Thursday, August 30, 2007

Hot Shruti

I tend to think that more bands should sound like the Raincoats, the Slits, early Velvet Underground, the Silver Apples, the United States of America, and Stereolab, so I was happy to hear the steady throb of Numbers. Their new record, Now You Are This, just came out on Kill Rock Stars. What makes the music sort of take physical shape as you listen is that the vocal harmonies seem to exist as if piped in from some other realm, a Platonic ideal of how sound actually is shape. Also, any band that rocks the shruti box - the contraption that Indian musicians use to simulate the swarming drones of the tambura or the harmonium to establish the subsuming reference pitch of a raga – is all right by me. And they also enter the pantheon of band names that are unsearchable by Google.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Sledge Hammer

We watched the film This is England last night on IFC OnDemand. It’s set in the early mid-80s in Britain, during the Faulkland War, and it’s about a young kid whose father has died in the conflict. He gets taken in by a bunch of semi-friendly skinheads, the ska-loving type, not the neo-Nazi brand. After getting his head shaved, scoring some boots, tight jeans and braces, the kid finally has a posse, complete with a sort of jovial father figure and a sometimes girlfriend. But things take a bad turn when one of the skinheads’ former associates gets out of prison spouting some nationalist racist garbage, splitting the ranks and taking the kid under his wing. In one of the film’s pivotal scenes, the racist skinhead makes an ultra-brief thaw in hostilities with a member of the other crew, a Jamaican, in order to justify hanging out with him and smoking his weed. As everyone gets thoroughly baked, Percy Sledge’s "At the Dark End of the Street" comes on the stereo, and one of the borderline racist punks, a chubby loser, has what seemed to be a Sledge-and-weed-induced teary-eyed emotional meltdown, driving his head into the stereo speaker and crying about the buttery beauty of the bass line. This seemed like a pretty reasonable response to me.

As we’ve said before, one of the Driftwood Singers goals for the 2007-2008 fiscal year, as established by the board of directors, is to further promote the greater glory and honor of Percy Sledge.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Cleveland Field Report

Today, The Driftwood Singers would like to Present our newest recruit in the long, hard battle to destroy the productivity of the worker and subvert the capitalist system: Agent Eliot, our Very Special Cleveland Correspondent, broadcasting live from one of this site's favorite rock'n'roll towns. Actually, due to an editorial delay, this is breaking news from yesterday, but you're on Driftwood time now.

5 A.M.: Crack and scream! Quiet, then approaching sirens. We shake off Friday night's sake to stare out the window at flashing red lights. A car on the porch is worth two in the street and the whole block is awake for the rising of Cleveland's tropical sun. What do Saturday morning fire trucks and ambulances put me in the mood for?

Não escutar o Lefty. Cleveland não está assim frio!

[Ed. note: According this site, that translates roughly to: "Do not listen to the Lefty. Cleveland is not like this cold."]

Milton Banana Trio - Barquinho Diferente

Wilson Simonal - Não Vem Que Não Tem

The G-9 Group - Senhora Madonna

Gal Costa - Barato Total

Postscript: It turns out that the SUV was driven by a drunk Cleveland police officer. She was passed out in the vehicle in the middle of the school yard. Someone tapped on her window and she panicked and floored it. To hit that house, she went right between a telephone pole and a large tree.

-- Agent Eliot

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Trouble is Real

I’ve got some incurable contrarian streak. Every time the subject of Gram Parsons comes up, I’m inclined to spend a little of my energy deflating the cult of GP. It’s my problem. I can’t figure out why I’m so quick to do that. I mean I do love the Burritos and I love GP solo, and I love Sweetheart of the Rodeo, and I even love some of the International Submarine Band. But it seems like Gram worship is a little over the top. I may have picked this line of reasoning up from an interview I did with former Burrito and Byrd Chris Hillman, who plays in a sort of old time string duo these days. On the subject of Parsons, Hillman had developed a narrative about how GP had never really lived up to his promise and that he basically squandered his talents. Hillman, a zealous Christian these days, seemed genuinely sad, but in a (self) righteous judgmental kind of way. Still, just last night I was sitting around singing "The Streets of Baltimore." Here’s a free download from Amoeba Records (up through Aug. 23). It’s from a 1969 live recording of the Burritos at the Avalon Ballroom.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Bury the Rag Deep in Your Face

Let us now praise the great Max Roach, who died today at the age of 83. Hang your head. Lower the flag. Put on armbands. Drape the crepe. This man was a giant. Better than most people.

These are just three examples or the mightiness.

“The Third Eye” - Max Roach (from Survivors)

“Decision” - Sonny Rollins, with Max Roach, Donald Byr, Wynton Kelly and Gene Ramey

“Un Poco Loco” - Bud Powell, with Max Roach and Curly Russell

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

That Summer Feeling

We're panting like hyenas here in the city, sweltering in the insufferable heat and getting the first inklings of end times, what with an actual tornado touching down in New York like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man at the end of Ghost Busters. As Bill Murray tells the Mayor when the ghosts bust loose: "This city is headed for a disaster of biblical proportions...human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together - mass hysteria."

And so I'm already looking back now as if summer's over, kaput. I'm already wistful for the cooler, greener afternoons of July, the feel of toes in the grass, a guitar lightly plucked in the breeze, fellow Driftwood Singers on hand to enjoy a brotherly setting of open skies, cool creeks, whispering pines, sizzlin' BBQ, bottles of red wine and, yes, weathered old vinyl records of dubious distinction. This summer we dared to eat the peach and wear white flannel trousers on the beach -- rolled, of course. But now it's over. So to keep the feeling alive I turn to Mr. Jonathan Richman. It's hard to overstate how wonderfully pure, raw, joyful and simply present these songs are, all from 1983's Jonathan Sings! -- one of two must-owns by Richman, IMHO, the other being the self-titled Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers from 1977. Download them now and thank me later. They prove once and finally that all you need is a song and a wiggle in your hips to suck the marrow out of life. "That Summer Feeling" says everything I need to say: That summer feeling's gonna haunt you the rest of your life. "Not Yet Three," fitting for us recent parents among the Singers, is both terrifying and beautiful. I'm stronger than you, you're simply bigger than me...

That Summer Feeling - Jonathan Richman

This Kind of Music - Jonathan Richman

Not Yet Three - Jonathan Richman

Turns out I bought a lot of bad records this summer -- why on earth I bought that Dr. Hook album I'll never know -- but it didn't matter. Among my finds was one of the best-named albums of all time, 1971's Volcanic Action of My Soul by Ray Charles. It's got some hideous orchestral accompaniment on it, but Ray's hustle and grit manage to power through and really actually improve "The Long and Winding Road," a song few need bother trying to cover but which Ray nails entirely. With "Wichita Lineman" he's less successful, though still pretty good, but the pedal steel solo alone is magnificent, a moment of weightless summer grace that floats above the heat like a shimmering dream, a long and winding road that travels back to a summer solace we can carry with us the rest our lives. Here's to summer...

The Long and Winding Road - Ray Charles

Wichita Lineman - Ray Charles

Saturday, August 04, 2007

The Believers

This is Part Three of a three-part Bee Gees trilogy. Part One is here; Part Two is here.

A year before Maurice Gibb (above, far right) died in 2003 and forever ended the Bee Gees, the brothers Gibb did an hour-long sit-down interview with Larry King on CNN. In it, they made clear that even though conventional wisdom maintains that the Gees went fallow in the early 70s and reemerged in 1975 as a newly-minted disco act with Main Course ("Nights on Broadway," "Jive Talkin'"), THEY never believed they went fallow. Nor did they ever consider themselves disco. As Maurice's fraternal twin Robin tells King: "We had never even heard of the word disco until the media...[when] people started using the word disco, it was kind of alien to us. But what we were doing at the time, we were describing this progressive R&B blue-eyed soul."

Later, this exchange:

KING: What kept you going during the down period?

M. GIBB: I think our passionate writing. I think the songs have always kept
us up there.

KING: Is it called going dry? Do you feel like, "We're awful. They're not --
they're not into us?"

M. GIBB: No, we didn't go dry. I think the record company went dry.

B. GIBB: Yes.

M. GIBB: And a lot of people around us went dry on us. Not us.

R. GIBB: Oh, yeah. You go out of vogue.

M. GIBB: You go out of vogue, you see. If it's a new decade, you're out.

In other words, the idea that the Bee Gees made some "awful" albums was simply a mass delusion of taste. Alas, history is written by the victors. In 1974, the year before the BG's went "disco," the era-defining hits were "The Way We Were" by Barbra Streisand and "Bennie and the Jets" by Elton John. By the Bee Gee's estimation, of course, historical popularity is a charade -- or sha-rawd, as they sing it in "Charade," from the Bee Gee's 1974 effort (and so-called "transition" album) Mr. Natural. Consider these tunes possible evidence for a Driftwood Singers-meet-Howard Zinn historical revisionism of popular music, with the Bee Gees themselves as the (temporarily) oppressed underclass.

Charade - Bee Gees

Mr. Natural - Bee Gees

Of course, it's hard to avoid the undertow of history while it's happening. As Barry Gibb tells King, "it was the culture changing, not us or the music. The culture had been through the peace movement, and it was time to do something -- time to have some fun." But even when you win, you can't win. Despite its massive hits, Village Voice statesman Robert Christgau gave Main Course only a B+ because, as he wrote back then, "an unpleasant tension between feigned soulfulness and transparent insincerity still mars most of side two." But Robert! You were wrong! If he'd been listening with long enough antennae, he'd hear that side two happens to contain two of the best songs: 1) a stunning example of the Bee Gees immense adaptability, the piano-driven proto-alt-country number "Come On Over" (with Robin's ever-gorgeous limy vibrato on lead vocal) and 2), the weird, visionary pop wonder "Edge of the Universe," the melody of which was baldly re-purposed by XTC some 12 years later in "Grass" on the exquisite Skylarking (Christgau rating: A-). Visionary? Well, here are the lyrics, you be the judge:

Well, I'm ten feet tall,
but I'm only three feet wide.
And I live inside an ocean that flows
on the other side.

If I came back down tomorrow,
would it all be far too soon?
And it looks like it's gonna be a lovely afternoon.

Come On Over - Bee Gees

Edge of the Universe - Bee Gees

Grass - XTC

Extra!: Not to be missed is the Italian tribute band, the Tree Gees. You can hear their amazing likeness on MySpace.

Friday, August 03, 2007

A Musical Worm Contest

Since Mr. Poncho has offered some formidable candidates for "best first line [in a song] ever," I figured I can't let a good contest go unmet. Luckily for me, the hippie record clerk in Woodstock, New York, last month was charging $15 for shit like Santana but let Nick Lowe's Labour of Lust (1979) go for $4. Fool! And that's when I was blessed with these amazing couplets, which open the song:

I made an American squirm
And it felt so right
On screen was a musical worm
Deep, deep into the night

Given that these lines are hung on such a sensational pop hook, it's an absolute bullseye. And "American Squirm" has a bonus irony: The same year it was released, Lowe married country singer Carlene Carter, daughter of Carl Smith and June Carter Cash and step-daughter of Johnny Cash. He remained buddies with Johnny even after he divorced Carlene and Lowe eventually wrote the amazing "Beast in Me" for Cash for his American Recordings album.

I have no idea what a "musical worm" is. Anybody who can tell me will win a contest-within-the-contest and receive ... a CUSTOM-MADE DRIFTWOOD MIX CD! (That's right, a CD -- because I'm not losing $20 again!) Email us with the answer.

My final warning: If you don't own Pure Pop for Now People and Labour of Lust, whatever sorry assemblage you call a "record collection" is woefully inadequate (with the understanding that if you actually have a "record collection" you're screwed from the get-go, therefore you're just inadequately screwed).

American Squirm - Nick Lowe

And in case you think Lowe's all smart ass all the time, listen to this beautiful number that comes directly after "American Squirm."

You Make Me - Nick Lowe

Finally, if you missed these Pure Pop gems the first time I posted them, here again are two Lowe masterpieces.

Marie Provost - Nick Lowe

Tonight - Nick Lowe