Friday, 31 December 2010

Glen Campbell - True Grit

I watched the original True Grit this afternoon to see how it compares with the Coen Brothers' terrific new adaptation.

In the entertaining John Wayne version, Glen Campbell puts in a thankfully rare big screen appearance as La Boeuf, the irritating Texas Ranger that Matt Damon plays much better in the new film.

In my experience most Westerns from the 50s and 60s have songs that play over the opening titles and set up the story about to unfold. True Grit is no exception and part of Glen's contract evidently indulged him to sing this enjoyably cheeseball tune.

MP3: Glen Campbell - True Grit

Buy Rhinestone Cowboy: The Best of Glen Campbell at Amazon

Both versions of True Grit are well worth your time. Having heard the Glen Campbell song I am now disappointed that Jeff Bridges doesn't sing it over the end credits of the new one. You'd have thought after the success of Crazy Heart he'd have loved adding some world-weariness to the song.

Here's Jeff in Crazy Heart performing that film's title song.

MP3: Jeff Bridges - The Weary Kind

Buy the Crazy Heart soundtrack at Amazon

Happy new year to all Carnival Saloon patrons old and new. I hope you'll be pleased to know that one of my resolutions is to start giving this blog more attention again.

Related Links
True Grit - official site for Coen Bros film. Lots of great clips.
Jeff Bridges - the actor's own site is a thing of beauty

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Townes & The Tanyas - Waitin' Around To Die

I've been watching the second series of the excellent chemistry-teacher-turned-crystal-meth-cook drama Breaking Bad this week. One episode featured The Be Good Tanyas cover of Townes Van Zandt's Waitin' Around to Die. It's from their second album Chinatown which I'd not given a spin for some time and thoroughly enjoyed listening to again.

MP3: The Be Good Tanyas - Waiting Around To Die

But it! Chinatown (Amazon)

Townes claimed that this was the first proper song he ever wrote and anyone familar with his biography won't be surprised that he penned such a fatalistic song at a young age.

The original version that's on Townes' first album For the Sake of the Song is regrettably overproduced. This stripped-down version from the Live from the Old Quarter album is miles better.

MP3: Townes Van Zandt - Waitin' Around to Die

But it! Live At The Old Quarter (Amazon)

The Old Quarter album is probably the best starting place for Townes novices. Those who want to dig deeper should certainly seek out the superb documentary Be Here To Love Me. That film uses a fair amount of footage from Heartworn Highways, another must-see movie for twang fans.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Scott Pilgrim: An Alternative Soundtrack

I'm looking forward to watching the Scott Pilgrim movie next week and have been preparing myself by devouring Bryan Lee O'Malley's original comic book series. There's already been a fair amount written about the official Scott Pilgrim soundtrack and director Edgar Wright has spoken to both the Guardian and Drowned in Sound on musical matters. It looks solid and there's a nice post on O'Malley's website that's well reading too.

I had hoped for a higher twang quotient though. Scott Pilgrim Volume 3 includes a mini appendix where O'Malley lists some of the songs he listened to while working on the book. It's not far from sounding like my iPod on shuffle with the addition of a few Canucks I'd never heard of. So, here are the tunes from O'Malley's list with his comments in quotations. As you'll see it features a lot of Carnival Saloon favourites.

MP3: Plumtree - Scott Pilgrim

For obvious reasons this one's on the film's OST. Says O'Malley, "this is the song that inspired the book in general, by a great Canadian indie girl-rock band from the 90s. Plumtree rocks for ever!"
Find it on the Scott Pilgrim OST

MP3: Joel Plaskett - In Need of Medical Attention

Another Canadian I'd never heard of. "He's a guy whose music has had a huge influence on me and Scott Pilgrim. He was also in a great 90s band called Thrush Hermit whose defining album Clayton Park is an overlooked classic".
Find it on In Need of Medical Attention

MP3: The Flying Burrito Brothers - To Ramona

"This legendary band fronted by Gram Parsons in the early 70s is the soundtrack to Scott's mind". This Dylan cover is actually from the FFBs first album without Gram. Never mind, it's great and Ramona is the object of Scott's affections.
Find it on Hot Burritos!

MP3: Beachwood Sparks - By Your Side

I haven't listened to Beachwood Sparks for yonks so was glad to reacquaint myself with them. "A swirly cosmic countrified cover of a Sade song. It's the ultimate Scott Pilgrim song. I secretly love the original, too".
Find it on Once We Were Trees

MP3: The Replacements - Can't Hardly Wait

A classic! "They wrote amazing songs. I always think of them as Ramona's favourite. They're one of mine."
Find it on Pleased to Meet Me

MP3: Uncle Tupelo - Grindstone

Regular Carnival Saloon patrons will know my feelings towards Uncle Tupelo so I won't repeat myself. O'Malley has this to say, "the original band. I equate them with the character Stephen Stills."
Find it on March 16-20, 1992

MP3: Neil Young - Borrowed Tune

"...and every other Neil Young song. Scott also 'borrowed' a tune from the Rolling Stones in this book, in case you missed it..."
Find it on Tonight's the Night

MP3: Spoon - Waiting For The Kid To Come Home

According to Metacritic (via this article in the Guardian) Spoon are the best band of the last 10 years. "Gets me every time. This an old b-side but it screams Scott Pilgrim to me. Rockin' and ramshackle."
Find it on Telephono/Soft Effects EP

MP3: Old 97's - Let The Idiot Speak

This is a band that No Depression championed a lot in the glory years. "They're a bouncy pop-country-punk-something band from Texas and they've given this comic a lot of juice over the years."
Find it on Fight Songs

MP3: Tom Petty - American Girl

"This song plays over the credits of every episode of Scott Pilgrim in my mind. Check out that guitar in the intro! CLASSIC ROCK!" Fair points though personally I'm still convinced Mr Petty warranted a four-hour documentary.
Find it on Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Not a bad playlist, huh? Your thoughts on Scott Pilgrim the movie, books or its soundtrack all welcome.

Related Links
Scott Pilgrim - official site for movie
Edgar Wright - director's official site
Bryan Lee O'Malley - writer's official site

Saturday, 31 July 2010

Songs of the Shrimp

Photo: SA Steve @ Flickr

Song of the Shrimp is one of the weirder tunes in the Elvis Presley canon but now has an odd poignancy in light of the effect the Gulf Coast oil spill has had on the region's shrimpers.

MP3: Elvis Presley - Song of the Shrimp

Amazon | Find it on Kid Galahad/Girls! Girls! Girls!

Elvis recorded the track for the soundtrack to his 1962 film Girls! Girls! Girls! but I first heard it sung by Frank Black of all people. His 2005 solo album Honeycomb couldn't be further away from the sound of the Pixies and his version is brilliant. Recorded in Nashville with the likes of Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham it's a wonderfully laid-back record that also includes covers of Dark End of the Street and Doug Sahm's Sunday Sunny Mill Valley Groove Day.

MP3: Frank Black - Song of the Shrimp

Amazon | Find it on Honeycomb

In interviews promoting Honeycomb Frank Black claimed he'd never heard the Elvis version and was instead inspired by Townes Van Zandt's cover on Live at McCabe's. He told Barney Hoskyns in Uncut, "He just barely plays the song, he just hits a chord and sings a line and cracks up, hits another chord, makes a joke... it’s a really deconstructed but very entertaining version, and that was my reference point." That's an accurate description.

MP3: Townes Van Zandt - Song of the Shrimp

Amazon | Find it on Live at McCabe's

Any other suggestions of fine seafood related songs? It's a shame not many things rhyme with whelk.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Songs To Woody

Woody Guthrie was born today in 1912 in Okemah, Oklahoma. He needs no introduction. I imagine his music has seeped into the lives of nearly every artist I've ever featured on Carnival Saloon. So, to mark what would have been his 98th birthday, here are Woody Guthrie songs by four of my favourites.

MP3: Bob Dylan - This Land is Your Land (live)

"Woody Guthrie tore everything in his path to pieces. For me it was an epiphany,like some heavy anchor had just plunged into the waters of the harbor." That's Bob writing in Chronicles Volume One. It's part of a wonderful two pages recalling the impact hearing Woody for the first had on him. This version of Guthrie's most famous song is from a concert at the Carnegie Chapter Hall in 1961, the year before Bob's first album came out.
Find it on No Direction Home

MP3: Bruce Sprinsgteen - Riding in My Car

Bruce fans will probably know his version of This Land is Your Land that's on the Live 1975-1985 album. This is more obscure (and one of Bob Dylan's early Guthrie favourites too). It's from a 1996 concert that Ani DiFranco organised and is commemorated on the album 'Til We Outnumber Them (which also features Bruce's version of Deportees).
Find it on Til We Outnumber 'em

MP3: Tom Russell - Woodrow

When I first saw Tom Russell live, at the Cambridge Folk Festival in 2006, the way this song encompasses so much of Guthrie's life, work and legacy in all its multi-faceted glory really hit me as a masterpiece.
Find it on Hotwalker

MP3: Billy Bragg & Wilco - California Stars (live)

Whenever Wilco play London I always cross my fingers in the hope that they'll invite Billy on to join them to sing one of the songs off Mermaid Avenue. Anyone who's seen the documentary Man in the Sand knows it's unlikely to ever happen. This is one of few times they have performed together, on Conan O'Brien's old show Late Night.
Find the original on Mermaid Avenue

If that's whet your appetite and you want to get back to the source there are tons of Guthrie compilations available. I'd also highly recommend Joe Klein's book Woody Guthrie: A Life.

Related Post
Doing Woody's Work Billy Bragg & Wilco's Mermaid Avenue demos

Related Links
Woody Guthrie - official site

Monday, 12 July 2010

An Interview with Jim White

Talking about Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus

BBC Four are screening one of my favourite documentaries tonight, Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus. The beautiful Arena film follows Jim White's idiosyncratic road trip through the South, revelling in Southern Gothic and taking in an impressive roster of alt-country favourites including The Handsome Family, Johnny Dowd and 16 Horsepower along the way. This clip will give you a flavour.

I interviewed Jim about the film for the BBC Four website when Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus was first shown on TV six years ago. This repeat screening seems like the perfect excuse to ressurect our conversation. Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus also has a fantastic soundtrack and there are a few MP3s at the bottom of this post.

How did you react when you heard that an English guy wanted to make a film about you?
I thought there were people better suited than me to be a tour guide to the underbelly of the South, like Johnny Dowd. But they liked the fact that I wasn't born there and don't have eight generations of Southern blood in me. As an outsider I can convey the oddness of the South yet I'm still familiar with the intricacies of it.

Johnny Dowd is from the South, but it's interesting that other musicians in the film, like 16 Horsepower and The Handsome Family, aren't...
No, but they are all influenced by Southern culture, Southern religious culture even - either the rejection of religion or the acceptance of it. David Eugene Edwards [16 Horsepower] is a devoutly religious person. Rennie Sparks from The Handsome Family is fascinated by the carnality of Southern religion or the "bloodthirstiness" as she calls it. So I think that the choices made sense. If they'd got Southern bands or some singer from Texas like Joe Ely then it wouldn't have transcended anything. It would only show the cause, it wouldn't show the effect. In far-away places people are influenced by Southern storytelling and music. That's really the point. Its influences on culture in the English-speaking world are fairly profound and yet nobody's ever really referred to that.

Religion is obviously such a major part of that culture, I almost said a suffocating part...
Suffocating is fine. When you're poor and there is no opportunity for pleasure in this life, you have to invent something to keep you going. If the ship never comes in then you invent the ship. The ship that they've invented there is Jesus and the Second Coming of Christ - The Rapture as they call it. There's a lot of very normal people in middle-class jobs who sincerely believe that in a couple of weeks or couple of months, they're going to get yanked out of their car and watch the earth disappear below them like a little speck of dust, and they are going to sing praises in a city covered in jewels and gold. For a person who lives in London that must seem like a mentally-ill vision, but it's considered quite normal in the South.

Have you found your own beliefs mixing with that very distinctive Southern religious culture?
They are coloured by it. I was indoctrinated into the church at the age of about eight when I went to what I thought was a summer camp. In fact it was a church indoctrination camp. They don't put you on a hay ride or take you to the swimming hall. They preach Jesus to you for an hour and then again three times a day. It's insidious.

At a certain point going to church became the only way I could see to survive. I was an oddball and the oddballs fell into two categories - those oddballs that were getting saved and the oddballs that were strung out on heroin and starting to shoot people.

I went in the direction of the criminal for long enough to see that I didn't fit in there and was going to come to a bad end. I have no self-control. If I'd have taken one hit of heroin I'd have been dead because I wouldn't have been able to stop. So I went to church. I figured that excess in search of God can't be that bad of a thing. But it's its own drug.

By viewing the world through the church, intensely, passionately, with spirit and mind, I see the world through a pair of what I call Jesus glasses. If I take the Jesus glasses off, I'm blind. The difference between me and the other people in the South is real simple: with every step that I take and every word that I utter there's a little subtitle which says, "Don't take it too seriously because I'm wearing Jesus glasses". I can't take them off. I can't not see the world through that context, but I can remind myself that it's a tainted context of the world.

William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor are both mentioned in the film. Are there any other Southern cultural figures you tend to go back to?
I just enjoy standing around against a truck talking to regular people who know how to tell a story well and know their way around exotic phraseology. I go to the flea market every weekend. It's a cornucopia of fascinating people. If you get to know them then you'll hear all sorts of stories. One tells you how he was an ordained preacher but he backslid and spent 10 years in prison. Then you see the next guy and he's got tears tattooed under his eye. When you ask him what those are he says that each one is for someone he killed in prison. If you just sit and listen to the richness of the culture, you don't have to go and look in literature.

How did you plan where you travelled in the film?
It was based on a circle of locations: the honky-tonk, the farm, the church and the prison. Each one informs the other and we just planned to let this circle of ideas tell us what we don't know right now. They had some cities in mind and I had some cities in mind. They wanted to go to Ferriday, Louisiana, because Jerry Lee Lewis was born there. People there are aware of the outside world and yet at the same time it's a tiny little town in rural Louisiana.

I wanted them to go to the Jesus is Lord Catfish Restaurant and Truck Stop. The whole place was painted with a scene depicting The Rapture - pictures of planes crashing and souls flying up in the air, but sadly, two weeks before we went there they painted it all white. You can't imagine how beautiful it was. Andrew [Douglas - director] called me on the phone crying. That was going to be the first place we shot. It was all gone; they'd saved one little part of the wall which you see in the film.

I think that tells a little story about the good that the film is doing. It's documenting something that is going to get painted white. Pretty soon, the South that's in the film is going to be harder and harder to find.

If someone watched the film and became inspired to make a trip to South, where would you recommend that they go?
Well, they need to fly to Jacksonville, Florida and call Tyler Greenwell on the phone - 1-800-752-1778. Tyler is one of my best friends. A lot of what I know about the underbelly of the South, I know from Tyler. He's always at the place where all the craziest people are, so he's got access to all these strange individuals. They can stay at Tyler's house. That's what he's like - he's got mattresses leaning up against the walls of his house. He runs a gambling boat in Jacksonville called La Cruise.

From Jacksonville, you should just get on any side road and go. Don't go to the malls, don't go to the strip malls, don't go to the Cracker Barrel. Go to the back roads and eat at the places that look like you'll get sick at and ask everyone to tell you a story. Some of them are going to want to fight. But you don't ever learn anything by playing it safe. I'd go in the winter, though, because in the summer people don't have a lot of energy because it's so damn hot.

Finally, are you going to grow your hair back?
No. I wanted to cut it for years but my ex-wife said she needed to be with a man that looked like Jesus. It's that simple. I didn't want to have any more arguments than we were already having so as soon as we split up I cut it off. I'm too old to mess with floppy hair, particularly in the South when in the summertime it's just a blanket of misery. It's like wearing a wet wig on your head every night. So my hair is going to stay like this. It's much more comfortable.

MP3: Jim White - Alabama Chrome

Find it on Drill A Hole In That Substrate...

MP3: The Handsome Family - When The Helicopter Comes

Find it on In the Air

MP3: Cat Power - Cross Bones Style

Find it on Moon Pix

Related Posts
Jim White @ The Borderline - review of a gig in 2007

Related Links
Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus (BBC) - clip, tracklist and link to iPlayer
Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus - official site
A Short Film About Bottles - video some colleagues and I made about the Arena opening sequence

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Jeff Tweedy @ Union Chapel, London 30/06/10

Flanked by six acoustic guitars which stood in front of the Union Chapel's imposing gothic pulpit, Jeff Tweedy performed a joyous solo set on Wednesday night, peppered with good humoured banter and gems that Wilco fans rarely hear at the band's gigs. Watching Tweedy in such cheerful mood, joshing with his congregation, it was hard to imagine him as the same man who used to bait "snotty" London audiences.*

The evening's first highlight came early when Jeff invited English cult singer-songwriter Bill Fay to the stage. The pair played Be Not So Fearful, a song from Fay's 1970 debut LP that occasionally features on Wilco set lists. I'd been lucky enough to see them perform together at the Shepherd's Bush Empire a few years ago. That was Fay's first public appearance for decades and Jeff again took evident delight in introducing his dishevelled hero to a new audience.

One of the great things about a Jeff Tweedy solo show is hearing songs like Spiders and Muzzle of Bees stripped down to the bare state in which they were conceived. When Jeff played Impossible Germany he had no choice but let it peter out where Nels Cline's epic guitar solo usually features!

The presence of Jeff's family aided the convivial atmosphere. His wife and two boys were outside taking requests before the show. "Some asshole called David has asked for 'any Dylan song'" jokingly moaned Jeff at point before playing a lovely version of Simple Twist of Fate. A girl who requested New Madrid, from Uncle Tupelo's swansong album Anodyne, was greeted "I've had about 10 albums since then. What? You don't like the new stuff?"

But it was a genuine pleasure to hear songs from throughout Tweedy's career and side projects, be it Uncle Tupelo, the Mermaid Avenue albums or Loose Fur. Given the chance I'd have requested the Golden Smog track Pecan Pie and I bet he'd have played it.

Two more highlights. When you hear Tweedy introduce a number as "one of my favourite country songs" you might expect something from Hank Williams or the Louvin Brothers. Instead we were treated to The Handsome Family's bleak Christmas tune So Much Wine. And to end the show on a perfect note Jeff used the 19th-century church's acoustics to full effect with a totally unplugged, no PA rendition of Acuff-Rose, another corker from the Uncle Tupelo songbook.

Everyone left the Union Chapel knowing they'd seen something special. To give you a flavour of what you missed here are a couple of MP3s from the previous Tweedy solo show I saw in London. (If there's an appetite for it I'll post the whole gig at a later date. Let me know).

MP3: Jeff Tweedy - Muzzle of Bees (2005-11-22)

MP3: Jeff Tweedy - John Wesley Harding (2005-11-22)

*One of the first times I saw Wilco play in London, at the Shepherd's Bush Empire in 1997, an irascible Jeff Tweedy spent a significant amount of time baiting the audience for being "snotty" and threatening to "rub my Yankee ass all over you". Hardly edifying entertaintment. I think mainly he was pissed off that the crowd weren't really 'getting in to it' and I have my own theories as to why that might be.

Related Links
Jeff Tweedy @ Union Chapel (Songkick) - set list, more reviews, fan photos etc

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Marty Robbins - El Paso City

The El Paso Trilogy Part 3

The final part of Marty Robbins' El Paso trilogy, after the original massive hit and its eight-minute follow-up Feleena, must be one of the oddest songs in his catalogue.

By the early 70s Robbins was as interested in Nascar racing as he was in music. He left Columbia Records in 1972 and in the next few years released a handful of decent albums for Decca but struggled to find hit singles.

That all changed with his return to Columbia in 1976 and the album El Paso City. It became Marty's only number one album and its title single his first chart topper since 1970.

So why do I think the song is so weird? Well, for a start it borders on the post-modern. As Marty flies over El Paso "from 30,000 feet above the desert floor" he looks down and ponders "I don't recall who sang the song but I recall a story that I heard/ And as I look down on this city I remember each and every word". Later, as he becomes fixated on the hero of El Paso, the hit he wrote nearly 20 years before, he sings, "There's such a mystery in the song that I don't understand".

I find it fascinating that Marty Robbins visited the same subject matter three times in three decades. If El Paso City's lyrics are to be believed there's a metaphysical root to his obsession with that West Texas town:

My mind is down there somewhere as I fly above the badlands of      New Mexico
I can't explain why I should know the very trail he rode back to      El Paso
Can it be that man can disappear from life and live another time?
And does the mystery deepen 'cause you think that you yourself      lived in that other time?

MP3: Marty Robbins - El Paso City

Find it on Marty Robbins - A Lifetime Of Song

The truth behind the song is more prosaic. After Marty Robbins' biographer Diane Diekman left a comment on my previous post I asked her if she had any information about El Paso City. Diane kindly sent me this titbit:

Marty told Ralph Emery in 1977, "I was going to write a song about an airline pilot and a stewardess. They were married, see. He flew for one airline, she flew for another, and she went to El Paso. He flew over El Paso on his way to Los Angeles... He was trying to compare his love for this woman to the cowboy's love for Feleena in the song El Paso." One day Marty was flying over El Paso, and the reincarnation idea hit him. He had the song written by the time his plane landed in Los Angeles.

Related Posts
Marty Robbins - El Paso - part one of the trilogy, plus a great version by Tom Russell
Marty Robbins - Feleena (From El Paso) - the follow-up tells the story from the female perspective

Related Links
Diane Diekman - author of forthcoming Marty Robbins biography
Ultimate Twang: El Paso City - overview of the 1976 album

Monday, 21 June 2010

Marty Robbins - Feleena (From El Paso)

The El Paso Trilogy - Part 2

In my previous post I wrote how Marty Robbins had to fight his record label bosses to release El Paso in 1959 because they felt it was too long and too wordy. Marty won and the song became a Grammy-winning hit and country music standard. Robbins revisited that West Texas town with a sequel on his 1966 album The Drifter. Feleena (From El Paso) tells the story from the girl's perspective and at over eight minutes is twice as long as the original.

As well as a lengthy back-story before Feleena reaches El Paso the song also adds an extra layer of tragedy. The original El Paso ends with the narrator dying in Feleena's arms. In the sequel Feleena then takes her own life with her lover's pistol after hearing his parting words. There's then a marginally upbeat coda as we learn that the two lovers' voices can still be heard in the streets of El Paso.

MP3: Marty Robbins - Feleena (From El Paso)

Find it on The Essential Marty Robbins

Here's a video of Marty performing the song. Unfortunately I have no idea where it's from.

Rosa's Cantina features in both songs. I actually discovered the photo at the top of this post on Jim Peipert's cycling blog. It really is the same place that inspired the song. According to Jim, Marty Robbins stopped off at Rosa's on his trips back home to Arizona after performing at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.*

As far as I know song sequels like Feleena are pretty unusual. The only other one I can think of is Chuck Berry's Bye Bye Johnny, which tells the story of Johnny B Goode from his mother's point of view. If you know of any others, please do leave a comment.

I'll be concluding my posts on Marty Robbins' El Paso trilogy later in the week. Stay tuned for a particularly odd song.

* In a comment below Marty Robbins' biographer Diane Diekman says my trivia that Robbins was inspired by a real-life Rosa's Cantina is nonsense. I'm always happy to be corrected!

Related Posts
Marty Robbins - El Paso - part one of the trilogy, plus a great version by Tom Russell

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Marty Robbins - El Paso

The El Paso Trilogy - Part 1

Marty Robbins' El Paso was a number one hit in 1959 on both the country and pop charts. I'm sure I probably first heard it on one of the country compilations my dad used to play in the car when we were kids. I didn't really hear the song though until I bought Tom Russell's tremendous album Indians Cowboys Horses Dogs after seeing him play for the first time at the Cambridge Folk Festival in 2006. The way Tom sings it, starting with his cowboy yelp against the accordion that plays throughout, it's like an old Western movie in miniature. It's certainly not hard to imagine Katy Jurado playing Feleena and Randolph Scott as her ill-fated lover.

MP3: Tom Russell - El Paso

Find it on Indians Cowboys Horses Dogs

Two things have recently made me think about the original. First, I finally got a copy when I bought an Ace Records compilation of cross-over country hits from the 50s and 60s. Secondly, I'm currently reading Dana Jennings' fascinating book Sing Me Back Home. It mixes a thesis that country music from 1950 to 1970 represents a "secret history of rural, working class Americans in the 20th century" with memories of Jennings' own Faulknerian family of "adulterers, drunks, and glue sniffers; wife beaters, husband beaters, and child abusers; pyros, nymphos, and card cheats; smugglers and folks who were always sticking their cold, bony hands where they didn't belong."

It's always worth thinking about the context in which music was created. As Jennings points out, country music really only became known as country and western music in an attempt to "shed its 'hillbilly' stigma" and "take advantage of the nation's love affair with Westerns, with singing cowboys and their faithful horses". In 1959 Westerns were ubiquitous, especially on TV with Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Rawhide and Maverick just the well-known small-screen cowboy adventures. In the same year cinema-goers flocked to see John Wayne in the Howard Hawks classic Rio Bravo.

MP3: Marty Robbins - El Paso

Find it on The Golden Age Of American Rock'n'Roll - Country Edition

With six-shooters so prevalent in pop culture it's no wonder that El Paso was a hit. Yet Columbia'a A&R boss Mitch Miller wasn't so sure and nearly rejected it. He felt the song was too long (singles in the 50s seldom exceeded four minutes) and too wordy. In rebuttal Robbins cited Johnny Horton's hit The Battle of New Orleans from earlier in the year as proof that there was a market for narrative songs with a Western flavour. As a compromise Columbia released a radio edit. America's DJs vindicated Robbins by choosing to play the full-length version that was on the flip.

El Paso became Marty Robbins' signature song. Although he was born in Arizona and is buried in Nashville, the Texas city he made famous even named a park in his honour. Robbins was also unable to leave the song alone. In 1966 he released its first sequel, Feleena, which he followed ten years later with El Paso City. More on both of those songs later in the week.

Related Posts
Feleena (From El Paso) - Part 2 of Marty Robbins' El Paso trilogy

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Tom Waits - Theme Music for Iron Man 2

Fans of the Song Wars segment on Adam & Joe's much-missed 6 Music radio show will know the pair are parody song maestros. This week's edition of Adam's Big Mix Tape, guest presented by alter-ego Ken Korda, had a film theme and featured this brilliant imagining of what might have happened if the theme song duties for Iron Man 2 had been given to Tom Waits rather than AC/DC. There is of course a loose connection between Tom and Iron Man 2: Scarlett Johansson released an album of Waits covers back in 2008.

Here's Ken Korda's introduction followed by the song itself.

MP3: Ken Korda - Iron Man 2 backstory

MP3: 'Tom Waits' - Iron Man 2

Related Links
Adam Buxton's Big Mix Tape - listen online to the 6 Music show
Adam & Joe's Blog - contribute to their shows
Adam Buxton's personal website - includes Adam's blog
Tom Waits - official site

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Willie Nelson @ Hammersmith Apollo 11/06/10

My ticket for Willie Nelson's concert at the Hammersmith Apollo last night stated "Doors Open 6.30pm. Start 7.30pm (prompt)". In my mind that meant either the thrilling prospect of a legendary three-hour marathon or that Willie's main priority was getting back to his hotel in time for Newsnight Review. Things commenced on the dot at 8. Willie strolled onto the stage wearing a black Stetson as an enormous Texas flag unfurled behind him and immediately kicked into a swift version of Whiskey River. 90 minutes later he was gone.

I'd expected a more laid-back vibe from a man famed for his daily marijuana habit; perhaps anecdotes from his storied life or introductions to some of the songs. While it was great to hear classics like Me and Paul and City of New Orleans they lacked the resonance I know from the records. Willie Nelson is now 77 and has been playing these songs for decades. As he gets older, his voice weaker and battered guitar ever more knackered it's inevitable that the thought and feeling he once invested in his performances would wane. His solution seems to be playing the songs by rote and getting through as many hits as possible in an hour-and-a-half.

The gig's breakneck pace was set early when three of Willie's classics Crazy, Night Life and Funny How Time Slips Away were breezily dispatched as a medley. These are wonderful, timeless songs you want to wallow in and absorb but Willie rushed through them so quickly and without evident reflection on his brilliant lyrics to make that near impossible. Similarly his attempts to get the audience singing along to the choruses of Beer For My Horses and On The Road Again were somewhat thwarted because we couldn't keep up! Willie's band includes his younger sister Bobbie whose preference for lightning-quick honky-tonk piano rolls hardly helps slow things down.

It's rare at a gig that you're desperate to hear the words, "And now I'd like to play some songs from my new CD" but I was really looking forward to hearing tracks off Willie's latest album Country Music, preferably his ominous new version of Merle Travis' Dark As A Dungeon. We got Man with Blues and the haunting Nobody's Fault But Mine. Perhaps because they're relatively new additions to the set list Willie did seem to take a little more time over them.

The highlight for me came after Willie swapped his cowboy hat for a bandana and played three Hank Williams songs - Jambalaya, Hey Good Lookin' and Move It On Over. There was an energy about these songs that made its way to our seats towards the back of the circle.

With the exception of a bloke wearing an I Love Slayer t-shirt most of the audience looked like Willie Nelson veterans: white-haired couples in their 50s and 60s, some wearing western shirts and bolo ties, who enjoyed hearing the hits no matter how they were performed. There was no encore but before leaving the stage Willie generously shook hands and high-fived the fans in the front rows. The set closed, as I suspect it always does, with The Party's Over. Its weary refrain "Let's call it a night, the party's over, and tomorrow starts the same old thing again" unintentionally summed things up perfectly for me. Willie is on a treadmill. I hope he knows when it's time to get off.

Related Links
Willie Nelson @ Hammersmith (Songkick) - set list and user reviews
Willie Nelson official site - has a good on the road diary
Willie Nelson @ Edinburgh Playhouse - perceptive review by Graeme Thomson for the Arts Desk
My Night Out With... Willie Nelson - a post by me on the Word magazine site

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