Saturday, 30 May 2009

State Songs #16: Iowa

Iowa, the "Hawkeye State", has never been high on my list of places to visit. I'm happy to be corrected but my brief research has only uncovered one tourist attraction that intrigues me - The John Wayne Birthplace Museum in Winterset. Still, the state has inspired some good tunes. As usual let me know what you think and suggest ones I've missed.

MP3: Eleni Mandell - Iowa City

My friend John Barner tipped me off to Eleni Mandell many years ago, presumably knowing I'd fall for anyone who regularly cited Tom Waits as an influence. Coincidentally John also lived in Iowa City for a short time. This song's lyrics may or may not have a special meaning for him.
More Eleni Mandell: MySpace | Amazon

MP3: The Jayhawks - Sioux City

One of my favourite tracks from The Jayhawks' first album proper Blue Earth (1989). This clip is from a 1995 gig in Germany circa the Tomorrow the Green Grass album.

More Jayhawks: Fan site | Amazon | 7digital

MP3: Tom T Hall - It Sure Can Get Cold In Des Moines

I first heard this song, performed by Jayhawk Mark Olson, on Real: The Tom T Hall Project tribute album. Since I've already had one Jayhawks song for Iowa it only seems fair to post Hall's original. The track is from one of his most highly regarded albums, 1971's In Search of a Song.
More Tom T Hall: Wikipedia | Amazon | 7digital

MP3: Joni Mitchell — The Dry Cleaner From Des Moines

More Des Moines. Joni Mitchell's collaboration with Charlie Mingus, recorded just a few months before the jazz legend's death in 1979, can be a perplexing listen for fans of Blue and Court and Spark. Like most of the tracks on the album, this one about an out-of-towner on a lucky streak in Vegas, sets Micthell's lyrics to one of the last tunes Mingus wrote.
More Joni Mitchell: official site | Amazon | 7digital
More Charlie Mingus: official site | 7digital

We're staying in middle America for the next leg of the journey and saying hello to Kansas.

Neighbouring States
State Songs #14: Illinois - Frank Zappa, Wilco, Tom Waits, The Handsome Family, Sufjan Stevens, Three Bits of Rhythm

The Journey So Far
State Songs - links to every post on this musical road trip

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

State Songs #15: Indiana

All I know about Indiana is that it's David Letterman's homestate and its residents are known as Hoosiers. I've no idea what the word means and hoped Bill Bryson's wonderful book Made in America would have the answer.

To no avail. All I learnt about Indiana from Bryson is that the state passed a law in 1905, which reads in part: "Whoever entices, allures, instigates or aids any person under the age of twenty-one years to commit masturbation or self-pollution, shall be deemed guilty of sodomy". You learn something new etc etc.

Anyway, you're not just here for trivia are you? I hope you enjoy these four tracks and if you have any suggestions for other Indiana related songs please leave a comment below.

MP3: The Jackson 5 - Goin' Back to Indiana

I always get a little sad listening to Little Michael considering the freak he's morphed into since 1970 when he recorded such energetic and fun material as this. The song later gave its name to a TV special of the boys' homecoming concert filmed in Gary, Indiana.
More Jackson 5: Wikipedia | Amazon | 7digital

MP3: Phil Ochs - Jim Dean of Indiana

Ochs wrote this wonderfully mournful sketch of the tragic actor after he visited James Dean's grave in Fairmount, Indiana. The track's from the misleadingly titled Greatest Hits (the LP featured all new material). Released in 1970, six years before the singer's suicide, it was Ochs' final album.
More Phil Ochs: Wikipedia | Amazon | 7digital

MP3: The Bottle Rockets - Indianapolis

The Bottle Rockets were heroes in the early 90s but never seemed to get the attention in the UK that The Jayhawks and Whiskeytown received. Booze, cars, jail, pissed-off girlfriends, no money and a jukebox that plays John Cougar Mellencamp - they're all here in just over three-and-a-half-minutes of twangy goodness.
More Bottle Rockets: official site | Amazon | 7digital

MP3: Lyle Lovett - Up in Indiana (Acoustic)

The tale of a fella on a chain-gang thinking about the girl who "looked over 22" and presumably landed him in the joint. Some trivia: Henryville, the setting for this track from Lovett's 2007 album It's Not Big It's Large, is the birthplace of KFC founder Colonel Harland Sanders. Some more trivia: Lyle Lovett's brief marriage to Julia Roberts began in Indiana; they wed in the town of Marion.
More Lyle Lovett: official site | Amazon | 7digital

We're staying in the Mid-West for our next state on the journey - Iowa. See you down the road.

Neighbouring States
State Songs #14: Illinois - Frank Zappa, Wilco, Tom Waits, The Handsome Family, Sufjan Stevens, Three Bits of Rhythm

The Journey So Far
State Songs - links to every post on this musical road trip

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Doing Woody's Work

The Mermaid Avenue Demos

A few week's ago Wilco released a timely download of Woody Guthrie's The Jolly Banker. You can grab the track in exchange for a suggested donation to the Guthrie Foundation and Archives at the Wilco website; it's worth hearing for Nels Cline's lap steel alone.

Wilco's involvement with the Woody Guthrie Archive began in 1997 when Billy Bragg recruited them to collaborate on Mermaid Avenue, the wonderful album that put new music to Woody Guthrie's unrecorded lyrics.

Bragg became the at unlikely ringleader for this great American project after Guthrie's daughter Nora encountered him in 1992. According to Andrew Collins' biog Still Suitable for Miners, Nora was taken by the fact that Billy's song You Woke Up My Neighbourhood was named after a Guthrie painting he'd seen in the Smithsonian. Instead of asking one of the usual suspects - Dylan, Springsteen, Arlo, Seeger etc - Nora was "a bit mischievous" in inviting the Englishman to immerse himself in her father's work.

If you've not heard either of the Mermaid Avenue albums you should buy them immediately. They are like a contemporary Basement Tapes - loose, warm, collaborative, funny and a route to one of America's richest musical and sociological veins.

For those who are familiar with the records these demos offer alternate and early takes and a few tracks that aren't on the albums.

I'd also highly recommend the documentary Man In The Sand. It's much more than a making-of doc and although best known for the sometimes frosty on-screen relationship between Bragg and Tweedy (Billy loves fascist baiting; Jeff's less keen) the film is also a great introduction to the Woody Guthrie story.

I hope you enjoy these as much as I do.

Mermaid Avenue Demos

MP3: She Came Along To Me

MP3: All You Fascists

MP3: Aginst Th' Law

MP3: Aginst Th' Law (alt. take)

MP3: When The Roses Bloom Again

MP3: California Stars

MP3: Hestitaing Beauty

MP3: Greenback Dollar

MP3: My Flying Saucer

MP3: Hoodoo Voodoo

MP3: Ain't Gonna Grieve My Lord No More

MP3: Give Me A Nail

Related Links
Searchlight Magazine Interview with Nora Guthrie
DVD Talk Interview with Nora Guthrie

Buy Billy Bragg & Wilco at Amazon
Mermaid Avenue
Mermaid Avenue, Vol. 2
Man in the Sand DVD

Saturday, 9 May 2009

State Songs #14: Illinois

I've been to great city of Chicago quite a few times but apart from the interstate that's unfortunately all I've seen of Illinois. My first trip to the Windy City was on a low-budget Gap Year tour of the States. My friend James and I had so little money that we flipped a coin to see who'd take the cameras up to the Sears Tower observation deck. I lost.

For some reason a lot of my favourite artists have written songs about Illinois. Enjoy the selections and let me know any you think I should have included.

MP3: Sufjan Stevens - Come On! Feel The Illinoise!

I feel obliged to start with a track from Sufjan Stevens' Illinoise album even though I'm disappointed that his own musical tour around the USA seems to have stalled. The 1893 Chicago World's Fair, celebrated in this song, was extremely noteworthy. Not only did it introduce many Americans to electricity for the first time but Shredded Wheat and Juicy Fruit also made their debuts there.
More Sufjan Stevens: BBC | MySpace | Amazon | 7digital

MP3: Three Bits of Rhythm - I Used To Work In Chicago

I first heard of a version of this amusing post-war bit of sauce on Theme Time Radio Hour. I know nothing about the trio playing here except they were from Los Angeles. The track's from a compilation called Mellow Cats 'n' Kittens Vol.1: Hot R&B and Cool Blues 1946-1952.

MP3: The Handsome Family - The Giant of Illinois

Snow. Death. Strange goings-on. To me this conjures up Mid-Western Gothic in much the same way as Wisconsin Death Trip and Fargo do. The Handsome Family, Brett and Rennie Sparks, are always excellent live so do try and catch them on tour at the moment.
More Handsome Family: MySpace | Amazon | 7digital

MP3: Tom Waits - Johnsburg, Illinois (live)

Tom Waits has claimed that his wife Kathleen Brennan can drive a bulldozer and that he married her because she can stick a knitting needle through her lip and still drink coffee. Something about her that's certainly true is that she's from Johnsburg, Illionis. This version is from the Big Time live album.
More Tom Waits: BBC | MySpace | Amazon | 7digital

MP3: Frank Zappa - The Illinois Enema Bandit (live)

The dubious subject of this epic Zappa workout was a real criminal called Michael Kenyon and such couplets as "From farm to farm/Got a rubberized bag/And a hose on his arm/Lookin' for some rustic co-ed rump" are disturbingly accurate.
More Frank Zappa: BBC | official site Amazon

MP3: Wilco - Via Chicago (live)

This excellent live outing of the Summerteeth track is from Wilco's 2007 appearance on Austin City Limits. Aquarium Drunkard has posted the whole set so if you like what you hear pay him a visit and download the lot.
More Wilco: BBC | official site | Amazon | 7digital

Three of the four I states neighbour each other so we're staying in the Mid-West next time to visit the birthplace of David Letterman, Kurt Vonnegut and Steve McQueen - Indiana.

Related Posts
State Songs - links to every post on this musical road trip

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Euro Disney

A Spotify Playlist of Foreign Juvenilia

If you've yet to catch the Spotify bug this playlist might intrigue you enough to see what all the fuss is about.

I'm not quite sure how I came across the Danish version of Heigh-Ho but it led me to look up more European soundtracks to Disney films on Spotify.

Listening to Heigh-Ho you're left in no doubt that those dwarves are working like dogs in that mine; the Italian version of Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo sounds like it's from a Fellini film rather than Cinderella and there's something quite menacing about the Jungle Book's Elephant March when sung in German.

Spotify Playlist: Euro Disney

When You Wish Upon a Star (French/Pinnichio)
I Want To Be Like You (Spanish/Jungle Book)
Heigh-Ho (Danish/Snow White)
Hi-Diddle Dee Dee (Italain/Pinocchio)
Winnie the Pooh (Swedish)
Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo (Italian/Cinderlla)
Little April Showers (Spanish/Bambi)
Colonel Hathi's March (German/Jungle Book)

Spotify Playlist: Euro Disney

What do you think? If you've created any interesting or unusual Spotify playlists yourself please leave a comment and tell me about it.
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