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

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Other Graham

Around the time I first started WW&W I was just getting into Crosby, Stills & Nash. It was a late start, but like the "dead", CSN always seemed a bit too hippy -dippy and those radio hits were sounding pretty worn-out. First, my friend Josh turned me on to the solo David Crosby record, which proceeded to blow my mind. Next, I started picking up the first and second and subsequent CSN(Y) albums. More recently it was pointed out that actually ALL of the solo albums from C, S & N were quite good and that I needed to fill out the collection. This is where we come to Graham Nash's "Songs for Beginners". It might take a listen or two to adapt to Graham's extremely personal and fragile universe, but it's a rewarding listen and the record that has taken the most spins on my turntable and ipod in the past three months. On a related note, I just downloaded Stephen Stills' first solo album and despite what everyone else seems to say, I found it kinda boring, barring the "Love the One You're With" single, which I could do without for hearing it so many times. My money is with Crosby & Nash's solo records!

Graham Nash - I Used To Be a King
I'm not sure the timing of this album in relation to Graham's personal life, but around this time he and Joni Mitchell were living together in "Our House" in Laurel Canyon, but that was not to last and the poetic two parted ways. I like to think that this is one of Graham's break-up songs to Joni. Assuming the timing is right there are other break-up songs to Joni on this album.

Graham Nash - Sleep Song
Just a beautiful tune.

Rita Coolidge - Better Days
After discovering Graham, I remembered I had heard this song before and it took me awhile to place where . . . that Rita Coolidge album I had where she also covers Bob Dylan & Neil Young. Listening to it again, it's not a better version that Graham's but it does flesh out the tune with a full band and more structure. It's just a great song and another Joni break-up song.

I'm slowly picking up some later Graham Nash albums as well as some Crosby-Nash albums. The possibilities do seem endless with these prolific hippies . . .