October 6, 2009

And be my everlovin’ baby (Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2009)


One of the highlights of my fabulously sunny, Indian-summer October weekend in California was seeing the legendary Gillian Welch with David Rawlings at the free Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival Saturday at Golden Gate Park. I’d never gotten to see her sublime and lovely music live, and it positively sprouted wings under the San Francisco eucalyptus trees. The Emmylou Harris made a surprise appearance with her and David to clutch a lyrics sheet and sing a wide-smiled version of “Didn’t Leave Nobody But The Baby” (from the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack).

Didn’t Leave Nobody But The Baby – Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch & Alison Krauss
(some video I found from Saturday)



Gillian’s longtime musical partner, David Rawlings has a new album out November 17th, which will include a version of the song “To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High)” he penned with Ryan Adams, and guest appearances by Gillian Welch, Benmont Tench from the Heartbreakers, Nathaniel Wilcott of Bright Eyes, and members of Old Crow Medicine Show.


Okkervil River also absolutely completely blew me away. I reacted like a good Generation X-er and texted every music lover I know with (hardly strictly Moose-Drool-influenced) words of fawning and amazement. This Austin, Texas band puts on one of the very best live shows I’ve seen all year. Their songs grow and shimmer (and yes, kick) live, and the early afternoon audience scaled trees to get a better view, hooting and hollering. As we walked to their set, I tried to define their sound for my companion who hadn’t seen them before, and found that I couldn’t, and once they started in on their first song I conceded to her simply: “Man, I need to dive so much deeper with these guys.”

Effing watch this amazing set closer; my insides wanted to leap out of my chest:

Unless It’s Kicks – Okkervil River
Unless It’s Kicks (demo version) – Okkervil River

What gives this mess some grace unless it’s fictions
Unless it’s licks, man
Unless it’s lies or it’s love?

What breaks this heart the most is the ghost of some rock and roll fan
Exploding up from the stands
With her heart opened up
And I want to tell her, “your love isn’t lost”
Say, “my heart is still crossed”
Scream, “you’re so wonderful”
What a dream in the dark
About working so hard
About glowing so stoned
Trying not to turn off
Trying not to believe in that lie all on your own

[read the rest]



January 7, 2009

Okkervil River and Joni Mitchell, before the goldrush


Since you know you’re probably not gonna quit your job and Teach For America (unless you are one of my idealistic college-student readers in which case: DO it!) there’s a new compilation out that will let you toss them a few kopeks instead to help them carry on their noble educational goals.

Before The Goldrush
is a benefit album of freshfaced up-and-coming types (along with some moderate heavies like The Swell Season and Neko Case) covering some of the very best songwriters of the halcyon days gone by. The song selection is spot-on fantastic, and all the proceeds benefit Teach For America.

The Swell Season‘s amazing cover of “Into The Mystic” from the bonus version of the Once soundtrack appears on the digital-only release, as does this song that Okkervil River first released on their free covers EP in December 2007:

Blonde In The Bleachers – Okkervil River
Blonde In The Bleachers – Joni Mitchell

Full tracklisting:


[thanks Bodie!]

December 18, 2007

Monday Music Roundup

The internet can be so eerily voyeuristic (you know this, anonymous blog reader). I’ll admit to being fascinated by sites like PostSecret and Found Magazine; now I have a new place to click and look inside the ephemera of other people’s lives. The To-Do List Blog collects and reprints people’s lists for your perusal. Seems fitting in this list-making season, and you get to see charming resolutions like #5 above: “Let my eyelashes grow.”

A noble aspiration for us all.

This week’s tunes, a day late:

The Silence Between Us
Bob Mould

After former Hüsker Düer / Sugar frontman’s dancetastic side project last year, Bob Mould returns in early 2008 with his 7th solo album District Line. I am digging this first single, it’s all my favorite fuzzy guitars and big hooks [via]. I’ve heard that Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty is holding down the percussion end of things here, and this intro heavily reminds me of Pete Yorn (“For Nancy” – listen and see). Plus, do you hear an echo of the Sugar song “A Good Idea” here like I do? This is a very strong, rocking return to form, and I look forward to hearing the whole album.

200 More Miles (feat. Ryan Adams)
Cowboy Junkies
Other than a hazy SNL appearance with really foxy hairstyles where they performed their cover of Sweet Jane that I’ve seen in re-runs, I will admit that I don’t know much about the Cowboy Junkies. I’ve heard that this is an oversight on my part, and I should probably rectify that. Eh, we’ll see. But to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their Trinity Session album, the Junkies released a CD/DVD combo of performances in the same Toronto church where the original album was recorded. Ryan Adams sings lead vocals here on this tune (I love the way his voice quavers when he sings the lyric, “Atlanta’s a distant memory / Montgomery a recent blur“). Adams plays guitars, drums and trades harmony vocals on a few other songs [pics here], and Natalie Merchant and Vic Chestnutt also appear. Trinity Revisited is out now, but maybe only in the UK.

X Marks The Spot

Here is another fresh discovery from my year-end list perusing, this time from the formidably-almost-always-right Aquarium Drunkard. Of this independent Los Angeles artist, Justin writes: “an absolute must for fans of Nilsson, Lennon/McCartney, et al. I recently described the sound of the LP as the orchestration and instrumentation of latter era Elliot Smith, combined with the songwriting and world view of Richard Swift.” After reading that descrption, I said “Okay.” And I am glad I did. The album is called Lullaby For The Passerby.

I Came Here To Say I’m Going Away
(Serge Gainsbourg cover)
Okkervil River
Artists behind another fine album from 2007 that missed my list, Okkervil River is feeling generous this Christmastime. They’ve put together an EP of live cover tunes available for free on their website, and they have dug up some wonderful, obscure tunes to make their own. Called the Golden Opportunities Mixtape, the collection includes this cover by risque French songwriter of the ’60s Serge Gainsbourg (wherein they also tag a bit of “96 Tears”), plus Joni Mitchell, The Fugs, John Cale and more. The mix also includes the evocative original tune of theirs called “Listening To Otis Redding At Home During Christmas” that I recently posted. Nothing says Christmas like free music; go get it.

Paper Planes

Several of you have suggested I should have named this song of the year, but since I didn’t do a list like that, it’s a moot point (like a cow’s opinion, it doesn’t matter). I will admit an affinity for this catchy song, built entirely on a foundation of The Clash’s Straight To Hell, with one of the best and most un-singable choruses all year (I kinda do a head bop to one side for the gunshots, then two to the other side for the cash register sounds. I look really cool doing it, especially at the gym where I am most prone to listen to it, and people think I am having a seizure). The video [via GvB] is entertaining: even if her rolling-ocean-flow hand motions lose their charm after about the second time, the Beastie Boys cameo where she sells them food off the back of her trailer restaurant doesn’t.

Straight To Hell – The Clash

September 9, 2006

Play me some Otis Redding

Happy birthday to Mr. Otis Redding, the patron saint of soulful southern gorgeousness in music (in my mind, he’s the one and only). Born September 9, 1941 in Dawson, Georgia, he would have been 65 today. Redding died in a plane crash just three days after recording “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay,” which would come to be likely his best-known contribution to the American musical lexicon.

Do you realize that his recording career only lasted seven years? Although he grew up singing, his first professional tracks were laid down in 1960 with the group Otis and The Shooters, and he died in 1967 at the age of 26; only seven years and such an impact in music.

In addition to being completely floored by the body of work that he left behind –so many of his songs just absolutely slay me in the best way possible– I’ve always felt a bit of a fond connection with Otis because our families both come from the same town of Macon, Georgia. My Grampy was born in Macon, the son of a Baptist minister, and Otis moved there at the age of 5 with his Baptist minister daddy as well.

Macon is a city of (currently) about 325,000 people (although it was less than half that in the ’40s) southeast of Atlanta. In 2002, Macon unveiled a commemorative statue to Otis in Gateway Park, recognizing his impact as one of their best-known native sons. When Otis was growing up he attended and sang in the choir at the Vineville Baptist Church.

I asked my Grampy about the Redding family and he replied via email (but picture him saying all this in his deep Southern drawl because this is how he actually speaks);

“That is all familiar geographic territory for me but I do not know the name, Otis Redding. My Dad’s sister, Ruth, was a member of the Vineville Baptist Church where this young man sang. I lived in Macon in 1946 when he first moved there and I attended the Vineville Church at times with my Aunt Ruth and her husband, Frank.

I also remember the Roxy Theater in Macon and Nell and I went there a few times. I was still a student then (1943) and we had very little money in those days and a milk shake and a waffle was our idea of a big night out. It probably cost at least 50¢. Movies were only 25¢. Nell was the Post Mistress at Mercer and she was paid $50 per month. She also ran the university book store! I drove a mail truck making the evening pickups from all the mail boxes in one section of Macon. My route took me by the apartment where we lived and I often stopped there and Nell would climb into the back of the truck (quite illegal!) and I would drive back to the post office, dropping her off at a nearby cafe where we later had a milk shake and a waffle.

So, your question brings back a few memories but none about Otis!


I smile when I picture the possibility of my Grampy sitting in a church pew next to a little Otis Redding, completely unaware (even to this day) who he was or his contributions to music.

Oh, play me some Otis Redding. The time is always right :

Tramp – Otis Redding
Before a friend of mine completely blew my mind with this song last year, I naively had no idea that Otis could rock it like this. One often remembers his slow songs, his soulful raspy wailing grooves, but the drumbeat alone in this is enough to make anyone get up and shake it. Add the brass and it’s just almost too much for one to bear. And I love the lyrics, the playful give and take between Otis and Carla Thomas, the female co-lead;

“Carla: You’re straight from the Georgia woods!
Otis: That’s gooooooood.”

But the best part of this song is beyond words; it’s at 0:52 when Carla launches into the allegations against Otis (he needs a haircut, he wears overalls) and Otis just lacks the words to respond to her allegations so he just trails off into a trademark “oooh….” – It must be heard to be understood, but it’s my favorite part of the song.

A Change Is Gonna Come – Otis Redding
Even though this is Sam Cooke’s song, and Sam caresses it with his silky pipes, I vastly prefer Otis’ version (recorded in the Spring of 1965). This version fairly drips with aching as Otis sings about the thick swelter of racial oppression in the South. You can almost feel and see the tension, like heat rising up off the August sidewalks.

You Left The Water Running – Otis Redding
From the intro: “-Two – one, two, ready, play” this song combines uptempo soulful grooves with lonely musings in the best tradition of all the “she done left me” tunes. I love the title lyric, the unfinished imagery of water left running and all the metaphors you can associate with that rushing, wasted splashing.

Satisfaction – Otis Redding
Monterey Pop Festival, 1967
This performance at the legendary watershed event of the Monterey Pop Festival was one of Redding’s last big shows, as he died in December of this same year. Some call this the performance of his career, captured on a record I own which pairs a (literally) incendiary set from Jimi Hendrix (recognize this picture from the event?) with Redding’s. I picked this up on vinyl from the famed stacks at Amoeba Music in San Francisco, it is one of the best records I own. Here’s a cool scan from the back:

Cigarettes & Coffee – Otis Redding
I wrote in an earlier post that “The Blower’s Daughter” by Damien Rice was the best 3am song ever written. Well, as Otis says in the lyrics here: “It’s early in the morning . . . about a quarter to three. I’m sittin’ here talkin’ with my baby, over cigarettes and coffee.” This is therefore the best 2:45am song ever written – it’s smoky and sleepless, all sorts of restlessness and beautiful insomnia tied up in these notes.

Listening To Otis Redding At Home During Christmas – Okkervil River
A really lovely song from modern Austin, TX indie band Okkervil River, with various images that evoke home — one of which is Otis Redding: “Home is where beds are made, and butter is added to toast . . . I know that it’s home ‘cos that’s where the stereo sings.” Then it kicks into the chorus, which masterfully blends in the Redding refrain, “I’ve got dreams . . . dreams to remember” and made me smile wide the first time I listened to it one night in bed, in the dark.

Just Like A Woman – Bob Dylan
Just since we are on a Dylan kick around here lately (see last post), there is an interesting Otis-related story attached to this song. According to Mickey Jones (drummer of The Band), Dylan had played this freshly-written song once for Redding, who loved it and expressed the desire to record it himself as soon as possible. He died before he could do it, but every time I hear Dylan’s factual delivery in this song, I half picture Otis wailing it instead. Redding also recorded “Respect” first, before Aretha busted it out as her trademark tune.

(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay – Pearl Jam
3/26/94 in Murfreesboro, TN
And come on, you knew I’d work Pearl Jam into this somehow. This was the one and only time they’ve ever played this song live (complete with whistling) and did it with the help of co-author of the tune, Steve Cropper (of Booker T. & The MGs).

How good is all that? (that’s a rhetorical question). Pick yourself up some Otis Redding if you don’t have any, and head over to rbally to pick up the insanely good live set from 1966 at the famed Whisky-A-Go-Go.

Thanks Otis, you beautiful soul, you.

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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