Tuesday, March 30, 2010

"Walking on a Wire"

Ellen's mention of Catie Curtis and Lucy Kaplansky doing this Richard and Linda Thompson song together and our discussion in the comments section had me dig up this version of the song on YouTube.

The song is from Richard and Linda's final album together, Shoot Out the Lights, which was recorded in 1981 and released the following year. Several of the songs from the album are sometimes regarded as being about the couple's deteriorating relationship, and this one easily fits the category:
Where's the justice and where's the sense?
When all the pain is on my side of the fence
I'm walking on a wire, I'm walking on a wire
And I'm falling.
It scares you when you don't know
Whichever way the wind might blow
I'm walking on a wire, I'm walking on a wire
And I'm falling.
As several of the YouTube comments point out, this makes it a particularly painful video to watch -- Linda singing these lyrics that so accurately reflect her lot in life at the time with Richard having taken on a new lover in Nancy Covey.

Richard and Linda had been together for over 10 years, and the previous December -- after they had finished recording Shoot Out the Lights -- Richard embarked on a solo tour of the United States, his first performances in the States since the early 1970s. Nancy Covey was his road manager for that tour. Once back in the U.K., he told Linda that their marriage was over. But the couple were convinced to go on tour in the U.S. in order to promote the album.

According to Linda's Wikipedia entry, Simon Nicol described that summer 1982 tour as "like walking on a tightrope," and allegedly Linda would occasionally try and trip Richard up as he walked on stage.

Furthermore, according to the Wikipedia entry,
[T]heir record company arranged a mobile recording studio to record dates for a live album. The recording could not be arranged before the last date of the tour. The penultimate date of the tour was in Los Angeles (where Richard's new lover lived). Linda reportedly performed the greatest show of her life, then went to stay with her friend Linda Ronstadt. The tapes have never been released, although a version of "Walking On A Wire" from earlier in the tour is on the Free Reed "RT" boxed set.
The Shoot Out the Lights album was ranked #24 on Rolling Stone magazine's "100 Best Albums of the Last Twenty Years" (1987), #9 on Rolling Stone's "100 Greatest Albums of the 80's" (1989), and #333 on Rolling Stone's "500 Greatest Albums of All Time" (2003). It helped relaunch Richard's career -- now without Linda.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

First Ladies of Folk

Just settled into a seat at the Cedar for a show featuring two of the first ladies of folk--Lucy Kaplansky and Catie Curtis. Nice warm vibe in this very full room.

Catie's set:
- World Don't Owe Me (nice opener)
- Sweet Life
- Lovely
- Google Me (hilarious and dirty modern ditty)
- Magnolia Street
(Nice banter comparing her week to President Obama's)
- Are You Ready to Fly?
- My Dad's Yard
- Coulda Shoulda (hilarious song about being guilty about not being more environmentally conscious)
- People Look Around (doing some looping to get an extra guitar part--love this song and this was a good rendition)
- Six Degrees
- Be Sixteen With Me
- Troubled Mind (w/Lucy on harmonies)
- Happy (really nice, also with Lucy)

Lucy's set:
- God Will (great cover of the Lyle Lovett song)
- Written on the Back of His Hand
- Mother's Day (new song)
- Life Threads (banter about turning 50)
- Manhattan Moon
- Hallelujah (on piano--one of the best versions I have heard of this Leonard Cohen classic; definitely the best female version)
- No More (written for her 87 year-old mother, also done on piano)
- Ten Year Night (w/Catie on guitar and vocals)
- Scorpion (w/Catie on harmonies--really great)
- Guinevere (by request)
- Thunder Road

- Walking on a Wire (yes, the Richard & Linda Thompson song)
- Let It Be (yes, The Beatles song--this cover was really special. Lucy played the piano, Catie played the guitar, they shared the verses and sang pretty amazing harmonies)

This combo of artists was a real special treat. They complemented each other so well, it would nice if they did a full-blown tour together. This was just one of 3 dates together in the Upper Midwest. Glad I caught one of them, but I'm sure fans would be happy to see this tour hit other parts of the country!

Great Song Grouping: Tom Russell

I've always appreciated the album form for the potential to bring the listener along on a particular emotional or spiritual ride from song-to-song. I think I used this as part of my rationale -- along with the superiority of analog sound -- for continuing to buy cassette tapes well into the CD era. (That decision, of course, has led me to buy a ridiculous number of albums for a second time, either on CD or digitally.)

While bouncing around my iPod today, I visited in on a favorite section of Tom Russell's Modern Art album. Now, this is a solid Tom Russell disc -- not as great, in my opinion, as Borderland, the album that preceded it, but pretty great. The opening track, "The Kid from Spavinaw," about Mickey Mantle, has been known to reduce at least one semi-regular Blackbirds reader to tears. "Muhammad Ali" is a solid civil rights reflection with an island rhythm. And the title track centers around a memorable growled couplet: "And there's two damn things that'll break your heart: / Modern love and modern art."

But the set of songs that really hits home with me comes at the end of the disc -- the last four.

The first of these is Dave Alvin's "Bus Station," which Russell sings with Nanci Griffith. I remember putting this one on repeat play when I was travelling across the country by Greyhound in 2003, just after the disc had come out. The craftsmanship is great: a man and a woman traveling by bus, bringing their old patterns and broken promises with them but unable to escape. Tom and Nanci split the verses nicely. They maybe overdo it a bit when emphasizing the words "screw loose" on the chorus, but it's the sort of overemphasis that might actually be helping to bring the song closer to perfect.

"Bus Station" is followed by a recitation of part of a Charles Bukowski poem -- "Crucifix in a Death Hand," which is a typically Bukowskian portrait of Los Angeles -- Mexican women at the market, an old prostitute "with a film over one eye" and bars with beer that already tastes like vomit -- and this is Russell's Los Angeles, as well, and so the words are spoken with heart. The recitation fades into one verse of Warren Zevon's "Carmelita" with the concluding picture of its narrator "all strung out on heroin on the outskirts of town." The pairing is well conceived and well executed.

Then we get a burst of energy while remaining firmly in Southern California. "Tijuana Bible" bursts onto the scene with a single guitar chord and Russell's announcement that "Lana Turner's daughter killed Johnny Stompanato." This is the Los Angeles of Russell's youth again -- the stars, the scandal, the sensationalism and a strain of pornographic comic books known as Tijuana bibles. ("When I got home and cracked the book, / It was full of sex cartoons. / Daisy Duck and Cary Grant / In a Tijuana bedroom.") This song again teeters on the edge with an enthusiastic chorus punctuating lines with repeated "Oohh-ohhh-ohhhh"s. But the drive and the strange narrative keep it right-side-up.

And then we get a gentle conclusion to the album and some more Nanci Griffith as she helps out on her own song "Gulf Coast Highway," which -- in this four-song set -- nicely bookends "Bus Station" as it focuses in on two long-time partners who are watching the blue bonnets grow in the garden and waiting to be swept away on a blackbird's wing. The song ends without fanfare, bringing the four-song set and the whole album to a close.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Silencing Cell Phone Talkers During Concerts

(HT: Dan Bonis.)

Allison Moorer Admits to Poor Choices

The New York Times ran a quick little piece about Steve Earle and Alison Moorer's Sunday mornings in Greenwich Village yesterday.

In it, Allison describes how they spend their time after rolling out of bed around 8:00 a.m.:
The first thing we do is have our coffee and turn on the television set. We’ll watch CBS’s “Sunday Morning” and “Meet the Press.”
Um, excuse me...?

This would seem to suggest that they're not tuned into The Moonshine Show and The Tennessee Border Show on WKCR.

Sunday morning musical foul!

I also learned the following with regard to why Steve Earle does not lift weights at the gym:
I was in jail for a while, so I don’t lift weights — you lifted weights if you wanted a boyfriend or you didn’t want a boyfriend. So I keep to the elliptical machine.
Huh. Mental note.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Northern Weather & Sounds at Blue Rock

By Ellen Stanley

Yesterday Eric and I picked up Ruth Moody and her guitarist Lloyd Peterson, packed up all our instruments and traveled in caravan with The Pines to the Texas Hill Country to go to Blue Rock Studio for their annual party. Unusually chilly and windy, we northerners felt at home. Ruth Moody's set full of winter-inspired songs resonated with everyone...
- The Garden
- Cold Outside
- Asleep at Last (coming on the next Wailin' Jennys album coming out in the fall)
- Within Without You
- Never Said Goodbye

Other musical highlights from the northern climes included Canadian Lynn Miles and The Pines with special guest Radoslav Lorkavic...

Lynn Miles makes a surprise guest appearance

Blue Rock owner Billy Crockett sings a few of his own beautiful songs

Colin Brooks sings about lovin' his baby's cornbread

Carrie Elkin, Anais Mitchell sing harmonies with Colin Brooks

Carrie, Anais and Colin sport cool footwear

Eliza Gilkyson also makes a surprise guest appearance

It was a great day of music with lots of wonderful people and tasty tamales. Before we left, Ruth Moody and I explored the studio space, and she tested out the beautiful piano...

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Missing Some Good Music in Urbana-Champaign

Mavis Staples and Booker T. Jones are coming to the Krannert Center. Together.

I'll still be in Indonesia.


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Wish I Was in Those Magnetic Fields

About this time two years ago, Ben and I had the pleasure of seeing The Magnetic Fields at Town Hall. Ben saw them in D.C. last month, but since I'm out of the country, I'm missing these shows (and haven't yet listened to the new album either).

But the New York Times' Nate Chinen put together a solid review of their Town Hall show.

Describing Stephin Merritt, he writes,
His cleverness as a songwriter — the oldfangled alchemy of wit, craft and subtext that tends to get coded as drollness — serves partly as a safeguard, keeping pathos at a manageable remove.
I really like the clause defining drollness.

But then he really captures Merritt here:
At one point Ms. [Claudia] Gonson observed that in “Realism,” Mr. Merritt had finally made an album to match his muted wardrobe. Mr. Merritt received this assessment grumblingly, an earth-toned Eeyore.
An earth-toned Eeyore indeed!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Back in the U.S.S.R.

Vladimir Sorokin has a charming piece in the International Herald Tribune about getting exposed to Western rock music in the Soviet Union in the 1970s.
Having studied English through texts like “Lenin in London,” we had a hard time sorting out the words. ...

Thus Anglo-rock for many of my contemporaries became Angelic-rock. We believed in it, we forgave it everything. We imbued the relatively primitive lyrics with layers of meaning that their hirsute authors never dreamed of. A friend of mine seriously insisted that “Satisfaction” was about a free, complex and tragic love affair of two underground anarchists
I love it!

I also learned that Uriah Heep was the first Western band to play in the Soviet Union.

From a CD Store in Ubud, Bali

I'm all for Loreena McKennit -- well "all for" is maybe an exaggeration -- but what's up with the top billing right beside the gamelan CDs in the main display case?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Winter Bluegrass Weekend Festival

Got to the Radisson in Plymouth, MN around 5 pm Friday for the Winter Bluegrass Weekend, and things were already hopping with bluegrass and old-timey jams packing the halls. While I was getting settled in my hotel room, my pal Ann came on in, loaded down with her accordion and too much food for two gals to handle. We put cheese curds and beer in the fridge, and I warmed up for my main stage set.

Kicking things off, my Mother Banjo Band started with my gospel song "Revival Train." Playing a more bluegrassy set than usual, we left drummer and kit in Minnneapolis and brought Jim Parker (Wild Goose Chase Cloggers, Pig's Eye Landing) in on mando. He also joined me and guitarist Dan Gaarder (Trailer Trash, The Roe Family Singers) on some 3-part harmonies. After much discussion, we decided that bass player Jon Olson (The Roe Family Singers) would bring his electric bass (instead of one of his own hand-crafted upright basses) which came in handy when we closed our set with Bad Company's "Feel Like Making Love." Although some of the seniors didn't know the song, everyone enjoyed it, including the guy who stopped by the merch table to tell me it took him back to his high school days. After selling CDs and meeting lots of nice folks at the merch table, I had a whisky with Jon, heard Switched At Birth do a great rendition of "Tangled Up in Blue" and had some chili with Ann before calling it a night.

The next morning Ann and I made ourselves a nice oatmeal breakfast, which gave me enough fuel to plan my whole radio show and go for a nice 2-mile run outside (we've been experiencing an uncharacteristically amazing run of warm weather). While Ann stopped by the beginner jam with Bill Cagley, I caught the end of the Wild Goose Chase Cloggers' performance (pictured here) and learned a few basic clogging steps. Then I just roamed the halls, heard some nice jams and caught up with old friends before running into my pal Katryn Conlin, who had wanted to jam with me. She grabbed her guitar (she normally can be seen playing upright bass with Long Time Gone), and we ran through a few tunes and even caught the attention of a few passers-by.

After jamming with Kat, I found my way back to the main stage to see Brian Wicklund & The Fiddle Pals. Although he is a well-known fiddler in these parts and I had seen him play before, I had never heard this particular band. I quickly regretted not coming over sooner because they were super tight. With a nice string swing style they did some mind-blowing instrumentals, featuring some pretty crazy guitar work by their young guitarist who also sang the leads on a refreshingly original take on Prine's "Paradise." Finishing off with a nice jazzy tune, they got an immediate standing ovation. Normally they run a pretty tight ship on the main stage, not allowing encores, but they did make an exception, much to my delight. This was definitely the best band I heard all weekend.

Caught a few nice tunes by the Wild Spirit Band before heading to the Nechville Banjos Stage to hear Long Time Gone (pictured here). They sounded really good, especially their renditions of "The Old Crossroads," "I'll Go Stepping Too" and Kat's song "Jeff, Jerry and Bill," written for their fiddle player Jeff Kinnell, who died in 2008.

Returning to the main stage, we caught most of The Platte Valley Boys, one of the mainstays of the local bluegrass scene. The did a great, predictably solid set, whose highlights included Jimmy Martin's "Moonshine Holler," "John the Baptist," and their encore "Tennessee."

Ann and I then headed up to our room to rejuvenate ourselves with wine and cheese before heading back to the Nechville Banjos Stage, where they do a dinner show. We caught the end of Light of the Moon and all of Madison-based Sweet Grass, the winners of the 2009 Race for a Place Contest at the MBOTMA Harvest Jam. They were pretty good players, although Ann and I thought they could work on their songwriting. But they're young dudes and easy on the eyes so it was all good.

Right about the time we were finishing our apple crisp and coffee, The Roe Family Singers were getting set up on stage. We were able to snag closer seats to the stage and enjoyed one of the best Roe sets I've ever heard. They were missing their saw player Adam, but all the other Roes were present, including their mando player Kurt Froehlich (who had been in Detroit the last few months) and their jug player Rob "Ol' Spitty" Davis. Ol' Spitty showed the crowd why they were this year's champions of the 28th Battle of the Jug Bands. This set had great energy to it and featured a bunch of newer songs I had never heard before, including "Jack Malone" and a beautiful song inspired by Cormac McCarthy's Border Trilogy. Although usually everyone but bass player Jon Olson sits on stage, Kurt, Ol' Spitty and Kim Roe all stood behind Dan Gaarder and Quillan Roe--a really nice effect. You could see everyone better, and Kim has a brighter energy when standing (and gets to show off her kickin' cowboy boots). She had baby Elspeth in tow, which was a crowd pleaser, especially when she shook her percussion instruments in time with the music. The audience ate it all up and demanded an encore, which they did.

I missed the next band The Woodpicks because I was backstage hanging with The Roes, exchanging dirty jokes, but Ann said they were one of her favorites of the weekend. Must make a note to see them at the June festival.

Another thing I wish I hadn't missed was The Macrae Sisters afternoon concert. I did, however, get to catch the end of their square dance, where a bunch of us did some freestyling clogging, and they sounded great. I talked with them for awhile afterwards and a copy of their CD for airplay. I found out that they are playing one last show in the Twin Cities tonight at the Bedlam Theatre. Highly recommended for those that can swing a 10 pm Sunday night show.

I hooked up with some of The Roes again and jammed with Dan and Kurt for awhile. Then I ran into Switched At Birth's Rick Anderson. We geeked out on banjos, looking online for a good backpacking hard case. We didn't find what I was looking for, but I did learn about BanjoHanout.org, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

At about 1:30 I crawled into bed. Now it's Sunday at 9 am, and I'm having my morning coffee, trying to get myself motivated to get dressed and venture into the real, non-banjo focused world to do my radio show. Hope you'll tune in for it, as it will feature all music I heard and picked up while attending the Folk Alliance Conference in Memphis, including brand new music from Patty Larkin, Pieta Brown, Devon Sproule and Joy Kills Sorrow!