Friday, February 29, 2008

Three Friday Things to Say to You

1. As I'd resolved in my New Year's resolutions, I saw the extraordinary Petra Haden in concert last night at the Knitting Factory, with SNL comedian Fred Armisen opening with some standup. Guess what? They're dating! After Fred did some hilarious "drummer impressions" (he did a precise Phil Collins, complete with exaggerated bobbing head and exaggerated I'm-an-intense-drummer face), he recalled hearing Petra Haden's a cappella version of "The Who Sells Out" on the radio while driving in LA and was paralyzed with joy and knew right away "she was the girl for me." Petra and The Sellouts (8 gals) were breathtaking on stage, separating instrumental sounds into precise vocal parts and forming an orchestrated choral pop. Their version of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" -- a true marvel -- was much tighter and more precise than the YouTube version now in circulation. Did I mention how everything was 'precise'? Anyway, go see her.

Our Love Was - Petra Haden

2. Our own Frankie Lee had the splendid idea of positioning an LP cover over his face just so for his profile page. Turns out some clever fellows have taken this concept to elaborate extremes and snapped dozens of well-placed "Sleeve Face" photos. They're marvelously done. Highly recommended.

3. Listen to the acoustic version of "Wild Mountain Nation" by Blitzen Trapper in their MySpace page, titled "Nation Live." It's special, especially if you're already hooked by the electric version, wherein they out-Grateful Dead the Grateful Dead. Mr. Poncho & Lefty are hereby giving our seal of approval to the West Coast hippie folk-rock of Fleet Foxes and Mont Smokey. When we saw this video of the Fleet Foxes' preternaturally spot-on version of Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams," we began to feel these hippies were perhaps created in a petri dish by Craig Venter.

See also: Pitchfork's review of the Fleet Foxes' new EP.

Monday, February 25, 2008

This Is His Life

One of the loudest and most savage rock-and-roll shows I saw in the 1990s was Firewater, which laid sinister rock riffs over various Old and Third World dance beats (klezmer, ska, etc.). This was at Brownies, a cavernous beer-and-smoke-stained club that used to reside on 1st Avenue in the East Village (anyone remember it?). I distinctly recall a Japanese keyboard player in a silver Star Trek shirt whose playing blew my mind. And the lead singer had a very bad attitude. Anyway, the album was called Get Off The Cross (We Need The Wood For The Fire) (1995) and it was a surprisingly fierce and rocking album, with all the snarl and intensity of an American Pogues. It was in direct contrast to most of the fey, self-pitying indie fare of the time.

Now I read that Tod A., the guy with the bad attitude, went on a long hiatus after the US invaded Iraq, disillusioned with life in New York and with America in general. He traveled India and the Middle East with some lightweight recording equipment and "captured performances with a vast array of musicians across India and Pakistan -- and eventually Turkey and Israel," according to his website. "Bhangra and sufi percussion would form the basis for the songs he wrote along the way."

Apparently his trip was interrupted by his getting drugged, beaten and robbed along the Afghan border. This mini-documentary has him explaining what he did and how he did it and it's totally fascinating and inspiring.

A niggling question for Tod: Did he pay these guys or credit them in the liners notes? Whatever. His new album "The Golden Hour" seems worth checking out. Here's a track from it.

This Is My Life - Firewater

Friday, February 22, 2008

Folk Vibe For Miles

Lately I’ve started to cherish an alternate vision of the cafĂ© folk troubadour scene from the 60s. Instead of the precision-tooled harmonies, fresh-scrubbed faces, matching shirts, proper enunciation and generally annoying pearly wholesomeness of groups like the Kingston Trio, it’s one of misanthropic boozers, wannabe jazzbos, and croak-voiced trouble-makers who weren’t toeing any party line handed down from Broadside, Pete Seeger, Moe Asch or anybody else. The Mighty Wind crowd is too easy of a target, so there’s no reason to take cheap shots. But listening to these tracks conjures some alternate cast of crusty characters, straight out of a T.C. Boyle book. Both of these songs remind me a little of Karen Dalton, who was associated with the two singers. Fred Neil wrote “Everybody’s Talkin” as a throw-away tune and then proceeded to live off the royalties, preferring mostly to hang in Florida with his beloved dolphins than to commune with the folk. I’ll admit it, I first heard “The Dolphins” on The Sopranos, and it practically made me cry. And Tim Hardin – who wrote “Reason to Believe,” “If I Was a Carpenter,” “Misty Roses” and “Black Sheep Boy” – seemed to have an impressive reserve of menace that he could pipe into the most unlikely places. How many folk records have vibes (Gary Burton, btw)?

“The Dolphins” - Fred Neil

“Never Too Far” - Tim Hardin

Monday, February 18, 2008


I've been drifting through a fog, groping for shapes in the mists, feeling the borders, collecting fragments. I don't know what any of it means. The past is all around me; so is the future. I hear a trumpet. I follow...

1. Dizziehead Ed dropped this rare/weird Cat Stevens disco cut called "Was a Dog a Doughnut" on me the other day, the original LP cover of which fit his continual hunt for the Ourosboros. But this is a remixed version by some genius in Paris who goes by the crypto-mashup moniker Pilooski Edits. Rightly, he bills the results as "Psychedelic / Acousmatic / Tape music / Folk." Do listen to some samples on his/her myspace page, it's really wonderful stuff, especially the song called "Gemini." That's my daughter's sign. Also Mr. Poncho's and Frankie Lee's.

Was Dog a Doughnut - Cat Stevens (Pilooski Edit)

2. My 20-year high school reunion is next year, 2009. For me, those faraway days bring to mind the uplifting SoCal punk anthems of 7 Seconds, who yelped and proclaimed through the crap stereo system in my two-tone navy/baby-blue 1980 Ford Fairmont, which had a beautiful 6'7" Ken Bradshaw surfboard strapped to the roof and a well-worn Steve Olsen skateboard in the trunk. It also makes me think of the hallowed Krayons, the only hardcore punk band able and willing to keep South Texas honest during the Reagan years.

Walk Together, Rock Together- 7 Seconds

Wise Up Korea - The Krayons

3. After a recent visit to Marin County in golden California, while driving through the Tuscan-like landscapes of Napa and Sonoma, getting tippled on the grape and wincing into the sun-dappled hills, I came to realize what's really important in life. And it ain't poetry.

It's Money - Gordon Gano (with Martha Wainwright)

4. It's the 10-year anniversary of Neutral Milk Hotel's seminal "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea." (Ten years since 1998? REALLY?!) Listening to it again got me really choked up, feeling very emotional and mortal. While visiting my hometown years ago, the shared love of this record while driving around late at night made me and my sister grow closer. If we could rock together, we could walk together.

Holland, 1945 - NMH

5. I recently realized that I love jazz that sounds vaguely like TV theme songs from the late 70s. "Bob Newhart" and "Barney Miller" and "Hill Street Blues." I suppose that's because it was the first "jazz" or "fusion" I ever heard while living in the country-and-western hinterlands. That and maybe some jazz muzak on PBS in between afternoon children's programs when they just had a static picture of koala bear and the words "Stand by..." The recent album by bassist Ben Allison, "Little Things Run the World," feels like it gets at these acute and peculiar generational audio memories. Maybe it's the smooth Burt Bacharach horn lines, how those were later copied by Hollywood TV theme-song writers, which Ben's trumpet player seems to be quoting in some subtle way. I don't know, but it's a really splendid album and you should BUY IT.

Little Things Run the World - Ben Allison

Bob Newhart Theme Song

Barney Miller Theme Song

Hill Street Blues Theme Song

6. For these same reasons -- the Burt Bacharach crypto-cultural gestalt -- I've always loved the album "Hawaii" by the High Llamas. There are these exquisitely placid expanses of symphonic exotica that I like to call "white dub." And it's very beautiful.

The Hot Revivalist - The High Llamas

7. Speaking of TV, I wish Will Oldham and Tortoise would cover this song, because the melody is PERFECTION.

Benson Theme Song

(Note to Frankie Lee: I know you were raised by no-TV-having communists, so FYI, that's TV's "Benson" pictured above, as played by Robert Guillaume.)

8. When I moved to New York in 1995, I lived right down the block from Second Coming Records on Sullivan Street. I hung out there and got totally schooled by the indie-rock-supremacist clerk, who adopted me as his overenthusiastic jug-eared rube hard case. The first album he made me buy was by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, who were the darlings of that particular nano-moment. Later everybody started hating on them and now no one cares or remembers them, so blotted out of history are they by the White Stripes. But this song came up in the iPod the other day and it kind of rocked my world. Totally captured the gritty Superfly romanticism I was experiencing at the time, those first grainy moments imbibing the 70s-nostalgic New York kool of Kim's Underground. Let the revisionism begin ...

Bellbottoms - Jon Spencer Blues Explosion

9. If you haven't heard of Brian Dewan, you really should explore his very strange and wonderful mind. As it happens, he drew the interior artwork of "In The Aeroplane Over The Sea" by Neutral Milk Hotel. He's an eccentric artist, instrument-maker and performer who collects the oddest and most arcane found songs anywhere. He digs up homemade sheet music from estate sales and old barns. This one is a cautionary tale about smoking.

Tobacco's but an Indian Weed - Brian Dewan

10. I've noticed that the album reissue industry and Pitchfork have been following closely on our heels lately. First the johnny-come-lately praise for disco-era Bee Gees. And now the love heaped on Michael Jackson's Thriller and Nick Lowe's Jesus of Cool. You read it HERE and HERE and HERE first. Remember? Yes. We're reaching a critical cultural circularity that's about to finally give, past and future collapsing into one another, like ...


The fog lifts. End scene: VOTE FOR BARRY.

It's Better to Fade Away

     The other day I was sort of listlessly riffling through one segment of the ol' vinyl collection, and I came across the Neil Young album Time Fades Away.  I had forgetten that I owned it, or wasn't sure if I still had it, or something.  I'm glad I still do.  Upon listening to it for the first time in many a moon I realized that it’s one of his best.  No, I’m serious, it really is.  I know, you have your Harvest adherents and your hipper-than-thou Tonight’s the Night proselytizers, and, I dunno, there are a bunch more that could be considered, and perhaps Time Fades Away is really just for Neil freaks,  but I think it’s probably the one that cemented his “ragged but right” image in the rock 'n roll pantheon, and it’s brilliant, that’s all.  One thing I’ve always loved about Neil is the fact that his singing and his guitar playing are both so expressive.  You listen to his cracked, croaky voice and are moved; then he starts playing a solo and you’re moved all over again, but in a slightly different way.  This record came out on the heels of Harvest, and it’s often referred to as one of the “Ditch” albums (the others being On the Beach and Tonight's the Night) , a reference to his quote about how he was in the middle of the road and got bored so he headed for the ditch (where things were more interesting, I guess).  I’m not sure about interesting, but the passing of friend and Crazy Horse guitar player Danny Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry certainly were devastating things to try to deal with.  And then of course there were the usual r 'n r issues of drugs, alcohol, Crosby, Stills & Nash (C & N appear on the album) and the other prickly characters involved in his life and career.  TFA is made up of new songs that were all recorded live when Neil decided to go out on the road with the band he called the Stray Gators.  Apparently it was one chaotic and difficult tour, and you can hear it in the songs.  For a number of reasons (sound quality being one) it’s never been put out on cd.  The record includes a cool poster-sized sheet of  hand-written (presumably by Neil) lyrics and credits.

     I’m including four of the eight songs on the record.  I like Jack Nitzche’s nifty little piano riff on the title track, and the way Neil pronounces “February” in “Journey Thru the Past” (and the fact that it’s “thru” and not “through”).  He really sounds unhinged, in a good way, during “Yonder Stands the Sinner” (another great title, by the way).  The between-song banter (“This'll be kinda experimental”) tickles me. One couplet from “Don’t Be Denied” has been going around in my noggin all day, for some reason: 

But I’m a pauper in a naked disguise

A millionaire through a businessman’s eyes

 It's baffling to me that he chose not to include any of these songs on the three-disc collection Decade.  But I guess that's just Neil being Neil.

     The other two acoustic songs are from Four Way Street, the live album he did with CS&N.  They’re just great versions,  I almost prefer them to the originals.  And again, Neil’s commentary on “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” is funny and endearing.

Time Fades Away

Journey Thru the Past

Yonder Stands the Sinner

Don't Be Denied

Cowgirl in the Sand

Don't Let It Bring You Down

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Lesbian Power Authority

     One fine day last fall, my partner and I decided (as we often do) to make the rounds of the yard sales that were in progress around the neighborhood.  We happened upon one that was pretty good-sized, and after sniffing around among some various & sundry goods--old tennis racquets, etc.--I found a box of cassette tapes and cds & soon scored a copy of Dark Side of the Moon.  It was one of those yard-sale moments when you say to yourself, "Why not?  I've never owned a's really cheap...I might want to listen to it someday..."  (Of course, that was months ago & I haven't loaded it into the cd player yet).  As I was browsing among the detritus & wishing there was some vinyl to be had, I struck up a conversation with a woman nearby.  She was sort of plain-looking with a short haircut, maybe in her late fifties or early sixties.  I was telling her how I was always on the lookout for records, and she told me she had a whole bunch back at her house, and would I like to come by and take a look?  I said sure.  (That's just the way we flow down here in the Southland).  Mrs. Frankie Lee didn't have any objections to the idea (bless 'er), so we wrote down the lady's address, and after making our yard-sale purchases, we headed on over to her house.  She was a little reserved but friendly, and as the wife & I started leafing through the stacks of vinyl that she kept bringing into her living room and setting on the coffee table, it slowly dawned on me that we were looking at the record collection of a lesbian.  (I think it was the Holly Near album that tipped me off).  When I came across the above-pictured album, some voice inside of me said, "You must own this record."  I had never heard of it, and couldn't quite believe it existed.  I've subsequently learned the importance of Alix Dobkin in the history of queer music (if I may use the term), and of course I don't mean to slight or ridicule the politics and the feelings that are bound up in the music (I am a friend o' lesbians, after all), but at the same's hard not to be amused by the title, the picture (the singers & musicians looking like a bunch of farmhands--very male, ironically--hard to tell if it's intentional or not), the notes on the back ("There's nothing like living with Lesbians!  It is demanding.  It is thrilling.  It keeps me honest.  Also humble"), etc.  One of the musicians is named Lynx, and there's actually a song called "The Lesbian Power Authority",  which is a pretty awesome title if you ask me.  On the whole, there's something sort of touching about it, redolent as it is of '70s consciousness-raising combined with farm labor and folk music.  Those times are no more, that's for sure, and they'll most likely never come again.  But I'm pretty sure that this record was important to a certain segment of the population at the time.
     According to the album notes, the tune for "Living With Lesbians" was taken from an old Scots ballad called "The Banks of the Nile".  It's actually quite pretty, and I like the way the guitar and fiddle sound.  The lyrics could be stream-of-consciousness (there's a line about admiring a neighbor's equipment...hmm),  but then there's a nice rhyming of  "bulldozer" and "shows 'er".   And the fact that she mentions the season premiere of Rhoda is pretty hilarious.  All in all, there's just something funny & brilliant about the combination of an ancient folk tune and the subject matter.  
     I think Mrs. F.L. & I scored around fifteen albums that day (I passed on the Holly Near), including one by Herbie Mann which pictures him shirtless with his flute slung over his shoulder.  Man, is he one hairy individual!  It's pretty disgusting--I don't think I'd want to share the album cover (or the music) with anyone.  (It's called Push Push, if you want to Google it--sorry, but I can't be responsible).  I'll have to write about some of the other ones in the near future, because there are a few more that are definitely Driftwood material. 

Saturday, February 09, 2008

"What’s Real Has Become a Freak"

Swamp Dogg is up there with the likes of Merle Haggard when it comes to tunefully bemoaning the sad state of the present. It’s what he does best. But what do you call a jeremiad that’s written from the fictional future? Some sort of speculative plu-perfect nightmare fantasy. This tune, "The World Beyond," was written by Bobby Goldsboro, if you can believe that. I’m sort of planning on going out on the hunt for the vinyl with the Goldsboro version of this track. It seems so perfectly Swamp Doggian. It’s like a beach music equivalent of Planet of the Apes.

Then there’s "Synthetic World," the title of which pretty much speaks for itself. As the man sings: "Strange initials to keep me blind, psychedelic music to blow mind."

Finally, as a part of the Driftwood Singers Present's ongoing "Joe South: Degrees of Separation" project, we offer "Redneck," which was written by our mysterious man from Atlanta, session man supreme, tropical recluse, the Brian Wilson of Dixie.

If you took Cher and crossed her with Al Green, you might, if you were really lucky, and all the genetic gears lined up, end up with Swamp Dogg.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Heaven Knows We’ll Soon Be Dust

With regard to the new album by Nada Surf, I guess I’m officially what the doods at Blender Magazine would describe as “totally gay over” it. I don’t really remember their ‘90s MTV hit, “Popular,” which everyone seems to mention when the subject of the band comes up. I’m not inclined to hold anything against them, especially not a dash of what was probably traumatic success. I decided this band was very wise -- Robert Frost wise, Basho wise -- when Lefty put a song of theirs called “The Blizzard of ‘77" on a mix he made me years ago (it was the summer of R Kelly’s “Remix to Ignition,” as I recall).

I’m generally not much concerned with lyrics, just because I don’t expect necessarily to get my wisdom, spine-tingling insight and verbal depth from pop music. Not that it’s not there. Anyway, this song strikes me as brilliant. I think this band has a handle on loss, impermanence, joy, abandon and the basic big stuff. Here are the lyrics:

Blizzard of '77
in the blizzard of ’77
the cars were just lumps on the snow
and then later
tripping in 7-11
the shelves were stretching out of control
on a plane ride
the more it shakes
the more i have to let go
now the signals
still getting all mixed up
we’re always doing damage control
but in the middle of the night i worry
it’s blurry even without light
i know i have got a negative edge
that’s why i sharpen all the others a lot
it’s like flowers or ladybugs
pretty weeds or red beetles with dots
i miss you more than i knew

It’s simply beautiful. Deep, with a kind of drug-induced buddha mind. The song is lovely, too. You should just go buy it somewhere. What I like about Nada Surf is the way they skirt close to the edge of being too pretty, like a picture of a spectacular sunset that’s almost embarrassing. (They also have a deft way of pairing these general deep-thought observations with poetic specifics.) Just staring into the grandeur like that. We’ve developed elaborate distancing strategies of irony, ridicule, cloaking devices, and detachment to prevent us from having to deal with that shit. The emotional retina burn.
So, the new album is called Lucky, and the band is giving away this MP3 of the song “Look at These Bones,” which I think is similarly moving. The song was inspired by a trip to those catacombs in Rome where the monks leave their bones and skulls, all stacked up in a big cord-wood-style memento mori ossuary.

This past week I had one of those experiences that just shock you out of the routine. I sent Lefty this e-mail about it:

so, some crazy shit happened to me the other day, tuesday. I was rushing home early to get there in time to bring [my dauughter] to a doctor's appointment. Just around the block from the office I rear-ended a guy on a motorcycle/scooter. It was at a stop sign. It was one of those scenarios where you're behind someone who you think is going and you're looking left to make sure you have the clear, and then because you think they already went, you go. In this case I smashed into him and he went up on my hood. It was crazy, crazy. He had a helmet. And he seemed to be fine. He wasn't even really pissed. I guess we were both in shock. Anyway, it gets real Raymond Carver, he needed to get to the UPS place, which was right where we were, but he insisted he didn't want to call the police or get an ambulance or go to the hospital or anything. I basically told him it was my fault and he should do whatever he wanted to do. So then he says he just needs to get to UPS and get home. So we chain the wreck of his bike to a fence and he hops in the car with me and we drive over to UPS. He send his package and then I drive him home. On the way there we're talking about our kids, and he's saying he just wants to get his bike fixed and if I want he can give me the number of the shop he's gonna take it to, or if I want I can just give him some cash. I ask him how much he thinks it will cost, and he says probably around $300 or so (the gas tank was trashed and the back lights were smashed). So we go to an ATM and I give him $360. Meanwhile I'm kind of a wreck and I'm like driving over the parking curbs in the parking lot and he starts thinking that I'm a basket case and he starts trying to calm me down. He's like, "you should go to Dunkin Donuts and get some coffee, breathe, take it easy for a little bit." Meanwhile I just practically killed the guy and he's trying to chill me out. So I give him the money and drive home. That's that.
It kind of blew my mind in the way you can, in an instant of inattention or impatience, become that asshole who basically destroys somebody's life. Now I'm just wondering if he's gonna feel like he has whiplash a week or a year from now.

and he recommended I post it with the Nada Surf song, which I’d also sent him a link to. It seemed like a good idea, and then tonight I was reading the liner notes to the album. There’s a whole long thing written by the main guy, presumably, about the choice for the record title, sort of some funny hand-wringing basically saying that some people seem to not dig it, but that he thinks it’s the right choice. He goes on about being lucky, and how we all are – to be alive, to be sort of happy, healthy, loved, etc. It’s heavy, but not trite. Then, toward the end of the small-print mini essay he says we’re lucky ...“that red wine exists, that we’re still alive after being knocked off bicycles” ... and so I’m still feeling the psychic connection here. Wide open. Dilated.

“See These Bones” - Nada Surf