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Do NOT Miss Leftover Cuties

Best Beloved took me to see Leftover Cuties Wednesday night at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis. Actually, we saw the cutest cutie three times, not just once.

Stopped at the light at 10th and Nicollet, I watched Shirli cross the street, a pair of high (really high) heels in one hand.

As she stepped to the curb on the northwest side of the intersection I thought, Shirli . . . Shirli. Wait. I just watched Shirli McAllen cross the street.

I felt like I should run after her and apologize for not saying hello. (She later told me “You should have!”) As we were seated at our table near the stage, there she was again, scooting between the tables toward the backstage rooms. I started to stand and apologize for my earlier rudeness, but she was just too quick.

Leftover Cuties are the kind of band which feels like you really ought to run after them and say hello.
Continue reading “Do NOT Miss Leftover Cuties”

More Gypsy Jazz

F[az]B0019HBXB8[/az]ilm maker (which is quite an understatement, really) Nic Askew graciously pointed out the music credits in his film “The Perilous Journey” which you should go watch right now. I’ll wait.

Back? Great. You’ll need to watch it more than once to really let it sink in. Anyway, the credits pointed me to Stephane Wrembel, acclaimed as the finest personification of Django’s gypsy jazz, and I thought you should know.

In fact, if you’re in New York, would you please go see Stephane for me? I can’t make it to New York right now, but I’d feel better knowing the task was being covered.

Thanks. Let me know how it goes.

Oh; here’s where you can see and hear Stephane Wrembel:

FAWM Over. We Win.

February Album Writing Month is officially over for 2009. And I officially won.

Which means I wrote or co-wrote at least 14 songs during the 28 days of February. (You’ll see on my FAWM profile that it lists 19; it’s actually only 18 because one is listed twice but I don’t want to lose the comments on my original post.)

This year I discovered the double harmonic scale, which makes everything you play sound all Arabian Night-ish. I wrote two Arabic-sounding songs (my most ambitious musical endeavours to date) and collaborated on another.

I wrote a German drinking song. In German.

I wrote a Mexican dance song. In Spanish.

I played a jazz guitar improvisation, my first guitar improvisation ever.

I did my first FAWM music video.

I also did, as I have every year, some country, some folk, and some swingabilly.

And now, I’m tired.

If I Ever Plan to Motor West

We got off the freeway for gas at Seligman, which calls itself the birthplace of Route 66. This bears investigation. Some day. We left town on 66 instead of the interstate, and 17 miles later found a modern sign marking Route 66; I was hoping for one of the older signs, but I’ll bet they’ve all been nicked long ago.

There was a wide flat spot across the road, so we parked, grabbed my guitar and the video camera, and I stood under the sign to sing the first verse of a familiar song while Sue filmed. If I hadn’t lost the feeling in my fingers I might have played the whole song.

Quality Shoe

[az]B00006J3T4[/az]We finally got Mark Knopfler’s “Ragpicker’s Dream” and started wearing it out. It’s not really a concept album, since the songs aren’t really interrelated, but Knopfler’s ties to movie soundtracks are evident in the overall feeling of depression-era America. Though it contains some sad (or angry) songs, it’s not a depressing collection. Most of it feels just plain fun (it’s hard not to smile during the last verse of “Devil Baby”, a paean to circus freaks; in fact, it’s hard not to smile just writing that ridiculous sentence.)

Three tracks get played over and over, when I’m not playing the whole album: the single, “Why Aye Man”, a western swing thing called “Daddy’s Gone to Knoxville”, and a tribute to Roger Miller’s unique musical style, “Quality Shoe.”

Seen as a modern rock song from the leader of Dire Straits, “Quality Shoe” makes no sense; it really is about a pair of shoes. Seen, however, from the perspective of the album’s 20s/30s feel, it’s a simple sales pitch, back when all you had to do to sell something was explain to someone who trusted you why it was a good purchase (a bizarre marketing technique which might actually work, even today.)

After my 936th listen, I realized a connection to my own music. Though I pitch myself as a swingabilly writer, half or more of my tunes are heavily influenced by a complete immersion in Roger Miller beginning some time before my memories do.

Thanks, Mark. And thanks, Roger.

Still Haven’t Found What You’re Looking For? (8)

Another lazy post based on searches, and my best guess at what you were looking for.

In no particular order:

  • “dido my love is gone” – still one of my favorite songs; here you go
  • “another carsong” – I’m writing one; does that count?
  • “doesn t mean i don t love you” – oh, good
  • “i changed the lock on my front door” – Lucinda Williams’ song with no chorus
  • “imogen heap” – ah; I’ll have to borrow rush’s CD and write about this amazing performer
  • “kid” – my least favorite Pretenders song. For some reason, one of their most popular. Must be me.
  • “parting glass” – a lifelong favorite from the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, featured in “Waking Ned Divine
  • “squirrel nut zippers evening at lafitte s” – great jazz, featuring the luscious voice of Kathleen Whalen. Possibly a unique album.
  • “te hoe poti i tahiti” – I am at a total loss; I know no Tahitian music whatsoever, except for the collaboration between Chet Atkins and Mark Kopfler (on ‘Neck and Neck’) playing ‘Tahitian Skies

Not Short, but Definitely Sharp, Shocked

Every Sunday, I listen to Meg Banta’s “Sunday Morning Unplugged” on KPRI (you must not forget KPRI, Best Beloved.) This past Sunday, I was dismayed to hear that Michelle Shocked was appearing at the BellyUp Tavern in Solana Beach; dismayed, because there was no way I could make the 500-mile drive in time to see her.

Not only does Michelle have a reputation for spectacular live performances, but the BellyUp is a marvelous venue, with lots of wood and curved surfaces nurturing and bouncing the music around the room ’til it lands in your ears.

As I lay on the floor in the fetal position bemoaning this tragedy, my own Best Beloved read from her Sunday paper, “Thursday night at Harlow’s in Sacramento: Michelle Shocked.” And my own Best Beloved took me to see her.

The Hackensaw Boys, who opened the show, were a hoot. Bluegrass run riot, in fact. I’d drive a ways to see them again. (One word to the management of Harlow’s: chairs. Cheap folding chairs, even. There were huge expanses of open space, and very few places to sit. So we didn’t.)

When Shel walked onstage with nothing but an acoustic guitar, I wondered how her more aggressive works would take to being stripped down like that.

They took just fine.

my autographed copy of 'Short Sharp Shocked'Having just re-released “Short Sharp Shocked” (a much extended version, by the way) she was dedicated to playing most of the tunes from the album. In fact, she covered every tune from the original release except “Black Widow” (wonder why?), and most of the extras from the second CD of the new release. Rockers like “If Love Was A Train” (now, where have I heard that name before?), “Gladewater”, and even the bizarre-but-lovable “When I Grow Up” seemed right at home with their treatment. Being limited to an acoustic guitar and voice doesn’t limit Michelle’s range or genre. She jazzed; she rocked; she swung. And, yes, she played straight folk, a traditional Irish tune, and a bit of blues.

“Grafitti Limbo”, with its ending reference to ‘that midnight special line’ flowed easily into “Midnight Special.” By now, inhibitions forgotten, the audience was chatting with the performer, singing along, and generally becoming participants instead of spectators. And somehow I knew, when she started “Anchorage” (to a standing ovation during the opening notes) that when she got to the reference to ‘that love song you played’, she’d finally tell us what it was. And she did.

 The water is wide, I cannot get o'er  Neither have I wings to fly  Give me a boat that can carry two  And both shall row, my love and I 

“The Water is Wide” bears a strong resemblance to “Carrickfergus”; not unusual in traditional songs.

Michelle has long known the value of audience contact. The between-song storytelling and reminiscences are as endearing as the music itself—which is mighty indeed.

After the show, she came out to sign albums or shirts or bald heads, and contrary to my usual reticence in public, I managed to be the first to talk to her.

 Me: "Last time I heard a single acoustic guitar sound that big, it was Michael Hedges." Herself, lowering my half-signed CD and shaking my hand: "Now, that's a real compliment, especially since I haven't played acoustic much in the past ten years and I'm a little rusty!" Me: "Oh, you did just fine. Like Nanci Griffith says, if the songs work stripped down like this, they work."

I try to act like normal people, but it just isn’t me.

She didn’t seem to mind.

Link Death

Link rot is a web phenomenon whereby links from one site to others begin to fail over time due to changes in the target sites.

I’m about to introduce link assassination. Since I have to remove all my CDNow links, but haven’t had time to get all the links, I’m going to just kill them until I have the time.

So, if you read back through older articles (anything prior to the first of December) the links are about to unceremoniously cease to function. I’ll do what I can to get them replaced quickly. In the meantime, you can find everything you need at, which is where we’ll be buying our music from now on, right?

Don’t Miss the ‘Jazz Me News’

I’ve listed “Riverwalk” on my links page since Know Your Music’s inception. If you love music, and enjoy learning about the music and the people who made it, “Live from the Landing” is an absolute must. The detailed and personal background to the music, as provided by host David Holt and a remarkable array of guests, gives insight not possible from just listening to a CD you bought in town.This just in: courtesy of “Riverwalk, Live from the Landing” – their fun and fact-filled ‘Jazz Me News’ archives are indeed available online. I’ve been enjoying it for some time without giving a thought to passing it along. I’m sure I’ll find a suitable way to do penance, but in the meantime, dig into some meaty and entertaining info, written from the vantage point of the Jim Cullum’s historic “Landing” in San Antonio Texas, origin of their not-to-be-missed weekly broadcasts.

Sign up for the newsletter, and while you wait for next month’s catch up on the past issues. If you missed the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee in May, they’ve do a nice review every year.

At next year’s Jazz Jubilee, expect to see me in Jim Cullum’s shadow, soaking up all the jazz I can.

Gypsy Jazz Reborn

A friend recently returned from a trip to St. Louis, where she made time to check out the St. Louis Jazz Festival. Lucky for me she did. On her return to SoCal, she brought an autographed copy of the latest CD by the gypsy jazz phenomenon The Robin Nolan Trio.

When she mentioned ‘gypsy jazz’, like any music lover I immediately thought of Django Reinhardt (didn’t you?) Nervous about the unavoidable comparisons I knew I was going to make between the great Django and anyone who even attempted to emulate him, I gave the CD a listen. I was not disappointed.

Over the course of seven albums, Robin Nolan has advanced far beyond emulation to originality. The trio’s latest release, “Mediterranean Blues” is their first album comprised completely of original material, composed by Nolan and his bassist, Paul Meader. (The final member of the trio is Nolan’s younger brother Kevin, who plays rhythym guitar.) The tributes page at the official website makes it clear that Robin Nolan is a musician’s musician – anyone George Harrison would fly to his estate every year for five years running is clearly not an average guitarist.

“Mediterranean Blues” has all the fire I love in Django’s recordings, with a modern rhythmic flair I think he would have loved. The tracks, all instrumentals, run the gamut from the blazing title track which opens the album, through quietly romantic pieces, to languid daydreams set to music. “Luna Tango” is the track which most reminds me of Django’s work, but after a first listen, that comparison becomes unimportant. Since two of the band members list the Beatles first among their influences, it’s not surprising to hear a few bars from “Norwegian Wood” tucked into “Friar Park.”

Full of beauty and fire and joy, “Mediterranean Blues” is a special collection from an amazing group of musicians. Expect to hear more about the Robin Nolan Trio as I collect the rest of their albums.

Like Swallows to Capistrano

Wally’s Swing World returns to the marvelous atmosphere of the Gordon Biersch restaurant in San Jose, California. If you can swing it, you just have to see them in this venue.

 Thursdays July 25th & August 29th Wally's Cocktail Combo Gordon Biersch, San Jose 9:00 p.m. - midnight (408) 294-6785

For more info on the band, check out their very nice website. And for a review of their second album “Full Swing Ahead” see “Loading Dock Dark Alley Swing” right here at Know Your Music.

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.

  • [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.

Loading Dock Dark Alley Swing

I promised to tell you more about Wally’s Swing World. Instead of procrastinating and forgetting, let’s just get it over with, shall we?

Some years ago, I made a business trip to San Jose, California (near San Francisco.) It was an all-day training class for some really bad software I was forced to use. They had one terminal (no, not computer; a Wyse 30 dumb terminal) for two students, and I shared one with a smart and friendly guy named Kerry who lived just north of San Diego.

Whenever I travel to a new city, my mission is to find a local brewpub to check out. Kerry’s mission, assigned by his employer, was to go eat at a particular restaurant he had enjoyed on his last visit to San Jose. The restaurant was Gordon Biersch, and the matchbook Kerry had made it clear that our missions were bound by a single destiny.

We took BART all the way across San Jose. I don’t recommend it. When we arrived, it looked like the wrong address; while the Gordon Biersch site shows a friendly, well lit entrance what we saw looked like a gate into the alley. However, the well-dressed hostess assured us we were in the right place.

They wanted to seat us by the brick wall you can see in the photos, but to Kerry’s everlasting credit he asked if we could sit at one of the tables near the loading dock to the left. We sat; we ate; we drank. About 7:00, they stopped seating folks on the loading dock and cleared all the tables away. When they started setting up band equipment, we rummaged through the flyers and calendars on the table and discovered that we were about to see someone called “Wally’s Swing World.” At the time, I was disappointed because the act one week previous had been the Dave Matthews Band, and not some unknown. I didn’t stay disappointed for long.

I honestly don’t remember much of the playlist for the evening, but I do remember that it was one of the better live shows I’ve ever seen. Wally and the boys come out playing fast and furious, and after their THIRD hour-long set, they didn’t appear to have slowed any. Swing, rockabilly, standards from the 30s; all were performed with style and grace (or, where appropriate, with wit and a wink.) Wally is a master of really bad humor (“See my new suit? Handmade by those two famous sisters, Polly and Esther!” ) He’s also a master of his Gretsch Country Club guitar. The band’s albums don’t show it much, but their live repertoire includes quite a bit of snappy, polished, sometimes fiery guitar work.

All the band members are excellent at what they do, but as a wannabee drummer I have to mention the masterful Dodger Posey. From gentle background rhythyms to blinding runs and fills, Dodger made every lick count, and made it all sound like jazz ought to sound.

After the third set, Wally announced that they’d be back for one more after a short break. We decided to do the professional thing and get back to the hotel and get enough sleep to benefit from the next day’s class. Wally's Swing World: Full Swing AheadI won’t make that mistake next time.

Wally’s Swing World has a nicely done website where you can read about the band, order their latest two albums, and sign up for a monthly newsletter and calendar. (Note to spam haters – I frequently use test addresses when I first sign up for newsletters. The address I used for Wally’s list was never used by any other organization, I’m pleased to say.) You can even hire the boys for private events. While the price is a bit out of my range for a private party, if our company gets around to hosting an event with live music, I’ll strongly recommend Wally and company. And of course, next time you’re in the San Francisco bay area, look ’em up and give ’em a listen. Whether you like swing or not, I’m certain you’ll love the show.