Saturday, October 31, 2009

Ghosts and Zombies: Haunted Hearts Edition

I share with you now the Ghosts of Past, Present and Future - whether inhabiting a shadowed room, a relationship-in-flux (stalker?) or a smoky bar, the spirits (and demons) of love can be haunting... and daunting...

Richard Shindell:Memory of You

[purchase] (scroll down to Sparrows Point)

"Why did you leave
Your will so vague?
Just three blue lines
Across the page:
You take the vase
I'll keep the rose
And the memory of you "

Lynn Miles: The Ghost of Deadlock


"But the ghost of deadlock rides this train
And she takes it out of town
It's way past last call
It's way past the point of giving us new ground
To stand on. . . then hold on"

Christine Albert: Haunt Your Heart


"Haunt your heart 'til you overcome your fear of love
Haunt your heart until you see what you've given up
So until that day I'll give us time apart
but the love we made is gonna haunt your heart"

Ghosts and Zombies: Ghostly Visitation Edition

Andrew King: Sweet William‘s Ghost


Back in 1987-88, I was involved with a folk music coffeehouse in New Brunswick, NJ, called the Mine St Coffeehouse. One night, we had an English folk singer in named Nick Dow. He did a great performance, including Sweet William’s Ghost. I had never heard the song before. Sweet William’s Ghost is a Childe Ballad, but a fairly obscure one. And that’s a shame, because it is a fine song. You may have noticed, however, that I did not post Nick Dow’s version. That is because I do not have it and can’t get it. So, there are two items on my Halloween wish list this year. If anyone has an mp3 of Dow’s version, please post it in the comments. And if anyone can put me in touch with Nick Dow, I would be forever in your debt.

That said, Andrew King does a fine version of the song, and a very unusual one. The song tells of a ghost who returns to his fiance, so that he can be released from his vows, and from this world. She releases him willingly, but only after her conditions are met. King delivers a strong vocal, and frames it with an eerie organ drone that changes very little throughout the song, but works beautifully. This is what a ghostly visitation sounds like.

Concrete Blonde: The Ghost of a Texas Ladies Man


Skip ahead a few hundred years, and things change. Concrete Blonde presents a ghostly visitation as an assignation. There are no lover’s vows here. Lust is closer to the mark. But again, the music perfectly captures the mood.

Justin Townes Earle: The Ghost of Virginia


Finally, here is a ghostly visitor who is not even human. The Ghost of Virginia is a train. Justin Townes Earle is Steve’s son, but at this rate, we will soon be saying that Steve is Justin’s father.

Ghosts and Zombies: Zombie, vol. 3

Jay Brannan: Zombie


I know we don't usually post new music here on Star Maker Machine, but I'm sure we're all thinking about The Cranberries' infamous radio poptune. I figured I'd preempt any temptation towards posting it last-minute by sharing this relatively recent cover from internet sensation Jay Brannan, which transforms the song from its original pop pap into melancholy musing.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Ghosts and Zombies: Ghost (x4)

We've had two songs simply named Zombie this week. Seemed high time to give some similarly stark, soundalike spirit-world song titles a spin. Thus: some favorite songs named, simply, Ghost.

Neutral Milk Hotel: Ghost


Lo-fi indie darlings Neutral Milk Hotel lasted less than a decade, but their envelope-pushing combination of odd lyrics, noodling electric production, and eclectic instrumentation are still cited by many children of the nineties now pushing their own indie blogs, and even more working to spread their own indie band names across the blogosphere. With catchy fuzzed out songs like this, it's easy to see why.

Mark Erelli: Ghost


Erelli's star never rose as high as it did immediately following the release of Compass and Companion, a slightly countrified contemporary folk disk which led me to the local folk artist. Since then, I've seen him several times in concert, and reviewed his work more than once, but I still come back to this and other tracks from his earlier years. That raspy, adolescent's tenor never sounded more apropos as it does here, as a narrator haunted by his preference for the ideal over the real.

Indigo Girls: Ghost


One of my favorite Indigo Girls songs, from my favorite Indigo Girls album - sweeter than their usual fare, and out of the context the album provides, almost too melodramatic for unembarrassed mixed company. Still, it starts so tender, and rises so far and so majestically, it's hard not to sing along.

Land of Talk: Ghost


A ghost just needs a home... A bit more recent than our usual fare here on Star Maker Machine, but I couldn't resist this intimate, unplugged take on indierock trio Land of Talk's Ghost, if only because where so many ghost songs use the spirit as unobtainable object of affection, here, a rare reversal puts the ghost in first person. I know what it's like to be unseen, to feel adrift and out of place in the mortal world; I suspect we all do.

Ghosts and Zombies: (Another) Zombie

Nellie McKay: Zombie


This is obviously a completely different song from our last Zombie. Nellie McKay starts us off with a walking (dead) bass line, and continues in a jazzy mood. She eloquently explains why it’s not always a good idea to go for a stroll in a Southern swamp.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Ghosts and Zombies: The Ghosts That Haunt Me

Crash Test Dummies: The Ghosts That Haunt Me


I may have written before that I'm not a big fan of 80's music (other than New Wave) - I feel as if I tolerated a decade of One-Name Bands (being purposely vague so as to protect the innocent... or guilty, as the case may be), hoping for an eventual reprieve (the views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinions of my fellow... and sister... Starmakers)...

So... may I just tell you how refreshing it was to usher in the 90's - Counting Crows and Crash Test Dummies were the first to hit my list of New Discoveries, with lyrics and humor and musicality, oh my!

I could not get enough of CTD's debut cassette (yes, you read that right), which I played incessantly - the songs in their repertoire are peppered with literary references (T. S. Eliot, Steinbeck and medieval characters, not to mention Superman)... plus who can resist Brad Roberts' deep, droning, dreamy voice? (rhetorical question)...

The Ghosts That Haunt Me is a catchy, bouncy little ditty in which the narrator admits to a life fraught with bony skeletons, plagueing demons and howling winds... yet feels confident that the object of his affection has the power to exorcise them all should she choose to spend her days (and nights) with him... even in the afterlife - wooooooooo...

Ghosts And Zombies: The Gun Club Edition

"You're a ghost on the highway,
your gesture´s meaningless,
you're lost to the living men,
trailing souls to the end..."

Ghosts and spirits on Jeffrey Lee Pierce´s trail. He sure sings like a man possessed here, as is in fact the case on all the manic punk-blues-´n-roll songs that make up the Gun Club´s fine ´81 debut Fire Of Love. Bonus points go to Ward Dotson´s sharp slide.

"I had to do something, I was wearing down,
I was goin´ down...
Why can no one ever touch a fire spirit?
Why can no one ever hold a fire spirit?
Why can no one ever feel a fire spirit?"

Good question that.

Ghosts & Zombies: The Ghost of Will Harbut

Wishing Chair: The Ghost of Will Harbut


Man O'War was one of the greatest race horses of all time, winning 20 of his 21 starts in 1919 and 1920. Will Harbut became Man O'War's groomer in 1930 after the horse retired from racing to become a stud.

The two were said to have had a very strong bond, and Harbut enthusiastically showed his steed to thousands of visitors annually at Lexington's Kentucky Horse Park. Many actually credit Harbut with helping to grow Man O'War from a Champion to a Legend with his many tales of the great animal he called "The Mostest Hoss That Ever Drew Breath."

Will Harbut died in the fall of 1947. Man O'War passed less than a month later... many say from a broken heart over the loss of his friend.

This song laments not only the loss of the noble champion Man O'War and his friend Will Harbut. It also mourns the passing of a way of life in Kentucky and chastises the "men who have sold out the Bluegrass for greed." The narrator seems sure that the ghost of Will Harbut will one day be waiting to pass harsh judgement on those responsible.

Wishing Chair is a folk duo from Kentucky made up of Miriam Davidson and Kiya Heartwood. The version of the song I'm sharing with you here is a live performance from Morehead State Public Radio's Americana Crossroads Live concert series (you can hear the original radio broadcast here). The studio version appears as the title track of an album Wishing Chair released in 2000. The "purchase" link points to that album.

Ghosts and Zombies: Ghouls Are on the Loose

Dave Rudolf: Ghouls Are on the Loose


“Kid’s Music” is a marketing label. It encompasses a wide range of styles. Some of it is ghastly stuff that record companies can only sell by passing it off to children, but we the unlucky parents still wind up having to listen to it. So, I make it my job to point out the good stuff whenever I can.

Halloween is an occasion that brings out some of the worst impulses in Kid’s Music artists. It’s not just their candy that is sticky a cloyingly sweet, and a menace to diabetics everywhere. So I am pleased to present Dave Rudolf. Rudolf has made a small name for himself as a kid’s artist. And he has recorded two entire albums of Halloween songs for kids. Ghouls Are on the Loose comes from the first one. Rudolf knows that kid’s respond to a strong beat, and he does a great job of providing it. This one kicks any Halloween party into high gear, and is just as much fun for kids or adults.

Question for the listener: is this a party of kids in costumes, or happy monsters? You decide.


By the way, there are some great Halloween songs that don’t fit our theme. I’ll be presenting a few of them for the Halloween party on my blog, Oliver di Place this week. And everyone is invited.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Ghosts and Zombies: The Hungry Ghost

Luka Bloom: The Hungry Ghost


Irish singer-songwriter Luka Bloom is generally found among the folk crowd, but then, they define folk differently on the far side of the pond. To these American ears, there's something perfectly 80s new wave about this track, like a B-side Midge Ure ballad: slack, jangly string accents driving the production, the haunting ebb and flow lyrics, the driving drumbeat and the wailed, echoing chorus fading away into the majestic haze of sound from which it first emerged.

Hungry ghosts are spirits driven by passion or desire; in many belief systems, they actually feed off human emotions. Like much of Bloom's influence, they are found throughout the Eastern religions, especially Buddhism, Taoism and Hindusim.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ghosts and Zombies: Zombie

Fela and Afrika 70: Zombie


Fela Anikulapo Kuti was one unique dude. These days, many musicians think they are politicians, but in the dangerous political climate of 1970s Nigeria, Fela walked the walk. Yes, his music could be extremely political. But the guy also formed his own political party, and tried to form his own country, the Kalakuta Republic.

"Zombie", written about the harsh Nigerian military, was a big hit that caused him no end of trouble. His Kalakuta Republic compound was attacked and burned, he was beaten, and his mother sustained injuries that lead to her death. Fela responded by writing "Coffin for Head of State". The man had some serious stones. Oh, and he invented Afrobeat, a potent mix of jazz, funk, and highlife.

Just about any '70s Fela will do, but if you can only have one of his songs, "Zombie" is the one to get. Your head might not understand all of his Pidgin English, but your body will not be able to resist the infectious beat.

There is a show based on his life currently running on Broadway. I'd love to see it, but I can't imagine staying seated through the whole show.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Ghosts And Zombies: Ghost Rider

"Ghost rider, motorcycle hero...
Babybabybabybaby he's a-screamin´ the truth...
America, America is killing its youth..."

Alan Vega may describe his Ghost Rider as a good looking guy "sneakin´ round round round in a blue jumpsuit", but we know better of course. Listening to Vega´s hyperventilating vocals and Martin Rev´s hypnotic synth, he´s actually quite easy to picture. High on the hog, the Ghost Rider is approaching fast, sporting a Captain America helmet and wearing ragged leathers, or maybe an olive green flak jacket with slogans written on the back in black marker. He´s the four horsemen of the apocalypse all rolled into one, and he´s coming right at you.

Ghosts and Zombies: Little Ghost and Living Dead Girl

The White Stripes: Little Ghost


Our Halloween playlist consists of over 400 songs second only to Christmas, but picking out a ghost song proved to be quite easy for us. Little Ghost by the White Stripes has to be one of our all time favorite ghost tunes. It tells the story of a guy who's fallen in love with an apparition that only he can see.

Rob Zombie: Living Dead Girl


And no Halloween party of ours would be complete without at least a few Rob Zombie songs. This guy was designed for Halloween. The trouble for us was picking out just one song from his insane catalog to share here in SMM . Among others, song titles like How To Make A Monster, Spookshow Baby,Superbeast and Living Dead Girl all have found their way to our Halloween playlist. So while you're carving your pumpkins be warned..Living Dead Girls and Little Ghosts are lurking. Happy Halloween everybody!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Ghosts and Zombies: Dead Man's Party

Oingo Boingo: Dead Man's Party


A heady Danny Elfman composition first encountered via Rodney Dangerfield vehicle Back To School. Quintessentially eighties, and perfect for a halloween mixtape or a bop around the haunted house.

Because sometimes, the undead just want to hang out a bit. Leave your body at the door...

Ghosts and Zombies: I Thought I Saw You Last Night

Steve Poltz: I Thought I Saw You Last Night

[purchase] (One Left Shoe CD)

I will go on the record (no pun intended) now as admitting that I loved Pieces of You, Jewel's first album, when it was released in 1995 - one of our local radio stations (WHSE, 103.5) was sponsoring her South Florida concert and, as a marketing ploy, selling tickets for $1.03 - I bought seven (a minivan full) and my friends and I thoroughly enjoyed the evening (complete with Duncan Sheik as the opening act!)...

From what I recall, I bought Steve Poltz's first CD because of his Jewel connection - he "discovered" her, they co-wrote You Were Meant for Me, they were romantically entwined... and he toured with her as her opening act and a member of her band...

I love this catchy, upbeat song... about a guy who purports to be brave except when it comes to the idea of facing an ex-love - he imagines her everywhere, conjuring metaphors of ghostly apparitions from obviously still-haunted past memories (and yes, that is Jewel on harmony vocals)...

Here are two more Ghost songs I posted for our Duets theme in late-January, should you be interested: Conversation with a Ghost by Ellis Paul (with Patty Griffin)... and Kate and the Ghost of Lost Love by Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer - enjoy!