Song of the Week – Shine It All Around, Robert Plant

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Sometimes my inspiration for a SotW comes from the media I currently follow. In recent weeks Robert Plant has been making the rounds or in the news. Music biz blogger Bob Lefsetz wrote an interesting post about Plant’s interview with Howard Stern on October 17th. You can read his post and link to the Stern/Plant interview here:

Robert Plant On Howard Stern

Later a friend of mine, William McD, sent me the link to this article in The Guardian from September where Plant discusses his back catalog:

Julie Rogers – A Life In Music, Robert Plant

These two coincidences led me to reevaluate Plant’s solo, back catalog. There are many interesting and wonderful songs to hear. One that really grabbed my attention is today’s SotW, “Shine It All Around.”

“Shine It All Around” is from Plant’s second album with the Strange Sensation called Mighty ReArranger (2005). It received a Grammy award for Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance.

And it has a very positive message, something the world can really use these days.

This is the land where I live
Paint it all over golden
Take a little sunshine, spread it all around
This is the love that I give
These are the arms for the holding
Turn on your love light, shine it all around

If you have access to a service like Spotify, please go back to listen to Plant’s solo repertoire. You will be soundly rewarded.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Holding On, The War on Drugs

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The War on Drugs was formed after Kurt Vile and Adam Granduciel met in Philadelphia in 2003, bonding over their shared Bob Dylan obsession. Vile left after their first album, Wagonwheel Blues, was released in 2008. The “bigly” talented Vile has established a very successful solo career that is worth checking out (and should be considered for a SotW), but his departure has not resulted in the demise of TWoD.

In fact, their subsequent albums — Slave Ambient (2011), Lost in the Dream (2014) and this year’s A Deeper Understanding – have all received favorable reviews from rock critics despite numerous personnel changes. (Granduciel and bass player David Hartley have been the only constants.)

Today’s SotW is “Holding On” from the new album.

What you will notice immediately is how much Granduciel’s vocal delivery pays homage to his idol Dylan. Sam Sodomsky, of Pitchfork, expounds:

“Holding On” is decidedly action-packed. Buoyed by Meg Duffy’s winding slide guitar and a bouncing synth line, it shifts from hook to hook—dazzling with its intricacy or washing over you with its smoothness, depending on how closely you’re listening. It ends with a glimmering descending melody and pitch-shifted vocal motif, maybe the first moment in a War on Drugs song that could be described as “whimsical.”

Another great song from a great band! Fans of Dylan and Bruce Springsteen looking for something new and fresh should dig deeper.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Late November, Sandy Denny

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British artist Sandy Denny was among the best singer/songwriters of the late 60s/early 70s. If you’re not familiar with her work you should check it out.

Denny started her recording in 1967 with The Strawbs. Shortly thereafter, she left to join the English folk group Fairport Convention that also counted Richard Thompson as a member.

She was with Fairport on the last two of their first three, seminal albums. She also had a key role on the fourth, Liege & Lief, although she had left the band to form a new group, Fotheringay, before its release.

Liege & Lief was recorded in the aftermath of a road accident that killed the band’s drummer, Martin Lamble, and Jeannie Franklyn, Thompson’s girlfriend at the time. Other members of the band were injured but Denny escaped because she was in a different car with her boyfriend.

This all leads to today’s SotW, “Late November,” from Denny’s first solo album The North Star Grassman and the Ravens (1971).

It has been said that “Late November” was inspired by a dream of Denny’s that portended the fateful auto accident. Rob Young, of The Guardian, wrote:

She turned all these premonitions and real and imaginary cataclysms into song. “Late November”… encompasses all that’s great about Denny’s music: heaving with a slow, pitching swell, carrying a cargo of weird omens and morbid visions. So many of her songs from this period are set at sea or on wind-battered coasts, reflecting the enduring role the sea has played in British folk song. The folk canon abounds with shanties, press-gang songs, ballads of transportation and farewell, of superstition and of supernatural water beasts.

The song has a gorgeous melody and is sung beautifully by Denny. (As a bonus it contains a Thompson guitar solo!) It is a classic.

Denny is also well known for writing the elegant “Who Knows Where the Time Goes” that was covered adroitly by Judy Collins. Some of you may remember her duet with Robert Plant on Led Zeppelin IV’s “The Battle of Evermore.”

In the spring of 1978, Denny died of complications from bonking her head after falling down a staircase, in combination with drug and alcohol abuse. She was only 31 years old.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week Revisited – Moanin’, Lambert, Hendricks & Ross

Today the great jazz vocalist, Jon Hendricks, died at the age of 96. You can read his full obituary here:

This SotW post was originally made in April 2009. I’m reposting it in honor of Hendricks’ passing.

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Back in the early 70s, Joni Mitchell – one of my favorite artists – began her explorations into jazz. Long before she veered off to make her most ambitious jazz outings — Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter (1977), Mingus (1979) or her live album with Pat Metheny, Jaco Pastorius and Lyle Mays, Shadows and Light (1980) — Mitchell recorded “Twisted” (Court and Spark (1974)) and “Centerpiece” (The Hissing of Summer Lawns (1975)), two songs popularized by the jazz vocal group Lambert, Hendricks and Ross.

The influence of LH&R on Mitchell is obvious if you watch this video of Annie Ross performing “Twisted”:

Joni’s vocal arrangement mimic’s Ross’ which in turn was a copy of the tenor saxophone solo by Wardell Gray from his 1949 recording of “Twisted.”

LH&R are fun to listen to. They may be the most important vocal group in the history of jazz. Their influence can be heard in groups like The Manhattan Transfer. They more or less invented the style of singing called “vocalese.” Vocalese is where lyrics are sung as the parts that were originally played by instruments. It’s sort of like scat, but with real words rather than nonsense syllables.

The song of the week is “Moanin’.”

Listen to how Jon Hendricks is able to create the timbre of a saxophone with his voice. At 2:15 into the song, Ross soars to hit notes usually played by a high lead trumpet! If you’re not already, I hope this makes you a fan.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – God, Tori Amos

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Today’s SotW is “God” by Tori Amos.

I chose the song because it is relevant given all of the current allegations (e.g. Harvey Weinstein, Lewis CK, Roy Moore, Al Franken, and sadly, our president) that have brought attention to how our patriarchal (and often misogynistic) society allows men use their positions of power to take advantage of women or keep them down. More on that later.

Amos was a piano prodigy, raised in a very strict religious family headed by her Methodist minister father. Legend has it she could play the instrument before she could talk. When she was only 5 years old she won a full scholarship to the prestigious Peabody Institute for gifted children; the youngest person to be admitted).

By the time she was a teenager she became interested in rock music. In the mid-80s she was heading a band called Y Kant Tori Read. This was a career misstep that is obvious just by looking at the album cover and press photos. (The album still commands very high prices in record collecting circles.)

Around 1990 she went solo where she really found her footing and began a very successful career with a following that is passionately loyal.

This brings us back to “God” which was on her second solo album, Under the Pink (1994).

The lyrics are edgy, taking on Christian religion and how women are portrayed as sexless (e.g. the Virgin Mary) and how that tradition has left women in a “less than” role, even today. She challenges this dominant male point of view and the subservient role of women, singing “God sometimes you just don’t come through / Do you need a woman to look after you?”

In the book Women, Sex and Rock ‘n’ Roll – In Their Own Words by Liz Evans, Amos expands on what “God” is all about.

I’ve written a song called ‘God’ about patriarchal religion, and how it’s just fucked the whole thing up. Basically I say to Him, “You know, you need a babe and I’ve got nothing to do Tuesday and Thursday this week!” lt’s unacceptable in how it’s affected people. And it isn’t just women who’ve been affected. Men have had to cut out a whole part of themselves too, which is why we have to deal with all that shit from our boyfriends! Men and women are going to have to recognize the female energy that we’ve cut out.

Beside the thought-provoking lyrics, the music is cool. During this period, Amos mostly performed and recorded solo – just her voice and piano. But on “God” she employs a full band and electronic loops. The result is a cacophony of keys, guitars, drums and effects that yield scronks and squeals that sound like seagulls swarming above.

Over the years I’ve learned that Tori Amos is the type of artist that divides people into lovers or haters. There’s no middle ground – you either get it or you don’t. I think she’s great and “God” is one of my favorite cuts!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – So Real, Jeff Buckley

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Jeff Buckley was an artist with unlimited potential that left us all too soon. While working on his second album in Memphis he drowned in the Mississippi River. His fully clothed body was found a few days later. He was only 30.

His first album, Grace (1995), was received with boundless critical acclaim. It contained his take on Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” that may have been responsible for causing that song’s ultimate ubiquity.

Today’s SotW is “So Real,” the last song to make it onto the album. It was co-written by Buckley and guitarist Michael Tighe, who contributed the song’s distinctive riff.

“So Real” packs an emotional punch both vocally and musically. It begins with a gentle guitar figure. Buckley’s fragile voice describes a mundane situation that is “so real” to his senses – the smell of a woman’s dress.

After the second verse and chorus the song breaks into a fuzzy, distorted rave and a false ending. This builds the tension that leads into the final section of the song where the band rocks out and Buckley continues to wail.

The pain in his voice raises the possibility that the love that is so real to him may not be reciprocated. He cries “I love you, but I’m afraid to love you.”

Considering the way he died, there is another line in the song that is particularly creepy – “And I couldn’t awake from the nightmare, that sucked me in and pulled me under.”

Buckley was the son of the 60s folk and jazz artist, Tim Buckley, although Jeff only met his father once when he was only 8 years old.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Judy in Disguise, John Fred & His Playboy Band

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Today’s SotW is the “one hit wonder” called “Judy In Disguise (With Glasses)” by John Fred & His Playboy Band, released 50 years ago this month.

This song is often considered a novelty because it made a play on the Beatles’ popular “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” that was released on Sgt. Pepper just a few months earlier. It even has some goofy, pseudo-psychedelic lyrics to further the parody.

Judy in disguise, well that’s what you are
Lemonade pies with a brand new car
Cantaloupe eyes come to me tonight

But John Fred was no novelty. The dude had been in bands since he was 15 and made records in his home state of Louisiana since 1958.

After a hiatus to go to college, he put together an updated version of his Playboys in 1963 and began recording again on several different labels. By 1966 he was signed to the Paula label and released “Up and Down” (which is on the same album as “Judy…,” Agnes English). That song was a regional hit at home in Louisiana but wasn’t able to generate much notice nationally.

Then came “Judy…” that, ironically, booted the Beatles’ “Hello Goodbye” out of the #1 position in the singles pop charts in January 1968!

The song is actually pretty good. The iconic bass line is the hook but the song would have been even better if they had ditched the cheesy string solo and let a guitar or sax rip one off instead. And if you listen to the rest of Agnes English you will hear that the band was a very competent rock & soul bar band. In fact they preceded the more popular “horn rock” groups (BS&T, Chicago, etc.) by including brass and woodwinds as full time members of the band as early as the mid-60s.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Modern Act, Cloud Nothings

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At the beginning of this year the Cleveland based band Cloud Nothings released their fourth full album, Life Without Sound.

The band was originally a virtual group named by founder Dylan Baldi when he was releasing music he wrote and recorded using Garage Band during college back in ’09. A New York promoter came across the music and wanted to book the band for a show. Baldi sprang into action to form a real Cloud Nothings band in order to accept the gig.

“Modern Act,” today’s SotW, was the first single released from Life Without Sound.

“Modern Act” is power pop, but with a little dirt under the fingernails. It has both polished hooks and snarly guitar riffs.

The band is currently on tour – Canada, the Midwest, South, then onto Europe.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Grow Old with Me, John Lennon

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Last Monday, October 9th, would have been John Lennon’s 77th birthday. Today, October 14th, is my 33rd anniversary.

I’ve decided to combine the two events with today’s SotW, “Grow Old with Me,” by Lennon.

This is one of the last songs he wrote and recorded as a demo before being murdered in 1980. For several years it was only heard by fans who sought out bootleg recordings. But the song was given an official release on 1984’s Milk and Honey album, albeit in the original demo form.

According to Wikipedia:

The song was inspired from two different sources: from a poem penned by Robert Browning titled “Rabbi ben Ezra” and a song by Lennon’s wife Yoko Ono called “Let Me Count the Ways” (which in turn had been inspired from a poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning).

Lennon and Ono had for some time admired the poetry of Robert and Elizabeth Browning, and the two songs were purposely written with the couple in mind.

Ono woke up one morning in the summer of 1980 with the music of “Let Me Count the Ways” in her head and promptly rang Lennon in Bermuda to play it for him. Lennon loved the song and Ono then suggested to him that he should write a Robert Browning piece to accompany it. That afternoon, John was watching TV when a film came on which had the poem “Rabbi Ben Ezra” by Robert Browning in it. Inspired by this turn of events, Lennon wrote “Grow Old with Me” as an answer to Ono’s song, and rang her back to play it to her over the phone.

The song was later covered by Mary Chapin Carpenter and the late Glen Campbell.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Doctor My Eyes, Jackson Browne & Hello Old Friend, Eric Clapton – feat. Jesse Ed Davis

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When it comes to inspiration for the SotW, I believe in serendipity. Recently my friend Julie C. alerted me to a film she thought I’d be interested in. The movie that premiered at the 2017 Sundance Festival in January is called Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World. Julie was right; I checked out the flick and it was right up my alley. It told the story of the significant contributions Native Americans have made to rock music – from Charley Patton and Mildred Bailey to Link Wray, Jimi Hendrix and Jesse Ed Davis (and more).

Around the same time I saw an article on a blog I’ve recently begun following called Music Aficionado titled “Have You Heard Jesse Ed Davis?” That’s all the push I needed to do a deep dive into his work.

I was familiar with much of his work because I’m of the age where we would scour the details of every credit written on an album cover or sleeve. Davis, a full blood Kiowa Comanche Indian, was listed on some of my favorites – Walls and Bridges and Rock ‘n’ Roll by John Lennon, George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh, and the unfortunately under recognized Asylum Choir II by Leon Russell and Marc Benno.

But his resume is way deeper than that. He worked with Taj Mahal and played slide on his version of “Statesboro Blues” that reputedly inspired Duane Allman to take up the slide (and copied Davis’ riff). He also worked with Buffy Sainte-Marie, Gene Clark, Neil Diamond, Harry Nilsson, Arlo Guthrie, Leonard Cohen, Rod Stewart, Bryan Ferry and several of the blues greats like John Lee Hooker, Lightnin’ Hopkins and the Kings – B.B. and Albert. Obviously, he was a guitarist in demand! He also released several solo albums that mostly went unnoticed but deserve to be heard.

The first SotW is “Doctor My Eyes” by Jackson Browne.

The brief but stylish solo at 1:45 was laid down by Davis on the first (and only) take! I have to assume those are also his tasty licks that are played throughout the cut.

The next SotW is “Hello Old Friend” by Eric Clapton.

When guitar god Eric Clapton invites you to play a slide lead on one of his songs, you gotta have something special… and Davis delivers.

Davis got little work after 1977, the result of his escalating drug and alcohol abuse and the detrimental effects it had on his health, culminating in a stroke. He died in 1988, apparently of a heroin overdose, when his body was found on the floor of a laundry room in Venice, CA.

But the joy in his music has kept his spirit alive and will continue to be appreciated for many years to come.

Enjoy… until next week.