Wednesday, November 30, 2005:

Ian Love and Listing Ship

Ian Love -- The Only Night
This song is like an overnight drive back to your loved ones, sunrise glinting through the trees. You're tired but you can't stop, and besides, you've had too much coffee to sleep. So you drive on and stop occasionally to get out and walk around and bring some feeling back into your legs. In the car you pound on the steering wheel in time, looking out at all the mostly-empty streets; you pound on the steering wheel and sing along, poorly, loudly, because it makes the time go faster. In your neighborhood you watch the people stepping out bleary-eyed and bathrobed to collect the paper, and then it's one turn more and you've arrived and parked and let yourself in. Your family is up already and it's big hugs all around and a home-cooked breakfast. And then suddenly you are tired, and once things quiet down a bit you sit talking and find yourself dozing, perfectly at peace, and sprawl out on the couch and someone comes up and puts the blankets over you.

Why do the stars jump side to side? I don't know, but they do. They do.
[seems Ian Love has no website.]

Listing Ship -- Chinese Song
This one's like the next day--or is it the next season?--raking leaves, baking pumpkin pie, sipping apple cider. The song's got a cloistered warmth to it, a sort of autumnal peacefulness in the strings that's belied by the lyrics.

I love the crazy instrumentation--what's that, bass, woodblocks, violin, theremin? Is it? Works for me. Folkadelic.
[Listing Ship's site]


I got these two in a PR email yesterday from Team Clermont Publicity. Pleasant surprises....

There are other emails I've read but not yet followed through on, and still others that I've downloaded and liked and for some reason not yet posted. There's really no rhyme or reason to it. I'm sorry.

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Monday, November 28, 2005:

The Dave Brubeck Quartet

Eugene Wright, Dave Brubeck, Paul Desmond, and Joe Morello
And today, Brubeck: my other favorite pianist. Brubeck's best known for his work with odd time signatures--often foregoing 4/4 (and, for that matter, 2/4, 3/4, and 6/8) in favor of ones farther afield, like 9/8, 7/4, 6/4, and of course 5/4, which netted the Quartet their biggest hit with Paul Desmond's "Take Five." It's a good track, in spite of its overexposure; there's a brilliant infectious swing to it and the saxophone solo is on point. But I don't want to post that one, as everyone's heard it anyway.

Brubeck developed an interest in polyrhythm through his work on his family's ranch: the various machines' noises would intersect and diverge in patterns he found intriguing. He wanted to stay with his family and work on the ranch but his family struck a deal with him that he would go to college and become a vet before returning to work on the ranch; while there, he realized his interest was in music. He almost didn't graduate when one of his professors discovered he couldn't read music, but some of his other professors intervened on his behalf and convinced the dean to let him graduate. After that he served in the Army, then played various low-paying gigs, worked odd jobs, and had his trio (interrupted by diving into shallow water, followed by a stay in the hospital in traction) before making it big with his Quartet.

He's been accused of trying to paint jazz white, which strikes me as a cynical and unfair comment--people should do what they're best at doing, regardless of what social expectations are; and I think we're much better for having Brubeck playing piano rather than raising cattle. Also, I've just long thought him cool ever since hearing that he canceled a TV special in the 1950s because he found out the station wasn't going to show Eugene Wright on camera; and that he also canceled a number of shows because he got some static about bringing Wright. I'd like to say that blatant racism doesn't happen anymore, but I live in the South and I know better.

I love Brubeck's work for the same reason I love Monk's: it's angular, peculiar, challenging, and catchy. He also sometimes pounds the hell out of the keys, which can be a big plus. I don't understand everything that's going on, but I find that the more I listen to it the more I do understand; the music is enjoyable enough on the surface but rewards careful attention.

So. Four tracks from Brubeck's other Time albums, in chronological order:

The Dave Brubeck Quartet -- Bru's Boogie Woogie
Brubeck lists this in on the liner notes as in 8/8; what I love about it is the way it shouts, hoots, hollers, says there's nothing more important right now than having a good time. And then it convinces you it's true.
[Time Further Out]

The Dave Brubeck Quartet -- Countdown
"Countdown" opens with a tympani pattern bouncing from one speaker to the other, then Brubeck sprints out the gate with a rollicking piano line I'd misidentified as stride, but which Brubeck identifies in the liner notes as boogie-woogie*. In comes the drums, with a left-handed erratic piano pulse, melodies wound over it, then it's back to tympani and piano trading licks.
*(It's been proven before that I don't know anything about boogie-woogie.)
[Countdown: Time in Outer Space]

The Dave Brubeck Quartet -- Shim Wha
Drummer Joe Morello wrote "Shim Wha"; it has Desmond on board, with his subdued and note-perfect contribution, mirrored at the beginning by Brubeck, before he goes off on a short exploration. There's an interesting drum solo towards the end; Morello's good for those. I love the feel of this one, the way the piano and drums together make it seem the song has had way too much coffee but is being forced to sit and wait for something.
[Time Changes]

The Dave Brubeck Quartet -- Travellin' Blues
Travellin' Blues is a melancholy peace which Brubeck wrote from some verses his wife sent him in a letter: he was travelling constantly and she was wondering what it must be like to be on the road so much, away from family. (It's probably a safe bet that she thought it better to sympathize than to nag--it's hard to imagine it didn't give him pause, maybe shift his perspective a bit.) At any rate, the song has a number of vocal versions, including by Carmen McCrae, but this isn't one of them. The bass is almost buried in the mix, the drums are brushed, the saxophone says its piece, quietly, and takes leave. And Brubeck did finally disband the Quartet to spend more time with his family.
[Time In]
Or, if you're going to buy all those, you could save some money and get them in the boxed set For All Time.

There are other Brubeck CDs I could pull from--one of some classical music he composed and performed with orchestra, another of solo pianos of war tunes, various concerts and studio CDs, and "Golden Horn" from Jazz Impressions of Eurasia has the most amazing piano/saxophone handoff I've ever heard, but I think I'll save all that for some future post.

PBS aired a documentary about Brubeck which looks interesting; their write-up is good but has the curious omission of the Wright/racists incident (I first read that in, I think, the Time Was boxed set's liner notes, which Wikipedia seems to have borrowed from a bit).


Thursday, November 24, 2005:

Thelonious Monk (& Sonny Rollins & John Coltrane)

Thelonious Monk
Thought I'd post some work by Thelonious Monk, whose music I love and have so far neglected. Monk's work is alternately exuberant, catchy, chilly, moody, introspective, typically angular, sometimes difficult.... He's rumored to have been difficult and moody himself, if not mentally ill, but rather than indulging in idle speculation and "tortured genius" mythos, I'll just say that I find his work as compelling as it is rewarding.

Thelonious Monk -- Nice Work If You Can Get It (alternate take)
"Nice Work If You Can Get It" is originally a Gershwin track; Monk here takes it and uses it to stretch out a bit. Serpentine oddly accented melodies, dissonance, unexpected pauses, pounded chords: all present and accounted for. This is typical Monk, off Genius of Music, vol. 1.
[Genius of Modern Music, vol. 1]

Thelonious Monk -- Four in One
"Four in One" is off Genius of Music, vol. 2; it's a catchy track that I have more appreciation for every time I listen to it--not just hear it, but actively listen to, paying attention to all the changes. That's Sahib Shihab on sax, Milt Jackson on vibes, Al McKibbon on bass, and Art Blakey on drums, all turning in some great work: Monk, Shihab, and Jackson in particular starting melodies and passing them on beautifully, making it all look as effortless as breathing.
[Genius of Modern Music, vol. 2]

Thelonious Monk and Sonny Rollins -- I Want to Be Happy
On "I Want to Be Happy," Rollins' saxophone is warm and comforting over erratic piano stabs; it paints fields of grain stretching out to the horizon, a two-lane track up the side, an apple tree with low-hanging branches and roots deep enough that you can catch a nap on smooth ground. Early fall, chilly but not cold, no ants about, no flies. Perfect.
[Thelonious Monk and Sonny Rollins]

Thelonious Monk -- Bemsha Swing
"Bemsha Swing" is the closer to Brilliant Corners; this one has Monk on piano, Sonny Rollins on tenor sax, Clark Terry on trumpet, Paul Chambers on bass, and Max Roach on timpani. Brilliant Corners was Monk's breakthrough album, released in 1956, but I doubt that anything about Monk changed to award him sudden acceptance--if anything, I'd bet it was a change in audience expectations instead. Monk's always struck me as the kind of artist who leaped out of Zeus' head fully formed and ready to fight.
[Brilliant Corners]

Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane -- Trinkle, Tinkle
"Trinkle, Tinkle" finds Coltrane and Monk leading off phrasing things in synch, standing back to let each other take the lead, twining through the spaces and supplementing the melodies, then stepping out again in synch. Two giants, both on point. It must have been something to see them play live.

I haven't exhausted Monk's discography--far from it--he has a lot to pick through, and typically it deserves active listening.
[Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane]


Had a nice French-Catholic two-fer recently with Monsieur Vincent and Au Revoir Les Enfants. The Malle packed a heavier punch--so far I've seen only three of his films (this one, Damage, and Murmur of the Heart) but they've all been hefty and fascinating.

Monsieur Vincent put me in mind of The Boys of St. Vincent, which I keep meaning to see, and have been meaning to even before the Church got itself into its recent trouble. Now apparently the Pope has banned gay priests, which is about as sensible as falling down the stairs in the dark, breaking your leg, refusing to go to the hospital, developing gangrene, and banning steps. It's one approach, I guess, but another might be to light the damn stairs and to call a doctor when you've broken something. By which I mean, I don't know, maybe they could encourage their cardinals to report crimes rather than just send the perpetrators somewhere else.

Other great Catholic films I can think of off the top of my head, Andrei Rublev, A Man for All Seasons, and Dead Man Walking (at least until that ridiculous ham-handed bit at the end where they raise Poncelet up, with his arms out to his sides, to speak to the audience. That scene just needs some blinking text at the bottom reading "Inasmuch as ye have done unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done unto me," complete with a choir glissando from high C to Ab. But for the most part it's an exceptional and fascinating film). One could arguably also include The Exorcist, since the cliche is that no one ever really leaves the Church.

... I haven't yet seen Lilies of the Field or Queen Margot, though I've heard great things about them.

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Monday, November 21, 2005:

The B-52's -- Dirty Back Road

The B-52's -- Dirty Back Road
The B-52's are best known for their campy manic tracks, but I love their chilled out tracks more. Exhibit A: probably the most laid back track on their 2nd LP, Wild Planet, and something I wish they'd done more of. Easy to nod along to, and I think I'd heard it half a dozen times before I paid any attention to the lyrics and found out it's not about driving.

The song ends with crickets, which keeps making me expect "Sun King" next.
[Wild Planet @]


Friday, November 18, 2005:

History of Violence

O.V. Wright -- Without You
O.V. Wright -- Motherless Child
O.V. Wright here with some Memphis Soul. He performed in the 1960s and 1970s, starting out in gospel and moving towards the secular, like any number of other soul singers; what's great about Wright is his voice: it's consistently great in his early work, and not quite as powerful but still mighty good in his later work (later, for Wright, being his late 30s and early 40s--he got into drugs and died at 41).

"Without You" is a somber tune about a man who can't make it through the night without his woman; the production has strings, a slow drumbeat, high lovely backing vocals. The song seems less calculated than straightforward and vulnerable; it has the added benefit of proving that Wright was in the same league as Otis Redding and Sam Cooke.

"Motherless Child" is a mournful song, this one about feeling lonely and isolated away from home, the man wondering why he left everyone that loves him.

Wright did have some more chipper tunes but I'm feeling these more right now for some reason.
[The Soul of O.V. Wright @]
[The Complete O.V. Wright on Hi Records, Vol. 1: In the Studio @]

Busy days. Wednesday noon found me at my computer desk, trying to decide between work on half a dozen school assignments, three different personal projects, and a couple of different overdue errands. It was a tough decision, calling for decisive action, so I went to the movies.

Despite the profane reaction the ending got from some of the audience, I think A History of Violence is brilliant. I love the way it started off wry and predictable, perhaps to lull us into a false sense of security, and then went off the rails to great effect.

Girish is right in calling the violence "documentary"; that's exactly the way it should be, I think. It's not the violence that disturbs so much as the results, the effects like a heavy bell being tolled, settling deep into your bones, the ring that seems to linger, leaving you uncertain if you can still hear it long after it should have stopped. It's something that filmmakers gloss over sometimes, which can serve its purpose (most often a tidy solution to a sloppy absurd plot), but I think it tends more towards the flashy than the substantial. I've known victims of violence--people who've had abusive husbands, fathers, mothers--the effects ripple out over decades, sometimes spanning generations. It's a short-term solution causing long-term problems.

About the film, though: usually I can gauge with annoying accuracy how far I am into a film, in addition to having my mind scampering about, questioning the framing, the lighting, the costumes, the continuity errors on the cup in the background.... Not so with this one--once the Stalls were introduced I was engrossed. The film was poppy and immediately accessible, but also thoughtful; I cared about the characters and wanted things to work out for them; I felt a real anxiety when the chips were low and the odds were high. And then it ended, just when I was thinking the film had turned the corner to start into the home stretch.

Maybe the rest of the film that I'd imagined, that Cronenberg thought better than to include, would have been too Bergmanesque to fit in. At any rate, it's not much of a complaint that it left me wanting more; it's much better than leaving me wanting less. I suppose the ending makes the film a cousin to Mean Streets. Maybe a second viewing would show that it also divides more neatly into four sections than three.

Which is not to say I have no complaints about the film; there's one that nags at me, that seems a curious omission, or a plot hole, or a dark implication about the family, but it's the kind of nagging concern that can't really be discussed without spoiling the film. In spite of that, I think the film pulled off a rare coup in being both entertaining and thought-provoking; and of the Cronenberg films I've seen it's by far my favorite.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2005:

J.J. Cale -- Don't Go to Strangers

J.J. Cale -- Don't Go to Strangers
"Don't Go to Strangers," (like "Call the Doctor," immediately before it on the album) has a sleepy feel to it, part Tom Waits and part Leonard Cohen: dusty dirt roads, sleeping yellow dogs, mossy oak trees splintered and falling apart, dull grey inside, turning to dry rot.

The tracks are content to ride out a groove in lieu of something more flashy; it's music that is, above all, content, self-confident, unassuming, in no hurry to impress.

The track is off J.J. Cale's Naturally, which had his version of "After Midnight," after Clapton made it famous (Cale also wrote "Cocaine," another track Clapton covered to great success). I like all the tracks on it (even "Call Me the Breeze," though I have an intense revulsion to all things Skynyrd and Skynyrd-related). Some of them are more dynamic than this one--"Woman I Love," for instance, has an infectious piano stomp and a horn section, and proved sorely tempting for a post.


I have one volunteer so far for the mix and guest review, possibly two (one person is willing to do it if time permits). I'd love to have another reviewer; if you're interested, let me know and I can get you a copy of the CD this week. With any luck the posts from it will be ready for late December/early January, when I'm expecting to be away a bit.

update: 2005 11 16: I've got enough volunteers now, thanks everyone! I'll probably do more in future; I'll let you know when the next one is up.


I'm still typing one-handed. The right angle cut into my finger has smoothed into an indentation and is no longer deep enough to fit the low E from a steel-stringed acoustic guitar (something a curious person might try once and once only, due to the pain of it).
[J.J. Cale -- Naturally @]
Naturally writeup @


Thursday, November 10, 2005:

The (Original) (Five) Blind Boys of Alabama

The Blind Boys of Alabama -- Talk About Suffering
Ben Harper & The Blind Boys of Alabama -- Take My Hand
The Original Five Blind Boys of Alabama -- Fix It Jesus
Using a knife + in a hurry = (finger*.98) + pain + (blog post*.05)

The Blind Boys of Alabama = (awesome3*.8) + (meh*.2) >= most band track records
Original Five Blind Boys of Alabama writeup:
[There Will Be a Light]
[Atom Bomb]
[Oh Lord, Stand By Me/Marching Up To Zion]


Tuesday, November 08, 2005:

a few things

Sunny Brooklyn is a new mp3blog which sprinted out firing. Luckily there's no Brazilian army there to shoot it down. (You gotta love an mp3blog posting tracks from La Haine.)

Backwash has posted an impressive mix of music from horror films. Link's near the bottom, but the descriptions are worth reading too. :-)

The mix CD is continuing apace; I'm still fiddling with the track order but it's essentially done. There should be something on it for nearly everyone, with not much that you've heard before; if you want to guest-review the tracks, email me your snail mail address and I'll send you a copy. John's done this at the Tofu Hut a few times; some commenters are terse, others are expansive; some purely descriptive, others more associative; and three or four reviewers usually gives a nice range of opinions. If you're interested, let me know; I can send the CD as early as this weekend.

I spent the last few days converting the Shanty from a horrible mishmash of non-validating HTML to XHTML 1.0 Transitional. It seems every entry validates now, so that's a step in the right direction. When I'm feeling really bold I'll venture into Webxact reports to increase the site's accessibility.... Which is a curious thing to worry about after capitulating to the spammers and turning on the captchas (making it impossible for anyone using a screen-reading program to comment). (Damn spammers ruin everything.)
Monday, November 07, 2005:

Tom Paxton, Karamelo Santo, Soft, Pet Politics, Calvanes

spring, summer, fall, winter ... and spring
After months of humidity and stultifying heat, we had two days of fall--chilly mornings and brisk breezes--and then it snapped back into good weather for shorts and sandals. If Florida were a person it would be not be a Buddhist: it's quite attached to summer and stands terrified at the prospect of anything else: "what would it be like, this ... 'coldness' thing of which you speak? Sort of a humid heat, only ... without hurricanes? No? Oh. So ... sort of a humid heat, only ... less hot?"

Tom Paxton -- Bottle of Wine
Tom Paxton kicks us off with a very springy sort of song: picked guitar ringing out "life-fun-everything great," with lyrics that it would be easy to sing along to without paying much attention to: "Bottle of wine, fruit of the vine, when you gonna let me get sober? / Let me alone, let me go home, let me go back and start over." Tricksy, that: a cheerful-sounding song about a drinking problem.

Paxton has a strong voice--confident but not overpowering, giving just enough and not a bit too much. His work ranges from the bitterly satiric to the plaintive to the mellow and accepting. He started performing in the 1960s, often focusing on political themes (some of which, like "Lyndon Johnson Told the Nation," are more specific than universal; others, like "Daily News" or "What Did You Learn in School Today?," still have a clear relevance). Paxton is still performing, still releasing new albums.
Tom Paxton's site;
I Can't Help But Wonder Where I'm Bound @;

Karamelo Santo -- Fruta Amarga
Sylvie from Delanuca Records wrote some time back introducing me to Karamelo Santo, an Argentinean ska-punk band. "Fruto Amargo" is a Rubén Blades cover: stuttering funky bassline, horn section, slightly distorted rubber-wristed electric guitar, and a melody that telegraphs high noon, barbecues, volleyball on the beach. Good times.
Karamelo Santo's site;
Delanuca Records, which has a downloads section under "media/press";
Sylvie's blog;

Soft -- Higher
The rock band Soft, based in Brooklyn, wrote me a few days ago mentioning that their EP would be released soon. They have a good sense of composition and arrangement--when to add things, drop them out, bring them back--and a great sense of melody; I bet they put on good shows. I posted their track "You Make Me Wanna Die" about a year ago and I was glad to hear from them again.
The band Soft;
The Soft EP @;

Pet Politics -- In My Head
Magnus from Pet Politics emailed me in late August; we swapped a couple of emails and then the conversation fell off. He had a round of postings in September but here he is again in case you missed him. Pet Politics is one of those "bands" that's just one person: that's Magnus arranging drums, playing guitar, singing. His music has sort of a wintry quality to it that I like quite a lot: it's like sitting in watching a film, cozy in your pile of blankets, cold creeping in around the curtains. There's something about the melodies he comes up with that's somehow both new and immediately familiar; it gives his sound a sense of nostalgia and oddness at the same time.
The Pet Politics site, with another mp3 up for download;

Calvanes -- Buzz Buzz Buzz
The Calvanes are a doo-wop group that cut a few sides in the 1950s and never put together a full album before 2001. In Harmony has some great tracks on it, especially this one, their Leiber/Stoller cover "Smokey Joe's Cafe," and their lead-off track "Travellin' Stranger". This one's exuberant, catchy, with an open love and a contagious joy broadcasting sunrise, dewy grass, tweeting birds, green twigs, flowers in bloom.
In Harmony @

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Saturday, November 05, 2005:

DJ Spooky, Robert Johnson, Bird / Diz

Robert Johnson -- Phonograph Blues
Dizzy Gillespie & Charlie Parker -- Mohawk (Complete Take)
I went to see DJ Spooky's Rebirth of a Nation last night at the Center for Performing Arts at UF, after hearing just a very little bit about it. Miller spoke beforehand to a small group of people, talking mostly about cutup culture and the promise of digital media, and I left the talk with high hopes for the show.

Rebirth of a Nation is a remix of Birth of a Nation, D.W. Griffith's virulently racist 1915 silent film, in which white women are routinely threatened by white men in blackface, and the Klan (yes, that Klan) ride to the rescue. A group of black men (again, white men in blackface) rig elections for their own benefit, making the film a bit like the news from November 2000 in some parallel universe (one in which random white men are required to wear blackface). After the release of The Clansmen, which Birth of a Nation was based on, and the release of the film itself, which was immensely popular, Klan membership in the South soared.

I understand that the film is widely seen as influential, even though Griffith took credit for various film techniques he didn't originate. Critics tend to give it a free pass, wave it through with caveats--"Birth of a Nation, influential but racist, innovative, blah blah blah."

What I don't understand is that the film is terrible, and not just thematically. When it's not busy with fist fights or battle scenes--which is most of the time--it's dreadfully dull. It has all the pacing of a 200-page menu; it's more fun than a sharp stick in the eye but not as much fun as a kick in the crotch. It's like the rich salacious uncle no one wants to offend because they're hoping for an inheritance. And it's towering, unignorable: the proverbial sow's ear, three hours of film ripe for a remix.

Just before the show started, Miller walked to the center stage to repeat some of his points from the talk: Birth of a Nation was the first film shown at the White House; Woodrow Wilson was a big fan; "Grand Wizard" is a Klan rank so Theodore's title would mean something different in the South Bronx than it would in Kentucky; Miller wanted the lights up so they could see he's not a member of the Klan.

He chose a triptych form for Rebirth, with the right and left screens showing the same thing (I guess for the benefit of either side of the house) and the center screen typically showing something different. Sometimes all three screens would synch to the same image, for instance in the Klan parade. Miller remixed the film onstage on his Macs to music that he composed himself. That was a good choice. The music was what you'd expect: layered, moody, dubby, bits of turntablism, various samples (in this case, Robert Johnson's "Phonograph Blues"). But the rest of it fell flat.

I wanted to like the film, but what was done with it was all surface without depth: scenes laid half-transparent over others; images sliced down the middle and mirrored; characters with boxes or ovals around them, moving as they did; circuitry drawn over the scenes; images gone cloudy and washed out; the very occasional freeze frame or reversal of action. After one scene with characters with boxes and ovals around them you might see another with circuitry overlaid; after that it might be a bit of cloudiness with some mirror imagery; then it might be boxes and mirrors followed by circuits and clouds. It was all about technology, style, flash, but in ways that failed to dazzle after the second time onscreen. More critically, it failed to engage the text of the original.

It did not challenge the film, or subvert it, or amplify it; what it did for the most part was doodle on it. The result was something that, at 75 minutes long, was somehow only slightly less dull than the original, but without any apparent meaning. That's an approach that's perfectly fine in mix sessions and mashups but in this case--in film, where the original has such a legacy--the lack of meaning is a serious failing.

The audience expects more of a response than random bits of circuitry and clouds; and Miller seems to have, also: he talks on his site about "imploding" the original film, new stories rising from the ashes. If there were new stories in it, I'm not sure what they were, beyond an onanistic celebration of technology. I think Rebirth is a provocative but failed experiment in response to an equally provocative and more grievously failed original.

In spite of my disappointment with the film, I'm looking forward to the soundtrack.

Miller's written a bit about the remix, and included excerpts from the soundtrack. He's a thoughtful man in general, as poking around his site shows. (See for instance errata.)

[]: King of the Delta Blues Singers, vol 2
[]: Bird & Diz

(Bird and Diz are here because of Spooky's fondness for them, which is apparent in some of his music, was apparent in his pre-show talk, and which was not at all apparent in the embarrassing gifts presented to him afterwards. The story is probably less interesting than the summary of it.)


I feel I've unleashed a beast. More positive writeups next time.

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Wednesday, November 02, 2005:

Walter Meego -- Usually. and reputable influencers

Walter Meego -- Usually
Walter Meego -- Usually
Sometimes you get an email that makes it feel like Christmas. Sometimes that email comes from Walter Meego.

Said email might start off like this: "Hello. Will you listen to this track?" (which, if you're me, prompts the mental response "I don't know. Maybe. Keep going"), and might follow that up with a mention that the song will be released soon and that if I like it I can post it. Direct and to the point. So I go to the URL and download it and give it a listen. It starts off with some fragile percussion, an approaching warbling noise, a rumble of conversation, and what sounds like a young Jimmy Stewart (is that right? I can't place the dialogue)--then up with the distorted guitar, the bouncy drumbeat, the delirious horns. At 1:25, the filtered vocals: a feel of old-school jazz (think 1930s and 40s) melded with electronica and shoved out onto the dancefloor.

Walter Meego is (or "are," depending on your location) a band consisting of Justin Sconza, Colin Yarck, and Jarrett Spiegel. Davis Jones (the band's manager) tells me their press agent describes the song as "about yearning, about brand new love and butterflies in stomachs," which is a better description than I'd had, so I'll thank them and lift it shamelessly. The band has had some press already (coverage on German radio) though I can't work out from their "news" page where they are or are from ("Chicago," says their Myspace page. Also, "We're a three-headed monster of musical mayhem. We're a freakish, axe-slaying, beat-crushing pack of disco ninjas.")

The Walter Meego website has an acoustic version of the track offered (ripe for additional remixes? I think so) as well as other tracks for download. It's a well-designed site and, thankfully, it's too damn sensible to use Flash for everything. No. It is like that email: simple, direct, and clear.
Walter Meego's Myspace page


Then, sometimes, you get an email that you don't know what to do with.

I've been informed by someone who works for a PR firm that I am a "reputable influencer"; following through to the link in the sig I see that the firm is looking to start "grassroots marketing," claiming it places products in the "hands of influential tastemakers and trendsetters" and "develops and manages groups of 'Brand Loyalists' that become micro-marketing armies."

All of which gives me roughly the same feeling you might have when eyeing the dinner meat just after watching Leolo or reading Portnoy's Complaint. Which is to say, an instinctual revulsion. I'm not sure I'm a tastemaker, or a "reputable influencer" (or, for that matter, a reputable anything), but this PR firm thinks so, and wants my help, and after pondering it a bit I decided I shouldn't shoot the messenger for the delivery. The DVD they want mentioned looked cool, so I'll mention it. I've often enough been in a situation where I didn't understand all the social conventions, so I shouldn't hold it against anyone else when it happens to them.

I've emailed some other musicbloggers to get their take on it and there are a range of reactions, from the gently amused to the purely pragmatic, but one reaction that I didn't see was an agreement with the PR firms that we are or should be "tastemakers." If anything, I think people like what they like and sometimes just haven't yet been exposed to. I remember the first time I heard Sister Rosetta Tharpe, A Band of Bees, DJ Shadow, The's (and, earlier, The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Cure....) Some bands take warming up to; others you like immediately. No one made you do it; if anything, it was a pleasure to find something new, something that hadn't been dumped out of a can and heated until it was lukewarm.

Where I am, at least, Clear Channel is the tastemaker--lukewarm canned spinach, day in, day out, then the music industry wants to act surprised when people say something like "damn! but I'm sick of lukewarm canned spinach." For someone who loves music, starting a musicblog is only the natural response to boring redundant monolithic programming. If it's the carrot and the stick, fine, so be it, and if I've got the carrot, that's because Clear Channel chose the stick.

I think we musicbloggers mostly just post what we like, and if others like it too we're always stoked about it, but sometimes there's not any response, which can leave you wondering if anyone gives a damn. Of all the musicbloggers I know, I think John Seroff consistently gets the most comments, and that's because he posts questions each time. Even a huge site like Said the Gramophone will sometimes get only a few comments. That's a microscopic percentage of their visitors, so it's hard to know what anyone thinks--silence could mean any number of things. We all love comments; we sometimes ask for them, or write about them, or pose questions to provoke them, but for the most part they don't happen. Which, coupled with just doing what we love anyway, even if it doesn't get a response, gives rather a different impression from that of a PR firm telling us how important we are.

Which brings me back to the uneasy feeling, the instinctual revulsion, the uncertainty how to respond. I won't speak for all musicbloggers because I'm only one of them, but I'm posting here because I love music. The songs might be ones I've known for decades and ripped from an LP that's out of print; they might be digitized from a movie playing on the VCR; they might be from an email I got early this morning. The source is entirely incidental to the music, and if any certain product goes up amazon's rankings, that's great, but it's not my primary concern. I'm happy to help out musicians who put out music I like, but first and foremost I need to like it. Which is by way of saying, for me at least, flattery is not required. Show me something cool instead.

As for the "marketing armies," if I wanted to be part of someone's "army" I would have, well, joined the Army, and I'm fairly certain that I'd rather be spoken to plainly than to be eyed like a pawn on a chessboard.


In [cough, cough] completely unrelated news, The Concert for Bangladesh DVD (the celebrity musician concert held in the early 1970s with George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Ravi Shankar, Klaus Voorman(!), and Billy Preston) has been re-released. There's the older release with some details in's catalog about features and then a new deluxe edition which I would assume has more features than the earlier version, though there's no evidence of it in the item description.

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Tuesday, November 01, 2005:

Kingston Trio -- Tom Dooley

Kingston Trio -- Tom Dooley
I went to sleep with a mix playing, set to "repeat all," that had Jimmy Dean's "Big Bad John" on it. I was plagued with dreams that I was Big Bad John but that, unlike John, I wasn't interested in sacrificing myself for others. I wanted out of the mine and I wasn't going down nobly.

John at Tofu Hut posted "Big Bad John" some time past so I'll go with another story-song, this one about someone facing certain death and, we assume, less stoic than John about it. This is the version by the Kingston Trio, the one that helped launch the folk revival in the U.S. in the late 1950s. The story's great; the harmonizing and the melodies all on point. It's easy to listen to this and see the attraction that people felt for it: the song feels immediately familiar, welcoming, something you'd want to seek more of. And if you do, well, the Kingston Trio have plenty in print.

This Geocities page has a bit of background about the historical Tom Dula, suggesting that the Kingston Trio's version is wrong, that the "love triangle" was a quadrangle, and that the other woman had killed Laura Foster and let Dula hang for it, going on to marry the Sheriff. Wikipedia mentions that story as a local legend, whereas is mum on the subject.

Doc Watson and Lonnie Donegan both have covered the song, but I posted both of them in the 'train' mix so I'll skip them here.


Some days I get email that leaves me puzzled about how to respond. Yesterday was one of those days.