Monday, June 30, 2008

Mongo Santamaria's 3rd version of "Summertime"

by Steve Pick

Part Five (or maybe Six) of the "Summertime" Summer

Mongo Santamaria was a king of boogaloo and Cuban jazz. Heck, he wrote "Afro-Blue," one of the great jazz standards of the last fifty years, and he did the definitive take on Herbie Hancock's classic "Watermelon Man" before Hancock even recorded it. He led countless musicians from his post at the congas, and never failed to deliver a terrific performance. That said, he was at his creative peak from about 1959 to 1967, when it seemed he could do no wrong.

Which is why I'm so frustrated I can't hear his 1964 version of "Summertime" from the album "La Bamba." It's apparently out of print, as is the Rhino career retrospective "Skin on Skin" which contains the cut. He did a live version in 1980 that is okay, but suffers from the presence of harmonica hack Toots Thielemans, so we jump ahead to the album "Brazilian Sunset" which features yet another live version from 1996, when Santamaria was 74 years old.

This particular version is a tour de force for alto saxophonist Jimmy Cozier and especially pianist Ricardo Gonzalez. With the cuban clave set at a cha cha beat, the band works the chords of "Summertime" into a polyrhythmic, intensely danceable, seemingly insatiable backing. Cozier sets the pace with two choruses of the melody straight, then starts attacking it from different angles, never flying away from the chords but working a series of variations for more than 2 minutes. But then it really takes off when Gonzalez pumps out his own take on the changes. This is Afro-Cuban jazz of the highest order, and while I'm curious to hear a younger band invigorated with the thrills of discovery that Santamaria would have led in 64, I can't complain about having this fine take on the song from a much later date.

So far, we've discussed the approaches singers have taken to "Summertime." The song works just fine as a basis for jazz improvisation, which is interesting considering how incredibly simple it is. Two short verses, with lots of rich chords capable of generating new melodic ideas, yet so tightly constructed as to keep the original close to the vest most of the time. There are lots of different jazz takes on the song, but my wife suggested I listen to this Latin one, and that seemed like a good idea to me.

Guy Forsyth In-Store July 20th!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Anne Brown's "Summertime"

by Steve Pick

Pt. 4 (or 5) of the summertime "Summertime" series

George Gershwin wanted to write an American opera. He'd been fascinated by jazz and other indigenous musics for years, and had incorporated some of that into his "Rhapsody in Blue." Of course, Gershwin wrote for musical theater, and created enormously popular (to this day, even) songs, but he was also determined to be accepted as a highbrow musician, as well.

That's what "Porgy and Bess" was about. The libretto was written by DuBose Heyward, from his novel documenting the lives of, as he saw them, the "primitive" Negroes. Arguments have raged for decades as to whether or not the stereotypes of African-Americans as seen by whites were enriched or ennobled or side-stepped entirely in this work. As we've already seen briefly, and will undoubtedly see more as we go along, these questions have haunted every song in "Porgy and Bess," including the seemingly innocuous "Summertime."

Anyway, apparently Gerswhin went ahead with Heyward to work on the opera in order to head off a Kern and Hammerstein version featuring Al Jolson in blackface. Something tells me that version wouldn't have lasted long enough in our culture to be argued about to this day. In 1935, "Porgy and Bess" debuted, flummoxing the critics of the day who couldn't figure out if it was really an opera or a Broadway play. It had the recitatives of opera, but the songs were so clearly in popular styles. Two decades later, Leonard Bernstein came down firmly on the side of the work being a brilliant example of the highest aspiration of musical theater as art. This was on one of his TV broadcasts and collected in a book I recently read which helped spur this project along to the blog, by the way.

In the 30s, apparently, it wasn't standard operating procedure to release original cast albums of Broadway plays or original operas, so it wasn't until 1940 that Decca Records had the two stars, Todd Duncan and Anne Brown, record many of the selections from the work. (It also wasn't until 1942 that "Porgy and Bess" became something of a hit, in a revamped version that actually removed the recitatives, which weren't restored until the 50s, by which time it was acknowledged as a classic).

According to this web bio, Brown had quite a bit to do with the final shape of the work. Though she didn't sing "Summertime" in the first act, Gershwin wrote it into the third act again so she could have a crack at it. Brown's version on the Decca album is what we have to hear as the closest thing to the way Gerswhin wanted it to come across as written.

First, let me say that her soprano voice is astoundingly moving. I haven't read enough yet to know the context of her character Bess's rendition of the song, but it seems more affirmative than narcotizing. This is a statement of purpose, not necessarily because of the words, though she seems to emphasize all the positives, but because of the sound itself. Anne Brown makes "Summertime" into a piece of shimmering beauty.

Of course, she's helped by the perfect arrangement of Gershwin's score. Those simple chords which Sam Cooke merged back into their folk roots are orchestrated in several ways here, most notably by the incandescent backing vocals. Here again we have the Negro spiritual approach I was talking about in the Sam Cooke review, but performing a decidedly more subtle role this time. First the strings, then especially these voices lift Brown up higher and higher until it sounds as though she's gently floating in a timeless world where all good things are meant to be admired.

Friday, June 27, 2008

What Did He Say?

by Joe Schwab

One of my favorite artists from childhood was Joe Cocker. Since lyric sheets weren't supplied in his first four records, I was often left stumbling over nonsensical lines while singing in the shower with what I thought Joe was uttering. Now thanks to technology, the internet and YouTube, we can freely sing the Mad Dogs and Englishmen songbook without the embarassment of singing about "oxtails in my Buick" or "files taste good on wheat bread". Here Mr. Cocker sings the classic "With a Little Help From My Friends" at Woodstock with the help of some handy translation.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Sam Cooke's "Summertime"

by Steve Pick

Pt. 3 (or 4) of the summerlong "Summertime" series

I used to spend hours lying in my bedroom trying to sing along with Sam Cooke. In my head, I aped exactly his seductive tone, his exotic phrasing, his impeccable sense of swing and soul. What came out of my mouth was decidedly different, alas.

Apparently, "Summertime" was the b-side of Cooke's first secular hit single, "You Send Me" (aka the song Cat and I chose for our first dance as a married couple all those years ago). I don't think it was the norm back in those days for greatest hits albums to throw b-sides in there, but this one must have garnered enough radio play to make RCA think it worthwhile to put it on "The Best of Sam Cooke," the first album I owned by this spectacular singer.

To modern ears, this is a rather odd take. The session band (including legendary drummer Earl Palmer giving us a laid-back take on his classic New Orleans shuffle) takes things at a laconic pace, providing a setting that probably seemed in 1957 like it would work as a contemporary take on folk music a la the Kingston Trio. Cooke sings the lyrics as if the words only matter incidentally, giving him places to emphasize particular syllables either with a forceful downbeat or by infusing them with delicious melisma.

And then there are the backing vocals. Again, we have to remember that in 1957, many pop records featured unearthly sopranos wailing in the background - that whole lounge music exotica thing we went through in the early 90s didn't limit itself to hi-fi enthusiasts and their most esoteric looks at other cultures. So, you've got what sounds like Yma Sumac giving a response to each of Cooke's calls (though only in the second verse).

Now, there was another cultural use of similar vocal technique, which was in the African-American spiritual community. Cooke, of course, came from the hard gospel world which was turning worship into something unbelievably sexy during the early 50s. But, go back to the 30s, and there was another tradition, descended from the Fisk University Jubilee Singers, of taking spirituals out of the slave quarters and into a cleaned-up form related to the way classical music was sung. Which means there were sopranos reaching up high and mournful all the time, and I think this is the meaning of these vocals in this version of "Summertime."

Again, Gershwin's song was meant to substitute for a spiritual in "Porgy and Bess," and as such, it makes sense for interpreters to treat it as at least a spiritual protege. Here, Cooke goes pop, moves away from gospel, while incorporating an older sacred style into a song clearly inspired by the folk traditions of African-Americans. And, the whole thing is downright beautiful, in a low-key sort of way.

What's Playing | Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago

So much has already been written about the first release by Bon Iver and the stories leading up to songwriter Justin Vernon's creation of this album--so this is not a review as such. The other day a customer walked up to the counter with a copy of Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago and said to me "I know you like this, but I wonder what Steve thinks." Steve just shook his head and said "I don't get it." I can think of plenty of albums that other people love but I just don't get either--and I can't always grasp why. I was at a loss for words to describe just what it is I hear in this album, but I'm not now.

It's slow and spare. It's watching the opening shot of that indie film you can't remember the name of, but it was shot in grainy black and white and the sound was turned off and the main character is looking out the car window at rural scenery as they travel down the highway. It's a big steaming plate of mashed potatoes eaten in the middle of winter with butter--not margarine--and it's the most satisfying meal of your life. It's your mom bringing out the old Super 8 projector and showing home movies of you as a kid on the dining room wall. It's the worst day of your life. It's the best day of your life. It's unlikely soulful music by a Wisconsin farm boy with an acoustic guitar written in the dead of winter. It's lonesome in a way that Hank Williams Sr. would understand. It's that time when a ferocious storm disrupted the root structure of massive trees in your neighborhood and caused the upheaval of all the sidewalks and you stubbed your toe walking around in flip flops in the rain. It's painful. It's cathartic. It's what might have been lost. It conjures up images from your past that you thought were buried, and did that memory really happen like that anyway? It's the smell of wood burning in the fireplace. It's the sound of firecrackers in the winter and cricket noise in the summer. It's organic, but also electric in a primitive kind of way like that bare light bulb hanging from your ceiling. It channels the poverty of your soul and makes you feel human again. It's sitting quietly in the dark with the dog out on the back porch feeling the heat and humidity and listening to bug noise and passing cars. It's the album I listen to today, next week and most likely next year or ten years from now. Hey Steve, it's that kind of album.

Bon Iver "Wolves (Act I & II)."

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Billy Stewart's "Summertime"

by Steve Pick

Pt. 3 (or pt. 2, if you only count the posts with music) of a summer-long examination of Gershwin's "Summertime"

Showing us the virtues of virtuosity, Billy Stewart thinks the message of "Summertime" lies in its second verse, specifically in the conjunction of a prediction of singing with one of spreading ones wings and flying. Stewart spreads those vocal wings and soars, swoops, and loop de loops all over the sky on this one.

I really don't think I've ever listened to other recordings by Billy Stewart, who never had another hit with nearly the same impact as this one. Note to self: look into that one of these days. To judge from the evidence of "Summertime," he was probably a jazz singer looking to find a way to go pop, and thinking that the rolls Jackie Wilson did in "Reet Petite" were too subtle. So, with an incredibly punchy horn arrangement at his back, Stewart simply tears the melody apart, delivering all the lyrics we know in between exuberant blasts of incandescent sounds.

The year was 1966, and the Civil Rights Act had been passed the previous annum. There was every reason to believe life was going to be better, America could stop crying, wrongs had been redressed, and it was time to celebrate. That's what this version of "Summertime" does. It takes what was known as a white embracing of black values (a highbrow take on the Negro spiritual as a lullabye) and turns it into an African-American sense of pure triumph. Nobody thought the struggle was over, by any means, but it was worth getting excited over how far things had come.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Janis Joplin's "Summertime"

by Steve Pick

This sure as hell ain't no lullabye, though it is surprisingly and touchingly tender and sweet. Before I started paying attention, I always thought of this version as a blues take on Gershwin, but really, that's not what's going on here. If anything, it's kind of a madrigal, albeit one that would have scared the living daylights out of King Henry the 8th.

First, let's talk about the guitars. I'm not enough of a Big Brother scholar to know which channel is
Sam Andrew and which is James Gurley, but the intertwining arpeggios are the first thing to entrance me about this version of the song. They don't quite follow the original chords, verging instead on modal changes which were in vogue in the San Francisco hippy scene in which they trod. It's not really about the harmony, anyway, as the sounds and the feel of these two guitars are enough to get me going.

First there's the light, delicately tip-toeing melody played on the upper register guitar, then comes the dark counterpoint on the other one (all, I should point out, against a perfect backing of intricate bass from Peter Albin and jazzy cymbal tapping from drummer David Getz). Joplin comes in almost a minute into the song, and evokes every peaceful, lazy memory of summer you've ever had in your life with just her reading of the title word. "Sssssssuummmmmmmurrrrrrrtimetimetime," she slurps, "child, the living's eeezaaaaaay." This is an entrance so much more peaceful than Joplin was accustomed to making, though you don't have to no that to be entranced by it.

In the original story of "Porgy and Bess," a traditional Negro spiritual was in the place later occupied by "Summertime," once Gershwin got to it. Joplin loved the blues, and must have been equally familiar with spirituals. At any rate, she's definitely extemporizing here, inserting extra words and syllables, drawing out vowels and consonants, making sure her meaning of the song is clear. And that meaning seems to be more sexual than is typically associated with it. Joplin sounds like she's singing to a man (or possibly, if you want to assume the two guitars are caressing her the way they sound before eventually both reaching a climax at the same time, two men). At any rate, she tends to make the word "baby" refer to somebody long since out of diapers.

Those guitars again. After the first verse, in which Joplin assures her baby that all is really right with the world, they launch into a couple choruses of instrumental perfection. First, the high pitched one marches up and down the fretboard with variations on what it's been playing all along, as the lower pitched guitar winds its way around the same basic melodic idea. As I said, it sounds like a madrigal to me. Then comes the fuzz box on the lower guitar, and then both explode into a brief burst of pleasurable noise that, were Joplin not ready to give us the second verse, would be the highlight of an ordinary record.

Pulling back from this threshhold, both guitars play arpeggios we haven't heard before, in tones brand new to the song, and Joplin takes over the mood of assurance she'd given us in the first verse. Delivering the words referring to a future of success, Joplin makes us feel safe, until she suddenly sees the possibility of failure, and desperately tries to deny it. "No, no, no, nononononono, don't you cry, don't you cryiyiyiyiyiyi." It's heartbreaking, devastating, incomprehensible, inarticulate, and moving beyond belief. The guitars try to bring her back to peace by reiterating their arpegiated theme, but then she ends things with a gasping sigh. Joplin fans will recognize that this isn't the only time she tried hard to face demons without completely convincing herself they could be overcome.

This was the version of "Summertime" with which I fell in love more than thirty years ago, and it's still probably my favorite (though I remain open to the possibility that this exploration will reveal new rankings as I go along). I've had blues fanatics tell me Janis Joplin was a terrible singer, but I simply can't find anything to stop me from worshiping her records, most especially "Cheap Thrills." Big Brother and the Holding Company was a band that played songs as if each member of the group had something important to say about its meaning. There haven't been many bands about which I could say that.

Here, go ahead and buy the album.

Charlie Louvin at the Gazebo

Look, we're as enamored as anybody with the work of Christopher Guest, and his "A Mighty Wind" is well worth getting excited about. But, this time, the music Friday night at the Old Orchard Gazebo Series is provided by country music legend Charlie Louvin, the man who sang, alongside his late brother Ira, such inspirational gems as "When I Stop Dreaming," "The Christian Life," "Great Atomic Power," and "Cash on the Barrelhead." If you only attend one Gazebo performance this summer, you'll want to be there at 7 pm to see one of the greatest of all country performers do his thing.

Don't forget we skip the night of July 4, and the rest of the series goes like this:

July 11 Marquise Knox and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off"
July 18 Raven Moon and "Young Frankenstein"
July 25 The Skeletons and Viewer's Choice

Easy Livin, Jumpin' Fish, High Cotton

by Steve Pick

According to Wikipedia, there are between 2400 and 4000 recordings extant of George Gershwin's "Summertime." (Yes, the democratic nature of wiki work means two such different numbers turn up on the same page.) This puts it right up there with McCartney's "Yesterday" as the most recorded song of all time.

I believe firmly that one should never say never, but I can definitely say I've never heard a version of "Yesterday" that's remotely as interesting as the Beatles original. However, "Summertime" seems to be open to infinite interpretations. Obviously, there can't be 4000 equally excellent recordings, but there might be 100 or so that deserve notice.

I don't know what they are, but I'm gonna try to find out. Starting with a few personal faves in the next few days, I'm going to explore the intricacies of "Summertime" this summer on the blog. It'll be an open thought process, and I would love to hear your views on the subject as we go along, especially if you can point me to some cool versions I would otherwise not find.

For now, though, just contemplate the lyrics:

And the livin' is easy
Fish are jumpin'
And the cotton is high

Your daddy's rich
And your mamma's good lookin'
So hush little baby
Don't you cry

One of these mornings
You're going to rise up singing
Then you'll spread your wings
And you'll take to the sky

But till that morning
There's a'nothing can harm you
With daddy and mamma standing by

And the livin' is easy
Fish are jumpin'
And the cotton is high

Your daddy's rich
And your mamma's good lookin'
So hush little baby
Don't you cry

As I understand it (and mind you, I've never seen "Porgy and Bess" nor even listened to a full performance of the show), the first use of this song is as a lullabye, and it occurs in other instances as counterpoint to more dramatic situations. So, even in its original context, it was offering multiple meanings, ranging from bringing comfort to a baby to ironic and nostalgic juxtaposition in a troubled relationship.

I'm hoping to find out more about the origins of the song, and its development into such a perpetual standard, during the course of the summer. Stay tuned.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Interview with Bob Reuter from Thee Dirty South

By Jen Eide

Don't forget to come on down to Euclid Records this Saturday at 4:00 PM to catch this free in-store performance with Thee Dirty South featuring Bob Reuter. Reuter has been a mainstay on the local music scene for over 40 years playing his unique brand of roots rock with a variety of bands over the years. The first time I saw Reuter perform was in the early 1990's with a group called Kamikaze Cowboy at a coffee shop called Cafe Chaos. Now, as many of you know, I can't dance to save my life, but I was so moved by the energy of this band that I felt compelled to go out on the sidewalk and dance--it seemed more private for some reason. Little did I know that everyone inside the coffee shop (including Reuter) was witnessing my dancing atrocity through a gap in the curtains covering the window.

Reuter was gracious enough to grant us an interview in anticipation of the in-store performance. While I haven't yet had the pleasure of seeing Thee Dirty South word on the street is that they rock. Hard.

What are you listening to lately?

Memphis Slim's "Mother Earth" from the Real Folk Blues on Chess. It's a weird lyric for a blues guy to be's almost spiritual in a way. And his style of playing of piano is a little bit deeper than the rawness of most blues guys--he's not quite as primitive, he's really unique. There's a real musicality to it. The song's kinda slow, but it really kinda swings. He's got back up singers singing all cool and shit. "I don't care who you are / or how much that you're worth / when it all comes down / you're gonna go back to Mother Earth." And at this late date, this is the first time I've heard his version. I've heard all the old hippie versions, like Eric Burdon, but they're not as good.

What's your favorite instrument?

First off, I don't know shit about equipment. It's a big-ass Guild acoustic with a good pickup in there. And I'm really kind of shameless with my instrument, I really kind of beat the hell out of it. I always thought beat up guitars looked cool, cuz it looks like you're really playing them. So, I used to sleep on this mattress on the floor and the guitar would lay in bed next to me--you know, like if I woke up and had an idea or something--and this one night I hadn't taken my boots off and I got up to like flip the thermostat up and I stepped on it and I heard this crack. Well, I looked at it and it was cracked half way around the edge of it. I went to a guitar shop they said it cost $15 an inch to fix and this crack went halfway around the guitar. So I played it for two and a half years before I could afford to fix it.

Got a favorite South City Story?

I used to love the old Mangia cuz it was such a lawless place. All the old regulars used to go in there behind the bar and pour their own drinks. So tourists would go in there and not know who was workin' cuz everyone was goin' behind the bar pourin' their own beer. So this is the quintessential South Side spring evening they left the front door open and a stray dog walked in and bit a customer. And another time Robin--you know, who had real long hair--was sitting out front and there was a big crowd and these two chicks broke out into a fight and he reached down to try to separate them and some voice in the crowd yelled out "Let 'em fight, hippie!"

Bob Reuter also has a radio show on KDHX 88.1 called "Bob's Scratchy Records" which airs every Friday from 2:00 - 4:00 PM. You can also stream it via the internet. I'm told that punk legend Exene Cervenka from the band X and her husband are huge fans.

Reuter is also a renown photographer--you can view some of Bob's photos on his MySpace page. He also has an upcoming opening at the Regional Arts Commission called Refraction: Three Contemporary Photographers - curated by Amy Bautz (where you been girl?) featuring photographers Bob Reuter, Mark Douglas and Antje Umstaetter. This show runs November 11th through December 12th.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Anita Rosamond Meets the Muppets

This Friday night is the second of the 2008 Old Orchard Gazebo Series. Show up at 7pm and catch Anita Rosamond, one of St. Louis' hottest jazz and pop vocalists. She'll be singing standards as the sun sets, which should make for a delightful evening. But then, once the stars are aligned (roughly 9 pm), it's time for the magical mirth of "The Muppet Movie." There's nobody who can't be charmed by muppets, so this should be a perfect night of pleasure.

And, don't forget the rest of the schedule:

June 27 Charlie Louvin and "A Mighty Wind"
July 11 Marquise Knox and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off"
July 18 Raven Moon and "Young Frankenstein"
July 25 The Skeletons and Viewer's Choice

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Art of the Waltz

By Jen Eide

I had the good fortune of seeing The Knitters (a hillbilly side project of the legendary punk band X) last winter at the Duck Room. While introducing a song, John Doe mentioned that they played it the other night and people started dancing, but it sure was a shame because no one knows how to waltz properly anymore.

The best waltzes are like that though, they make you want to get off your barstool and pull that special someone onto the dance floor for a spell. A good waltz will also stomp on your heart a bit and leave you feeling achy and bruised after hearing them. Here's three that I like.

The Knitters, "Someone Like You" from the album Poor Little Critter on the Road.

This seemed an unlikely side project for a punk band in 1985, and one that I would not have anticipated still being in existence over twenty years later. This really speaks to their love of hillbilly music. Had John Doe been born thirty years earlier and in the South rather than Philadelphia, he surely would have been on par with artists like Hank Williams. He has a resonant, low voice and was born to sing songs such as these. Doe's post-X solo works never sound right to me in the absence of his songwriting partner and vocal foil Exene Cervenka. While her singing on this tune sounds a little weak in comparison to Doe's, perhaps it was because they were recording material outside of the punk genre for the first time. Yet it's still a remarkable song. Their best material often contained the theme of emotional distance between men and women. This song speaks of physical distance as well.

But I'm not waiting for you to come home / 'cause I know that may never come true
When it's cold and dark / you're so far gone
I still miss someone like you

Elliott Smith, "Waltz #2 (XO)" from the album XO.

It was hard to choose a waltz by Elliott Smith simply because he has written so many great ones. "Miss Misery" would be an obvious choice (and would have been fun to contrast with an earlier version of the song--which appears on 2007's posthumous release New Moon--that has slightly different lyrics and instrumentation). "Behind the Bars" was also in consideration as it appears on my favorite Elliott Smith album Either/Or. I think I hear echoes of "Behind the Bars" in "Waltz #2 (XO)," and while I tend to favor his earlier material on the Kill Rock Stars label, "Waltz #2 (XO)" is a clearly better song. All of the lyrics are good, but the line that precedes the chorus especially strikes me as interesting.

In the place where I make no mistakes / In the place where I have what it takes
I'm never gonna know you now / but I'm gonna love you anyhow

The juxtaposition of a lyric which conveys such a profound feeling of inadequacy with one of such sweet sentiment and acceptance demonstrates Elliott Smith at his best. Hearing these words, it becomes more difficult to dismiss him as merely a depressed confessional songwriter--the craft that went into writing those lyrics is undeniably evident.

Bon Iver, "The Wolves (Act I & II)" from the album For Emma, Forever Ago.

For Emma, Forever Ago has not only made my short list for Best of 2008 (look to your right in the sidebar for the others), but it's hard for me to imagine anything else to be released this year that will knock it out of my number one slot. It's been difficult for me to write anything about this album, because occasionally writing about music will also destroy my personal enjoyment of it--and I don't want to take that risk with this album. Luckily, I'll only discuss this one song. Songwriter Justin Vernon's simple acoustic guitar strums and gorgeous falsetto vocals (which are sonically processed, yet seem utterly organic and natural) just devastate me with their beauty every time I hear them. The long refrain of the lyric "What might have been lost" climaxes with a flurry of snare drum hits (that almost sound like firecrackers on this recording) and culminates with a some quiet repetitions of the words "Someday, my pain...." It's not the type of waltz which one would consider dancing to, but it leaves you with that ache nonetheless.

Quite by accident, it seems I've chosen three songs from consecutive decades. This assortment is not meant to be a comprehensive list by any means. I could come up with dozens of waltzes, but I am also curious to hear what your favorites are.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A Couple of Links

by Steve Pick

I admit it, I've been on a dry spell as far as providing material for this here blog. Thank goodness Jen and Jack have picked up some of the slack. I want to talk about the music I'm hearing these days, but I'm just not finding ways to say what I want. And, then when I read incredibly well-done pieces by other music writers, instead of inspiring me to try it myself, I throw my hands up in shame at not being able to accomplish what they have done.

Enough self-pity. I've been here before and I'll get out of it again. For now, however, why don't I share with you a couple of pieces that show you what can be done with words about music.

Charles Hughes is a master, one of three great writers who turn up at the Living In Stereo blog. His piece on the passing of Bo Diddley should turn up on some sort of blogosphere Greatest Hits compilation, if anybody has the time to research enough pieces to make that honor seem real.

Then there's the Quiet Bubble guy. I love his blog more and more, because he comes at music, film, comic books, and literature from places far removed from the experiences I've had, and yet he shares the same love I have for these works. Now, I hate Phish, and he hasn't convinced me to change my mind, but his discussion about authenticity in music brings up a lot of points I've long held, and then ranges into entirely new territory. Read it, and be impressed by the mind of a truly insightful critic.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Old Orchard Gazebo Series Kicks Off Friday

It's time to drag out the lawn chairs and settle in down at the Gazebo here at Old Orchard for the annual summer series of tunes and flicks. We've got a great line-up of musicians and movies set to run every Friday from June 13th through July 25th (with the exception, natch, of July 4).

This Friday, June 13, show up at 7 pm and see the first lady of St. Louis blues, Kim Massie. We're talking the real deal, a blues/gospel/soul performer par excellence, who will kick off the 2008 series in style.

Then, once it gets dark (like 9 pm, as we are only a week away from the Summer Solstice), stick around to watch Alfred Hitchock's scary classic, "The Birds" right out under the stars. A good time will be had by all.

In coming weeks, you can see the following acts and movies:

June 20 - Anita Rosamond and "The Muppet Movie"
June 27 - Charlie Louvin and "A Mighty Wind"
July 11 - Marquise Knox and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off"
July 18 - Raven Moon and "Young Frankenstein"
July 25 - The Skeletons and Viewer's Choice

Sunday, June 8, 2008

I Saw Del The Funky Homosapien at The Pageant Last Night

by Jack Probst

Last night I attended my first full-on hip hop show. The legendary MC Del the Funky Homosapien graced St. Louis with his presence, and gave the crowd much love during his set. Touring in support of his new record Eleventh Hour, which is his first solo release since 2000. But it's not as though he's been sitting around doing nothing over the last 8 years or so. Del made a record with Dan the Automator under the name Deltron 3030, and freestyled on other artists albums like Handsome Boy Modeling School and Gorillaz. Del explained that he's also been teaching himself a lot of the technical aspects so he can produce records when ever he gets a creative spark. My only complaint is those rappers spent a little too much time talking in between songs, but Del's voice is so unique that listening to him ramble wasn't painful.

I was surprised that Del pulled out a lot of songs from his back catalog. Del was at his funkiest when he rapped to his classic song "Mistadobalina" from his 1991 debut, I Wish My Brother George Was Here. The crowd went nuts when the DJ hit the beat for "If You Must". It seemed to be the most recognized song of the night, possibly because of it's inclusion on the soundtrack to the old Playstation game Tony Hawk's Pro Skater. (Well, maybe it was a bigger hit than that. I'm not sure, but that's the first time I heard Del.) The show ended with "Clint Eastwood", the hit that Del did with Gorillaz. It's good to know the track can hold its own without Damon Albarn's vocals. All of the new songs sounded good live, but I haven't really gotten into the Eleventh Hour too much on my own. There's something about the beats that aren't quite as funky as the older albums. That's not to say that Del is losing his skills. He fully lived up to his name. He is one funky homosapien.

P.S. I just want to say thanks to the dude that was flailing his arms around and bumped my Pepsi on the front of my new KDHX shirt. Thanks, dude.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Bob Reuter and Thee Dirty South live at Euclid Records Saturday, June 21st

Just added--be sure to catch Thee Dirty South featuring local legend Bob Reuter live at Euclid Records on Saturday, June 21st at 4 PM.

Reuter has been an important fixture on the STL music scene for the last 35 years, playing roots-rock (or alt-country, Americana--pick your genre) before Uncle Tupelo spawned the nationwide movement.

Euclid Records is proud to host Reuter's return to the stage after his recent heart surgery. If you're unfamiliar with Reuter's music check out his MySpace page to hear some of his tunes. I've had the pleasure of seeing Reuter's other current band Palookaville, and I hear that Thee Dirty South is scorchin.' This is an event that I'm really looking forward to--come join us!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Hayes Carll In-Store this Friday!

Don't forget to come on down to see Hayes Carll perform live on our stage in the store at 5 pm, Friday, June 6. This is your opportunity to see an exciting new artist in a very intimate setting. Carll will be appearing later that night at the Pageant as part of the third night of Twangfest, the annual celebration of all things Americana.

Here's a video from his performance at the South by Southwest festival. If you enjoyed this one, take a look at another video we posted just a short time ago. Then come see us on Friday (601 E. Lockwood in Webster Groves).

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Mo' Diddley

This performance is scorchin'.

Monday, June 2, 2008

R.I.P. Bo Diddley

By Jen Eide

If Bo Diddley doesn't want to make you dance I may need to verify that you still have a pulse. Here's a brief video tribute. This first clip is "Hey, Bo Diddley" from the 1966 film The Big T.N.T. Show.

Here is Diddley playing "Roadrunner" on an unnamed European TV show from 1960. Check out the guitar showboating starting around the one minute mark. Diddley is playing the Jupiter Thunderbird guitar that he designed and Gretsch built. Not only did the man have ears for music, but he had an eye for design as well.

Bo Diddley hired some pioneering female guitarists for his bands, and they deserve some attention after all this time (just as Motown's "Funk Brothers" eventually got their due). Check out these fascinating biographies of Norma-Jean "The Dutchess" Wofford (seen in the TNT video) and Peggy "Lady Bo" Jones (featured in the "Roadrunner" clip).

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Sunday Morning Gospel Throwdown | The Meditation Singers

by Jen Eide

Most people know that I have an extensive jazz collection--a few thousand pieces, I think--but few know that I also have a passion for African-American gospel groups. I love the vocal quartets and quintets from post-World War II era through the late sixties. I've often tried to figure out the root of this attraction, since I really have no religious affiliation (though I do love to read Daoist and Buddhist texts). I think some of it lies in the fact that most of the truly amazing soul music has a heavy gospel influence, and also that the lyrics to many gospel songs from this time serve as a metaphor for the entire civil rights movement.

I introduced a song by the Detroit based Meditation Singers to this blog in one of my posts last week. Check them out here performing "Jesus, Be A Fence." That's lead singer Earnestine Rundless on the left delivering some inspired shoutin', and her daughter Laura Lee singing second lead on the right (Laura Lee went on to have a career as a soul singer with hits such as "Women's Love Rights"). Laura Lee really steals the show here. Check out the part around the two minute mark where she signals the group by raising her fist in the air, and brings it down while demanding "stop!" There's some amazing musical tension that develops at this point, and then the rest of the Mediations come back in with some high pitched and otherworldly harmonies that bring the performance back to the frenzied level attained prior to this device. Now, I have no way of confirming this, but that sure sounds like gospel legend and sometime collaborator James Cleveland on piano to my ears. This amazing performance is from the short-lived early 1960's show "TV Gospel Time."