Saturday, September 18, 2010

Blank and Blues: Grand Prairie Tx. Homesick Blues

Dave Carter with Tracy Grammer: Grand Prairie Tx. Homesick Blues


It is no secret I am smitten with the music and lyrics of Dave Carter - I love this tale from his 1998 debut album, When I Go, stunningly illustrating the "you can't go home again" philosophy:

St. Peter when you call me, you will find me waitin' here
beneath this sad mimosa tree with a quart of drive-thru beer
for home is in the heartland but the heartland cannot save you when the heart is gone
and home's moved on

Blank and Blues: Love’s Been Linked to The Blues

David Olney: Love‘s Been Linked to the Blues


Before this place goes completely to the birds, I thought I would offer one more post on our old theme. David Olney got a quick medical degree, so that he could conduct a special study for the FDA. The report of his results come in a gently swinging ballad that says it in a way the lay listener can completely understand.

Blank and Blues: Wedding Bell Blues

Laura Nyro: Wedding Bell Blues


Ah... dear, sweet Laura Nyro... penner of many tunes made more famous by others: this one, The Fifth Dimension... Stoney End, Barbra Streisand... And When I Die, Blood, Sweat & Tears... Three Dog Night, Eli's Coming - she sadly left us too early in 1997 at the age of 49 due to ovarian cancer...

But mostly, when I listen to this entire album, I think of Elias Livaditas and the Summer of '73 between my freshman and sophomore college years - I was working as a waitress, he was a regular customer and a romance blossomed. He would write me poems on the napkins I brought with his meal... and he would pick me up after work and we'd go back to his place for a while before he'd drop me back home - First Songs was always the soundtrack to our liaisons...

Ah... dear, sweet Elias - thanks for many lovely memories, Laura among them...

Blank And Blues: Slusk Blues

Cornelis Vreeswijk: Slusk Blues


Cornelis Vreeswijk was born in IJmuiden, The Netherlands, in 1937. After seeing most of their world bombed to pieces by the Nazis, his father decided to relocate the whole family to Sweden in 1949.

Inspired by Josh White and Leadbelly he started playing guitar, made his album debut in 1964, became an almost overnight success with his often raunchy and daring but always eloquent and thoughtful songs, and he remained one of the most famous and beloved performers in the country (and in the rest of Scandinavia) until his untimely death in 1987.

That's the short story, the long story is of course much more complicated. He wasn't only famous for his music, but also for his private life, as the tabloids tended to follow his every move. He was a notorious hell-raiser and womanizer, known for his hot temper and for never turning down a drink.

Some of his endevours have become the stuff of legend. Like how during one of his first tours in the late 1960s he gained 70 pounds in less than a year due to over-drinking and over-eating, how he punched lawyers who tried to get him to pay his taxes or how he chased two women he'd met in a bar out of his house with a knife after realising they were just a couple of dudes in drag.

The fact that during his last year he looked about 70 years old when in reality he hadn't even turned 50 yet is a testament to decades worth of indulgences.

He may have lived a hard life and written countless songs about hoboes, robbers, murderers, scam artists, drunkards and anything else that conventions deem unsophisticated, but he also penned some of the most beautiful and delicate love songs imaginable. Many of songs have become standards and have been covered by dozens if not hundreds of artists over the years.

Although Slusk Blues was one of his earliest songs (from his third album, 1965's Ballader Och Grimascher) when he hadn't quite built up the reputation he would eventually get, the song is clearly a comment to all those who deemed him unsophisticated and boorish. I'm trying to think of a good English translation of "slusk" and "slob" is the best I can come up with. It doesn't quite fit the bill, but imagine some sort of über-slob and you get the picture.

The whole song is him sarcastically comparing himself to the cultured elite ("I'm filthy pig/Fuck hygiene/How did you manage to get so clean?", "You drink wine for the pleasure/I like wine because it gets me drunk/People like me should me locked up") or simply describing himself as "I'm a slob/Born in a sink/Dad was a drunk/Mom was a whore".

But he concludes that he will probably outlive his snobby, uptight detractors anyway, and unlike his their lives will have been completely uneventful and devoid meaning. He was right about the second part.

Blank and Blues: Todd Snider Edition

Todd Snider: Statistician's Blues

Every decent folk singer has at least one "Blues" song is his or her repertoire. Todd Snider, it seems, has a few more than his fair share. Both of these tunes come from Snider's 2003 live album Near Truths and Hotel Rooms, and they only represent half of the "Blank and Blues" songs on that album. I could easily post six or seven Snider songs if I wanted to pick through his entire catalogue.

The reason I'm sharing these two songs is because they both represent my favorite aspects of Snider's songwriting. His best tunes always a certain cleverness to them whether it's a simple turn of a phrase or telling a funny story through song... Todd always has a bit of a smart-ass in him. I like it.

Here, Snider laments the unused portion of his brain in "Statistician's Blues" and skewers the popular music of the 1990's in "Talking Seattle Grunge Rock Blues." Incidentally, "Statistician's Blues" is one of those songs that I would probably play incessantly on the radio if not for the FCC and their rules about language.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Blank and Blues: Mr.s E's Beautiful Blues

Eels: Mr. E's Beautiful Blues


It's been a tough week for me, one of those weeks that makes me grateful for the existence of songs like this one. It's Friday night, and all I can do is turn up the stereo and sing along:

Goddamn right, it's a beautiful day.

Blank and Blues: Jimmy Olsen's Blues

Spin Doctors: Jimmy Olsen's Blues


Think you've got problems? Imagine trying to compete with Superman.

Poor Jimmy Olsen's got no chance, and he knows it - even if he could get Lois away from the Man of Steel, he'd still have Clark Kent between himself and the object of his affection. Even his analyst says it's hopeless. Yet a man can dream, can't he?

It's a masterful conceit, and Spin Doctors spin the tale out pretty well for a bunch of scrawny pre-hipster guys in pajamas. Quite possibly the best thing about Pocket Full Of Kryptonite, even if other songs got all the press and MTV airplay.

Blank and Blues: Bara to Katasumi no Blues


MERRY: Bara to Katasumi no Blues


Were you thinking that songs that end in "Blues" would give you a respite from my incessant J-Rock postings?

Think again.

No, no, I do this 'cuz I love ya.

Not only does this song have the required title, it's a bona fide boogie-woogie blues tune complete with a walking base line. If it weren't for the Japanese lyrics, you could imagine Brian Setzer rocking this. Okay, I can imagine it.

Blank And Blues: Station Blues

Othar Turner & The Afrosippi Allstars feat. The Rising Star Fife And Drum Band: Station Blues


How many people make their album debut at the age of 91? Othar "Otha" Turner is the only one I can think of. Sadly he only got to make two records before moving on to higher grounds in 2003.

After playing traditional fife & drum blues for 75 years in his native Mississippi he and The Rising Star Fife And Drum Band (his backing band with an ever-changing line-up mostly consisting family and friends) recorded their first album Everybody Hollerin' Goat in 1998.

A great album, but the real jewel in the crown is 1999's From Senegal To Senatobia, where a group of Senegalese musicians credited as "The afrosippi allstars" joined in the hijinx. The result is a blend of West African rhythms, bottleneck guitars, marching drums, and a fife Turner had made himself out of bamboo.

A giant bubbling gumbo so deadly hot it makes your head spin.

Drum & fife music is as old blues, if not older (I'll let all of the music historians of this blog discuss that one, as my expertise on the subject is virtually non-existant) but never got the same recognition or exposure. Perhaps because the genre never had a superstar like B.B. King or a near mythological figure like Robert Johnson. Or maybe it's just not easy enough on the ears to attract a big audience.

But if anyone could've brought this incredible and historically significant music to the masses it would've been Othar Turner. If only the record labels had found him sooner.

Blank and Blues: Fishin’ Blues

Taj Mahal: Fishin‘ Blues


Fishin’ Blues is proof that blues can be good time music. Taj Mahal’s career is further proof of this. Mahal has always been interested in showing that there is more to blues music than wallowing in self pity. As he says, "You can listen to my music from front to back, and you don't ever hear me moaning and crying about how bad you done treated me.” So it’s only fitting that Fishin’ Blues has become one of Taj Mahal’s signature tunes.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Blank and Blues: Delta Blues

Robert Johnson, front

Blind Lemon Jefferson: Matchbox Blues

Robert Johnson: Stop Breaking Down Blues

Henry Thomas: Bull Doze Blues

Tom Clarence Ashley & Gwen Foster: Rising Sun Blues

Robert Johnson: Crossroads Blues

Blind Willie McTell: Statesboro Blues

We haven't had a quiz lately, have we? Put on your thinking caps, my little Starmakers, and match the original Delta blues song (circa 1920-1930) with the British/U.S. group (circa 1960-1970) that made real money off it covered it. (And Canned Heat not only recorded the song, they also managed to wrangle the copyright to it as well, shame on them).

1. Matchbox Blues (1927)
2. Stop Breaking Down Blues (1937)
3. Bull Doze Blues (1928)
4. Rising Sun Blues (1933)
5. Crossroad Blues (1936)
6. Statesboro Blues (1928)

A. The Animals (1964)
B. Canned Heat (1968)
C. The Beatles (1964)
D. The Rolling Stones (1972)
E. The Allman Brothers (1971)
F. Cream (1968)

highlight for answers: 1=C, 2=D, 3=B, 4=A, 5=F, 6=E

Blank And Blues: The Homo Habilis Blues

The Soundtrack of Our Lives: The Homo Habilis Blues


The Soundtrack of Our Lives rose from the ashes of Union Carbide Productions in 1995 and released The Homo Habilis Blues EP the following year. 1996 also saw the release of their highly, acclaimed Grammy-winning debut album Welcome To The Infant Freebase. describes the album as following: "Debut from 1998 for Swedish rock outfit includes 20 tracks of dark, dramatic rock 'n' roll echoing the majesty and ambitions of classic albums past. Their sound recalls everyone from The Doors to Pink Floyd to Led Zeppelin, however avoiding the pitfall of nostalgia."

Apart from getting the year wrong and failing to also mention Love and The Rolling Stones, they were dead on. Welcome To The Infant Freebase is timeless and absolutely brilliant - one of my top 10 favorite albums of all time.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Blank and Blues: All Blues

(Image by Wayne Potrafka)

Miles Davis: All Blues


Corey Christiansen, Jimmy Bruno, Vic Juris: All Blues


Miles Davis' tune All Blues is a jazz arrangement of a 12-bar blues. It first appeared on his 1959 Kind of Blue, which is on about a zillion Top Ten Jazz Albums Like Ever lists. The reasons for this are twofold: the tune itself is a intricate, lengthy improvisation based solely on chord scales, giving the musicians great freedom, and the players themselves were terrific artists at the top of their game. Let's see. Miles Davis, of course, on trumpet. Bill Evans on piano. Two stellar sax players: Cannonball Adderley on alto and the incomparable John Coltrane on tenor. Paul Chambers on base and Jimmy Cobb on drums. If I were to pick one single jazz song to play for curious alien visitors, this would be the one.

You know which musicians reaaally love to cover this? Guitarists! I'm looking at my not-all-that-extensive collection and even then, I've got covers by Larry Carlton, Pat Martino, George Benson, Stanley Jordan, Kenny Burrell, and Jim Hall. But the one I've chosen to share is by three - count 'em – three guitarists. I like this version because it's got that bluesy slide guitar intro that echoes the 12-bar blues origin of the song. Corey Christiansen is a professor of music at both Utah State and Indiana Universities, and he drops in to my town to play every so often. He's truly gifted and a nice guy to boot.

Blank and Blues: Chord Organ Blues

Daniel Johnston: Chord Organ Blues


Daniel Johnston, perhaps the best songwriter the world has seen. The Beatles mixed with Randy Newman, carefully blended with a mental illness or two and topped off with an enthusiasm few can match.

The latter is to me a key component to his brilliance, and the main reason I prefer his earlier material from the first half of the 80s to his later work when he was still a hyperactive kid brimful of youthful exuberance recording ditties inbetween bouncing off the walls. There's just something about the unbridled energy of his earliest recordings I can't resist. 100% envigorating and life-affirming, despite the often bleak themes.

The lo-lo-lo-fi audio quality of these early recordings, his yelping, lisping voice and penchant for pouncing the keys of his chord organ so hard you can barely hear the notes he's playing are an acquired taste for sure, but anyone with a soft spot for classic pop with great hooks needs Daniel Johnston in their life.

Blank and Blues: Tom Traubert’s Blues

Tom Waits: Tom Traubert‘s Blues


In the mid 1970s, I hated strings. They were all over the place, sugar-coating songs that didn’t need it and would have been better off without it. I didn’t forgive some of my favorite artists for doing this, notably Jackson Browne on his album The Pretender. But there were two artists whose string arrangements were as lush ad romantic as anyone’s, but who I did forgive. Randy Newman really orchestrated his songs, and showed how creative string arrangements could be. And then there was Tom Waits, and especially Tom Traubert’s Blues.

Waits has always been the troubadour of the unfortunate. His characters have been brought low before we meet them, and now they seem to live on discarded cigarette butts and cheap whiskey. Most people walk through a city, and there are these people, begging for what ever they can get, and most people ignore them as best they can. Tom Waits has the gift of seeing them, and seeing fellow human beings with hopes and dreams. And Waits has the further gift of being able to bring these people to life, and making us care about them. The strings here help carry those dreams to the stars, while Waits’ gravelly voice and evocative lyrics remind us of whose dreams these are. This is a delicate combination, and it makes this song almost impossible to cover properly.

Tom Traubert’s Blues incorporates the traditional Australian song Waltzing Matilde for two reasons that have nothing to do with the meaning of the original song. First, as rendered here, Waltzing Matilde sounds like something a person might sing in a drunken stupor. And second, Waits is remembering meeting Danish singer Mathilde Bondo. They apparently had a night on the town together, winding up very drunk in his hotel room. Bondo later acknowledged this meeting in an interview.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Blank and Blues: White House Blues

John Renbourn: White House Blues


It's the anniversary of President William McKinley's death, so forgive me if I cannot help but post a favorite version of White House Blues which I had kickin' round the ol' hard drive. The tune has been covered plenty, with classic versions by Charlie Poole and others on the list of greats, but I've always liked Pentangle founder and acoustic stringmaster John Renbourn's take, with it's slightly jarring harmony vocals rising like a ghost to haunt the otherwise gentle folk performance from Faro Annie, the British guitar wizard's 1971 LP of mostly traditional folk tunes.

For comparison's sake, fellow folkblogger Matt of A Truer Sound has three more great versions from Bill Monroe, Muleskinner, and Scott H Biram, plus a much more cohesive look at both the history of the song and the unfortunate events surrounding McKinley's assassination.

Blank and Blues: Red Dog Blues

Michael Fracasso: Red Dog Blues


Coming up with something to post this week has been a difficult task. Not for the lack of songs but the past few days we've been experiencing our own personal blues. One of our dogs, Sam, is fighting for his life battling kidney failure. We hope he pulls through, but as of this writing it's touch and go. Back during Four-Legged Friends week, this song was on my short list.

Blank and Blues: You Blues

Juliana Hatfield: You Blues


When thinking of this theme, the answer of what to post was staring me in the face, quite literally. The above poster, for the album this song is featured on, hangs on the wall a few feet away.

Juliana has a tendency towards melancholic lyrics as it is, so having a song about being down isn't really new for her, but this song gives it a more general feeling.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Blank and Blues: Stormy Monday Blues

T-Bone Walker: Stormy Monday Blues


I love blues music, so I’m very happy about this week’s theme. Yes, I know that song titles in other genres can end in “blues”, and I have at least one of those in mind. But to me, the only way to get started is with this classic.

T-Bone Walker is credited with having been the first blues artist to play an electric guitar, which he started doing in 1935. This version of Stormy Monday Blues starts with a great dialog between the electric guitar and the piano, and later the horns really make the whole thing complete. This electric guitar/ piano dialog would later show up in the work of Chuck Berry among others. The overall sound of this song was a clear influence on B B King. So T-Bone Walker created the vocabulary of electric blues, and those who followed after refined it. Stormy Monday Blues, a classic for a reason, is a fine example of why Walker’s music was such an inspiration.

Incidentally, Stormy Monday Blues became a signature song for Walker, and he recorded it at least several times. The version I have chosen comes from a collection of blues by various artists, and that is what I have linked to in the purchase link above. If anyone knows where this version can be found on an album of just T-Bone Walker’s music, please share that information in the comments.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Blank and Blues: Hesitation Blues

Holy Modal Rounders

Holy Modal Rounders: Hesitation Blues


Growing up in midwestern America, I listened to a lot of music that everyone else was listening to as well. There was AM radio where I absorbed my share of the rock and roll culture. There was the tiny cache of my parents' vinyl albums (Mom's taste ran to Andy Williams, Johnny Mathis, and Mr. Acker Bilk; my dad liked Boots Randolph). There were my sister's Beatles albums.

It took leaving home and going to college before I heard anything like this kind of music.

I first heard the Holy Modal Rounders through a boyfriend who loved blues of all sorts. Their songs were nothing like the music I knew. The lead singers both have voices that undoubtedly caused their tearful mothers to beg them not to aim for clearly hopeless musical careers. The guitar and fiddle sound straight from a West Virginia holler, not New York City where it actually originates. And the lyrics? What is this "psychedelic" of which they sing (remember, this was way back in 1964)?

Luckily, my love affair with distinctive music like this has lasted much longer than the one with that boyfriend.

Late / Blank and Blues: Late For School Blues

Rita Coolidge: Late For School Blues


This week's transitional post is a slightly silly kiddie blues number from "The Delta Lady", aka multiple Grammy winning vocalist Rita Coolidge, who can make pretty much anything sound funky.

Worth noting: for most of us, the blues isn't a genre, it's a state of mind. After all, my kids get it all the time, and they sure as heck can't tell the Piedmont from the Delta.