Hum Dum DingerJimmie Davis -- She's a Hum Dum Dinger From Dingersville
What kind of slide does Jimmie Davis use? It's not a knife on electric guitar, aggressive, thick, chunky, distorted. It's not a knife on electric guitar, gruff and impetuous, with a sense of timing all its own, dropping flats and sharps in where it pleases. It's not a dobro, not a lap steel, not a sonic papaya smoothie. It's not medicine bottle on nylon; it doesn't sound like Valium on dreamscape lullaby.
No, it's got a slight bite to it and it's played with finesse. It's a sweet and durable melody, even if the lyrics (like Davis' politics) haven't aged well.
[Available on a number of albums, including The Voice Of The Blues: Bottleneck Guitar Masterpieces and The Roots of Rap.]
Labels: country blues
of mountains and monasteries and musicJed and Lucia -- Off the Ground
Jed played guitar in a band. On the weekends when they weren't booked and weren't practicing, he would drive his car out of the city to climb mountains. His favorite was Mt. San Isidro, a moderately tall and moderately difficult mountain which he would nevertheless climb solo. In the early afternoon one day as he reached the summit, he found there a building that had never been there before. It was a modest structure, made of wood and stone, and inside he found it attended by silent men with shaven heads. They let him wander about, unbothered, and when he lay down his pack and removed his coat and gloves they did not comment or even seem to notice. In one hall he found an empty room with a pallet on the floor and a low-cut rock for a pillow. He moved his belongings into it and had potato soup and a small cup of water for dinner. Over time he learned the customs of the place, beyond the overwhelming silence: where and when to bathe, how to help with custodial duties, what to cook and where to gather the ingredients. The ingredients were usually potatoes and dinner was usually potato soup. The soup was made from potatoes and water. Depending on the cook, it might be flavored with additional water.
Jed came to enjoy the silence because it allowed him to reflect more on its absence: on what to say and when to say it, and what to play and when to play it. On his seventeenth day at the monastery he found himself unable to shake a stupid couplet from a song he'd last heard years ago and last enjoyed never. He had found his mantra, though he did not know it.
Over and over it played: "won't you take me back to school / I need to learn the golden rule." The melody was facile, trite, the instrumentation facile, trite, the vocals soppy and ineffectual. The song itself was the very definition of rubbish, and in fact he could find nothing about it to recommend it. Nor could he stop thinking about it. He began to reflect on what this obsession might mean, on what melody might mean, on how rhythm could fit with melody to expand its meaning and leaven its sweetness.
After six weeks of meditation he decided to share his discoveries. "Music reveals itself through study, showing truth not only about specific instances but also about governing principles in general."
There was a silence, and he imagined this insight might be well received. It stretched on until he imagined it might not.
The man to his right spoke. His voice was hoarse, and cracked midway: "Dammit, Jed, we are not Sufis. And this is not a talk show." This was followed by another silence.
Then, from across the room: "He has not spoken for seventeen years."
It was a stinging rebuke.
That night he wondered if he could manage longer than six weeks of silence. He wondered if he wanted to. He missed his guitar; he missed creating.
In the morning he pulled his pack from the corner, put on his boots and coat and gloves, and made his way from the monastery. Halfway down he slipped, caught himself, slipped again, began to tumble. He woke up, which was more than he'd expected just moments before. He was in a bright cloudiness with a burning pain in his chest: covered in snow. He dug himself out, gasped for breath, coughed up icy water. Once he realized he could breathe he realized also that he had twisted his ankle. He limped down the mountainside, making it to ground level just before dusk. He carried on until it was dark, then made camp and slept in his coat and snowboots. The pack felt too comfortable as a pillow; he emptied it and put a rock inside.
In the morning his ankle was still swollen. He had decided on North as a direction and continued that way, concentrating on music, trying to tease out further revelations. He was bitten by a snake while within sight of the highway. On the highway itself he passed out, trying to work a bassline into that rattle he had processed as merely a fast tempo, a rhythm in search of a melody. A descending bassline could work, ascending could as well--eight to the bar? four to the bar? three to the bar? Simple repeating, repeating with variations, alternating patterns? The world was full of possibilities.
The desert was flat and Lucia was not yet hypnotized by interminable monotony; she slowed her car from well ahead and recognized the shape on the asphalt as human. She dialed 911 on her cell and approached the person with her finger on the call button. When she pressed it, it was to report a man delirious and feverish, leg swollen until the pants were tight around it.
Jed was airlifted to the hospital, his leg cut open to relieve the pressure from the swelling, a chunk of calf removed due to necrosis.
Lucia met him at the hospital as an excuse to miss a family reunion. She had not been on good terms with them since she had abandoned polyrhythm in favor of monorhythm: they were shocked about her behavior, worried for the future, unsure what to think but sure that somehow they had been deceived and betrayed.
Jed and Lucia began to chat, as people do when in a room together. Over a course of months Jed had new skin grafted on followed by extensive rest and physical therapy to learn to walk again. It was tedious and painful but the food was good. They began to get to know each other. Jed had ideas for some melodies. Lucia had ideas for some rhythms. They decided to form a band.
[Jed and Lucia probably have a Fanatic Promotion page, but I got the email about them so long ago that I lost the URL and Google isn't turning it up]
Roots Canal: Luther KentLuther Kent & Trick Bag - Just a Little Bit
Talo first introduced me to Luther Kent, who I wrote about in one of my earliest posts. In fact, Talo introduced me to New Orleans music. And New Orleans food. And New Orleans culture. And New Orleans itself. Talo grew up in Slidell, just across Lake Pontchartrain from the Big Easy. He was a friend of Lisa's from college, and later our tenant (until we took over our entire brownstone for our growing family and had to evict him -- but found him a similar situation with good friends around the corner). He always was an iconoclast, if not an eccentric. In school, he rode to class on a unicycle. Now he ties flies. Writes and draws travel journals from his trips to Scotland, New Zealand, Alaska. Smokes Cuban cigars and drinks single malt Scotch. But what would you expect from a five-foot-tall Japanese guy from Louisiana? He used to bring us New Orleans memorabilia after his trips home. One year, he brought us live crawfish. After that, we airfreighted 40 or 50 pounds of the things to Brooklyn every year for a Mardi Gras blowout. (You have to look in their eyes to figure out whether they're dead or alive, we learned.) Later, he brought us down to New Orleans for our first Jazzfest trip. And joined us again last year for our second, which I wrote about here.
Talo had to quit his advertising job a few months ago because he was spending so much time back home with his father, who had cancer. Talo was in town for a few days last week and was supposed to join our barbecue on Friday night, but his sister called that afternoon to tell him his father'd taken a turn for the worse. Weakened by chemotheraphy and other complications, he died that evening. Before Talo flew back to his father's deathbed, he brought us a CD of Luther Kent at this year's Jazzfest. Charles Brent, the musical director of Kent's band, Trick Bag, who used to arrange the giant horn section that gave the band a sound as big as Kent's voice, also died recently and is remembered in this song, Just a Little Bit.
Requiescat In Pace.
Peter Tosh -- Stop That TrainPeter Tosh -- Stop That Train
Peter Tosh was murdered in his home by a robber who did not rob him. It's a curious thing, perhaps as curious as a dying hallucination of a lifetime unspooling until the most significant choices are again unchosen and alternate paths stretch out ahead.
On one of those paths Tosh did not joing the Wailers, did not leave them, did not become a reggae icon in his own right. Instead he flew with just his acoustic guitar and the clothes on his back to the U.S., home of the radio stations he picked up at night through drifting clouds on a staticky patchy lo-fi signal which was still enough to leave him charmed and changed.
And so he sat on town squares, park benches, and busy sidewalks playing his guitar, case open beside him until finally the right businessman passed by, passed by again, passed by a third time to listen and make requests. And then he was taken to cut a demo, just him and his guitar and his croonings; the demo was patchy, lo-fi, but still enough to leave people charmed and changed, and it earned him a band which, with a patient guiding hand and some careful production work could rival much of what Motown and Stax had to offer.
[Talking Revolution (caveat emptor: you'll have to be a diehard Tosh fan to enjoy all of this; you might do better with it a la carte @ emusic.com.)]
Labels: roots reggae
Swedish pop and riot grrrls: in celebration of funKomeda -- Binario
Le Tigre -- After Dark
Is it a hyperacute critical sense or a complete lack of critical sense that leads to judging everything harshly, to watching a brilliant film or listening to a complex and demanding album and thinking it mildly interesting? What changes to cause a reassessment, to allow a three-year-old album or an eight-year-old album to register as what it is rather than what it was seen as needing to be? And why is that, in all the characteristics a work of art can be judged by, fun is typically considered the least pressing or, by some dour critics, even something to be merely tolerated? Why honor this Puritanical streak insinuating that only the unpleasant has merit, that life is duty and nothing more? Wouldn't (couldn't) humanism serve as a useful antidote?
A constellation of questions, all ones I don't know the answer to and put to myself more than to anyone else.
Which is by way of saying I've only just discovered I very much like these two bands, and I'm sad that Le Tigre is on hiatus but I'm happy they've left behing some discs worth listening to. And there are more from Komeda to search out.
[What Makes it Go?]
I don't know if anyone is still reading this site, especially given the sporadic nature of posts lately. I'd like to blame it on a new job and moving, but the truth is that I've become unsure of what I'm doing with the space or why. I remember having a clear purpose when I started (way back in the 13th century internet days of 2004)--to put together the kind of playlist I'd like to hear on the radio--and that still holds, but more and more I find I don't know how to write about the music I like the most. And so I find myself gravitating towards approaches which might not make any sense to anyone else, which leads back to fundamental questions about art and communication. I'm not ready to pretend solipsism.
Readers, what do you want from this site? Why do you read it? Which posts did you like and which did you dislike?