February 14, 2009

Cupid, draw back your bow…


NEWS: The science of kissing

TUNE: My favorite Valentine’s song (starting at that divine 18-second mark):

Cupid – Otis Redding

And because I love you — previous Valentine’s Day posts, with zips re-upped!

Poetry in 2006
Love songs in 2007
Misery mix in 2008

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November 5, 2008

it’s been a long time coming

After Decades, A Time To Reap (New York Times)

I have family from Georgia who always felt very strongly about civil rights throughout the years when that was a potentially dangerous stance to hold. I was blessed with a wonderfully strong and graceful Grammy who relentlessly worked in her neighborhood, in her small and quiet ways, to stand up for what is right. What happened yesterday has been a long time coming, and this article above blew my mind. Young people forget that within the last 50 years, black people lacked the ability to freely vote, and people were killed in this country for trying to register black voters.

Last night, I smiled when Obama referenced this Sam Cooke song in his victory speech; this version from Otis Redding is one of my favorites:

A Change Is Gonna Come (Sam Cooke cover) – Otis Redding

-WFMU played 14 versions of this song yesterday in an hour of radness.
-Retrospective of essential protest songs

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March 20, 2008

A convoluted trail to the pain in my heart

I always love a juicy story of a misappropriated song. It’s terrible when someone else co-opts your writing and makes it their own, and it seems like back in the day there used to be more of it with less complainin’.

So I listened with great interest over on the excellent Grace Potter blog This Is Somewhere when they unearthed a forgotten tune by one Irma Thomas, a soul singer from New Orleans:

Ruler of My Heart – Irma Thomas

If you have an ounce of love in your soul for Mr. Otis Redding (as I do) then you might hear more than an echo of this:

Pain In My Heart – Otis Redding

He called it a “re-interpretation,” and to be sure, his undeniable soul-drenched stamp is all over that. But sounds to me like Irma laid down those original foundations (along with songwriter Allen Toussaint) and may be due a little more credit than just a footnote.

The reason I got started down this whole rabbit trail was because Grace Potter does a pretty smashing cover of it herself, and introduces it as being “actually written by a woman, but performed most famously by a man.”

Represent, fair Grace!

Pain In My Heart (live) – Grace Potter & The Nocturnals

And you must watch this live performance, she is ferociously rad:

December 10, 2007

Monday Music Roundup

Hot on the heels of the date we lost Lennon, and after a long weekend in a hospital waiting room, I am not going to commemorate another morose anniversary today.

Instead let’s celebrate the life of Otis Redding. I’ve re-upped all the great songs on this post from his birthday last year in honor of this fantastic musician, one of my favorites. Today I’d also like to add one addition to the Otis playlist:

Hard To Handle
Otis Redding

So I could save face and be all, “Yeah, I knew that Black Crowes song was totally a cover of Otis.” But that would be a big fat lie. Somehow (?!) I missed this original until a guy recently enthusiastically cited it to me as Otis’ best. Song. Ever. That title is up for some discussion with me (I like Tramp. Or maybe Dreams To Remember). This tune was originally released posthumously in 1968 as a b-side, and soundly trumps the Black Crowes cover I’ve been listening to all these years. You can find it on this recent anthology. Go Otis. We miss ya.

Skinny Love
Bon Iver
While I work on finalizing my year-end favorites list (meaning painfully hacking perfectly good albums left and right in order to narrow it down into something meaningful) I’ve been taking the opportunity to listen to some artists that never actually got the chance to vibrate my eardrums in 2007. Dodge put this album as his #1 for the year, and since Dodge is right about a lot of things (he loves me, for instance) I thought I should spin it. Wow. As you listen to Bon Iver, it starts to scrape something loose inside of you. This is one that you might find yourself listening to over and over again as I have been, even if you are unsure when it first kicks in. Something intangible and gorgeous and raw thrums under the thin skin of this song.

Phantom Planet

While the themesters of the O.C. (sorry but they are never, ever going to slip out of that recognizable tinny piano melody rising to the top of my mind whenever I say their name) work on recording a new album for Spring 2008 with Fueled By Ramen, Phantom Planet is making a limited-edition tour EP available with some new tunes. Aptly titled Geronimo, this song sounds pretty ferocious and relentless, like a fashionably new-wave native jumping off a sandstone bluff onto the waiting trusty steed? Not like I would know firsthand, but I have been re-reading some Cormac McCarthy. So.

Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window? (Dylan cover)
The Hold Steady
This came on the local SF radio station KFOG this weekend when I was out in California, one of the few bright spots of my hellish weekend. Starting slowly from the restrained opening, it cracks open like a carnival into something exuberant and near life-affirming. Something about the way The Hold Steady treat this, it perfectly preserves the just-barely-hanging-together feel of the original, with a huge rush of their own unique spirit. Probably the best song on that (dang good) I’m Not There soundtrack.

Weird me out. I was adding this song into the post, the final paragraph of which has already been written with that Singles nod in the last sentence, which really is the only way to say it. I visited one-man-band Sean Jackson‘s MySpace and I see that his profile quote is, “Other than that, he was ably backed by Stone and Jeff.” And I love him. So I’m just gonna leave it at that; you may be familiar with how much I love that movie and quote it at inopportune times. This guy definitely has tones of the Foo Fighters (although not as good as their new album, more from me on that later perhaps) and he namechecks influences like Westerberg and Malkmus. So okay, we’ll listen. Album is called For You.

* * * * *
And PS – I got a kick out of this; I somehow made the Business section of the Tulsa World newspaper.

The final sentences read, “As for me, a few days later — before the technician could arrive — the light on my modem mysteriously came on again. With all apologies to my wife, I went straight to Heather. Honey, it had been too long.” I am loved in Belgium, and apparently Tulsa! Thanks John.

June 17, 2007

It was 40 years ago today :: Monterey International Pop Festival

[photo from this great article]

Forty years ago this weekend, the epic Monterey International Pop Festival took place at the fairgrounds in Monterey, California, about an hour from where I grew up. Almost every musically and culturally significant artist of the day played this weekend, two years before Woodstock and the first large-scale rock festival in this new vocabulary of music.

The Monterey Pop Festival marked the first major U.S. performances of Jimi Hendrix (who was booked at the insistence of board member Paul McCartney) and Janis Joplin, and also introduced Otis Redding for the first time to a wider American audience beyond the South. The Beach Boys were supposed to play but cancelled, and in true Sixties form, Donovan was denied an entrance visa due to a 1966 drug bust.

Along with the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band from the Beatles two weeks prior, the festival kicked off what would come to be known as the Summer of Love. More than 200,000 people attended the festival (and I’ll bet that crowd smelled really . . . pungent), and the admission fee was a mere $1.

One of my favorite records is something I got a year or two ago from Amoeba Records on Haight in San Francisco during a music dig (a favorite pastime). One shiny black side features Jimi Hendrix’s incendiary performance from that watershed festival, the other side Otis Redding’s most monumental performance at that point in his career.

From the liner notes on the back of of this 1970 record (scanned above):

Jimi Hendrix, Mitch Mitchell, and Noel Redding were the rage of England in that summer of love and psychedelica but they had yet to play the United States and thus were no more than a rumor to most of the Monterey crowd. Their appearance at the festival was magical: the way they looked, the way they performed, and the way they sounded were light years away from anything anyone had seen before.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience owned the future and the audience knew it in an instant. The banks of amplifiers and speakers wailing and groaning as Hendrix’s fingers scurried across the strings of his guitar gave the trio’s music as much density as other rock groups were getting out of the studio 8-track tape machines. And, of course, Hendrix is a masterful –though seemingly off-hand– performer. Pete Townshend of The Who had become famous for destroying his guitar. Hendrix carried the ritual a couple of fantasies farther with lighter fluid and dramatic playing positions in “Wild Thing.” When Jimi left the stage he had graduated from rumor to legend.

Killing Floor
Foxy Lady
Like A Rolling Stone
Rock Me Baby
Hey Joe
Can You See Me
The Wind Cries Mary
Purple Haze
Wild Thing

Otis Redding had been performing and recording for five years, but his fame and his following –despite a couple of undeniable hit records– were largely confined to black rhythm and blues audiences in America and to Europe, where he and the Stax/Volt Revue had a justly fanatic following. The Monterey International Pop Festival was comprised of rock people who were still a year or two away from rediscovering their roots, “the love crowd,” as he characterized them.

It’s difficult to characterize the extent of his impact Saturday night. He was the last act in a day of music which had left the spectators satiated and pleasantly exhausted. Redding went on around midnight, close to the curfew agreed upon by festival organizers and the local police department and sherrif’s office. Booker T. and the MGs and The MarKeys had played a brief instrumental set and played onstage to back Redding. Within moments after Otis Redding hit the stage, the crowd was on its feet, and –for the first and only time in a weekend of five massive concerts– was impulsively rushing toward the stage to dance in the warmth of his fire.

He rocked and rolled past the curfew with a dazzling performance which no one could think of stopping. That night he gave the Monterey International Pop Festival its high point and he was embraced by the rock crowd as a new-found hero. Six months later he was killed in a place crash, leaving Monterey as perhaps the high point in his performing career.

I’ve Been Loving You Too Long
Try A Little Tenderness


Festival Introduction – John Phillips
Along Comes Mary – The Association
Love Is A Hurtin Thing – Lou Rawls
San Francisco Nights – Eric Burdon & The Animals
Ball and Chain – Big Brother & The Holding Company
Mystery Train – Butterfield Blues Band
Mercury Blues – Steve Miller Band
So You Wanna Be A Rock N Roll Star – The Byrds
Dhun: Fast Teental – Ravi Shankar
Wake Me, Shake Me – The Blues Project
Somebody To Love – Jefferson Airplane
Summertime Blues – The Who
My Generation – The Who
California Dreamin’ – The Mamas and The Papas


In true 2007 fashion, the festival has a blog here, and last night they screened the footage from the festival in downtown Monterey with an interview by documentary producer, the famed D.A. Pennebaker. Some info here is from the wiki, and you can waste several hours watching footage from the festival on YouTube.

What a weekend.

March 15, 2007

Mystery Train, next stop Memphis

If you have the patience to watch and enjoy as a rich noir-influenced story unfolds with diverse characters, three loosely interrelated plots, and an absolutely top-notch soundtrack, then Jim Jarmusch’s Mystery Train is one you should definitely dig up at the rental place.

I never saw this when it came out in 1989 because although I have always liked this kind of music, I was preoccupied with NKOTB at the time and probably wouldn’t have been allowed to see it anyways because there are boobies. I was more about the Hangin’ Tough Live Concert video than moody atmospheric musical travelogues through rock history’s footprints. But now that I have grown, man alive did I enjoy this one.

Jim Jarmusch (Broken Flowers, Coffee & Cigarettes, Year of the Horse) clearly loves music, and there is nary a city in America where music is more firmly enmeshed in the pulse of the community than Memphis, Tennessee. It’s a story that takes its sweet time unravelling, with long pauses to breathe. The cinematography is vignette driven, almost like a series of postcards with lingering shots of the city of Memphis — the dirty, gritty, ambling back alleys and monuments to Elvis and references to Graceland.

And Elvis is indeed everywhere (even if our young Japanese protagonist keeps insisting that Carl Perkins was better); inescapable and as much of a living character in the film as anyone else. The black velvet portrait over the bed of the skeevy motel even pictures the gentle doe-eyed Elvis who smiles down on the rapid-fire consummation (okay, it’s the 11th time) of young teenage love.

The film starts with that teenage Japanese couple pulling into the train station for a firsthand pilgrimage of American rock and roll history. He sports a pompadour and the ever-present cigarette behind the ear, while she rocks the combat boots, a leather jacket, and a bright enthusiasm for anything related to American rock and roll. They don’t really know where they’re going, on several levels, but that’s okay with them.

After their story is mostly told (but left unfinished), the night rewinds and we meet a young Italian widow also in town to bring home the body of her husband to Rome. Played by the lovely Nicoletta Braschi (La Vita è Bella), hers is a wide-eyed and gentle respite between the other two tales. It was during her story that I found myself unable to resist belting out a bit of Marc Cohn: “Saw the ghost of Elvis down on Union Avenue. . .” even though most days I could do without that song. Rare the film that melds American rock history with the sonorous sounds of the Italian language, and I loved that segment.

Finally the triple-action view of the evening is wrapped up with a glance into the activities of three wayward punks (one of which is, oh, Joe Strummer, another a very young Steve Buscemi) and their drunken crimes. Although concrete connections between the three parallel storylines become apparent throughout the course of the night, the tales never directly intersect. Characters who know each other find themselves down the hall from one another, hearing the same sound, but never knowing of the intersection. Ultimately, it’s just a glimpse, and the film feels unfinished — but agreeably so.

For the music nerd, the film does journey through several immortalized locations, including a fast-talking tour of Sun Studios and some of the last footage ever shot of the original legendary Stax Records (by the way, if you like that soul sound, check out the Stax 50th Anniversary box set just released this week).

The melancholy soundtrack throughout is of the finest quality and simply cannot be beat for the atmosphere it creates, reminding me of the David Lynch scoring in Blue Velvet. Most of the tunes used in the soundtrack were actually recorded at Sun Studios back in the heyday, and the film resurrects them in almost-eerie fashion.

PS — the richly honeyed voice on the radio with the 2am intro to ‘Blue Moon’ in each of the three vignettes is none other than Tom Waits. Come on.

Mystery Train – Elvis Presley
Mystery Train – Junior Parker
Blue Moon – Elvis Presley
Domino – Roy Orbison
Soul Finger – The Bar-Kays
Pain In My Heart – Otis Redding
The Memphis Train – Rufus Thomas
(I was so excited when Joe Strummer’s character selects this last tune on the bar jukebox — I just “found” it recently on the What It Is! compilation, and it has been an essential and beloved addition to my favorite new mix CD. Great song – and watch for the cameo in the Memphis train station by ole’ Rufus himself).

An absolute must-see, a very cool movie.

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.

February 6, 2006

Monday Music Roundup

Something In The Way
Nicolai Dunger
Neither a Nirvana cover, nor a Beatles cover, this ex-footballer (and by footballer I mean soccer player) Swede has a pleasant backyard BBQ vibe, which is something I can appreciate in the cold brown of winter. When I first heard him, I thought “Sondre Lerche?” Similiar geography (Sweden vs. Norway), reminiscent sound, but different guys. Dunger has also been likened to Van Morrison in his use of harmony and the tone of his pleasingly rough voice, but I hear that comparison more validly on his 2001 album Soul Rush. This track is off his 1999 album This Cloud Is Learning.

Otis Redding
This one’s just because.
It’s not new (um, obviously), but because I love Otis Redding and this is one of the best little songs ever recorded. I hadn’t heard Otis’ version until recently, being more familiar with the Sam Cooke stylin’ – who is also just a dose of good stuff. Otis makes it a little rougher, a bit more pained (unh). He throws down the fat bass riff & makes the drums more prominent to make you wanna stand up, maybe shake it. Add a little soul to your week.

Lonely Soul
Unkle featuring Richard Ashcroft
In honor (honour?) of Richard Ashcroft kicking off what is informally billed by some as his “comeback tour” in the UK recently, here is a downtempo trip-hop collaboration he did with Unkle on their 2003 album Psyence Fiction. This reminds me of Moby or Portishead, a very chill sound. Picture me on the Tube, with my headphones, speeding under the streets of London, listening to this. I might be wearing black, and/or sunglasses. But I am definitely feelin’ cool in the eardrum region.

Quiet Town
Josh Rouse
I really like Josh Rouse, and the deeper I dig into his back catalog, the more I am consistently impressed with the quiet quality of his releases. Underappreciated? Definitely. Here is a track from his upcoming March 21 release Subtitulo. It is gentle and harmonic, with plucky guitar and gorgeous strings. Josh recently picked up and moved to Spain (a variation on my ‘move-back-to-Florence’ dream), and this song is a paean to this sleepy hamlet of Altea where he first settled upon arrival. I would expect some more tour dates to be announced shortly to promote the new album – he just did a limited run in January, hitting Chicago, Nashville, L.A., San Fran, and New York.
Subliminal message: cometodenverpleasecometodenver.

Like A Star
Corinne Bailey Rae
From Leeds, England, this young woman’s voice possesses a straightforward honesty which I find extremely appealing. Corinne Bailey Rae sounds vocally like a cross between Nellie Furtado and India.Arie, with a hint of Billie Holliday. She’s got a unique & organic soulful sound which I like very much. Check out her recently released 3-song EP of the same name, and thanks to Aurgasm for the tip.

BONUS: iGIF has the new Vines song Gross Outfor download. The Vines’ site has the new songs streaming, but unfortunately your favorite friendly blogger is not technologically competent enough to know how to rip mp3s from streaming audio. So thank God we have Connor.

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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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