Archive for June, 2008

R.I.P. George Carlin, 1937-2008

Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

“George Carlin, whose astringent stand-up comedy made him an heir of Lenny Bruce, who gave voice to an indignant counterculture and assaulted the barricades of censorship on behalf of a generation of comics that followed him, died on Sunday in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 71 and lived in Venice, Calif.”


So, we lose yet another great American.


more newish releases

Monday, June 16th, 2008

some little reviews

Riders in the Sky – Public Cowboy #1: A Centennial Salute to the Music of Gene Autry (Rounder)

Cowboy song semi-spoofers Riders in the SKy recorded this tribute to the original singin’ cowboy for his 100th birthday in 1996 – this is a reissue. They tend to tread the same tricky line Mr. Autry (with all due respect) himself did– between country music and Hollywood cowboy schmaltz. Great choice of tunes, though the slick pop Western Swing production might scare off many KWUR DJs (naturally that’s my favorite part of the album). Think West Coast W. Swing on that account (Spade Cooley, et cetera).
I dig “The Last Roundup,” “Tumbling Tumbleweeds,” “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?” others…

Hungrytown – s/t (Listen Here! Records)

Unremarkable earnest folk with country signifiers in the arrangements (fiddle, banjo, close, sharp harmonies). I would probably love this were it not for the bland, flat, unemotive vocals. As it is, this aspect overwhelms the pleasant pickin’, alright tunes. One or two solid numbers with thicker background vocals merit keeping it (and who knows it may be someone else’s bag).
I dig “On the Other Side”

Drakkar Sauna – Wars and Tornadoes: Drakkar Sauna Faithfully Sing the Songs of the Louvin Brothers (Marriage Records)

Lawrence, Kansas-based trad country duo extremely faithfully recreate these representative tunes from one of the all-time best country duos (one of the famous “brother duos,” along with the Delmore Bros). Their approximation of the harmonies is especially remarkable (Ira and Charlie were famous for their off-kilter harmonies and the late Ira possessed a glass-shattering high-lonesome tenor). All of these are wonderful renditions of some of the best tunes out there, so I couldn’t recommend them enough, at least until we get some of the originals here in the stacks. Check ’em out! As for the Louvins, I recommend “A Tribute to the Delmore Brothers” and the infamous “Satan is Real.” Also, Charlie L is still alive and kicking so go see him while you still can (saw him last year for free at fucking Vintage Vinyl and it was honestly transcendant).
I dig ’em all, especially “When I Stop Dreaming” (an old favorite)

Alejandro Escovedo – Real Animal (Blue Note)

Escovedo’s a veteran of 1st wave 70’s punk, 80’s-90’s”cowpunk,” lots of other short-lived scenes… His acclaimed solo albums have been a nice mishmash of country/folk, tejano and hard rock. This album though (following his somber previous “The Boxing Mirror,” recorded when he thought he was gonna die from Hep C), is clearly a Straight Rock Album, full of anthemic, radio-friendly, arena rock. Don’t assume it’s brainless – Escovedo’s a literate and precise songwriter (these tunes are full of poetic images and shit, sure to set your heart a flutter). Basically I respect that this is unabashed pop music (as with all my, like, most favorite music), but I have a hard time wading through cocks-out stadium rock w/meaty choruses and big drums. ok.
I dig “Nuns Song,” “Real as an Animal,” “Hollywood Hills”

Jim White – Transnormal Skiperoo (Luaka Bop)

White has staked himself a nice little lyrical territory steeped in southern gothic, mythic mumbo jumbo. At times he veers into caricature, self-parody and pastiche, but he can also write some earnest, affecting tunes. This time around, he’s apparently digging some country gospel, classic R&b and droney swamp blues vibes. Too many bland, hookless “atmosphere” numbers (what is it with that shit these days?).
I dig “Turquoise House,” “Jailbird”


every Sunday 8pm to 12am central time
every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday 7pm to 8pm central time
also every other wonderful summer show
also the “autorotation”

Cry To Me

Monday, June 16th, 2008

Tonight, I’m gonna write about something that’s been pissing me off, because what is summer or the internet without cantankerous postings. See, there’s this blue-eyed soul singer, Duffy, who VH1 has been trying to shove down America’s craw for a few months now. I don’t really have a problem with blue-eyed soul, if done well, and I don’t even have a problem with VH1 and other people hyping some sort of massive soul revival. It was pretty much inevitable in the wake of the success and infamy of Amy Winehouse, and there are plenty of talented people out there who will benefit. I even like Amy Winehouse a little bit. But then, in a desperate YouTube search for Betty Harris’ remarkable cover of the Solomon Burke hit “Cry To Me”, I came across this:

For the benefit of the reader, I will also include the original Solomon Burke version for comparison:

Let’s talk about “Cry To Me”, just the song, and forget about that shitty Swayze movie for a second. Let’s start with what the song is about, which is precisely where Duffy did not start. The song, written by Bert Burns for Burke in 1962, is just a great paean to loneliness. It does the great country songwriting thing, picking out very distinct details, gorgeous, distinct images, to show emotion (“When you’re all alone in your lonely room / And there’s nothing but the smell of her perfume” “Well nothing could be sadder / Than a glass of wine, all alone”). The singer is put in the position of a sympathetic ear, presumably to the audience, which is the effect of using second person. Near the end, the singer is expected to break out into a hiccupy scatting of the word “cry”; brought to the verge of tears his or herself. The point is, the singer has to be careful with this song.

And Burke is careful. The verses are laid out in a near-sprechstimme: sung very clearly, with trilling and emphasis put only on the crucial words “lonely”, “alone” and “cry”. Over the course of the song, Burke’s voice becomes more and more urgent, especially with the killer line “doncha feel like crying”. The point is, the voice is used instrumentally, carefully. He wants to hook you in at first, and then plunge it in. There’s thinking going on about how the song should be sung, it’s clear from the performance.

Let’s compare this to Duffy. There’s a trill or some sort of fancy move put on every other line. When you sing like that, the song will have no meaning. Why does the word nobody get a trill? What’s the purpose of that? Why are you adding an extra few notes here and there? The worst is the bridge. Instead of taking Burke’s relatively straight line, Duffy zigzags with her voice all around the lyrics. Why? Do you think the message is not clear enough? There are a lot of whys to be found here, as Duffy bleats her way through a classic.

The point is that this is not blue-eyed soul. This is dumb blonde soul. There’s no thought here, no thought about the music, no thought about what she should be doing with her voice, no thought about the effect she wants to have on the audience. And no, it’s not ok not to think about those things, not when you have Al Green spending hours planning out his delivery note by note. This is the worst thing, thoughtless art, stupid art. And I realize I’m being a little too harsh on Duggy. You know, it’s not even that bad a cover, really. But it’s a tricky situation, being a white artist covering black music. And in that situation, you better be careful. You better think it through.

Every few years (Joss Stone), they send a young white girl (Joss Stone) to try and seize soul. And every few years, it doesn’t quite work out. The reason it doesn’t work out isn’t because these girls don’t have “soul”, that nebulous, quasi-orientalist quality. It’s because they don’t think, they don’t know, and they don’t respect the source: artists who may or may not be “soulful”, but who certainly were great artists and brilliant performers.

OK, I’ve made my point. Here, BTW, is where you can find Betty Harris’ amazing cover of “Cry To Me”

KWUR Promo CD Sales in Malinkrodt Now Officially Legal

Saturday, June 14th, 2008


I guess the title doesn’t say it all. Back in the day, we used to sell our overflow CDs at a table in Malinkrodt anywhere from two to four times a year. We’d put up the banner, set up one of the smaller audioservice sound systems, and rock out from around 10:30am -> 3:00pm. Not only was this a great way to keep the station CD situation under control and earn a respectable amount of cash assets, but we’d also have bumper stickers, matches, magnets, t-shirts, and all sorts of other stuff available. It was a very fun and functional outreach program.

BUT we were always shady on the legality of this practice, and so we kind of shied away from it in recent years. The great news is that now, because of

those CDs belong to us, not the labels, and so we can can start up once again and not worry about ruffling any feathers.



Thursday, June 5th, 2008

howdy from the air-conditioned station in muggy stl, all
hope your summer adventures are exciting or worthwhile or something
here’s some new goodies we’ve gotten at the station recently that you all can look forward to returning to (or listen to live on summer shows, of course):

Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder – Honoring the Fathers of Bluegrass: Tribute to 1946 and 1947

Skaggs is a veteran of mainstream country and bluegrass scenes (an opry-member, even). He was once very popular in the 80s and early 90s–a pop crossover success for the earnest bluegrass speed-picker. Always quite a technically-skilled dude, the years have fortunately roughed-up his sometimes bland, high-lonesome whine (that’s what they call that nasal tenor, close-harmony thing you hear in bluegrass). Along with this, during the last decade or so Skaggs has thankfully lessened his reliance on slick, wanky 2nd/3rd wave virtuoso tropes (tricks of the trade and production values employed by the yngwie malmsteens of bluegrass, basically). This has apparently left him an austere, accomplished traditionalist.

Here he and his hot backing combo extremely faithfully remake the first true bluegrass tunes ever, originally performed by Mr. Bill Monroe (w/Flatt & Scruggs, natch). Mr. Monroe was, of course, the man who literally invented the bluegrass genre (fusing old-time tradtions with his hip, sleek sound), apparently debuting it in 1946-7 with these featured tunes.
Skaggs renditions are charming and tasteful, but also extremely faithful and conservative, so I find it hard to recommend these too heartily to anyone except those who can’t stand 1940s production values (idiots). So, I guess give it a listen but also seek out the originals.
Well, one exciting bonus is special guest Mr. Earl Scruggs himself (at age 84), the inventor of Scruggs-style banjo-playing who played on the original versions of these tunes. So listen to that track anyway.
Skaggs Family 2008

V/A – Classic Piano Blues from Smithsonian Folkways

This excellent collection surveys piano-based black music spanning the first half of the last century (mostly), ranging from jump blues to boogie woogie, chicago blues, tin pan alley/vaudeville (almost minstrel-style) stuff, stride, a coupla numbers with jazzier chord voicings and phrasing, and lots more stuff… Loads of StL natives or associates represented too, which is always nice.
Any attempt to pick out the gems is kinda impossible on such a quality compilation (and a task perhaps a little too steeped in personal biases, especially in my case), but here goes, anyway, some hits from the smithsonian vaults that just about bowled me over:
James P. Johnson turns in two lovely numbers that showcase his mastery of stride-style piano: a technique arising out of the fading flames of classic Ragtime (and it’s considered the East Coast counterpart to Ragtime, which was primarily a Midwest phenomenon). Where classic rags are highly percussive in a layered, additive sense, stride style is more syncopated and makes use of a jazzy-shuffle (whereas joplin is always on the beat). This distinction is maybe exagerrated because a lot of our knowledge of ragtime comes from hand-punched piano rolls, which are inherently kind of jittery.
The first of the two tunes–“Yellow Dog Blues” features singer Katherine Handy Lewis, the daughter of none other than W.C. Handy who wrote “St. Louis Blues,” he the father of big band-style blues music–the sort of orchestrated bluesy records that first had pop success (early pre-clapton white blues, I guess…). She sings with a phrasing and cadence similar to that on the handful of surviving recordings of true vaudeville blues – a nasal and exagerrated style distinct from the classic Ma Rainey, Mamie Smith female blues crooning, though there isn’t really any of the wacky yodeling associated the vaudeville style (the true origin of mainstream country yodeling via emmett smith–maybe a later post?). Very cool stuff, basically.

There’s two 1960s numbers from the St. Louis-based albino boogie-woogie pianist Speckled Red who I tend to dig a lot. Red had a big hit with “The Dirty Dozens” – a classic toast blues in the talky, pre-rap tradition of witty insults strung together over a percussive vamp. The two cuts featured here showcase his very intense, rhythmic phrasing, and “how long blues” (one of the two) is a slower ballad-blues type not usually associated with him, giving his shouty vocals the limelight for a change.
I’m naturally inclined to dislike Chicago style hot blues guitar licks, so the tracks in that style appeal to me less, but that’s just a personal preference. Champion Jack Dupree’s “Black Wolf Blues” is a pretty rock’n roll early RnB number with some party blues washboard and that’s definitely a gem.
One standout in a set of classics is “Big Fat Woman,” in which Mr. Huddie Ledbetter aka Leadbelly clonks some chunky piano riffs instead of the fat twelve-string strumming he’s associated with. This cute tune’s on the catchier end of the convicted felon’s output (on the “Rock Island Line” side of the spectrum I’d say), with some goofy scatting interludes.
Memphis Slim, Willie Dixon, and the Honeydripper Roosevelt Sykes make some lovely appearances as well and Victoria Spivey turns in the lovely “You’re my Man,” a late career Greenwich village scene-era recording from one of the early masters of pre-war female blues.
I recommend.

Check these out in the (sort of) brand new Folk/Blues New Release Section wahoo! along with some older entries:

Marcia Ball – Peace Love & BBQ (white chick cajun party blues)
Michael Johnathon – Walden: The Earth Song Collection (earnest green folky decides to haha adapt thoreau with fingerpickin, also features nice renditions of better traditional tunes)
Peter Karp – Shadows and Cracks (over-clever bluesy twangy rock that works really well occasionally and mostly falls flat, name-dropping camus, dumas, mtv…)
Casey Driessen – 3D (nugrass fusion from accomplished fiddler, features bela fleck)
and more…


over and out