Category Archives: The Uniquely Weekly

The Uniquely Weekly Roots Music RPM9

z9Welcome to the front door of Roots Music and Random Thoughts where each week (or whenever I feel like it) I curate, aggregate and update news, events, images, ideas, sounds, odds and ends. Nothing fancy, but simply a speck of dust on the highway and a nice spot to pause for a few moments to take a break from the surf.

New Music Rising: Both a Tribute and Compilation, The National Gives Us A Day of The Dead.

national-grateful-deadIn my previous life as a sales exec for music distributors and record labels which ended in 2007, among my responsibilities during the last eleven years of a thirty-five year career was representing several record labels that specialized in ‘tribute’ albums. I put quotations around the word because in reality they were nothing of the sort. The premise for a majority of the releases were simply a quick money grab of getting record stores to take just one or two copies and drop it into the artist’s bin to target the completist…those fans that would buy anything. 

It was a formula that worked pretty well as long as there were enough stores with enough space to add them into their inventory, and each label had their own specialty. One would try to find at least one living member of a defunct band, throw them into a studio with session players and crank out new versions of old songs. Another did straight, cheap soundalikes that sold at bargain prices especially in places like military PX’s and onboard ships. Yet another took a different path, by bringing out a series of well-produced bluegrass recordings, and later adding string quartets and infant-ized lullabies to the concept. 

In today’s world of streaming, most music is consumed not as a complete album but individually as a song,  as well as being programmed for the listener as part of someone’s curated playlist. So unless you’re Drake or Taylor Swift or Adele, you’re not going to sell six digits of albums anymore, and judging from looking through last week’s charts, you’re a success if you make it to just a thousand albums.

DOTDAgainst that backdrop, along comes an overly-ambitious real, honest-to-God Grateful Dead tribute release that targets not only a very specific buyer of a band that still has a rabid following, but also is tied to a charity known for doing such projects to raise money for HIV and AIDS awareness and research…the Red Hot Organization. Aaron and Bryce Dessner of The National curated the set and there is also a performance scheduled at the second annual Eaux Claires Festival on August 12-13. 

Being a retired Deadhead who grew weary of the scene back in the early eighties, yet each month still rotates a few dozen tracks in and out of my core iPhone playlist, this set was one that called my name and I’ve been navigating my way through the five-plus hours of music. What I wish I could tell you is that I loved each and every note, but after two weeks of daily listening it has driven me back to my vast digital Dead library in search of the real deal.

Not to say that this set isn’t worthy of a spot on your shelf, because the high spots far exceed the not-so-high ones, and hearing younger artists who were not even born when the Dead first came together re-invent these songs with different instrumentation and arrangements is like digesting a handful of ear candy. And the thirty or forty bucks it’ll cost you goes to an important cause, so there’s that too. 

In addition to some of tunes I’ve placed here, there’s already a Wiki page that lists all the songs and artists. Check it out and then head over to the Day of The Dead site for more information. 

Every Picture Tells A Story.

Sandy 2The image at the top of this page was shot by my long-time-we’ve-only-met-online friend Sandy Dyas, who is a visual artist based in Iowa City that I’ve written about often. You can visit her website here and check out her work, books (buy them…really) and blog. And more of her images can be found on this site….like this one.

 

The Last Words On Guy Clark.

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Guy Clark’s biographer and documentarian, Tamara Saviano, posted this letter on her Facebook page May 28th, just over a week after Guy’s passing. It’s a rare public sharing of something very personal to her, his family and friends, and it is so touching I’m going to reprint it here.

Dear Everyone,

It’s been a wild couple of weeks, months really, with Guy’s decline and death. I’ve spent almost every minute of the last 10 days coordinating and planning. Now, finally, I have some downtime on this long and appropriate Memorial Day weekend to spend some time alone to grieve.

Guy had suffered from a long list of health problems—lymphoma, heart disease, diabetes, and bladder cancer among them—and we were lucky to have him years longer than we’d expected. The last three months of his life were especially brutal; he spent most of them in a nursing home. By the end, Guy’s only goal was to go home to die—to be in the place he loved, surrounded by his art, books, and music. With the help of friends and hospice workers, he made it.

It didn’t become real to me until I saw Guy’s body at the funeral home two days after his death. In the last months, he had become thin and frail. Yet, plumped up with embalming fluid, he looked like Guy Clark again. How weird is that? Because he was going to be cremated, he was laid out in a simple box just for a short time so a few of us could see him. The funny thing is, Guy is so dang tall they had to take his boots off to fit him in the box. The top of his head was pressed against one end of the box and his feet pressed against the other. Guy Clark does not fit in a box.

Guy’s last wishes were clear. At some point in his waning years, his lyrical request —“Susanna, oh Susanna, when it comes my time, won’t you bury me south of that Red River line” —changed to instructions to be cremated, with his cremains sent to Terry Allen to be incorporated into a sculpture. “I think that would be so fucking cool,” Guy said at the time. “Sure, leave me with a job to do,” Terry joked. 

But it’s no joke now. In the days after his death, Guy’s closest friends pulled together a plan to honor his wishes. Jim McGuire hosted a wake—a typical Guy Clark picking party, one of many that took place at McGuire’s studio over the years. Guy’s family and Nashville friends gathered around an altar on which we’d placed his ashes, his old boots, and our favorite picture of him, and we took turns playing Guy Clark songs. At the end of the night, Verlon led a chorus of “Old Friends” that knocked the wind out of the room. 

At midnight, Verlon, Shawn, McGuire, Rodney Crowell, Steve Earle, Guy’s son, Travis, his caregiver, Joy, and I boarded a tour bus in Nashville that would take us—and Guy—to Santa Fe and Terry Allen. Guy’s last road trip. We slept little during the 18-hour drive; we all had too many Guy stories we wanted to tell. Grief shared is grief diminished.

We arrived in Santa Fe in time for dinner on Wednesday, May 25. Terry, his wife, Jo Harvey, and their son, Bukka, hosted another wake. Emmylou Harris, Vince Gill, Lyle Lovett, his partner, April Kimble, Robert Earl and Kathleen Keen, Joe and Sharon Ely, their daughter, Marie, Jack Ingram, and painter Paul Milosevich flew in from all parts to be there. We set up another altar, gathered around and told more Guy stories. 

After a feast of green chili enchiladas, tamales, guacamole, and homemade salsa, we huddled around a fire pit on the stone and adobe patio. Hanging wisteria perfumed the air as old friends toasted Guy, clinking glasses of wine against bottles of Topo Chico and cans of Robert Earl Keen beer. Under a night sky blanketed with stars, a guitar came out. This time there was a rule, and it was simple. “Play a song Guy would have made you play,” Steve said. Three among this group had written songs about Guy. Shawn sang “This Guy, Guy,” written with Gary Nicholson. (They got to play it for Guy shortly before his death. When they’d finished, he deadpanned, “Well, isn’t that cute.”) Next, Verlon played his ode, “Sideman’s Dream.” Then Vince shared the song he wrote, “There Ain’t Nothing Like a Guy Clark Song,” one that provides a perfect benediction to the master songwriter’s life. Through these songs—and many more of his own—there’s no doubt Guy Clark will live forever.

Guy Clark doing his song “Magnolia Wind” with Shawn Camp and David “Ferg” Ferguson as a birthday party for Cowboy Jack Clement winds down one Nashville night around 10 years ago. 

Record Store Memories Revisited.

Oak  Park, April 6, 2009  Cory Campbell of Denver browses through vinyl at Val's Halla Records on Harrison St.  The 40 year old Oak Park establishment will be participating in Record Store Day, April 18 to promote independent record stores.      Suzanne Tennant/Staff Photographer Val's Halla Records, an independent record store, is a participating store in Record Store Day, April 18. Record Store Day promotes independent record stores. Please get a variety of shots: people looking at records or anything else in the store, Val talking with customers, the huge expanse of LPs in the store, etc.

My Broadside column over at No Depression last week was about those wonderful places of my youth back in Philadelphia where I spent much time and money pursuing new music that eventually turned into a job.

Here’s a couple of paragraphs but if you’d like to read the whole thing, click here

I literally stumbled into a career the last day of college — the job description was “go to record stores.” My new boss gave me the keys to a 1972 VW Beetle, a list of about five hundred stores from DC to New York, three-ring binders of catalogs, and boxes of promos, and he sent me off to sell.

I started with King James and Bruce Webb’s in the city, moved out to Bryn Mawr near the Main Point, to visit Plastic Fantastic, and Keller’s House of Music in Upper Darby. Al’s Record Spot and Levin’s Furniture in Kensington. Mel’s in South Philly. There was Speedy’s and Phantasmagoria in Allentown, the Renaissance in Bethlehem, Spruce Records in Scranton, and Central Music in Williamsport. There was Waxie Maxie, Kemp Mill, Discount Records, and Music Den. There was Eynon Drug Store, Gallery of Sound, and H. Royer Smith’s classical shop, where I scored Skip Spence’s Oar album, which they’d had sitting in the basement.

Ska, A Jamaican Contribution to World Music.

Last February on the Black Girl Nerds website I found this article written by Kevin Wayne Williams. While it focuses on ska, it is a vast survey of music from the island that also touches on mento and reggae. It is absolutely worth your time to check out and includes a ton of links.

This was published for Black History Month, and I’ll start you out but you need to click here for the full story. 

When you go back in history, ska was an exclusively black musical genre, an offshoot of mento. Mento, a Caribbean music style noted for its syncopated rhythm (essentially a series of off-beat triplets), was usually played by small groups: typically a vocalist, a tongue-drum, a banjo, and a guitar. It’s a cousin to calypso music, and, despite being rhythmically distinct, the two forms were generally marketed as calypso in the US: most Harry Belafonte songs were actually mento, not calypso. 

In the late 1950’s, Jamaican musicians began to incorporate American R&B sounds into mento, and the hybrid form stabilized on using the same syncopated structure with an even stronger off-beat chord known as the skank (bonus info for music theorists: the skank in ska is nearly always a major chord, while in reggae it’s generally a minor chord). Typical instrumentation was a guitar, a bass (sometimes a bass guitar, but just as often a concert bass), drum, saxophone, trumpet, and trombone: still the core ska band today, although some bands have much larger horn sections. Many of the musicians of this era are familiar today as reggae and rocksteady musicians: Bob Marley probably being the most famous to American audiences, with names such as Toots Hibbert (reputed to have actually invented reggae) and Desmond Dekker still having some familiarity.

Videos You Wouldn’t Know Existed, Unless You Found Them By Mistake.

 

The Uniquely Weekly Roots Music RPM8

Richard (R.L.) and Tammy

Richard (R.L.) and Tammy

Welcome to the front door of Roots Music and Random Thoughts where each week (or whenever I feel like it) I’ll curate, aggregate and update news, events, images, ideas, sounds, odds and ends. I consider my effort simply a speck of dust on the highway; just a nice spot to pause for a few moments to take a break from the surf.

New Music Rising: Ana Egge & The Sentimentals Collaborate-A-Go-Go

AnaEgge_SayThatNow_albumcover copyLast year when I wrote a story about Ana Egge, I pulled this quote from Steve Earle, who had produced her Bad Blood album several years earlier: ‘Ana Egge’s songs are low and lonesome, big square-state noir ballads which she plays on a guitar she built with her own two hands and sings like she’s telling us her deepest, darkest secrets’.  I also called my friend Mark Miller, frontman of New York roots music band Spuyten Duyvil and a concert promoter, who offered this thought: ‘An artist’s ability to connect with an audience is frequently and disingenuously misrepresented in their marketing copy. Ana is a rare exception. She captivates a room and draws all eyes and ears with a combination of thoughtful and heartfelt lyrics, a heartbroken voice, and serious instrumental chops.”

While her last album Bright Shadow was a sweet collaboration with The Stray Birds…one of the finest string bands on the road today…on June 10th she’ll be releasing her ninth album Say That Now, which finds her playing with The Sentimentals, a Danish band who rock a little harder. 

The Sentimentals are MC Hansen (vocals, harmonica,guitars), Nikolaj Wolf (bass), and Jacob Chano (drums), and they’re old friends of Ana. In addition to previously going out on the road together, the band has also played behind other touring musicians from the US such as Gurf Morlix, Jonathan Byrd, and Sam Baker. This album was recorded over two days in Denmark, and I reached out to Ana to share about the experience.

It is a different road from my last record Bright Shadow, for sure.. In a strange way though, I was drawn to working with The Sentimentals on Say That Now for the same reasons that I was drawn to working with The Stray Birds on ‘Bright Shadow’. Because each band had developed a psychic groove together as a group from playing so much together. The remarkable thing about both bands is that they’re all fantastic players and all amazing harmony singers. That’s the magic dust.

I realized the depth of feel that The Sentimentals had to offer by touring with them in Europe as my back up band over the years. They can be so supportive and quiet on some songs and then they can totally rock. Which gives me, as a vocalist, more ways to push my voice. It was so fun to work with them in the studio in Copenhagen and do so much focused, down to the wire co-writing as well. That’s what makes this album unique to the rest of my catalogue. We wrote most of the songs together and all of them were written in Denmark.

Go over to Ana’s website to check out her entire catalog and get this summer’s dates with the Sentimentals. They’ll be touring Denmark from June 23 through July 2, and then heading to the USA for at least another month. Ana lives in Brooklyn, so I’m particularly looking forward to the homecoming on July 19th at the Rockwood Music Hall. 

I’d like to leave you with a little encouragement to take a listen to the video I’m posting below, which was put up on You Tube back in May 2015, just in time for Mother’s Day. The song takes my breath away, and inspired me to title my previous column Why I Cry at 2:35, which you can and should read here. Ana wrote this with Gary Nicholson and it features the Stray Birds. While it’s not very often that a song will come along that can repeatedly turn me into an emotional bowl of jelly at every listen, this is the one. 2:35. 

Every Picture Tells A Story.

Sandy 2The image at the top of this page was shot by my long-time-we’ve-only-met-online friend Sandy Dyas, who is a visual artist based in Iowa City that I’ve written about often. You can visit her website here and check out her work, books (buy them…really) and blog. And more of her images can be found on this site….like this one.

 

On Smithsonian Folkways and Arhoolie Records…The Grand Acquisition.

sifolkwaysbwlogo

Those of us who’ve been pleased with the great job that the Smithsonian Folkways people have done with the preservation of Moe Asch’s record label, are over the top with news that they’ve now acquired Arhoolie Records as well. I’ve posted one of my Broadside columns about the news over at No Depression…and click here to read it. Back in April 2015 I profiled Chris Strachwitz and the great Arhoolie label he built, and you can read that here on this site.

Ben Sisario of the New York Times wrote a detailed story of how this deal came down, and I’m going to cut and paste the first paragraphs, but encourage you to follow the link to read the whole enchilada.

For more than 50 years, Chris Strachwitz has been one of the music world’s great pack rats and champions of American folk styles, as a record collector and the founder of Arhoolie Records. Since 1960, Arhoolie has released hundreds of albums of blues, gospel, Cajun and Mexican folk music that have caught the ear of musicians like Bob Dylan and Ry Cooder.

Now 84, Mr. Strachwitz has found a new home for the label: Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, which has acquired the Arhoolie catalog and will be adding more than 350 Arhoolie albums to its collection, the labels announced on Tuesday. In keeping with the longstanding policy at Smithsonian Folkways, the nonprofit label associated with the Smithsonian Institution, the catalog is to be kept accessible in a variety of formats. Click here to continue. 

Damn The Hype, Praise The Boxer.

Another Broadside column I published on the No Depression site recently, and it began like this:

jack_johnsonIf I was a baseball player you might say I’m in a slump. I feel as though, when I’m up to bat, I swing at air. If a ball speeds toward me, I reach up to catch but it just sails through my glove. I could grow a beard, shave it off, lower my right shoulder, raise my left, shuffle my feet, or tug at my ears. No change. And that’s probably the best analogy I can come up with, as to my current relationship with new music.

This affliction is hardly new, and I’ve been struck by it several times in the past few years. One cure that seems to work has been for me to take a break from the new stuff and get back to the tried and true — simply immerse myself in old favorites. I might spend a month listening to only the Carter Family Border Radio set, or something completely off the wall. Last year, it was 60 days of the complete Elvis Costello discography. To continue, click here

Father John Misty Mocks Corporate Americana.

I picked this story up over at the NME site:

Josh Tillman – aka the indomitable Father John Misty – has just sneaked out a typically dry lampooning of new folk commercialism via his SoundCloud. Happy Wednesday. The just-over-two-minutes-long track brims with the heavy weight of capitalist ennui before you’ve ever heard it. The title, ‘Prius Commercial Demo 1’, gives you a pretty solid measure of the thing – this is FJM’s take on the shameless corporatisation of a seemingly salt of the earth sound, and effortlessly manages to make a mockery of the earnest linen-clad likes of the Lumineers and their big bucks pastiches of the work of Bruce Springsteen and The Band. 

With it’s talk of riding traincars where the mountains reach the sky, drinking whiskey, never learning how to say goodbye and growing soya beans on a tinning farm, Father John Misty mercilessly lampoons the current vogue for Americana by numbers – even throwing in a meaningless “hey! ho!” over jaunty, jangly acoustic guitar. Give it a spin below, brothers. 

Without Jazz and Blues, There’s No Americana.

And coming right behind Misty’s parody, is an interesting article published by The Atlantic by David A. Graham. A story about a new album titled Americana by sax player J.D. Allen ‘makes the case that any genre that pretends to represent the full scope of U.S. culture can’t ignore black music’.

Back in 2013 Giovanni Russonello wrote another Atlantic essay tracing the roots of the Americana genre and the ‘weather-beaten, rural-sounding music that bands like Whiskeytown and Uncle Tupelo were making. It was warm, twangy stuff, full of finger-plucked guitars and gnarled voices like tires on a dirt road.’ Graham writes:

Russonello pointed out that the artists grouped under the banner tended to be overwhelmingly white, male, and older—or at least obsessed with music from the 1950s to 1970. “Can a genre that offers itself up as a kind of fantasy soundtrack for this country afford to be so homogeneous and so staunchly archaic?” he asked.

The blame for this impoverished definition of Americana falls on the tastemakers of the genre. Since the Grammys established an Americana award in 2009, only three black artists have been nominated (one of them, Mavis Staples, twice). But musicians working in jazz and blues don’t necessarily see themselves as part of Americana, either, as Allen’s own story demonstrates.

Most of this article focuses on Allen and the new album, and it’s a great read that seemed to really piss off the ‘twang nation’ Americana-ists when I posted it on my Twitter feed. Read it here.

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Videos You Wouldn’t Know Existed, Unless You Found Them By Mistake.