Saturday, May 19, 2018

May/Might: Might As Well




purchase [Might As Well ]

I've never been so dedicated as to call myself a Dead Head, but I have spent many a happy hour groovin' to their sound.

And more than once I have noted here and in my now retired alternate blog (noted to the right side here for its inactivity for many a moon) my appreciation that the Dead have been pretty liberal in the way they allow dissemination of their product.

One of the best sources of Dead concerts is the Internet Archive, where there is in fact a dedicated channel to their live shows - much of it downloadable. Their message? Might as well let them record and share. Sharing our music is good.

I consider myself lucky in that I experienced some of the 70s free-flowing culture - frequently hitch-hiking up and down the East Coast, but not so much with abandon - I was generally headed to a place where I could lay my head on a known pillow.

There's a lot of funky stuff out there if you're willing to let it go and give it a try. The message being, "Might as well give it a try."

Decide for yourself if I read it right:

Never had such a good time in my life before
I'd like to have it one time more
Whoa! One good ride from start to end
I'd like to take that ride again, again!
Ran out of track and I caught the plane
Back in the county with the blues again
Great North Special been on my mind
I might like to ride it just one more time

The word <might> shows up not infrequently in the Dead's lyrics, most often not in terms of might, as in power, but as in might, not sure what the future brings.

Use the left-side Home/Search and plug in <might> as your search term to see what I mean.
https://www.whitegum.com/intro.htm

Another version by the Persuasions:

Friday, May 18, 2018

May/Might: She May Call You Up Tonight



The Left Banke: She May Call You Up Tonight 
[purchase]

When you think of the Left Banke, if you do, you probably think about “Walk Away Renee,” or maybe “Pretty Ballerina.” And maybe, just maybe, you think about “She May Call You Up Tonight.” After that, though, I bet you are drawing a blank. Certainly, those are three great songs that helped to define a style referred to as “baroque rock,” but after that, the Left Banke’s musical output is pretty much unknown.

I’m in the camp of people who know about those three songs, and basically nothing else about the Left Banke. Luckily, though, I have access to the Interwebs. Turns out, the band has one of those stories that is all too familiar. Early success, internal bickering, revolving door membership, even competing versions of the band, and various reunions over the years, with varying lineups. There are even some brushes with future fame—versions of the band included, at times, Michael McKean, better known as an actor, including as David St. Hubbins of Spinal Tap, and Bert Sommer, who played Woof in the original Broadway production of Hair in 1969-70 (and whose actual hair was immortalized on the Playbill). A young Steven Tyler sang background vocals on the band’s little-heard second album. But you cannot deny that the Left Banke’s sound was influential well beyond the band’s output or commercial success. You can hear their influence in early Linda Ronstadt, in Eric Carmen, and Belle & Sebastian, among many others.

I’m pretty sure, though, that while I may have heard the original version of “She May Call You Up Tonight” at some point, I really paid attention to it when I heard Richard Thompson do it live, with son Teddy, at the Tarrytown Music Hall. I remember thinking that it sounded familiar, but was totally unable to place it. There’s a recording of it, with Teddy, on 1998’s live album Celtschmerz. There’s also another version on Thompson’s Chrono Show album, featuring performances from his 2004 tour. The Wikipedia article for that album says that Thompson had been doing the song live since the 1970s, and it must have been something that the Fairport Convention crowd was into (Thompson has been quoted about his love for the Left Banke’s debut album)—The Albion Country Band, led by former Fairport member Ashley Hutchings, played it live in 1972 (with a gender change), with Richard and Linda Thompson guesting, Ian Matthews (who left Fairport in 1969) did a cover of it in 1980, and Linda Thompson did the gender-changed version of it on her solo album in 1985, after breaking up with Richard.

MAY/MIGHT: JUST AS THE TIDE WAS A'FLOWING

Disclaimer: This post might well contain folk music.


May, both the day and the month, is big in british folk, with any number of songs relating to happenings in the the days thereof, many more specifically to actual individual days. Why not so April or June? I don't know, and there probably are examples in and of each, but I suspect it has to do with the whole pagan shebang of Mayday, a date long important before any international workers apprehended the date. Walpurgisnacht and Beltane vie with the Floralia for the earliest affectations, each being, broadly, celebrations of spring into summer.  Thus, and unsurprisingly, many of the songs set in May are based around sex and fertility, with, often, the snatched deflowering of maidens fair, overtly or in allegory.


This is one of my favourites, the initial amalgam of Shirley Collins, linnet voiced doyenne of the early 60s folk movement, and Ashley Hutchings, soon to be her husband, and the guv'nor of the whole  english electric folk-rock movement a near decade later, founding, in turn, Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and the various incarnations of the Albion (Country and/or Dance) Bands.
This first iteration of the Albion b(r)and was a remarkable mix, melding many of his chums from Fairport/Steeleye alongside such mavericks as Lol Coxhill, free jazz sax maven, and some of the champions of the unaccompanied choral song tradition, the Watersons.  (Shirley had earlier included the song on a recording with her sister, Dolly, in which the genesis of the version below is ever more apparent.)


This next version, an unashamed tribute to the first, to the extent of later royalties having to cross hands for the appropriation of the arrangement, was my first exposure to the wonderful and still extant 10,000 Maniacs. Short and simple, carried by the ghostly vocal of Natalie Merchant and the swell of keyboard in the instrumental middle eight, this was enough for me to give up my then immersion in only folk to explore the rest of their catalogue, as it appeared, in turn leading me on to the delights of the then not unassociated act, R.E.M. (Natalie and Michael Stipe were factionalised, or not, by their respective publicity machines into being a couple, 10k M often appearing as support to the more famous group, and Natalie sharing a vocal on 'Photograph', for a charity recording.) Whilst some of the sparkle may have dropped since Natalie left to plough her own furrow, 10k M forge on, with a thoroughly decent 2015 offering, 'Twice Told Tales', containing only songs culled from the trad.arr folk tradition, give or take a lyric by W.B. Yeats.


Sort of full circle, I guess, in the never more incestuous canon of the UK folk scene, Eliza Carthy, daughter of Martin, who appears on 'No Roses', as do her uncle and auntie, Mike and Lal Waterson. (Carthy is married to Norma, the 4th and final member of the celebrated Watersons.) Here she slows the song right down, and imbues it with a drama missing from the two earlier and jauntier versions, her voice retaining, however, the same degree of melancholia. 'Anglicana' was, arguably, her breakthrough solo recording, but she remains a powerful force on the circuit, with her Wayward Band.
As a footnote, the Watersons themselves were no stranger to May songs, with, strangely enough, this also turning up on 'No Roses.'

Keep it simple, get this, this and this. (Yep, all of 'em.)

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

May/Might: Might As Well Be Spring



Purchase "It Might As Well Be Spring"

"It Might as Well Be Spring" is a Rogers and Hammerstein composition from the 1945 film, State Fair.  As part of its designation as an "old standard", the song has been done numerous times, by some notable performers.

Sarah Vaughn did it, with a somewhat obtrusive Miles Davis trumpet line stepping all over her silky vocals.

Nina Simone covered the song for her first album, and it is tinged by the same dark sadness that all of her music simmers and broods with.

Peggy Lee took the mid-tempo ballad and swung it about, making it a snazzy, floor-filling dance tune.

Sinatra had a hit with it in 1961. But, Sinatra made everything a hit, didn't he?

The Bill Evans Trio turned the song into a smoldering yet bright instrumental, that might put you in the mood for a smoke and bourbon on the rocks.

I picked the song for the obvious title match with our chosen theme this month, but also for the light airiness of the tune, and certain happy feeling it brings to hear the timidly melancholy lyrical musing on the change of season as a stand in for silly love, and the metaphorical discovery of being out of season.

Here in the desert, Spring is the end of the season, and rather than a new beginning, there is a sense of sad goodbye that pervades everything. As the days get hotter, the whole place is winding down, the cafes are closing, the outside world we've made is being rolled back, pulled into storage and put undercover until the fall returns, when the sun won't be so relentless and we can all go outside again, blooming back into life. Spring is backwards here, and the desert is hard pressed to give up the only possession it owns. But, even if the time of year is wrong, when it's beautiful again here on the wrong side of the world, it might as well be spring. 

Monday, May 14, 2018

May/Might - Carl Perkins: The Rain Might Wash Your Love Away



purchase [Carl Perkins]

I don't 'specially follow Carl Perkins. It's a name I know, but I couldn't - before today - provide much background.

That's one of the side benefits of writing for SMM - you might learn something new: in this case, how is Carl Perkins associated with May/Might.

May/Might is a theme so open as to include <the month of May>, <any songs including May/Might in the title or lyrics> and most anything in between.
I went for the chance to learn something new by looking for songs with May/Might in the title: and there are many.

Carl Perkins - y'all know the name, but ... can you correctly associate it to:
a) Rockabilliy
b) Blue Suede Shoes
c) The Beatles' <Honey Don't>
d) May/Might
e) All of the above!!!

Correct Answer: e) - Carl Perkins did it all. RIP 1998. Age ~ 62

Perkins should rightly get credit for helping establish/define the rockabilly sound - a melange of hillbilly, boogie, honkey-tonk and the evolving musical styles of the early 1950's.
He wrote Blue Suede Shoes. According to Paul McCartney, he influenced the Beatles. And of course he wrote the May/Might song featured here.

Lots of other names come into play in defining the Rockabilly sound, but Sam Phillips, James Cotton, and a guy named Elvis Presley make the list of those most of us know. Most of them would note the influence that Carl Perkins had on their style and the genre.

Carl Perkins ... Chet Atkins ... anyone who can pick a guitar that way (and that includes Mark Knopfler with Chet Atkins and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and so many more of the same ilk) - folks that display a form of country pickin' with a jazz edge, if you please. I'll gladly listen. And wish I could come close.

While I also like the sax style of Spyro Gyra (and for me, the sax just rolls and the guitar picks the way I like to hear it), it's the roots of the style - the essential I-IV-V format with a significant variation that turns me on, and Carl Perkins does the job.



Friday, May 11, 2018

May/Might: You Might As Well Pray



Jules Shear (w/ Amy Rigby): You Might As Well Pray
[purchase]

Jules Shear has had a pretty interesting life, for a musician who has never really become famous. He’s released more than 20 albums since 1976, most recently in 2017, as a solo artist and with others. He’s acknowledged as a top-notch songwriter, and has penned hits for Cyndi Lauper ("All Through the Night"), The Bangles ("If She Knew What She Wants") and has had written or co-written songs recorded by artists as diverse as Olivia Newton John, Iain Matthews, Aimee Mann, Art Garfunkel, Alison Moyet, and Roger McGuinn. He dated Aimee Mann, who wrote a song about their breakup. He’s worked with Todd Rundgren, Tony Levin, Elliot Easton, Rick Danko, Jimmy Vivino, Rod Argent, and Chuck Prophet, among many others. Shear was the inspiration for, and host of the first 13 episodes of MTV’s Unplugged. And yet, he is one of those musicians who have had a long career tarred by the phrase “critically acclaimed, but commercially unsuccessful.” Although I don’t know for sure, I’ll assume that Shear has been able to make financial go of it for all these years, but I bet it wasn’t always easy.

I remember seeing his second and third albums, as a member of Jules and the Polar Bears, released in 1978 and 1979, around the WPRB studios, but they made no musical impression on me. I have no recollection of having played them on the radio, but maybe the name was distinctive enough to stick in my brain. I’m also pretty sure that I don’t remember hearing any of Shear’s music until his 1998 album, Between Us. (I wasn’t watching MTV back when Unplugged was on). And I’m fairly certain that I heard songs from the album on WFUV.

Between Us quickly became a family favorite. It is an album of 15 low-key duets between Shear and (mostly) female singers (and one instrumental duet with bassist Rob Wasserman). The songs are charming, interesting, and I remember listening to them in the car as my family sang along (and I kept my terrible voice quiet). Some of the highlights are his duet with Suzzy Roche (“On These Wheels Again”), complete with barking dog, “Who's Dreaming Who,” with Rosanne Cash, and “Betrayal Takes Two,” featuring Angie Hart (best known, I guess, as a member of Australian band Frente).

But another favorite from the album was his duet with Amy Rigby, the wistful “You Might As Well Pray.” I think that it is about a couple looking at the damage they have caused each other, yet hoping that just maybe, with divine intercession, they can work things out. I could be wrong, of course, because the lyrics are a bit vague, but as is common in a Jules Shear song, they are interesting and well chosen.

I’ve picked up a few of his albums over the years, both recorded before and after Between Us, and while I have enjoyed them, nothing of his has stuck with me as much as that album. It’s an interesting thing about music, isn’t it? As good an album as I think Between Us is, it is far from universally appreciated, even among Shear fans (and it doesn’t even appear to be available in downloadable form anywhere). But it was a combination of the music, and the time in my life when it came out, and the fact that my wife loved it (and still plays it from time to time), that has cemented it in my mind. With music, like comedy, sometimes timing is everything. There are times when I hear a song on the radio, and it does nothing for me, but it reminds me in some respects of stuff that I like, and I wonder if I might have felt different about the song if I had heard it, say, 20 years ago. Or conversely, whether music that I love would leave me cold if I heard if first today.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Punk: Proto-Punk - Velvet Underground



purchase [Velvet Underground ]

The second group of  10 albums I owned included Janis Ian's '68 record, <The Secret Life of J. Eddy Fink> and the Velvet Underground's '69 <The Velvet Underground>.

At that time I had a mentor who directed my music selections and was ahead of his time - he also turned me on to Hendrix at about this time ('69)

I was certainly aware that these musicians were outside the mainstream (that would have been the first 10 albums I bought: Sgt Peppers, Between the Buttons, Smokey Robinson, Simon and Garfunkle..).

To me, the Velvet Underground had something meaningful to say - something beyond "corn flakes floating in a bowl" - lyrics that gave pause, music that made you sit up and listen. Something like what Elvis Costello had to say 20 years later.

It seems like I was listening to "proto-punk" without realizing it. Of course, that nomenclature only came about after the fact. Back then, it was a reaction to main-stream rock.



The general perception of Punk is <hard driving>, but I think that isn't a given: take a listen to this anti-most and see if it fits the "proto-punk" genre.



Thursday, May 3, 2018

Punk: Punky Reggae Party


Bob Marley & The Wailers: Punky Reggae Party
[purchase]

On the one hand, punk music and reggae don’t appear to have much in common musically—one is hard, fast, aggressive, and loud, the other, more laid back, slower, and mellow. I think that it is fair to point out that both styles arose as music of angry, rebellious, disaffected youth, making their philosophical connections more obvious than their musical connections. And yet we know that there has been a strong merger of the two styles, by bands like The Clash, the Two Tone bands, and in the ska-punk genre.

So, how did this marriage get arranged? Not having a clue, I turned to Google, which served me up this article that makes the case that the matchmaker was Don Letts.

Letts was born in England, of Jamaican heritage, and ran a London clothing store popular with musicians from both the punk and reggae scenes. He was able to meet Bob Marley after a gig, and they became friendly. When the Roxy nightclub opened, catering to the emerging punk scene, Letts became the DJ, and began to spin reggae and dub songs, along with punk music, in large part because the scene was so new, there weren’t that many punk records to play. Apparently, the punks enjoyed the music, including Joe Strummer of The Clash, and members of The Slits and The Sex Pistols.

Meanwhile, Letts convinced Marley, who appeared to have a negative feeling about punk based on sensationalist tabloid newspaper articles rather than from actually listening to the music, that it was worthwhile. According to Letts, he went to collect some money from Marley, dressed in punk bondage clothing, and Marley mocked him, to which Letts responded, “They ain't no crazy baldheads, they're my breddrin.” Shortly thereafter, inspired by the message and the music of punk rock (and by The Clash’s cover of the reggae song “Police and Thieves”), Marley wrote “Punky Reggae Party,” which referenced punk and New Wave, and namechecked The Clash, The Jam, The Damned, Dr. Feelgood (really more of a pub rock than a punk band, but whatever), as well as The Wailers and The Maytals. But even more importantly, Marley makes sure to point out that while all of those musicians would be at the party, “no boring old farts will be there.”

Letts went on to a career as a musician, most notably as a member, along with former Clash member Mick Jones, of Big Audio Dynamite, which mixed many genres of music, including punk and reggae where his role was, mostly, to supply audio samples to the songs. But he is best known as a filmmaker and video producer.

And the punk and reggae marriage remains strong to this day.