Johnny Cash: Cry Cry Cry
Cry Cry Cry: By Way of Sorrow (written by Julie Miller)
I batted around a few different ideas for my contribution this week, but kept coming back to the phrasing of the theme... and couldn't resist my need to tie together the two incarnations of Cry Cry Cry of which I'm aware:
~ the title of Johnny Cash's song (released in June 1955, it reached number 14 on the Billboard country charts)...
Cash wasn't used to writing on demand, but back at the house on Tutweiler with Vivian's due date approaching, Cash labored at the kitchen table. He chugged his coffee and burned down cigarette after cigarette as if he were back at the radio intercept controls. Inspired by Memphis disc jockey Eddie Hill's trademark "we're gonna squall and ball and climb the walls", recalled Cash, he came up with Cry Cry Cry in two weeks... Cash enhanced the recording with a chucka-chucka percussive effect that he produced by threading a folded sheet of paper between the strings up around the neck frets...
~ the name of the 1999 folk supergroup (comprised of Dar Williams, Richard Shindell and Lucy Kaplansky)...
"The name comes from "three things," Shindell says, speaking softly by phone from his "quiet house in the woods" of Valhalla, N.Y.
"It's the threeness of it all, obviously, but it's also the sound of the voice, the way a singing voice can often sound like it's crying at the simplest of times. And there's a melancholy to the whole thing, in that most of the songs on the album are pretty damned depressing."
There's also the matter of his newborn son. "The sessions were interrupted by his birth, and a few of the arrangements were inspired by him. And he was around a lot . . . crying."
As a synchronistic sidenote, I actually did witness the trio performing the Cash tune... in February 1999 at the Centro Astureano in Tampa, Florida - sigh sigh sigh...
Saturday, June 27, 2009
Friday, June 26, 2009
Ryan Adams: Cry On Demand
Though it's somewhat blasphemous to say so, I'm a much bigger fan of Ryan Adams the sensitive folkpop artist than Ryan Adams the alt-country rocker. It's not that I don't understand the appeal, really -- the man can write a hook in any form, and his heavier side makes for some danm good listening. I just think there's few other artists recording today who can hit the emotional nail on the head with such heartfelt quietude. And the tangled web of confused loss and longing which frames Cry On Demand makes it one of the best pensive, brooding acoustic ballads in his catalog.
Alvin Youngblood Hart : Dancing With Tears In My Eyes
I love Alvin Youngblood Hart because he's a great guitar player, singer songwriter, and of course, because like me, he's a old-time blues lover and a fan of the great Leadbelly.
"Dancing with tears in my eyes",is not a cover of the new wave hit by Ultravox, but a much more ancient Tin Pan Alley song in 3/4 time, that Alvin took from Lead who, in turn had learnt it in the thirties. It's a good song about sadness and life that must go on.
Dolly Parton: My Blue Tears
My first impression of her had nothing to do with music. It was the enormous breasts. Parton was the one who made sure everyone knew about them. So, she was the trashy blond who had something to do with country. Then, I heard that she had opened an amusement park named after herself. And there was the movie, 9 To 5.
I actually saw it in the theater. I don’t remember why. It was a slight comedy. The songs were my first introduction to Parton’s music, and it wasn’t even country. It was bad pop.
At the time, I was in my “cool” phase. I wasn’t about to like country music. New wave was the thing. Jazz gave me an edge. So did blues. Folk was a secret only my closest friends knew about.
But, I got older, and left the peer pressure of high school behind. A girlfriend liked going to bars to dance to local country bands, and I began to realize that, yes, it was corny, but country music had something honest to say. Still, even the idea of liking Dolly Parton was embarrassing.
Cut to 2001. Now I am married to a woman who doesn’t care for most country music. The sound of country music has changed. Line dancing is big, and the classic sound of country is becoming a distant memory. And word reaches me that Dolly Parton has made a bluegrass album! A good one, even! The idea is so weird that I have to check it out. And it really is true.
The album was Little Sparrow, and the song My Blue Tears is right there in the middle of it. Here, it is a slow ballad about the sorrow of having a lover leave. The lyrics are a plea by the wounded protagonist to a bluebird whose sad song reminds her of her loss. The song has a naive simplicity to the concept, and the listener cannot help but sympathize.
It turns out that My Blue Tears is a Parton original that has been with her for a while. She first recorded it on her album Coat of Many Colors, in a more upbeat early seventies country arrangement. There is also a beautiful duet version on Linda Ronstadt’s album Get Closer. So, maybe Parton will record the song again in the future. I’ll be keeping an ear out, to see what she does with it next.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Arthur Alexander: Everyday I Have To Cry Some
If you are only going to listen to one of my tearful posts this week, this should be the one.
Arthur Alexander was an extremely gifted artist but many music fans don't know his name. You should. Check out his interesting story here, here, and here.
(If you like what you hear, please consider leaving a comment so that I know a connection is being made.)
Tori Amos: 1000 Oceans
This Tori Amos song is from her 1999 double-disc album "To Venus and Back", which featured a disc of new songs and a disc of live songs recorded during her previous tour. "1000 Oceans" was the last song on the disc, and as is typical for many artists, and almost always the case for Tori, the album ends with a melancholy ballad.
This particular song was inspired by the passing of her father-in-law and was written to help her husband deal with the grief. She sings about how she has cried "a thousand oceans" but would cry a thousand more if it meant bringing him back. It's a touching and beautiful song, that, though sad, feels more like a sympathetic hand squeeze or a shoulder to cry on.
kd lang: Tears Don‘t Care Who Cries Them
Patsy Cline. Brenda Lee. Loretta Lynn. Female country singers who had (or have) big voices. You think of them singing in front of a small band augmented with real strings. And, I at least think, this is what country music sounds like.
But were it not for producer Owen Bradley, country music might not sound like that at all. Bradley was the producer of all of these ladies’ biggest songs. And he was one of the chief architects of the “Nashville sound”.
By 1987, kd lang had made one album that had anything to do with country music. Absolute Torch and Twang had more to do with Texas country, including western swing. At this point, lang decided to do her next project in Nashville.
Mary Martin had been a friend of lang’s in Canada. Martin relocated to Nashville, and went to work for RCA’s country operation there. It was she who introduced lang to Owen Bradley. In Bradley, lang found a legend who was willing to take chance on a young singer. In lang, Bradley found a singer who blossomed, and proved able to more than hold her own as a classic country singer. The result was an album that sounded like it could have been made 35 years earlier. The album was Shadowland.
Most of the songs on Shadowland are covers that match up well to the originals. I have been unable to determine who may have done an earlier version of Tears Don’t Care Who Cries Them. But the song fits write in with the vintage material here.
Lesley Gore: It's My Party
Lesley Gore: Judy's Turn To Cry
These pop hits from 1963 (sung by 16-year-old Lesley Gore and produced by 30-year-old Quincy Jones) constitute history's most famous two-part, tear-dropped, teen-pop melodrama.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Buddy Holly: Crying, Waiting, Hoping [purchase]
This gem is a home recording made by Buddy Holly in 1958, shortly before his untimely death.
While not the same song, it bears some resemblance to this 1955 recording from the Singing Ranger, Hank Snow:
Hank Snow: Cryin', Prayin', Waitin', Hopin' [purchase]
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Bonnie Raitt: Cry on My Shoulder
Some musical pairings seem obvious in retrospect, but make no apparent sense at the time. In 1988, executive producer Hal Willner was working on Stay Awake, his album of unusual takes on songs from Disney movies. Here were Sun Ra doing Pink Elephants on Parade, Tom Waits voicing the seven dwarves, and Sinead O’Connor on the title track. And Willner had the crazy idea of pairing Bonnie Raitt, known at the time mainly as a blues artist, with Don Was, from one of the strangest groups of the 80s, Was (Not Was). And remember that, to be one of the strangest groups of the 80s, you had to be really strange.
The song was Baby Mine, (heard here during the week of the same name), and the pairing worked amazingly well. So well, in fact, that Raitt tagged Was as her producer for her next album. This was Nick of Time, and the album proved to be Raitt’s commercial breakthrough, after almost twenty years in the music business.
Of course, Cry on My Shoulder comes from Nick of Time. The song was written by Michael Ruff. Ruff is one of those people who is regarded as a “songwriter’s songwriter”. You’ve probably heard his songs without knowing they were his. Besides Raitt, artists who have recorded his songs include Natalie Cole, India Arie, Kenny Loggins, Huey Lewis and the News, and The Doobie Brothers. Ruff doesn’t really tour, never venturing much beyond his native Hawaii. And he is primarily a Christian artist, doubly insuring his distance from the mainstream.
Monday, June 22, 2009
Julie Miller: All My Tears
It's no secret I'm a coverhound, and this one's been done plenty raw and emotional, both by Steve Earle and Emmylou Harris, not to mention an oddly endearing christian rock take from Jars of Clay. But though most covers take both Julie's original intonation and Buddy Miller's ringing electric atmospheric undercurrent as gospel, I prefer the sparse mountain banjo and breathy vocals of Julie Miller's own solo effort, revisited as an appalachian tune for the 2001 film Songcatcher years after the song first debuted as a countryrock duet with Emmylou on Julie's 1993 album Orphans and Angels.
Emmylou's Wrecking Ball demo recording isn't bad, either. The piano is a nice touch.
Emmylou Harris: All My Tears
[demo unreleased; final version here]
Bruce Springsteen: O Mary Don't You Weep
O Mary Don't You Weep is a pre-Civil War era spiritual that calls to mind themes of liberation from bondage and the salvation that can come from faith. The narrative covers the raising of Lazarus from the dead, the parting of the Red Sea, and the promise of the rainbow. Each verse ends with Mary, don't you weep no more. Pharaoh's armies got drowned-ed. O Mary, don't you weep.
This song has been recorded countless times, by the likes of Pete Seeger, The Caravans, Burle Ives, and Bone Thugs 'n Harmony. I've heard several versions, but I only own one which is by Bruce Springsteen from his Pete Seeger Sessions album. I like this version a lot, and the video is also cool if you ever get a chance to see it.
Jacques Brel : Voir un ami pleurer
"Voir un ami pleurer" ("To See A Friend Cry"), was on Jacques Brel's swan song album that he recorded in 1977, 3 years after being diagnosed with lung cancer. He had stopped touring since 1966, hadn't recorded a real album since 1968, and was living in French Polynesia, but he came back to France to record. He passed away in 1978.
Here's an attempt at an English translation
Of course, there are the wars in Ireland /And tribes without music
Of course, all this lack of tender / And there is no more America
Of course, money has no smell/ but lack of smell gets up our nose
Of course, we walk on flowers/ But....to see a friend cry
Of course, there are our defeats/ And death at the very end
Our bodies already incline their heads/ Amazed to be still standing
Of course, there are unfaithful women / And assassinated birds
Of course, our hearts lose their wings / But....to see a friend cry
Of course, our exhausted cities / By these 50 year old children
Our impotence to help them / And our loves which have a tooth ache
Of course, time that goes too fast/ These subway trains full of drowned people
Truth avoiding us/ But....to see a friend cry.....
Of course, our mirrors are honest / Nor the courage of being jew
Nor the elegance of being negro /We think we are wicker, we're only tallow
And all these men who are our brothers/ So much so that we're no longer amazed
When out of love they lacerate us / But....to see a friend weep......
Sunday, June 21, 2009
Stevie Ray Vaughan: The Sky Is Crying
The guitar wail. The vocal moan. The heartstring masculinity of the core metaphor. The poignancy of the posthumous album, the best of a bluesman lost in his prime to foggy weather and a helicopter pilot's inexperience.
I maintain that The Sky Is Crying is Stevie Ray Vaughan's greatest album, bar none -- if for no other reason than that the sheer raw emotion of the songs it contains, coupled with the bittersweet hope of its very existence, has helped me get through so many periods of great sadness and loss. Its title song is just one gem among many recorded in life, and released first in death. Talk about the blues incarnate.
Al Green: I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry
This is a theme I can really work with. I love depressing music. Let's start with a great cover of one of the all-time great sad sack songs. Al Green sings Hank Williams.