Billy Joel: Summer, Highland Falls
Halfway between Yonkers and Poughkeepsie, just an hour from the bustling crowds of New York City, the Hudson narrows to a narrow ribbon. And there on the river's west side lies the small town of Highland Falls, gateway to the West Point area and points north. It's a quiet hamlet, practically a pass-through, known for little save as the origin of actor Charles Durning, and only recognizable to most folks outside the region as a setting for this Billy Joel song, written about his summer there in the mid-seventies, and the fleeting sentiment that plagues the tiny towns and the peak-and-valley moments of our lives and hearts.
Today, it serves as another pass-through blip on the radar, as we transition from our Summertime theme to a week of songs framed around the various hamlets, cities, towns and landmarks of New York State.
Saturday, June 26, 2010
Amy Rigby: The Summer of My Wasted Youth
[purchase] - Middlescence CD
Joni Mitchell: The Hissing of Summer Lawns
It's a Beautiful Day: Hot Summer Day
All three of these summer songs dream of freedom: one of the joy of past adventures... one from the confines of suburban sprinklers... and one of a desire for rekindled love - some people need dreams to escape reality... and others use them to recreate euphoria...
to our week-long summer tribute
L'Arc~en~Ciel: Natsu no Yuutsu (Summer Melancholy)
P'unk~en~Ciel: Natsu no Yuutsu [SEA IN BLOOD]
L'Arc~en~Ciel means 'rainbow' in French and is pronounced Raruku an Shieru, with the 'r' sound made with the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth, so it's more an 'l'. Go on, try it! Lots of J-rockers name their bands using French words and phrases, which is curious in that the Japanese language maps rather poorly to French consonants. Note, too, the use of the '~' in the name. J-rockers also love to use liberal splashes of Western punctuation and random capitalization in their band names, such as Ra:IN, the GazettE, LM.C, lynch. (with the period), Kagrra, (with the comma), ViViD, D=OUT, and +DéspairsRay+ .
L'Arc~en~Ciel is one of J-Rock's premier bands. They started out as Visual Kei but in recent years have moved into more mainstream, alt-rock stuff. This 1995 song, which translates to "Summer Melancholy", was their third released single. It tells the apparently universal tale of brief summer love that must come to an end: It's just time to say goodbye….
P'unk~en~Ciel (Panku an Shieru) is the band's punk alter ego, something few other bands have. I don't know about you, but I think it would be cool to have my own punk alter ego, if only to scare off anyone who comes to my door to sell me stuff I don't want. They've punked up and re-released nearly a dozen of their own hits. What makes Panku unique, I think, is that all four musicians also switch instruments, and the lead vocalist changes too. The resulting music is much rougher and faster. Compare the Laruku version to the Panku version and see what I mean.
Gorky's Zygotic Mynci: This Summer's Been Good from the Start
Gorky's Zygotic Mynci: Face Like Summer
Gorky's Zygotic Mynci: How I Long
Here are three summer-themed songs from one of the goofiest-named bands ever. Formed in the early '90s, Welsh group Gorky's Zygotic Mynci often wore their '60s influences on their collective sleeves. My favorite of these three tracks, "This Summer's Been Good from the Start", sounds for all the world like an Incredible String Band song stripped of it's psychedelic pretensions.
All three songs reflect the more pastoral sound the band favored later in its career (they formally broke up in 2006), and it suited them well. This is music for getting back to the garden on a sunny afternoon.
Friday, June 25, 2010
Summertime is music festival season. It’s one of the first things I think of when I think of summer. So, the week must not go by without this song, Joni Mitchell’s tribute to the greatest music festival of them all. I was much too young to attend, but I could feel Woodstock’s effects in my house. My oldest brother was 14, and he was determined to go. But my parents had their way, and he stayed home. For four years after, he would remind them of this horrible thing they had done to him. Finally, in 1973, they let him go to Watkins Glen as an apology. It wasn’t the same, but it finally ended the subject in my house.
It seems that every few years there is a reassessment of what the Woodstock festival meant. This also happens to the song. As you will hear, the song can be done in a variety of styles, and it works. If you think about the stylistic variety of the artists who played at Woodstock, this makes perfect sense.
Credit Where Due Department: Susan and I often trade e-mails when either of us has an idea for a post involving Joni Mitchell. In this case, I had the original idea, but Susan provided the songs and the (non)- release information for the Stevie Wonder track, so this post is actually a collaborative effort. Thank you, Susan. I put it into its present form, so any mistakes are mine alone.
Star Maker Note: This week sort of accidentally became cover songs week. However, the last day will be devoted to original songs. This post, which has both, is our transition to All Originals Saturday.
Joni Mitchell: Woodstock
Of course, Joni Mitchell wrote Woodstock, and this is her original recording of it. The song is a beautiful ballad, with just Joni singing and playing the electric piano. It sound like nothing else Mitchell had done at the time, and there is no rhythm part. The song just floats, emphasizing its wistful qualities.
Crosby Stills Nash and Young: Woodstock
Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young got hold of the song, and completely transformed it. In their hands, it became a rock anthem, and a huge hit. For the longest time, I thought that they wrote it, and I was shocked at how Joni Mitchell had “ruined” it, when I first heard the version above. Live and learn.
Stevie Wonder: Woodstock
[Never officially released]
Joni Mitchell would record Woodstock again for her live album, Miles of Aisles. This time, she rearranged it for a full band. Stevie Wonder zeroed in on the bass line in that version, and turned the song into a funk workout. This version was supposed to be released on a Joni Mitchell tribute album called A Case of Joni. Eventually, that album became A Tribute to Joni Mitchell. Different songs were added, and a number of songs, including this one, were dropped.
Eva Cassidy: Woodstock
Eva Cassidy recorded the song for just voice and acoustic guitar, and Woodstock became a folk song. It works beautifully. If you knew a little about Joni Mitchell’s early sound, but had never heard her original, you might think that this is how it originally sounded.
June Tabor and the Oysterband: Mississippi Summer
The original recording of this tune from American folksinger Si Khan drips with social justice and the sweat of the fieldhand. But in the hands of British folk superstars June Tabor and the punk-slash-tradfolk combo Oyster Band, who came together in 1990 for the fine collaborative effort Freedom and Rain, the tune takes on a traditional UK folk rock vibe, upbeat and driven.
The conceit seems anomalous, at first - what could a British folk tradition know of the desperation of the Southern-bred dust field farmer? That the song works is a testament to the successful tradition of historical distance between the pastoral, pre-technological lyrics and the modern electrified bass, guitar, and drums that frames the British folk rock genre. Seems the combination of old world and new can just as easily transcend space as time. And so goes a bone-dry Mississippi summer, far, far from its native fields.
Eliane Elias: Summer Samba (So Nice)
Bossa nova, that Brazilian jazzy sound that swept the US in the 60's, always seems like summer music to me. It brings to mind the sunny beaches of Ipanema, the hot nights of Carnaval, steamy clubs that entice us with barely-clad bodies dancing to slow sambas… fans self
Summer Samba (aka So Nice) was written by the Brazilian composer Marcos Valle in 1966 and has been covered by a million singers ever since. This version is by one of my favorite female artists, Eliane Elias, who is a singer, pianist, and songwriter as well. I was lucky to see her live last year, and she's really engaging to see in person. She makes her home in NYC, so she shows up in the US quite a bit.
So on this 95-degree Denver day, far from any beaches except maybe what's left of the Cretaceous shoreline that used to be here, I'm imagining myself with a tall, fruity umbrella drink and sharing this samba with you. À nossa saúde!
Lori Lieberman: Bus Stop
I wanted to behave myself. I wanted to post Bus Stop this week, and I wanted to follow the informal rule here, that a posted song must be old enough to have stood the test of time. So I went looking for versions of Bus Stop, and I found plenty of them. Then I listened. A distressing number of them are sound-alikes of the original Hollies version. A small number display the disastrous results of poor artistic decisions. I appreciate the artistry of the original all the more, knowing how badly the song can be done. But then there is this.
I reviewed Lori Lieberman’s album Gun Metal Sky just last year on Oliver di Place, and her Bus Stop was one of the songs I posted then. Usually, I favor original songs over covers in my reviews. But there are times when a cover version of a well known song reveals just as much originality as the artist’s original songs. This was one of those times. Lieberman’s Bus Stop is a delicate work that perfectly captures the innocence of the summer romance described here. It caused me to completely reevaluate a song I had never really liked. I can think of no higher compliment than that.
BTW, perhaps as you have been reading this, you have had the gnawing thought that you should know who Lori Lieberman is. One evening, 40 or so years ago, Lieberman went to hear a young singer named Don McLean. That performance inspired Lieberman to write the poem that became Killing Me Softly With His Song. That song may have been a sort of one-hit wonder, but I can prove that there is more to Lieberman than that.
Thursday, June 24, 2010
Soul Asylum: Summer of Drugs
Ack! - I have three perfectly good Summertime original songs to post for this week... but far be it from me to break the Covers Chain... :-)
I have written of the Sweet Relief tribute album before... here and here - this Soul Asylum take on a Victoria Williams tune is from there as well...
From the website:
"Long a beloved fixture on the Minneapolis hardcore scene, this foursome [Soul Asylum] has evolved a thoughtful and melodic, yet still aggressive approach."
Dave Pirner, lead singer of Soul Asylum says, "Victoria's music is an adventure, and her special world has more personality than anything else you'll ever listen to."
Shaggy ft. Rayvon: In the Summertime
Mungo Jerry's #1 hit In the Summertime will always take me right back to the beach in Avalon, New Jersey, where my extended family would spend a summer week (although we gave it up after Hurricane Agnes came ashore in 1972 and sent us scattering home in driving rain). For a kid like me from southern Michigan, hanging out at the ocean was a ginormously big deal. My teenage cousins and I would stake out an empty bedroom or some sand near the boardwalk and crank up the AM radio. This song was a staple that summer, for obvious reasons.
I don't wanna jinx the cover sub-theme, so here's a 1995 reggae version by Shaggy and Rayvon that was a UK hit.
Bree Sharp: Boys of Summer
A cover of a song about summer? Hey, I can do that too!
Don Henley's 1984 hit "Boys of Summer" is perhaps one of the quintessential songs about the season in the last few decades. The feel of the music just feels like summer, and the lyrics exemplify the season and how it, and us, change over the years.
In the song, as in life, summer begins as a season of fun and adventure that seems almost surreal when it's over. It's the time of year everyone gets excited about when they're growing up as it means no school or homework, and a time to travel, spend time with your friends with less supervision, and partake in those glorious summer romances. Alas, as we grow older the summer loses some of it's luster as we do much of the same things we do the rest of the year. No longer do we have a whole season to revel in those travels, romances and adventures, but we always feel that surreal feeling of summers gone by when the boys/girls were prettier, the weather nicer, and the days shorter.
As brief as the summers of our youth that were over way too soon, so are the memories and romances of those years gone by. The whole feeling in the song is that we may try, but we can never recapture those feelings, despite how real and significant they feel at the time. The love for this song has lasted long past those sweet summer romances though, as it's been covered a bunch of times over the years. This one, sung by female singer-songwriter Bree Sharp, brings a new twist to it from the voice of the other sex.
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Gillian Welch: Summer Evening
Have we really fallen into an all-covers subtheme this week? Then far be it for the resident coverfolk blogger to miss his opportunity to share this delightfully languid take on Greg Brown's gentle love song to the season as performed by one of my absolute favorite folksingers, who I recently featured over at Cover Lay Down.
Summer Evening comes from one of my favorite tribute albums, the all-female voiced Going Driftless. Brown's rural, deeply confessional songsmithing never sounded sweeter.
Ville Valo & Natalia Avelon: Summer Wine
Summer Wine is a male-female duet made popular by Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra, released in 1967. The song's theme is the classic "boy meets girl, boy and girl party down and have euphemistically described wild monkey sex, girl rolls passed-out boy, who is left bereft and poorer but wiser." As you do. Little Feat mined this same ground with Dixie Chicken – do you remember any others? Its sister song is undoubtedly the "girl meets boy, girl is promised marriage if she puts out Right This Very Moment, boy cruelly abandons girl, who is left knocked up and single but wiser." In other words, the True Love Waits theme song.
We seem to be posting covers this week, so I'll follow suit. Here's a version from the German movie Das Wilde Leben, about a German rock groupie. Nancy's part is sung by the film's lead actress, Natalia Avelon, and Lee's sad cowboy is now Ville Valo, lead singer of the Finnish alt-metal group HIM, whose deep-voiced babies I'd volunteer to bear even if it ultimately means cruel abandonment and belated musical wisdom.
The Isley Brothers: Summer Breeze
There is a long history in pop music of white artists covering songs by black artists. In the '70s, R&B/soul/funk group the Isley Brothers turned this around by covering songs by white artists.
Their first album with an expanded six-person lineup, 3 + 3, included covers of Johnathan Edwards "Sunshine (Go Away Today)", the Doobie Brothers' "Listen to the Music", and James Taylor's "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight, but perhaps the whitest song they covered was "Summer Breeze", originally a pop hit for Seals & Crofts. The Isley's version made the U.S. R&B charts in 1974.
With the guitar of new member Ernie Isley giving it some much needed-muscle, the song grooves. It's a great example of how the right arrangement can breathe new life into a song.
Jimmy Barnes: Dancing in the Street
The time is right for this one. Apparently, Ella Fitzgerald absolutely nailing Summertime is proving to be a hard act to follow. So, I created this mess, and I get to fix it, (I hope). And why not do it with this classic workout in praise of summer partying.
The classic version is, of course, by Martha and the Vandelles. And that’s a fine version. But I thought, “This song is such a bar band classic. Surely there are many interesting versions to choose from.” So I went shopping, and the results surprised me. First of all, there are many versions which try to slavishly recreate the original. Why do people bother? Then, there was a flurry of disco versions, including a very unfortunate one by the Grateful Dead. To my ears, the version by Mick Jagger and David Bowie has not aged well; it sounds to me now more like a stunt than a song. There’s a jazz version without words by the Ramsey Lewis Trio, but it slows the song down and loses the spirit that makes the song work for this week’s theme. I almost gave up.
Then I found this version by Jimmy Barnes. Who? I had never heard of him either, and I almost ignored this one. But our Australian readers could have told me. That’s right, I had to go to Australia to find a version that was what I wanted. Barnes doesn’t change the music much. What makes this one is the performance. Barnes finds a way to outdo the intensity of the original by miles. On this, he is a top notch soul shouter, and the band cooks behind him. When I first came of legal age, I didn’t want to get drunk. I went to a bar to hear a local band. At its best, seeing a bar band offers an electrical connection, with the energy flowing from the band to the crowd and back. It’s very difficult to capture this experience on an album. Jimmy Barnes does it here.
Sunday, June 20, 2010
Ella Fitzgerald: Summertime
Let’s begin with this week’s theme song. Summertime, of course comes from George Gershwin’s classic, Porgy and Bess. The song is a lullaby, reassuring a child that all is well. Why has the song become a standard? There is no need for me to reply. Ella Fitzgerald has done so beautifully.
There are many wonderful versions of Summertime out there. If you would like to hear another one, I included a version by Herbie Hancock with Joni Mitchell when I welcomed summer on my own blog, Oliver di Place. You can still here that one here.