Saturday, February 28, 2009

Shuffle 2

Another shuffle ? I love this game. All you have to do is play "shuffle" or "random" or whatever on your Ipod or computer library. And hear what comes out.

So, what do we have here ?

  • Cannon's Jug Stompers - Viola Lee Blues (1928) : funny, because one the last tracks I posted was a Gus Cannon track.

  • King Crimson - 21st Century Man Including Mirrors (1969)

  • Billy Young - Have Pity On Me (1966) : this one 's from the Chess soul compilation I told you about in a previous post.

  • Martin Stephenson & the Daintees - Running Water (1986) : who remembers Martin Stephenson ? This British songwriter from the Newcastle area made good albums at the end of the eighties in a folk-pop style. His album Boat to Bolivia is my favorite record of 1986.

  • Gram Parsons - A Song For You (1973) : I discovered GP in the nineties; at that time I was already well into country and bluegrass, and I didn't think that much of it, despite its cult status. Now it has grown on me, and that song is one of my favorites
    Gram Parsons - A Song For You (buy)

  • Johnny Young - My Baby Walked Out On Me in 1944 (1948)

  • Bob Dylan - Man In The Long Black Coat (1989)

  • Derek & The Dominos - Have You Ever Loved A Woman ? (1970)

  • Woody Guthrie - Vigilante Man (1940) : I discovered this track on a 1988 tribute album to Woody and Leadbelly called Folkways : A Vision Shared. That song was covered by the Boss in a bluesy style, but the original is way better. It was part of a collection of songs called Dust Bowl Ballads and released in 1940 in a box set of 78RPM records; that makes it on of the first albums of country and folk music.
    Woody Guthrie - Vigilante Man (buy)

  • Leonard Cohen - Famous Blue Raincoat (1971)

  • I only picked 2 tracks out of this playlist. Is there a song you love in this list and that you would like to hear ? Don't hesitate to tell me in the comments section and I'll see what I can do (e.g. I'll post it at the end of the week)

    Wednesday, February 25, 2009

    Blues saga (3) : The Handy case

    I was about to begin with the first blues recordings, but I read a very intersting Wikipedia article on W.C. Handy. Now that I see more clearly, I have to write a few words about the Handy case (sorry for that bad pun, I couldn't help).

    A lot of people mistake him for the creator of the blues. The blues awards in Memphis used to be called Handy Awards, he's got his own festival in his city of Florence, and a park and a museum in Memphis bear his name. So was he really the "father of the blues " ? I always doubted that a city and literate man like him, whose only recordings sound more like Dixieland jazz than like downhome blues was indeed the genre's creator. Of course he wasn't, but he did a lot to popularize it.
    There is this legend that, in 1903, he heard a bluesman playing the guitar at a train station in Mississippi, and that (this is a quote from Wikipedia),

    Partway through the evening, while playing a dance in Cleveland, Mississippi (circa 1905 [1]), Handy was given a note that asked for “our native music”. After playing an old-time Southern melody, Handy was asked if he would object if a local colored band played a few numbers. Three young men with a battered guitar, mandolin, and a worn out bass took the stage. [5] (In recounting the same story to Dorthy Scarborough circa 1925, Handy remembered a banjo, guitar, and fiddle.[6]) “They struck up one of those over and over strains that seem to have no beginning and certainly no ending at all. The strumming attained a disturbing monotony, but on and on it went, a kind of stuff associated with cane rows and levee camps. Thump-thump-thump went their feet on the floor. It was not really annoying or unpleasant. Perhaps “haunting” is the better word.”

    Owning a publishing company in Memphis then in New York, he was the first to publish (as sheet music) blues songs he had arranged and composed from what he heard in the Delta country and in Saint Louis. Some of them, like "Saint Louis Blues" or "Memphis Blues" (1912), were very successful and helped this new style make its way to the studios in the city of New York.

    So, the question is : if the first account of blues dates from 1903, how long had it been alive in the Southern states ? As another wikipedia article says, "little is known about the exact origins of the music". The wikipedia answer is "somewhere between 1870 and 1900". A little frustrating, but as there were no recordings, it is impossible to tell. French scholar Gérard Herzhaft (thanks Gérard, without you this blog wouldn't be this rich and documented) guesses that when it was first described in the very first years of the century, the term "blues" was very recent.

    For a definition of the blues as a musical style, check here

    W.C. Handy - Saint Louis Blues (buy) (1923)

    Sunday, February 22, 2009

    Blues saga 2 : before the blues - spirituals and folk songs

    Let's go back to our time travel to the blues' prehistory. I guess I'll post more often about old time blues, country and folk from now on.
    Last time I told you about string bands being one of the most famous genre of 19th century popular music, and one of the main influences of the blues.
    I see two other pre-existent styles that could be considered as the blues' parents (of course there are many more).

    - Gospel and spirituals : the music played by itinerant preachers, "the guitar evangelists" is one of the main influences of the blues. You can find it on a beautiful compilations such as Gospel : Guitar Evangelists & Bluesmen 1927-44 (Frémeaux) or Document's Guitar Evangelists : 1928-51. Blind Willie Johnson is the most famous of them, but I'm gonna play a song by Washington Phillips who played a strange instrument, the dulceola.

    Washington Phillips - Denomination Blues part 1 (buy) (Dallas, 5 dec. 1927, Columbia Records)

    - Folk songs and songsters : the songsters are more than probably the inventors of the blues. They were itinerant singers going from town to town, singing whatever they were asked for. A product of segregation, they were making specific ballads for the Afro American audience. Their repertoire is not very different from the white singers', the sources are folk songs or novelty tunes; but they will adapt it for their listeners: the best example is "John Henry", an Irish nationalist ballad about a stagecoach driver who will become a steel-driving man. Here is another one, "Poor boy" very well-known by the French readers of Lucky Luke (a comic book about a cowboy), and which was sung by both black and white singers. Gus Cannon is one of the first Afro American who recorded it, in november 1927.

    Gus Cannon - Poor Boy A Long Way From Home (buy) (Chicago, nov 1927, Paramount)

    And then, one day, songsters started adding more personal songs to their repertoire, songs about the way of life of the Afro American community in the segregated States. And sang in the first person. And people gave them the name of "blues". But that's for our next post.

    Wednesday, February 18, 2009

    Trombone Dixie (by special guest Honorio Barranco)

    (on the photo : Rico Rodríguez)

    Hello everyone. I’m Honorio Barranco and it’s an absolute honour for me receiving a River’s Invitation from Nicolas (I mean being invited to participate in his excellent blog). I consider Nicolas a very good friend of mine, although we never met face to face (but we can solve this for sure too). I respect a lot his opinions and his approach to music, always fresh and based on the feelings that music can produce and not in the “objective” values. Only a pearl from Nicolas taken from a debate on the Acclaimed Music forum (in which we both participate):

    “What I value in music is personal expression (that's why I love blues and folk) and how it reaches your inner being, something that is far beyond the range of words and reason.” Well said, Nic.

    I was doing some re-listening of The Specials, Tom Waits and Rubén Blades for the forum and I realized how much I love the sound of the trombone. Usually viewed as the poor companion of trumpet and sax, the ones that always gets all the attention, it has however a distinctive sound capable of sounding playful but sometimes sad (even funerary), humble but sometimes epic (even military), clumsy but sometimes warm (even sensual). Rummaging among my record collection I’ve found some jewels.

    1. The Specials - Ghost Town (buy)(1981)

    Rico Rodríguez (photo), of course. The only musician that participated actively in both original Jamaican ska and second wave British Two-Tone ska. This is the original 12” release including the excellent Rodríguez trombone solo at the end of the song.

    2. Rubén Blades & Willie Colón - Ojos (buy)(1978)

    Singer-songwriter Rubén Blades and fabulous trombone player Willie Colón recorded in 1978 “Siembra”, probably the best salsa album ever. Rubén put the songs but Willie put the thunderous brass arrangements with four trombone players playing simultaneously. If you want to see/listen a Colón trombone solo you might see “Juan Pachanga”.

    3. Tom Waits - In the Neighborhood (buy)(1983)

    The reverse of the rollicking music of Blades is that funeral march from Tom Waits’ masterpiece “Swordfishtrombones” (an appropriate album title, isn’t it?) and its ragged parade backed by bells, parade drum and… three trombones.

    4. Goran Bregovic - Mesecina (buy)(1995)

    Goran Bregovic formed his Wedding and Funeral band with gipsy musicians that played brass as loud as a buffalo stampede. And, although the solo parts were played by sax and trumpets (again), the tireless rhythm was supported by three trombones and a tuba. This song was part of the soundtrack for Emir Kusturica film Underground.

    5. Chicago - You Are on My Mind (1976)

    Jimmy Pankow was/is the trombone player of Chicago and occasional singer and songwriter too. Here we can see him singing his own (awesome) composition “You Are on My Mind” included in multiplatinum “Chicago X”. Sadly in this live version the original trombone solo has been substituted for a trumpet solo. You should check the studio version.

    6. Jimmy Cleveland - Posterity (1958)

    Jazz, of course. I admit that I’m cheating here, this is not on my record collection, I simply found it on youtube. But I had to post it, just listen to it and you will understand.

    7. Serguey Prokovoev - Romeo and Juliet: Montagues and Capulets” (1936)

    And classical, of course. My favourite classical piece ever here in a superb version for piano and trombone played by histrionic trombone virtuoso Christian Lindberg.

    8. Sisa - Maniquí (1975)

    The eccentric Catalonian singer-songwriter Jaume Sisa created a very own music style called by himself “galactic cabaret”. This love song to a mannequin exemplifies it perfectly with simultaneous solos of clarinet, sax, trumpet and trombone in the ragtime tradition.

    9. Extremoduro - So payaso (1996)

    Hard-rock with trombones? Why not? The Spanish band Extremoduro did it. And quite brilliantly.

    10. The Beach Boys - Trombone Dixie (buy) (1990)

    And, last but not least, a throw-away from the sessions of the acclaimed “Pet Sounds”, not officially released until 1990 (it was recorded in November of 1965). A refreshing way of ending this (incomplete and very personal) trombone Top 10.

    Sorry, sorry, I need to post a bonus track. This is probably the best trombone solo ever, played during a Dizzy Gillespie birthday celebration by jazz virtuoso Slide Hampton

    Tuesday, February 17, 2009

    Mark Olson & Gary Louris - Ready For The Flood

    (version française)

    I wrote a review of the album for the French site I don't have much time to translate the whole thing, but all I can tell you is that it feels good to hear those two guys singing together again. It's like they had never parted, except that now they got rid of the Jayhawks' electricity to play acoustic, in a rootsy way that shows their true influences : the singing coutry/folk duets of the past, like Simon & Garfunkel, the Everly Brothers but also their ancestors : Delmore Brothers, Louvin Brothers, Carter Family et al.

    The album is very pleasant. They haven't lost their songwriting abilities, and it shows on wonderful ballads such as "Black Eyes", "Saturday Morning On Sunday Street", or the opener, "The Rose Society". Their voices blend together like they've always done.
    Of course, it is not a masterpiece, it is a bit austere sometimes, all songs are not at the same level, but it is a very pleasant and nostalgic listen.

    Mark Olson & Gary Louris - Black Eyes(buy)

    And, for those who want a Jayhawks reminder :

    The Jayhawks - Two Angels(buy) (1992)

    Last, this video clip in which both guys present their albums :

    Have a good time !

    Saturday, February 14, 2009

    Hall Of Fame : Chuck Berry

    "If importance in popular music were measured in terms of imaginativeness, creativeness, wit, the ability to translate a variety of experiences and feelings into musical form, and long-term influence and reputation, Chuck Berry would be described as the major figure of rock 'n' roll. At the time of his greatest popularity (1955-59), there were several other singers who had more hits, were more often copied, and commended higher fees or personal performances. But Chuck Berry had the greatest long-term effect on his audience, shown in the immense influence his music had on the Beatles, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, and other singers and musicians who began making records in the mid-sixties."

    This was the great British critic Charlie Gillett in The Sound Of The City, beautiful book about the birth of rock 'n' roll. What a perfect plaque for Chuck !
    Among the 50's rockers, Elvis let alone, he's my favorite. He's bluesy (comes from Chicago scene, was recorded by Chess) but he was one of the true creators of the rock 'n' roll style, when he added country influences to "Maybellene", one of the very first rnr songs in 1955. A lot has been said about his electric guitar style, but the piano "that seemed to be played almost regardless of the melody taken by the singer and the rest of the musicians "(Gillett again), was a very distinctive element of Berry's sound.
    And the lyrics were witty, funny,great commentary about '50s America.

    Here's a song I love, lesser known that the classical masterpieces ("Johnny B Goode, Roll Over Beethoven, Maybellene), a very early side from 1955 in the same pattern as "Maybellene", with fine lyrics about judges and courts and a great guitar chorus. It is the raw, not yet fully rock 'n' roll Chuck Berry we're hearing now :

    Découvrez Chuck Berry!

    More about chuck on the Web :

    AMG bio

    A post about "Promised Land" on the blog For The sake Of The Song

    A post by Paul
    on Setting the Woods on Fire, about "Brown Eyed Hansome Man"

    Take care,


    PS : River's invitation est à partir maintenant intégralement anglophone, Pour les francophones, j'ai créé L'Appel de la rivière, le même blog tout en Français. Reportez-vous au post suivant

    Thursday, February 12, 2009

    Where the river splits


    Today I created a new blog, L'Appel de la rivière, all in French.

    This blog will be English only from now on.

    I guess it will be more readable this way for everybody.

    I would like to thank Paul, who runs Setting The Woods On Fire, for the suggestion.

    So now, you'll have to choose between the Mississippi River and the Seine. You're still welcome at both blogs, though !

    As far as my limited time will allow, I 'll try to post the same material on both sites : songs and texts. I'll do as I did before : I'll start a post in English or French on either site, and then do the translation (which will be shortened if I'm short in time) on the other.

    So have fun, and don't forget to leave your comments. What do you think of this change ?

    Salut, désormais ce blog sera uniquement en Anglais, mais rendez-vous sur L'Appel de la rivière pour retrouver ce blog en VF

    Tuesday, February 10, 2009

    Toumani Diabaté - The Mandé Variations

    Toumani Diabaté is a master of the kora, a 21-string West African Harp from the Mandingue country (Mali). His new album his is first solo project in 20 years and it's a pure masterpiece. Sometimes you just can't believe there is one man playing : between his hands the kora plays bass line, rhythmic, melody and chorus at the same time. Really amazing.
    Toumani Diabaté - Kaounding Cissoko (buy)
    And the music is beautiful, blending African tradition and other styles from America, Europe and even India. A little hard to get into if you're not used to African traditional music, but it's really worth the effort. All you have to do is sit or lay still and listen.

    Check out Toumani's bio on the World Circuit site (his record company)

    And a good BBC review of the album

    Bonus : In this video, Toumani himself talks about the kora and his album

    Site :

    Thursday, February 5, 2009

    Songs about hanged men : Georges Brassens vs Billie Holiday

    The other day, I was listening to this wonderful album by Georges Brassens. Brassens is the first thing I remember, musically speaking. My grandfather played these 10-inch (30cm) LPs, I was 3 or 4 years old and soon I knew some songs by heart and sang them to my grandparents' friends in their garden. I listened to them with my sisters in the big upstairs room, especially this one. And Brassens still rules : he's folk, and sometimes jazzy à la Django (always just a double bass and two accoustic guitars), he's the hell of a songwriter, he's an exquisite poet (much better than Brel to me, much more literary), he's fun, go to his biography on wiki or AMG if you don't know him. The songs ? about God (the hilarious "Le Mécréant"), love (a modern-day "Pénélope", wife of Ulysses, "L'Orage). And death. And murder. Brassens (1921-81) is from another era, pre-rock, he's fond of 19th century poets and obsessed by the Middle ages.

    So this is what brings us to the point : hanged men. Hanging poems are a tradition in French literature. If you can read French, this page gives a lot of examples of poems about the subject. The first and most famous one was François Villon's "Ballade des pendus", written while in prison (Villon was a thief and a homosexual). Brassens loved Villon, but in this album, instead of singing "La Ballade des pendus", he adapted a poem by 19th century poet Bainville called "Le Verger du roi Louis" ("King Louis Orchard"), about king Louis XI.

    Here are the French words

    Now, let's go back 20 years, in 1940, in New York City, and to one of the most beautiful songs of all time, "Strange Fruit" by Billie Holiday. If you don't know the story behind that song, just go there. It was written by Abel Meeropol, a Jewish high-school teacher from the Bronx, about the lynching of two black men. The song was inspired by a photograph he had seen the hanging (I thought about including the photo to my post, but it's much too morbid)

    Southern trees bear strange fruit,
    Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
    Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
    Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

    Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
    The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
    Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
    Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.
    Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
    For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
    For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop
    Here is a strange and bitter crop.

    Now, this is an awkward translation I did of the Brassens song

    On its wide, overspread arms
    The forest, where Flora awakes
    Holds garlands of hung men
    All golden in the morning light

    This dark grove where the oak wears
    Bunches of incredible fruit
    Even for the Turk and the Moor
    This is King Louis' orchard

    All this poor wretched folks
    Rolling with thoughts unknown
    In great and desperate rings
    Flutter, still throbbing with life
    The rising sun devours them
    Watch them, dazzled skies,
    Dance in the fires of dawning
    This is King Louis' orchard

    These hung men, now heard by the devil
    Summon new hung men to come
    While in the skies of spread azure
    Where a meteor seems to glow
    The dew dies off in the air
    A swarm of delighted birds
    Upon their heads is pecking about
    This is King Louis' orchard

    Prince, there is a grove decorated
    With clusters of hungmen, buried
    In the soft and murmuring leaves
    This is King Louis' orchard

    Amazing, no ? Did Meropol know the poem by Banville ? Or Villon's Ballad of the Hung ?

    Somebody suggested me to close this post with a Joy Division song, but that would be unappropriate and rude... or very black humor !

    Speaking of humor, there's something I gotta tell you : when I first posted that, it was titled "Songs about HUNG men"... I posted about it in the Acclaimedmusic forum, and I got all this reactions from American guys... then I googled "hung men" and realized my mistake !!!!!
    So I leave you with this song. Mississipi John Hurt, famous songster, sang both about HANGED men (Stack o'Lee) and HUNG men (in this song) :

    Découvrez Georges Brassens!