Sunday, May 14, 2006

Some voices...

Voices, mainly, today... an odd collection of favourite songs – a lot dating from the seventies, I've just noticed. First up – Emmy Lou Harris and her achingly beautiful - and personal - rendition of 'Boulder to Birmingham' which she wrote after the tragic death of Gram Parsons – private grief turned into art...

The McGarrigles have been around for as long – here is their expanded family lineup (with the Wainwright clan) doing the choral thing on the old Stephen Foster song 'Hard times come again no more.' For a long time a staple of folk singers since Foster was resurrected and it became OK to sing his songs again. Rather odd, thinking about it, as the English folk clubs were very much a creation of the old left (especially the Stalinists centred round the late Ewan McColl) and still have a politically correct ethos at times – although I suppose many traditional songs run riot through those particular purist gates – hunting anyone? Sod it anyway – this is a tremendous version of a song that does tend to get butchered as a rule. An odd fact about Foster is that he spent most of his life in Pittsburgh and only visited the Deep South once on a trip to New Orleans – as a professional songwriter, with connections to abolitionists, that might explain the fact that his 'plantation/minstrel' songs may seem patronising from a distance in their dealings with black people ('Old Black Joe' etc.) but within the context of his own time were extremely sympathetic to their subjects – more so, perhaps, than if he had been born on a plantation. 'Hard Times' was written in 1855 -and has a foreshadowing, maybe, of the civil war to come as well as a clear sense of the hardness of mid-century frontier life. White blues...

To Maria Muldaur... who supplies an edged riposte to sentimentalising the South in those aforementioned 'minstrel' songs, albeit with a rueful affection, in 'The Work Song.' I can live with both and like the conflict engendered... music is not the bastion of the purists – despite what the purists think...

Existential blues noir – Robert Johnson's chilling 'Love in Vain,' given a reasonable reading, one supposes, all those years ago by the Rolling Stones. Here's the real thing, hard yet vulnerable.

Skip James recorded 'I'd rather be the devil' in the thirties – here's John Martyn – one of the best live performers of the seventies in the interregnum between sixties rock and seventies punk. A bit of a tosser at times with all that spliffed up drunk falling off stage crap but on a good night – unbeatable.
Here with Danny Thompson on bass and somewhat surprisingly, the late John Stevens on drums, doyen of Brit free improv, from his seminal 'Live at Leeds' album – echoplexing everywhere – bluejazz folk spaced psychedelia with a razor edge. Martyn was adept at stepping across boundaries in music- this track is a paradigm of his approach. Light up and listen...

A song by the late and much-lamented Jackson C. Frank – whose star burned brightly across the Soho scene in the sixties, who recorded one album and then disappeared back to the U.S. To disappear into mystery until he was discovered in a flop-house, down on his luck. One the edge maybe of a comeback - he died a couple of years ago. I saw him play many times and thought he was brilliant. This song has been a staple of the acoustic scene for years and years – white blues that Jackson unfortunately lived to to unfortunate end. He wrote this song on the boat over from the U.S. as a young musician ready to conquer London - a sad and eery harbinger of his future...

To end – on a happier note – King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band's stomping version of 'Dippermouth Blues.' Recorded in 1923, the young Louis Armstrong in tandem with the older Oliver, the moment when New Orleans comes up the river to Chicago, I suppose. 84 years back and still sounding remarkably fresh and joyful: it is intructive to consider the influence of these old recordings on the history of popular music since the twenties. But enough pedantry: 'Oh, play that thing!'

Emmy Lou Harris

Boulder to Birmingham

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The Garrigles and the Wainwrights

Hard times come again no more

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Maria Muldaur

The Work Song

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John Martyn

I'd rather be the devil

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Jackson C Frank

Blues run the game

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King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band
(King Oliver, Louis Armstrong: cornets: Johnny Dodds: Clarinet: Honore Dutray: trombone; Lil Hardon: piano: Bill Johnson: bass/banjo; Baby Dodds: drums).

Dippermouth Blues

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8 comments:

Molly Bloom said...

Ooh, I'm saving this all up for later....

St Anthony said...

What a lovely voice Miss Emmylou has - and what a lovely song.
I like a lot of the McGarrigles work - I've always liked the way their voices work together. Is their dynasty taking over?
I have to say I don't know Maria Muldaur's work - and it's a rare day when I'll admit ignorance of anything. This is good stuff - and now I've started I'm on a roll, as I must say I don't know Frank's work either. There's always something out there you can pick up on. It's often suprising, the people who do and don't survive. There's usually little justice involved.

I was saying to someone only a few months ago that Louis Armstrong had been a real musical radical in his time - I think they were thinking solely of the Hollywood movies and 'Wonderful World' and whatnot and plainly didn't believe me ... but he was a real force, wasn't he?
This stuff is wonderful.
I remember reading some anecdote years ago about him slamming one of his younger musicians against a wall for allowing a fondness for smoking too much to interfere with his playing, and saying "don't fuck with my hustle".
Quite.

Not a famous person's secret life, but there's a bloke in my home town (Stanwell, a little dump next to Heathrow) who, it is generally agreed in the area) had his whole dance style and general deportment ripped off by Mick Jagger back in the early days of the Stones. Apparently this guy still, quite unconciously, does all the strutting and hand-on-hips lark just like he always did - and they used to go and see the Stones and their contemporaries at Richmond and Eel Pie Island and all.
He also sported the Rod Stewart barnet back when ol' Rod was still wearing his hair Mod Style. What a guy.

Rod... said...

I lurked round Eel Pie a couple of times when I first lived in London (in the backend of Fulham for a while) - saw the Stones in Richmond - think it was at the Imperial Hotel but not sure - and also saw them on the Richmond Jazz Festival - they were crap, actually, but posed very well.

Jackson C. Frank was a figure of trouble and sorrow, I guess. He had been disfigured in a fire when younger and copped a load of compo which he used to come over to London. For a while he was the man, then when he finally went back to the us -he disappeared and the rest of his life - even after re-discovery - was shadowed by various tragedies. When you look at the company he kept - Paul Simon produced his album for Columbia and he was part of that American expat scene, Al Stewart played guitar on one track - I think he lived with Simon for a while and also went out with Sandy Denny - it's one of life's deep ironies that a man with his talent should end up living out of garbage cans on the street and shuttling between institutions.
Maria Muldaur is worth a look - she had a big hit with 'Moonlight at the Oasis' in the seventies sometime but her other stuff covers some interesting ground...

St Anthony said...

Just been listening to the Martyn and the Frank tracks again - what great music.
I started off listening to music seriously with the Velvets, due to my brother's Bowie fixation, along with the Stooges and various Krautrockers (Bowie had a massive tangental impact on my life - he also introduced me to Burroughs and Genet, God bless him), just prior to punk kicking off. So when that started, I was primed and ready. The trouble is, punk imposed such a straitjacket on musical taste that it put a lot of stuff off-limits for years. John Martyn being a good case in point - the irony being that he was far more radical than most punks could ever dream of, and a lot more wild.
I'll always remember turning up to a rehearsal with my punk band with a saxophone, and telling them that from now on the 3 minute ditties we'd been working up would start to evolve into 20 minute jams ... we really did split over musical differences.
I like the way Martyn brings so many different musics together and makes them work. What was I missing all those years?

Rod... said...

If you trace the musical history of punk - it's very much coming out of New York in the mid-seventies - by the time it hit England it got confused with style, maybe, which was also part of the US scene but didn't predominate over the music - which meant it went very stalinist very quickly re what to play and what not to play. Martyn is alleged to have thumped J Lydon in some drunken incident - a belligerent man and a pain in the hole a lot of the time as the Irish say - but he made some good music - and when he was on song was responsible for some great gigs - I saw him several times in Dublin where he was loved as one of the few Brits who would tour North and South of the border at that time. A lot of his later music seems to have drifted off into soft soul, which was a shame - but guy has to eat, I suppose

St Anthony said...

Yes, I can remember trying to get a few friends in the punk scene interested in what is now dubbed post-punk - The Fall, Joy Division, James Chance - to no good. They made half-hearted attempts to listen to PiL and Magazine because they boasted famous ex-punks in the line-ups, but that was it.
James Chance's stuff really put the cat amongst the pigeons for some reason - everybody I played it to screamed for it to be taken off within seconds ... which only increased my love of his music.

Rod... said...

I first heard James Chance on a beat up cassette player in Eindhoven early 1980/1 (? can't remember exactly) and thought he was great! Defunkt were a similar band ploughing the same grooves

St Anthony said...

On the subject of anarchic sax players - I was browsing the Ted Milton/Blurt website earlier (can't you tell my other half is out at work, and I've actually got access to the computer for a change?). Now we lived in New Cross for a decade before trading up to Ladywell/Lewisham last year, and I'm gutted to learn that Blurt played around that area loads of times during our time there ... how the Hell did I miss this? Some of the gigs, just to rub some more salt in, featured the great Charlie Hayward on drums. And to cap it all, one of them took place in a little theatre in a pub about 60 seconds walk from our flat ... I would rather have not found all this out and am now kicking myself retrospectively.