Song of the Week – Slow Burn, Kacey Musgraves

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I generally don’t have much respect for the Grammys.  They have a long history of picking one-hit-wonders for Best New Artist (Starland Vocal Band, Milli Vanilli) and awarding Album of the Year to iconic artists long after they released their best work (Dylan, Clapton, Bonnie Raitt).  Not to be too cynical, I must admit there have also been some very good choices in both of those categories that have made amends for their boo-boos.

Last month, the 2019 award for Album of the Year went to Golden Hour by Kacey Musgraves, a great choice.  Two songs from the album, “Butterflies” and “Space Cowboy”, also won Grammys – for Best Country Solo Performance and Best Country Song.

Musgraves has the rare quality of mainstream popularity with a bit of rebel mixed in.  While primarily a conventional country artist, she bucks the stereotypical demographic of country music fans with her open position supporting LGBT rights and a fondness for booze (she and her band drink a tequila shot before each show), weed and the occasional psychedelic (she openly admits that she wrote “Mother” on acid and has taken mushrooms).

This is an image she cultivated since the release of her first album Same Trailer Different Park (2013) that included the song “Follow Your Arrow” with the lyrics:

Make lots of noise
Kiss lots of boys
Or kiss lots of girls
If that’s something you’re into
When the straight and narrow
Gets a little too straight
Roll up the joint, or don’t
Just follow your arrow

Today’s SotW is “Slow Burn,” the opening track from Golden Hour.

Regarding “Slow Burn,” Musgraves told Rolling Stone:

“It’s an idea I can apply to a lot of different areas of my life,” she says, taking a break from editing a new video. “I want to be here for a long time doing what I love, and I don’t feel I need to try to be the biggest I can be, the quickest. And I even thought of a good drink that you sip on for a long time. Or a slow burn of a relationship that starts with a little bit of a spark and doesn’t burn out too quick.”

There’s something about the arrangement of this song that reminds me of “Casimir Pulaski Day” from Sufjan Steven’s Illinois which in turn reminded me of Neil Young’s “Old Man” (maybe it’s the banjos).

Dig in to Golden Hour and the rest of Musgraves’ catalog.  You won’t regret it.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Blend, Sandy Bull

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THIS IS A TEST.

Today’s SotW is one of the most challenging I’ve ever posted.  I know it’s not for everybody, but the SotW wasn’t started to share hit songs that will be liked by the greatest numbers of people.  It was created with the goal of bringing new and different music (Ignored Obscured Restored), that I find worthwhile, to open-minded music lovers – that’s YOU!

So, what do I have up my sleeve?  How about a 22-minute instrumental excursion through Eastern and Western musical styles, by just a guitarist and a jazz drummer?

Today’s SotW is “Blend,” by Sandy Bull, from the 1963 album Fantasias for Guitar and Banjo.

This largely improvised piece covers a range of genres, including classical, folk, jazz, raga and psychedelic rock.  It has been reported that Steve Winwood has given Bull some credit for leading Traffic toward its psychedelic roots.  That also leaves me wondering if “Blend” may have provided inspiration to Jimmy Page for Led Zeppelin compositions like “Kashmir” or “In the Light.”

The drums were played by jazzman Billy Higgins, whose best work was in collaboration with Ornette Coleman.

Did anyone make it through the full 22 minutes?  If yes…

YOU PASSED THE TEST!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Billy Jack & So in Love, Curtis Mayfield

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February 28th brought Black History Month 2019 to a close.  Perhaps it was fitting that last Sunday’s Academy Awards were amongst the most diverse ever witnessed.  Oscar nominations and winners in many categories included films focused on African American casts/themes such as Black Panther, BlacKkKlansman, and If Beale Street Could Talk.  And in a surprise to most, Green Book walked away with the award for Best Picture.

This is progress, though still more needs to be done before we achieve a truly color-blind society.

This subject caused me to reflect on the work of Curtis Mayfield, a pioneer in writing and recording songs that reflected the condition of Blacks in the US.  Long before Marvin Gaye (What’s Going On, “Inner City Blues”) or Stevie Wonder (“Living for the City”) were laying it out there, Mayfield was releasing gospel-tinged, message songs like “Keep on Pushing” (1964), “People Get Ready” (1965), “We’re a Winner” (1968), “Choice of Colors” (1969), and “We the People Who Are Darker Than Blue” (1970).  Some of these may have even inspired James Brown to become more politically strident with songs like “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” (1968).

I was tempted to select a song from Mayfield’s soundtrack to Super Fly, in keeping with the Academy Awards theme.  But instead, I’ve chosen something you’re less likely to have heard, in keeping with the black history/political songs (and SotW) themes.

The consistency of Mayfield’s catalog is impeccable.  Despite the steady quality of his releases, shortly after the success of Super Fly, his already modest audience began to wane.

In 1975, Mayfield released the terrific There’s No Place Like America Today.  Even before you get to the music, the album cover conveys that you are about to hear something special.  It is a variation on a famous photograph taken by Margaret Bourke-White called “At the Time of the Louisville Flood.”

Mayfield’s team colorized it and changed the wording to fit his album.  But the1937 image still suited the status of Blacks in 1975 (and may still be relevant today).

There’s No Place Like America Today is a slow burn.  This album is a single malt Scotch, nightcap – not a Cosmopolitan.  It moves at a pace that reminds me of Sly’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On (though it’s not similarly as druggy or dark).

My first SotW is “Billy Jack,” the album’s lead track.

This is a funk workout with effective use of congas and a stellar horn arrangement.  There’s a lot going on and a lot to like on this track.  The lyrics deal with the issue of gun violence in the ghetto (another situation that remains as common today as it was in ’75):

There can’t be no fun, can’t be no fun
To be shot, shot with a handgun
Your body sprawled out, you without a doubt
Running people out, there on the floor

Sad bloody mess
Shot all up in his chest, shot in his chest
One-sided duel, gun and a fool, ah
What a way to go

As a change of pace, the next SotW is “So in Love.”

This song departs from the social commentary of the rest of the album’s selections.  It is a simple love song – nothing more, nothing less – sung in Mayfield’s gentle falsetto that must have influenced scores of soul singers, from Al Green to Prince, and beyond.  It too has a fantastic horn arrangement and was Mayfield’s last release to manage to reach the pop chart (#67) in the US.

The choice of Green Book as the Oscar winner for Best Picture has generated quite a bit of controversy.  One of the most consistent complaints was that it followed the formula for “white savior” films.  Personally, I don’t see it that way (though admittedly from a white guy’s POV).  To me, it was a story of two people who started out from different worlds and grew to know and respect the others’.  Curtis Mayfield once said:

“Segregation will only end when people get to know the people they think they hate.  To start to know somebody is to respect them.”

That’s the message I heard!

Enjoy… until next week.