation Best Of Randy made for a neophyte relation. I have included them under the fold. Russ is the person who got me hooked on Randy Newman and at first it didn't take. Just couldn't get into him. But then it dopped on me like a tonne of bricks and I've been starry eyed ever since. Russ also introduced me to Bob Dylan. Pretty good musical strike rate.
My best of list would be slightly different though. First, get rid of "Short People." "Funny and wonderfully made" true but it carries too much baggage and there are too many other contenders for its spot. Substitute it for "Rednecks", although it is possible you might want to hold that one back for an introduction, unless you were really sure. And "Pants". Drop "Pants." I don't know why its there. Instead, you gotta have "My Country." And "Christmas in Capetown" has its merits but it needs to make way for "I Want You to Hurt Like I Do." Man. That song. That song, man. Put in "Let's Burn Down the Cornfield" for "Bad News from Home" and you might just about have it. Except I can't leave off "Mama Told Me Not to Come", his early voice on that is so cute. And "Lover's Prayer" from that same album 12 Songs (definately one of the best albums of 1970 -- aaah, those were the days) is a real favourite of mine. "Back on My Feet Again" -- classic, indispensible.
And I just now noticed "Guilty" is not on this list. Which is impossible. If only Randy were synonomous in the public mind which that song -- one of the true greats -- rather than Short People and Buzz Lightyear.
And I haven't really even considred and of the Faust songs, at least one or two are in contention. The Demo versions though, with Randy singing them not bloody James Taylor or whoeverthehell.
Anyway, I hope these links and comments, as well as those over the fold, might convince some of the unconverted there is more to Randy than novelty and give some insight into the drooling adoration he gets from us what understand.
Your acquaintance with Randy Newman is not unlike the vast majority of those outside his coterie of fans: “Short People” (and “I Love L.A.”) are the only Newman tunes that ever made it to popular radio and received a decent dollop of airtime. You are therefore in for a real treat with this “Best of” collection (a totally arbitrary phrase, given that most of Newman’s output exists on the same high plane—it’s enormously difficult making this kind of selection). I’ve grouped the songs very roughly into generic categories. “Shame” starts the disk only because it is the song I mentioned in e-mail and is the one that you initially asked about. “Short People” is next, because it is familiar to you. “I Love L.A.” follows, because you should know it (and probably will recognize it when it plays, despite your profession of unfamiliarity), but it also starts off a small group of “geographic” songs: L.A., your beloved Cleveland, Baltimore, Louisiana (there are a number of others not included here—Birmingham, Dayton, Ohio, New Orleans, Miami—as well as locales that will appear in the categories that follow). “The Great Nations of Europe” very nicely segues from geography, of which it is clearly also part, into the political, our next category. “It’s Money That I Love” introduces the exquisitely etched financial/sociological category that concludes with “My Life Is Good.” There follows two very serious Newman songs (with the light-hearted “I Want Everyone to Like Me” sandwiched between them to provide temporary relief): the straight & serious category. We then plunge into the rich vein of Newman’s bizarre, obsessive, regional, and clearly screwed up characters. The Personae category. Newman is one of the few, if not the only, pop songwriters who actually uses different personae to get his point (or humor or wry commentary) across. There is a wonderfully bitter portrait of race in America, sex, and the previously explored ironic dissertation on politics and world affairs. The disk concludes with one of my all-time favorite Newman songs, “Bad News from Home,” a song about love, passion, sex, betrayal, obsession, violence, and death—all in a few lines.
All of this, of course, is the lyrical grid that overlays Newman’s music, which is unique, very New Orleans jazz- and honky-tonk-inflected, but clearly and identifiably his own. The beauty of that musical undercurrent often works to highlight, ironically, the substance of the lyrics themselves. “Sail Away” is a perfect example—a wonderful melody and rhythm that accompanies the darkly ironic lyrics sung by the captain of a slave ship. On to the disk, song by song:
My unfocused words
I was flying blind
I lost my mind
If you could find it in your heart, if you got one
To forgive me
I'd be ever so grateful
A portrait of yours truly and every other middle-aged, sex-obsessed, death-fearing guy on the planet. The song is, of course, terribly funny. “It’s a gun that I need.” The implication that his sweet young thang doesn’t know what it’s like to “sit down and take a piss” (“You do know? So you say. I have my doubts, missy.”) The colloquy with the chorus is picture-perfect. That incredibly wonderful simile: some old dude bangin’ on her like a gypsy on a tambourine. The delicious yelps of despair at the ends of “diamonds” and “pearls” in that phrase “I picture you in diamonds, satins, and pearls.” That perfect “if you could find it in your heart, if you have one.” And the Grand Finale Lexus bribe. A perfect song. A portrait etched in under 5 minutes. . . .
(2) Short People
They got little baby legs
That stand so low
You got to pick 'em up
Just to say hello
Sadly, this song, as funny and wonderfully made as it is, probably did more to hurt Newman’s career than make it. You may recall there was a huge hue and cry from the little people community over the “blatant prejudice” displayed by the song. The tragedy of an ignorant listening audience unfamiliar with the use of personae and the device of irony. The interesting thing is that Newman had been recording and performing nearly 10 years before this song hit the airwaves.
(3) I Love L.A.
Look at that mountain
Look at those trees
Look at that bum over there, man
He's down on his knees
Look at these women
There ain't nothin' like ‘em nowhere
Speaks for itself. As previously mentioned, the city fathers adopted this piece as L.A.’s official song. Despite lyrics like those just quoted. I still love that opening image and the “big nasty redhead.” All while “cranking up the Beach Boys” in a wild and free Los Angeles. Like just about every song Newman writes, this one rewards contemplation about just who the person is that is actually mouthing Newman’s penned sentiments. . . .
(4) Burn On
Now the Lord can make you tumble
The Lord can make you turn
The Lord can make you overflow
But the Lord can't make you burn
Randy’s tribute to “Cleveland, City of Light, City of Magic.” (Love those sweet, swelling strings passages here.) A lyrical painting of the lovely Cuyahoga River or an ironic jab? Guess it depends on whether you live there. Burn on, Big River. Burn on.
Hooker on the corner
Waitin' for a train
Drunk lyin' on the sidewalk
Sleepin' in the rain
Nothing at all ironic about this one. (And the city fathers did not care to adopt it as the theme song of their town . . . in fact there were a few disparaging remarks made about Newman by said city fathers on his distortion of their fair metropolis.) It is really a very dark, incisive portrait of a city in ruins and of the tragic characters who inhabit it. The music, with its relentless rhythm and consistent use of minor chords, keeps it dark throughout. Man, it’s hard just to live. . .
(6) Louisiana 1927
The river rose all day
The river rose all night
Some people got lost in the flood
Some people got away all right
For reasons that are readily apparent upon first hearing, this song has received an awful lot of airtime since August. It’s become Katrina’s theme song, sung most notably by Aaron Neville of the Neville Brothers. It is an accurate picture of what happened to the poor “crackers” of New Orleans the last time the city was tragically inundated almost 80 years ago. Newman included this (and a marvelous portrait of Huey Long, entitled “Kingfish”) on his Good Old Boys album, his very best collection, I believe, of assorted characters, major and minor. Newman himself sang “Louisiana 1927” on the TV telethon for Katrina victims shortly after the disaster.
(7) The Great Nations of Europe
Hide your wives and daughters
Hide the groceries too
Great nations of Europe coming through
We cross now into the geopolitical/sociological arena. “Great Nations” is Randy’s take on the long reach of “Western Civilization” as it touched the native populations of various “new worlds.” The refrain says it all. Any number of clever, comedic, or ironic songwriters might have come up with the “hide your wives and daughters” line. Only Newman could come up with “hide the groceries too.” The stirring, cymbal-accompanied brash patriotic march-like music is perfect accompaniment. Here’s to the lost Guanches. . . .
(8) Political Science
We'll save Australia
Don't wanna hurt no kangaroo
We'll build an All American amusement park there
They got surfin', too
The recording is now 34 years old. But it’s as topical today as it was when Newman penned it. The U.S. as Empire, troubled by the other countries of the world seen as irritants. I should think that Dubya and Cheney dance to this tune in their private moments in the White House. You wear a Japanese kimono, Baby. Italian shoes for me. . . .
(9) The World Isn’t Fair
If Marx were living today
He'd be rolling around in his grave
Lines like that tend to breeze right by the average pop music listener. Much of Newman’s between-the-lines humor (and politics and social commentary) can very easily get lost that way. And we get to see Randy’s marvelous sense of humility and self-deprecation: “men much like me, froggish men, unpleasant to see.” The beauty of this song is also its continued (and topical) relevance. Think of this song, particularly its final verses, playing over a video of the desperate faces of New Orleans poor outside the Convention Center, post-Katrina. It is perfect. Perfect.
(10) & (11) It’s Money That I Love
They say that money
Can't buy love in this world
But it'll get you a half-pound of cocaine
And a sixteen-year old girl
And a great big long limousine
On a hot September night
Now that may not be love
But it is all right
Great music here. Makes you want to dance—one of those irresistible rock beats. The acid irony of Newman in full force here. Times change and the pressure of outside “moral” forces can even make an impact on an unrepentant social commentator like Randy Newman. Note the passage quoted above, then listen for it again in the next track (11) on the disk (a piano-only reprise redone on Newman’s Songbook album, recorded nearly a quarter-century after the original.). That sweet sixteen-year-old has somehow reached the age of consent . . . too many Mary Kay LeTourneaus in the interim, I guess. I was disappointed when I heard the later version. Randy back-pedaled away from a persona . . . something he refused to do when the shit hit the fan after “Short People.” It’s still a great song. Great commentary on the American psyche.
(12) It’s Money That Matters
But I got a great big house on the hill here
And a great big blonde wife inside it
And a great big pool in my backyard
And another great big pool beside it
Sonny it's money that matters, hear what I say
It's money that matters in the USA
That terrific guitar of the inimitable Mark Knopfler (of Dire Straits fame) opens this jaunty revisiting of the theme just discussed. Newman is still talking about money and inequity nearly a decade later. He looks at “all of these people much brighter than I” who barely survive, and Randy is making big bucks. All that reflection on “any fair system.” Not quite the acid irony of the earlier song. More a simple reflection of the way things are. It’s still $ that matters in the USA. (And note the “big blonde wife”—a nice bookend to the “big nasty redhead” of L.A. fame. . . .)
(13) My Life Is Good
And this one guy’s wife
Is such a pretty little brown thing
That I'm liable to give her a poke or two
Whaddaya think of that?
From Newman’s aptly titled Trouble in Paradise. Now we get another portrait of the contemporary well-off vacuity, west coast variety. Terrific value system—and a stunning portrait of what is indubitably the reality of upper echelon Hollywood life. Funny as hell . . . until one realizes just how true the portrait is. I’ll bet you know, or have met, a few people like this. I do and have.
(14) The One You Love
Once a great man's heart was captured by a lovely chest
He told himself it was her mind he loved
He was blind like all the rest
Twenty hard years went by
Till another chest will catch his eye
He just hung his head and cried
Said, "Sorry dear you're too late
I've already ruined my life"
You've got to know the one you love
Newman’s perspicacious advice to those who wish to keep their main squeezes. “You fall in love, you become nothin’ but a little baby child.” Full of great wisdom for all of us men. “She may not know exactly what’s on her mind. But you better know. . . .”
(15) Real Emotional Girl
She's a real emotional girl
Lives down deep inside her herself
She turns on easy
It's like a hurricane
You would not believe it
You gotta hold on tight to her
She's a real emotional girl
This is an almost irony-free song, another devastating portrait of a finely etched tragic character. The really great thing, though, is that it’s a twin portrait: the real emotional girl plus the current “boyfriend” who’s narrating the story. The music is quite beautiful and sad.
(16) I Want Everyone to Like Me
I want someone to tell me one time
"Honey, you don't look well.
Why don't you lie down for a couple of years
I'll look after things." Yeah.
A grown up woman would be nice
I'd like to flip her over once or twice
Find out what makes her tick
Another view of that middle-aged dude (no longer bangin’ on the young thang like a gypsy on a tambourine), this time a fatter, gentler, kinder, wry and humorous guy. I like to think this is close to the real Randy, not so much a persona as a self-portrait. A nice, friendly melody with an ingratiating piano part. “I’m really very modest once you get to know me.” That terrific final line, too. Ain’t we all. . . .
(17) I Think It’s Going to Rain Today
Broken windows and empty hallways
A pale dead moon in a sky streaked with gray
Human kindness is overflowing
And I think it’s going to rain today
A very early Newman composition (from his first album, Randy Newman, in 1968). This version, though, is from the 2003 Randy Newman Songbook, Vol. 1 (still waiting for Vol. 2 to appear). I love this version because it is all piano, very simple, very sad. Almost irony-free (virtually no Newman piece is totally free of irony; here, it’s that single phrase “human kindness is overflowing.”) Now you know why I sandwiched the whimsical “I Want Everyone to Like Me” between this and “Real Emotional Girl.” As Eliot put it (and I repeat endlessly), “human kind cannot bear very much reality.”
(18) A Wedding in Cherokee County
I will carry her across the threshold
I will make dim the light
I will attempt to spend my love within her
Though I will try with all my might
She will laugh at my mighty sword
She will laugh at my mighty sword
Why must everybody laugh at my mighty sword?
With the gentle melody and opening “There she is,” one could be lulled into this as a love song of the first order. But we have begun the journey down the road of Newman grotesques. The man with his “mighty sword.” His wife—if she knew how, she’d be unfaithful to him. The slimy old bastard granddad. A picture of the Old South and its half-mad denizens. A truly funny song. When it comes to love and sex, Randy can drift a bit far out. . . .
(19) You Can Leave Your Hat On
Baby, take off your coat...(real slow)
Baby, take off your shoes...(here, I'll take your shoes)
Baby, take off your dress
Yes, yes, yes
You can leave your hat on
Performed by any number of other artists, most famously by Joe Cocker. The quintessential Newman take on male sexuality. Are we sensitive to women, their emotions, their needs? Not a chance. This reflects the true male view (“I know what love is.”) Like so much of Newman, very funny but incredibly accurate. Yes, yes, yes. You give me reason to live. . . .
Your mama can't stop me
Your papa can't stop me
And the police can't stop me
No one can stop me
Spooky organ intro—almost like a Bach Passacaglia. Then the very serious sounding, rhythmic introduction of the melody itself. Then we get the portrait of the man on the other side of that “yes, yes, yes” obsession. He’s driven to this. Love that male sexual beast. This is what he truly is. Man at his essence. Will you take off my pants?
(21) Roll with the Punches
You gotta roll with the punches, little black boy
That's what you got to do
You got to roll with the punches
This is where Newman excels—the honky-tonk, ragtime, New Orleans rhythm married to a wry or acidic commentary on race and poverty. Humor married to brutal reality: “look at those little shorts he’s got on, ladies and gentlemen; you can see all the way to Argentina” in the same song with Mr. Rat on the stairway and Mr. Junkie lying in his own vomit on the floor. This could be the theme song for the Republican Party. “I don’t care what you say. You’re livin’ in the greatest country in the world when you live in the USA.” Another terrific song for playing over the New Orleans Convention Center video. . . .
(22) Sail Away
Here in America every man is free
To take care of his home and his family
And be as happy as a monkey in a monkey tree
You're all gonna be an American
One of the most beautiful melodies penned by Randy Newman. Gentle and sad. Nostalgic. An idyllic scenario laid out in the lyrics—an America as paradise, an America where one drinks wine all day and sings about Jesus. Deliciously pastoral until one realizes that the picture is being painted by a slave ship captain for the slaves about to be transported to Charleston Bay. Climb aboard, little wog. Sail away with me. You’re all gonna be an American. This is a Newman masterpiece. But we’re not done with race relations. . . .
(23) Christmas in Capetown
It's a real disgrace, she says
I tell her, Darling, don't talk about things you don't understand
I tell her, Darling, don't talk about something you don't know anything about
I tell her, Darling, if you don't like it here
Go back to your own miserable country
Another selection from the aptly named Trouble in Paradise album. I can never decide whether it is this, the song just preceding it, or the song just after it that is my very favorite Newman song. Another brilliant adoption of persona (this time a South African bigot); another brilliantly acid view of the mindset of the twisted, the hateful, the evil, the real. And yet there is a smidgen of sympathy tossed toward the narrator. His beer doesn’t taste the same, and he doesn’t know why. The listener knows that he is being poisoned by his own view of the world. One of those truly rare instances in which a white songwriter uses the “n” word—and no other usage will do here. (And then there’s “their big ugly yellow eyes”—Newman rightly gets away with all this.) All this hate and poison wrapped up in the Christmas season. A devastating song. A beautiful song. Another Newman masterpiece.
(24) Bad News from Home
At the end of this bone-white gravel road
They both lie sleeping on a feather bed
Their hair is black as the sky at night
Her eyes are gray like the moon
How I love this song! A near-perfect short story in less than 3 minutes. An organ intro that is almost hymn-like. A melody that contains beauty, sadness, darkness, impending doom, obsession—all in a repeated 4-note arpeggio on the keyboard. The lyrics are pared down as skeletally as they can be pared. Obsession. Love. Betrayal. Revenge. You fill in the blanks. How I love this song. . . .
They wrote about and read about their friends, their opinions, their cats. (There was a lot about cats in the early blogs.)
There is still a bit of a sense in which having a Blogger address is like the AOL email addy of old, a scarlet mark on your credibility while the cool kidz are all on Wordpress or Movable Type. But not so much and I am happy to say it's a great system. Reliable (as much as anything on line is) and very simple to use. The design of my site is plain, but functional. Daggy, but I like it. If you are thinking of dipping in a toe, Blogger is a perfect platform.
To honour Blogger, here my first ever attempt at the traditional cat blogging:
According to Bob Dylan in his "Devil" Theme Time Radio Show, Sammy joined the Church of Satan. I did not know that.
Yikes. Solomon Burke's new album, produced by Buddy Miller. If that line up doesn't stir something deep, you are lost. I mentioned it before, here is the proof:
And some choice quotes from Solomon's website:
“After having my first country hit in 1960, I’ve always had a special desire to do a country album,” says Burke. “Really, it’s something I’ve wanted to do ever since I was a kid. I loved Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, Herb Jeffries – one of the first black cowboys. When I heard Charlie Pride I was just blown away. But after we did four country songs for Atlantic, Jerry Wexler said ‘We’ve got to stop that, got to get you back in R&B.’ I’m trying to ride a horse and they were trying to put me in a Cadillac! So to connect these new songs with the songs of my past, it’s really a circle I’m completing.”
Once upon a time, Charlie Parker was asked by a shocked fan why he liked country music. “Listen to the stories,” he replied. Solomon Burke, who describes NASHVILLE as “a reunion of heart, mind, and spirit,” echoes that sentiment. “The songs tell a powerful story, and these stories need telling in these times,” he says. “Listen to them two or three times and you really start to understand.
This will have to be a disaster not to be be the album of the year.
Friday, August 11, 2006
I have been up nights thinking about ways to shake myself out of this cyber funk and I have come up with this.
You tell me what to do. I'm always much better at getting things done when I have a deadline and the crushing weight of expectation upon me. Tell me what you want to see blogged about (music related preferably) and I solemnly promise to do it, as quickly as I can.
Your mission is to save my blogging soul. Help me!
Friday, August 04, 2006
Idols of Exile
Arts and Crafts
My rule of thumb is this: if you can imagine it being used on the soundtrack of "Felicity", it is not alt.country. So neither is this album, despite what you might read. But that's OK. This bloke is the lead singer of the band Broken Social Scene who are some kind of indie big deal. As you see from my Felicity reference, the pulse of current culture has passed me by so I can't tell you about them. I will tell you that this is a very fine record of shiny rootsy folky stuff. Ron Sexsmith or Paul Westerberg sort of territory with a voice which has the pleading quality of a Bobby Bare, Jr. Yeah, a little Ryan Adams too. There is a banjo and lovely fiddle on "We All Lose Another", my stand out, but the album is strong right through. Sometimes this lush early '70s folk-pop sound really hits the spot, mostly the spot that used to regularly be on the verge of tears by the end of a Felicity episode.
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Not blogging, but listening:
Irma Thomas After the Rain New album, post-Hurricane Katrina. Unfortunately the copy I have skips horribly so when I get around to cleaning it I'll have a better listen. Sounds great though.
Etta James a Best of and Gospel Soul collection. Etta is in Hail! Hail! Rock and Roll and I'm glad I got reminded of her.
Kelly Willis got two older ones: Fading Fast a EP with Jay Farrar and other Son Volt types, also Sixteen Horsepower's David Eugene Edwards and first album Well Travelled Love.
Evangeline Made: A Tribute to Cajun Music Sugar Hill compilation. Tres cool. I can't judge David Johansen or Rodney Crowell's French pronunciation but it sure sounds purdy.
Friday, July 21, 2006
I am counting down until August 19 and the Sydney show.
Thursday, July 13, 2006
Postmodern Sounds In Country and Western Music
Dwight Yoakam tour. I don't think I'm happy about the Capitol. I've never been there but I'm thinking if they have The Lion King, it might not be my ideal venue for honky tonk. Here is Tamworth, Newcastle show details. Update: All dates and info here.
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
The Stones resume their delayed Euro tour in Milan:
Lead singer Mick Jagger congratulated the crowd on Italy's weekend victory in the soccer World Cup, and two of the winning squad -- Marco Materazzi and Alessandro Del Piero -- were invited on to the stage at the end of the two-hour show.
Referring to Richards' accident and the infamous head-butting incident involving Materazzi and French player Zinedine Zidane in the World Cup final, Jagger, speaking in Italian, joked:
"Materazzi and Richards have something in common tonight -- they both recently had head-related problems."
Sunday, July 09, 2006
Saturday, July 08, 2006
Ain't Looking Closely Tift Merritt
A Church, A Courtroom, And Then Goodbye Patsy Cline
Live Free or Die Hayes Carll
I Drink Mary Gauthier
I Cried All the Way to the Altar Patsy Cline
Paradise Johnny Cash
Worth Fighting For Kris Kristofferson
The Last Thing on My Mind Gram Parsons
Don't Open That Door Loretta Lynn
Black Books Nils Lofgren
Friday, July 07, 2006
Thursday, July 06, 2006
Right: A man with a plan.
Taylor Hackford's 1987 doco Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll has been released in a four DVD box set and I'm here to tell you all about it. Available only as a US import in Oz, it's a wee bit pricey (I got mine from Red Eye in York St) but chock full of extras so you won't be complaining. A more economic 2 disc set is also out there, which omits the last two discs. If you've already seen it, I'm sure you'll want to see it again and hear more of the, uh, eventful filming process. If you haven't, like me, it's a treat.
Over the fold, some pictures and a run down of all four discs.
Disc One and Disc Two
The actual movie (remastered in lah-dee-dah widescreen, DTS and 5.1. Bully for you people who have more than two inch speaks to listen to it through) with intro by Taylor Hackford, rehearsal footage and "The Reluctant Movie Star", a making of.
The idea is simple and sweet: celebrate Chuck Berry, who many believe had never received his due as one of the most important forces behind this new art form, rock and roll. Keith wanted to give him a hot band to play with, for the first time in years. Hackford wanted to take Chuck around the East St Louis haunts of his youth, talk to his family and the many musicians influenced by him, and then film a celebratory concert for his 60th birthday. This is all accomplished in the film itself, with only hints at the behind-the-scenes drama. It stands alone as a superior music film. A rather unsubtle thread running through it is Chuck's "neurosis" about money. Every question put to him seems to have money as the answer. In a way this attitude is admirable given the way these guys were ripped off up and down the country but it's rather amusingly obsessive in this case. On the other hand, Chuck is pretty modest and generous with priase for other musicians. He is quite deliciously Lex Luthor-ish when he talks about taking over Johnny Johnson's band back at the Cosmopolitan Club in East St Louis in 1953. You know how Johnny Depp based pirate Jack Sparrow on Keef? New Lex Luthor Kevin Spacey could do worse than watch this, and learn.
Contemporaries and acolytes are interviewed: Bo Diddley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, the Everly brothers, Roy Orbison -- see Disc Three and Four below for more on them. One thing, throughout the discs they keep referring to Chuck as the first singer-songwriter. I don't know what chronology this is based on or with what qualifications but, say, Hank Williams was dead two years before Maybelline was even released. Just to name one. Maybe they mean rock or r&b singer-songwriter? Or the first to have popular chart success? If so, they don't qualify it like that. Enlighten me, readers.
A real treat is the reunion of Berry with his pianist "Bullet Hand" Johnnie Johnson, who was very much responsible for the whole Berry sound (in 2005 he unsuccessfully sued Chuck for co-writer credits on alot of his hits.) The producers found Johnson driving a bus in St Louis and he has clearly lost none of his touch. On the second disc rehearsal, the band jams long and righteously and you can choose one of three different angles to watch it. Of course you flick straight to the Chuck Berry-Eric Clapton-Keith Richards jam.
"Hmmm. I'm sure I've seen that riff somewhere before ... "
But equally watch Johnson and Chuck Leavell on piano and organ -- don't get much better.
The sensible piano section.
Back to the movie. Bruce Spring
Chuck, says Bruce, turned up seconds before show time, demanded a bag of cash to go on stage, and went on with barely a word to the panicky band who then had to wing the music. Travelling alone without his own band keeps it cheap for Chuck but is a self-inflicting hit to his legacy. No direct comparison is drawn with Bruce's story and the shenanigans behind Hail! Hail! but we are invited to make the connection. Indeed, in the making of Hackford says that was his intent.
The concert itself is beautifully done. Alot of Chuck's vocals had to be later redubbed because he'd blown his voice, I knew this but still couldn't spot where they'd done it. The guests are great, Julian Lennon is rather forgettable but Chuck wanted him for historical reasons. In the picture on the box he looks like a cross between k.d lang and Pee Wee Herman and I could not for the life of me work out who it was, since his name is nowhere mentioned. Not going to shift many units, Jude, I guess.
Most of the drama of filming was left out by Hackford out of geniune respect and because that was not the film he was making. The booklet notes,
what Hackford once held back out of respect for Chuck, he's now releasing for the same reason, trusting that as Chuck approaches eighty, he's earned the right to be seen, and we're ready to see him, with all the warts of his cranky, contrary character in sharpest focus.
Basically, they were on a tight schedule (only a week or so) and budget and Chuck made their lives hell. Not turning up, wouldn't move unless given a bag of cash -- literally, a bag. Filled with cash -- changing his schedule at no notice, hitting on everything in a skirt. Just generally being a jerk. In fact, to keep up with Chuck's constant financial demands, Hackford waived his own director's fee. Extremely disturbing is the story of visiting a prison where Chuck did some time, which resulted in some of the women in the crew and his entourage being assaulted by a mob of inmates. Those involved feel Berry orchestrated the event on purpose.
Bearing the brunt of the money and personal issues was producer Stephanie Bennett. Keith says in the movie that despite Chuck's faults and "giving him more headaches than Mick Jagger", he can't help but like him. Bennett's pursed lips suggest she feels no such ambivalance. In the film and especially the extras there are enough glimpses though of charm, pride and vulnerability to see temper the view. A complex portrait indeed.
Note: if you want the big stars, there are no extra interviews with Keith or Eric Clapton, "just" the rehearsal footage.
Disc Three and Four: "Chuckisms" Chuck quotes and "Burnt Scrapbook", a chat/interview between Chuck and Robbie Robertson ("musical consultant" on the main film but not in it.) The stand out is Chuck reciting a couple of poems (including this one), which he apparently learnt in jail. Rather glorious. Chuck is pretty engaging and Robbie does a reasonable job.
Also on Disc Three, "Witnesses to History #1" with the full interviews with Bo Diddley and Little Richard, who has his own endearing kind of crazy going on. Disc Four is "Witnesses to History #2" with Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Willie Dixon, the Everly Brothers, Sam Phillips and Ahmet Ertegun. Phillips and Ertegun are the only ones not in the main film at all. Look, they are all brilliant, very entertaining and invaluable documents. You'll need to see them all and that's that.So, if you've perservered this far you're probably already sold on the idea of this set. I can't imagine anyone being disappointed, except that seven hours of goodness is barely enough.
Tuesday, July 04, 2006
Monday, July 03, 2006
Longer, killing time and filling up space on the blog version: I've always said (always= long before he became a ubiquitous byword for "hip") that Johnny Cash was a folk singer, not a country singer. Now, I admit partially I've adopted that argument because of certain peoples' knee-jerk aversion to any music called country. He was a country singer. But think of other major country music figures of the 60s. Think of their output and think of Cash's, in that period. To me, the difference is one of kind, not just degree. That's not to deny he was a country music giant, he was. But that doesn't quite cover it all.
Cash took country -- unmistakenly and proudly Southern, sentimental, conservative, redolent of history and tradition and met it's black sheep brother folk head on. Folk: progressive, traditional (not the same as conservative) contrary, stories of the soil, always room for protest. I don't believe in a golden age of purity which remained unsullied by commercial considerations. Without the impulse to create a better material life, the Carter family would never have trucked it down to Bristol and if Hank Williams didn't make money for a lot of folks he'd just be another semi-overlooked obscurity in the vaults now. We can bitch about the Nashville assembly line, forgetting our favourite "traditional" artists were created by that very same system and Sam Phillips had his eye on the prize as much as anyone on Music Row 2006. Having said that, no label exec would have advised Johnny Cash to record in 1964 Bitter Tears, an album of militant Native American rights songs. Nineteen Sixty Four -- just as the folk boom started to spread gingerly beyond Greenwich Village. That was all his own doing. He had the clout to drag Columbia along and the guts to stand up to radio about it. You won't see that in Walk The Line but I hope some of those turned on by the film will discover it. Even considering his more mainstream offerings of train songs, the wild west, pioneers and love ballads, it's not really tears-in-your-beer stuff. Hearing Cash cover a pedal steel country classic like "He Stopped Loving her Today" (included in the Unearthed box set) is as novel in a way as him doing a Nine Inch Nails song.
So while everyone is calling Personal File an antecedant to the American Recordings series, and it's certainly being marketed that way, it's really a continuation of his regular '60s output. In 1994, Rick Rubin masterfully put all the elements together, but they were elements already existing in the life and work of Cash. The mix of songs, here heavy on spirituals, are the same as earlier albums, as are the spoken word introductions. He does this often on other official material, the theme albums in particular. It's 2 CDs, really beautifully packaged with liner notes by Greil Marcus. The Maestro of the Obtuse keeps it pretty fact-filled and straight-forward. The songs are all solo, acoustic and were recorded at the Cash house in Hendersonville (the one on the lake in the movie) with engineer Charlie Bragg on hand. Most of the songs are from 1973, with others from the 70s and early 80s. Interestingly to me, he does the Cindy Walker song "Jim, I Wore a Tie Today" which later turned up on the first Highwaymen album. Many will know and love the John Prine song "Paradise" which Cash sometimes did live. This is a slow version with a slightly odd tempo, he might have been experimenting. Another standout is the J.R Cash orginal "I Wanted So" which shows off the fact his voice was never better than in this period. At 50 songs you can afford to skip over a few of the gospel numbers if they get a bit samey (I'm not keen on "If Jesus Loved a Woman" about Mary Magdalene, but maybe the Da Vinci Code hooha has put me off that topic for life) and still find plenty to return to.
UPDATE: My friend Tom is way ahead of me.