Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Enigma of Joe South

I just read Joan Didion and Daryl Pinckney’s meditations about the meaning of the Obama victory in the New York Review of Books.

Joan Didion’s comments about the worrying implications of the “irony-free zone” surrounding Obama are worth stewing over for a bit. Didion has chronicled a lot of complex cultural and political change in America, never flinching from the troubling truth.

Speaking of troubling truths and zones of irony, I’m still not sure what zone Joe South is operating in for me. Probably trans-ironic, definitely post-, possibly bi-ironic. Not just plain old, that’s for sure. I’m definitely projecting some unreasonable hopes and expectations onto Joe South. I keep wanting him to be more than he is, and I keep being incapable of gauging whatever it is that he has been. From his record covers he looks out like a cross between Jeff Bridges and Brian Wilson, blessed-out, possibly cantankerous, maybe wasted.

Joe South’s records are almost worth buying for the merits of their liner notes alone. Lefty already expounded on this earlier. Here are a few lines from the back of “So the Seeds Are Growing”:

"Joe South is the sort of person who personifies his times and makes them beautiful.
Joe South is the sort of person who has seen the pain, the rage, the possibilities.
Joe South is the sort of person who has captured the passing moments of a world that’s changing every instant."

And, so, on the one hand, you come to this music looking for so much. What you get, on the surface, is somewhere in the Engelbert Humperdink/B.J. Thomas/Mac Davis zone. But, then you keep listening and looking, and you find something. Maybe it’s there. Maybe not. Check out the dobro slide, which is something like an overdriven kazoo, at the start of “Revolution of Love.” And the feverish string and horn arrangement ups the anticipation. There’s also a kinship to Lee Hazelwood and Bobby Gentry, a little Elvis, if the King was an acid casualty. Raspy soul singing. Reverb-heavy hand-claps. Hyper bass lines try to approximate grooviness with sheer pep. Funky cymbal pattern, heavy on the bell of the ride. It’s swampy. Not without cornmeal chunks. As he says, “The past is gone.”

“Revolution of Love” – Joe South

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Life is Just Mythical

Lefty asked for this one special. I posted a slightly crappier version of this here nearly three years ago, along with some whisper singing from Burundi and an unusual bit of early sampling from Joni Mitchell off of Hissing of Summer Lawns. Links are all dead now.

Oddly enough, just the other week I interviewed John Kelly, the performance artist who channels Joni Mitchell in his show Paved Paradise. He’s bringing his show to Hartford in January.

In going to search for this track, I was struck with the almost scary realization that I have four Nazareth records on vinyl. I’m pretty sure this all stems from a mixed tape that Frankie Lee made for me years and years ago which opened up on one side with “Razmanaz.” And I’m also pretty sure that it was Frankie Lee’s sis who mentioned the Nazareth version of “This Flight Tonight” in one night of epic drinking. So it all comes together, family style.

After re-listening to this a few times, alls I can say is fuck Chinese Democracy. The Scots had it down. Dig the senseless reprise of the battering-ram rhythm and riff. Immigrant Song. Baracuda. Whatever. You can picture the guys in the front line – singer holding a mic stand, bassist and guitarist, all standing in a row, rocking sideways on the balls of their feet, in time, choreographed you might say, as the crowd loses it. Gaelic aerobics. Did you know that the Youngs – Angus and Malcolm, of AC/CD – were originally from Glasgow before the family relocated to Australia? Explains a lot.

“This Flight Tonight” – Nazareth

Back To Ohio

When they called the Buckeye State on election night, that was when we all knew it was over. Anyway you stacked it after that, the math was for Obama. So, be thankful for Ohio – Guided By Voices, Taft, Play-Doh, Bill Fox – it’s given us a lot. Add Blue Ash to the list. This one's for Lefty.

Power-pop fanatics already hold their debut, No More, No Less, one in high regard – naming it along with classics by Big Star, the Raspberries and Cheap Trick. There’s a little of whatever it was that made Mott the Hoople, Kiss and Motley Crue whatever it was they were. Maybe a kind of ingrown testosterone-thwarted glam androgyny, but with denim and bell bottoms instead of kabuki. Shades of steroidal power-playing evoke Blue Cheer and the Who. But Blue Ash – from Youngstown – released No More, No Less in 1973, a time when wankery and skin-tight buffoonery dominated rock music. Sticking to your guns about the glories of the three-minute song, tight harmonies, verse-chorus-werse, was kind of like preaching against free-market fundamentalism just a few years back. The record title -- No More, No Less -- is kind of a mission statement masquerading as a pithy chorus.

“Wasting My Time” – Blue Ash

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The G Gnome Project

I’ve been cranking this new-ish Love As Laughter all weekend. It gets my vote for rock song of the year. These guys traffic in the semiotics of slackness, but then they pull a sucker-punch on you, turning around to give you massive, monolithic arena rock moments, artfully mussed up with just enough noise and mutter to make you think they can’t really mean it. This tune has one of those Rock and Roll take-offs that gets me playing the air drums every time. The way the drums come in would get my vote for the Drunk McArthur Grant. The two-beat kick serves as a rhythmic hook for the song, very Zeppelin III. But the southern-fried 4 a.m., sonic Robert Frank-isms are very much from the Sticky Fingers/Exile family of classic rock products. I get twinges of Moonlight Mile. The DNA map gets even more complicated when I start to hear connections to Third-Eye Blind, just in the shameless fist-pumping-ness of it all. They confuse the scent with I-don’t-give-a-fuck Pavement riffs, thrown in to lead the dogs down the wrong trail. There are lyrics about In-A-Godda-Da-Vida and chariots, and stars and melting snow, and sending for people to tend to you.

“Konny and Jim” – Love As Laughter

Saturday, November 01, 2008

And Then There Had Been Three

Today marks the third anniversary of the Driftwood Singers Present. And I’m filled with feelings--shame, guilt, pride, awe, shock, anger, intestinal distress. There have been a lot of lessons learned, primarily regarding Lindisfarne, the Bee Gees, Stealers Wheel, Karl Blau, Robin Thicke, Bob Welch. Continued pioneering of the taste-transgressing frontier. Stimulated aural receptors. Ever-receding horizons. Burn-out artists. Pop culture credit-default swaps.

This is from the new one by the Viking Moses, with the void-probingly evocative title of The Parts That Showed. This music gives me all the feelings. Aches. Moved to tears. Consult-your-doctor kind of stuff. Pluperfection.

“Life Empty Eyes” – the Viking Moses