Showing posts with label music. Show all posts
Showing posts with label music. Show all posts

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Music Reviews: Jimmy Donley

Skilled people aren't necessarily nice or moral people. Today many folks like to "cancel" people. Maybe the consumer doesn't like the artist's politics. Maybe the artist is abusive to family members or intimates. The artist might be racist or sexist. The artist might be violent. The artist might just be a low quality human being.

I don't think the value of a person's art or the level of their skill is determined by their morality. Flowers can grow from crap. We are all different mixes of good and evil. The worst and best of us are still human.

The troubled singer/songwriter Jimmy Donley (1929-1963), who committed suicide in 1963, was a mix of good and evil. The Mississippi born Donley was dishonorably discharged from the Army in the late forties/early fifties because of his racism towards a Black NCO. Think about how racist you had to be to kicked out of the Army in the mid 20th century! Nevertheless Donley later became good friends with Black rock-n-roll icon Fats Domino, occasionally writing for and singing with Domino in integrated bands. 

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Giant Steps Explained

I enjoy listening to John Coltrane's piece "Giant Steps" but as I am not a musician or someone who understands much musical theory my eyes would always glaze over when musically talented people tried to explain to me exactly why the work was challenging. So I ran across this explanation and for a few brief moments I think I barely understood some of the basic concepts being discussed. Or not. Either way I liked this video. I liked learning how math, music, and physics are all linked. And I like John Coltrane's music.

Friday, September 30, 2022

Music Reviews: It's So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday

The  song "It's So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday" was specifically written for the Motown movie Cooley High and presumably for the funeral scene in which it was used.

Although the world does not look kindly upon men crying I have always felt/joked that any man who bawls upon hearing this song gets a pass. 

The husband-wife songwriting duo of Freddie Perren and Christine Yarian Perren wrote this song. Plenty of people have recorded the song, most famously Boyz II Men, but I still think the film version, sung by G.C. Cameron, is the absolute definitive version, bar none. 

As a man of a certain age I am at the point where many of my older relatives have passed on. To me this song expresses the loss of loved ones while acknowledging that no matter what, life continues. 

Saturday, August 6, 2022

Music Reviews: Debra Devi: Jamification Station Volume 1

Debra Devi
Jamification Station Volume 1
Decades ago I used to agree with some classical or jazz musical snobs (critics and musicians) that live performances without any overdubs were the "real" measure of talent because after all as everyone knew, overdubs were only used to show off unnecessarily or fix mistakes. If you really were about your business you would bring it live. 

This was of course bulls***!  
Any talented musician, composer, or performer will make you recognize his or her skill regardless of the tools or environment that he or she uses. However I do enjoy listening to live music. There's still something special to me about hearing musicians perform in real time with no net.

With the onset of the Covid Pandemic the singer and musician Debra Devi wasn't as able to perform live at concerts as she had previously. Undeterred, she and her band created a number of weekly livestream concerts, some of which Devi recently produced and released as the EP Jamification Station Volume 1. No overdubs, no retakes-what you hear is how it was.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Music Reviews: Tarheel Slim -"I've Got You Covered/Wildcat Tamer"

Since the pandemic begun I've been listening to more old school original rock-n-roll, primarily though not exclusively created by Black people. There are many different iterations of this music. 
As mentioned before on this blog during the time much of this music was created and performed, the music definitions of today had not been created. 
A person might record a slow blues for one market, an uptempo rocker for a different market, a lugubrious plodding gospel tune for the church crowd or a horn heavy churner for people who just wanted to dance. So you can call this music rock-n-roll, jump blues, rockabilly, whatever. I just like it. I like to think myself well versed in this stuff but I have been surprised and humbled and even a little angered to discover just how much of this music I hadn't heard before.
One musician I discovered was Tarheel Slim, or as his birth certificate read, Allen Bunn. As his nickname indicates, Bunn hailed from the great state of North Carolina. Born in 1932 the baritone singer and guitarist had hits in various genres, including gospel, pop, doo-wop, blues, rock-n-roll, jump blues, rockabilly, and soul. There are two songs of his which stood out to me on the collections I purchased.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Music Reviews: Anne Laurie: Since I Fell For You

The song Since I Fell For You is a blues/jazz standard written by jump blues pianist Buddy Johnson. I was really only familiar with the Dinah Washington interpretation. I recently ran across an earlier version sung by Anne Laurie which dated from 1947. It's not as lush or as busy as the Washington rendition but I like it just as much. Its sparseness speaks to me. 

Maybe it will to you as well. Supposedly Washington herself listed Laurie as an influence. I wonder how much of today's music will still be relevant sixty or seventy years after it was released. Perhaps the best of it will. There was plenty of crap released in whatever Golden Age of music one cares to reference. Still, it's hard for me to let go of the idea that they don't write songs like this any more. The lyrics are equally applicable to men or women.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Kim Hill and The Black Eyed Peas: No Regrets

When you think about your career path, your romantic life or any other critically important life aspect do you ever have regrets? Do you think about the road not taken? Well many people likely do at some time or the other. 

However sometimes what some people call success is not the only thing you care about. Or to put it another way there are some requirements that might be necessary for material success that you simply aren't willing to do. 

I'm not just talking about clearly immoral, unethical or illegal things either. It could be something as simple as not wanting to move to your employer's Berlin office for eighteen months, being unwilling to laugh at a supervisor's unfunny jokes, or being utterly unavailable for work assignments on weekends or after 5 PM. We all have to make judgments every day about how important certain life goals are and what we're willing to do to accomplish them.

I vaguely remember Kim Hill. She was a member of the Black Eyed Peas before that group hit superstardom with a different sound and a different female singer. But Kim says she has no regrets. I thought her take was interesting.

In the mid-1990s, the singer and songwriter Kim Hill met a young rapper who suggested they start making music. That rapper’s name was, and his group was a rising Los Angeles underground hip-hop crew called The Black Eyed Peas. The rest is history — or is it?

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Music Reviews: The Dead South

The Dead South is a Canadian band whose music can best be described as a satirical and earnest take on American/Canadian/British folk, bluegrass and blues with some 90s style alternative grungey sounds added for seasoning. If you're someone who can enjoy both Mumford and Sons and Otis Taylor, you might be willing to explore The Dead South. I discovered the band by falling down a youtube rabbit hole that started with Otis Taylor, progressed thru Fairpoint Convention and ended with The Dead South. As mentioned, although they dress like stereotypical American Southerners circa 1935 or so, they are Canadian. 

I heard two songs that caused me to purchase the CD which featured them. Both songs are grim. One has some dark humor. The song "In Hell I'll be in Good Company" is about a wife murderer about to be hanged, who is happy that when he gets to hell he'll see his unfaithful wife again. The song "Banjo Odyssey" attracted some controversy that the band addressed on their Facebook page. The band said the song lyrics are about a consensual albeit forbidden relationship. The doomed(?) lovers are trying to escape. That explanation may have been the songwriter's intention but I didn't get that impression at all--definitely not the consensual part. See what you think.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Range Rover Evoque Commercial: Stolen Music???

I am not a musician or an entertainment lawyer so I can't say with absolute authority that the song "I found a place in my heart" from the new Range Rover Evoque commercial was stolen from the song "Every Beat of My Heart" as originally written by Greek-American musician and honorary Black man Johnny Otis and later covered by James Brown and most memorably, in my opinion, by Gladys Knight and the Pips. I can't say with 100% certitude that some one sat down, listened to someone else's music, stole the melody and rhythm and verbal phrases and tics and altered the lyrics just enough to avoid lawsuits from all but the richest or most protective of estates.

I can say that if there were ever a lawsuit by the Otis estate (or by whoever owns the rights to the song) against the person who claims to have written this song the defendant probably wouldn't want me on the jury. At all. Because all I would be asking the judge is can we convict the thief now. Or to put it another way, I despise plagiarists. But maybe I'm all wet. Listen to both songs below and share your thoughts.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Andre Williams Passes Away

I wrote before about Andre Williams here. He was one of the last of the old time rock-n-rollers/R&B giants. He just passed away at 82. If you happen to like old school R&B/jump blues/rock-n-roll and don't mind an occasional little lyrical smuttiness/nastiness in music then you might want to give his music a listen. 

As people have pointed out the Good Lord wouldn't have given you a tail feather in the first place if He didn't want you to shake it from time to time. RIP to a Detroit musical giant and one of the dirtiest old men who ever walked the planet. Andre Williams, who carved out a place in the 1950s rhythm-and-blues scene with earthy songs distinctively delivered, then fell on hard times as a result of addiction before enjoying a late-career resurgence, died on Sunday in Chicago. He was 82.

His son Derrick Williams said the cause was cancer.
In a decade when mainstream white audiences were watching “Father Knows Best” on television, Mr. Williams was recording provocative songs like “Jail Bait” (1957), a sly warning to men inclined to date teenage girls. It ends with a narrator pleading with a judge for leniency and promising to abandon his lecherous ways:
I ain’t gonna bother none 15,
I ain’t gonna bother none 16,
I ain’t gonna bother none 17,
I ain’t gonna mess with none 18,
I’m gonna leave them 20-year-old ones alone too,
Gonna get me a girl about 42.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Music Reviews: Pacific Gas & Electric

Pacific Gas & Electric,later known as PG&E after some unpleasant interactions with the utility company of the same name, was a late sixties/early seventies band based in blues-rock with a side order of soul and gospel. The band wasn't one which I think really stood out for instrumental virtuosity or songwriting skills. I think the band was worthwhile because of the soulful voice of the primary singer, Charlie Allen. The band was unusual then and now because it was integrated. 

I suppose this made it more difficult to get radio play as Allen's voice was unmistakably "black" while some of the guitar work sounded very "white". So perhaps the band was often too "black" for white radio and too "white" for black radio. So it goes. The band had broken up by the mid seventies. I don't think any of the band members ever hit the big time. That's life. But there were two songs of theirs which I liked a lot. The first is "Death Row #172". a bluesy lament in which a Vietnam Veteran on Death Row wonders about his approaching end, how he got there, and what happens next.

I like this song because it's a reminder that people can do evil things and yet not be evil themselves. I also love the bass line. Bass should always be heard and felt I say. The lyrics are pretty introspective. I'm not on death row but I do occasionally find myself listening to this song when I'm wondering about life decisions.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Music Reviews: I Don't Want Nobody: Eddie Harris

I can't remember when I first heard this song. It might have been from my father's collection. But it is just as likely to have been from one of my various uncles. My father might have found some of Harris' work too avant-garde. I know he had some of his music though. One uncle is adamant that it was from his collection and that the other uncle in question never ever ever had the piece. It doesn't matter. 

I not so recently picked up a cd with Eddie Harris and David Newman on it: separate albums. The Eddie Harris portion was his album release titled "I need some money". I must have had this cd for a year or so and just got around to listening to it in completion, which is when I remembered the song "I Don't Want Nobody". It's funny how music can jog memories and take you back to better places in your life. 

As mentioned before, Eddie Harris was one of those magical musicians who was equally at home in virtually all facets of music, particularly African American music. This release and this song straddled the lines among gospel, blues, jazz, soul, rock, classical and more while being all of them simultaneously. In this song Eddie Harris weds the old to the new. He opens up utilizing electronics to sing falsetto through his saxophone while laying down a gospel groove on organ. 

Friday, October 5, 2018

Stephen Colbert is a Tolkien Nerd

I don't watch a lot of television so I didn't know that Stephen Colbert was a fan of Chance the rapper, Gilbert and Sullivan patter songs, and J.R.R. Tolkien. Good man. You really should read The Silmarillion if you have the time. There's a lot of good stories contained within, including a fictionalized reworking of how Tolkien met and fell in love with his wife.


Friday, August 3, 2018

Piano with your Pizza

I hope the family gave him a big tip. It's always good to hear Beethoven.

Some pizza delivery guys don't just deliver pizzas.
A regular old Wednesday pizza delivery turned into a surprising performance for a Shelby Township family. Julie Varchetti posted on Facebook that a young pizza delivery man noticed the family's piano and asked if he could play it.
Bryce Dudal, 18, of Sterling Heights was delivering a pizza from Hungry Howie's when he spotted the piano. What happened next wowed the family.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Music Reviews: I Gotcha and Baby It's Cold Outside

I really like most of Joe Tex's work. I also like the Ray Charles-Betty Carter version of the standard "Baby It's Cold Outside". Recently on Facebook a relative posted the Joe Tex song "I Gotcha!" which Joe Tex performed on Soul Train, well rather danced and lip synced, with Damita Jo. I love this song and had never had a problem with it. The character whom Joe Tex is singing about is horny and wants to get down to business. There's no doubt about that. But is he a threat? Is he a would be rapist? Some women I know said they found this song distasteful or even intimidating and offensive. I was surprised. I never saw it that way. But everyone has different perspectives and responses. There's no accounting for taste. There is no right or wrong when it comes to the music you like or do not like.

I always thought that the song "Baby It's Cold Outside", particularly as sung by Carter and Charles, was about two sophisticated adults who were doing the dance that almost every man and woman have done at some point in their life with someone they like. I didn't see any coercion or threat. Unlike with "I Gotcha" I was aware that some people thought that "Baby It's Cold Outside" was a misogynist's how-to guide for rape, but some of the people who think that also seem to be hostile to any hint of male heterosexuality so I didn't pay them too much mind. 

In any event by today's lyrical standards in popular music both "I Gotcha" and "Baby It's Cold Outside" are quaint and damn near innocent bedtime lullabies. So it's difficult for me to see how anyone could see these songs as menacing or intimidating. For me that's a reach, but I could be wrong. I'm not a woman. So there's that. What's your call? Are these songs harmless ditties or sexist threats?

Friday, April 20, 2018

Music Reviews: Tom Lehrer

Tom Lehrer is a retired mathematician, satirist, parodist, writer, Army veteran, NSA agent and pianist. Among other things, he wrote music for the PBS show The Electric Company. Lehrer has a certain gift for finding absurdity in everyday life and a knack for writing songs with "blue" material but without any banned words. 

I first heard him on the Dr. Demento radio show, which I used to fall asleep listening to back in the days when dinosaurs roamed the earth. At the time I shared a bedroom with my younger brother who said then and maintains to this day that as oldest I got away with things which my parents would have shut down instantly had they known about, one of those things most definitely being the Dr. Demento show. Of course (1) you really shouldn't give credence to everything said by resentful younger siblings with questionable memories and (2) by today's standards the Dr. Demento show of the seventies and eighties is quite tame. And even back then Tom Lehrer was already something of an old fogie. He's been around a while. 

I enjoy Lehrer's musical and lyrical humor. Lehrer can occasionally evince something of a dirty mind (listen to I got it from Agnes and then listen to it again until you understand why Lehrer initially couldn't perform the song outside of adult nightclubs despite not using a single bad word). Lehrer usually expresses himself in a classy way with lots of did I really hear what I thought I heard plausible deniability.

I also like Lehrer's song The Elements, which lists all of the elements of the periodic table to the melody from Gilbert and Sullivan's Modern Major-General Song from The Pirates of Penzance. Some might say that you have to be slightly bent in your worldview to enjoy Lehrer's humor. I don't deny that he can appeal to the absurd, dark, cynical, and satyric that lurks within us but he also appeals to anyone who enjoys puns, wordplay and lyrical witticisms.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Music Reviews: Nikki Giovanni, Camille Yarbrough, Sarah Shook

Nikki Giovanni
Truth Is On The Way/Like A Ripple On A Pond
Nikki Giovanni is a poet, writer, professor and activist among other things. Her list of awards, works and accomplishments are far too long to list here. I think she's definitely one of the greatest living poets. She was one of the first poets I remember reading. My maternal aunt gave me her collection of poems titled "Ego Tripping and other poems for young people" all those years ago. Giovanni is often described as radical or militant or other such words but I think that those terms are limiting. Her politics and approaches to life have varied over the years, as with anyone else. 

If there is one theme in her work that hasn't varied it is that black people (especially black women) are human and beautiful. In the early seventies as now such a message may be thought of as militant or threatening but I never saw it as such. One thing that was current in the early seventies is that the music produced by black entertainers and musicians wasn't solely concerned with the lowest common denominator of sex and violence. There were actually still some themes of love and sacrifice. It seems like that's been lost in a lot of the music that is popular today but I could be wrong as I don't listen to much pop music. 

Hmm. Anyway, esteemed musicologists can argue over when and where rap begun. Some people confidently point to the late seventies South Bronx. Others will go back further in time and farther afield to Caribbean/Jamaican toasts or West African chants. Others will claim it was all started by spoken word performers/rappers like the Watts Prophets, Last Poets, Wanda Robinson, and Gil Scott Heron. Some will point to scat singers like Eddie Jefferson or Ella Fitzgerald, or rock-n-roll founders like Bo Diddley. Wherever you start the discussion of rap's creation and growth, certainly the spoken word albums that Giovanni created in the early seventies deserve some consideration. 

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Twelve Stalking Songs

Someone I know on Facebook recently posted something along the lines of how she wanted a man who was rough enough to put her in her place and yet kind enough to treat her like a queen. This statement led to some robust offline conversations among some of my friends and relatives about how both men and women often want impossible and truly contradictory things from each other. The difference between romantic persistence and creepy criminal stalking can often be if someone likes the attention or not. Colin Firth's wife Livia Giuggoli accused the journalist Marco Brancaccia of stalking her. Well maybe he did, maybe he didn't. 

But what Mrs. Firth apparently left out of her original accusation was that she had had an 11 month adulterous relationship with Mr. Brancaccia, who was eager to point out the consensual and evidently voluntary nature of their relationship, if somewhat embarrassed at some of his post-behavior actions. All of this reminded me of how much of the culture, in this instance music, seems to glorify behaviors that we all say we don't like and which all of us know are neither healthy nor moral. Some of the songs I really like or at least am very familiar with are pretty much stalker anthems. And this isn't just an indictment of my musical tastes, many of these songs were quite popular in their day. I don't listen to a lot of current popular music but I would bet that the emotions and needs discussed, referenced or parodied in these songs are still expressed in many current day popular songs. Humans don't change that much or that quickly over the years.

Some of these songs are clearly not meant to be taken seriously. Others though definitely seem to be asking for a little sympathy for the stalker. Interesting stuff. I wonder sometimes why anyone would be idiotic or immoral enough to become a stalker. Some of the motivation is baked into the culture. 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Music Reviews: Billy Joel's Laura

Although I am something of a Billy Joel fan I hadn't heard this song until recently. "Laura" was on The Nylon Curtain album. The only songs I was familiar with from that album were the ones like "Allentown" and "Pressure" which got heavy radio play and "Goodnight Saigon" which shows up routinely on greatest hits compilations. The Nylon Curtain came out shortly after John Lennon's death. The album in general and this song in particular had a strong Beatles influence. The guitarists on "Laura" sound like George Harrison while Billy Joel appears to be doing his best John Lennon vocal impression. And the backup vocals are very Beatle-esque. All in all it sounds very much like something Lennon or McCartney could have written. The lyrics contain the only profanity which Joel had used up to that point, perhaps his only profanity ever as far as I know. Perhaps that is why I never heard this song on the radio back in the day.

For the longest time (heh-heh) Joel was cagey about what had inspired this song or what the lyrics meant to him. When pressed he would say that the lyrics could be about anyone (family member or romantic partner) who knew just when and where to push your buttons for maximum emotional damage. This might or might not be malicious on their part. After his mother's death, Joel admitted that the song was at least in part about his complicated relationship with her. As he mentioned the line about the umbilical cord should have been a dead giveaway. 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

John Henry

John Henry was a little baby, sitting on his papa's knee
He picked up a hammer and little piece of steel
Said "Hammer's gonna be the death of me, Lord, Lord
Hammer's gonna be the death of me"

The captain said to John Henry
"Gonna bring that steam drill 'round
Gonna bring that steam drill out on the job
Gonna whop that steel on down, Lord, Lord
Gonna whop that steel on down"

John Henry told his captain
"A man ain't nothing but a man
But before I let your steam drill beat me down
I'll die with a hammer in my hand, Lord, Lord
I'll die with a hammer in my hand""

Now the man that invented the steam drill
Thought he was mighty fine
But John Henry made fifteen feet
The steam drill only made nine, Lord, Lord
The steam drill only made nine

John Henry hammered in the mountains
His hammer was striking fire
But he worked so hard, he broke his poor heart
He laid down his hammer and he died, Lord, Lord
He laid down his hammer and he died

John Henry" is a folk-blues song that is more closely associated with the Appalachian-Piedmont blues tradition than the Mississippi one. Like many of the best folk songs, it may have been based on real life events. It was certainly used as a rallying song during the civil rights movement of the fifties and sixties. It has foreboding, superhuman heroic acts, and of course, death. In the very first stanza of the song the hero, then just a child, knows that he's not long for this life and will die in a heroic sacrifice. Of course, the nature of the sacrifice is debatable, especially in today's post-industrial world where physical labor often is considered suitable only for people not smart enough to do anything else. There are many different interpretations of this song. As with most blues songs there are several different lyrical variations. But every version hits the key points. John Henry was a steel driving man who, when threatened with loss of his livelihood via automation, takes up the challenge and beats the machine, but only at the cost of his life.