Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Fix My Mind

I've been stewing in this new/forthcoming Damien Jurado record for a few weeks now. The alchemical transformation of downerism into uplift is an ongoing mystery. There's a stretched horizon of mellotron, a staggered backing vocal response to the main lyric, echoing hand-claps, a bleak crossroads where Lambchop and Lee Hazlewood intersect under it all. JP was listening the other day before she knew what it was and said "I guess I like My Morning Jacket more than I thought."

"Cloud Shoes" -- Damien Jurado

Sunday, May 09, 2010


Here at TDSP, the rate at which we go back in time is at least five times the rate forward, essentially leaving us terminally in the 1970s. But we still do go forward occasionally. Some. A bit. Now and then. And now, after Hugo Chavez finally made the world safe for Twitter, when it's probably nearly jumped the shark, we're now on board for this thing. Lefty, me, is getting his Tweet on.


If you bother with this sort of thing, follow us. It's where a lot more do-nothing gets done nowadays, and with terrifying efficiency, so it can't be all bad. Time wastage as a news ticker. The urgent sense of going somewhere while going nowhere. Hey, maybe we've finally come full circle! Ouroboros and what not. Anyway, let's see if this lasts longer than the podcast did.

Meanwhile, Bonnie Prince Billy covering the Grateful Dead:

"Brokedown Palace" - Bonnie Prince Billy

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Mogrify Me

There was some delicious false hope in the air today. A taste of spring that was snatched back as soon as the sun went down. But while the fantasy lasted I got out with the kids (waddled in mud and slush), pretended it was warm, stood in the sun and walked around the block. Started reading the most recent Nick Hornby book -- a pleasant, sensitive plot-centric counterbalance to the awesome manly pressure-cooked rage and absurdist dissolution of the new book of Sam Shepard stories (like a tincture of Thomas McGuane and Cormac McCarthy served as a literary boiler-maker) that I just finished. Impending spring lights the fuse, March -- bathed to the root in liquor and all, and then when April rolls around it starts to feel cruel and impossible. Overripe. I'm just ready for the liquor-root-bath. Here's some music that's just out or is being released in the coming months. It may give you hope.

The Sam Amidon draws on folk material, taking spooky murder ballads, sibling death romps and religious passion (or an R Kelly track, which he does, too), and delivers the songs with a strange moving aloofness, and the string arrangements by Nico Muhly provide surprising movements and spikes, harmonic ripples and rhythmic snaps. It might bring to mind Gavin Bryar's "Chris Blood Never Failed Me Yet," or Harry Smith, or John Adams, or Steve Reich, or the band Midlake.

The Free Energy (pictured) sends you back to 2004, to 1994, and then back again to 1974, maybe. There are waxy gobs of Thin Lizzy, Pavement, Spoon, Weezer and the Hold Steady all mogrified and muddled. I was ready to love something. And I love this.

The Ravenna Colt is the new project by Johnny Quaid, the first guitarist from My Morning Jacket. You can hear many of the MMJ trademarks in this music. His somewhat pinched trebly tone is unmistakable, the hang-gliding vocals, the taste for epic riffage (with implied beards), and even the thinly masked Kentucky pride makes you want to get all windbaggy about limestone aquifers and the Ohio River.

I'm gonna go make some pizza.

"How Come That Blood" -- Sam Amidon

"Hope Child" - Free Energy

"South of Ohio" -- The Ravenna Colt

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Knights of Infinite Resignation

The Detroit Harmonettes pass the obscurity test. Can't find much of a trace on wikipedia or elsewhere on the web, and one has to bore down deep into rare European compilations to track down a trail. Their apparent vanishing act is probably complicated by the fact that their name is very much like a more well known gospel vocal group, the Harmonettes (out of Chicago, I think). I got this track off of a record called Detroit Gospel. It was on the Gospel Heritage label, a division of the British label Interstate Music. There are about six other groups on the record, with lineups and mini histories for each one, except the Detroit Harmonettes. I didnt' realize the extent of the data black hole until after transferring this one from vinyl. Detoit's gospel groups funneled right into the Motown machine, but who knows what became of the I don't know where the Detroit Harmonettes. I get the feeling that the two tracks of their featured on Detroit Gospel are maybe the only to recordings from a single 78 they cut. DeLuxe Records, 6039. The shuffle-swing on the drum kit pumps some secular muscle into things here. The voices sound like nothing quite so much as a shiny and bright horn section. And the sentiment, "I Gave Up Everything," well, it's something you either can relate to, or will be able to relate to.

"I Gave Up Everything" - the Detroit Harmonettes

Thursday, February 04, 2010


Found a beautiful compilation of early Charlie Rich in a junk shop in Red Hook today (Songs for Beautiful Girls, Pickwick/33). I'll forgo the overstatement: maybe the most soulful white man ever recorded. As Mr. Poncho put it: sounds like Elvis, only smarter. Britt Daniels of Spoon weeps into his pillow at night wishing his band could achieve the sound in these songs. The production is pure late 50s Sun Records [Ed.: Well, sorta; see comments], but even more subtle and sophisticated than usual, pushing more into black music than others were willing to go, more jazz and gospel bits brightening the corners. And Rich's blues vibrato is a lost treasure of 20th Century music history. No wonder Peter Guralnick, the Elvis biographer, dug him back up in the early 90s and produced his last album.


I Can't Go On - Charlie Rich

It Ain't Gonna Be That Way - Charlie Rich

A Field of Yellow Daisies - Charlie Rich

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Cellular Accounting (Yogic Integers)

I used to work on a farm with a couple yoga teachers, and they'd stop in the row and teach us some stretches. We came up with the theory of "opposite yoga postures" with regard to bending and weeding or standing and hoeing -- basically mixing up the effort to not get all bunched up and knotted. Some tension. Some release. I went to a yoga class this morning. My first. The class was just the thing. A vacation from the self. A deep-breathing encounter with all the inconvenient truths of the body and the mind. There's some deep-tissue reckoning that needs to be made. The instructor kept reminding us to witness the body, the breath, the surge and flow of it all. (I've witnessed the body plenty, I think. It all comes back to the Fat Elvis Paradigm.)

To fully explore the material at hand. To take the form, the repeated form, the confines, the limitations and make a full cellular accounting. The idea made me think of Lefty's post about The King (witness the body), about completely inhabiting a song, about transfiguration and transformation through the full embrace of matter. And that got me thinking about these songs from the unbelievable collection Fire In My Bones, a three-disc compilation of African-American gospel from 1944 to 2007. This is a herculean effort, sort of along the lines of a Harry Smith or John Fahey-type esoteric epic archival grappling. I loved when The Art of Field Recording came out, revealing that there were still loads of raw and inspired performers to be tracked down and documented, some of them just up the road. But Fire in My Bones is sort of the American Anthology of Folk Music flip-side to that; it demonstrates that tons of incredible music has been recorded (or performed on the radio) that might otherwise just slip through the cracks of our media-saturated lives. (The set was compiled by blogger and music writer Mike McGonigal and released on Tompkins Square Records)

To hear Precious Bryant take something as worn-by-use and so-familiar-as-to-be-empty as "When the Saints Go Marching In" and perform some kind of dual spirit substance-swap, turning it both to radiant fire and gnarly rock, is to realize the liberating powers of constraints and limits.

Isaiah Owens performs a complete electric shamanic possession, squeezing oil from shale.

I also started listening to George Meredith's The Egoist on a book on tape. I heard this:

"To begin to think is the beginning of disgust of the world."

I guess that's a warning.

"When The Saints Go Marching In" - Precious Bryant

"You Without Sin Cast The First Stone" - Isaiah Owens

Sunday, January 03, 2010

That's the Way It Is


Every couple of years, I return to the question of whether there's such a thing as a musical "canon," a hierarchy in pop history. It's not fashionable to believe so, what with alternate pop realities going on around the world while we soaked in the Western supremacy of our Beatles and Dylan. We ignored Chinese Nuggets. But I realized recently that I personally do have a basis for how I view Greatness with a capital G: through the prism of biography.

For me, the best and greatest artists have a narrative arc to their lives that organizes and illuminates their catalog, a great mythology that transcends the ephemeral nature of pop music altogether. Case in point: the Beach Boys. Think about it: A sensitive child-like prodigy and his brothers are controlled by an abusive patriarch until the boys throw off the shackles of the 50s and embrace the freedom of the age; when they finally ditch the God/Dad figure, they find themselves lost in the haze of modernity, fighting among themselves, Eden corrupted, God dead, the man-child abandoned to his achingly lonely sand box. The choral work of lost boys in America. You can trace the story through the music, almost song by song. As a bonkers Brian Wilson said in the amazing mid-80s documentary, The Beach Boys: An American Band, "I mean, we started out as little babies. And we grew up into men. And that's a dramatic story."

Maybe it's simply that the more you know about an artist, the deeper the music becomes. And maybe it's simply that subconsciously -- or collective-unconsciously -- I relate to the tales of naive white males brought to their knees by fate and experience. Oh do I! But whatever: for my money, there's no American myth as powerful as the Elvis story. And that story really reaches the apex of its power, the full catastrophe, in the later period, the "fat Elvis" times, especially in this album, That's the Way It Is, from 1970.

This isn't quite the tragic aftermath of irrelevance, but the moment when the aftermath of irrelevance is falling over Elvis Presley like a shadow, portending the end. Our mythic hero begins to grapple seriously with the weight of what he's become (and the weight he's about to become), what he can and cannot be, the fun house mirror of himself warping and stretching over him like a ghoul. Think of it: the man never wrote his own music. So he had to take the songs made famous by the new guard in pop culture -- the Beatles, the Dylan -- and figure out how not just to cover them, but to conquer them. It's Don Quixote versus a windmill.

Elvis didn't necessarily see the futile tragedy in this, but the sweaty, heaving effort he puts into defeating a song like "You've Lost That Loving Feeling," a song made famous by the Righteous Brothers a full five years before he got to it, is so intense and funny and overwrought and entertaining, it's way, WAY more personal than the originals could ever be. Here's a man fighting at every note to keep from turning into a marble statue.

And when he finally gives in to his own unfurling grandeur, the bombast of his own stardom taking flight, it doesn't matter if he's a joke or if he's irrelevant. Because he's finally just accepted himself. He doesn't care. He's free. The walls are closing in, the doors are shutting, the cement is hardening, the end is near -- and the man keeps singing! That's the moment when these songs kill you. And I defy you to listen to them and not come away just a little bit moved by how powerful they are. Even "You've Lost that Loving Feeling," which has no right to be better than the original, is simply amazing for the important reason that he's trying to make it better because it's all he's got left.

"Baby, I'd get down on my knees for you -- if this suit wasn't too tight!" That's an comic lyric he adds to his version, echoed by his backup singers, The Sweet Inspirations (Aretha's former group). This is a song that fits into a years-long epic narrative, not just a single moment. That added level of personal biography takes the music to a new level, let's the lyric "you've lost that loving feeling" double down on what it's saying. YOU, O public, have lost your love for me. And this is how I feel about it. "Listen to me! I'm talking to you!" he sings. His performance is a gauntlet thrown down and the tragic weight of the gauntlet at once: That's the way it is.

"You've Lost that Loving Feeling" - Elvis Presley

"Just Pretend" - Elvis Presley

"I Can't Help Believin'" - Elvis Presley


Everybody here knows I'm a big fan of the 1970s "Fat" Elvis, so lemme cut to the chase: I hadn't realized how deep my fascination was going to run until Dave W. dropped the boxed set, "Walk a Mile in My Shoes: The Essential 70s Masters," on me. It's a massive, devastating, moving, triumphant, tragic, funny, oddly experimental and seriously surprising listening experience. If you're not ready to embrace the Big E, a bunch of bloggy words won't necessarily help sell you, though I'd highly, HIGHLY recommend the second volume of Peter Guralnick's biography, "Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley," which covers these final, shocking years. Anyway, these two tracks floored me. Big, lush, strangely subtle American country-soul music. His voice is flawed and human and doesn't bleed into caricature -- or rather, he's grappling courageously with caricature, trying to forge gold out of sequins, country out of Vegas. It's amazing and beautiful -- and not just meta-soulful, but actually, really. As Dave points out, few were more committed to a song and a performance than this fella.

We Can Make the Morning - Elvis Presley

I'm Leavin' - Elvis Presley