Friday, March 25, 2016

Almost Spring; Almost

Friday has come around again. Spring is playing coy - the temperatures jumping around from day to day, hour to hour, all accompanied by rain. Had some snow at the beginning of the week, but before the day was out the sun was up and the snow all gone. March coming in like a lion and going out like a lamb, all on the same day. It's like that almost every day! Fun stuff.

Baseball is coming - about another week. All is close to being well.

And some music, to round off the week:

1. Pylon - Very Right
2. Steve Almas & Ali Smith - The Lonely Sea
3. Pixies - No. 13 Baby
4. Richard Thompson - Little Blue Number
5. Grinderman - Go Tell the Women
6. Syd Barrett - No Good Trying
7. Rage Against the Machine - Settle for Nothing
8. The Kinks - She's Got Everything
9. OOIOO - Asozan
10. Sonny Sharrock - Fourteen

And some video? Always the Pixies, no?

Audio only, but this naturally suggests itself: Sonny Sharrock:

And a lottle more work on YouTube, and I found what I really wanted - Sonny Sharrock live, 14:

Friday, March 18, 2016

Marching Forward

Spring is almost here - it's looking and feeling like spring - but for how long? IS there a snow storm on the horizon this weekend? ha ha ha - who knows? On the other hand - only a couple more weeks to baseball - there is always that!

All right - I don't have much more to say. Politics? the usual grim litany of stupidity, and President Obama tramping straight ahead as if he were president, while the idiots around him flail and flounder... There will be plenty of chances to lament the stupidity of the Republican party, so I will let that pass for now. Let's just do some music today.

1. The White Stripes - In the Cold Cold Night
2. Prince and the Revolution - New Position
3. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Tigers
4. Beck - Milk & Honey
5. Sleater Kinny - Funeral Song
6. The Strokes - Trying Your Luck
7. John Martyn - Don't Think Twice It's All Right
8. Tim Burgess - A Case of Vinyl
9. Ghost - Hanmiyau
10. My Bloody Valentine - Only Tomorrow

Video? In honor of yesterday's holiday - The Irish Rover, from the Pogues and the Dubliners:

And also: how about Beck?

And some MBV:

Friday, March 11, 2016

The Slyest Rhymes and the Sharpest Suits

[well - Comcast manged to stop me from posting this this mogrning - but it's still Friday! And Smokey can bring as much happiness in the evening as the morning, right? So here we are.]

I'm in a complicated stretch of my band of the month series - Bowie last month, and one of these days I am going to have to essay Dylan - big, complicated artists that I have a somewhat uneasy relationship with, people I have been avoiding because they deserve attention, but I haven't always had the emotional or biographical connections I have with most fo these people. What can I say?

This month is not like that. This month I am going to write about a much more direct pleasure - the man I think might be the best songwriter of the rock era, and possessor of one of the best voices as well - Mr. William "Smokey" Robinson Jr. Sometimes, Motown artists can be victims of their own success - all over the radio, and the silly, oldies stations (when I was growing up - now, oldies are Nirvana and Ice Cube), trotted out during fundraiser week for PBS to do smile and mime some dance moves from 1962, covered by everybody, from Mick and Keef and Bob and Jerry down to every wedding band ever, all this repetition reducing the songs to pretty melodies and clever turns of phrase, and memories of the perfection of the original harmonies... You take it for granted. The Motown songs seem to suffer a bit more from this than, say, Stax Volt, or funk artists - maybe because they were prettier, smoother, slicker - maybe because the artists weren't as confrontational. (Do you ever take James Brown for granted? maybe as a celebrity - but now matter how many times you hear it, doesn't Sex Machine or Cold Sweat just bowl you over? right?) Maybe - they are slicker, a bit safer, a bit easier to absorb into nostalgia and sentimentality. Maybe.

I have to fight this, sometimes; not with Smokey though. All the things that made Motown's music great, he has - and he has himself, as well. His songs are just a little bit better (whether he sang them or someone else did): the melodies a bit more surprising, a bit more beautiful - and his words, always, sharp as the sharpest steel. Stories, emotions, atmosphere, he gets with great precision - it's not just the famous lines (when it's cold outside, I have the month of May), it's the gems buried in the middle of songs, not quite throwaways - most every taxi that you flag.... He's worthy of Cole Porter: she may be cute, she's just a substitute, because you are the permanent one... if good looks was a minute, you know you coulda been an hour... sweetness was only heartache's camouflage... in order to shield my pride I try to cover this hurt with a show of gladness... I've got so much honey the bees envy me...

They're good. And he had a voice to match. I won't say his is the best - Motown didn't lack for great voices - but he had an almost perfect voice for his songs. His high sweet falsetto, his emotionalism, his intimate tone, inhabit the songs, make them live. They are miniature dramas, carefully crafted, deeply felt, and performed with total conviction. And given musical settings worthy of them. I don't want to underrate the music. The records themselves are glorious - first rate musicians, brilliant arrangements, the sharp, clean production. All Motown records were spectacular productions, but the Miracles songs certainly. They are as memorable for the musical parts - the guitars on Tracks of My Tears (and many others, but that one is particularly famous); drum intro on Going to a Go Go - as as the vocals and words. Marv Tarplin, especially, was an integral part of the band, his guitars shaping many of their songs. They are sonic masterpieces.

And so it is. I can listen to Smokey all day and all night. For a top 10 - it's tempting to work in some of the songs he wrote for other people, but I won't (in this list). I will include some solo work.

1. Tracks of My Tears [there's not much better, anywhere.]
2. I Second that Emotion
3. Tears of a Clown
4. The Love I saw in you was Just a Mirage
5. Going to a Go Go
6. Cuisin'
7. Oooh Baby Baby
8. You've Really Got a Hold On Me
9. More Love
10. Shop Around

Video? It's harder to find good live video of the Miracles - the technology is more primitive, and good live television frm the early 60s is rare. And besides that - they were very much a recording act. It's hard to match their production on stage, and their sound depends, an awful lot, on their sound. That's true of quite a lot of the 60s acts - the Beatles certainly, the Stones even for a while (though they shifted gears with Beggar's Banquet, went back to a more live sound.) So these tend to be pantomime performances - but I think they give a good idea of what the Miracles were actually like live. The sounds, the look, the subtle choreography.... Here is a very cool run through of Tracks of My Tears, black and white minimalism:

And what might be an even more minimalist, cusp of the 70s abstract color set, for Tears of a Clown:

Here, on the other hand, while we still have a cool, minimalist set, we get Smokey and the band performing Second That Emoption live - no slouches:

From the 70s, here's Smokey solo, with Cruisin':

Meanwhile - to get in some of the material he wrote for other people - here are the Temptations, doing both My Girl & The Way You Do the Things You Do:

And the first Smokey Robinson song I remember hearing - Linda Ronstadt singing Tracks of My Tears, and doing complete justice to it. She had a pretty magnificent set of pipes herself, and knew how to get inside a song:

And finally, the source of the title of this post, ABC and Martin Fry's tribute to the great man - a pretty nifty song itself:

Friday, March 04, 2016

Such a Disgrace

Happy Friday, world. Super Tuesday is done, and Hillary Clinton seems a lot closer to nomination, and Donald "The Donald" Trump seems a bit closer to his, and both seem to bring out the stupid and the venal. I see people calling themselves "progressives" saying they will never vote for Clinton - I see memes pretending that Clinton won Super Tuesday back in 2008, and Obama came back (claims easily debunked: Wikipedia). And of courese the GOP has it almost as bad - serial losers are run out to call Donald Trump names, Donald Trump responds with his usual class and grace. On your knees boy! The Republicans are certainly mounting an entertaining, if ridiculous spectacle, though I wonder if presidential election is the best forum for that kind of thing.

Stil: bad as Trump is, and ridiculous as the rest of the GOP is, I don't fear them as much as I fear the Democratic response to this election. Trump makes a big noise, but in the end he's a Republican politician running to a shrinking slice of the American public - they don't really have the votes to win. which is why what really worries me are the "progressives" and such who insist they won't vote for Hillary under any circumstances. That, right there, is the problem in this country. If Democrats vote for Democrats, Democrats will win. If Democrats (or liberals, progressives, leftists, socialists, whatever they want to call themselves) see Donald Trump's name next to the R (or, really, anyone's name next to the R) and don't vote for the D - it is their fault. If people vote, the Democrats will win; if they don't, the Republicans win. There are more of us, but we don't always vote. It is that simple. It is our fault.

Enough: music...

1. X - Real Child of Hell
2. The Red Krayola - Farewell to Arms
3. Melvins - Bride of Crankenstein
4. Thompson Family - Careful
5. Rocket from the Tombs (Redux) - Ain't it Fun
6. Tool - Viganti Tres
7. The Dictators - The Next Big Thing
8. Interpol - Anything
9. Outkast - Stankonia
10. John Parish and Polly Jean Harvey - Is That All There Is?

Video: If we must have a Dictator from New York, can't it be Handsome Dick?

Should a theme be discerned? Real Child of Hell...

Take it away Cheetah: