Thursday, July 27, 2006:

John Saw the Holy Number

Neko Case -- John Saw That Number
Tea time in hell. A quick one before break's over.

Being raised in a fundamentalist Christian church isn't something I'd wish on people, but it gives a certain appreciation for gospel music, myth, irony, and horror fiction.

As a kid I was encouraged to read the Bible and as a teen I was discouraged from reading Stephen King ... it's a bit amusing, since Revelation puts King to shame, and Solomon was the preincarnation of Henry Miller, but both of those books barely scratch the surface of a strange, fascinating, contradictory, and ultimately disturbing text (filled with incest, murder, torture, racism, and other national hobbies).

My neighbor and I used to talk fiction sometimes. We both loved pulp but she prefered Dean Koontz; she said King always had "depressing endings." She was a heavy smoker, overweight when I first met her; and then she took it upon herself to get into shape. She quit smoking, started daily walks, began losing weight and was generally looking better and better until she died in the middle of a daily walk of an apparent brain embolism. It's not the kind of ending Dean Koontz would write, sort of untidy and relentlessly realistic.
[Fox Confessor Brings the Flood ]

Echolocation among the blind.

Stop motion Space Invaders, with people as pixels. (via boingboing)

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Monday, July 17, 2006:

Syl Johnson -- Concrete Reservation

Syl Johnson -- Concrete Reservation
Here's Syl Johnson with a song about living in the ghetto. This isn't the maudlin Mac Davis ghetto, and Syl Johnson isn't most interested in mamas crying because they had a baby; he's more interested in mamas crying because they lost a baby, in couples fighting becaue they're jealous, and in people burning to death because there's no back door on the apartments. The vocals are, appropriately, not mournful but full of a simmering rage; the guitar snaps, the strings stab, the lyrics sting:
Here in the ghetto, it's a bad situation / Call it what you want to; it's just a concrete reservation.

Johnson's also known for his track "Is It Because I'm Black?" which I have by Johnson only in a version that drags on a bit too long for my interest, though Ken Boothe also recorded an impressive version of it.
"Concrete Reservation" is off Is It Because I'm Black?, which is also available in a pricy re-release with Dresses Too Short; or you can pick it up on the greatest hits comp Twilight and Twinight.

More HiFi finds: "I Am a Demon and Will Swallow Your Soul," "Olivia," and "Ocean Bottom," another track from The Scarring Party. It's my favorite song about writer's block at the bottom of the ocean with percussion by a typewriter.

Monday last week I got a promotional email for an indie rock band--not at all uncommon for an mp3blog--but the music was good, which is somewhat less common. Gentleman Caller's track "Bomb the Castle" seemed likely to be an A-B-A-B-C construction with chunky distorted guitar on the bridge, with people screaming into the mic, and it wasn't, and I liked it for it. They have other tracks up, mostly with a dreamy pop-rock vibe with countryish vocal stylings. They self-compare to Okkervil River and Rilo Kiley.

Secretly Canadian sent me an email about a new release from Jason Molina, and I enjoyed the track there for download, and so I'm passing it along.

Vindaloo, the fight song, and the response: a writer's fight song. 99/100 for that, -1 for failure to include "B.I.C."

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Sunday, July 16, 2006:

The Roots Canal: Ray Charles

Ray Charles -- Greenbacks
As I was relaxing after work at my favorite fancy cocktail bar the other night, I was surprised to hear this rare old Ray Charles track come on the stereo. The bartender told me he put the mix together himself, but didn't know much about that song so I filled him in.

What makes Greenbacks so great isn't just the ironic lyrics --
If you want to have fun in this man's land
Let Lincoln and Jackson start shaking hands
-- but that it shows Ray Charles on the cusp of his transition from lounge singer to soul pioneer. As everybody who saw Ray knows, his career started in the cool blues tradition of Charles Brown and Amos Milburn but didn't take off until he heated it up by putting gospel singing to a secular (and often ribald) purpose, essentially inventing soul music. This song combines both styles in one: verses sung in the cool semi-talking style of Charles Brown (best known for his hit Merry Christmas Baby) and in the chorus erupting with a short gospel-style burst:
On a greenback, greenback dollar bill
Just a little piece of paper, coated with chlorophyll.
I picked up this compilation of Ray Charles' early work after Ray came out because I wanted to hear more of the great early R&B where he made his mark -- and where the movie rightly spends its time -- instead of the later pop and country experimentations (noteworthy in their own right, but not as much to my taste) that made him a national superstar but where only flashes of his unique talent occasionally shine through. I can't recommend this CD highly enough; it's got all of his great early work in one place.

Bonus track: Ray Charles fans will love this, too. It's the original a cappella demo of Hit the Road Jack by Percy Mayfield, a great R&B singer in his own right who specialized in songs of depression like Life Is Suicide, Memory Pain and Two Years of Torture until he was seriously injured and disfigured in a car crash and focused his efforts on songwriting.
Percy Mayfield -- Hit the Road Jack

[The Best of Ray Charles: The Atlantic Years]
[Percy Mayfield, Part 2: Memory Pain] (also available on emusic)
Tuesday, July 11, 2006:

The Roots Canal: Grace Potter

Grace Potter & The Nocturnals -- Left Behind
It's strange to start blogging and all of a sudden total strangers start sending you music. I haven't decided yet if it's a privilege or a pain. A little bit of each, I guess. I like hearing new things, but I hate being harassed by professional promoters. Mostly, though, it's just irrelevant, because I don't really listen to much current music unless it's steeped in roots of one sort or another. (With a few idiosyncratic exceptions like the Mountain Goats, whom I adore.)

I guess this is just a long way of expressing my surprise that someone actually sent me something I like. Following in the well-trod footsteps of Bonnie Raitt and Susan Tedeschi, Grace Potter sings soulful rock blues with a woman's touch. She's still a little green around the edges, but she has the right stuff. Personally, I think she does best when she doesn't try too hard, as on this song from her new album and the one they're apparently trying to promote as a single, Toothbrush and My Table. She and her band, The Nocturnals, will be the opening act in a benefit concert at Central Park Summerstage next week. I might just go uptown and catch their act.

Bonus Track: Following Grace on stage will be Galactic, a great funky rhythm band from New Orleans. I'm sorry I don't know Galactic's music better, because I really like what I've heard. (They were at Jazzfest this year but I didn't get to hear them because they were on at the same time as Eddie Bo.) To my ears, they sound a lot like a West Coast acid jazz band I enjoy, Karl Denson's Tiny Universe. Here's a song I picked up a few years ago on a WFUV sampler album. It's also available on their own record, of course.
Galactic -- Running Man
[Nothing but the Water]
[Late for the Future]
Monday, July 10, 2006:

Barbara Lynn -- Ring Telephone Ring

Barbara Lynn -- Ring Telephone Ring
Darcy Feels It posted two Barbara Lynn tracks on Thursday, and then this morning London Lee posted one. And I'm feeling it too so here's another, off her You'll Lose a Good Thing compilation, which unfortunately has the kind of liner notes that look like they were printed on someone's inkjet and more unfortunately seems to have gone out of print. (On further thought, I wonder if those two are unrelated....)

"Ring Telephone Ring" is a strange track: a lurching rhythm guitar, backed by a very subdued organ and "big" cymbal hits, with lyrics about a woman wondering about a failed or failing relationship. None of that gets across the stoned dirge-like mood of the track, describes the compilation as "idiosyncratic stuff with a bluesier, swampier feel than most any other soul being made during the time," but as far as I can tell, that's a good description of only this track. "Swamp blues" would describe this track perfectly, but not the rest of the tracks. The rest of the music has much more chipper instrumentation, giving a sunny, cheerful feel to the tracks even when the lyrics are about conniving women or relationships turning sour.

Standouts on the disc include "You'll Lose a Good Thing" (featured in Hairspray), "Don't Be Cruel" (yes, that one), and "Can't Buy My Love" (no, not a typo + the Beatles track).
[You'll Lose a Good Thing]

Another MuFi (HiFi? MeFi Music?) find: How To Fight Loneliness, a cover of a Wilco song I've never heard. Wilco fans, does it stack up to the original?

I missed posting this on the 4th of July: a sixth-grade essay on What the American Flag Stands For.

Mohammed Raffi can expect to have trouble wiring money to someone, as can Ahmed Ahmed.

In general I despise the IMF, not least because it values commerce over the will of democratic nations, but sometimes they get things right. (Which is to say, even a stopped clock is right twice a day.) Hey Western Union man, I wonder what Mesud Ahmed thinks about your policy.

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Sunday, July 09, 2006:

The Roots Canal: Old Crow Medicine Show

Old Crow Medicine Show -- Down Home Girl
Old Crow Medicine Show -- Wagon Wheel
At Tuwa's suggestion, here's a cover of Down Home Girl by one of my favorite retro country bands. Old Crow Medicine Show was a group of street musicians discovered by Doc Watson's daughter playing in front of a drugstore. That led to a gig on the plaza in front of the Grand Ole Opry, and the rest could be scripted by any cheap Hollywood screenwriter. Allmusic describes them as "traditional folk and bluegrass...with a rock and roll attitude." I agree.

Down Home Girl is from a new EP of the same name, which won't be released for a few more weeks but is already available online. While I'm at it, I should also post one of my all-time favorite songs of any kind, Wagon Wheel, from OCMS's eponymous full-length CD. Both are available on emusic.

[Down Home Girl]
[Old Crow Medicine Show]
Thursday, July 06, 2006:

Alvin Robinson -- Down Home Girl

Alvin Robinson -- Down Home Girl
Great things about this song (credits in order of appearance):
  • the horns
  • the choice of acoustic bass
  • the bassline (this needs sampling, if it hasn't been already)
  • the interplay of trumpet and bass
  • Lord I swear, the perfume you wear / Is made out of turnip greens / Every time I kiss you, girl / It tastes like pork & beans
  • the vocal delivery: gritty, soulful, with a slightly throttled intensity that makes it come off as sincere rather than theatrical
  • the piano. It's low in the mix, but it's doing good things
  • Every time you move like that / I got to go to Sunday Mass
  • the drum fill right before the bridge
  • the horn on the bridge
  • the piano under the horn on the bridge
  • the piano on the outro
  • the way the songs gets in, gets the job done, gets out
This came from a New Orleans R&B compilation LP that camped out on my turntable for so long that I forgot that, since it's not a Möbius strip or a Klein bottle, it has more than one side. Which is all the better since I flipped it over one early morning to listen to side two and scratched the hell out of it, ruining every track on that side except (oddly enough) track two.

Alvin Robinson's version of the track has made it onto a couple of CD comps, so you can pick it up there if you need. New Orleans Party Classics got a good review at, though I haven't heard it personally.


And here's some more mefi music goodness. MeFi Music is destined for greatness.


Monday, July 03, 2006:

Metafilter Music

A new branch of the Metafilter family: as if Ask Metafilter and Metafilter Projects weren't cool enough, mathowie recently resurrected Metafilter Music. Some picks from that, then: (I'm posting these here because Matt already mentioned high bandwidth bills and I don't want to leach off his bandwidth; if you like the tracks please consider sending the original authors a message.)

Diamond Joe, a drunken country tune with fiddle, acoustic guitar, galloping drums, and drunk musicians. A match made in heaven. Greg Nog at Metafilter nails it: This is what whisky would sound like, if whisky was music.
["Diamond Joe" @ HiFi)]
[No site for this band? Was this a one-off? Say it ain't so, Jack; say it ain't so.]

Criminal is slow, moody, deliberate work with a subdued vocal melody. The guitar cuts in with a muted intensity like a bright painful memory announcing itself in the middle of a stunned grief. The song is not for all moods, maybe, but damn is it beautfiul.
["Criminal" @ HiFi)]
[Edlundart's site]

Light On is folksy jangly acoustic pop in waltz time, with an accordion that sneaked out of City of Lost Children so it could come pick your soul up and dust it off and straighten its tie. Everyone should have a neighbor who plays accordion.
["Light On" @ HiFi)]
[No site for Chococat?]

Making Me Nervous is a bouncy electro-pop tune rivalling "Diamond Joe" in energy, except "Diamond Joe" makes me want a beer and a concert and "Making Me Nervous" makes me want to dance down the street singing badly and making an ass of myself. I've listened to this song half a dozen times trying to figure out what it is I like so much about it--is it the snap in the percussion? The ridiculous fake bassline? The distorted guitar? The driving beat? ... Frenetic says it's ironic, which is fine, but I thought I was tired of irony and apparently I'm not.
["Making Me Nervous" @ HiFi)]
[Brad Sucks' site]

No More Room in Hell is one of my favorites so far, a jaunty tune with banjo, tuba, and vaudevillian vocals, like a cross between Squirrel Nut Zippers and Triplets of Belleville. This is the happiest apocalypse I've ever heard.
["No More Room in Hell" @ HiFi)]
[The Scarring Party's site]

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