Robbie Fulks is a songwriter I had heard about a lot more than I’d heard until a few years ago he made an album with the Mekons. A good album.
Fulks is a good songwriter and player, the opposite of a star, but a lifer with a lot to offer if you dig in. I haven’t yet dug in far enough, but this unbelievably long and detailed analysis of Gordon Lightfoot’s life and performance and songwriting is a marvel of storytelling, aesthetic analysis and covering the whole of a subject.
For instance, Fulks listened to every Gordon Lightfoot song at least once. Except maybe not all of that last 2004 album, but many others more than once.
He relates the story of Cathy Smith, a groupie with amazing breadth who went to jail for administering John Belushi’s final fatal dose, with aplomb, because it is Lightfoot’s story too at a few points.
My point is this is well worth a read even though it is way long, and if you start to lose interest skim ahead a few grafs and you’ll be onto another Lightfootian topic that will amuse and astound, ending with an in depth analysis of Lightfoot’s writing, which is exacting and sharp and a lesson in poetry and lyrics.
Nirvana’s genius turn, taken by this loud trio, and turned into something else. No words, for one. And relatively quiet for what they do. You could criticize them for that, but they get loud other times.
I wrote about these guys a few years ago, posting one of their new wavey songs with an excellent video. That was then.
After they made that good song their drummer left, and rather than replace him they remade themselves as a bizarrely earnest harmony band. They stand on the stage, no matter how big, closely together so they can hear their partners and make incredibly lovely harmonies.
They played tonight in the park by our house, and we were jazzed. This is music that is far from rock, but also music that has no genre. I think sometimes they sound like Mumford and Sons, revivalists with big ideas, but they resist that. They aren’t old style. They’re still new-wavey, only they eschew the drum kit (they have a kick drum) and they love their voices, which they surely should.
Moyer will roll over tonight. Good for him.
So, YouTube fed me this one I didn’t know. I like this band.
I seem to have posted only once about Dr. John here, back in 2014, when Mac Rebennack played piano at Louis Armstrong’s old house in Corona, Queens, NYC.
But Tom wrote a piece about him, which he reposted today, because Dr. John has died at 77. Too young for sure.
There were many Dr. Johns over the years. The original was a Mac construction that he wasn’t even supposed to perform, but when he did it stuck. It led to hits, like Right Place Wrong Time, and the theme to the Curious George movie, but the shtick didn’t always serve the elegant and weird music Mac was making at the beginning, like Danse Fambeaux, and made throughout his career.
Voodoo? Sure. But also lovely music that avoided the anthropological labels the Dr. John persona brought with him..
This is jazz, recorded live in 1960 in Sweden. So What is a classic jazz cut, the first track on Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue. It is the kind of music that even if you think you haven’t heard it, you’ve heard it.
This live performance from Sweden is a classic demonstration of jazz and why. Fantastic performers, all five of them, take the tune and turn it into something huger. Yeah, that’s the best word I can come up with. Huger. A better word than amazing, but that, too.
If you want to check out the original album cut, which is great, too, here it is.
Wikipedia note: The actor Dennis Hopper at some point claimed that the name of the song came from a philosophical conversation Hopper had with Davis, during which Davis would say something and Hopper would say, So what?
I’m a rockist, but I have some jazz leanings. And when I heard today that Cecil Taylor died, I thought about all of his music that moves through me.
One thing I can say is that the two times I saw Cecil Taylor live I felt my life change. Both times. I would play the records and get caught up in the thoughts of what he and his combos were doing, but seeing Cecil Taylor and his band live was living a musical experience that pushed you to places you could not possibly have known about. Some of this was referential, Taylor freely sampled, he loved other music, but a lot of it was structural. He loved breaking down the usual form.
His was music that demanded great playing, and even greater creativity in the improvisation. Watching/hearing Cecil Taylor and his combo create was like becoming privvy to great minds operating at maximum capacity, and letting you see how the magic is made.
I can’t think of another musician who operated on both the sensual ground level and engaged the absolutely intellectual spheres so directly.
And maybe I should mention that these shows I saw pulsed, were full of musical exuberance and passion.
I happened to be out walking today and stumbled into a great used bookstore in Prospect Heights I rarely get to. The music playing was frenetic and sort of atonal but clearly not, and my guess was that it was Cecil Taylor. I didn’t know he had died, at that point, but I also admired the bookstore for its amazing hipness (in the good sense) and love of great writing.
This clip gets at how percussive, melodic, energetic and disciplined Cecil Taylor’s music was. As with any musician, there are many more shades. But the point is, even if you don’t know about him, he was a giant.
Simple song. But maybe clever. The lyrics seem to show a dark murder ballad, though I didn’t get that on first listen.
Whatever. Somehow this cute video and folkish trad song has scored 44 million plays on YouTube. That’s huge, it is real money, and it comes from Canadians into bluegrass, even if the music isn’t bound by genre exactly.
More power to them. This isn’t rock, but if these folks can earn green on this fine but totally uncommercial song, I’d say they’re successful remnants.
Also, good title and band name. Especially for northerners. Maybe not as good as The Band.
Randy Newman’s first three albums are full of good songs. Songs that were hits for others, like Mama Told Me Not to Come, and songs that made his reputation as a song craftsman and satirist. But it was his fourth album, Good Old Boys, that I think is his masterpiece. Here the satire is scathing, and then the sentiment is true, and in a song like Birmingham, the two come together seamlessly.
Thinking about Alabama tonight, and thinking how in the 43 years since this great album came out, the same problems persist. Maybe things are worse.
If Roy Moore wins in the Alabama race for the Senate seat tonight (Ed. Note: He didn’t.), we should probably all sing Kurt Weill’s and Bertolt Brecht’s Alabama Song, something of a hit for the Doors back in the day, (Show me the way to the next whisky bar, oh don’t ask why, oh don’t ask way. Show me the way to the next little girl, oh don’t ask why, oh don’t ask why.), but in the meantime, these three songs from Good Old Boys will get you started: