Friday, July 16, 2010

Tribute Album for Beginners

I can't stand tribute albums. Well, normally that's the case. Mostly they just fail to live up to the greatness of whomever or whatever they are attempting to pay tribute to. Usually it has to do with a lack of focus: too broad a spectrum of performers covering a wide range of styles by a particular artist and there's usually some song that just outright sucks, which makes it hard to listen to as an album.

Folkyeah and Grass Roots Records are responsible for this Graham Nash tribute record that can proudly stand right next to the album its paying tribute to: Songs for Beginners. Yes, it's a tribute album with songs by many different artists, but song for song it recreates Graham's spectacular solo debut album, which I previously discussed here. There's really not a bad song on the album, which has just as much to do with the solidity of Graham's original, but also the strength of the artists selected to cover them, among them: Bonnie 'Prince' Billy (aka Will Oldham), Vetiver, Nile Nash (Graham's daughter) and many others that I'm less familiar with but hope to become more familiar with in the time to come. Check out the promotional video they made, which has snippets of most of the songs:

"BE YOURSELF" GRAHAM NASH 2010 TRIBUTE ADVANCE EPK #2 promo from (((folkYEAH!))) on Vimeo.

If you're into vinyl, I suggest you order yours before it's too late - they only pressed 1000 and they did a superb job with gatefold cover, excellent artwork and nice thick vinyl. There's a bonus EP, which strangely I didn't receive (but hope to rectify that) but instead got the 7" single of Bonnie Prince Billy's song from the comp.

Bonnie "Prince" Billy - Hombre Sencillo (Simple Man)
I was surprised to really like this one as I've had mixed experiences with Will Oldham. I know lots of people are fanatical about him, but I can take him or leave him depending on the song/album. This song, however, is making me want to revisit my position. By far, this is the most radical reinterpretation of any of Graham's songs on the album, yet even in its deviation I think it gets to the real heart of Graham's humble message to "be yourself". Sure, it sounds like a hippy cliche, but with the crap that gets paraded around as popular music, this message is more urgent than ever. They even made a little mini-movie which I highly recommend you watch.

Moore Brothers - Man in the Mirror
Beautiful harmonies from the group I've never heard above before, but will now keep my eyes peeled for "moore" to come.

Mariee Sioux (w/ Greg Weeks of Espers) - Sleep Song
Magical. Possibly my favorite song from Graham's album rivaling "I Used to be a King" (Vetiver does this version and while it's fantastic, surprisingly it's not one of my favorites from the tribute album) this lullabye reminds me a lot of another version I recently came across from Claudine Longet . . .

Claudine Longet - Sleep Song

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Blue Ridge Rangers

Wow, it's been awhile. Sorry, to keep ya'll (all two of you) hanging like that without any new (meaning old) music to ingest your WW&W to . . . Truth be told, it's not that I haven't stumbled upon any great new songs or artists to showcase on the blog, but just that I've been really busy and distracted with the rest of life, such as: getting laid off, finding out I'm gonna be a dad, and then getting another job (in that order, naturally). But, I'm back and committed to posting some music on this and it's sister blog, Soul Spectrum, on the somewhat regular.

Today's post comes from a prolific, yet anonymous source: The Blue Ridge Rangers. The shadowy figures perched atop the bluish ridge are in actuality an army of Fogerty: John Fogerty, that is. After the breakup of Creedence Clearwater Revival in 1972, John Fogerty, lead singer and main songwriter embarked on a solo career with an album that not only didn't list his name (except for as producer on the back of the LP), but didn't include even one original song. Either he was trying to get back at Fantasy Records founder Saul Zaentz or he was trying to disassociate himself from CCR.

Either way, it's a solid album of classic country music performed entirely by Fogerty with innovative arrangements that fits in wonderfully with the output of other country-rockers of the time, namely Gram Parsons. CCR never really fit in with much of the contemporary rock coming out during their tenure (1968-1972) so its amusing that Fogerty's first solo album actually DOES fit in with a trend even in its attempts to be anachronistic. Any way you slice it, it's an interesting listen from start to finish.

John remade this album with some new tunes and a full band not too long ago, but if I were you I'd track down this original album, find a cold American beer and a sunny porch and dig in.

Blue Ridge Rangers (John Fogerty) - California Blues (Blue Yodel #4)
Blue Ridge Rangers (John Fogerty) - Workin' On a Building

PS - Isn't the young John Fogerty a dead ringer for both a young Steve Martin and young Harrison Ford?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Up and Down the Left Coast with New Riders of the Purple Sage

As you may have read in my sole "Dead" related WW&W post, that I am a Dead neophyte and with trepadation I am plunging my birkenstock-clad dirty toe into this insular world of endless jams, bluegrass psychedelia and unfathomable depths of concert recordings. My plan is to take bite-sized, shall we say brownie-sized doses, of Dead-related albums and classic Dead albums before I start affixing bumper stickers to my thoroughly unDEAD Subaru. According to a cool cat I met in Austin named Mark, I need to get some live Dead from 1972-73. Recommendations of albums of boots to track down?

Many thanks to Scott for tipping me off to the New Riders of the Purple Sage debut album which I found in Portland on my last trip. Not a difficult album to find by any stretch, but well worth it. This a great listen all the way through and seems like a gateway album to fully immerse oneself into the Dead world. I swear the second song on the album, "Watcha Gonna Do" has the same intro riff as a track from "American Beauty". To me, this albums sounds like a more stoney version of The Byrds "Sweetheart of the Rodeo" and that's just fine with me. It also has the great tune "Portland Woman" and being from Portland I can tell you that there are not many songs about the City of Roses. I remember listening to Huey Lewis' "Heart of Rock 'n Roll" waiting for the part where they list off cities that have the "heart of rock 'n roll" because Portland made the cut!

So, I did a brief little search and discovered that NRPS were basically created as a vehicle for Jerry to wail on his slide guitar in a more countrified fashion that the normal Dead oevre would allow. The two auxillary players that would form NRPS were songwriter and acoustic guitar player John "Marmaduke" Dawson (featured in the car next to Jerry) and David Nelson on electric guitar alongside Dead members Garcia, Hart and Lesh. The story goes that Jerry wanted to practice his slide guitar and frequently joined Dawson at a Menlo Park coffee house. These gigs eventually resulted in this band and a few tours with the Dead before NRPS really separated and became their own band. I don't mean to blasphemy, but it seems like they needed that Dead influence as their later albums pale in comparison to this first one. But we can't neglect to mention that Dawson wrote all of these great tunes on the first album, so it would be a mistake to look at NRPS as merely a Dead curiosity.

New Riders of the Purple Sage - Portland Woman
New Riders of the Purple Sage - Dirty Business
I also included "Dirty Business" from their debut album which is a great tune with interesting lyrics that really breaks away from the obvious hippie-country terrain and really drifts off into some spacey territory. This is the kind of Dead material that I'm interested in hearing more of.

New Riders of the Purple Sage - L.A. Lady
It's too perfect to include L.A. Lady from a later album to get the full West Coast tour covered. You can already hear that their sound changed significantly from this first album to their later work (Scott warned me of this already, but this tune is still pretty great).

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Ode to Bobbie Gentry: The Mississippi Hippie (Part 1)

Hey there little doggies, sorry it's been awhile since I posted some tunes up here on WW&W, but a lot has been going on meanwhile back at the ranch. If you peruse my other blog, Soul Spectrum, you might have read that I was recently laid off. Sad, I know, but I'm trying to recognize that I'm not the only one out there in this position and honestly it does help to keep that perspective. One of the silver linings to this cloud is that I now have much more time for the fun and unpaid music activities in my life, such as Weed, Whites & Wine!

Today we're gonna do something special, a rare cross-blog collaboration with our sister site Soul Spectrum focusing on the rare talent that is Bobbie Gentry. Anyone who's ever dug for records will doubt have seen her duet album with Glen Campbell hundreds of times as it approaches the commonness of "Whipped Cream and Other Delights". And shockingly, I don't even have that one, though next times I see it the completist in me will snatch it up. Everybody probably knows that Bobbie is best known for composing and singing the brilliant story-song "Ode to Billy Joe", a haunting song set in rural Chickasaw Country, Mississippi where a troubled Billy Joe McAllister jumps off the Tallahachie bridge. I had heard that song and several other versions, but it wasn't until I heard the A-side to her first single ("Ode to Billy Joe" was the b-side!) on a british acid-jazz comp "Blue Juice" that I really took notice. That a-side, "Mississippi Delta", is a smoking country-soul stomp and will be posted shortly on the companion tribute to Bobbie Gentry over at Soul Spectrum.

I spent the last few days going through my handful of Bobbie Gentry albums (all from 1967-1970) and picked out some of the twangier tunes from her repertoire. To me, Bobbie is somewhere in between Tony Joe White and John Hartford two other native southerner singer-songwriters who dabbled in pop-country in the wake of the Bob Dylan revolution (before Dylan made Columbia some serious $$, few record labels took chances on singer-songwriters especially in the country and/or folk markets). Of the four songs below only one is a cover, which seems pretty representative of her albums.

Bobbie's story is a fascinating one that saw her peak in popularity with her very first single only to become fed up with the recording industry within a few years. Next she spent the better part of the seventies as one of the biggest acts in Las Vegas, producing, writing, choreographing and performing her own show. Then in the late seventies she married wealthy and has disappeared from sight. It's been rumored that she and Elvis even had a thing going on in the early 70s, no doubt as both stars were dominating the Las Vegas strip. I urge you to listen closely to the words of the final song posted here "Fancy" which is done in a similar story style as "Ode to Billy Joe" but is about a teenage girl who's mother forces her into prostitution in order to pay the family's bills. The song goes on to discuss the emotional wreckage that results. Not bad for a pop song. It might help if you knew that before joining the Los Angeles music conservatory she was majoring in philosophy at UCLA.

Bobbie Gentry - Okolona River Bottom Band

This is from her second album, which sold poorly, but is clearly trying to build on that southern mythology. Check down below for a bizarre video of Bobbie and Bing Crosby dueting on this tune.

Bobbie Gentry - Sweet Peony
This a funny little countrified number. One thing I really like about Bobbie Gentry is that her arrangements are often very spare with her vocals way up front and funky rhythmic touches along the way.

Bobbie Gentry - Natural To Be Gone
I love John Hartford and this is one of my favorite tunes of his so I had to include it. You'll notice she changes the lyric from "banjo" to "guitar".

Bobbie Gentry - Fancy
I already talked about this one. I know she's a feminist and all, but I don't think Bobbie would mind if I commented on how HOT she looks on this album cover.

Here's a great performance of the tune on Johnny Cash's TV show from 1970 I'm gonna guess:

Here's another clip from Johnny's show, likely from an earlier season singing a Hank Williams tune in duet with the beautiful Bobbie:

and here we have Bobbie on Bing Crosby's show with Bing dueting on "Okolona River Bottom Band":

And here's a link to cool video of Bobbie singing "Louisiana Man" with some of the Hollies including WW&W favorite Graham Nash.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Wine, Whites and . . . Doobies!

The Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan have more than Jeff "Skunk" Baxter and Michael McDonald in common. They are both ubiquitous 1970s pop-rock bands that I've come to love despite my best intentions to steer clear of obvious pop-music fodder. Just like with The Dan, I had a moment years ago when hearing either "China Grove" or "Long Train Runnin'" for the 100th time that I had to stop in my tracks and remark to myself, 'damn, that's a great song.' Once that happens, it's hard to go back. I'm not trying to say I'm a super fan and unlike The Dan, I haven't seen the Doobies live, but I also wouldn't pass up the opportunity if it presented itself to me.

As far as "Weed, Whites & Wine" goes, The Doobies pick up where a lot of the Laurel Canyon/SoCal country-hippies left off. My office-mate and friend grew is quick to point out that The Doobies are probably the most famous band from the South Bay/San Jose area and you can hear the similarity to other country-rock outfits from these parts, namely Creedence Clearwarter Revival. The Bay Area scene was more indebted to R&B it would seem then the SoCal scene, which had a little more folk and pop influences, depending on the artist. Most of The Doobies' repertoire doesn't fit too well in the WWW bag, but when I stumbled upon their first album from 1971 I was pleasantly surprised to hear the humble country-ish beginnings of one of the 70s biggest rock bands. You'll note that the line-up on the album is merely four people, three of which continue on to later albums and the smaller size is reflected on the more subtle songs when compared to the larger line-ups and baroque arrangements of later years. Sure, they never would have made it big if they kept it like this, but the following tunes show that they were on to something interesting back in 1971 . . .

The Doobie Brothers - Nobody
The Doobie Brothers - Greenwood Creek
The Doobie Brothers - Feelin' Down Farther

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Brothers Everly

Ok, so everybody knows the Everly Brothers from their ubiquitous oldies hits like Cathy's Clown, etc, but for my money they were the original country-rockers. Don and Phil's parents were country stars from Kentucky so when these boys started their thing they were naturally tapping into some country roots. I've read here and there that the early hippy rockers like The Byrds, CS&N and Gram Parsons and the Burrito Bros. all worshipped the Everly Brothers' early rock n' roll hits, so its only natural that the Everly Brothers would fit right in when the country-rock scene blossomed in the late 60s. Well, they did and they didn't. I don't have it yet, but their 1968 "Roots" album is supposed to be a great example of their adapting to the new/old country-rock sound that they helped invent, but this album from 1972 definitely finds the brothers stretching out in a country-rock style not unlike some of their followers.

Left to right: Paul Rothschild (producer), Phil & Don Everly
Some of their admirers even joined in on this all-star cast, including John Sebastien of The Lovin' Spoonful, David Crosby, Delany & Bonnie, and Chris Hillman among many others. The album was recorded in Sebastian's Laural Canyon home. The brothers cover Sebastian on the title tune, which is nice, and cover Delaney & Bonnie on the opening cut, but the three tracks here (and my three favorites) are all Everly originals. The heavenly Green River is possibly one of my favorite country-rock tunes of all time and will certainly make the cut for the forthcoming Weed, Whites & Wine compilation.

The Everly Brothers - Green River
The Everly Brothers - I'm Tired of Singing My Song in Las Vegas
The Everly Brothers - Up In Mabel's Room

Friday, October 23, 2009

Astral Weakness

Once again the Bay Area's bizarro weather is messing with me. Last week it was feeling very fall-like and the last few days it's been really warm. So I started prepping this post back when it was rainy and windy with the leaves departing their branches and accumulating in piles and on the sidewalks. I figure it's gotta be Fall-like somewhere else, so I'm going ahead with this post.

I remember working at Olsson's Books & Music in Washington D.C. and reading some Mojo or Q magazine top 50 list of the BEST ALBUMS OF ALL TIME and Van Morrison's "Astral Weeks" was definitely in the top 10 if not top 5. I picked it up and quickly got carried away by the emotion and otherworldliness of the recording. It's a special album that transports the listener to a strange and instantly nostalgic place, like a great film. For me the album reminds me of my year after college, living in Washington DC in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood and walking up Irving Street on the way to work with the sidewalks damp with rain and about half of the leaves on the ground on the other half dangling on the verge of joining the others.

Van Morrison - Astral Weeks
The title track to this classic album really sets the tone for this sonic journey. It's not my absolute favorite, but hearing it prepares me for the 40 minute trip down Van's spooky, surreal and emotionally loaded memory lane.
Van Morrison - Cyprus Avenue
I could have gone with "Sweet Thing", which is probably my favorite tune from this album, but I figured everyone else felt the same, so I included this one.

Van Morrison - T.B. Sheets
The mystery of "Astral Weeks" is only heightened when you think that it came immediately after Van's first solo album, the one that produced the radio-friendly hit "Brown-Eyed Girl". Listening to the "Bang Masters" CD that came out decades later you can hear that these sessions produced an extremely wide range of recordings, such as the blues jam "T.B. Sheets". While its closer to the style and content as "Astral Weeks" it's singular in its own way with its funky groove and ad-lib lyrics from Van about visiting a girl friend who's sick with T.B. He feels he has to pay his respects, but being there with her depresses him and he can't leave soon enough. Scorsese used this song perfectly as the recurring theme song in his highly-underrated 90s drama "Bringing Out the Dead."
Van Morrison - Madame George (Demo)
If you know the "Astral Weeks" version of Madame George, you'll hear that this one is the perfect bridge between his Bang Sessions and the AW sessions. The lyrics are basically final, but the instrumentation is entirely different. It just goes to show what a unique recording AW is, as this version is more blues-based and more in line with everything else that Van had done with The Them or solo. This begs the question of why or who influenced Van to create the acoustic, string-heavy and nearly drumless sonic palette he used on "Astral Weeks"?

Van Morrison - Bulbs
After digesting and falling in love with AW I went looking for more of the same, but despite the greatness of his subsequent albums (mainly "Moondance") I came up empty handed . . . until my brother turned me on to the 1974 album "Veedon Fleece". Like "Astral Weeks", this album is a concept album with themes and lyrics being carried across multiple songs and no stand-out singles. I picked two of my favorites to share here.
Van Morrison - Fair Play