Saturday, November 28, 2009

Sun Shines Down On Carlisle Wall

It´s no big step from Joanna Newsom to Alasdair Roberts. They´re labelmates on Drag City, pals with and championed by Bonnie Will Oldham and they both operate in what some people call the freakfolk genre. The former Appendix Out vocalist is a lot less freaky than Newsom though, preferring a more traditional approach to folk. And that´s cool, too.

On my fave album of his for instance, the Scotsman shows a lot of reverence for ye olde ballads he takes on. Following in the footsteps of Shirley Collins, Planxty and Nic ´Penguin Eggs´ Jones, there´s not a trace of postmodern irony here. Tastefully and sparsely instrumentated in a no-frills Oldham production, No Earthly Man simply sounds pure and timeless. For proof, listen to the beautiful infanticide ballad The Cruel Mother, starring Isobel Campbell on cello and John McCusker on fiddle amongst others. "And the lion shall be lord of all..."

Alasdair Roberts - The Cruel Mother MP3

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Better Late Than Never

"There's a bell in my ears,
There's a wide white roar,
Drop a bell down the stairs,
Hear it fall forevermore..."

The coin suddenly dropped. People had been telling me for ages I´d love Joanna Newsom´s Ys album, but I never quite got it. And I honestly don´t know why, but yesterday night I easily connected the dots from Memphis Minnie to Billie Holiday to Karen Dalton to Sandy Denny to Patti Smith to Lydia Lunch to... Joanna Newsom, and it all made sense somehow.

"Then I hear a noise from the hull,
Seven days out to sea,
And it is the damnable bell!
And it tolls - well, I believe, that it tolls - it tolls for me!
And it tolls for me!"

Joanna Newsom - Sawdust & Diamonds MP3

Sunday, November 22, 2009


To paraphrase Steve Earle´s famous remark on Townes Van Zandt: Will Oldham aka Bonnie Prince Billy is one of the greatest modern-day musicians around, and I´ll stand on Beck´s coffee table in my Onitsuka Tigers and say that. But hey, he´ll probably agree.

Anyway: Bonnie Prince Billy will soon release his second album of the year, and that´s great news. Entitled Funtown Comedown, and available on vinyl and as a download only, it´ll feature a mix of Bonnie classics and covers performed live with Louisville locals The Picket Line. So you´d better hoof it pronto to these fine folks over at Drag City, one of my fave record labels for well over a decade now, as they´ve got an exclusive track not on the album available for free download. You´ll be amazed by the remarkably loose and upbeat sound I guess. Very promising.

While we´re waiting, here are some fun guest appearances of the prolific lion of Louisville. Covering a Buck Owens tune with Susanna, building bridges with Angie Hart, hiphopping with Sage Francis, going ambient in Iceland with Valgeir Sigurðsson, doing the lofi with the Sundowners, or comforting Scout Niblett: it´s all good.

Bonnie Prince Billy & Susanna - (I´ll Love You) Forever And Ever MP3
Angie Hart - Little Bridges MP3
Sage Francis - Sea Lion MP3
Valgeir Sigurðsson - Evolution Of Waters MP3
Sundowners - Turkey Vulture MP3
Scout Niblett - Comfort You MP3

Thursday, November 19, 2009

I Can Hardly See In Front Of Me

The pure beauty of Robert Wyatt´s wavering tenor taking on Chic´s At Last I Am Free is something to behold. Can I get a witness? I´d sure like to testify.

Robert Wyatt - At Last I Am Free MP3

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Keep On Dubbing

Dread at the controls taking over... High time to dub it to the top here a bit. One of my fave musical genres, dub basically means stripped-down, instrumental versions of regular reggae songs. Featuring heavy, heavy bass, snippets of vocals, and tons of added sound effects. From echo, tape delay and reverb to animal sounds, ringing telephones, crying babies, gunfire and blaring sirens... Everything goes really, just as long as it pleases Jah.

The legendary Osbourne Ruddock alias King Tubby remains the undisputed master of dub, but other producers such as Lee "Scratch" Perry, Joe Gibbs, Erroll Brown, Herman Chin Loy and Keith Hudson - to name but a few - mixed some mean ones too in their time. And the realization that all these amazing tracks were made with rather limited means, as Jamaican studios didn´t exactly feature state of the art equipment, makes their soundboard wizardry all the more impressive.

The players vary, but often feature reggae revolutionaries Sly Dunbar on drums and Robbie Shakespeare on bass. Without further ado, here´s a well charged dub ten pack for all you brethren out there. No recent stuff here mind, all strickly roots, ´cause that´s the way I like it. Seen?

Herman Chin Loy - Jah Jah Dub MP3
King Tubby - Satta Dread Dub MP3
Augustus Pablo - Keep On Dubbing MP3
Aggrovators - Rockers Almighty Dub MP3
Upsetters - Black Panta MP3
The Revolutionaries - M.P.L.A. MP3
Joe Gibbs & The Professionals - Freedom Call MP3
Vital Dub - Roof Top Dub MP3
Keith Hudson - Black Right MP3
Scientist - Babylon Fight Dub MP3

Sunday, November 15, 2009

I Know He Let You In

"I was sitting around the other day, tapping my feet,
A publication came to my door, said you´d died and gone to sleep...
But I couldn´t shed a tear I never knew you well..."

A moving elegy from Minutemen successors fIREHOSE on the death of blues singer extraordinaire Elizabeth Cotten. Haven´t a clue why Mike Watt & co spelled her name wrong btw. Anyone?

"...But I´m missing you just the same,
Libba please rest easy down on Chestnut Street..."

fIREHOSE - In Memory Of Elizabeth Cotton MP3

And then there´s the object of their admiration herself: Elizabeth ´Libba´ Cotten (1895-1987). Lefthanded and self-taught, she held her guitar upside down, playing the bass lines with her fingers and the melody with her thumb: the Cotten picking technique.

"When I die Lord bury me deep,
Way down on old Chestnut Street,
So I can hear old Number 9 as she comes rolling by..."

Elizabeth Cotten - Freight Train MP3

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Insurrection And Sex

Confidential 1-A: Director´s Eyes Only. Speaking: Director Hoover, Special Agent Dwight C. Holly.

JEH: Good morning, Dwight.
DH: Good morning, Sir.
JEH: Before you ask, the answer is yes. Expedite Operation Baaaad Brother in the manner you described in you memo.
DH: Thank you, Sir.
JEH: The title possesses a sublime jungle quality. As in "That brother John Edgar Hoover, he baaad."
DH: You are baaad, Sir. And I might add "inimitably so."
JEH: You might, and you should. And, on the topic of jungle artistry, I heard a very disquieting song on the radio this morning.
DH: Yes, Sir.
JEH: It was called "The Tighten Up". A negro ensemble named Archie Bell and the Drells performed it. The song carried the air of insurrection and sex. I´m sure white liberals will find it authentic. I told the Los Angeles SAC to open a file on Mr. Bell and to determine the identity of his Drells.
DH: Yes, Sir.

From the new James Ellroy book I just can´t put down. Blood´s A Rover indeed.

Archie Bell & The Drells - Tighten Up MP3

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

We´re Comin´ To Get You

As a rule, I´m not much of a Zappa fan. Too many virtuoso guitar solos for my liking, too much of that pseudo neo-classical Edgar Varèse stuff. And although humor certainly belongs in music, Frank can often make you overdose. Sometimes you can´t help but love the guy though. Cue Flakes, from his ´79 album Sheik Yerbouti. Its vivid description of Union-protected ´handymen´ out to get you never fails to bring a smile to my face.

"All what we got here is American made,
It's a little bit cheesy but it's nicely displayed,
Well we don't get excited when it crumbles 'n' breaks,
We just get on the phone and call up some flakes,
They rush on over and wreck it some more,
And we are so dumb they're linin' up at our door..."

Everytime there´s somebody over at our place to fix the telephone line or the plumbing, I´m away humming this tune within seconds. "You can stab 'n' shoot 'n' spit, but they won't be fixin' it..."

Bonus points go to guitarist Adrian Belew for his really funny Dylan persiflage, harp and all. Take it away, Bob...

"I asked as nice as I could,
If my job would somehow be finished by Friday...
Well, the whole damn weekend came and went, Frankie,
And they didn't do nothin',
But they charged me double for Sunday..."

Frank Zappa - Flakes MP3

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Wavy Gravy

If wild novelty songs from the fifties and early sixties are your thing, the Wavy Gravy series is the one to get. The two volumes (For Adult Enthusiasts and Four Hairy Policemen) contain a truckload of hilarious rockabilly and country ditties, interspersed with weird radio ads for obscure B movies. The joke tends to wear rather thin when you spin this stuff too often, but for the first couple of plays it´s a real hoot. All together now: "I started using L.S.D., it gave me quite a kick, better than booze and easy to use, but it made me mentally sick..."

Selvyn Cox - His Name Is Jesus MP3
Wendell Austin - L.S.D. MP3
The Leather Boy - On The Go MP3
Ding & Bat - Hearse On A Surfari MP3

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Lift Us Up

"People don't you wonder,
how the lord has brought you under...
And demons lied I´m dreaming,
to the nakedness I´m scheming..."

Thanks to the power of iPod shuffle, I realised only yesterday night what a great song this actually is. I bought the fine Superwolf album - a collaboration with guitarist Matt Sweeney - when it came out a couple of years back, but this particular track never really jumped out to me until now. A sparse arrangement that´s just right, in comes Billy with a remarkably solemn vocal, and then the unsuspected hornyness of "and when I wrap around you, ain´t it wonderful I found you..."

"Oh and I...
Lift us up...
Lift us up...
Lift us up."

Bonnie Prince Billy - Lift Us Up MP3

As a bonus track, here´s a song from a brand new release by British folk musician Brian Harnetty called Silent City. Our Billy contributed vocals to a couple of songs, and with great results. Ambient folk for the now generation, or something like that.

Brian Harnetty feat. Bonnie Prince Billy - Sleeping In The Driveway MP3