Song of the Week – Floating in the Forth, Frightened Rabbit

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I wasn’t planning for this to be today’s SotW. But then I heard the news that the singer/guitarist for Frightened Rabbit died and read this unnerving headline in yesterday’s edition of the British newspaper, The Daily Mail:

Frightened Rabbit singer Scott Hutchison imagined his own death in song Floating in The Forth – the river where police have found his body

The article continued:

Scottish musician Mr Hutchison, 36, disappeared on Wednesday after walking out of a South Queensferry hotel at 1am and he was found dead close to the Forth Road Bridge last night.

Police today confirmed a body found in the river is the Frightened Rabbit star as his heartbroken family admitted he had been fighting depression but they still hoped he ‘would walk back through the door’.

On his band’s acclaimed 2008 album The Midnight Organ Fight he penned the song ‘Floating in the Forth’, which Scott himself said ‘would remind him that he was alive’ every time he performed it.

He sings: ‘And fully clothed, I float away. Down the Forth, into the sea’ and the song ends with the words: ‘I think I’ll save suicide for another year.’

Here’s the song:

Too, too sad.

The band formed in 2003 and released their debut album in 2006. Several more critically celebrated discs came out, the last being Painting of a Panic Attack (2016). They had just recently begun a tour to celebrate the 10th anniversary of The Midnight Organ Fight.

While it’s too soon to conclude on Hutchinson’s cause of death, it is regrettable to think that revisiting “Floating in the Forth” may have played a part.

Another talented, tortured artist has left this mortal coil.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – I Don’t Want To Be Without You, James Hunter Six

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I read MOJO magazine for a reason! I still find it the best source to discover new music, especially these days when the likes of Spotify, YouTube and Pandora put the universe of recorded music at your fingertips, but that multitude leaves you aching for a curator. Well, that’s where MOJO comes in (for me).

In the March 2018 issue (#292) I spotted a review of Whatever It Takes, a record on the Daptone label by The James Hunter Six. I called it up on Spotify and was instantly hooked by the classic soul/R&B/blues influences. Hunter is a pretty damn good singer too.

Today’s SotW is the lead track from the album, “I Don’t Want To Be Without You.”

MOJO says Hunter’s song is — “an under-the-influence-of-love rhumba, (that) frames his tough-yet-tender croon with bubbling organ and punchy brass.”

Hunter is a middle-aged dude from the UK with connections to Van Morrison who’s been kicking around since the mid ‘80s. But he’s never sounded better than he does today.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Debaser, Pixies

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I was lucky enough to catch v 2.0 of Pixies in concert at Street Scene in San Diego in 2005. I never saw them in their first incarnation that lasted from 1986 to 1993, even though they were based in Boston and I was living there at the time. But at least the group I saw shortly after they reunited in 2004 still consisted of all the original members, including bassist Kim Deal. (A 2006 documentary film called loudQuietloud: A Film About The Pixies captures the behind-the-scenes trials and tribulations of the band’s reunion. It is available for viewing on YouTube.)

The Pixies debut album, Surfer Rosa, is a gem. But their high-water mark was their second album, Doolittle (1989). Today’s SotW is the opening cut on Doolittle, “Debaser.”

The lyrics relate to the 1929, Luis Buñuel silent film Un Chien Andalou. In the opening scene of this cult classic a man appears to slit the eye of a young woman. In “Debaser” Black Francis sings:

Got me a movie
I want you to know
Slicing up eyeballs
I want you to know

Girlie so groovy
I want you to know
Don’t know about you
But I am un chien andalusia

In a 2014 interview with Esquire magazine, Francis said of “Debaser”:

“The song is sort of my Cliff Notes for the surrealist film Un Chien Andalou. There’s just enough information to get you through a test or if you need to know a few nuggets about that film. That was it from a lyrical point of view. Musically, it is what it is. I’m not even sure how I feel about that song. Sometimes I really enjoy playing it, sometimes I find it… I’m on the fence with it. We do it almost every night when we’re on tour. People seem to like it. It’s a good example of Pixies minimalism.”

“Debaser” is a prototypical Pixies song. It utilizes the loud/quiet dynamic that Nirvana later employed and made even more popular during the ‘90s grunge craze. But Pixies did it first!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week Revisited Revisited – I’m Hip, Blossom Dearie

Jazz great Bob Dorough died Monday at the age of 94. Here is the NYT obituary:

It reminded me of the time I met him a few years ago and posted about it on this blog.

Here it is again.

Song of the Week Revisited – I’m Hip, Blossom Dearie

Song of the Week – My Girl Sloopy, The Vibrations & Hang On Sloopy, The McCoys and The Ramsey Lewis Trio

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Today’s SotW is an installment in the ongoing Evolution Series. The pick hit is “Hang on Sloopy.”

Everyone is familiar with the #1 hit version released by The McCoys, led by the 16-year-old Rick Zehringer (aka Derringer), in 1965.

But how many of you are aware that the song was first released under the title “My Girl Sloopy” by the LA based R&B group, The Vibrations, in 1964? Here it is!

Now back to The McCoys recording. The #1 hit was a 3 minute version that had two verses (“Sloopy lives in a very bad part of town” and “Sloopy let your hair down girl, let it hang down on me”). But that was an edited take. The full recording, with the third verse (“Sloopy wears a red dress, yeah, as old as the hills”) has been released on several compilations. Now you can hear it.

Although its lightweight lyric and infectious, sing-along chorus render it close to a novelty number. “… Sloopy” has been recorded by many other groups over the years, including rock, soul, jazz and indie rock artists.

One of my favorites is the lounge jazz rendition by The Ramsey Lewis Trio.

It was released on an album called Hang on Ramsey!, and the song won a Grammy in 1974 in the category Best R&B Instrumental Performance. It’s a live disc that sounds like it was recorded at a party. People sing along to the chorus. I don’t think he had any background singers, so it must be the audience that’s having all the fun.

“… Sloopy” holds a special place in my heart. It’s one of the songs I sang with the band at my wedding so many years ago. It is also in the set list for our family band – The Big Swinging Dorazios.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Golden Rough, The Bamboos

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The Bamboos are a contemporary, (mostly) white, 8-piece funk band from Australia — kind of a modern day Average White Band.

I stumbled upon their 2006 debut release, Step It Up, and immediately fell in love with the James Brown inspired grooves that they lay down.

Today’s SotW is “Golden Rough” from that album.

It opens with a drum pattern. After four bars bass and a funky rhythm guitar join in; then come the horns – those glorious horns! Once the groove is fully established, the band makes room for a trumpet solo before returning to the main groove. This is a track The Meters could dig.

“Get on the good foot.”

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Painbirds, Sparklehorse

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In the late ‘90s/early ‘00s I often listened to a band called Sparklehorse. The “band” was the creative outlet for Mark Linkous, a southerner that wrote very beautiful and emotionally charged songs. He also died twice before he was 50. Yes, two times.

The first was when he was on tour with Radiohead in the UK. He took too much of something (no one knows if it was alcohol, drugs or both) and somehow blacked out with his legs pinned underneath the weight of his body. When the paramedics arrived and straightened him out for treatment, his heart stopped for some time – apparently from the potassium build up. Initially the doctors thought he might not come back, but if he did, he would surely lose his legs. He survived both ordeals, though he had to endure six months in hospital, confined to a wheelchair, while he completed his physical therapy.

His next Sparklehorse album, Good Morning Spider (1998), contains today’s SotW – “Painbirds.”

I’m not sure how I would classify this music. Nor am I clear about why I (we) need to try. In a 1997 interview with Joss Hutton for Bucket of Brains, Linkous says of “Painbirds”:

“I think the recording is really good – kinda getting into low-down style – like a military beat. I dunno – it’s kinda hard to describe – I think it sounds very interesting to me. I judge a lotta things like; is it gonna sound cool in five years.”

Well, twenty years later it still sounds pretty cool to me. The synths, tremolo guitar, and trumpet solo in the break render the song unclassifiable. It’s almost Tom Waitsian, which shouldn’t come as a surprise since they actually collaborated at one time. (Could “Painbirds” be a play on Waits’ “Rainbirds” from Swordfishtrombones?)

All that aside, some would refer to this cut as Americana. I get that too. It may have to do with Linkous’ rural Virginian roots. His soul is steeped in ghosts of Civil War Dixie, much like The Band’s. In fact, “Painbirds” was included on cover mount CD that came with an issue of Uncut magazine called Across the Great Divide – Music Inspired by The Band.

Lyrically, I’m not sure what this song is about. But I appreciate the simple beauty of lines like “Spiral down those hateful dears / Between our skins and burning spheres” regardless of what they mean.

In 2010, Linkous died for the second and final time. He went the “tortured artist” route and took his own life with a rifle. Although his commercial impact was limited, his creative impact was widely recognized by fellow musicians including Waits, Patti Smith, PJ Harvey and Wayne Coyne of Flaming Lips.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Ain’t Gwine to Whistle Dixie (Any Mo), Taj Mahal

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Today’s SotW is the fourth time Taj Mahal has been featured in this communiqué – twice before under his own name and once as a member of the Rising Sons.

The song is “Ain’t Gwine to Whistle Dixie (Any Mo)” which was originally a very short instrumental that served as an intro to the album Giant Step (1969). But the version that’s today’s SotW is an extended jam from the 1971 album recorded live at the Fillmore East, The Real Thing.

Can you believe that Taj Mahal went on the road with a 9-piece band that included four tubas? Well he did. And it works!

Beside the tubas, the band also included the great Jesse Ed Davis and John Hall (Orleans) on guitars, and John Simon (producer of the first two Band albums and the first BS&T disc) on piano.

The three solos are contributed by session pro Howard Johnson (sax), Hall, and Simon. Taj Mahal adds fife, and true to the song’s title, he whistles his way through this lazy river, instrumental jam.

This is perfect music for a beautiful, Spring day.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – One Fine Morning, Lighthouse

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In December 1968, Blood Sweat & Tears released their eponymous 2nd album. In 1969, three singles – “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy”, “And When I Die” and “Spinning Wheel” – each reached #2 on the Billboard singles chart and made the album ubiquitous. Eventually, this popular, horn-based disc won the Grammy for Album of the Year (1970).

That recording eclipsed the first BS&T album (Child Is Father to the Man), the Al Kooper brainchild that I discovered after BS&T, that I have come to decide is the much better record.

Around the same time, Chicago was breaking out. Chicago Transit Authority (1969), Chicago (1970) and Chicago III (1971) were all excellent albums that took Al Kooper’s idea to merge rock music with a horn section to another level… and “horn rock” became a thing.

Now let’s not argue about it. I’m well aware that horns have been used in popular music before BS&T or Chicago. But it was more common in the genres dominated by black artists. The early R&B hits of the ‘50s almost always had a sax, if not a complete horn section. The soul music on Atlantic, Stax/Volt, and Motown all relied heavily on horn arrangements. But this was less so in Rock, at least if you consider acts with the horn players as permanent members of the band.

Other horn rock acts include The Electric Flag (with the great blues guitarist, Mike Bloomfield), The Ides of March (remember “Vehicle”), The Sons of Champlin (popular here in the Bay area) and Chase (featuring the screaming high note trumpet of Bill Chase).

Another band, Lighthouse, recorded today’s SotW – “One Fine Morning.”

I’ll bet when a few of you hear this you remember the song but say to yourself “I always thought that song was by Chicago!” No surprise since the Canada based Lighthouse often makes lists of “one hit wonders.”

But you have to admit, this cut rocks. The vocals, the guitar and (of course) the horns are a rocket shot to the moon! And you have to love the way the band builds tension through to the ending.

If you have any interest in digging a little deeper into the history of horn rock, check out this article at the Music Aficionado website:

Horn Rock Bands: Quaint… or Killer

Also worthwhile are both of the recent Chicago documentaries that you can catch on NetFlix or on demand:

Now More Than Ever: The History of Chicago (2016)
Chicago: The Terry Kath Experience (2017)

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – C’mon & Medley: Hard Luck / Child’s Claim to Fame / Pickin’ up the Pieces, Poco

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Before Eagles. Before New Riders of the Purple Sage. Before Pure Prairie League. Before Nitty Gritty Dirt Band,,, there was Poco.

OK, it might be going a little too far to claim Poco invented country rock – but it’s not too far off. Gram Parsons and the Byrds released Sweetheart of the Rodeo about 6 months before Poco’s first album. Dylan and The Band were in Americana territory earlier too. But rock and roll was a combination of R&B and country, so you can go back to the Everly Brothers if you want to go back to the roots — or, perhaps, even farther back to Hank Williams.

But that’s all theoretical BS. Today’s post is about Poco.

I was introduced to Poco by my big brother. At the time, Crosby, Stills & Nash were a top act and led my young mind to carefully read liner notes to learn more about group ancestry.

Poco rose out of the ashes of Buffalo Springfield. Richie Furay and Jim Messina formed the group after the Springfield fell apart due to creative differences between the main creative team of Stephen Stills and Neil Young.

My favorite Poco album was their third – the live DeLIVErin’ (1971). Deliverin’ is not only one of my favorite Poco albums, it’s also one of my favorite live albums – and that’s not hyperbole.

“C’mon” is a country rocker!

The disc also has a couple of great medleys, one of the band’s live show trademarks. I love to sing along to “Medley: Hard Luck / Child’s Claim to Fame / Pickin’ up the Pieces.”

One of the things that always grabbed me about Poco, and Deliverin’ in particular, is the positive attitude of this music. It is optimistic. It is simply joyous!

Poco was one of the first bands I ever saw in concert. It was at SUNY New Paltz, but sadly, after both Furay and Messina had left. But it was still a great show.

Enjoy… until next week.