Song of the Week – Better Man, Leon Bridges

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For several months my daughter Abby has been imploring me to listen to the music of Leon Bridges. I wasn’t intentionally dismissing her suggestion; it was more a case of my early onset Alzheimer’s that was keeping me from checking him out. But eventually I got with it and gave him a listen.

Have you heard him yet?

Bridges is a 26 year old, Texan soul singer in the mold of 70s era Al Green. He was pretty much unknown just a few months ago, but a popular performance at SXSW and May spot on Later… With Jools Holland helped push him into the spotlight.

His debut album, Coming Home, was recorded at home in Fort Worth, before he signed with Columbia – some of it recorded on an artificial putting green in a local bar – with the help of White Denim’s Austin Jenkins and a few other home town pals.

Today’s SotW is “Better Man.”

It is a smooth soul ballad about a man pleading for a second chance after doing his woman wrong (a well-worn theme in R&B). The record is captivating in its simplicity and openness, giving it a timeless gospel/soul feeling.

In a time when so much popular music is dependent on synthetic beats, it is refreshing to hear some real music.

Thanks, Abby, for hipping me to Leon Bridges. You know your daddy’s taste in music very well.

Enjoy… until next week.

This Guy Hates Jack White…

And he explains why. He doesn’t go on too long about it, either. And I think he nails it, though he could have said more and been even more right. Like, how come all those White Stripe tunes have all those tempo changes, which mean they’re not much good for dancing or getting down to it on the bedroom floor? But this guy says enough.

Not sure it makes sense to blame Jack for this (which is growing on me after a few listens):

Song of the Week – Solitary Man, Chris Isaak & Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon, Urge Overkill

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My appreciation for Neil Diamond has always been a mixed bag. The sequin jump suited performer of the 70s always struck me as tacky and cornball. His invitation by The Band’s Robbie Robertson to perform at The Last Waltz seemed out of place. (Robertson was his neighbor in Malibu and produced his 1976 album, Beautiful Noise.) He was the one guy that didn’t seem hip enough to fit in with the rest of the musicians on the bill. That Neil Diamond – to me – is just karaoke kitsch.

On the other hand, he wrote some songs that I really like and respect; especially some of his mid-sixties songs recorded for the Bang label. Today’s write up features two of them as covered by other artists.

The first is “Solitary Man” by Chris Isaak from his album San Francisco Days (1993).

The original by Diamond was released in 1966 but didn’t make the Top 40 until it was re-released in 1970, when it reached #21.

In an interview in the July 2008 (#176) issue of Mojo, Diamond discussed how producers Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry prodded him to write songs with more depth:

“Solitary Man was my first song where I tried to really raise the level of my songwriting. It was inspired by the Beatles’ song Michelle, which was also written in a minor key. I don’t think I’d ever written a song in a minor key before, it was the first and it kind of broke the dam for me.”

The next SotW is Urge Overkill’s version of “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” that was featured in the film Pulp Fiction.

Diamond’s original hit #10 in 1967. The Urge Overkill version and its association with Quentin Tarantino and Pulp Fiction gave Diamond some badly needed hip credibility.

In the late 2000s, Diamond dialed up his cool factor even further by working with producer Rick Rubin to record a couple of critically acclaimed albums – 12 Songs and Home Before Dark. You probably recall how much Rubin’s golden touch helped Johnny Cash reach a larger, younger, hipper audience in the latter years of his career.

Enjoy… until next week.

Breakfast Blend: ELO, “Illusions in G Major”

I have not meant to be neglecting writing here, but truly, the last six weeks have been among the busiest of my life, with travels to Southern California, New York, the Sierra, and now Chicago.

But, it doesn’t mean I have not been thinking about what to post here.

I have indeed been peppering a lot of golf in my daily mix of stuff, no matter where I am, but especially when home and in my car, I have been enjoying listening to spacier, more reflective rock, just because it sort of seems to relax me for the mental challenge of whether to use a driver or a three-wood on a particular hole.

As part of this troll, El Dorado, Electric Light Orchestra’s really great album from 1973 has made the mix. When the album came out, it quickly shot to my favorite list, where the disc remained until the late 70’s when punk took over everything rock and roll for me in the best possible way.

I listened to El Dorado here and there to see if any magic remained but it was sort of like watching Gone with the Wind and its outdated and hopelessly romantic view of the South, racism, and slavery. As in, it just didn’t do it.

I don’t really know what prompted me to reclaim El Dorado out of the huge stack of CD’s I have, but I found myself first sticking the disc into the player, and then humming along to songs I really did know by heart.

So, I really did rediscover the whole thing in a good way.

Now, I get if the strings Jeff Lynne stuck into his band are not your cup of tea, and, well, if you watch the video, I am not sure if we will ever get over the hair and clothes from the 70’s (I doubt I ever wore any of that shit, being a devotee of jeans and tennis shoes pretty much my whole life, but it does sort of hurt to look) but, make no mistake, Lynne is a rocker at heart.

We all know his treatment of Chuck Berry’s Roll Over Beethoven and I think the Move’s original Do Ya is as killer a cut as exists.

But, this little ditty from El Dorado, Illusions in G Major, does indeed show Lynne’s roots are indeed with the Chuckster. Strings or not, they kill it.

 

It’s Been A While

So I haven’t been on here in a while. That’s for sure. And since I last posted, my music tastes have gone in a new direction heading towards soul, R&B, and hip hop. Thought I’d share a few of the songs that have stuck with me lately:

I found Leon Bridges when I was looking into Outside Lands artists to study up before the festival. All of his music is great in my opinion, although he doesn’t have a whole lot out yet. Can’t wait to hear what he does next!

I am generally partial towards male singers, but Alice Smith is definitely an exception to that. As Lawr might say, she can really wail. This entire album (called She) is wonderful. This is actually a (better) cover of a Cee Lo Green song.

And then there’s D’Angelo who has got this whole other thing going on. His music is so interesting and fresh. I dig it.

And on the off chance anybody is steal reading/ listening, I thought I’d throw in this guy. He has a very unique sound. Interesting music and good lyrics. You can’t go wrong!

These are a few of my latest favorites. All of them but Alice Smith will be at Outside Lands. Unfortunately, I can no longer attend, but I was still exposed to all kinds of great music from the lineup!

The Best Version

I have a large and opinionated family. A friend once ventured in their presence that “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye was one of the best records ever made. Our friend is not the only person who feels this way, I have heard and seen the opinion expressed several times over the years. My family averred as one, and my daughter Meg spoke up, “It’s not even the best version of ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine.” My friend said, “You don’t mean Creedence?” Meg said no, although she is a big Creedence fan, and popped up this version for our dining and dancing pleasure. It was the first version too, at least as far as being a hit single.

Song of the Week – Sweet Lucy & I Paint a Design, Michael Hurley

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Michael Hurley has been making traditional American folk music since the mid 60s. So then, how is it possible that you (probably) never heard of him? Well that just ain’t right.

He’s 73 years old and has been putting out albums consistently from 1964 up to present day, mostly on small independent labels.

He was one of the three acts on the 1976 compilation album Have Moicy! that also included cuts by the Unholy Modal Rounders and Jeffrey Frederick & The Clamtones. This album has earned massive critical acclaim – most famously selected by the Village Voice’s music critic Robert Christgau as “the greatest folk album of the rock era.”

To be honest, I did not become familiar with the record back in the bicentennial year. In fact, I really can’t remember exactly when or how I finally got acquainted with it. But it is one of those records that you can listen to a thousand times and it never lets you down. A couple of the most popular songs on the album are “Midnight in Paris” and “Griselda.” But my favorite song, and one of today’s SotW, is “Sweet Lucy.” (And I swear that has nothing to do with the fact that I named my older daughter Lucy.)

It’s a funny story about a guy and his “old lady” (sorry for the anachronistic expression, but hey it’s 1976 remember) going on a bender.

In 1994 Hurley released his 13th album, Wolfways. That album contains today’s second SotW, “I Paint a Design.” It first appeared on Hurley’s 1988 album Watertower as a solo performance. But he decided to redo it with a full band on Wolfways and I like the newer version better.

Christgau weighed in again. This time he panned Wolfways, but awarded “I Paint a Design” his Choice Cut designation – defined as “a good song on an album that isn’t worth your time or money.” Kind of harsh on the album but the song does get into your head and won’t leave. The female background vocals kill it.

The song is used very effectively over the closing credits of Ray McKinnon’s Academy Award winning short film The Accountant (2001). It can be viewed in three parts on YouTube starting here:

Any of you under 30 years old might relate to the comparisons made between Hurley and Devendra Banhart. In fact Banhart is a fan and Hurley released two of his more recent albums on Banhart’s Gnomonsong label. Hurley’s songs have been recorded by several other more current acts that are also fans – Cat Power, Espers, Vetiver, and The Violent Femmes among them.

He does most of his own album cover artwork too. Check it out.

Enjoy… until next week.

New Tunes From Hans Condor

Screenshot 2015-07-09 09.33.08The boys from Nashville have recorded two new songs, at 3am and drunk, they say, after a raucous gig in June. The production is muddy, the vocals are shouted, there is no reason to love these the way I do, but then again here are all the rock moves you could possibly want in a beguiling package that manages to be fresh and classic at once.

Some of it is the awesome upfront bass playing, some of it is the way guitar solos suddenly pop up majestically, and some of it is the amazing thrash they put together. But the incredible part for me is the way all of this lands at the junction of influence of so many great bands, from the Stones to the Pistols to the Replacements, without sounding like any of them particularly.

I gave them a buck for each track, and suggested they come to New York. I’ll let you know when they get here.

Hans Condor on Bandcamp