Friday, February 29, 2008

Grab bag deluxe

Time to get your weekly fix of timeless tunes in Friday´s grab bag again. Here´s a healthy diet of songs that mattered to me over the past seven days, featuring some wild banjo stuff, some pure pop and a Dutch treat amongst others. Like Captain Beefheart said: "You can physically drown in paint, you can mentally drown in music..." Here´s your lifeline.

Let´s kick off tonight´s proceedings with Palace, a former nom de plume of the great Will Oldham (aka Bonnie Prince Billy). Here he uses a song by southern rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd to paint one of his trademark desolate landscapes. To call this intense would be an understatement. Originally released on 7-inch in ´96, it´s now available on the compilation Guarapero - Lost Blues 2 (Drag City). I´ve never heard the original btw, so I´d be much obliged if someone could help me out here.
Palace - Every Mother´s Son MP3

Uncle Dave Macon was a farmer who played the banjo as a hobby. He later ran his own horse-drawn wagon company. Macon started out as a professional musician at the ripe age of 50, only to find himself immensely popular almost overnight. Also known as the Dixie Dewdrop, Uncle Dave (1870-1952) soon became one of the first Grand Ole Opry stars at age 56. Buddy Won´t You Roll Down The Line (find it on Harry Smith´s incredible Anthology Of American Folk Music) is one of the most infectious pieces of music I know.
Uncle Dave Macon - Buddy Won´t You Roll Down The Line MP3

Pay attention you label bosses and A&R types out there... Yup, I know you´re reading this. Amsterdam´s Bingo Trappers are looking for a new record deal at the moment, so what´s keeping you guys? They already recorded albums for illustrious labels as Shrimper and Animal World in the past, while their trademark lofi sound has been compared to the Kinks, the Velvets and Syd Barrett´s Floyd. This is a brand new song, and I can´t get it out of my head.
Bingo Trappers - Greater Lakes Of Life MP3

For something totally different, check out John Fahey. Both eclectic guitar innovator and allround weirdo, Fahey (´39-´01) left behind a huge oeuvre that´s well worth exploring. Later in his life he also ran a fine record label (Revenant) and published a wonderful collection of short stories called How Bluegrass Music Destroyed My Life (Drag City Books). The delightfully titled When The Catfish Is In Bloom comes from The Essential John Fahey (Vanguard ´74).
John Fahey - When The Catfish Is In Bloom MP3

I still think Black And White should have been a huge hit. It never was of course. Still sounds as fresh and as sharp as the day it was recorded. One of my all-time favorite pure pop songs. You can find it on Stands For Decibels (´81) by the dB´s. Great band, sadly forgotten.
The dB´s - Black And White MP3

We´re going to finish tonight with Al Green, who´s going to take you to the river. I first heard this song in the version Talking Heads recorded for More Songs About Buildings And Food (´79). That was already great, but believe me, the original is even better. Funky as hell. It´s from Al Green Explores Your Mind (74´). Dip me in the water!
Al Green - Take Me To The River MP3

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Hank & Bob & Jack

I never knew there was a pile of unfinished Hank Williams lyrics floating around, but it´s true apparently, and that´s great news. But wait, it gets even better. None other than Bob Dylan will head an undertaking to set the country legend´s words to music. "He came upon, somehow, 20 to 25 unfinished songs by Hank Williams: just the lyrics, no music," the White Stripes' Jack White recently told MTV News. Dylan has enlisted the help of various contemporary roots musicians, including White, for this project. "I think it might come out this year," White said. "It's a cool record." White recorded a song called You Know That I Know at the Blackbird Studios in Nashville. Willie Nelson, Lucinda Williams and Alan Jackson have also been invited by Dylan. 

I wouldn´t know anyone better suited for this job than Dylan. Known for his impeccable musical taste, the former Voice Of A Generation has been an admirer of Ole Hank since his youth. To quote Dylan´s recent autobiography Chronicles Volume One: "The sound of Hank Williams's voice went through me like an electric rod and I managed to get a hold of a few of his 78s... I played them endlessly... When I hear Hank sing, all movement ceases. The slightest whisper seems sacrilege." 

Dylan played quite a few Williams covers over the years. He already did a version of (I Heard That) Lonesome Whistle (as Lonesome Whistle Blues) on the obscure so-called First McKenzie tape way back in ´61. The sound quality´s not exactly great, but it´s fun to hear young Bobby enjoying himself so much. The same song was also recorded later during the sessions for The Freewheelin´ Bob Dylan (´63), but didn´t make the album. Honky Tonk Blues is a live version from Grand Rapids, 15-2-´99, featuring support act Brian Setzer on guitar. I Can´t Get You Off Of My Mind was recorded for the excellent Hank tribute Timeless (Lost Highway ´01). And last but not least Dylan often used Wait For The Light To Shine as a concert opener in ´01 and ´02; this version is from Sacramento 10 October ´01. 

I don´t have any recordings of the White Stripes doing Hank, so we´ll have to make do with a Dylan cover for now. One More Cup Of Coffee comes from the selftitled Stripes debut on XL records (´99). 

Hank Williams - (I Heard That) Lonesome Whistle MP3
Bob Dylan - Long Time Man Feel Bad / Lonesome Whistle Blues MP3
Bob Dylan - (I Heard That) Lonesome Whistle) MP3
Hank Williams - Honky Tonk Blues MP3
Bob Dylan - Honky Tonk Blues (live) MP3
Hank Williams - I Can´t Get You Off Of My Mind MP3
Bob Dylan - I Can´t Get You Off Of My Mind MP3
Hank Williams - Waiting For The Light To Shine MP3
Bob Dylan - Wait For The Light To Shine (live) MP3
The White Stripes - One More Cup Of Coffee MP3

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Footy vs. music means Allmans

I once knew a radio dj who loved watching football, which presented a bit of a problem as he had a weekly slot between 9 and 11 in the evening. And as it happens a lot of European Cup games and international qualifiers get played exactly during that timespan. So he came up with a simple solution. Whenever an important match was on he put on some really long songs, so he could watch the telly in peace and root for his favorite team while still doing his job.

The song he spun most often was Whipping Post from the classic Live At The Fillmore East by the Allman Brothers Band, a lenghty southern rock classic featuring lots of exciting interplay between guitarists Duane´ Skydog´ Allman and Dickey Betts. Now this isn´t a radio show of course, but I still decided to do the same tonight. I´m off watching my beloved blaugranas taking on Valencia in the Spanish cup, giving you the chance to enjoy over 20 minutes of Allmans mania. This particular take of Whipping Post was recorded live from the soundboard on 17 January 1971 at the Syria Mosque, Pittsburgh.

Allman Brothers Band - Whipping Post (live Pittsburgh 17-1-´71) MP3

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Total destruction to your mind

Swamp Dogg... I think the man should be famous, but as it stands he´s just one of many obscure southern soul singers. He´s got a great voice, he writes great songs, but hardly anyone knows about it. Is it because Jerry Williams (his real name) was never your average soul man, with his leftist views and often absurd sense of humor? Because he changed record labels so often? Or is it because he´s not what you´d call a modest guy maybe? In his own words: "I was born in Portsmouth, Virginia, July 12, 1942 and was fortunate enough to move away as soon as I became of age. Without any formal training I awakened one morning only to find that I was a genius and could master a number of musical instruments..." 

His choice of cover shots probably didn´t help his career either. The sleeve of his sizzling debut album Total Destruction To Your Mind features a slightly overweight Swamp in his underwear, while follow-up Rat On finds him with his hands triumphantly in the air on top of a big white rat. Anyway, whatever the reason for his obscurity, it can´t have been the music. Swamp Dogg made some fine albums over the years - and he´s still at it - but Total Destruction To Your Mind (´71) really stands out. 

An album that was always near impossible to find, until he finally re-released it himself a few years back as The Excellent Sides Of Swamp Dogg Vol. 1, with Rat On (´72) added on. The title track is an uptempo joyous blast of soul I always hoped one of the second generation garage bands (the Monomen or New Bomb Turks maybe?) would cover, but that never happened as far as I know. Maybe something for the White Stripes? Dust Your Head Color Red is a wonderful psychedelic soul ballad. "Spirit dust your head color red, sparkle your insides pink with pleasure."  What´s he on about? Or better maybe, what´s he on? Album closer Mama´s Baby, Daddy´s Maybe not only has a brilliant title, it´s got a fine blues guitar by one Jesse ´Beaver´ Carr as well. And it´s another song about - possible - adultery (see my earlier post on Don Covay). We find Swamp seriously in doubt if the kid is really his. "Maybe the doctor made a mistake and gave the wrong child away," he ask himself hopefully, but probably against better judgement. "I guess I don´t really wanna know..."

Stop press: I just remembered Eric Ambel (formerly of the Del-Lords, and currently playing guitar in Steve Earle´s band) did a fine rockin´ cover of Total Destruction To Your Mind on his Roscoe´s Gang album (´88). So here you go.

Swamp Dogg - Total Destruction To Your Mind MP3
Swamp Dogg - Dust Your Head Color Red MP3
Swamp Dogg - Mama´s Baby, Daddy´s Maybe MP3
Eric Ambel - Total Destruction To Your Mind MP3

Friday, February 22, 2008

Grab this bag!

Friday means grab bag time in this neck of the woods. So here we go again with six great songs that caught my ear this week. Got some early punk, some pubrock, and some neo-country from Nashville. Also there´s room for roots reggae, an oldie from the Mountain Goats and Mr. Johnny Cash... What else could you possibly need?

Let´s start with Richard Hell & The Voidoids. Hell was one of the visionaries of New York´s CBGB´s scene. He played in the first line-ups of the Heartbreakers and Television, invented the ripped t-shirt look along the way and made a name for himself with the classic album Blank Generation. "And when I want to write a song that says it all at once..." That´s the late great Robert Quine on guitar btw. You can find it on the Time compilation (Matador records).
Richard Hell & The Voidoids - Time MP3

Here´s a brand new song for you. Spiritual Family Reunion have just released an album called Goodbye Ceremony on Tract Records, a label to watch. They operate out of Nashville, have former Calexico and Silver Jews members among them, and I think Coral Reef sounds mighty fine.
Spiritual Family Reunion - Coral Reef MP3

I´ve been a fan of the Mountain Goats ever since they released Beautiful Rat Sunset way back when on the wonderful Shrimper label. For my money head-Goat John Darnielle is among the most original songwriters working today. The new album Heretic Pride hasn´t reached me yet, so we´ll make do with an oldie. There Will Always Be An Ireland is from the Jack & Faye ep, which never came out as the label that was supposed to release it went belly-up just a little too soon. Shame.
Mountain Goats - There Will Always be An Ireland MP3

Roots reggae time. Max Romeo is best known for his Lee Perry produced War In A Babylon album, but he released many more amazing sides in the seventies. Check out Valley Of Jehosaphat/Version for example, from the excellent compilation Open The Iron Gate (Blood & Fire). Red hot indeed.
Max Romeo - Valley Of Jehosaphat/Version MP3

Dr. Feelgood was the archetypical pubrock band. They set any venue on fire in ten minutes flat with their no-nonsense mentality. Milk and alcohol: a great diet. You can find it on the Singles - The U.A. Years compilation. This one´s dedicated to my brother in law by the way, who has seen them live more times than I´d like to count.
Dr. Feelgood - Milk And Alcohol MP3

And last but not least here´s Mr. Johnny Cash. Need I say more? "For on the wall there appeared a hand..." He´s best when biblical. From the extremely nicely priced but excellent 3 cd box Walking The Line, The Legendary Sun Recordings (Union Square).
Johnny Cash - Belshazzar MP3

Thursday, February 21, 2008


Just a quick post tonight as it´s my daughter´s seventh birthday tomorrow and we still have to inflate tons of balloons, get streamers and decorations up, bake the cake and finetune the party. As my daughter´s name just happens to be Joni, tonight´s theme is easy though.

Let´s start with Sonic Youth and Hey Joni, from their classic Daydream Nation (´88). Guitars all over the place. "Tune out the past and just say yes." Lee Ranaldo once remarked the song "was some wry take on Hendrix´s Hey Joe, but I was definitely listening to a lot of Joni Mitchell at the time." For some reason Neil Young never recorded Sweet Joni, an obvious tribute to fellow Canadian Joni Mitchell. He played it live only once, in Bakersfield on March 11 1973. We can only hope a decent soundboard recording of this gem will show up on his Archives Collection sometime. And speaking of Joni Mitchell, here she is herself singing Coyote (from Hejira, ´76). Competition is tough, but this one would definitely make my personal Joni Mitchell top ten.

It may be just a little far-fetched to put up a song by The Birthday Party in this context, but what the heck. Big Jesus Trashcan comes from the Junkyard album (´82), so way before Nick Cave started to sport that silly moustache. Tracy Pew´s bass is amazing. Last up is Dutch pride Bettie Serveert with the classic Kid´s Alright from their debut Palomine (´92). Because she is. Happy birthday kiddo!

Sonic Youth - Hey Joni MP3
Neil Young - Sweet Joni (live 11-3-´73 Bakersfield) MP3
Joni Mitchell - Coyote MP3
The Birthday Party - Big Jesus Trashcan MP3
Bettie Serveert - Kid´s Allright MP3

Monday, February 18, 2008

Neil Inc.

Read a review today in a Dutch newspaper (I can read that language pretty well, happens to be my mother tongue) of Neil Young´s first concert of three in Amsterdam. It was extremely positive, which didn´t surprise me really as Neil is one of the few dinosaurs who still delivers the goods, live as well as on album.

But I was kind of shocked about an observation the reviewer made in this article. He noticed that although Young (´62) is one of the few old rockers who potentially doesn´t only attract his own generation but also an audience much younger than himself, there weren´t any youngsters to be found at the show. Reason: a ticket price of - drumroll - 140 Euro ($ 205). Now I haven´t been to any major rock shows lately but I sure hope such a pricetag isn´t the norm these days. Makes you wonder who actually demands that kind of money, Neil Inc. or the promotors...

Anyway, guess I won´t be seeing Neil live sometime soon. But it got me to thinking: for what shows would I fork over such an amount of money? Dylan in a small club probably, and that´s it. Otherwise some time machine construction comes to mind, in which I´d gladly pay 140 Euro or more to see Elvis in his Sun period, Dylan & The Band in ´66, Gram with Emmylou, Jimi at Monterey or the Pistols early ´77 in some London dive... I´m sure you can add to the list. In the meantime I´m saving up for Neil´s Archives Vol. 1, which won´t be cheap either as it´s said to contain 8 cd´s, 2 dvd´s and a book. Got plenty of time to fill the piggy bank probably, as the release date keeps being pushed back. Meanwhile we´ve got the two excellent Performance Series Archives (Live At The Fillmore East ´70 and Live At Massey Hall ´71) to keep us happy.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Down By The River (live Fillmore ´70) MP3
Neil Young - Cowgirl In The Sand (live Massey Hall ´71) MP3

Friday, February 15, 2008

Grab bag time again

It´s Friday, so time for another musical grab bag. Want to know what songs caught my attention over the last week for one reason or other? Please read on. Got some new stuff, some oldies and two flamingos. In a fruit fight.

Let´s start off with Blitzen Trapper, a band I´ve praised in these pages before. They hail from Portland, Oregon and mix country, pop and Pavement-style indierock like no other. Currently Sub Pop recording artists, the country flavoured Texaco comes from the self-titled debut album on their own Lidkercow label. Their slogan is ´Blitzen Trapper makes big happy´ and I can´t agree more.
Blitzen Trapper - Texaco MP3

"Everything´s wrong at the same time it´s right..." Captain Beefheart is one of the giants, a true original. I recall I didn´t like Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller) much when it came out back in ´79. Yup I´m that old kids. Reviews were unanonymously raving, but I guess I was too much into the weirdness of Trout Mask Replica and the blues of Clear Spot at the time to fully appreciate it. Now it´s probably the Magic Band album I play most often.
Captain Beefheart And The Magic Band - Tropical Hot Dog Night MP3

Ever since Vampire Weekend made it to the big leagues after first having been championed in the blogosphere, music bloggers tend to find a lot of promo albums on their doormats. The majority doesn´t really make the grade, but every once in a while one receives something interesting. Like the just released I Turned Off Thinking About by The David Wax Museum. Their Americana folk is often injected with Mexican spice, but currently I like the Townes Van Zandt-like You Will Be Dishonest the best.
The David Wax Museum - You Will Be Dishonest MP3

Dave Smalley is one of the best punkpop vocalists around. He sang and played guitar in bands like DYS, Dag Nasty, All and Down By Law, and got into a row with the global punk community a few years back when he endorsed the George W. Bush regime in public. Dumb move Dave. But Best Friends (from their ´91 debut on Epitaph) remains a great song. This one is dedicated to the missus btw. Only one day late for Valentine love...
Down By Law - Best Friends MP3

Last week I wrote about Blind Willie Johnson´s John The Revelator, and an attentive reader immediately emailed me a song by 18 Wheeler with the same title. I presumed it would be a cover version, but it turned out to be an original composition. I´m sure fans of Big Star and The Posies will like this. I know I do.
18 Wheeler - John The Revelator MP3

You´ll find tonights closer on the Modern Lovers´ first album (´76). "If I were to walk through the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston... well first I´d go to room where they keep the C├ęzanne". I really have to visit there sometime. They´ve got some mean Gauguins too I´m told. Beautiful song, beautiful album. You need it. Now.
Modern Lovers - Girlfriend MP3

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Pool time

The tireless performer that is Bob Dylan will soon take off on yet another tour. At 66, he´s still averaging a hundred concerts a year. And what´s more, he does so with a dignity and style that fits his age, unlike so many older rockers strutting their stuff out there. Warming up on February 21st with three shows in a row in the tiny House Of The Blues in Dallas, Texas, the Dylan entourage will subsequently move south, with gigs scheduled in Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. These warm-up shows in Dallas make you wonder if there´s been a change in his band´s line-up, but as the Dylan organisation is notoriously tightlipped we´ll probably only know for sure on the opening night. 

Another tour also means another opportunity to try your luck in the long running Dylan Pool guessing game. Here Bobheads from all over the world try to guess what songs His Bobness - known for putting a lot of variety in his setlists - will play in his concerts. Silly but fun and very addictive, so check it out. To get you in the mood, let´s look back to one of the most surprising Dylan tours of late, the 2002 American Fall Tour. Suddenly Bob had ditched his trademark guitar and was found singing his songs from behind a piano, baffling even his most ardent followers. Lots of great covers got an airing as well, among them Van Morrison´s Carrying A Torch, Warren Zevon´s Accidently Like A Martyr and Mutineer, Old Man by Neil Young, and last but not least the Beatles classic Something, as a moving tribute to George Harrison.

Bob Dylan - Carrying A Torch (live Elmira 9 Nov. ´02) MP3
Bob Dylan - Accidently Like A Martyr (live Berkeley 11 Oct. ´02) MP3
Bob Dylan -  Old Man (live Kansas City 28 Oct. ´02) MP3
Bob Dylan -  Mutineer (live St. Paul 30 Oct. ´02) MP3
Bob Dylan - Something (live New York City 13 Nov. ´02) MP3

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Family Tree

I´ve always been an admirer of Nick Drake. Dead way too young at age 26 after a long bout with chronic depression, he left behind only three albums that never got much recognition during his lifetime. Nowadays Five Leaves Left (´69), Bryter Layter (´70) and Pink Moon (´72) are widely regarded as classics however.

It´s a small oeuvre, so I was very happy when Island Records finally released Family Tree last year, a cd collecting Drake´s home recordings from the days before he had a proper recording contract. This is Nick Drake finding his form and trying out styles at his parental home in Tanworth-in-Arden, in Aix En Provence and in Cambridge. These tapes were circulating in collector´s circles for ages btw, but the sound quality has been much improved upon here. We learn just how these tracks started to circulate in the first place from the intimate liner notes by his sister: when after his death fans started to show up at the Warwickshire house where Nick was brought up, his parents would welcome these pilgrims with open arms, showing them around and even making copies of these recordings for those who asked.

There´s a lot of interesting stuff to be found on Family Tree, but it only hints at the genius Drake would display later on. So be sure to buy the three regular albums first (or the Fruit Tree boxset, with features a nice extra disc of rest material). The first three tracks below are classic Nick Drake - one from each cd - for the uninitiated among you, while the last three are from Family Tree.

Nick Drake - Day Is Done MP3
Nick Drake - Northern Sky MP3
Nick Drake - Pink Moon MP3
Nick Drake - Blues Run The Game MP3
Nick Drake - Been Smokin´ Too Long MP3
Nick Drake - Way To Blue MP3

Sunday, February 10, 2008

33 1/3

Now I don´t know about you, but I always like to read about my favorite albums. And that´s exactly where the 33 1/3 series comes in. A few years ago Continuum Books started to publish these small, handsome books about classic albums, and until now they´ve released the staggering amount of 55 different tomes. No mean feat. I haven´t collected all of them yet, but I guess I´ll end up buying the lot (ok, except for the Abba, Celine Dion and Guns & Roses ones). Which probably means the publisher and I have slightly different opinions on the definition of what makes a classic album, but I´ve got a hunch these titles ultimately just shift more units than Beefheart´s Trout Mask Replica or Throbbing Gristle´s 20 Funk Jazz Greats.

From the ones I´ve read, most are illuminating, in-depth studies with loads of background info that can even make you listen to a long loved album in a different way. I can particularly recommend the books on Court And Spark (Joni Mitchell), Daydream Nation (Sonic Youth), Endtroducing..... (DJ Shadow), In The Aeroplane Over The Sea (Neutral Milk Hotel), Exile On Main St. (Rolling Stones, written by Bill Janovitz of Buffalo Tom fame btw), Forever Changes (Love) and Double Nickels On The Dime (Minutemen). Only Sign ´O´ The Times (Prince) proved dissapointingly shallow, so avoid that one. London Calling (The Clash) and Horses (Patti Smith) are in the works, while the next installment in the series will be Mountain Goats´ mastermind John Darnielle dissecting none other than Master Of Reality by Black Sabbath.

Neutral Milk Hotel - In The Aeroplane Over The Sea MP3
Rolling Stones - Hillside Blues (Exile On Main St. outtake) MP3
DJ Shadow - What Does Your Soul Look Like (Part 4) MP3
Joni Mitchell - Free Man In Paris MP3
Sonic Youth - Teenage Riot MP3
Minutemen - History Lesson - Part II MP3
Love - A House Is Not A Motel MP3

Friday, February 8, 2008

Friday grab bag

If the good Lord´s willin´and the creek don´t rise, every Friday night will be grab bag night here from now on. A selection of songs that caught my fancy over the last week for one reason or another. Old, new, borrowed, blue: everything goes.

First up is Tyler Ramsey, who´s better known as the bearded guy in Band Of Horses. No One Goes Out is a song from his brand new solo album A Long Dream About Swimming Across The Sea (Echo Mountain records). Beautiful melancholia. It reminds me of a certain Neil Young track, but the title won´t come... Anyone?
Tyler Ramsey - No One Goes Out MP3

Next are the Bongos, a nearly forgotten power pop trio from Hoboken, NJ. Their sparkling album Drums Along The Hudson from ´82 - which includes In The Congo - finally got a cd release last year by Cooking Vinyl. Hurrah!
The Bongos - In The Congo MP3

Gram Parsons can do no wrong in my book. Here´s a lovely Stones-cover off the second Flying Burrito Brothers album Burrito Deluxe (´70). For more hot Burritos and Parsons stuff do yourself a favour and head over to the mighty Setting The Woods On Fire blog. Rumour has it Paul put up some tracks from a newly released Burritos live album...
Flying Burrito Brothers - Wild Horses MP3

Julian Cope is as mad as they come of course, but in a very pleasant way. I particularly like his Peggy Suicide album (´91), featuring Beautiful Love. Great moog, great trumpet, great song. Did you know Copey is a fine writer as well? His autobiography Head-On may very well be the best book written by a so-called rock star. Sorry Bob, Chronicles is great too of course.
Julian Cope - Beautiful Love MP3

Here´s an oldie for you, from Harry Smith´s amazing Anthology Of American Folk Music box set. One of the most powerful blues vocals ever recorded. I always thought Blind Willie Johnson sang "Who´s that riding...", and had this vision of John The Revelator speeding through a biblical landscape on a big black stallion, cape a-flowin´. I now know that John is actually writing (and the book of the seven seals at that), but I don´t think I can ever shake that image when I listen to this song. Oh well.
Blind Willie Johnson - John The Revelator MP3

Tonight´s closer is my favorite popsong of 2007. Vampire Weekend hail from New York City, look square as hell and just released their self-titled debut on XL records. Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa is full of jumpy hi-life guitars straight from Africa´s townships, neurotic Feelies-like vocals, a namecheck for Louis Vuitton luggage (surely a first in a song?) and an irresistable beat. "Is your bed made? Is your sweater on?"
Vampire Weekend - Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa MP3

Thursday, February 7, 2008


I Was Checkin' Out, She Was Checkin' In is one of the most bitterly funny soul songs I know. A classic tale of double adultery: he´s checking out of the Hideaway Motel ("I was with my other woman...") and who does he see but his lawful wife, who just drove up there to check in "beside another dude". What a shock. After all, she was supposed to be at home, minding the kids. And the desk clerk even gives her the very room he has just vacated. What a terrible blow indeed. The way he sings "Lord!" is worth the price of admission alone. 

It´s not the only song Don Covay (of Mercy Mercy fame, covered by the Stones) recorded in this vein by the way. Somebody´s Been Enjoying My Home at first sounds like a sad lament from a cuckolded husband, but we soon find out all this happened while he was out there doing his woman wrong. "Girl, don´t do me like I did you..." The dude used his razorblade, walked in his shoes, but what really makes him mad is that his last sixpack is gone from the fridge. Great stuff. You can find both tracks on the sadly out of print cd Checkin´In With Don Covay (Mercury ´88). 

Don Covay - I Was Checkin' Out, She Was Checkin' In MP3
Don Covay - Somebody´s Been Enjoying My Home MP3

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Otherwordly harmonies

For the most gorgeous, almost otherwordly harmonies in country music, look no further than the Louvin Brothers. Taking their clue from earlier country brother teams such as the Delmore Brothers and the Monroe Brothers, Ira and Charlie Louvin more or less perfected the genre during the fifties.

Their sound (soaring melodies and that trademark mandolin) was a big influence on the Everly Brothers in the early days of rock ´n´roll. Johnny Cash was a big fan too, and they toured extensively with Elvis, who namechecked them as his favourite country duo. A great anecdote about these heady days: when Elvis was playing some gospel on a backstage piano once, saying "This is really my favorite kind of music," Ira shouted at him "If that´s your favorite music, why don´t you do that out yonder, instead of that trash".

Later Gram Parsons carried the flame for a new generation, recording Louvin material with the Byrds and during his solo career. And these days many so-called groups are not entirely unfamiliar with the Louvins either. Only last year the eighty year old Charlie Louvin (his hothead brother Ira tragically died in a car crash back in ´65) duetted on record with Jeff Tweedy, Lambchops Kurt Wagner and Will ´Bonnie Prince Billy´Oldham amongst others.

For those interested in the Louvins, there are two excellent compilations in print without too much overlap: My Baby´s Gone 1955-1964 on Raven and When I Stop Dreaming on Razor & Tie. The freaks among you should hunt down the Bear Family boxset Close Harmony (with a staggering 219 songs on 8 cd´s!). There´s also an interesting biography of Jim and Ira by Charles Wolfe: In Close Harmony - The Story Of The Louvin Brothers (University Press Of Mississippi). Still in print as far as I know and much recommended. Now without further ado: here are some Louvin Brother gems to get you in the mood.

The Louvin Brothers - I Don´t Believe You´ve Met My Baby MP3
The Louvin Brothers - Kentucky MP3
The Louvin Brothers - Katie Dear MP3
The Louvin Brothers - The Angels Rejoiced Last Night MP3

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Drag City roundup

Drag City has been one of my favourite record labels ever since they started out in the late eighties. Pavement, the Palace Brothers, Royal Trux and Silver Jews recorded their first stuff for this independent Chicago label, so go figure. They´re often cutting edge, very consistent and always cool, so I made it a habit to keep track of their new releases.

I managed to overlook last year´s album by P.G Six however, an omission I regretted when I heard their I´ve Been Traveling somewhere recently. Great song! So I bought the album just now and although I´ve Been Traveling is the obvious highlight, Slightly Sorry is definitely an album I´ll play more often. It´s kinda dark and moody, with some nice fingerpicking that´s vaguely Spanish sometimes, while the ghost of Neil Young is never far away. It´s no masterpiece, but I´ve got a feeling we´ll hear more from the New York group´s singer and multi-instrumentalist Pat Gubler in the future.

Just out on Drag City is an album by one Baby Dee called Safe Inside The Day. It´s produced by Matt Sweeney and Will Oldham a.k.a. Bonnie Prince Billy, who also provides backing vocals on some tracks. A big plus in my book, as I try to collect everything the former Palace Brother has a hand in. I´m not sure about this one yet though. I kind of like Teeth Are The Only Bones That Show, but I don´t know if I can stand a full album of Dee´s ´chamber-cabaret´ to be honest. Please download and see for yourself.

P.G. Six - I´ve Been Traveling MP3
P.G. Six - Not I The Seed MP3
Baby Dee - Teeth Are The Only Bones That Show MP3