Saturday, January 26, 2013

SOTW - January 26, 2013 - Jack and Dolly

I don't know anything about Dolly Parton ... besides the obvious. I've never been to Dollywood and her brand of post-outlaw, heavy make-up Country has never been of particular interest. I don't mean to knock Dolly, I just don't know a thing about her. Her style of music and my tastes overlap in one microscopic point. Leave it to Jack White to find it.

We haven't talked much about Jack White here. For the uninitiated, Jack White is a 100% genuine complete total through-and-through authentic mucho bad ass; a modern musical Legend (capital "L"). There is no genre that Jack White cannot conquer. No bit of musical history, no matter how minute, is lost on him. If music had a Riddle of the Sphinx, Jack White would be the man we'd call to solve it. He's one of the few Big Ticket Rockers whose musical IQ and ego are of like size. Most of us know him from the White Stripes; it's hard to watch a sporting event these days without hearing the crowd chant the Epic Riff For the Ages from "Seven Nation Army." But the creator of that atomic bomb also recorded a modern masterpiece with .... Loretta Lynn?!?! (If you do not have Van Lear Rose, there's a hole in your library.) More later on Jack White later. In the meantime, check out the 2008 Page/Edge/White documentary, It Might Get Loud, for more background.

I have a pages-long list of questions that I'd ask Jack White if given the chance, but near the top is the following: "Man, how in the world did you end up covering a Dolly Parton song?" I'd like to think he was stretched out on an ratty old tweed sofa one night in a one-bedroom studio apartment in Detroit combing through a dusty box of discarded vinyl he'd picked up at a nearby thrift store that day for $5. Meg would have been sitting on wooden stool nearby staring blankly at the wall above the muted television and beating the coffee table with her sticks. Upon pulling out a well-worn copy of Dolly's 1974 LP Jolene and considering the Great Lady of Country's visage, how could he not have given the title track (and your Song of the Week for January 26, 2013) a try? So moved, how could a man of such dark proclivities not have been enthralled by a haunting tale of a homely woman repeatedly begging a more-attractive seductress: "please don't take my man." And a whole new universe of people who'd never even heard of Dolly Parton now sing in unison ...


Friday, January 18, 2013

SOTW - January 18, 2012 - Shovels & Rope


  [doo-uh-liz-uh m] 
the state of being dual or consisting of two parts; division into two.

Yin and yang. The two sides of the coin. One contrasts the other. June and Johnny. Joan and Bob. Ike and Tina. Graham and Emmylou. Dave and Gil'. Jack and Meg. The primal tension between man and woman plays most vividly in music. It's that which we cannot see transposed onto that which we can. Where watching Keith and Mick share a mic' makes us squeamish, Bruce and Patty set things on fire with their faces two inches apart.

Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent, a/k/a Shovels & Rope, are a charming example. Drawing off the recent wave of Americana Country Folk, they have the immediate synergy of Rawlings/Welch, but with a half-dose of seriousness. What they lack in instrumental prowess, they make up for with buoyant delivery. Hearing them, you get the warm feeling that there is nothing they'd rather be doing. If you find yourself wanting tickets for the spring Old Crow/Avett tour, buy some Shovels & Rope for the drive. Folkies should start with their 2009 eponymous debut, while Nashville Rockers will gravitate towards 2012's O' Be Joyful. 

Your Song of the Week for January 18, 2012 is unadulterated sunny day driving music (preferably in the country). An irresistible adventure tale of lovers in crime, "Boxcar" is once-a-day tonic for dour moods. If they can keep making songs like this, "Cary Ann and Michael" might one day be written in stars.  

Boxcar by Shovels and Rope on Grooveshark

Thursday, January 10, 2013

SOTW - January 10, 2012 - Left Turns

Bob Dylan was prone to Left Turns. Unless he was on a motorcycle, they all led to Glory. Nothing I could ever say or think could ever change what's been said and thought about Bob Dylan. I may try nonetheless, but later. Tonight, let's focus on one song, starting with a bit of context.

Beginning with his arrival in Greenwich Village in January 1961, Dylan became a closely-shorn folk tornado bringing peace on earth and goodwill to men in 3 minute intervals. (See The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan). When we think of this Dylan, we think in black-and-white. We see him at protests surrounded by rapt followers with an acoustic in his hand and a harmonica around his neck. "The answer my friend, is blowing in the wind. The answer is blowing in the wind."

Then, in 1965, he decided the World needed changing again, so he did. [Cue Left Turn 1.] The 1965 release of Bringing it all Back Home brought us Electric Dylan. (The live debut of this incarnation was his over-analyzed summer 1965 appearance at the Newport Folk Festival, which came a few months after Brining It was released). This is the first Dylan we think of in color; the too-far-too-fast young man hiding behind black Wayfarers seen unravelling in D.A. Pennebaker's Don't Look Back. This is the Dylan of "that thin wild mercury sound" on eternal display in Highway 61 Revisited (1965) and Blonde on Blonde (1966). "Johnny's in the basement mixing up the medicine, I'm on the pavement thinking 'bout the government..."

As Electric Bob wore thin, his thoughts turned to the country. (Who could blame him?) That's where he wrecked the Motorcycle (in July 1966) and that's where he stayed to recuperate, in then-unknown Woodstock, NY. After three masterpieces in 18 months in '65-'66, it would be that long before he recorded again. [Cue Left Turn 2.]

That brings us to 1967, and the release of the sparse and contemplative John Wesley Harding. Against a canvas of recuperation and decompression, he painted a gritty landscape of the robber heroes (title track), jokers and thieves ("All Along the Watchtower"), and supernatural redemption ("Drifter's Escape") set on the American frontier. The theme of open space carried over to the recording, with distance placed between the simple acoustic guitar, harmonica, bass, and drums. The somber adventure of John Wesley ends the only way it could, with an intra-album Left Turn and your Early Evening Song of the Week for January 9, 2012. Stepping down from his storytelling soap box, Dylan bids us goodbye with a simple lover's plea in the form of a pedal steel lullaby. Anyone who's longed can relate.    
Close your eyes, close the door.
You don't have to worry, anymore.
I'll be your, baby tonight.  
May such harmony and good fortune find you this weekend, and always.