Sunday, 17 January 2010

State Songs #22: Massachusetts

When I started my State Songs series at the start of 2009 I anticipated that "We'll be in Wyoming by Christmas!" How optimistic.

For one reason or another it's been more than four months since the last one, Maryland, so next December now looks like a more realistic end to the trip. I will endeavour to pick up the pace in the coming weeks though.

Before we get on to the songs, here's some trivia I gleaned from the Massachusetts Citizens Information Service.

  • Massachusetts takes its name from the Massachusett tribe of Native Americans, who lived in the Great Blue Hill region, south of Boston. The Indian term supposedly means "at or about the Great Hill".

  • The Chocolate Chip Cookie was designated the official cookie of the Commonwealth on July 9, 1997. A third grade class from Somerset proposed the bill to honor the cookie invented in 1930 at the Toll House Restaurant in Whitman.

  • The Garter Snake became the official reptile of the Commonwealth on January 3, 2007.

MP3: Arlo Guthrie - Massachusetts

One of the best things about this State Songs series is receiving emails and comments offering suggestions for future posts. Last January a chap called Jeff Boudreau got in touch to tell me about this song. It originally appeared on Arlo Guthrie's 1976 album Amigo and in 1981 Massachusetts adopted it as its official State Folk Song.
Buy Amigo: Amazon

MP3: Patti Page - Old Cape Cod

In small doses I am a sucker for this sort of 50s schmaltz. Patti is probably most famous for the track that's routinely trotted out as indicative of how bland music was before rock'n'roll - How Much Is That A Doggie In The Window? What fewer people might know is that, born Clara Ann Flower, Patti is a real Okie from Muskogee.
Buy The Best of Patti Page: Amazon | 7digital

MP3: Hallelujah the Hills - Wave Backwards to Massachusetts

I discovered Hallelujah the Hills last year via Largehearted Boy. "A blizzard, a mallard, a stillborn Chinese baby speaking backwards" is a great opening line and the track reminds me of 90s indie, a la Neutral Milk Hotel et al which is never a bad thing.
Buy Collective Psychosis: Amazon | 7digital

MP3: The Hackensaw Boys - Harvard Square Breakdown

The Oxford American introduced me to The Hackensaw Boys a few years ago thanks to their superb annual music issue. This is from the band's debut album Get Some, which was recorded on reel-to-reel in their living room in 2000. Fans of Old Crow Medicine Show and The Avett Brothers should certainly investigate further.
Buy Get Some: Amazon

MP3: Jonathan Richman - Twilight in Boston

I never need an excuse to post some Jonathan Richman and he's in fine form in this guided tour of the town he's most associated with. Modern Lovers fans who tend to stick to the 70s material are missing out if they lack a copy of 1992's return to form I, Jonathan.
Buy I, Jonathan: Amazon

As usual, let me know what you think of the selections, which of your favourites I've missed and what songs I should include in the future. Next time we'll be in Michigan.

Neighbouring States
State Songs #7: Connecticut

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

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Jarvis Cocker on BBC 6 Music

Blizzards, Bob & Brautigan

Jarvis Cocker
, BBC 6 Music's latest celebrity signing to its DJ roster, made an impressive debut on Sunday afternoon. Better still he introduced me to two great tracks I'd never previously heard.

Tim Rose's Snowed In was the perfect opener at the end of a week when "weather chaos" has blighted the nation. Until I clicked through to the BBC's Tim Rose artist page from the tracklist on the 6 Music site I knew nothing about the man. I can now tell you that Rose's version of Hey Joe inspired Jimi Hendrix and that Snowed In was released in 2003, a year after the singer's death. Make yourself a hot chocolate, throw another log on the fire and enjoy.

MP3: Tim Rose - Snowed In

Buy Snowed In: Amazon

My second discovery was Elvis Presley's version of Bob Dylan's Tomorrow Is A Long Time. I can't believe this track has passed me by. Elvis recorded it in Nashville in April 1966 when, according to Peter Guralnick, "Odetta Sings Dylan was never far from the turntable". My Bob Dylan Encyclopedia (p.660) tells me that in a June 1969 interview with Rolling Stone Bob was asked if there were any versions of his songs he liked. He replied, "Yeah, Elvis Presley. I Liked Elvis Presley. Elvis Presley recorded a song of mine. That's the one recording I treasure the most... it's called Tomorrow is a Long Time." Michael Gray notes that at the time it was assumed Bob was joking. You be the judge.

MP3: Elvis Presley - Tomorrow Is A Long Time

Buy Tomorrow Is A Long Time: 7digital | Amazon

The track originally appeared as a bonus on the soundtrack LP to Spinout, one of Elvis' many execrable movies. I found it on a wonderful album, also called Tomorrow Is A Long Time, that compiles the cream of the King's mid-60s sessions. There's excellent further reading about the record at The All Music Guide.

Back to the Jarvis Cocker Show: as well a some choice musical selections, the Sheffield stringbean also turned in a discursive interview with film director John Hillcoat and read Richard Brautigan's What Are You Going To Do With 390 Photographs of Christmas Trees? Musicians reading aloud from their favourite books and music free from the station's playlist? It was like the vintage years of Mark Radcliffe and Marc Riley's old nighttime show on Radio 1!

Of course, Jarvis isn't the only musician spinning discs on 6 Music. Here's that rock star DJ line-up in full: Marc Riley (The Fall), Guy Garvey (Elbow), Lauren Laverne (Kenickie), Huey Morgan (Fun Lovin' Criminals), Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden), Tom Robinson (Tom Robinson Band) and of course... Bob Dylan (The Travelling Wilburys).

I hope Jarvis sticks around on 6 Music for a while. I really loved the programme; a genuine breath of fresh air. If you've heard his show (you can listen online anytime you like) do leave a comment and tell me what you think.

Related Links
Jarvis Cocker on BBC 6 Music - listen to the show and see tracklists
Jarvis Cocker could be the next John Peel... - review in the Guardian

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Memories of Vic Chesnutt

On Boxing Day I received this text from my friend Dave Varley: "Sad news about Vic Chesnutt". This was the first I'd heard that, at 45, one of my favourite singer-songwriters had died in his hometown of Athens, Georgia.

I knew that Vic had constantly battled depression and suicidal tendencies so wasn't shocked to learn he'd taken his own life. My memories of seeing him play and loving his records still made the news incredibly sad. The tragedy seemed more poignant because that same day my friends John and Anne had arrived back in Athens after spending a week with us in the UK and we'd been talking about Vic just days before.

My first Vic Chesnutt gig was at the Garage, Highbury Corner around the time of his wonderful 1996 LP About to Choke. At the time I was getting into the likes of Flannery O'Connor and Eudora Welty and Vic's raw, witty, angry songs often seemed drawn from the same well of Southern Gothic.

Since then I saw a number of his concerts. At least one was shambolic but two remain among the most memorable I've ever witnessed. In 1998 at The Electric Ballroom in Camden Vic played on the same bill as Calexico and Lambchop. The way I remember it, after Calexico's opening set Kurt Wagner led the dozen or so strong Lambchop through tracks from their new album What Another Man Spills. Vic then joined them to play from the album he'd just recorded with Lambchop, The Salesman and Bernadette. After that we were treated to mesmerising solo renditions of favourites from Vic's earlier records. What made that night so special was the evident joy of the collaborators and experiencing that rare, magical and infectious feeling of mutual goodwill between audience and performers.

Three years later I again experienced something similar when I saw Vic as part of Howe Gelb's tremendous all-star line-up at the Beyond Nashville festival at the Barbican. Reunited with Kurt Wagner as well as sharing a stage with PJ Harvey, John Parish, Evan Dando, Calexico and Mark Linkous Vic excitedly exclaimed, "I'm bustin' my buttons over here!" I was certainly as excited sitting in the audience.

Vic Chesnutt's lyrics have always been personal but listening to Flirted With You All My Life from this year's At The Cut, a song Vic described as his "break-up song" with suicide is now heartbreaking. Here it is as well as a few favourites that might make you smile. One of music's true one-offs, he'll be missed.

MP3: Vic Chesnutt - Flirted With You All My

Buy At The Cut: 7digital | Amazon

MP3: Vic Chesnutt - Replenished

Buy The Salesman and Bernadette: | Amazon

MP3: Vic Chesnutt - Doubting Woman

Buy Is the Actor Happy? Amazon

MP3: Vic Chesnutt - Soft Picasso

Buy Little: Amazon

Erstwhile Throwing Muse Kristin Hersh, one of Vic's closest friends, has set up a webpage to raise money for his family who are now lumbered with huge medical bills. You can donate here.

This is Kristin's cover of Vic's song Panic Pure.

MP3: Kristin Hersh - Panic Pure

Buy Sweet Relief II: Amazon

Elsewhere Boogie Woogie Flu has a lengthy tribute and some great MP3s; Captain's Dead has posted a Vic live show from earlier in the year; Aquarium Drunkard has written a typically spot-on remembrance.

Related Links

Constellation Records - press releases from Vic's record label
Vic Chesnutt: a tragedy foretold in song - nice blog post in the Guardian
Michael Stipe remembers Vic Chesnutt - NPR interview from Boxing Day
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