Tag Archives: United States

Christmas/Holiday Theme Week: Have a Holly Jolly Christmas

According to Wikipedia, Burl Ives was a singer, stage actor, and voice personality.  As I’m sure you are aware, Wikipedia is not entirely reliable.  This video shows the real Burl Ives:

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1994 Nostalgic Songs: Hold My Hand

I can’t possibly write about the music from 1994 without mentioning Hootie and the Blowfish.  This going to be a short post because words can’t describe…well you get the point.  But who would have thought Darius Rucker would become a respectable country star?  Or who could forget contribution when he was trying to sell Chicken Bacon Ranch sandwiches from Burger King?

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Second Careers of Great Artists: Mavis Staples

(Sorry for the short post.)

Mavis Staples has been enjoying quite the comeback lately.  While she never really went away, her new album You Are Not Alone, produced by Jeff Tweedy has received critical acclaim.  Meanwhile her performance with Tweedy was a highlight at last Saturday’s Rally to Restore Sanity in DC.

“Only The Lord Knows”:

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Bob Dylan & New York: “Spanish Harlem Incident”

When I first looked at the track-list for Another Side of Bob Dylan, and saw the title “Spanish Harlem Incident”, I wrongly assumed that it was a topical song about Spanish Harlem.  This was back when I didn’t know much about Dylan, and had yet to realize what  Another Side of Bob Dylan was about.

It should come as no surprise that Dylan would be attracted to such a girl.  He’s always had a fascination with the exotic nomadic lifestyle – he’s romanticized his travel from Minnesota to New York.  The Rolling Thunder Revue in 1975/76 was a sort of circus/gypsy touring extravaganza.  And “One More Cup of Coffee” is another song about gypsies.

“But now destiny was about to manifest itself,” He wrote in Chronicles Volume One. “I felt like it was looking at me and nobody else.”   Is this why he wandered up to Spanish Harlem, to confirm what he already thought might be true?  “Let me know babe, about my fortune,” He tells the mysterious woman.  “Down along my restless palm.”  Perhaps that was his original intention, but as the song goes on, he is seduced by the gypsy girl’s powers.  “You have slayed me, you have made me,” He tells her.

While on the surface, the attraction is purely sexual – perhaps Dylan felt a subconscious connection as an exile with her.  In the 1960’s Dylan had not only abandoned his home in Minnesota for a better life and opportunity in New York City, but he also abandoned his life as a Jew, adopting Dylan as his last name versus his surname Zimmerman.  Both Gypsies and Jews were targeted by Nazis in the Holocaust, so perhaps Dylan and the “gypsy gal” both saw themselves victims and exiles trying to make it in New York City, where all different kinds of cultures and races came together for a better life.  “I’ve been wondering all about me,” Dylan admits in the song.  Could he be referring to his new found identity as “Bob Dylan” versus “Robert Zimmerman”?  Did he think that this woman he found on the street could help him?

At the song’s conclusion, Dylan wants to know if he is real.  Is this referring to his legitimacy as a songwriter, or if making the move to New York was in fact the right move?  A year later, on “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” as his narrator wanders through Mexico in a drug-haze he answers this question by stating: “I’m going back to New York City, I do believe I’d had enough.”

“Spanish Harlem Incident” – The only version I could find on Youtube was this cover by James Mercer:

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Bob Dylan & New York

I’m going to New York City this weekend, so this week’s theme is going to revolve around New York.  I was going to do a full week of my favorite New York songs, but I came to the conclusion that once I posted it I would be pissed, because there would probably be a song that I should have profiled.

So, to celebrate the release of Bob Dylan’s Bootleg Series Vol. 9 – The Witmark Demos (which was a publishing company based in New York) I’m going to look at Dylan songs about New York.

More later.

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The Problem With The Edge

 

Back in 2008, when Kings of Leon released “Only the Night” I was a bit disappointed with the direction that the band seemed to be going in.  They had abandoned their dirty rock roots opting instead for a clean, shimmery clean arena ready sound.  Even “Sex on Fire” the album’s sole “rock” song was washed in delays pedals.  A band who spent three albums creating a distinct sound, suddenly sounded like everyone else.  And while Kings of Leon’s guitarists is pretty decent, it was clear he was learning tricks from a certain knit-capped wearing guitarist who’s made an entire career out of using delay pedals.

The Edge is very inventive and knows how to construct a song based on atmospherics that only enhance Bono’s bombastic singing.  The Edge wasn’t the first to create icy delays in rock song (it’s usually credited to Tom Verlaine of Television) but he certainly took it further than anyone else.  It’s a sound that has made U2 distinctive, and like it or not associated with The Edge himself.  Throughout the years, even The Edge has forgone his trade-mark style, looking for inspiration in distortion best seen on 1991’s “Achtung Baby”. 

Somewhere within the past decade almost every single up and coming band that wanted to be reach as many fans as possible seemed to copy U2’s signature sound.  It’s as if the guitar players from Coldplay, Snow Patrol, The Killers, among others each had a delay pedal and placed the settings on “Edge” and hit record.  Unfortunately none of these bands are as good as song-crafting or inventive as U2, and they all of their front-men lack the charisma of Bono.   These artists think that by aiming big and copying U2 they will be seen as a serious band with importance just like their heroes.  Too bad that their efforts just come off as flat and pompous.

Two years after “Only By the Night” Kings of Leon released the first single from their forth-coming album “Come Around Sun Down”.  I was hoping that they would opt for a stripped down sound in constrast to the sheen of “Only By the Night”.  Amazingly, they not only set the guitars to “Edge” again, but they also managed to bring in a choir.  When U2 played with a choir for a live version of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” at least you could tell they meant it.

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Anniversary Week – Tuesday: “Your Hands (Together)” – The New Pornographers

I’ve been a fan of the New Pornographers since 2005/2006.  One of my friends was playing them while we were hung over and driving to get some greasy food.  Perhaps I was just in a certain frame of mind at the time, but the power-pop bliss of “Use It” stayed in my head for weeks.  And it’s never really gone away either – it’s my second most played song on Itunes.

I was disappointed with 2007’s Challengers because it seemed like the New Pornographers finally admitted that they were just a side band for almost every single member.  Only a couple of songs stood out in an otherwise lackluster album.  Luckily they bounced back with this year’s Together. They realized that they might all be in different groups and have different musical outlets, but together they create some pretty kick-ass music.

“Your Hands (Together)” is the New Pornographers at their best – it somehow manages to blend both Cheap Trick (an average band who sounds awesome when you’re drunk enough to do karaoke) and Black Sabbath.  It begins with a chunky power chord that’s ripped right out of “War Pigs” – there’s even breathing room for the cymbals to heard without headphones on.  The star of the show here is Neko Case, who once again proves why she is a star in her own right.  The way she harmonizes with Carl (aka AC) Newman is nothing short of amazing.

The song rocks, but for The New Pornographers it’s the closest they’ll get to Led Zeppelin or Sabbath.  Newman describes the genesis of the song here.

“Your Hands (Together)”:

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This Week’s Theme: Songs From 1965

I’ve been digging the new season on Mad Men lately, and since this season takes place in 1964, I thought it would be fun to devote this week’s list of songs to 1965.  I don’t see Don Draper drinking himself to sleep while listening to Dylan or the Beatles, depending on your viewpoint “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” may or may not be his personal motto.

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