Constructing a Tangent to a Bubble

Not feeling any music today. Instead, I’ll ramble about one of the most influential books in my life and see if anything musical comes from it.My father’s stories were one of the highlights of my youth. His adventures growing up in a quiet Wisconsin valley (he and his brothers built a working glider, in which the youngest of them made a successful flight from the highest hill around – only to fly through the living room of a small travel trailer parked at the bottom); his life in the Air Force, where he recalled the terror of flying below the clouds in the Bering Strait, then climbing up to land on pack ice to rescue someone; even the more pedestrian work in the local creamery; his whole life was the stuff of his stories. I truly believe he found everything fascinating.

[l1]N[/l1]ot feeling any music today. Instead, I’ll ramble about one of the most influential books in my life and see if anything musical comes from it.

My father’s stories were one of the highlights of my youth. His adventures growing up in a quiet Wisconsin valley (he and his brothers built a working glider, in which the youngest of them made a successful flight from the highest hill around – only to fly through the living room of a small travel trailer parked at the bottom); his life in the Air Force, where he recalled the terror of flying below the clouds in the Bering Strait, then climbing up to land on pack ice to rescue someone; even the more pedestrian work in the local creamery; his whole life was the stuff of his stories. I truly believe he found everything fascinating.

Looking back, a really smart kid would have jumped at such a father’s suggestion that the best adventure book ever written was “The Royal Road to RomanceThe Royal Road to Romance” by one Richard Halliburton. My brother and I weren’t to be fooled, though. We sure weren’t reading any book with the word ‘romance’ in the title! In his usual laissez faire fashion, he let the matter rest until one of us discovered on our own that, back in the 20s when the book was written, ‘romance’ meant adventure! That sold us.

In the late 20s, young Richard Halliburton fled his boring classes at Princeton to go out into the world in search of adventure. Just as a warm-up exercise, he and a friend, with no climbing experience whatsoever, climbed the Matterhorn.

During his trek around the globe, Halliburton spent the night on the grounds of the Taj Mahal (a capital offense for a Christian in those days) during which he swam in one of the sacred lily pools (a capital offense for anyone.) Years later, when someone challenged the authenticity of his published account of the incident, he returned with photographic equipment and repeated the offense in front of his camera.

Unable to resist the possibility of seeing the stars from the top of Gibraltar, he stayed inside the grounds of the British fortress overnight after spending the day taking pictures of the highly secure establishment. He was robbed by pirates on a ferry from Macao and thought it “a jolly adventure”; he was the first foreigner to ever climb Fujiyama in the winter. He climbed the Himalayas to the province of Ladakh in Kashmir, just because he couldn’t believe the reports of the practice of polyandry – the shortage of women in the village of Lamayuru had led to the practice of a woman marrying, not one man, but a man and all his brothers.

Halliburton was likely certifiably insane. Who else would climb Olympus and spend the night on the top in a thunderstorm? Who else would jump into a 70-foot deep well in Mexico, just to relive the experience of ancient human sacrifice? Who but a crazy man would buy an airplane, hire a pilot, and set out across the desert to Timbuktu without any real hope of getting there?

Whatever his mental state, Halliburton fit more life into his few short years than most of us could fit into a hundred years. At the age of 39, while attempting to sail a Chinese junk from Hong Kong to San Francisco, Halliburton disappeared during a storm.

Are 40 years of Halliburton’s lifestyle worth as much as 80 years gathering dust? I’ve already outlived Richard by 10%. It must be time for something.

One song I distinctly remembering listening to while reading “The Royal Road” as a teen was “South Side of the Sky” from the Yes album “Fragile by YesFragile.” While so many of their longer tunes are more akin to orchestral works than hard-edged rock, two-thirds of “South Side of the Sky” couldn’t be classified as anything but rock. Hard driving, blues-based; making excellent use of Chris Squire’s heavy bass, Bill Bruford’s sharp drumming style, and Steve Howe’s guitar. The middle third, though, is a very pensive piano piece, which eventually grows to include muliple layers of vocals, and finally the whole band, in a melody and rhythm completely different from, but complimentary to, the primary tune.

The lyrics, about walking into a blizzard in the mountains, and accepting the inevitablility of death, when combined with the almost peculiar middle bars, have given rise to an idea for a science fiction movie in my head. If anyone’s got Harrison Ford’s number, I’d be glad to discuss it.

Paris or Alaska?

Jimmy Buffett’s music was one of the links between my father and I. At least, I’ve always felt that way, until I remember that my father probably only heard one of Jimmy’s tunes his entire life. Funny how your memory adjusts to your beliefs.My father, like the singer of “A Pirate Looks at 40” really was a pirate two hundred years too late. He never quite adapted to a normal 9-5 workaday world. Before my parents married, he’d been in the Air Force, stationed in Alaska. He made no secret of his dream to go back to one particular valley, build a cabin, and live out his days in peace.

[l1]J[/l1]immy Buffett‘s music was one of the links between my father and I. At least, I’ve always felt that way, until I remember that my father probably only heard one of Jimmy’s tunes his entire life. Funny how your memory adjusts to your beliefs.

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My father, like the singer of “A Pirate Looks at 40” really was a pirate two hundred years too late. He never quite adapted to a normal 9-5 workaday world. Before my parents married, he’d been in the Air Force, stationed in Alaska. He made no secret of his dream to go back to one particular valley, build a cabin, and live out his days in peace.

But like the singer of “He Went to Paris”, and in fact, like so many of us, he put his dreams on hold. Just until the kids were older. Just until the kids were grown. Just until mom was ready. Ten years, then twenty, finally, thirty years went by, the dream unfulfilled; and then, it was too late.

Although I identify strongly with the hopeless romantic in some of Jimmy’s tunes (“Come Monday”, “Stars Fell on Alabama”) and with the delirium of a beautiful daughter (“Little Miss Magic”) I’ve never quite achieved pirate status. But like my father, I’ve put off too many dreams for far too long.

So now the question is, where first – Paris or Alaska?

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If you’re looking for a good introduction to Jimmy Buffett, the anthology ‘Boats Beaches Bars & Ballads‘ provides a pretty good overview of the man’s work. If you’d like to try a smaller bite first, the album that hits all the right spots with me is ‘A1A.’ “A Pirate Looks at 40”, “Life is Just a Tire Swing” (with that title, how can it miss?), “Tin Cup Chalice”, about actually fulfilling some dreams, and John Sebastian’s moving ode to lost time, “Stories We Could Tell.” More than any other song, it makes me regret the times not spent together.

 "Oh, the stories we could tell
  And before we have to say that last farewell
  I wish that we could sit upon a bed in some hotel
  And listen to the stories we could tell"

32 Down

I’m a die-hard fan of the TV series “Due South” starring Paul Gross. Most fans of the show are aware that Gross is also an accomplished musician, even providing some of the music which always played such an important role in every episode. It was, for instance, the first place I heard Sarah McLachlan’s “Possession”, long before I heard it on the radio.For the three of you who’ve never seen it, the series is about a Canadian Mountie, Benton Fraser, who first came to Chicago on the trail of the killers of his father, and for reasons that don’t need exploring at this juncture, remained, attached as liaison with the Canadian Consulate.

[l1]I[/l1]’m a die-hard fan of the TV series “Due South” starring Paul Gross. Most fans of the show are aware that Gross is also an accomplished musician, even providing some of the music which always played such an important role in every episode. It was, for instance, the first place I heard Sarah McLachlan‘s “Possession“, long before I heard it on the radio.

For the three of you who’ve never seen it, the series is about a Canadian Mountie, Benton Fraser, who first came to Chicago on the trail of the killers of his father, and for reasons that don’t need exploring at this juncture, remained, attached as liaison with the Canadian Consulate.

The episode “Mountie on the Bounty” featured a tune (written by Gross and Jay Semko, peformed by Gross and frequent musical partner David Keeley) called “Due South Soundtrack Volume IIRobert MacKenzie.” A heavily Celtic influenced blues-rock ballad, it tells the fictitious story of the wreck of the “Robert MacKenzie“, a coal freighter lost in Lake Superior. (The real Robert MacKenzie was an iron barque built in Glasgow in 1860 and sunk off Jutland in 1903.)

First, the pipes; bagpipes, and rolling drums, fading. Abruptly, a chorus of sailors shouts “32 down on the Robert MacKenzie!” and we’re off. Pounding drums, crunching electric guitars and bass, then Paul’s voice begins the story. Every pause is punctuated by the bagpipes and a tin whistle which never really goes away. It’s hard not to sing along with the simple infectious chorus:

 "Steel boats, iron men 32 down on the Robert MacKenzie"

Gross’s voice has an interesting bluesy sound which reminds me of my father’s singing; or perhaps, reminds me of Gordon Lightfoot’s earliest work. Unlike many blues rock tunes, the lyrics are clearly understandable as long as one has a map depicting places like Keweenaw Point and Bit Griese Bay. After a nicely handled false ending, replete with the clash of steel being crushed in the waves, we’re treated to a rousing finale worthy of such a momentous event.

It has been said that Gross originally wanted to use Gordon Lightfoot’s “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” for the episode, but for reasons that don’t need exploring at this juncture, decided not to go through the effort necessary to get permission and wrote “Robert MacKenzie” instead. Not bad for a last minute subsitute. Don’t tell Gord I like Paul’s tune better, although Lightfoot’s tune tells a true story rather than being a work of fiction.

On the “Due South” soundtrack volume II (there is also, not surprisingly, a Due South Soundtrack Volume Ivolume I; both are filled with excellent music, unknown tracks by big names, others by people less famous) this track concludes with a bit of dialog not uncommon in this quirky series:

(It helps to picture Gross, tall and ramrod straight in his bright red Mountie uniform.)

Old woman’s voice: “So what’s your story? You work in a circus?”

Fraser: “Uh, no ma’am. Royal Candian Mounted Police. I first came to Chicago on the trail of the killers of my father, and for reasons that don’t need exploring at this juncture, I’ve remained, attached as liaison with the Canadian Consulate.”

Old woman: (in a very matter-of-fact, this-happens-every-day tone of voice): “Don’t take anything.”

Fraser: (in the same tone): “Understood.”

Gross recently wrote, directed, and starred in what is called ‘an outrageously Canadian romantic comedy’ called “Men With Brooms.” I won’t even bother to explain; I’ll just hope it’s released eventually somewhere closer than Toronto. It looks like a good time.

Scheherazade

For a thousand and one nights, tales so bewitching that a powerful ruler, mad with jealousy and power, set aside his murderous intent so as not to be deprived of their continuing enchantment. While the stories have been the subject of numerous recreations in paper, celluloid, and digital media, their narrator has been less honored.Scheherazade, wife of King Shahryar, was the namesake of a magnificent symphonic suite by Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov. No less ambitious is the more recent 25-minute long work composed and recorded by the progressive rock group Renaissance in 1975.

[l1]F[/l1]or a thousand and one nights, tales so bewitching that a powerful ruler, mad with jealousy and power, set aside his murderous intent so as not to be deprived of their continuing enchantment. While the stories have been the subject of numerous recreations in paper, celluloid, and digital media, their narrator has been less honored.

Scheherazade, wife of King Shahryar, was the namesake of a magnificent symphonic suite by Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov. No less ambitious is the more recent 25-minute long work composed and recorded by the progressive rock group Renaissance in 1975.

This version of the Arabian Nights story, entitled “Scheherazade and Other StoriesSong of Scheherazade“, focuses on three portions of the tales, as lyricised by Betty Thatcher: The Sultan, The Young Prince and Princess, and The Festival. Michael Dunford’s music provides a rich backdrop for the real star of the piece, the astonishing voice of Annie Haslam. Reputed to have a five-octave range, Annie makes you feel that she is Scheherazade, captivating with both her stories and her voice.

Opening with some very eastern sounding horns, a mini-overture grows as the strings, then piano, drums, and electric bass join. An upbeat cheerful horn-filled fanfare is followed by a dark, foreboding vocal section; the betrayal of The Sultan by his wife. Harmonizing vocals describe the sultan’s cruel response; taking a virgin bride each night, then beheading her at dawn to guarantee no woman will ever be unfaithful as his wife was. But tonight, the virgin bride is Scheherazade, and the brightening of the melody tells us things will be different this time; flutes, chimes, and a choir join the original voices, climbing to a more positive conclusion to this opening movement. It closes with a feeling that it could be a standalone piece, if it weren’t for the unfinished story.

Now, the subtle notes of the piano announce the love theme. Followed immediately by the tale of The Young Prince and Princess as told by Scheherazade, it isn’t yet clear if the love theme is for them, or perhaps for the sultan and Scheherazade.

A delicately beautiful song, only a quiet acoustic guitar and oboe accompany Haslam’s voice as she sings of their love.

 "And you would cause the sun to see your light and then be shamed You cover darkness with a thousand secret flames With your love O my love O my love, my love

 And I would cause the wind to blow A hundred different days And bring the perfumes of the gardens of the ways Of your love O my love O my love, my love"

First the piano, then the orchestra swell the delicate love song to a gentle conclusion. At the end, when Annie sings, “He would vow to love her for the rest of all his days” we know that, although it may be about the young prince and princess, it’s also a sign that Scheherazade has won the sultan’s love, and with it, her life.

Dawn; but instead of preparations for an execution, we have preparations for a wedding! (Dawn, by the way, sounds ever so much like “The Day Begins”, the opening track on the Moody Blues‘ “Days of Future Passed.”) An opening fanfare, then we’re whisked down the winding streets with a parade; joining the jugglers and jongleurs, the merchants and customers, young and old alike dancing in the streets to celebrate the wedding feast.

As quickly as it began, the parade disappears, leaving us alone with Scheherazade as she prepares for her sultan. Slow melodic flute, glittering piano; Scheherazade is at peace.

Now the sultan; perhaps not as calm and composed as his bride-to-be, the sultan’s fugue begins with a single piano melody, then a second contrapuntal melody; now oboes, and finally the full orchestra, taking us to The Festival.

We’re treated once more to Annie Haslam’s voice, describing the gifts from afar being laid at Scheherazade’s feet. Sounding at one moment like a pop tune, with insistent drums and bass, and in the next, like a movement from a Tchaikovsky symphony, the festival builds intensity. The people cheer their sultan, but, knowing she has saved more than her own life, even moreso their queen. As her subjects sing her praises, the orchestra takes us to the finale, capped once more by Haslam’s crystal voice in the final note.

Renaissance provided the soundtrack for my teenage years. I may be prejudiced, but I have yet to find any work which does a better job of combining the grandeur of the classical style with the power of a rock band better than “Song of Scheherazade.”

A remakable bit of trivia: the live version, recorded at Carnegie Hall, was released before the studio version; an unusual twist, especially with such a complex piece. For fans of progressive rock, I’d recommend the live album. It contains an excellent cross-section of the band’s repertoire. Containing the studio version of “Song of Scheherazade”, “Scheherazade and Other Stories” opens with the excellent jazz/rock/classical fusion piece “Trip to the Fair” which was actually played on US radio twice (or perhaps more; I only heard it twice.)

Comment: Jumping Japanese Jazz

Until I have the time to properly implement the ‘comments’ section of the site, I’ll post new comment announcements right here. Today, Ben Dyer comments on ‘Jumping Japanese Jazz.’

[l1]U[/l1]ntil I have the time to properly implement the ‘comments’ section of the site, I’ll post new comment announcements right here. Today, Ben Dyer comments on ‘Jumping Japanese Jazz.’

And Now, A Man Who Needs No Introduction . . .

I’ll try to be more creative tomorrow, but today I had other things on my mind. Released before my 6th birthday, track one of an old album kept running through my head this weekend.

[l1]I[/l1]’ll try to be more creative tomorrow, but today I had other things on my mind. Released before my 6th birthday, track one of an old album kept running through my head this weekend.

Putting Flesh on the Bones of My Dreams

Once again, David Gray is inside my head. Not just because I can’t stop humming a tune, but because his lyrics always seem to express something I’m feeling. Right now, I’m feeling more confident than ever about fulfilling my dreams.”Flesh” deceives with its simple acoustic first bars. Of course, David’s voice is the second instrument heard, and as always, the most important. Soon, though, an uncharacteristic electric guitar riff echoes behind his vocals, and a solid, but muffled, drum emphasizes the rhythym. Now a soaring organ, joined by a second electric guitar, gentle, trying not to overshadow the lyrics. Before long, more acoustic guitars sprout up, competing with the growing insistence of the electrics. Finally, though, it’s an electric guitar, echoing, sliding, hollow and ringing, that wins out. Backed by a tight hard drum snap, the guitar and David’s vocals fade into another dream.

[l1]O[/l1]nce again, David Gray is inside my head. Not just because I can’t stop humming a tune, but because his lyrics always seem to express something I’m feeling. Right now, I’m feeling more confident than ever about fulfilling my dreams.

David Gray album 'Flesh'Flesh” deceives with its simple acoustic first bars. Of course, David’s voice is the second instrument heard, and as always, the most important. Soon, though, an uncharacteristic electric guitar riff echoes behind his vocals, and a solid, but muffled, drum emphasizes the rhythym. Now a soaring organ, joined by a second electric guitar, gentle, trying not to overshadow the lyrics. Before long, more acoustic guitars sprout up, competing with the growing insistence of the electrics. Finally, though, it’s an electric guitar, echoing, sliding, hollow and ringing, that wins out. Backed by a tight hard drum snap, the guitar and David’s vocals fade into another dream.

There have been times in my life when I felt I couldn’t afford the luxury of dreams. When you finally come back to reality, and realize you can’t afford not to dream, it feels like the words to “Flesh.” Read for yourself, and think about things you know you could be doing.

Dead Man Blues Alive and Well

Ferdinand “Jelly Roll Morton” Lamothe was such a colorful character that it’s not possible to discuss him at length here; it would take an entire book (and it has.) Instead, I’ll focus on just one tune: Dead Man Blues.Many of Morton’s recordings begin with bits of banter between band members. The Smithsonian, in their “Smithsonian Jazz” releases (currently unavailable, I believe) removed these spoken bits, commenting that they were ‘apparently intended to be humorous.’ Perhaps I’m too far away in the stream of time (it was recorded 21 September 1926); perhaps I’m too culturally integrated (or not integrated enough?) but I prefer “Dead Man Blues” with the introduction intact. It’s better heard than read, so I won’t reproduce it here. Suffice it to say that they make it clear it’s not intended to be a dirge.

Dead Man Blues: Jelly Roll Morton[l1]F[/l1]erdinand “Jelly Roll Morton” Lamothe was such a colorful character that it’s not possible to discuss him at length here; it would take an entire book (and it has.) Instead, I’ll focus on just one tune: Dead Man Blues.

Many of Morton’s recordings begin with bits of banter between band members. The Smithsonian, in their “Smithsonian Jazz” releases (currently unavailable, I believe) removed these spoken bits, commenting that they were ‘apparently intended to be humorous.’ Perhaps I’m too far away in the stream of time (it was recorded 21 September 1926); perhaps I’m too culturally integrated (or not integrated enough?) but I prefer “Dead Man Blues” with the introduction intact. It’s better heard than read, so I won’t reproduce it here. Suffice it to say that they make it clear it’s not intended to be a dirge.

The final words of the spoken intro herald ‘the trambone-phone’ which, in the hands of Edward ‘Kid’ Ory, opens the tune with a jazzed rendition of Chopin‘s “Funeral March.” The trombone was frequently used for humorous effect in traditional jazz, and that’s the obvious intent here. A brief nod to Chopin, and suddenly the trombone, trumpet, and clarinet take off in their own polyphonic paths. Leading by turns, each instrument swirls out of the depths, does its bit, then drops to the background. First Omer Simeon’s clarinet, syncopating its way through a couple bars, and then, my favorite trumpet solo of any jazz tune. Not the fastest, not the most creative, not the most anything, as far as I can tell, but it just feels perfect. Picking up almost where the clarinet left off, George Mitchell’s trumpet has just the right amount of tremolo; it wanders gracefully through the first passage ending in a half-cadence that doesn’t really let you know if that’s a signal of more to come, or just a quirky conclusion. But no, another passage, so similar to the first, but stretched here where the first was stretched there. This one ends in a full cadence, and it feels right to have a traditional closure instead of something more complex or ‘jazzy.’

During the last minute of the recording, the horns converge, then just as quickly go their separate ways. This time, the clarinet and trumpet compete for the spotlight. Before a clear winner emerges, a quiet chorus and quick cymbal clash bring down the curtain.

On a completely unrelated note, I was reminded yesterday of Elvis Costello‘s “Elvis Costello album 'My Aim is True'Watching the Detectives.” I’ve always thought it was the soundtrack to Raymond Chandler‘s “The Big Sleep” but I can’t prove it. This is how a Gretsch White Falcon should be played. Raymond Chandler: The Big Sleep Superb percussion, languid guitar, mysterious bass, and lines like “she pulls their eyes out with her face like a magnet” combine to form a truly memorable pop tune. (So how come I had to be reminded?)

Perennial Favorites, Indeed – Squirrel Nut Zippers

Not to be confused with the candy of the same name, the Squirrel Nut Zippers are probably even nuttier. If you like jazz or just appreciate fine musicianship, you’ll enjoy their third album, “Perennial Favorites.” As with many avant garde bands, they can be a little uneven or hard to understand at times, but for the most part, the album delivers on its ambitious title. As a general rule, the lyrics are just as important as the music, so pay close attention.

[l1]N[/l1]ot to be confused with the candy of the same name, the Squirrel Nut Zippers are probably even nuttier. If you like jazz or just appreciate fine musicianship, you’ll enjoy their third album, “Perennial Favorites.” As with many avant garde bands, they can be a little uneven or hard to understand at times, but for the most part, the album delivers on its ambitious title. As a general rule, the lyrics are just as important as the music, so pay close attention.

  • [az]B000009PNN[/az]”Suits are Picking Up the Bill” – Who wouldn’t love to tag along on somebody else’s spending spree? From the first cheerful grunts of Ken Mosher’s baritone sax and Andrew Bird’s scratchy scraping fiddle, it’s just plain silly, and just plain fun. Fun, with a very tight, snappy horn section featuring Je Widenhouse on cornet, and Kathleen Whalen’s well-handled tenor banjo. Jim Mathus is a great jazz singer, expanding (or maybe ignoring) the boundaries of normal pop melodies for his vocal line.
  • “Low Down Man” – Slow, sad, torch song. Kathleen Whalen . . . brrrrrrrr; what a voice. I can just hear Patsy Cline covering this . . .
  • “Ghost of Stephen Foster” – Makes me dance. No, really. It does. Klezmer is such joyous music. So full of bizarre images I just can’t keep up with them all. “If we were made of cellophane we’d all get stinking drunk much faster.” Fit that line into your average pop tune. For that matter, feature any portion of ‘Camptown Ladies’ in any tune. The kids and I have a contest to see who can hear the first clang of the bell, as the piano of “Low Down Man” fades.
  • “Pallin’ with Al” – Suddenly, the Squirrels are almost traditional. Great swing tune. So much fun; love the guitar, but the fiddle’s never far behind. “Alright, go tell Al you love him!”
  • “Fat Cat Keeps Getting Fatter” – I can’t help but picture Peggy Lee singing “He’s A Tramp”, but I just prefer Kathleen Whalen. Machine gun drumming, flying acoustic bass, tight snappy rhythym.
  • “Trou Macacq” – Brasil! Another very dancy bit, about the not-very-dancy concepts of evolution and the deterioration of the human condition. ” . . . ride the pine-box derby to the finish line . . .”
  • “My Drag” – If Bessie Smith had been born in Czechoslovakia, she would have recorded this. Once again, what should sound bizarre is instead stimulating and evocative.
  • “Soon” – This is far enough out there that it makes “My Drag” seem normal. Give it a few listens; it grows on you. The lyrics are especially fun —
    “I have a dream where snowflakes fall inside a painted hall . . . Hah! That don’t pay the rent! But if you draw a bow, draw the strongest, and if you use an arrow, use the longest!”

    I didn’t say they made sense, just that they were fun.

  • “Evening at Lafitte’s” – More great swing. So nice to listen to Kathleen Whalen once more. Almost traditional, except at the beginning where she sings the line about “a kind of creepy feeling is stealing over me.” I’m not sure that was intentional, if you listen to how it’s worded on the second go ’round. Beautiful. “It’s great for dancing, and romancing . . . that’s the place you and me should go if we were lovers stealing an evening at Lafitte’s.”
  • “The Kraken” – Okay, now it’s downright strange. Reminds me of Frank Zappa’s “Freak Out”, the track where everyone in the band tried to demolish all the rented percussion equipment. After 18 listens, it’s a little less strange. A little. The closing minute, though, is more lilting Kathleen, totally detached from the previous cacophony.
  • “That Fascinating Thing” – Blowsy horns, drums, and banjo; a strip tease, pure and simple. Switches to double-time in the middle. The Squirrels are still enjoying themselves. So am I.
  • “It’s Over” – Really really really strange. I just don’t get it.

W. C. Handy Walking in Memphis

oday was going to be Squirrel Nut Zippers, but Marc Cohn had other ideas, forcing his way into my consciousness once again. “Put on my blue suede shoes and I boarded the plane. Touched down in the land of the delta blues, in the middle of the pouring rain . . .””Walking in Memphis” is filled with the mental imagery and musical references that inspire and evoke. At the beginning spare and simple, building to a nearly symphonic conclusion and tossing in some Jewish gospel along the way, Marc’s piano and voice solidly lead us through. Opening with solo piano and Marc’s distinctive voice, eventually including a choir and full band, in the end winding back down to Marc’s voice and the beautiful piano theme that characterizes the tune.Sounding terribly autobiographical, the tune is about travelling to the home of so much of American traditional music. Homage is paid to W. C. Handy, the late Muriel (pianist at the Hollywood Cafe), Elvis, and Beale Street itself.

[l1]T[/l1]oday was going to be Squirrel Nut Zippers, but Marc Cohn had other ideas, forcing his way into my consciousness once again.

 "Put on my blue suede shoes and I boarded the plane. Touched down in the land of the delta blues, in the middle of the pouring rain . . ."

Marc Cohn's eponymous debut'Walking in Memphis” is filled with the mental imagery and musical references that inspire and evoke. At the beginning spare and simple, building to a nearly symphonic conclusion and tossing in some Jewish gospel along the way, Marc’s piano and voice solidly lead us through. Opening with solo piano and Marc’s distinctive voice, eventually including a choir and full band, in the end winding back down to Marc’s voice and the beautiful piano theme that characterizes the tune.

Sounding terribly autobiographical, the tune is about travelling to the home of so much of American traditional music. Homage is paid to W. C. Handy, the late Muriel (pianist at the Hollywood Cafe), Elvis, and Beale Street itself.

An astute reader, Sam, raised an question not answered here, so it’s answered elsewhere.

(More recently, Cohn has touched me with his song “Lost You in the Canyon.” It vividly reminds me of lost relationships, and some that never were.)

W. C. Handy is credited with writing, in 1910, the first American blues tune, “The Memphis Blues” which, due to publishing difficulties, was not released until 1912. The Handy tune I love most is his “St. Louis Blues”, especially Bessie Smith, 1924-1925Bessie Smith‘s version. The quintessential blues voice, drawling, swooping, climbing up to find one note, then sliding down for the next, is backed by one of the most passionate performances I’ve ever heard Louis Armstrong give. The only other instrument on the recording is Fred Longshaw’s harmonium (think ‘table-top accordion’) but somehow, it achieves a full-throttle sound you’d expect from a full jazz band.

As someone wrote to me recently, “Jazz does so many creatively unique things with its wonderfully rich chord progressions and improvisatory nature. Classical music does, too, but in a much more structured way. Jazz encourages improvising, wants it, demands it. If you examine Jazz, it has its rules, too, but the rules just lay the foundation, then off ya go.” In my opinion, that’s the very definition of jazz, and one of the reasons it has become the music about which I am most passionate. As an anal-retentive mathematician/computer geek, it forces me to think and feel beyond what is simple and obvious. Music should stretch your soul. Jazz stretches mine.

Central Reservation

I can’t really explain why I’m so captivated by Beth Orton’s “Central Reservation.” I don’t understand the lyrics, and one of the many remixes I thoroughly enjoy is a style of music I normally don’t even listen to.As the title track to her latest album, it was originally recorded as a slow, almost sleepy ballad. The first version I heard was remixed by Ben Watt of “Everything But The Girl” and has quite a bit more bounce and beat. Hearing the original after that took the right mood, but each, in its own place, is perfect.

[l1]I[/l1] can’t really explain why I’m so captivated by Beth Orton’s “Central Reservation.” I don’t understand the lyrics, and one of the many remixes I thoroughly enjoy is a style of music I normally don’t even listen to.

As the title track to her latest album, it was originally recorded as a slow, almost sleepy ballad. The first version I heard was remixed by Ben Watt of “Everything But The Girl” and has quite a bit more bounce and beat. Hearing the original after that took the right mood, but each, in its own place, is perfect.

The one I just don’t understand liking is the “Spiritual Life Ibadan Mix” which starts with a single pounding drum which doesn’t let up for eight minutes. After the rest of the instruments jump in, what sounds like the ‘Ben Watt’ mix vocals join in the fray. In the middle of this hammering dance tune we’re treated to a blistering acoustic guitar solo which is starting to sound natural to me. Also available on the same import CD are the “Then Again” version and the “William Orbit” remix. If you’ve heard either one and can offer insight, let us know.

Burning Airlines Block Black Light Syndrome

Yup; it almost spells ‘babbles’ and that’s how we’ll pronounce it, okay?

[l1]Y[/l1]up; it almost spells ‘babbles’ and that’s how we’ll pronounce it, okay?

Quick jaunt through three songs you may not have heard, but should:

  • “Deluxe War Baby” from the 2001 “Burning Airlines” album “Identikit” – formed four years before their name would become permanently politically incorrect, the band’s “Deluxe War Baby” is a fine example of what loud rock can achieve when it’s arranged well. Dynamics (as in using both loud AND soft) play a huge part, with the opening plunky sounding guitar and Dylanesque vocals eventually puncuated by crunchy drums, bass, and more guitars, just before the time signature switches to 3/4 time (yes, that’s a waltz.) This ain’t no waltz, though. When lead vocalist J. Robbins wails “Never have I felt so well policed; why should I be anything but pleased?” the discordant rumble of multi-layered guitars makes the sarcasm bite harder. Even if edgy rock isn’t your cup of whiskey, “Deluxe War Baby” is worth a listen. “We’re all headed west, whatever we think we believe . . .”
  • “Rhinoceros” from the 1996 “Block” album “Lead Me Not Into Penn Station” – I like Jamie Block’s sense of humor. Lyrically and musically, it’s a fun song. “My lawyer said, ‘Hey Jamie, think poppy; think catchy’; okay . . .” A simple bass line alternating with sandpaper rhythym electric guitar and a not-too-difficult chorus (“Rhinoceros” [x4]) make this one of those catchy tunes you’ll find it difficult to put out of your head. Interesting jungle-fever-bird/chattering monkey guitar licks near the end. Also available on the “Blast from the Past” soundtrack, where it has some impressive company which we’ll discuss later.
  • “Spiral” from the 2000 “Black Light Syndrome” album “Situation Dangerous” – Hmmmmm . . . where does one begin? Tony Levin (bassist for Peter Gabriel, Yes, King Crimson, Paul Simon, Carly Simon, Lucy Simon, Warren Zevon, Tom Waits, James Taylor, Livingston Taylor, Ringo Starr, Pink Floyd, Nanci Griffith, Judy Collins, and a bazillion others) joins Terry Bozzio (Missing Persons, Frank Zappa) and Steve Stevens (Billy Idol, grammy for “Top Gun”) to form a power trio not unlike a new millenium “Cream” with a twist. “Spiral” is not their usual black thunder, though. Beginning slowly, almost pensively, Stevens’ classical guitar becomes more and more complex and fiery, joined by ever intensifying percussion of every kind. Behind it all, swirling, dancing, now echoing, now countering, is Levin’s bass, never in the same place twice. A journey of epic proportion which never fails to bring a smile to my face; whether you love classical guitar, progressive rock, or something in between, I defy you not to be captivated.