Saturday, December 13, 2008

Winter Wonderland: Snow Day

Catherine MacLellan: Snow Day


Catherine MacLellan is a wonderful folk singer who's sophomore album, Church Bell Blues, was released earlier this year. Most of the songs found here are generally unadorned; simplisticically sweet folk songs. Just a guitar or two, a beautifully pure voice and little else.

Perfect for this week's theme is of course her song, "Snow Day," which is also coincidentally, one of my favorites. It illustrates how easily a song can paint a picture. I can envision driving in a beat-up pick-up in the middle of a small, snowed over town. Everything closed. Everything white. Then driving back home, where the lights are on, smoke is coming out of the chimney and my two dogs are peering through the window as they hear the truck's engine.

Cliché? Probably. Or maybe I've seen too many movies, but this song makes it easy to imagine a scene like this. And because I've spent most of my life in California, I rarely even see snow, but I sure can relate (I've spent winter in New York - Brrrr).

- - - - -

Snow down, you can’t hear it land
Take time if you can to see it’s shape
Slow down, there’s no need to rush
There’s nothing but snow and slush on the streets

And all the dogs are stuck inside
They’ll be there until spring time
Oh It’s too cold they say

Snow day, everything is shut down
There’s no one in town, on the streets
It’s no day for doing a thing
No chores I’ll just song you to sleep

And all of us are stuck inside
Out there it’s just too wild
Oh it’s too wild out there

From my bed I can see that tree
It speaks to me in my sleep
Lover said I’m glad it’s there
It’s something to stare at today

And all the crows they laugh at us
As my car turns to rust
Oh it’s too old they say

Winter Wonderland: It's Snowing Angels

Andy Partridge: It's Snowing Angels


Ever since XTC broke up, founding member, guitarist and chief songwriter, Andy Partridge, has been been at work of a series of albums titled Fuzzy Warbles. There's eight individual volumes, It's Snowing Angels is from the first one, which was released in 2002. If you're a fan of melodic Pop, a la The Beatles, you'll truly enjoy today's selection. Now, maybe if we all click our heels together three times and say, "There's no band like XTC", we can get the fellows back together. Holiday miracle and all that...

Winter Wonderland: Footprints In The Snow

Clarence White & Doc Watson - Footprints In The Snow [purchase]

Muleskinner - Footprints In The Snow [purchase]

Today we bookend the career of guitar hero, Clarence White, with a bluegrass standard popularized by Bill Monroe in the 1940s. The duet with Doc Watson in July 1964 was, in some ways, Clarence's coming out party. The Kentucky Colonels' masterpiece, Appalachian Swing, had been released that April, but for bluegrass fans not living in the band's home base of California, the Newport Folk Festival in July was their first chance to see the Colonels in person. Clarence and Doc played a handful of songs at a guitar workshop and I think it's fair to say that the audience got their money's worth.

Muleskinner was a bluegrass supergroup featuring, in addition to Clarence, Peter Rowan on rhythm guitar, David Grisman on mandolin, Richard Greene on fiddle, and Bill Keith on banjo. Ironically, the group's existence was made possible by Bill Monroe. In February 1973, the guys were set to back up Monroe for a Southern California TV show, but the old man's bus broke down on the way to the studio. So, the band played the gig without him, and then in March and April, laid down tracks for an album. Sadly, that album features some of Clarence's final recorded guitar work as he died at the hands of a drunk driver on July 15.

FYI, for those of you wondering when the latest chapter of the Clarence White Chronicles will be set loose on the God-fearing public, look for it on The Adios Lounge in the next few days.

Winter Wonderland: Snow in Austin

Ellis Paul: Snow in Austin intro

Ellis Paul: Snow in Austin


Ellis Paul has been a fixture on the folk and acoustic scene since the early 90's - I bought his debut CD, Say Something, because of the picture of his bare feet on the back cover of the CD booklet (yeah, I also cheer for sports teams for the color of their uniforms... and bet on horses for their creative names!).

Smart lyrics, smooth vocals, great sense of humor, interesting between-song stories - add to that tall, lanky, "sexy ugly" looks (anyone else seen Kissing Jessica Stein?), and it's a blue-ribbon recipe for success. Ellis maintains an intense touring schedule and has a rabid fan base that even a wife and two children haven't dampened - plus he's a strong proponent of the work of Woody Guthrie and has mainstream popularity with songs included in the films Me, Myself & Irene and Shallow Hal. I've had the pleasure of experiencing Ellis live a double-handful of times, from commercial venues to house concerts to festivals - he never disappoints...

Snow in Austin is the story of boy meets girl, boy and girl have a long distance relationship (she lives in Massachusetts, he in Texas), chances of girl moving south are as slim as the Red Sox winning the World Series... or snow falling in Austin - hmmm, maybe it's time to reconsider?

Winter Wonderland: Snow Day, v 3.0

Trout Fishing in America: Snow Day


This week, we have had a first on Starmaker, the hidden sub-theme. It was, of course, “Snow Day: post songs called Snow Day”. I did a search on Itunes, and I can cheerfully report that there are still many choices left if you haven’t gotten in on this yet.

All of that said, I am still surprised that this one was still available. Trout Fishing in America is that wonderful altitudinally mismatched pair of Ezra Idlet and Keith Grimwood who are responsible for so much wonderful kid’s music. There is only one thing more challenging than trying to find kid’s music that doesn’t drive an adult into a diabetic coma, and that is trying to find kid’s holiday music that meets this requirement. Fortunately, Trout’s Merry Fishes to All fills the bill nicely.

Winter Wonderland: Snowblind Friend

Hoyt Axton: Snowblind Friend


To me Hoyt Axton will always be the dad on Gremlins....yes that Hoyt Axton (as if there is another guy with such a cool name). Depending on when you grew up (70's or 80's) odds are you will recognize him. In the 70's he was the go to good ole boy actor, starring in everything from Bonanza and Dukes of Hazzard to Murder She Wrote and Diff'rent Strokes in the 80's. Odds are also high you might recognize one of his many songs that have been made famous by others: Joy to The World ring a know "Jeremiah was a bullfrog"...Hoyt wrote it. The know "God damn the pusher man"....yep Hoyt wrote that too. Going even further back....Greenback Dollar made famous by the Kingston Trio....Hoyt wrote it. Know that big mac jingle....Hoyt. How about Heartbreak Hoyt did not write that.....his mother did!

So here is one of my favorite songs he has ever written. Much like The Pusher it's an anti-drug song written the way only a man who has been to the bottom and climbed back up could write it, and also like The Pusher this song is more famous for the version Steppenwolf does. Hoyt probably has one of the most soothing yet commanding voices in all of folk-dom....and especially tv-dom. The kind of voice few men are blessed with....and those men are named Kris Kristofferson, Sam Elliot, and Johnny Cash -- pretty good company if you ask me.

Guest post submitted by Truersound

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Winter Wonderland: Snowin’ in Brooklyn

Ferron: Snowin‘ in Brooklyn


Ferron’s songs are often about relationships, and the stories they tell can apply to different aspects of the same situation. Snowin’ in Brooklyn is a breakup song in which the narrator is advising acceptance of the situation. “If it’s snowin’ in Brooklyn, I’d say snow’s what we’ve got.” It could be that the narrator is helping a friend through the aftermath of the breakup through an exchange of letters. But it would be equally valid to assume that the narrator is one half of the couple that broke up, and her advising acceptance is for her own benefit as well as her correspondent‘s. And the lyrics make no assumption about the genders of the two characters.

The question of gender comes up because Ferron is a lesbian. In my younger days, I fell in with a crowd that included members of New Brunswick, NJ’s gay and lesbian community, and a group of us attended a Ferron concert. I got lost in the music, and the intensity of Ferron’s lyrics, and did not realize until later that some of the lesbians in the audience picked up on the (apparently) very straight vibes I was giving off, and they greeted this with hostility. But I remember that Ferron specifically urged the straight members of the audience to sing along. She was obviously gay but not narrow, and I’m sure the lack of gender specificity in her lyrics was deliberate.

Gay and lesbian musicians have two career paths available to them. The lucky ones, like Melissa Ethridge, can achieve popularity with a mainstream audience before coming out publicly, and can then retain most or all of their audience. But there are probably many more who tread the same path as Ferron. She released her first two albums herself, and when a label came calling, it was one that specialized in lesbian music. Thus, she became labeled, and once that happens, it becomes very difficult to reach a wider audience. I hope this post helps in some small way.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Winter Wonderland: Snow Day

Bleu: Snow Day


I woke up to the radio
And the glare of a blanket of fallen snow
When I heard the DJ speak to me
In a voice that was thick as an evergreen
He announced all the schools that were closing

On my knees and pray
For a snowy day
Cause I need a break
And I wanna sled the day away
I need a snow day

In my other life, I'm a high school teacher. Among other things, this means that several times each year, my workday gets cancelled at the whim of weather, a decision based primarily on whether or not a superintendent thinks that he can get the busses running safely.

Whether you've got kids or just were one once, you know the utterly exquisite, perfectly delicious feeling that is the impending dream of a snowday. But you've never seen that rare combination of glee and relief in its perfect state until you've lived with a teacher at the end of his rope, waking early to stare hopefully out the window, watching the flakes come pouring down while the radioman drones districts in the background. My wife says its like living with an extra-big kid. I take that as a compliment.

Here's Boston-based one man band Bleu with a totally high energy kid-friendly powerpop number that really captures the utter joy of the snow day experience: nothing deep, just two minutes twenty of sheer happiness. The winter ditty, complete with kidvoices and totally bitchin' guitar solo, was originally released on his 1999 holiday album A Bing Bang Holidang; I subsequently discovered it on the debut disk in my favorite indie kid series For The Kids, and can assure you that like the rest of the tunes on that fine disk, it may be officially for kids, but it's targeted towards the kid in all of us. Meet you on the sledding hill!

Winter Wonderland: Snow Angel

Boyhowdy has been guest-blogging at Breakthrough Radio this week - in yet another burst of synchronicity that is my life, below is a snippet of his post from earlier today, as he describes the modus operandi of Star Maker Machine:

For example, this week, our theme is Winter Wonderland, which means we’re posting songs with the word snow in the title; though I’m submitting this post in advance, I have no idea what the pack has come up with, but given the general trend over there, I can predict with reasonable certainty that this week’s early entries have consisted of mostly older, well-cared-for songs from across the genre spectrum...

These more recent piano ballads which use the idea of snow as both metaphor and setting – Over The Rhine’s lush Snow Angel, and neo-trad folkie Kristen Andreassen’s lovely, hushed Like The Snow — wouldn’t be as good a fit there, and since they’re not covers, I can’t share them over at Cover Lay Down. But they’re eminently worth including here today.

The synchronistic part being... I uploaded a draft of Snow Angel early yesterday morning, planning to fine-tune and finish later in the day (after I returned from taking a friend to the doctor... and picking out new bathroom tiles) - the upshot is... I was too exhausted after my errands and vowed to complete the post today... at which point I read BH's submission. I'm still going to follow through on my original intention... and just chalk it up to great-minds-think-alike phenomenon - I'm honored to share an idea with someone whose vivid writing and diverse music tastes I very much admire!

I'm a bit late to the Over the Rhine (married couple Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler) bandwagon, still not possessing any of their regular recordings, but I bought Snow Angels (based on a friend's recommendation) a few years ago... and adore her gorgeous voice, his evocative songwriting and the spare yet rich arrangements of every song on the CD.

From OTR's website:

The Seattle Times calls Over the Rhine's Holiday CD, Snow Angels, "the best soundtrack since A Charlie Brown Christmas for feeling melancholy and lovesick in December."

Over the Rhine: Snow Angel


They say the Eskimos have 100 words for snow and, on Snow Angel, Karin's delivery is plaintive with broken-hearted weariness - as a yang to that yin, I offer up another declaration of love (from the same CD), this song as sizzling as the other is frozen...

Over the Rhine: Snowed In with You


Winter Wonderland: Roses in the Snow

Emmylou Harris: Roses in the Snow


Roses in the Snow was Emmylou Harris' bluegrass album. Released in 1980, it was the follow up recording to her 1979 release Blue Kentucky Girl... a straightforward country record that produced a number one single and won Emmy a Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance. Of course, the smart thing to do after releasing a successful and highly acclaimed country album is to then immediately release a bluegrass album in the midst of the Countrypolitan, Urban Cowboy world of 1980's Nashville. Her label didn't want to release it at first, but eventually caved after Emmylou refused to shelve the project. The label heads feared a commercial failure.

However misguided the move may have seemed to some... Emmylou made it work. The album went to number two on the country charts (it was certified Gold faster than any other Emmylou recording) and is still as well loved as any in her catalogue. Tony Rice, Ricky Skaggs, Albert Lee, Emory Gordy, and producer Brian Ahern formed the core of the band for this album with guest appearances by Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Jerry Douglas, Linda Ronstadt, and The Whites. With a cast like that, it's easy to see how Emmylou created a masterpiece.

When Emmylou was looking for songs for Roses in the Snow, she began going through record stores and looking for bluegrass songs written and performed by female artists... a rarity at the time in a male dominated genre. In a dusty pile in the back room of Tower Records, she found an album by bluegrass artist Delia Bell. Emmylou had never heard of Bell, but she bought the album anyway and was introduced to the Ruth Franks penned "Roses in the Snow." The story of lost love told from a female perspective captured Emmy's imagination and led her to include it as the lead track, and title cut, on her album.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Winter Wonderland: Cold Rain & Snow

The Be Good Tanyas - Cold Rain & Snow [live]


I am a Florida native. I never even saw snow until I was in my mid-twenties and I went snowboarding for the first time. I remember being amazed at just how accurate the spray snow we always put on the Christmas tree actually was. I love going snowboarding these days and start getting excited once I start seeing flurries at football games. As much as I like playing in snow, I don't know how any of y'all could actually live in that crap. Bleh! I'll take shorts in December anytime.

None of this has shit to do with the song I'm posting. Oh well.

Winter Wonderland: Fifteen Feet Of Pure White Snow

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds: Fifteen Feet of Pure White Snow


Nick Cave is an amazing songwriter and storyteller, always creating haunting tales of death, addiction and general human malice. He's been making records for twenty years or more, and was named one of Paste Magazine's 100 Greatest Living Songwriters a few years back, something I strongly agree with, though I'd like to have seen him higher than #90.

This song is generally believed to be yet another song using snow as metaphor for cocaine. This is probably quite likely considering this album (which is also probably the one I genuinely enjoy the most of his) was the first Cave made after getting off drugs himself. The names he mentions in the song, Mona, Mary, John, Mark, Matthew, are supposed to signify people he lost due to drugs. The metaphor is brought to life, imagining friends slowly being lost to this tremendous blizzard, and slowly losing yourself under that same weight of heavy snow.

Winter Wonderland: Black Snow

Peter Mulvey: Black Snow


Wintertime, and especially the holiday season, can be overwhelming. When you get to thinking of all you have to do, with limited time and resources, it’s easy to just shut down completely. For Peter Mulvey, the perfect symbol of these feelings is a bank of black snow. You can’t make anything out of it, you don’t want to walk in it, all you can do is wish it would melt.

Peter Mulvey began his musical career busking in the Boston subway system. Playing acoustic guitar in such a noisy environment requires you to develop a loud and percussive style. Listening to Black Snow, I can imagine the subway trains providing the percussion parts.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Winter Wonderland: Through the Bitter Frost and Snow

Susan McKeown: Through the Bitter Frost and Snow


When I began my aforementioned contemporary folk and acoustic journey in the mid- to late-90’s, Dar Williams was the catalyst who led me to so many others – I bought beaucoups of compilations, which then had me trekking to my local Barnes & Noble to find solo recordings by various artists.

One particular CD I purchased primarily because of the cover artwork and the name of the group: Bones by Susan McKeown and the Chanting House – mysterious, right? I adored that CD (Albatross and Snakes and Love and Superstition, oh my!) and it remains in my Top Ten, as much for Susan's strong voice as her inventive songwriting. Imagine my surprise when I realized later she is cataloged as Celtic – “but I don’t like Celtic!”, I thought… and the following paragraph helps explain her hold over me in a non-preferred genre:

If there's some dividing line between Celtic traditionalism and eclectic contemporary songwriting, McKeown refuses to acknowledge it. And with a voice as warm, resonant and versatile as hers, why should she? - The Oregonian

Whew – crisis averted!

Being a collector of eclectic holiday music, I was thrilled when she released Through the Bitter Frost and Snow, which describes so much better than I ever could:

Anyone who lives in snow country can appreciate the stark but fascinating landscapes Susan McKeown and Lindsey Horner conjure up in this jazzy folk-rock amalgam that traverses the stars ("Bold Orion") and the biting solitary expanses of the title track. Still there's an uncanny warmth and longing in the voices, the truncated harmonies, and the resonating bass line, the bass often serving as a lead instrument in "Song for Forgetting," for example. McKeown and Horner have managed to create a highly distinctive record of wintry exploration that mixes traditional British Isles folk singing and jazz phrasing while embracing familiar fare such as "Coventry Carol," "Auld Lang Syne" (almost dirgelike), and "Green Grow'th the Holly." No stranger to melancholy, the record will have a disquieting affect. But it will also please and intrigue with its bittersweet sadness and ironic arrangements for anyone willing to acquire such a beguiling taste of the dark month of Christmas. --Martin Keller

I included this tune on my 2005 Holiday Mix, and continue to enjoy the voice and style of a woman who defies the limitations of boundaries – I hope it warms your heart as well…

Winter Wonderland: Snow

My esteemed colleague Darius recently tackled a Jesse Winchester song (Just Like New) in these pages, asking to be guided through more of his work. So I - amongst others - told him to buy the self-titled debut from ´70 first. Here´s my chance to illustrate, as that great Robbie Robertson-produced and Todd Rundgren-engineered album has got a song called Snow on it.

Like Ali, Winchester had ´nothing against no Viet Cong´ and to dodge the draft the Memphis-bred musician crossed the border in ´67 to Montreal, where he found himself struggling with the fierce climate. As Winchester became a Canadian citizen in ´73, he must have gotten used to the winter wonderland up north pretty fast. But then again, maybe he simply bought heavy hip boots, a furry hat, long-john underwear and acquired a layer of protective fat...

"I was tuning in the six o'clock newscast, and the weather man mentioned snow
As soon as I heard that four-letter word, I was making my plans to go...
If I was a bird I would fly back South, a bear I would go to sleep
Anything rather than hang around here, when the snow starts getting deep..."

As a bonus, here´s an short and sweet acoustic early demo of the song.

Winter Wonderland: Snow Day

Lisa Loeb: Snow Day


When I think "snow day", I think of that feeling I got as a child when the weather was bleak outside and I sat on my parents bed watching the school closings across the bottom of the screen waiting to see my school's name and then bouncing with joy when it was canceled. But alas, that is not the feeling that Lisa Loeb is talking about in her song "Snow Day", in fact, it's quite the opposite.

This song is from Lisa's first (and best) album, Tails. It's an album known for its famous single "Stay (I Missed You)" that was featured in the 90's hit movie Reality Bites. This song speaks of the seasonal depression many of us feel. Lisa wrote this song before she made it big, living in the East Village in New York and dealing with the loneliness of the cold and bleak New York winters. The song, though it deals with depression, is also hopeful and imagines there being someone there to rescue us from our winter blahs. Perhaps it is someone to greet us with a steaming cup of cocoa after being out in the cold, or someone there to curl up with and watch a movie when the weather is too awful to go out. The song reminds us that even when we're sad and it looks like everything is stacked against us that things can and will get better.

Winter Wonderland: Phoebe Snow

Utah Phillips: Intro to Phoebe Snow

Utah Phillips: Phoebe Snow


I kind of cheated in posting this for this week’s theme; not a single flake of snow appears in this song, and it even seems likely that the action occurs in summer. But, before you totally panic, I did not use a song by an artist with snow in her name, and the word does appear in the song title. In fact both the song and the singer took their name from the same source; Phoebe Snow was a character created for an ad campaign by the Delaware Lackawanna Railroad in the early 1900s. Ads such as the one shown above were still found on railcars well into the second half of the twentieth century, and were known to both the singer Phoebe Snow, who took her stage name from them, and to Utah Phillips.

Back in Heaven week, I managed the trick of posting songs about hobos without mentioning Utah Phillips even once. Phillips had been a hobo and a union organizer at different times in his early life, and these influences informed his songwriting once he became a musician. Phillips championed the downtrodden and the workers in his work, and his political views informed many of his songs. His hobo songs, such as this one, tend to be less overtly political than the rest of his material.

Many people had their introduction to the work of Utah Phillips when Ani DiFranco released an album of remixes of his songs on her Righteous Babe label; the album was made with Phillips’ full consent and cooperation. But what you hear here is a better representation of his work. Phillips died earlier this year, and I offer this post as a small tribute to him.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Winter Wonderland: Snowin' On Raton

Townes Van Zandt: Intro to Snowin' on Raton
Townes Van Zandt: Snowin' on Raton

[live, 1995]

Robert Earl Keen: Snowin' On Raton


In the intro track to a 1995 bootleg I picked up somewhere along the way, just before he refers to himself as a “lonely schizophrenic,” we hear troubled singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt says that his song Snowin' on Raton is “about” a mountain pass between Trinidad, Colorado and Raton, New Mexico, “depending on whichever way you're going”. And, on the surface, the song certainly presents as a story of a man on the wrong side of Raton Pass, a national landmark which is usually the best way to get between two lush valleys in the American West, but which is famous for turning treacherous in the occasional winter snowfall.

But perceive the power of metaphor in the hands of a genius: what Townes doesn't say is that in its layered, deceptively deep lyric, and in the lugubrious tone, the tune is, ultimately, a vividly perfect portrayal of restless depression and the drive to escape it. The urge to travel becomes a mechanism for avoidance and forgetfulness; the macrocosm of snow in the pass a clear representation of the fleeting wisps of family and obligation which drag against men trying to keep moving against the wind and weather.

Van Zandt had his demons; at the time of the 1995 recording in question, he was "withered" in the late ravages of alcoholism, and the message of Raton Pass was one he knew well: stand still too long, and your demons catch up with you; though the way holds danger, better to hit the welcoming road the moment the snow lets up. But the power here is in the song as much as it is in the performance. Fellow Texan singer-songwriter Robert Earl Keen proves the point by crooning the same sentiment, with perhaps a little less wistful and a little more weary; it's hard to imagine, but TvZ's original produced recording of this song had a hidden seed of hope in it, too.

Winter Wonderland: Snowblind

Black Sabbath - Snowblind [purchase]

Nothing says Christmas cheer quite like cocaine addiction. According to Wikipedia, the band originally wanted to name their fourth album, Snowblind, but the record company balked. Apparently, singing about Satan ("Black Sabbath"), marijuana ("Sweet Leaf"), the stupidity of war ("War Pigs"), and the perils of heroin ("Hand Of Doom") wasn't a problem, but album titles ... that's where Warner Brothers drew the line. "You cross this line, you die! OK, THIS line! Would you believe this line?" Regardless, Sabbath got the last laugh as you can clearly hear Ozzy whispering "cocaine" after the line, "Icicles within my brain." That's right. In your face, selective morality!

Winter Wonderland: Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow

Dean Martin: Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow


As far as themes go, what timing - the first snow of the holiday season has hit the New York metropolitan area. Though it was recorded in Hollywood during late summer, Dean Martin's smooth rendition of this classic hits the spot.