Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The River's Getting Dry

Dear readers,

I don't know how to say it but I'm getting a bit tired, abit lazy, a bit ditracted, and this blog hasn't been active for a few weeks now.

Lack of inspiration ? Weak feedback compared to the amount of work provided ? Too much time spent on my computer ? Need to take a new life turn, to be more open to real people, find a better job, try to make more music ? Yes, all these things, and a lot more.

I'm working on other musical projects, like building a big anthology of french chanson and pop since 1945. I'll probably open a new blog about that.

So I'm gonna make a break. Will it be goodbye or farewell ? Well, goodbye only.

In fact I don't know. Maybe I will come back tomorrow, maybe in a month, maybe never. I want to break the one post per week routine.

Anyway, I'll still be posting on Groover's Paradise (in English), and L'Appel de la rivière (French).

Untill then here's a great song by one of my favorite French singers, Henri Salvador.

Anyway, if it's my last post, I want to thank you all for your presence, (too rare) comments and faithfullness.

Henri Salvador - Dans mon île (buy) (1958)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

2 more covers by Yours Truly

Me, my daughter Cyann and Honorio

Nicolas & Honorio - La Marine (Georges Brassens cover) (2010)

Nicolas & Honorio - Reason To Believe (Bruce Springsteen cover) (2010)


Here are the two other songs that we mixed last week in Valencia after recording by exchange files with my friend Honorio. The African instruments were only for the photo !

Two songs by my 2 favorite singers : Brassens (as you probably noticed if you're a River's invitation regular) and Springsteen.

Honorio plays the guitars and did the arrangements. I sing and play the harmonica.

That's it. Hope you'll enjoy. Comments welcome, of course. See ya.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

From Valencia with love

Nicolas & Honorio - Canción Mixteca (2010)

Nicolas & Honorio - Guilty By Association (2010)

I'm in Valencia when the sun is always shining (except today)
I'm in vacations so I won´t make a long post, but just check out the songs that Honorio and me recorded and mixed this week:

Honorio played all the guitars, his friend Esteve the accordion and I sang. You'll probably recognize that the version of "Canción Mixteca" is a cover of the Paris Texas soundtrack rendition by Ry Cooder et ql, and that the second song is by Vic Chesnutt.

We did 2 more songs that I will post later.

¡ Hasta Luego !

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Me voy a Valencia - Gent Del desert

Gent Del Desert - El Record (2009)

(see lyrics with English translation below)

Vacations, again, at last ... 2 days left, and I'll be on the plane to Valencia, sunny Spain, to meet my friend Honorio, during the holiday week of Fallas (see photo). He's one of my Internet friends that I've never seen, we had a lot of great conversations in the Acclaimed Music forum. And we're making music together, by file exchanges. We recorded 4 covers (Brassens, Ry Cooder, Springsteen, Chestnutt)
Next monday we'll go to a studio and mix the songs. I'll post them here when I'll be back in 2 weeks.

So, no River's Invitation posts next week.

But today I'd like to introduce you with a Valencian band called Gent Del Desert. They sing in Valencian, the local language, which is close to Catalan.

According to Honorio, who played guitar on the album : "Gent del Desert is the music wing of a group of people, mainly poets, that gather every Thursday to sing some songs, read some poetry and chat about music and literature. They call themselves El Desert de la Paraula (The Desert of the Word). None of them except Jesús (the leader, and honorio's brother) and Marc had previous music experience (some of the other members, Sergi, Vicent and Pep however have published poetry books), but they were able to put together a fine album called “El Pèndol i la Terra” (“The Pendulum and the Earth”, 2007) a spoken-word album about texts of David Mira, a poet from Ontinyent, with music backing of traditional folk-songs and Jesús and Marc own compositions.

The approach to the second work, recorded during 2008 at Jesus' house, has been quite different and more ambitious. They again added music to poems but the majority of the songs were sung, although they did not completely give up the spoken-word. Moreover some poems were penned by members of the band. And the music approach abandoned the almost pure folk sound of the first album, adding many colours and textures coming from diverse styles including rock. As Henrik (from Acclaimedmusic) perfectly pointed in a personal e-mail, “Gent del Desert both look back and ahead, being both rootsy and experimental”.

My favourite song from “Molles” is (funnily) the only completely spoken one in the style of the previous album. The lyrics comes from a poem from Lluís Roda about childhood memories (and whorehouses). You can read the translated lyrics next. The first verses are recited by Vicent as an intro without background music but the main body of the poem is recited by Sergi, who does an excellent work here, giving the exact tone to the story, detached and mocking but evocative and emotional enough. And the background music is awesome (in my humble and non-objective opinion), based in another original tune with country and border flavours that Jesús and me used to play many years ago (once it was called “Vals del callejón”, “Backstreet Waltz”). The protagonists here are the guest musicians, the song is held up by an excellent tuba and accordion part played by Miquel Payà and the superb pedal steel part played by Pablo Gisbert (pupil of British blues guitar-player Graham Foster). The rest of the instruments are played by my brother himself, including guitars, percussion, banjo and piano (I love this fabulous honky-tonk piano figure at 2’14”!).
Seeing the many country music fans here in this forum I’m sure you will enjoy the song.

EL RECORD (Lluís Roda / Jesús Barranco)

És cert que fores, però a qui li interessa?
És teu només, el record.
Mira-ho bé i tira-ho, a ningú li fa cap falta...
Ni tu mateix te’n recordaves.

La via del tren separava la ciutat asfaltada. A l’altra banda, no hi havia res.
Un descampat, un solar, escombraries. Enderrocs, una séquia una claveguera.
Fang i pols i pedres. Herba i camps esparsos. Entre naus i fusteries i tallers.
I bars, alguns de putes.
I un enorme pal o bastida elèctrica, enmig de tot allò.
Un home havia sigut trobat mort penjat dels cables d’alta tensió.

La propietària del bar de putes, i l’única cambrera que recorde,
era una dona gran, o m’ho semblava,
amb faldilla curta i botes, cabell ros o platí,
amb uns pits punxeguts. Literalment, acabats en punta.

A les tres de la vesprada, el bar ja era obert.
L’obríem nosaltres cada vegada que passàvem, puntualment, en anar a escola.
Déiem puta i pegàvem a fugir.
Després ens aturàvem per veure si eixia, sempre eixia. I la véiem.

A vegades hi havia algú dins.
Sempre pensàvem que estava fent-ho.
A vegades deixava, o restava, la porta entreoberta.
I passàvem a poc a poc, una i altra vegada. Fins que la tancaven.
Era de vidre opac de colors diversos: roig, blau...

Un dia tancaren el bar, i en posaren un altre, amb vidres transparents pintats.
Recorde el dia que els pintaven: Bocadillos – Tapas variadas,
amb una clòtxina i una gamba dibuixades. No tenia cap interés.
Uns mesos després asfaltaren el carrer.

TEXT: Lluís Roda, Elogi de la llibertat, poemari datat a València entre 1990 i 1994 (Edicions Bromera, 2001, pàg. 7 i

THE MEMORY (Lluís Roda / Jesús Barranco)

You were there, that’s true. But, who cares?
The memory is only yours
Look at it and throw it, nobody needs it...
Not even you remembered it

The railroad track divided the asphalted city. On the other side there was nothing.
An open ground, a piece of land, rubbish. Rubbles, a ditch, a sewer.
Mud, dust and stones. Grass and scattered fields.
Between warehouses, carpenters workshops and repair shops.
And bars, some of them whorehouses.
And a big stick or electric pylon in the middle of that.
A man was found dead hanged on the high voltage wires.

The owner of the whorehouse, and the only waitress I remember,
was an elder woman, or so it seemed to me,
wearing a miniskirt and boots, platinum blonde hair,
with pointed breast. Literally, pointed at the end.

At three o’clock on the afternoon, the bar was open yet.
We opened it every time we passed, punctually, on our way to school.
We shouted whore! and ran away.
And then we stopped to see if she came out. She always came out. And we saw her.

Sometimes there was someone inside.
We always thought that he was doing it.
Sometimes the door was left, or remained, half open.
And we passed slowly, again and again. Until someone closed it.
It was made of opaque glass with different colors: red, blue...

One day they closed the bar, and they opened another one, with painted transparent glass.
I remember the day they painted it: Sandwiches – Assorted Snacks
with a draw of a mussel and a shrimp. It lacked any interest.
Some months later they asphalted the street.

LYRICS: Lluís Roda, Elogi de la llibertat (“Praise for Freedom” , poems dated in València between 1990 and 1994 (Edicions Bromera, 2001, pages. 7 and 8)

Discover Gent Del Desert on Myspace

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Mexican sones : Mariachi, Huasteco y Jarocho

Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán - El Mariachi (buy)

Last year I made a series of posts about Tejano music, mostly played by Mexican immigrants in Southern texas.
The book Americana by Gérard Herzhaft is the main source for this post.

Today I'll post songs of 3 different styles of sones, and later I will post about other sones, bolero and canción.

- First, the son mariachi , probably the most popular style of Mexican music. This music comes from the Jalisco state, on the Pacific coast. The term "mariachi" probably comes from the French word "mariage" (wedding). Bands from Jalisco were invited to play at weddings and parties by powerful people in Mexico. President Profirio Diaz was a big fan of mariachi orchestras. The most famous of all is el Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán, created in 1897 and still active now. The traditional Jalisco mariachi ensembles did not feature trumpets, but they became so popular (and more powerful than harps) that Mariachi Vargas started adding trumpets in the 1940s.
This is one of their first recordings.

Los Camperos de Valles - La Pasión (buy)

Another vibrant regional style is the son huasteco, aka huapengo tipico, which comes from the state area of Northeastern Mexico called La Huasteca. This is an indian style with Arab and Andalusian influences, relying on violin, huapanguera guitar and jarana huasteca (the small 5 string guitar), and often using falsetto singing. The violin solos are very intense, and remind me of the gypsy music of Central Europe.
Los Camperos de Valles (pictured above) are the most famous and internationally known ensemble, having recorded for Smithsonian Folkways and toured in the whole world, although they still play at parties and weddings in their home state.
You can also read great article in Spanish about the son huasteco.

Guillermo Velázquez is another famous traditional musician who plays sone huasteco and arribeño, another genre from the Central states using the same instruments but with strong Spanish medieval influences in its lyrics.

Guillermo Velázquez Y Los Leones de la Sierra de Xichú - El Triunfo (buy)

Illustration : Enrique Valderrama

And last but not least, here's the son jarocho from the Southern Vera Cruz state on the Caribbean coast, a distinct, dynamic style. As the musicians from Conjunto Tenocelomeh explain on their great site, , " Just as the Son Huasteco from east-central Mexico and the west coast Son de Mariachi have their own characteristics the Son Jarocho can be distinguished by its percussive rhythms, syncopation, vocal style, and improvisation in its harmonic and rhythmic framework and verse." Read the whole article here. The main instruments are the harp and two local, small guitars, the requinto and the jarana. Some ensembles add bass guitar, percussions, Spanish guitars, etc..
"La Bamba", one of the most famous Mexican folk songs (thanks to Ritchie Valens and Los Lobos) comes from the Jarocho repertoire. Here is one version by Graciana Silva, a veteran harp player from the Vera Cruz state.

Graciana Silva - La Bamba (buy)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Blind Blake Higgs - Bahamian Songs

Blind Blake Higgs - John B. Sail (buy) (1952)

Blind Blake Higgs - JP Morgan (buy) (1951)

E.T. Mensah - John B. Calypso (buy) (1958)

One of the great discoveries I made while exploring the music of the fifties.
Alphonso "Blind Blake" Higgs, not to be confused with the great Piedmont bluesman and guitar virtuoso, was a singer-guitarist from Nassau who was very popular there from the 1930s to the sixties.

Elijah Wald in anarticle says that the similarity between his name and the bluesman's may have been a coincidence, but I seriously doubt that. Just listen to the intro of the first song I posted and you'll hear a typical Blind Blake intro on the guitar, with his signature ragtime chord progression.

Just like the island it comes from, this music is a bridge, a doorway between the Southern United States and the West Indies, between the blues, jazz and American pop on onehand and calypso, mento, and other carribean styles on the other. The songs originate from the island tradition ("John B."), but also from Trinidad (the famous "love love alone")or Afro American numbers ("the Yas Yas Yas").

And of course there is the John B. song, made famous by the Beach Boys on Pet Sounds.

Like a lot of carribean songs, that one crossed the Atlantic in the 1950s and eventually ended up in Ghana, as the E.T. Mensah instrumental that I added especially for you, attests.

Go here to get the whole compilation

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Before country (4/4) : 1916-1921

Returning soldiers : the 1916-22 ear saw America engage in World War I.

Here's the final part of my series about pre-country music, which in fact encompasses a lot of different old recordings of all styles. I stop in 1921 because 1922 is the year of what is now considered as the first hillbilly commercial recording.

So as in the previous posts (part 1, part 2, part 3), I will go through this playlist made of sentimental songs, vaudeville numbers, blues played by military bands, hawaiian music, everything that influenced what people would call country music decades later.

1. Harry Lauder - Loch Lomond (1916)
Second song by this Scottish celebrity. A later great version by Bennie Goodman Orch. on their 1938 Carnegie Hall Concert album.

2. Ford's Hawaiians - Aloha Oe (1916) : the first years of the century were years of Hawaiian craze. See here for more Hawaiian music.

3. Prince's Band - Saint Louis Blues (1916) : Before the first blues were recorded by Afro American artist (in 1920) military bands recorded a lot of them, especially stuff by WC Handy. See more pre-blues here.

4. Don Richardson - Arkansas Traveler (1916) : this is one of the first recordings of a traditional country fiddler.

5. The Versatile Four - Circus Day In Dixie (1916) : The Versatile Four were an Afro american ragtime ensemble. They toured in Europe around WWI.

6. Harry C. Browne - Old Dan Tucker (1916) : Both a great fiddle tune and an everlasting folk song. Bruce Springsteen included that song on his traditional folk album in 2006.

7. Al Jolson - When Did Robison Crusoe Go With Friday On Saturday Night ? (1916) : one of the biggest "hits" of 1916. According to Wikipedia, Al Jolson (see picture above) was the "first openly Jewish man to become an entertainment star in America".[1] His career lasted from 1911 until his death in 1950, during which time he was commonly dubbed "the world's greatest entertainer”.

8. Vernon Dalhart - Star Of Bethlehem (1917) : before becoming one of the first country superstars, Dalhart was a sentimental pop singer singing sirupy songs. But he was very popular too, and Edison issued a Blue Amberol of this song for christmas 1917

9.Ada Jones & Billy Murray - Lilley of The Valley (1917) : a funny vaudeville number

10. Peerless Quartet - Oh! Susanna (1917) :
probably the best-known of all American old folk songs (even here in France), here performed by the famous Pearless quartet (on the picture above)

11.Harry C. Browne - Carve Dat Possum (1917) : someone suggested me that song after my first post, and now it's one of my favorite songs of the acoustic era. A great cover by Uncle Dave Macon. Yeah, I know, it's a "coon song", but I've heard much worse and the music is appealing. In the late 1910's coon songs were less frequent. Good riddance !

12. Samuel Siegel & Marie Caveny - Ragtime Echoes (1918): great banjo ragtime piece.

13. Charles Hart & Lewis James - Till We Meet Again (World War Song) (1918) : a sentimental song about the parting of a soldier and his sweetheart. Find the song's story here.

14. Al Bernard - St. Louis Blues (1919) : another "St Louis Blues", but a vocal version by vaudeville singer Al Bernard. Like Vernon Dalhart, Al Bernard recorded hilbilly music when it became popular.

15. Charles Hart & Elliott Shaw - I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles (1919) : a Tin Pan Alley hit that was also very popular in the UK, so much that it became the anthem of soccer team West Ham United. Read more about the song here.

16. Frank M. Kamplain - In Tyrol (1920) : a singer specialized in yodelling, one of the most popular attractions in vaudeville shows. In 1924, Riley Puckett became the first hilbilly artist to yodle on record.

17. Ben Hokea - Beautiful Ohio (1921)

18.Waikiki Hawaiian Orchestra - Rainbow Isle (1921)
Let's close this selection with Hawaiian music. What's striking in these pre-1920 popular recordings is that you never hear a guitar unless it's a Hawaiian band. Listening to the Ben Hokea track tells us how much Hawaiians influenced country and blues performers.

I would like to thank the site Bluegrass Messengers which listed a great part of the songs featured here in their "country music timeline.

BEFORE COUNTRY VOL. 4 (1916-1921)