Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Bill Morrissey: The Man From Out of Town

I went into a record store the other day--yes, they still exist--and at the cash register spoke to the clerk (a job I once held myself), who mentioned that Amy Winehouse's CDs had all sold out. I asked if Bill Morrissey's CDs were selling out too, and she replied, "Bill Morrissey?", obviously thinking I was referring to the Smiths singer by the wrong name. I said, "Yeah, he's a folksinger," and she said, "Oh, probably not then, we don't have much of a folk section." Reminds me of something Bill once said in concert: "Folk music is to be endured, not enjoyed." Bill's music doesn't make you want to dance or sing along like Amy Winehouse's does. Bill's music makes you think. And that explains their relative notoriety: a lot more people would rather sing and dance than think. Sometimes I wish I was one of them.

Anyway, here are a couple more live MP3s of my two favorite songs by Bill. "Last Day of the Last Furlough" got its title from one of J.D. Salinger's best uncollected stories; in the story the characters are about to go off to war; I guess maybe that's how Bill saw love. "The Man From Out of Town" is, to me, the best example of Bill's ability to write short stories in the form of songs. If a tribute album gets done, Steve Earle should do "Last Furlough," and Springsteen was born to sing "Man From Out of Town."


Last Day of the Last Furlough (1/6/1990, Iron Horse, Northampton, MA)

Man From Out of Town (5/17/2001, Barnstormers Theatre, Tamworth, NH)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Name That Singer: Uncredited "I'm Not There" Outtake

As I detailed in my earlier post about Jeff Tweedy's I'm Not There outtake of "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight," I came into possession of a collection of MP3 rough mixes from that film while it was in production. Some of it ended up on the soundtrack, some didn't. And some of it was poorly labeled, including this version of "Highway 61 Revisited," which does not name an artist on the tracklisting. It is not the version by Karen O and the Million Dollar Bashers that is on the soundtrack: this version features a male vocalist. I have no idea who it is.

This is where you come in, dear (ahem) readers. Download it, give it a listen, and see if you can identify the artist in the comments section. The correct answer will be chosen by acclamation. First person to get it right gets the honor of being the first person to get it right. Good luck!

UPDATE: Apparently, this is Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth; the first person with the correct answer prefers to remain Anonymous (and probably Masked ).

Also included this time out is a cover of "In the Summertime" by reader Ron Freeman and his band the Revelators. It was recorded for a Dylan cover contest at the time of I'm Not There's release, but according to Ron the contest website disappeared before the prize was ever awarded. Anyway, it's pretty darn good, and a song (from Shot of Love) you rarely hear covered--so give it a shot (of love).

Highway 61 Revisited

In the Summertime

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Bill Morrissey (November 25, 1951-July 23, 2011) Tribute with Dylan Covers

The world does not operate on an ironic level. Whether one's belief system is based on religious faith or scientific fact, no one imagines the forces of heaven, nature, or science finding ways to amuse, sadden or bedevil us through strange juxtapositions of events. So I won't say it's ironic that on the same day trainwreck popstar Amy Winehouse's death was on the front page of newspapers around the world, the widely unknown but brilliant New England folksinger Bill Morrissey also passed away. Instead, I'll just point out it's a sad coincidence.

But you could write an ironic novel tracking two characters like Winehouse and Morrissey, their divergent careers and their problems with substance abuse (Morrissey was an alcoholic). In the first chapter, they could be on the same airplane, her in first class, him in coach. Later that night, she plays Madison Square Garden and he's at the Bitter End. You could set another scene at the Grammy Awards, with Winehouse sitting front row, taking home a handful of trophies, while Morrissey (nominated for Best Folk Album for his Songs of Mississippi John Hurt) sits in the back and goes home empty handed. Near the end of their lives, she cancels an arena tour after a drug-addled, incoherent performance; he overcomes his alcoholism, deals with his depression, and goes on tour for a series of house concerts. Then, on the same day, she dies of a probable overdose, while he passes away in his sleep, his body simply shutting down.

Morrissey was one of my favorite folksingers: his albums Standing Eight and Inside were masterpieces of small town life and working class poetry. The song "Last Day of the Last Furlough" is one of the most heartbreaking ballads I've ever heard. I can't even listen to the song "These Cold Fingers" anymore; it's too damn painful when he has to put down his dog. He wrote an excellent autobiographical novel about a folksinger, Edson, that had the same virtues as his songs. His concerts were low key, intense, and occasionally very funny. I'm sad to learn he's gone, but glad to hear he was dealing with his issues and had found a measure of contentment in the last year of his life. On one of his later albums, he wrote a song called "Letter From Heaven" about the afterlife--let's hope he was telling it as it is:

“And me, I couldn’t be happier
The service here is fine
They’ve got dinner ready at half-past nine
And I’m going steady with Patsy Cline
And just last night in a bar room
I bought Robert Johnson a beer
Yeah, I know, everybody’s always surprised to find him here."

If you don't know his work, you should seek it out. You can start with these two live Dylan covers:

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Gillian Welch Sings Dylan, Simon, and Lewis Carroll

These songs (as well as the picture of Gillian Welch) were taken down after I was served with a DMCA notice. It seems strange to me that Ms. Welch (and/or her emissaries) would find their inclusion detrimental, rather than beneficial, to her overall career, but there it is. Don't worry, Gill, I still love your music!
Last night I saw the most sublime show I've seen this year: Gillian Welch and David Rawlings at Seattle's Moore Theatre. Her high lonesome vocals and deeply-rooted country songs and his amazing guitar work and harmonies combined for a sound just on the human side of perfection. The final encore may have been the best moment: a raging, straight-faced cover of the Jefferson Airplane psychedelic classic "White Rabbit," with heavy echo to maximize the impact of its Alice in Wonderland imagery.

In honor of this great show, I dug up three Welch/Rawlings covers: "White Rabbit," Paul Simon's "Gone at Last" (originally a duet with the recently departed Phoebe Snow), and Bob Dylan's haunting "Oh, Sister" from 1976's Desire.
P.S. If you dig Gill but aren't familiar with Crooked Still and singer Aoife O'Donovan, check out my recent  post Aoife Sings Simon and the Stones; you'll be a convert.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Emmy the Great is a Modern Girl

Emmy the Great's new album, Virtue, is my favorite album so far this year, just as her debut, First Love, was my favorite of 2009. Emma-Lee Moss, the woman behind the humorously grandiose name, has a voice of breathtaking, bell-like clarity, and her songs are wildly imaginative, emotionally incisive, and melodically gorgeous. Emmy also enjoys playing the occasional cover song: below is a version of Sleater-Kinney's "Modern Girl," performed on the BBC with Tim Wheeler of Ash.

By strange coincidence, this song originally appeared on Sleater-Kinney's album The Woods, and Emmy has a song called "The Woods," the 2006 demo of which is also below. Perhaps not so coincidentally, this song has the feel of a fairy tale, and fairy tales are also an inspiration for much of Virtue. Now that we've come full circle, you may enjoy the music.

Modern Girl - Emmy the Great

The Woods (demo) - Emmy the Great

There is a cool video of the official version of "The Woods" on You Tube, featuring Lightspeed Champion. Check it out before or after you buy a copy of Virtue.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Aoife Sings Simon and the Stones

Aoife O'Donovan (she's the one in the middle) grew up in the Boston suburb of Newton, but her voice evokes the wide-open spaces of rural America. While her band, Crooked Still, is a virtuoso string combo as good as any in the Newgrass movement, Aoife (pronounced EE-fuh) has crossover star potential: she projects an airy, unguarded intimacy that is equally gorgeous singing the old folk tunes her band specializes in, rock standards, and the original singer-songwriter material she performs in her side project, Sometymes Why.

Below are two tracks, a cover of Paul Simon's "Hearts and Bones" that she posted on her website, and a splendid Crooked Still live version of the Rolling Stones' "You Got the Silver" from the Higher Ground Showcase Lounge in South Burlington, Vermont, on May 20, 2010.

Hearts and Bones - Aoife O'Donovan

You Got the Silver - Crooked Still

After you've heard these two, search You Tube for Sometymes Why's hilariously steamy "Too Repressed," and treat yourself to a copy of the uncensored "Black Album" that features the original studio version of the song, not to mention Crooked Still's latest, Some Strange Country.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Levon Sings Dylan

Levon Helm has lived quite a life. He founded Levon and the Hawks, then left the band when they were backing up Bob Dylan because he couldn't handle getting booed on a nightly basis. He rejoined the group at Big Pink and kept The Band's beat through The Last Waltz. He played Loretta Lynn's father in Coal Miner's Daughter. He reformed The Band and lived through the untimely deaths of Richard Manual and Rick Danko. He published an autobiography, This Wheel's On Fire. He survived throat cancer. He appeared as the old blind man in The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. He got enough of his voice back that he started singing again, and began hosting all star Midnight Rambles at his home studio/barn. 

Last March 12, while on tour with daughter, Amy Helm, and Donald Fagen he sang "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go" and "I Shall Be Released" at the Wellmont Theatre in Montclair, New Jersey. His voice was ragged but his spirit was right. Give 'em a listen:

You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go 

I Shall Be Released 

Comments are encouraged.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Jeff Tweedy Will Be Your Baby Tonight

Some background: in 2007, a good friend of mine was working on Todd Haynes' brilliant Dylan non-biopic I'm Not There. Knowing my intense interest in all things Dylan, she sent me a disc of MP3s (which were all she could get) containing rough mixes of music intended for the soundtrack, on the condition that I keep them to myself. As it turned out, much of this music wasn't used in the film or released on the soundtrack CD. Recently, I asked if it was okay to share now, and she said it was.

Jeff Tweedy's cover of "Simple Twist of Fate" made it onto the soundtrack; his version of "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight" did not, and I don't believe this outtake has made it into circulation; nor can I find any live Tweedy or Wilco performance of this song. It's a straight take-off of Dylan's original arrangement, with a typically sweet Tweedy vocal.

I'll be sharing other rarities, covers and the like in this space, so check back. Comments are encouraged and will help me gauge whether there is enough interest to keep this going.

I'll Be Your Baby Tonight - Jeff Tweedy

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Lou Reed and John Lennon's "Mother"

While it is hard to argue with the notion that Lou Reed is one of rock's great songwriters, it is my sad duty to inform you that he is the worst live professional singer on the planet. By that I mean no one will ever pay money to hear someone sing worse than Lou Reed. That said, there is a certain blunt majesty to his rendition of John Lennon's primal scream masterpiece "Mother." This performance dates way back to July 1, 2011 (that's yesterday) at the Civic Hall in Wolverhampton, which is in the United Kingdom. I won't say enjoy--neither the song nor Reed's performance is enjoyable, per se--but, rather, appreciate!

Mother - Lou Reed

Rilo Kiley: Barely Alive and Covering John

Since I named this blog after a Rilo Kiley song, I'm going to kick it off with two songs by the best band of the Naughties (2000-2009). The first is an acoustic version of the non-album track "Jenny, You're Barely Alive," played at Amoeba Records in San Francisco on September 23, 2004. This song is the "Gloomy Sunday" of the new millennium: it will drive listeners to suicide.

The second is a cover of the John Lennon/Yoko One classic "Woman is the Nigger of the World," played live at the Henry Ford Theatre in Los Angeles on July 6, 2003. If this were released today, it would be called "Woman is the N-Word of the World." That's why I love political correctness.

Sadly, RK seems to have split up, and neither Jenny Lewis nor Blake Sennett's subsequent work has been up to snuff. Come back, Rilo Kiley, all is forgiven! And Jenny, please wear your short shorts.

Jenny You're Barely Alive - Rilo Kiley (acoustic)

Woman is the Nigger of the World - Rilo Kiley (live)