29 December 2008

They're with you, in that Long, Black Limousine...

(Elvis's own Long Black Limousine, a 1960 Lincoln Mark V)

One of the once common but now largely forgotten motifs of early 20th century American music is the journey to the graveyard, accompanying a family member/loved one on their "final" journey. The most famous of these songs is the Carter Family's "Can the Circle Be Unbroken," which Mark Zwonitzer (in his excellent Carter Family bio Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone) tells me was re-written by A.P. Carter from an old "mother's funeral" song, another common theme in British balladry and American folk and early popular music. It's a mourning song, but the message is one of praise to a welcoming God--a God who has brought mother close to His bosom, and will be bringing the singer home someday (soon, probably), as well.

Lord, I told the undertaker,
"Undertaker, please drive slow;
For this body you are hauling,
Lord, I hate to see her go"

Can the circle be unbroken,
By and by, Lord, bye and bye?
There's a better home a-waiting
In the sky, Lord, in the sky.
("Can the Circle be Unbroken")

(Of course, despite having been their biggest hit in one of their biggest years--1935--it is most widely known nowadays as the title track from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's 1972 album of the same name.)

Similar songs by possibly even more significant (if musically transitional) artists--Hank Williams and Elvis Presley--look, alternatively, backwards and forwards on the ballad tradition. Hank's "Six More Miles (To the Graveyard)," his own composition, followed the storyline of the graveyard trail as directly as the Carters', but the lyrics themselves are just a shadow of A.P.'s. The narrator has lost his "darling," but other than hearing the train a 'coming to carry her home, we don't get much insight into what he's going through. The song isn't, despite its title and chorus, really about the journey. It's about Hank's tenor, and the steel guitar, and the way that Hank was moving the country music tradition forward with his songwriting--deeply personal stories of love lost and vulnerability, the sort that men of an earlier moment did not sing. Notably, this song is about the loss of a lover, rather than a mother, and evokes God and religion only obliquely. It is a song exclusively about the narrator's loss, with only the faintest hint of a better home a 'waitin. Like most of Hank's best work, the loss he feels is unmitigated by the hope of salvation.

Elvis's "Long Black Limousine" started as a second-tier single on Crest Records out of Hollywood, CA--best known as an early home of pre-Rhinestone Cowboy (or even pre-Beach Boys!) Glen Campbell. It was written and performed by Vern Stovall (and Bobby George, about whom I can find absolutely nothing), who had a couple songs placed with Hank Snow and Ray Price. Eventually, Wynn Stewart picked up "Long Black Limousine," inching it stylistically towards where Elvis would end up in '68 by making it a little less archetypically honky tonkin' and making it swing in that Bakersfield way. From there it showed up on Merle Haggard's Branded Man, with a spoken-word interlude in place of a sung verse. All great songs, but none particularly revelatory in light of the Carter Family/Hank tradition.

Elvis's version, naturally, is a cosmic kick to the skull.

It's not just the Chips Moman production, with the fabulous but subtle backing vocals, or the American Studios session hands, some of whom had just played on Dusty in Memphis. The man had Dan Penn on guitar, for god's sake! More than anything else, it's the eeriness of listening to Elvis sing a song to an imaginary dead ex-lover--a song that sounds as if it was written for the sole purpose of being sung by some girl Elvis had bragged to about how he'd be a star (back in the Lauderdale Courts public housing development where he spent his teenage years) as she watched his funeral procession.

There's a long line of mourners, winding down through our city
Their fancy cars are such a sight to see
They must be your rich friends that knew you in the city
And now they've finally brought you back home to me
You said the day you left me that you would be returning
In a fancy car, for all the town to see
Well now you've finally come back, yes you've finally got your dream
Now you're riding in that long black limousine
("Long Black Limousine")

Listening to "Long Black Limousine," I can't separate Elvis the performer from Elvis the man--just another hick kid who talked big and went to the big city, but after all the high living, the traveling, the fame, and the women, ended up back where he started, having let so many down. The Memphis '68 special and the subsequent album was the last time Elvis would rise above self-parody as an artist, and this was the last great song he ever recorded.

(None of this takes into account the recently uncovered Flying Burrito Brothers live version from '69, which soulds like it's rooted in Merle's take. Since this is so widely available elsewhere, y'all can find it elsewhere.)

The Carter Family - Can the Circle Be Unbroken
Hank Williams - Six More Miles (To the Graveyard)

Vern Stovall - Long Black Limousine
Wynn Stewart - Long Black Limousine
Merle Haggard - Long Black Limousine

Elvis Presley - Long Black Limousine

Posted by Brandon

27 December 2008

Rounding Out the Collection: Richard Thompson (1988-1994), and Whoopee in Hell Mix #4

The first time I heard Richard Thompson was in January of 2000, at my friend Andre's house in Massachusetts. At the time, I was taking a month off from my Freshman year of college--our school offered a January term during the eponymous month, but I had transferred in some AP credits, and I figured the time could be better spent traveling. This was the first time I'd really traveled in the normal way on my own--I had been on lengthy camping trips with no real adult supervision, but I had never boarded a plane on my own.

Andre was a guitar-player (later, he would go on to play in a series of bands, and gigs out semi-frequently now in the Boston area with his latest project), someone who's music taste was more expansive than my own, and much more focused on musicality, as opposed to gut reaction. He liked Blood, Sweat, & Tears, Van Morrison, and Traffic--I liked the Minutemen. We had become friends over shared conversations about people we agreed on--Springsteen and Neil Young the most prominent--but despite my devoted interest in becoming a music snob, Andre was much further along. H e had a copy of Richard Thompson's 1991 album, Rumor & Sigh--an album I've grown quite fond of in the intervening years--but when he played it for me that January, it seemed tiresome and same-sounding. Later I would discover that this was because of the terrible, dated production of Mitchell Froom, who had gotten his mitts into Thompson when he had signed with Capital in the late 1980s, and had slathered a thick layer of fuzz and keyboards over the top of Thompson's exceptional guitar playing and compelling singing--a layer so thick I appreciated neither quality at the time. The only song that stuck out was called "1952 Vincent Black Lightning," where Thompson sang a ballad about a couple named James and Molly (and James's bad end) over an acoustic guitar accompaniment that was anything but bare. In fact, it was the best flat top guitar picking I'd ever heard, but having no musical knowledge, and having mostly listened to blues and punk guitar players, I didn't really appreciate how exceptional it was. Nor did I really appreciate how well the song was crafted: a wry tale of a love so true but so ill-fated, a love sealed not with a kiss, but with the gift of leather and chrome (and a boy with somewhat ridiculous priorities):

Says James "In my opinion, there's nothing in this world
Beats a '52 Vincent and a red headed girl.
Now Nortons and Indians and Greeves won't do,
Ah, they don't have a soul like a Vincent '52
Oh he reached for her hand and he slipped her the keys
Said "I've got no further use for these.
I see angels on Ariels in leather and chrome,
Swooping down from heaven to carry me home"
And he gave her one last kiss and died
And he gave her his Vincent to ride.
("1952 Vincent Black Lightning", from Rumor & Sigh)

Now this is some cornball stuff, and it smelled suspiciously like folk music--something I had every intention of staying as far away as I could from. I didn't want it tainting my Husker Du records, or mixing in with my Pixies.

But by 2002, I had started drinking, and on certain nights, I could almost understand why Andre thought this was such an excellent song. Further drinking led me to purchase Richard Thompson's 1982 record Shoot Out the Lights, which had two things I hadn't really heard from him before--beautiful, magnificent electric guitar playing, and gorgeous vocal harmonies (between Richard and his wife/partner Linda). I learned that this was the last of a series of albums they had recorded together since 1974, along the way having become devout Sufi Muslims (Richard remains one today). Other than "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" and the depressing but humorous "God Loves a Drunk," none of my friends really caught on to Thompson:

All of my friends don't comprehend me
Their kind of style it just offends me
I want to take 'em, I want to shake 'em
'Till they pay me some heed
(from "A Man in Need," off Shoot Out the Lights)

But that's not really the point. I wanted to talk about the two records of RT's that I've finally rounded up to complete my collection. The pair of records--Amnesia (1988) and Mirror Blue (1994)--are both albums I've avoided because they don't fit my idea of a good Richard Thompson record.

The first two are from the Froom period I mentioned earlier, when crappy production combined with a rather drastic change in his style of arrangement to produce music that sounded very little like his earlier work with Linda Thompson. This period--from Amnesia to You? Me? Us? (1996) produced his most dated-sounding records. The songwriting was still, for the most part, top-notch, but the arrangements involve a lot of electric-sounding drums and layered organs and keyboards, make him sound like a folkier 'Til Tuesday.

Richard Thompson - Reckless Kind (track 3 from Amnesia)

Rumor & Sigh came out in between the two records I'm discussing here, and was a major critical and commercial success (and nominated for an Alternative Rock Grammy), which gave Froom, from the sound of Mirror Blue, some ideas. Several of the tracks feature production that sounds like it was built off a tape loop stolen from Tom Waits circa Raindogs, but rather than sounding innovative or avant-guard, it simply doesn't suit Thompson's songwriting or singing, which at this time was evolving away from his earlier electric sound and towards an aggressive acoustic approach honed during his mostly solo acoustic touring.

Richard Thompson - For the Sake of Mary (track 1 off Mirror Blue)
Richard Thompson - Mingus Eyes (track 8 off Mirror Blue)

The most successful songs on both records are the slower numbers, where the "innovative" production has the least chance to get in the way (I imagine taking Froom's name and turning it into a verb--to "Froom" meaning to take something of inherent quality and obscure it through well-meaning but misguided obfuscation. For example, "The argument in my term paper was well thought out, but I froomed it, and because she couldn't tell what I was saying, the professor gave me a C+."). In particular, Beeswing (from Mirror Blue) and "Waltzing's for Dreaming" (Amnesia) rival Thompson's best ballad work.

Richard Thompson - Waltzing's for Dreaming (track 9 from Amnesia)
Richard Thompson - Beeswing (track 10 from Mirror Blue)

Now they say love's for gamblers, oh the pendulum swings
I bet hard on love and I lost everything
So don't send me home now, put a shot in my arm
And we'll drink out old memories and we'll drink in the dawn
And Mr Bandleader won't you play one more time
For I've good folding money in this pocket of mine
(from "Waltzing's for Dreamers")

But all of this is really an elaborate segue into the minimally anticipated but lovingly prepared Whoopee in Hell Mix #4, "A Town with No Future" (A Richard Thompson Compendium). There's a pair of "Greatest Hits" packages already (one for the Richard & Linda years and one for the Capitol [read: Froom] years), but nothing career-spanning and focused on his studio recordings (there are also two multidisc comps focused on live tracks and outtakes here and here). This mix covers roughly every studio and "official" live record (including his five records as a member of the British folk/psychedelia group Fairport Convention), but rather than compile it chronologically, I went the Bob Pollard route. It's arranged as a mix, sequenced for listening, rather than posterity. And bear in mind not ever song was sung by RT--he was only rarely the lead singer in Fairport Convention, and his wife sang more than half the songs on the early records. But except for his acoustic cover of the old chestnut "Shenandoah," these are all RT compositions, and that's his lead guitar you hear on the Fairport Convention tracks, back in the day when he has making his name as one of the premier Brit guitar players not named Clapton, Page, or Beck.

Whoopee in Hell Mix #4: "A Town With no Future" - A Richard Thompson Compendium
  1. Roll Over Vaughn Williams - Richard Thompson
  2. Shoot Out The Lights - Richard & Linda Thompson
  3. Beat The Retreat - Richard & Linda Thompson
  4. Shenandoah - Richard Thompson
  5. Cooksferry Queen - Richard Thompson
  6. I Ain't Going To Drag My Feet No More - Richard Thompson
  7. Crawl Back (Under My Stone) - Richard Thompson
  8. I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight - Richard & Linda Thompson
  9. Matty Groves - Fairport Convention
  10. Man In Need - Richard & Linda Thompson
  11. I Feel So Good - Richard Thompson
  12. Tear-Stained Letter - Richard Thompson
  13. Valerie - Richard Thompson
  14. The Angels Took My Racehorse Away - Richard Thompson
  15. Time Will Show The Wiser - Fairport Convention
  16. Don't Renege On Our Love - Richard & Linda Thompson
  17. When I Get To The Border - Richard & Linda Thompson
  18. Time To Ring Some Changes - Richard Thompson
  19. 1952 Vincent Black Lightning - Richard Thompson
  20. The Cavalry Cross - Richard & Linda Thompson
  21. Meet On The Ledge - Fairport Convention
  22. I'll Regret It All In The Morning - Richard & Linda Thompson
  23. Wall Of Death - Richard & Linda Thompson
  24. Both Ends Burning - Richard Thompson
  25. Turning of the Tide - Richard Thompson
  26. I Can't Wake Up To Save My Life - Richard Thompson
  27. Sibella - Richard Thompson
  28. Don't Sit On My Jimmy Shands - Richard Thompson
  29. Dark End Of The Street [Live] - Richard & Linda Thompson
  30. I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight [Live] - Richard Thompson
  31. God Loves A Drunk - Richard Thompson
  32. Dad's Gonna Kill Me - Richard Thompson
Get Tracks 1-14; 15-32

Posted by Brandon

21 December 2008

Whoopee in Hell Mix #3: Baby Jesus, Born to Rock! (and Getting to Phoenix...)

The desktop widget that updates me on the weather says it's -8° right outside my window. I was outside once today, to help my wife scrape her windshield and make sure her car started (it did, thank god). It's one of those days--the 25 mph winds, the bitter cold--when they would have canceled school when I was younger. Of course, it's not a school day, and in any case, my school year is over.

So, as you've noticed, we've had our first post from my good friend and fellow contributor. We'll do a post about us in a little while. But the proximate result of his first post is that we're happy to present you with dueling Christmas Mixes this holiday season.

Unlike my colleague, I've mellowed rather a lot over the years, and
can almost look you all in the eye and say I like Christmas. And I do--especially the cold, white aspect of it. I've lived in the Upper Midwest most of my life, and what I missed most last Christmas, sitting on the knife edge of the quickly approaching Sahara Desert in Nigeria, was the snow and cold. Obviously, apartment living helps--I haven't shoveled a meaningful amount of snow in three years.

But you're hear for the music. Instead of Compton's weakest link, we begin on this side with the Rev. A. W. Nix, who has a depression-era message of Christmas warmth--the kind that you feel deep down up in your bones from sidling up next to Satan! So having gotten our priorities and our souls right with God, we're able to get down to our sexy, funky business. While I love a great pop song more than the next guy ("Baby Jesus, born to rock!" is E's Christmas manifesto on track two), I spend half my time on rowdy soul and rockabilly--my highlights are Sonny Boy
Williamson II's message of Christmas materialism (blues singers almost inevitably call St. Nick "Santy Claus," which is fine by us), and of course Clarence Carter's loverman "Backdoor Santa," who looks ridiculous but still cuckolds you Christmas morning--"he don't come but once a year," if you get his drift.

Also, some of you may recognize the lead singer of Adam's House Cat as the Drive-By Truckers' Patterson Hood. He and guitar hero Mike Cooley were singing about smack-addled Santas long before writing
the "Southern Rock Opera." And, since I have a natural need for one-upmanship, if the first mix brought you "Christmas in Vietnam," on this mix the Black Lips will give you "Christmas in Baghdad," crackly from the 7 inch vinyl. And we end, naturally, with some spoken-word recollections my Mr. Johnny Cash, from his 1963 Columbia album, "The Christmas Spirit":
Christmas came, and Christmas went,
Christmas that year was heaven-sent.

And my daddy put on his rubber boots
and faced the floor, waitin' for the thaw,
back home in Dyess, ArkansasJohnny Cash's childhood home (Dyess, Arkansas, circa 2007)

Whoopee in Hell Mix #3: Baby Jesus, Born to Rock!
  1. How Will You Spend Christmas - Rev. A.W. Nix
  2. Everything's Gonna Be Cool This Christmas - Eels
  3. Christmas With the Devil - Spinal Tap
  4. There ain't no Santa Claus on the Evenin' Stage - Captain Beefheart
  5. Christmas Feeling Ska - Toots & the Maytals
  6. Poor Mr. Santa - Andre Williams
  7. Santa Claus - Sonny Boy Williamson
  8. Backdoor Santa - Clarence Carter
  9. Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin' - Albert King
  10. Christmas Celebration - B.B. King
  11. This Christmas - Donny Hathaway
  12. I Hear Jingle Bells - Freddie King
  13. Who Took The Merry Out Of Christmas - The Staple Singers
  14. Listening To Otis Redding At Home on Christmas Day - Okkervil River
  15. Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis - Neko Case
  16. Grateful for Christmas - Hayes Carll
  17. Merry Christmas from the Family - Robert Earl Keen
  18. Too Much Wine - The Handsome Family
  19. Christmas is for Losers - Mike Nicolai
  20. Here It Is Christmas - The Old 97's
  21. Jesus Christ - Big Star
  22. The Christmas Song - Weezer
  23. Sometimes You Have To Work On Christmas - Harvey Danger
  24. Santa Claus - Wild Billy Childish & The Musicians of the British Empire
  25. Christmas In Baghdad - Black Lips
  26. Christmas Lullaby - Cary Grant
  27. Santa's Out of Rehab by Christmas - Adam's House Cat
  28. Merry Christmas Baby - The BellRays
  29. Jingle Bells (Dan The Automator Remix) - Dean Martin
  30. Millie Pulled A Pistol On Santa - De La Soul
  31. My Christmas Bells - Hard Call Christmas (Peanut Butter Wolf)
  32. Jingle Bells - Ice-T
  33. Santa Claus is Sometimes Brown - El Vez
  34. Please Come Home For Christmas - Charles Brown
  35. Santa Claus' Daughter - Charlie Rich
  36. They Shined Up Rudolph's Nose - Johnny Horton
  37. Lonesome Christmas (Part 1) - Lowell Fulson
  38. Silent Night - Tom Waits
  39. Christmas As I Knew It - Johnny Cash
Get it in two parts (Part one, tracks 1-18) (Part two, tracks 19-39).

And as an aside, you'll notice that this mix is labeled #3. That's not a mistake. Whoopee in Hell mix #2 is lost in cyberspace, just as its author (and my buddy and co-contributor) is lost in Arizona. Coming from Illinois to Idaho this morning, his plane was late in Chicago, and having missed his connection, he's stuck in Phoenix, waiting for a plane. He's told me he may be stuck until Christmas morning, his mix sadly unposted. So until we get to see your take on Christmas music, brother, this is for you. Keep the faith.

Glen Campbell - By the Time I Get to Phoenix
Wanda Jackson - By the Time You Got to Phoenix
(the thunderclap of misery that is) Isaac Hayes - By the Time I Get to Phoenix

And, last but not least...

Centro-Matic - Keep the Phoenix in Slow Motion
Public Enemy - By the Time I Get to Arizona

Safe travels, good people. Leave and travel well.

Posted by Brandon

20 December 2008

I'm Sitting Here Wondering, Would a Matchbox Hold my Clothes?

I've been on a bit of a Carl Perkins kick the last few months. I mention this now because 'tis the season on music blogs across the interwebs to write one (or both) of the two classic end-of-year posts: the "year in review" best albums/single post, and the Chrismas post. We'll be doing a Christmas post or two, but I'm not prepared to sum up the year in music. There are several reasons for this.

First, I was overseas until the middle of July, which provides me with a pretty ironclad alibi for having missed Bon Iver the first time around (the fact that I'm from Wiscconsin may make this less excusable, but I'll live with it). I was in Nigeria, actually--not a land of Bit Torrents and Mom and Pop record shops, and other than a copy of Sprinsteen's "Magic" that arrived around Christmastime, I had only what I could carry on my 80GB Ipod to keep me company. Now, obviously, this is a lot of music, but I wasn't exactly plugged into Fleet Foxes. I had my catalogue records--a lot of older music I wanted to catch up on.

So that's the good reason. The second reason is the one I have more trepidation about. To preface: I was an early adopter of the current indie music scene. Pitchfork has been my homepage since 2002. I bought Broken Social Scene's "You Forget it in People" when it first came out in the US--the first copy off the truck here in Madison. But lately, I've been disillusioned by the whole thing--tired of the scramble to keep up. I like to tell myself it coincided with the rise of freak-folk and the whole Firey Furnaces/Animal Collective thing--that I was more of what Robert Christgau calls a "poppist" than an experimental/avant-garde fan (which is clearly one way to look at it).

But that's not really the issue. The issue is that I just don't care as much as I used to. I'd like to pretend it has to do with my creeping disdain for hipster culture--I'm not nearly skinny enough to pull off the new tight pants look, and too far out of shape for a fixed gear bike (I ride a 15 year old Schwinn mountain bike with a duct taped seat). But that's not it, either. I really just don't care anymore.

The biggest single factor is probably being out of college. While I love my graduate work, my taste in music doesn't really make much of a difference to the people I spend most of my days with. None of my fellow graduate students really want to discuss the merits of the new Deerhunter record(s), or discuss the ramifications of the Handsome Dick Manitoba lawsuit that resulted in Dan Smith's band becoming Caribou (not even the law and politics people!). I could probably interest at least one person in Ghostface Killah gossip, but I couldn't drum up interest in the Cool Kids. The music I listen to just doesn't really define me socially anymore--and all that work I used to do keeping up just doesn't seem valuable anymore. That and my wife sometimes expects me to "pay attention" to her.

So that brings me back to Carl Perkins. The last couple of years, I've been a lot more serious about Country/Soul/Blues/Rockabilly (the whole paying attention to my wife thing kinda went out the window with the faster high-speed internet). While my explorations in those regards are the subjects of once and future posts, I do find myself much more strongly drawn to older records. It's not like this stuff was (for the most part) part of my childhood--and it's not like I buy into the whole "authenicity" problematic. And I own at least 14 different t-shirts. And lots of underwear. So it's not like this song appeals to me literally. But yet I love it.

And even more, I love this version, which when I first saw it, helped to rekindle my interest in Derek & the Dominoes:

And of course, there's the original (near as I know):

And finally, for good measure, the finest rockabilly song ever:

and the hard-to-get but fantastic cover by the Memphis legend, Big Star-producing, North Mississippi All-Stars-siring James Luther Dickinson:

James Luther Dickinson - Dixie Fried (oh, hell. Want the whole album? Here it is.)

Thanks, y'all.

Posted by Brandon

17 December 2008

If we make it through December...

Here at the mighty University of Wisconsin, it's finals time, and for the lowly graduate teaching assistants of the world, this means two things:
1) Grading
2) Reduced Blogging.
I have about 120 blue book essays to grade by Friday morning, which means I'm rather unlikely to post between now and then. After that, the semester is over, and you all can expect a lot more posting (our second contributor also expects to come online in the next week or two, so be on the lookout).

13 December 2008

Whoopee in Hell Mix #1: There's Nowhere to Hide in Tacoma

Since I’m still trying to get the hang of this blogging thing, I figured I’d post something that might bring some people in—something that might have a little more appeal than the blues stuff (although I’ll be talking about a real interesting fellow named Josh White in a few days, and I want to talk about a Richard Thompson album that’s new to me). Every couple of weeks or so I’m going to try to throw up one of the mixes I make for my own use (as a way to bring some of my piles and piles of music into my iPod rotation). They’ll sometimes have a theme, sometimes not. One of my favorite bloggers, A Truer Sound (the finest alt. country blog in all the land, I reckon), did something similar for a while (although I think he said he’s taking some time off the mixes), and I always enjoyed checking them out.

When I make mixes for myself, I tend to start with a single song I’m really digging, and then try to work with things I associate off that track. For this mix, it was “Thrice All-American,” by Neko Case, off her Furnace Room Lullaby record (Bloodshot, 2000). Without going into too much irrelevant shit, I love her take on her “hometown” (she wasn’t born in Tacoma, just raised there)—a place she’s deeply ambivalent about (and would

almost certainly not enjoy living on a permanent basis). I feel very similarly about my own hometown—also a fading industrial city of little culture but a certain amount of innate beauty (if you cock your head a little to the right and squint, at least). Normally, I don’t love most of Neko Case’s work (with the exception of her New Pornographers tracks, which I almost always like best on those albums)—I find a lot of Blacklisted tedious and samey-sounding, for example, but the poppier songs (this one, “Hold On, Hold On,” a couple others on Fox Confessor) really show off her voice (her oft-backing band, the Sadies, are much the same for me—a few great tracks, not as great in full album form).

There’s some other stuff on here that’s big on the blogs—“Lost Coastlines” by Okkervil River, which I had picked for this mix back when I first got back to the States without knowing it was the “big” song off the album (and I saw them this fall—they really have become a great live band—much better than when I saw them in ’06). There’s some old R.E.M., a song off my favorite Pavement album, some Louvin Brothers, and in closing, some Willie Nelson off The Red-Headed Stranger. Think of it as an early Winter mix—I’ve been rocking it while walking up State Street in Madison, at dusk between the University and the Capitol, all lit up in pale blue for the winter season. in With the fresh snow of the last few days, it’s been a great listen. Enjoy!

Whoopee in Hell Mix #1: There’s Nowhere to Hide in Tacoma

  1. Thrice All-American - Neko Case
  2. Then He Kissed Me - The Crystals
  3. Holland, 1945 - Neutral Milk Hotel
  4. Lost Coastlines - Okkervil River
  5. Hast Thou Considered the Tetrapod? - The Mountain Goats
  6. (Don't Go Back to) Rockville - R.E.M.
  7. The Late Greats - Wilco
  8. Gold Soundz - Pavement
  9. Mad at a Girl - Robbie Fulks
  10. Satellite - The Replacements
  11. A Dame with a Rod - The Juliana Hatfield Three
  12. Angel - Rod Stewart
  13. Eli, the Barrow Boy - The Decemberists
  14. Layin' Around the House - The Gourds
  15. Moonlight Mile - The Rolling Stones
  16. In the Pines - The Louvin Brothers
  17. Pushkin - Bonnie "Prince" Billy
  18. Hands on the Wheel - Willie Nelson
Or, for those willing to commit, here's the whole thing here. (And, given our hosting limitations, do grab the whole thing from Mediafire. It's a very fast download, and it gives me time to figure out hosting for some more tracks!)

Posted by Brandon

10 December 2008

Rounding out the Collection: Barbecue Bob

So, how do I feel about the blues? My wife is sewing tonight, making a doll for a friend whose wife is having a baby soon. She’s basing it on a piece we saw at an exhibition in a museum here in Madison—made up of tiny rings of fabric that will be linked together (kind of like a cloth Slinky™) to make the doll’s legs and body.

While she was sewing, almost absentmindedly, I started pitching the little rings into a plastic box across the room. After a few repetitions (to account for the weight and flight properties of the rings), I started to hit my mark—after about 15 minutes I was putting 9 of 10 into the box from about 5 feet.

(not me - Google Images for "pitching Cards into a hat" were a tad slim)

This is special.

When I was in high school, I pitched cards into a hat. It was rather more than a hobby. I was quite good at it. Card-pitching was a harsh mistress, though. She demanded a lot of time. I did it a lot on weekends. There were days when my friends would call me to go out, and I would turn them down so as to practice my card pitching.

Mostly, this happened around the time I bought my first Muddy Waters record. I had a Sony boombox, and I would plug in my long headphone cord (so I didn’t have to take off the headphones when I got up to collect the cards from around the hat). I played the almighty shit out of that CD—the Chess Records Best of (1947-54) comp, with “I Can’t Be Satisfied” and “Hoochie Coochie Man.” Muddy was my gateway—not the original (and most white suburban blues fans have a similar story) gateway, but the credible, actual-blues one.

I’ve gone a lot deeper into the blues now, but I can’t shake the idea that I don’t know enough—that I don’t get the nuances of the regional differences, or know enough of the players. I don’t think I could put together a credible introduction-to the-genre mix for someone who asked (not that anyone’s asking—I realize that this is ridiculous). I’m working on getting further into that second tier of bluesmen—the people who are foundational, but not as widely known. And thanks to great blogs like El Diablo Tun Tun and Blues Town, I’ve made some progress.

Yesterday, I downloaded a Barbecue Bob comp off of the Bluestown blog. He’s one of the Altanta-based bluesmen crucial to the “Piedmont” or Georgia blues style. There’s not much I can tell you about him (and all of it is readily available elsewhere), but here are the highlights:

He was born Robert Hicks in 1902, in Walnut Grove, Georgia. His recording career began in early 1927 (a shade earlier than his more famous Atlanta counterpart, Blind Willie McTell), after being discovered by a Columbia records rep while singing in Tildwell’s Barbecue Place in Atlanta, where he worked (thus, BBQ Bob). He played mostly 12 string guitar. He died at 29 of pneumonia. There are two surviving photos, one of which shows him holding his guitar while dressed in his cook’s apron.

While he sometimes played with a slide, the songs I have lack the kinds of knifing solos I associate with the Delta Blues I’m far more familiar with. I also find his voice less distinctive than Blind Willie McTell’s, but
he’s an expressive singer with a fine tenor. His music covers the expected range—from the bawdy to the diluvian (see Patton, Charlie).

This isn’t much of a review, but two songs:


are really fabulous additions to my blues rotations (“Motherless Chile” in Bob’s version has been very influential—Eric Clapton’s cover being the most famous).

So, where would I file this (assuming I had a physical copy)? The Piedmont/Georgia blues is something I hope will grow on me—what I know of it is less sinister, less ominous to my ears than the Delta music I first encountered, but I like it. This slips in between Blind Willie McTell and some of that string band music I like so well (Mississippi Sheiks, perhaps)—at least until I flesh out my collection some more.

Posted by Brandon

09 December 2008

Rounding Out the Collection: Intro

So I’m going to try to do a variety of different things with my part of this operation, and one of the most important to me is a series of posts I’m going to call “Rounding out the Collection.”

Like most people I know who are serious about music, the internet has radically changed the way I consume, search for, and discover new music. When we got the internet for the first time in 1996, the first thing I did was look up “Led Zeppelin” on Altavista’s search engine. I spent the day reading crappy Geocities fanpages (complete with classic 1996 webdesign and interface—and still there after all these years!), and learned all about the convoluted mythology of Zeppelin IV, the first CD I owned after my first great musical “epiphany,” the summer I turned 14 and put away childish things (top 40 radio).

Led Zeppelin - Battle of Evermore

By 1997, I had moved on musically and technologically. I spent a lot of nights my last year in high school on a listserv for my favorite band, the Old 97’s, trading concert reviews, rumors about the band’s next album, and getting into the Dallas music scene (which was a little weird, since I was from Wisconsin).

Old 97’s Beer Cans (Too Far to Care Outtake - Never Officially Released)

I missed the first wave of Napster by a year or two—my first very own computer (a Gateway bought in 1997) didn’t have an Ethernet port, and when I got to college in the fall of 1999, home computing remained a dial-up affair for me (much to my first roommate’s chagrin, I ran a jury-rigged phone cord along the dorm wall from my desk to the communal phone jack, and dialed into my parents’ AOL for two years, before simply giving up and using campus computers for my internet needs). So in college, there was album swapping (I met my wife-to-be in part because she was one of the only people I knew who had a good CD copying set-up on her computer—with two CD-Rom drives!—and I wanted to trade albums with my then-girlfriend), ordering from the still-minimalist storefront at http://cheap-cds.com/, and whatever scant word-of-mouth was available in Cedar Rapids, IA. I had one buddy in particular, who had grown up in Washington, IA but had excellent taste in CBGB-style New York punk. I was finally able to put a sound to names like the Dead Boys, Johnny Thunders, and Richard Hell & the Voidoids.

Johnny Thunders & the Heartbreakers - Born To Lose

When I got to Grad School in Madison, the prospects improved. When I had been in high school, a trip to Madison was massive for me—State Street from the University to the Capitol was a haze of record stores like the (now relocated) Sugar Shack and the B-Side, which immediately became my go-to spot, the place where I bought the long-lost Rocket from the Tombs record when the re-issue came out.

Rocket From the Tombs - Final Solution

But the way I got at music didn’t really change until I got my laptop and DSL in 2004. This is a story most people already know—the experimentation with different P2P services, a short tour with BitTorrent, and finally, looking for something a little more secure (damned RIAA!) and maybe a little more personal, I found music blogs. I started with Hype Machine and mp3 blogs, and quickly graduated to Totally Fuzzy and the full-album variety—accumulating music at an alarming rate (pointless hoarding, my wife calls it). With so much at my fingertips, one problem is solved—I rarely have to spend months (or years) trying to find an album (or worse even, a song) I’ve heard a reference to in a book or a conversation, skimming the used bins in every record store in every city I visit, carrying around a list in my wallet, (almost) paying ridiculous fees on eBay for weird out-of-print records I’m not even sure I’ll like.

What I tell myself (and thus the name of the series) is that I’m “rounding out my collection,” filling in the “gaps” in my already 100 GB+/1200 album collection—stuff every serious fan of country/reggae/classic rock/1970s Cleveland post-punk/early Piedmont Blues should have. But obviously, it tends to degenerate into wild, bleary-eyed, late-night downloading binges—stabbing wildly across genre lines into the weird little nooks and crannies of recorded music’s century of history. These posts are an effort both to:

  • Slow down my ridiculous accumulation of music I don’t even have time to try out to a workable pace—to be intentional in what I download, to return to the real goal of “rounding out my collection” with records I’ll like and relate to the music I most enjoy.

  • Document the process (personal and digital) by which I find these songs and albums, thinking about how they fit in with my record collection and my life.

This may all seem a little ponderous, but it’ll be good for me, and maybe interesting for somebody out there. I'm not going to post new stuff--strictly catalogue material--but I hope I turn up a few things interesting to more than me. Thanks for playing along.

Posted by Brandon