Saturday, April 18, 2009

Rediscovered: Mrs. Robinson

Simon & Garfunkel: Mrs. Robinson


We've all probably heard this song hundreds of times. I know I have. My parents were fans. I've seen the The Graduate. I've had vinyl copies of Bookends and the Greatest Hits laying around in my LP collection since before CDs were invented. If asked, I'd happily admit that Mrs. Robinson is a "great" song, but it usually just flowed in one ear and out the other.

Until I heard it anew.

One night I uploaded a Simon & Garfunkel record to help me fall asleep. The next afternoon, while I was out walking my dog around the neighborhood, Mrs. Robinson shuffled to the surface. I don't know why, but for some reason it was like hearing the song for the first time. And it sounded...great.

What struck me was how many fantastic lyrics Paul Simon had crammed into one song. There were take-away lines hiding in every nook. While I'd heard them all before, and knew them by heart, I hadn't really listened in years.

Without even getting into the iconic chorus, here are some of the lyrics taken from the verses that really stood out to me as being clever, evocative, or especially nice sounding:

  • We'd like to know a little bit about you for our files. We'd like to help you learn to help yourself.
  • Look around you. All you see are sympathetic eyes. (Classic line.)
  • Stroll around the grounds until you feel at home. (Nice internal rhyme.)
  • Hide it in a hiding place where no one ever goes. (Nobody talks in such a redundant way, but it sounds great in the song.)
  • It's a little secret, just the Robinsons' affair. Most of all, you've got to hide it from the kids.
  • Sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon. (Nice alliteration.)
  • Going to the candidates' debate. (Nice internal alliteration and rhyme.)
  • Laugh about it, shout about it, when you've got to choose, every way you look at this, you lose.
Any one of these lines is a keeper. The fact that Paul Simon put all of them in one short song, not to mention Jesus and Joe DiMaggio, is pretty amazing stuff.

Rediscovered: Something So Strong

Crowded House: Something So Strong


There was a six month period in my youth where Crowded House's "Something So Strong" was my favorite song. It hit the top 10 rock charts in 1987, which means I was about 8 years old. I thought it was perfect. I loved singing along to it, I remember turning up the volume whenever the video was on Mtv, and I genuinely thought it was brilliant.

Skip ahead ten or twelve years to me in college. I was taking a sociology class and the professor was giving the students extra credit if they wrote a short paper talking about their favorite song and what made it a favorite. Another girl in the class chose a Finn Brothers song. At the time I had never heard of the band and when she read the paper to the class I was surprised to hear it was formed by Neil Finn, the lead singer of Crowded House, whom I hadn't thought of in years. Later that same week their hit song "Don't Dream It's Over" was playing at the grocery store as I was shopping and it was like the album was calling me back to it. All of the sudden "Something So Strong" was back in my consciousness and I had to hear it again.

In the last year, Crowded House has once again emerged in my life as I find friends mentioning them, finding them coming up in music searches, and having heard more of their work elsewhere. All of the sudden I am remembering all the reasons I loved the song and that the band as a whole was a pop band, but singer-songwriters at heart that made really outstanding, fun songs. It was nice that the band found their way back into my collection cosmically.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Rediscovered: One Good Time

Butch Hancock: One Good Time


First of all, welcome to Nicolas, our newest Star Maker Machine contributor - widening the circle lends a fresh perspective and dynamic!

Also, his second post was just the memory jog I needed to transport me right back to the Kerrville Folk Festival in May of 1999 - I attended the long Memorial Day weekend of the 18-day Texas event, discovering so many new-to-me performers...

One of my absolute favorites was Butch Hancock (pre-reunited-Flatlanders), who had the highest per capita heart-hitters for my love-of-language listening ears - I was sitting next to my friend Bob, who remarked that he could always tell when I liked a song (or a line) because "you mmmmm'ed four times during it" (I do admit to having a visceral and involuntary reflex reaction to music... :-)

What's not to adore about this almost-six-minute tour-de-force of a hurts-so-good crash-and-burn?: "she fought a brutal battle with the bottle and it brought a little hardship to her life" and "in the ashes of passion there were splashes of fashion which her witch's broom had brushed" - mmmmmmmmm!

Rediscovered : Tonight I'm Gonna Go Downtown

The Flatlanders : Tonight I'm Gonna Go Downtown


Being French and a fan of country music or country-rock is not an easy thing. The blues, my other passion, is well documented and supported here. My father has a solid collection of jazz and blues records he bought in the '50s and '60s, but he didn't know anything about country music until I bought him a couple of compilations.
In public libraries, not to mention general record stores, there's no way you can find a George Jones, Merle Haggard or John Prine record, and even less cult bands like The Flatlanders. So the Internet was a blessing for me, and helps me catch up.

I first heard about the Flatlanders about one year ago, and More A Legend Than A Band patiently waited on my wish list until I finally heard it for the first time yesterday night and this morning. Well, at least the first two songs. And it was love at first sight (or first listen). "Dallas" and "Go Downtown" are so great I couldn't listen to the others for the moment.

It's funny because I'm preparing a series of posts on River's Invitation about Mexican American border music, and I can really hear a Spanish accent in their brand of country, in the melody, the vocals, the backing instruments and the romantic tone of it all.
How come these guys didn't get enough attention to release a full-length album in 1972 ? Sometimes you just don't meet the right people at the right moment I guess..
So, fellow bloggers, excuse me if this song is already a long-time companion and an obvious pick for some of you, but I guess late is better than never.
Suggestions about their other records (as a group or in solo) are warmly welcome. I heard they released something new recently.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Rediscovered: When the Gates Swing Open

The Mighty Clouds of Joy: When the Gates Swing Open


I‘m working on something for Oliver di Place later this week that reminded me of my onetime exploration of black gospel music. This music is unabashedly Christian, so this was, perhaps, a strange preoccupation for a nice Jewish boy, but I was raised in a non-religious household, and this is music of undeniable power.

In the early 1980s, I found myself living with my father briefly. It was the first time I had ever lived in a city. One of my chores was to walk two blocks every Sunday morning to the nearest bodega, and get the Sunday paper. One block took me to the local black Baptist church. On Sunday mornings, there was this amazing sound coming from the place, and the building fairly shook with it. The whole congregation sang together as one in praise of the Lord, and it was hard to avoid being swept up in it, even from the sidewalk outside.

But my interest goes back further. It was Paul Simon’s fault. When Loves Me Like a Rock came out, I checked the liner notes to see who provided those great background vocals. It was The Dixie Hummingbirds. I was never the sort to stop at checking out just one group. I wanted to know, “Is there any more like this?” So I explored the world of small group black gospel music. And eventually, I found The Mighty Clouds of Joy, among others.

In due time, something else caught me ear, and the next exploration began. And given that I never found anyone else who liked gospel music, it fell by the wayside. But, in thinking about it again, what I remembered was that The Mighty Clouds of Joy best embodied the power of this music, of all the groups I remember. I did not remember any specific songs by them, but I think this one amply shows what I mean.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Rediscovered: Rainy Night Detroit

Denice Franke: Rainy Night Detroit

[purchase] (on the You Don't Know Me CD)

I just presented Texas songwriter Denice Franke in our Labyrinth Cafe concert series this past Saturday night - she was of course amazing and, when she sang the above tune, it brought back vivid memories of the first time I heard it (and her) almost 10 years ago...

I was a preliminary judge for the 2000 South Florida Folk Festival songwriter competition... and it was the job of four of us to listen to two songs each from almost 200 artists and give them a ranking using certain criteria - as one can imagine, in these circumstances, there is more proverbial chaff than wheat...

I will always recall the night one of my fellow judges called me and said: "have you gotten to #72 yet? - this one reminds me why we're doing it". When I did finally get there, I knew immediately what he was talking about - the hair on my arms and neck prickled, a lump in my throat formed and I went straight for the box of tissues...

It was Denice's Rainy Night Detroit - a decade later, the song still wrenches my heart, opens my tear ducts and reminds me how lucky I am, even (or maybe especially) in the dark times...

Rediscovered : Me and Matthew

Martin Stephenson and the Daintees : Me and Matthew


Two years ago, just before moving to the apartment where I live now near Paris, I made a BIG mistake : I listened to my wife and threw away my entire cassette collection. But ever since I've been missing them every now and then. They were all recorded in the eighties and early nineties, especially in 1983-86, the time when I started building a musical world of my own.

I discovered Martin Stephenson when his first album came out in 1986. He played the acoustic guitar. He was romantic. He played every genre that you couldn't hear on the FM stations in France : folk, country, jazzy pop, country-punk. The lyrics were about his friends and family, his lesbian sister, one of his cousin's miscarriage, the sound of a rainstrom outside his window. He was from Northern England, a strange place named Sunderland. He always wore a hat which he said had belonged to James Cagney.

Martin did a handful of albums with Kitchenware records but sales fell short and the group disbanded in 1992 and I lost track of him. Until the other day when I found his second album by chance at the library in my hometown and rediscovered this song, that goes well with the coming of spring and this week's topic. It's about childhood memories, a kid with his grandfather in a greenhouse, there are birds and bees. Bucolic, as we say in France. To be honest, it's probably the only song in the album that I listen to now. The rest hasn't aged very well..

After the band's demise, Martin came back to the Highlands in Scotland and settled there, progressively cutting ties with the record industry, playing in pubs, tiny bars, and still recording solo, often auto- produced albums with a better, rootsy sound. The Daintees came back to life in 2000 and recorded a comback album in 2008, as you will see on Martin's site.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Rediscovered: Mango Time

Tony Bird: Mango Time


A front row seat at the feet of Malawi-born, Zimbabwe-raised singer and songwriter Tony Bird was my very first introduction into the small coffeehouse scene that defines modern folk music performance -- an anomaly, as the music he plays is both decidedly South African, and ranges far wider and broader into rock and blues than the typical american strands of folk which form the contemporary type.

Tony Bird's poorly designed website suggests he's still making the same music he was back then -- indeed, he'll be appearing at Passim, the very same club where I first saw him, in June. And his short, fragmented Wikipedia entry suggests that I saw him during his comeback tour, after a two record emergence in the seventies, and a short tour with Ladysmith Black Mambazo in the eighties.

I wouldn't have known, except a few weeks ago I spent the week in my father's house, helping him recover from surgery. I found this CD in his collection, spun it for the first time in fifteen years, and was pleased to find how quickly the funky, fruity, percussive world beat took me back to that very first folk concert.