Friday, July 24, 2009

Vetiver: Things of the Past and Present

So far this blog has been solidly dedicated to older tunes from the 60s and 70s mostly, with the exception of Arthur Russell and some later John Martyn cuts. This is not because I'm some music purist that believese that only the old stuff is good (though I'm guilty of that 75% of the time), but because I spend most of my energy digging backwards rather than in the present. So usually when I find something new it's by accident, like what happened with Vetiver.

For the last two years I've been pretty solidly obsessed with Ronnie Lane of the (Small) Faces. One evening, hanging out with my friend Matt on a visit to NYC I was playing a mix that included Ronnie Lane's cover of D. Adam's "Roll On Babe." Matt said something like, "Vetiver's awesome," to which I gave him a confused look, explaining that we were listening to Ronnie Lane. He explained that Vetiver covered this song on one of their albums, to which I was skeptical and intrigued. He ripped me a copy and since then I have been slowly and irreversably falling in love with Vetiver. What I find interesting is that had it not been for their cover of a song I already loved I probably wouldn't have bothered to dig deeper, but their commitment to an obscure, yet wonderful song like "Roll On Babe" meant that we were kinda in on the same deliciously underappreciated secret.

I committed to purchase the album with that song, "Thing of the Past", on vinyl and absorbed the band's subdued and understated tone. At first it didn't really penetrate my armor of skepticism, but by the third or fourth listen I really began to appreciate the quirky selections - all the songs on that album are covers of relatively obscure folksy singer-songwriters, a style that is clearly the foremost influence on the band - and the sensitive treatment the band gives each piece of music, demonstrating a serious amount of respect for the source material. Come to think of it, that's one of the reasons I like them, because they seem to have a clear sense of where they sit and what they're trying to do, because they know what came before and what elements to cherry pick and what dated sounds or themes to leave on the rehearsal space floor.

More recently I picked up their newest one, "Tight Knit" and then there was no going back. This album is all originals (I think) and is their strongest release to date, though I still haven't gotten around to pick up their first one. The songs have a wider emotional range that extend from giddy "Everyday" to nostalgic "Rolling Sea" to ethereal "At the Forest's edge" as opposed to most of the previous albums that refused to budge too far from warm and melancholic nostalgia. Seeing as I got into the group because of a cover, I have included that one and another perfect surprise, finding out they also covered my favorite Lindsey Buckingham Fleetwood Mac song, "Save Me a Place." I rounded it out with an original, "Rolling Sea" from the newest album.

Now I just can't wait to check them out live. They're a local band I've been told, though they've been on tour since I discovered them, but I hear they're coming back in a couple months . . .

Vetiver - Roll On Babe

Vetiver - Save Me a Place

Vetiver - Rolling Sea

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Sahm the Mahn

One of the best things about starting a blog like this where I showcase a particular style of music, however narrowly or broadly defined, is that friends and strangers want to suggest certain artists that they think fit the bill. Sometimes I might already be on the same page and I might be planning to get to these nominations, but in other cases, I get schooled in the best possible way. For instance Dave's contributions of Ramblin' Jack Elliot and John Martyn were eye-openers and jaw-droppers and I'm glad that WWW made that possible. (aside: that's crazy, I just remembered a dream I had last night where I was in a small bar and a very old, but living John Martyn was performing in his charismatic style)

Today's artist is an introduction from my good friend Brad who considers San Antonio a home away from home, namely for its enchiladas and Doug Sahm. Even before I started WWW he raved about Sahm and having not enough music-listening hours in the day, it went in one ear and out the other. Actually, I remember that my dad had his classic Atlantic record released as "Doug Sahm and Band" but listening to it a dozen years back in passing, it must not have been my style at the time. After a recent road trip with Brad I became convinced that I really did need Doug Sahm's music in my life and I went out and got the below "best of" comp.

For a compilation that covers only 7 years of a thirty-year career, this CD is mind-blowingly diverse in its approach to music, all anchored by Sahm's plaintive vocals and eclectic mix of instruments. Hailing from San Antonio, Sahm brings his native tejano style to his unique brand of pop music. This comp. focuses on his prime hippy/country-rock years, the first several when he was living out in the Bay Area and feeding off and feeding into the burgeoning music scene in San Francisco. Towards the end of this comp.'s timeline Sahm had transplanted himself into the now-legendary 1970s singer-songwriter scene based out of Austin, TX.

The three songs here are an interesting side-story to Sahm's career when he recorded a couple of fairly straight-ahead country tunes to be released under the name "Wayne Douglas" as his attempt to cross-over into the country scene. Recorded in Nashville and released on Mercury as a 45 "Be Real" and "I Don't Want to go Home" was Sahm's "Sweetheart of the Rodeo". Listening to these tunes and the other tracks on the CD and a record I recently scored ("Texas Tornado" on Atlantic) I can say that Sahm was more country than a whole flock of Byrds.

Wayne Douglas - I Wanna Be Your Mama Again (previously unreleased version)

Wayne Douglas - I Don't Want To Go Home

Wayne Douglas - Be Real