Posts Tagged ‘Emmylou Harris’

American Road Trip Vol. 5

April 13th, 2009 No comments

Before we proceed with our roadtrip, I wonder why all of a sudden there so many searches for Jenny Lewis (the wonderful singer of Rilo Kiley) coming to this blog.

And so, on our tour of the USA, we have left Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Jessica Alba”s one-time hometown of Biloxi and still travelling along the gulf coast, and not accompanied by the strains of Lynyrd Skynyrd, we enter Alabama.


Mobile, Alabama

As recorded last time, we”re covering French Louisiana”s successive capitals in a reverse chronological order. Before Biloxi, before New Orleans, before Baton Rouge, the capital of the French colony was Mobile. With its long history and cosmopolitan location, this Alabama town does not conform to the outsider”s perception of Alabama as populated by truck-driving, straw-chewing hicks who”d sooner don white hoods and lynch people for failing to skip off the pavement at their approach than do an honest day”s work (hey, I didn”t create the prejudices). Mobile, population 200,000, has a symphony orchestra, opera company, ballet troupe, and several art museums. And it is the subject of a Dylan song.

Actually, it”s not. As I understand it, Mobile serves as a metaphor for Dylan”s folk sound with Memphis representing rock & roll (Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins) and the electric blues of  Beale Street (B.B. King et al). The song, if it makes any sense at all, seems to reflect Dylan”s confusion about the reaction he received at the Newport Folk Frsrival after going electric.

Which brings us to Jerry Reed, whose Guitar Man could have slotted into various destinations on our journey. It is right that it should settle in Mobile, since that is where the Guitar Man gets his big gig at Big Jack”s. “So if you ever take a trip down to the ocean find yourself down round Mobile, well, make it on out to the club called Jack”s,” he advises. And where do we find the club? “Just follow that crowd of people, you”ll wind up out on his dance floor diggin” the finest little five piece group up and down the Gulf of Mexico.” Oh yeah, we dig.
Bob Dylan – Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again.mp3
Jerry Reed ““ Guitar Man.mp3


Montgomery, Alabama

The Rosa Parks bus

The Rosa Parks bus

We leave the coast and move inland, to Montgomery. And here we enter historical Jim Crow and civil rights movement territory. Montgomery, a city of about 200,000, became famous for its pivotal position in the emerging civil rights movement. These included the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott and, ten years later, the three Selma to Montgomery marches. The bus boycott was sparked, as we know, by Rosa Parks” courageous defiance of bus segregation. The conventional wisdom that a tired Rosa plonked herself down on a seat reserved for whites is a myth; her action was conceived and intended to animate protest. To that effect, she had only two week”s earlier attended a Memphis workshop on civil disobedience. Parks was not a random tired worker, but a political activist who knew exactly what she was doing. I rather prefer the truth to the myth: the  story of African-Americans taking charge of the anti-racist movement to lay claim to their rights. The mythology of the tired woman “” though doubtless a potent mobilising tool at the time “” now might invite ideas that these self-evident rights were granted out of some sense of pity, and not fought for and earned the hard way. (Discuss in 700 words)

The second featured song here is not about Rosa Parks or civil rights, but about a woman who happens to live in Montgomery. Her life didn”t quite turn out the way she had envisaged; she is clearly depressed and is now looking for an escape (the reference to her as an angel flying from Montgomery might hint at suicide). This is John Prine at his empathising best.
John Prine – Angel From Montgomery.mp3


Birmingham, Alabama

And from Rosa Parks” home we travel to the city where Martin Luther King Jr once ministered. Like Montgomery, Alabama”s industrial centre and capital was a primary site of the civil rights struggle. It was from a Birmingham jail that MLK, incarcerated for taking part in a non-violent protest, wrote his famous letter. And Birmingham was the city of the notorious bombing of the birmingham_civil_rights16th Street Baptist church that killed for young girls (earning the city the moniker Bombingham), an act that still outrages.

The concerted non-violent protest campaign named Project C, in which 3,000 people were arrested and many more assaulted by police is credited with forcing the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. By 1979, Birmingham elected an African-American mayor, Dr Richard Arrington Jr, which is not as dramatic as one might think since more than a three-quarter of the city”s population is black.

The featured song mentions Birmingham only by way of alliteration. It is Emmylou Harris” lament for Gram Parsons, whose face to see again she would walk from Boulder, Colorado to Birmingham.
Emmylou Harris – Boulder To Birmingham.mp3

From Alabama we shall board the midnight train to Georgia.


Previously on American Road Trip

American Road Trip Vol. 1

March 11th, 2009 7 comments

Any Major Dude With Half A Heart is going on a tour of the USA. Not physically, alas, for Any Major Dude is poor and cannot afford to travel. So what we have here is a new series in which I start a musical journey, starting from a random place in the United States, post a song that mentions that location, and travel to the nearest town which brings to my mind a lyric, and then to another. Next instalment I move on from the last featured town. Sounds complicated? Well, come and join me on my tour and make sense of it as we travel together.

The scientific blind-stab-at-the-map of the United States brings us to”¦an empty spot in the middle of nowhere near Albuquerque. So in that amusingly-named town, we begin our journey


Albuquerque, New Mexico

In Albuquerque we meet a fellow you seems to be too well-known in nearby Santa Fé, so he comes down to the bigger city of Albuquerque for a bit of anonymity, grabbing a cholesterol swelling breakfast on theway. Shall we accompany him on his return north to Santa Fé (where we might encounter Bob Dylan, Brooks & Dunn or Bon Jovi)? Head east, you say? Ok, do you know the way to Amarillo?
Neil Young ““ Albuquerque (1975).mp3


Amarillo, Texas

It never occurred to me that Amarillo was a real place. Well, the good people of Amarillo will have you, and me, know that their”s is the 14th biggest city in the Lone Star state, with a population of about 200,000. According to Wikipedia, Amarillo also boasts one of the largest meat packing areas in the US, and has the only nuclear weapons assembly and disassembly facility in the country. Wow! And here, in the one-time Helium Capital of the World, we meet sweet Marie, who is waiting for the sha-la-la-la-la-la-la-ing Tony Christie. As the church bells are ringing, we retire to a bar where we encounter a dude playing on a pinball machine, feeding coins into a juke box to play the country stylings of Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton. The fool left the lovely Emmylou Harris behind in Atlanta, we learn. Which way is Atlanta? Due east? Let”s be on our way.
Emmylou Harris ““ Amarillo (1975).mp3

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

So we turned right from Amarillo and landed up in Oklahoma where the exciting new Wilco-esque band Deep Vibration (presumably named after the cellular adventures of one Ashley Cole) entertains us with a sound so rich, we have no idea what the man is singing. Something, it seems, is on his mind. Fun fact about Oklahoma City #1: It is twinned with Rio de Janeiro, which seems somehow less than obvious. Fun fact about Oklahoma City #2: It is the 31st biggest city in the United States. Fun fact about Oklahoma City #3: It has water taxis, which is pretty cool.
Deep Vibration – Oklahoma City Woman Blues (2008).mp3

Next stop north, south, east?

The Originals Vol. 4

September 15th, 2008 1 comment

Everly Brothers – Love Hurts.mp3
Roy Orbison – Love Hurts.mp3
Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris – Love Hurts.mp3
Nazareth – Love Hurts.mp3
Don McLean – Love Hurts.mp3
Paul Young & the Q-Tips – Love Hurts.mp3
Monsieur Mono & Mara Tremblay – Love Hurts (direct DL)
It is possibly the greatest songs ever written from the perspective of heartbreak, with some gloriously bitter metaphors, and yet it took a long time to become a proper hit ““ and then in one of its worse incarnations. Love Hurts was written by Boudleaux Bryant who co-wrote several Everly Brothers hits. Love Hurts, however, was only an album track on the siblings” 1960 LP A Date With The Everly Brothers. In 1965, they recorded a more upbeat version, but their mid-tempo 1960 rendition was sufficiently mournful for Roy Orbison to cover it tremulously the following year, releasing it as a b-side. Thereafter, the song remained dormant for 13 years, until Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris delivered the definitive version. Their sweet harmonies are drenched in the hot blood of a broken heart, Parsons perfecting the art of spitting his bile with tender vulnerability.

A year later, the song finally became a hit, in the misplaced hands of hard rockers Nazareth whose singer sounds mortified at having to sing these intimate lyrics. It sounds like he lost a bet at karaoke night. More covers followed soon after, but it was Don McLean in 1981 who returned the song the sensibilities of the Everly Brothers and Roy Orbison, probably aware that an imitation of Gram Parsons” take was impossible. One of the more interesting propositions, the same year, was Paul Young recording the song with the Q-Tips before going solo. One can imagine how well this underrated singer (who did much to feed the dim views of his artistry) might have interpreted the song. In the event, it is a rendition of curious interest rather than a competitor, sounding more like an Ultravox arrangement than a soulful lament. He apparently re-recorded it in 1993, hopefully nailing it the second time around”¦
A late addition, thanks to L’Homme Scalp, is a rather lovely 2005 French version of the song.
Also recorded by: Cher, Jim Capaldi, Jennifer Warnes, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, Bad Romance, Kim Deal and Bob Pollard, Corey Hart, Barbara Dickson, Little Milton and Lucinda Williams, Robin Gibb, Pat Boone, Emmylou Harris, Stina Nordenstam, Sinéad O’Connor, Rod Stewart, Paul Noonan & Lisa Hannigan, Clare Teal a.o.
Best version: Parsons” version is one of my all-time favourite song”¦


Jacques Brel – Le Moribond.mp3
Rod McKuen – Seasons In The Sun.mp3

Terry Jacks – Seasons In The Sun.mp3
I might do my reputation no good at all when I confess that I can”t understand the vitriol levelled against Terry Jacks” 1974 hit. Yes, it”s sentimental and drenched in syrup, but it hardly is the only offender among its contemporaries in that respect. Cheesy though it may be, it is difficult to denounce a song that originated in the mighty catalogue of the unassailable Jacques Brel. The Belgian king of the vivant recorded the song as Le Moribund in 1961. In Brel”s version, and in poet Rod McKuen”s translation, the cause of the impending death could be natural but well might be a suicide note (there are strong hints that the singer”s wife had an extramarital affair). The English version was soon recorded by the Kingston Singers, and later by the Beach Boys. The latter”s version was not completed or released, but featured among its session musicians Terry Jacks (who, some accounts suggest, introduced the Beach Boys to the song). The Canadian-born singer changed the lyrics, introducing Michelle, his little one, into the proceedings and lightened the tone of the song considerably. The comparative cheerfulness of his version seems to eliminate the notion of suicide; unlike Brel or McKuen, Jacks sounds like a man who has made peace with his mortality.
Also recorded by: The Fortunes, Nana Mouskouri, Nirvana (you won’t see that sequence too often), Bad Religion, Black Box Recorder, Pearls Before Swine, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, Westlife a.o.
Best version: I really like McKuen”s version, which I received from our friend RH


Dee Dee Warwick – You’re No Good.mp3

Linda Ronstadt – You’re No Good.mp3
Linda Ronstadt”s big country-rock hit of 1974 started life as a “60s soul number. Written by the British songwriter Clint Ballard Jr, it was first recorded by Dee Dee Warwick, Dionne”s younger sister, in 1963. The same year Betty Everett (of Shoop Shoop Song fame) scored a minor hit with it. Ronstadt took the song out of its R&B context altogether, creating a new template on which future covers would be based. That is probably a sign of a really good cover artist: the ability of appropriating a song, changing it so much that it really will feel like a different song. These two versions are a great example of that attribute.
Also recorded by: Swinging Blue Jeans, José Feliciano, Van Halen, Elvis Costello, Wilson Phillips, Lulu, Jill Johnson a.o.
Best version: Ronstadt”s, probably.


The McCoys – Sorrow.mp3
David Bowie – Sorrow.mp3
Speaking of covers, it is a vaguely amusing coincidence that albums of cover versions by David Bowie and Bryan Ferry ““ icons of cool both at the time ““ entered the British charts on the same day in November 1973. Proof, if any was needed, that the covers project is not a recent phenomenon in pop music. David Bowie scored only one hit from the Pin Ups album, Sorrow, which had been made popular in the UK seven years earlier by the Merseys. The original version of it, however, was by the McCoys, the US group better known for their big hit Hang On Sloopy, which also provided the title for the 1965 album which featured Sorrow.
Also recorded by: Status Quo, Tribal Underground, Powderfinger
Best version: Bowie’s shades it.


Sting – I Hung My Head
Johnny Cash – I Hung My Head.mp3
Who would have thought that Sting could write a really excellent country song. Of course, Sting”s original of I Hung My Head is only notionally country ““ the arrangement could be by somebody like Tim McGraw, whose country music often is infused with rock music. It”s not a bad version at all, and I say so as somebody who generally holds old Gordon in less than high esteem. But it took Johnny Cash on his landmark 2002 album American IV: The Man Comes Around to give the song the country spin it really requires. Where in Sting”s version, the spine-tingling story drowns in overproduction, Cash slows it down and delivers it as if he had sung it as a bluegrass number since he was a little boy.
Also recorded by: Blue Highway
Best version: Cash, of course

The iPod (non-)Random 10-track Experiment

February 5th, 2008 2 comments

I’m about to wipe everything off my iPod, and reload it (for housekeeping purposes). So, for the pure fun of it, here are the top 10 most-listened to tracks. I have arbitrarily decided to exclude anything from the Beatles’ Love album, because I didn’t listen to it more than once, though my nephews played it ad nauseam over Christmas. Where an artist was represented more than once, their subsequent tracks have been skipped for the purpose of this post. Tracks marked with an asterisk have been featured on this blog before.

1. Nicole Atkins – Brooklyn’s On Fire.mp3*
No surprise here: this song has been an constant earworm, and her wonderful Neptune City album a frequent companion. On the album Atkins hops across and fuses genres, being Abba-esque one moment, then grabbing the singing-torch before going all B-52s on our asses. It’s magnificent. “Brooklyn’s On Fire” has an abundance of exuberance, and probably is the catchiest thing on the album.

2. Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris – Love Hurts.mp3
If CD plays counted, this song would easily head the list. The arrangement and harmonies make this the definitive version of this oft-covered Everly Brothers song (certainly better than that by bloody Cher, or the ludicrously OTT effort by Nazareth). Gram and the lovely Emmylou persuade us that love is indeed “just a lie made to make you blue”. An all-time favourite.

3. Rilo Kiley – Portions For Foxes.mp3*
Strange that this older Rilo Kiley track should still appear ahead of the great stuff from 2007’s Under The Blacklight. Jenny Lewis has never sounded sexier than here. When she commands, “COME HERE”, I’m inclined to obey.

4. Colbie Caillat – One Fine Wire*
I have a fear that the Taste Police will before long declare Colbie Caillat a punishable offence, seeing that “Bubbly” is now a big hit and getting airplay on MOR radio stations. I suspect that Caillat’s success is in part due to the buzz created by the blogging community. So she is ours, bloggers and blog readers. Her stardom will be due not to The Man, but to the music blogs who gave her exposure and to the MySpace phenomenon. A reader of this blog had a brief but good discussion about how The Man will try to exploit music blogs and interactive sites like MySpace as a new form of marketing. But better that, with all the independence the credible music blogs can offer and the power of the My Space browser to click to the next page, than letting Sony’s A&R goons dictate public taste. Hopefully more people of genuine talent like Colbie will find stardom through that route, not via corporate manufacture.

5. John Denver – Rocky Mountain High.mp3
John Denver is overdue a rehabilitation. The music writer John Doran once responded to my point along the lines that those who would applaud Denver’s liberal politics are reluctant to like his music, and those who like his music are likely to detest his politics. My point is that there is much in Denver’s pre-1974 canon that should not be ignored, or subjected to clichéd jokes about straw-chewing hicks. 1972’s “Rocky Mountain High” is drenched in beauty and is free of the hackneyed shtick which by the late ’70s had turned Denver into a granny’s favourite and party-time Muppet.

6. Ben Folds – Gone.mp3
When I don’t know what to play, Ben Folds is always a safe bet. “Gone” is a great track to sing along to, at least the backing vocals. But don’t let that detract from the excellent lyrics addressed to a lover who left him and now won’t even write to him. He says he’s over her, but clearly he isn’t: ” I thought I’d write, I thought I’d let you know: In the year since you’ve been gone I’ve finally let you go. And I hope you find some time to drop a note, but if you won’t, then you won’t, and I will consider you gone.” I can empathise.

7. Billie the Vision & the Dancers (feat Hello Saferide) – Overdosing With You.mp3
One of the large group of fine Swedish Indie groups, this lot is as twee as they come, in a very enjoyable way (though clumsily monikered). This track features the wonderful Hello Saferide a.k.a. Annika Norlin, whom I’m possibly in love with. The lyrics to this song may be weak at times, but you have to love a song about couch potatoing the blues away with DVD box sets of NYPD Blue and Desperate Housewives (clearly not a bit too much sci-fi on Billie the Vision’s shelf, Ms Norlin). Did I mention, it has Hello Safreide, whom I’m possibly in love with, on it? You can legally download Billie the Vision etc’s albums on their webpage.

8. Scott Walker – Joanna.mp3
Walker’s vocal performance on this glorious Tin Pan Alley piece of treacle is stunning (it usually was stunning, but even more so here). Try singing this song; it is no accident that in the abominable Love, Actually, Liam Neeson mimes it to his son, doesn’t sing it. Which I would probably do, ill-advisedly or not.

9. Foo Fighters – Statues.mp3*
The more I hear the new Foo Fighters album, Echoes, Silence, Patience, Grace, the more convinced I am that it is the best thing Grohl and pals have ever done, and that the album deserves to be regarded as a classic in its genre already. Without any hyperbole. Just as it had come out, I expressed my dislike for “Erase/Replace”. Someone commented that I was very wrong about the song. And quite rightly so. It’s majestic! But “Statues” remains my favourite song off the album, a track whose simplicity disguises its depths.

10. Perez – Picture Perfect.mp3
Perez were a South African rock group which subsequently split. Which is a shame, because they were pretty good in an alt.rock sort of way. “Picture Perfect”, from 2002, is certainly superior to much that has been released in the genre. A fine song to sing while driving, and not a bad way to spend five minutes secretly playing the air guitar.