Townes Van Zandt: Live at the Old Quarter, Houston, Texas (1977)
Adam: Legend (by which I mean Wikipedia) has it that the Old Quarter could “Comfortably accommodate 60 patrons” and that “More than 100 jammed into the room” for this week of shows in July, 1973. Now, being the middle of July in Houston, it was tremendously hot. Early on the album, Townes mentions something about the air conditioning being off, and how it’s really hot. Thus, this album is best experienced on a sweltering summer night with no air conditioning. In addition to the music (which I’ll discuss in a minute) the ambiance on this recording is second-to-none. During quiet moments in the performance, we often hear beer bottles clinking together, and at one point a telephone rings. These ambient noises do not detract whatsoever from the performance; they aren’t that loud. In my opinion, the extraneous noise adds to the performances, in part because it allows one to understand how quiet those hundred hot, thirsty people had to be to allow those faint sounds to be audible on the recording. Continue reading →
The Kinks – Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround: Part One (1970)
Adam: The Kinks’ early career closely resembled that of most of the other British Invasion bands. They were singing blues-based songs about girls (e.g. “You Really Got Me,” “All Day and all of the Night”). In the late 1960′s, as the themes that rock music addressed became ever darker, the Kinks went the opposite way with the Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, which focused on nostalgia for simpler times. By the time The Kinks released Lola in November 1970, The Beatles were history, the Rolling Stones were a few months away from releasing Sticky Fingers, and most other British Invasion bands had faded into obscurity. Continue reading →
Adam: I was 12 years old and my family was on vacation in Florida when I saw the news reports on TV in our hotel saying that the singer from a band I was vaguely familiar with had killed himself. I was just beginning to be interested in rock music in 1994, and after Kurt Cobain’s suicide, I wasn’t allowed to own any Nirvana albums. I had to get my Nirvana fix from the radio and from a mixtape a friend gave me later that year which included half of Bleach and half of In Utero. I used to listen to it through headphones on the school bus and in the back seat of our minivan. I listened to it a lot in the winter of 1994-95, and for a long time after that, listening to In Utero reminded me of winter. I still haven’t heard the other half of Bleach, but I bought In Utero a few years later and I listen to it every now and then. My inspiration for writing this post was the recent media attention surrounding the DVD/CD release of Nirvana’s set at the 1992 Reading festival. I bought the DVD, and it is great because it documents what a Nirvana concert was like when the band was at the peak of its popularity. Continue reading →
Bob Dylan: Live 1966 – The “Royal Albert Hall” Concert
Jordy: It has always been difficult for me to listen to the man-and-his-guitar format. Rock, in the end, is how a small group of musicians produces a singular, simultaneous sound. Dylan’s acoustic set on the “Royal Albert Hall” Concert is the former yearning to be the latter. Each of the songs he performs in it was originally recorded with an ensemble (“Mr. Tambourine Man” and “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” are the closest to their original studio releases, lacking only the electric guitar and electric bass counterpoints, respectively). The stripped-down acoustic versions from this bootleg sound raw and that’s not a compliment. Furthermore, Dylan is in a fog throughout the set, allowing his strumming, vocals, and harmonica to wander arbitrarily.
Adam: The Dylan we hear on the acoustic half of this show is unique. We know he’s burned out and quite possibly high on amphetamines. He sounds detached from the music, and he sings in a slightly lower register than we are used to. I think the unique sound of his voice here, coupled with the sparse instrumentation and the hushed reverence of the crowd (it’s easy to forget there is a crowd at all except when we hear applause between songs) makes the set feel intimate and romantic. I think the best example of what I’m trying to say is in “Visions of Johanna.” Listen to Dylan’s phrasing here: “The country music sta-tion-plays-soft” and “Just Louieeeeese and her lover soooooo entwiiieeeeened/and these visions of Johanna that connnnnnn-quer my mieeeennnd.” It obvious he wants no one but Johanna. Paradoxically, given the detachment present in the performance, I think that this version is more expressive and romantic than the studio version.
Warren Zevon doesn’t get the credit he deserves for being a great songwriter. He was well-respected among other musicians, and his songs are often covered by the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, and others. As a teenager, Zevon briefly studied modern classical music with Igor Stravinsky, and in the 1970s, he was the touring keyboradist with the Everly Brothers as well as with Don and Phil Everly on their respective individual tours. He was also an occasional stand-in for Paul Shaffer on both late-night iterations of David Letterman’s show.
“Carmelita” is a junkie’s lament and one of Zevon’s most famous songs, after “Werewolves of London.” The song first came to my attention recently after hearing a cover by GG Allin, of all people. The version I’ve posted is an acoustic demo, but after comparing it to the original release I felt this version was more affecting.
Submitted for your approval: two versions of the same song. The original, by New Order, and the cover, by Iron & Wine. Both have their merits, but this is a fight to the finish (is there any other kind of fight?). Which version of the song is better? This is completely subjective. I like both versions of the song for different reasons. I appreciate New Order for coming up with the song and writing such great lyrics, but I feel the Iron & Wine version is more evocative and truly does justice to the lyrics. But now, instead of bloviating, I am going to make my voice heard in the poll, and so should you. It takes two clicks.
On the eve of the 40th Anniversary of the Woodstock festival, I thought it would be appropriate to post a few songs that were played there. I’m not posting the Woodstock recordings, but studio versions of the songs. I recently acquired the original 3-LP Woodstock soundtrack for a mere $3 from a Salvation Army store. I only have the Woodstock recordings on LP, and I’m too cheap/lazy to buy it on CD or download the songs again.
So, 40 years on, what’s the big deal about Woodstock? There have been countless music festivals since, and several have attracted more fans than Woodstock. Music festivals today are designed to generate as much money as possible for the organizers and other vendors hawking their wares at festival sites. To be sure, the Woodstock festival was originally intended as a moneymaking venture as well, but the sheer mass of people converging unexpectedly on the site rendered ticket collection impossible. Also, some rather enterprising individuals cut the fences down, allowing people to walk right in. This ultimately made Woodstock about the music, instead of the dollar. Attending a music festival today, one is never allowed to forget that they are seen by the festival organizers as nothing more than a consumer, and that is truly unfortunate.
Also, Woodstock was pretty much the zenith of the hippie subculture. It was really all downhill from there. I’m reminded of a quote from The Simpsons, wherein a couple of old hippies reminisce about their VW Bus: “It was as if the Sixties ended the day we sold it, December 31st, 1969.” Woodstock being in August was in a way the beginning of the end of the Sixties.
Let us not forget that none of this music would have been possible without the invention of one recently deceased Les Paul.
Featuring Ray Manzarek on the Fender Rhodes. Since the Doors did not have a bass player, Manzarek normally played the basslines with his left hand on a Rhodes Bass Piano while playing melodies on a Vox Continental organ, but here he goes with the full-blown Rhodes and turns out a great solo.
Check out this video for a look at Manzarek’s usual setup, a blistering organ solo, and Jim Morrison’s likely drug-fueled stage antics.
A while back I posted the Buddy Holly version of this song. This is the Blind Faith cover. I like the original because the lyrics, which are beautiful, are easily heard. I like the Blind Faith version because Blind Faith is awesome.
Now, what does the above photo have to do with Blind Faith?
The band Live (ryhmes with jive) represents several firsts for me. This album, Throwing Copper, was the first album I ever acquired on CD. This song, “Selling the Drama,” was the first song of theirs that I heard on the radio, and subsequently made me a fan. Also, Live was the first band I saw in concert without parental supervision, on the Secret Samadhi tour, back when I was in eighth grade.
I still listen to Throwing Copper and Secret Samadhi every few months, and every now and then one of their songs will pop into my head for no apparent reason. According to my last.fm page, I’ve listened to 51 tracks by the band over the past 12 months. Not bad for a band who I have not purchased a new album by in twelve years. I didn’t even know, for example, that they released an album in 2006 called Songs from Black Mountain, or a live album (that’s right, a live Live album) in November of last year.
I’ve always liked singer Ed Kowalczyk’s voice, and the thought-provoking lyrical content on Throwing Copper and Secret Samadhi (I can’t speak for their newer albums). Plus, Live is one of the few bands that I listened to then that I still come back to today, which adds a nice bit of nostalgia for me. This must be what it feels like for my mom to listen to the Beatles today.
Well I’ve been away, folks, but I’m back. This “real life” thing sometimes gets in the way of blogging. I hope you all understand, and I hope you’ll stick with us.
Anyway, this is another standout track featuring the harmonica. The Butterfield Blues Band is perhaps best known as Bob Dylan’s backing band (sans Butterfield himself) at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, which was Dylan’s first performance using electric instruments.
I love Butterfield’s beefy, amplified harp sound. My only qualm with this album is that there’s not enough harmonica.
The Kinks: “The Contenders” from Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One 
This is a killer harp riff. Just killer.
Wes Anderson mined this album for his latest film, The Darjeeling Limited, which has been mentioned on this blog more than once. The Kinks are one of the most-cited bands on this blog, as a matter of fact, and this post continues our tradition of, um, Kinkiness?
In his famous review of this album, Greil Marcus asked “What is this shit?” Mostly, he was correct. But, as I mentioned some time ago on this blog, I actually like a few of the songs on Self Portrait. “Early Mornin’ Rain” is perhaps my favorite. It is a Gordon Lightfoot cover, and as you can probably see by the title of this post, has a very nice harmonica part.
I’ve been especially aware of harmonica in music lately because I’m currently learning to play the blues harp. I chose to post this song first because it was one of the songs that made me want to learn. Over the next little while, I’ll be posting songs which contain some of my favorite harmonica parts. Stay tuned.