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Improvement makes straight roads; but the crooked roads without improvement are roads of genius.

— William Blake

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Tuesday, July 6th, 2004

I watched a half hour or so of Shanghai Love Motel's set at Luna Lounge this evening, and was sorely disappointed to have to leave so soon. They make beautiful music -- combine straight-ahead rock and roll with abstract, cerebral lyrics in a way that reminds me of my two perhaps favorite artists, Dylan and Robyn Hitchcock. (The Dylan influence is clear and goes almost without saying, and they played a dynamite cover of "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" when testing the sound system before the show; the Hitchcock influence I'm pretty sure about but am waiting on confirmation or at least non-denial from Bill Millard, the band's bass player, before I assert it. But still I can say their music reminds me of R.H. without being roped into having made a statement about their influences, right?*)

Anyway -- I can't say too much more about the music because I only heard 5 songs -- but by all means go listen to their next show if you're in town. I will post about it before it happens.

*Bill responds that yes, he thinks they do have a bit of influence from Hitchcock.

posted evening of July 6th, 2004: Respond
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Thursday, December 6th, 2007

🦋 Happy Hannukah

Nice gift from Ellen: Raising Sand by Alison Krauss and Robert Plant. Just what I wanted! (as recommended by Jim Henley.)

First listen this morning, in my car driving to work. Well, the bass is a little too much for my car stereo. Going to have to spin it at home this evening (buncha people coming over for Hannukah). But I can say, the track Jim recommended, "Killing the Blues", is way better than I thought it was the first time I heard it. Also that the cover of "Gone Gone Gone" (by the Everly Bros.) is fantastic, and probably my favorite thing so far. But really need to listen on better speakers to find out what's going on with that bass. (I'm a little puzzled -- I've listened to other bassy stuff on the car stereo with no problems.)

Update: listened to it again at home and I must say, a really sweet record. The vocal harmonies are beautiful. And by a cool coincidence, I find out that just today "Gone Gone Gone" was nominated for a Grammy award. (As of right now I think my favorite track on the record is "Fortune Teller".) But the bass is really aggressive, it distorts a little bit on my home speakers, which are good enough for playing anything else I've ever thrown at them. I wonder if this indicates a problem with the production of the record -- it seems like a strange one, that would be easy enough to catch and fix. Or maybe my equipment is just not good enough.

posted morning of December 6th, 2007: Respond
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Sunday, April 6th, 2008

🦋 Guitar heroes

I didn't know about the Leningrad Cowboys until my dad sent along this clip today. Utterly fabulous. There are many songs of theirs on YouTube, and they have a couple of movies: Leningrad Cowboys Go America, Leningrad Cowboys Meet Moses, Total Balalaika Show. Awesome.

(Speaking of Scandinavian bands, it's always worth while linking to Hurra Torpedo's cover of "Total Eclipse of the Heart": you will never think about 80's power pop in quite the same way.)

posted evening of April 6th, 2008: Respond
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Saturday, May 24th, 2008

🦋 Robyn and The Band

Just downloaded from DimeADozen, this concert -- Robyn Hitchcock and The Electric Trams, 5/18/2008, Arts Theater, London, which includes a cover of "Up on Cripple Creek". Nice! I don't think I've ever heard Robyn perform a song of The Band's before; it is very pleasant to listen to. Dig the saxophone.

I had been thinking about this combination of artists recently because I've been listening a lot to Robyn's "Serpent at the Gates of Wisdom", which includes the lines "Rolling down the frozen highway/ Like a burning tyre." Sounds to me like an obvious reference to Dylan's motorcycle accident by way of "This Wheel's on Fire". (And note that Robyn said he pictures Danko singing lead on this.)

Other good covers in this set: George Harrison's "Old Brown Shoe"; The Beatles' "I've Got a Feeling". Also, "Adoration of the City" off of "A Star for Bram", which I had never heard before.

...I love a coincidence: today a post on Catbird Records' blog features Robyn covering Every day is like Sunday, by The Smiths.

posted evening of May 24th, 2008: Respond

Monday, June 30th, 2008

🦋 Bing, Bang, Bong

I got interested in the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain a little earlier today, by way of Patrick's link to their "Life on Mars". Which is a fine performance. But check this out: "Satellite of Love". Just stunning.

Just love that singer's voice -- if I'm reading their list of band members correctly, her name is Kitty Lux. (I like the male singer a lot too, Jonty Banks I believe is his name, who has the lead in "Life on Mars"; but not in the same gut-level way. He is a technically gifted singer with a lovely voice*; she is that and also is expressive where he is sometimes emotionally flat.)

* Wait, strike that -- went back and listened to it again -- Banks is a fair singer but "technically gifted" is overstating the matter.

posted evening of June 30th, 2008: 1 response
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Thursday, July third, 2008

🦋 Hello, Hello, Hello, Hello

Hello, Hello, Hello, Hello. Bill passes along links to two covers of "Smells Like Teen Spirit". Take it away, Paul Anka!

Nice, right? But just listen to (and watch!) the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. They absolutely demolish this tune (in the good sense of "demolish", I mean):

In Bill's words, they "set a new standard for feeling stupid and contagious."

By the way: All of the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain tracks that are up on YouTube set new standards for whatever they are doing, all that I've watched to date at any rate. There are way worse ways to spend some time, than by walking down that list.

(Mark contributes a version from Tori Amos: "I'll have what she's having...")

posted morning of July third, 2008: Respond

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

🦋 The Sad Bells of Rhymney

I've been been listening to Fegmania! a lot over the past week (in its reissue in the Luminous Groove box set), and finding some things I really like about this record, which I had previously considered one of Robyn's weakest efforts. Today I've been getting very interested in the song "The Bells of Rhymney," which I'm embarrassed not to have already known is a classic of the 60's folk revival, written by Pete Seeger and performed variously by The Byrds, Judy Collins, The Alarm, and others.

I think Pete Seeger's is my favorite performance that I've heard so far:

(I think, but not quite sure, that this recording is from the Newport Folk Festival of 1959.)

And The Byrds are lovely and silly, standing gaily on the beach singing about mining disasters. I believe it is their version that Robyn is covering, as he sounds very similar to this:

The song is based on a poem from the book Gwalia Deserta, by miner-turned-teacher and poet Idris Davies, which Seeger found in a book of Welsh poetry compiled by Dylan Thomas. The poem (as near as I can understand) deals with the failure of a mine-workers' strike in 1926. Two other of Davies' poems can be seen in manuscript form at Welsh cultural history site Gathering the Jewels: "Rhymney", and "Rhymney Hill". David Librik gives more detail about the origins of the poem at this link (midway down), including this tantalizing couplet from Gwalia Deserta:

O what is man that coal should be so unmindful of him?
And what is coal that it should have so much blood on it?

posted evening of August 26th, 2008: 3 responses
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Sunday, August 31st, 2008

🦋 Cover versions

Over at Before You Listen, NickS is asking, "What makes a good cover?" Well -- I've been thinking about it some and the more I reflect, the more it seems like I'm a really easy target for cover versions in general. This came to me today when I was listening to WFUV's Sunday Breakfast, and Alison Kraus came on the radio singing Dolly Parton's "9 to 5" -- this is just fantastic! and what is it about cover versions that gets me so reliably interested?

I think it's pretty simple really: When I listen to a cover of a song I like, I've got the version I know playing in my head and the version I'm listening to playing harmony. Lots of opportunities for interplay between the variations, a psychic duet between the two singers. Fun! Even better, when I get to know multiple versions and have them all playing together. (Take a look at this list of covers of "Summertime Blues" -- some great stuff in there. I guess The Who's version and Eddie Cochran's are the two most familiar to me; Blue Cheer's, which I heard for the first time yesterday, is totally worth while. Plus T. Rex! Richie Valens! Bruce! James Taylor! and many more. A couple of versions below the fold.)

(Note: Doing a clumsy post like this makes me grateful for the existence of bloggers like NickS who can write meaningful, articulate takes on what is happening in the music they're listening to.)

posted morning of August 31st, 2008: 3 responses

Monday, September first, 2008

🦋 This music makes me feel like screaming

In comments to NickS's covers post, Matthew links to a fantastic version of "Strawberry Fields Forever", by Los Fabulosos Cadillacs. Lovely! And it gives me a chance to remember Ellen's brief memoir "1996", published in In My Life: Encounters with The Beatles, about playing Anthology 2 for her fourth-grade class in East Harlem.

"Draw me what you hear in the music," I say.

They show me giant strawberries growing next to an apartment building, the sun's rays as streams of musical notes, the word music in big colorful letters, a strawberry tree identified with phonetic spelling swter breey fealds.

It was Ellen's first full-time teaching job (after many years of adjuncting), and she had a good time with the class, and her students had a good time learning to read and write.

"So were you a Beatlemaniac?" Yazmine asks.

"Oh, sure, of course," I answer in all seriousness. "I always will be."

Los Fabulosos Beatlemaniacs, below the fold.

posted morning of September first, 2008: Respond
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Sunday, September 21st, 2008

🦋 Didn't Mean to be Unkind

Tom Paxton:

It seems to me like the line "You know that was the last thing on my mind" admits of two not mutually exclusive readings. It could just be a restatement and intensifier of "Didn't mean to be unkind"; or it could also be a separate statement, that he just wasn't thinking about how he was behaving toward the woman he's singing to. The difference here keys on whether that takes "I could have loved you better" or "to be unkind" as its antecedent; I like the ambiguity.

(Yeah, any excuse to post this song... I was listening to Chet Atkins' cover of it last night in the soundtrack to Stroszek and it became the song I want to have in my head all the time. Maybe I will try and learn the words and figure out a violin part for the October jam. Do you know there are like 50 covers of this song -- most of the ones I can find on YouTube are inferior to the original although Dolly Parton's version is pretty easy on the ears. Oh also: here is a tape of Tom Paxton singing "Rambling Boy" on Pete Seeger's "Rainbow Quest" show.)

posted morning of September 21st, 2008: Respond
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