ongoing by Tim Bray

ongoing fragmented essay by Tim Bray

SotD: Into the Dark 19 Feb 2018, 8:00 pm

In full, I Will Follow You Into the Dark, by Death Cab for Cutie off their album Plans. This is a solo acoustic thing, stripped down to nothing but a lovely tune and a haunting message; both will stick to you, even if you heard them a million times on the radio a decade back.

No personal connection here; I don’t know anything about Death Cab, think it’s a dumb name for a band, don’t know any of their other songs, wouldn’t recognize any of them if I met them on the street.

Death Cab for Cutie

I just heard it on the radio driving a kid to school, and was hooked: If heaven and hell decide that both are satisfied/Illuminate the “No’s” on their Vacancy signs.” I’ve never been in a close-up-with-death situation, but it feels like the singer’s captured that feeling.

This is part of the Song of the Day series (background).

Links

Spotify playlist. This tune on Amazon, Spotify, iTunes, live video.

SotD: Do You Love Me? 18 Feb 2018, 8:00 pm

Normally I write Song of the Day a few days ahead, and today I woke up on Valentine’s day and realized that day’s “song” was symphonic stuff by Brahms, which is great but not perhaps the Language Of Love. To make up for that, I’ll send you all along a Happy Valentine’s for a few days back with a song that’s about nothing but love, by Nick Cave.

Nick Cave

Nick’s released a lot of good music over the years; this is off (sticking with the V-Day theme) Let Love In. It might be the album highlight but there are other gems too. Also, Do You Love Me appears twice, with a Part 2, which is enjoyable but I don’t think adds much. [Update: But, see the first comment below.] Anyhow, it’s a beautifully-architected song, with verbal, melodic, and guitar-riff hooks all mixed up tastefully, more than the sum of their parts.

There is controversy. I’ve never seen any #MeToo stories about him, but he’s certainly pissed off a few articulate women over the years. I think they have a point, and I’d like to hear him say something grown-up on the subject.

If you want some more on Nick, I wrote a a review of a 2014 concert with a couple of interesting pictures too.

Happy Valentine’s!

This is part of the Song of the Day series (background).

Links

Spotify playlist. This tune on Amazon, Spotify, iTunes; very decent live video.

SotD: Fine and Mellow 17 Feb 2018, 8:00 pm

This is a song not only performed but written by Billie Holiday; it was a hit in 1939, the flip side of the beautiful but gruesome Strange Fruit (the fruit was a lynching victim). Fine and Mellow is sad too, but a fairly standard man-treats-me-bad blues. It’s a treat for the ears and the heart.

Billie Holiday

You can’t write about Billie without dipping into cliché: Victimized as a black and as a woman, drank herself to death, endless sadness in that story. I’m actually not a devotee, quite a bit of her music goes by me. But others, like this one, grab hard and don’t let go. The big thing I like about Fine and Mellow is its patience, flowing calmly along from verse to chorus to verse, no hurry to get there; because the blues aren’t going away.

Love is just like a faucet/It turns off and on/Some times when you think it's on, baby/It has turned off and gone.

This is part of the Song of the Day series (background).

Links

Spotify playlist. Now, there are a lot of versions out there and I’m sure many will disagree with my choice, which is off A Musical Romance, featuring Lester Young and the Mal Waldron Allstars, whoever they were: on Amazon, Spotify, and iTunes.

Now for live video, there’s a famous one and it’s amazing: Billie and a real all-star band (Hawkins, Webster, Young, Mulligan) in 1957, in a CBS studio with decent sound and solid camera-work; the picture above is a screen cap. Sit back, mellow yourself out, and have a serious listen. It goes on for 9 minutes and you don’t want to miss a second. All the solos are pretty cosmic, like for example the opening one-two punch from Ben Webster and Lester Young, and then there’s Billie in between them. I remember an interview I read with one old jazzbo, him saying “If you were playing with Billie and weren’t together, that meant you were off the beat because she never was.” Watch her pick up her parts; no cues I can hear until she comes in and then you notice it was perfect.

SotD: Death Don’t Have No Mercy 16 Feb 2018, 8:00 pm

Death Don’t Have No Mercy is a very old, very dark blues by Rev. Gary Davis which has been covered lots, by Dylan and the Dead among others. But today I’m plugging a live version recorded by Hot Tuna in 1992.

Hot Tuna are a very rootsy outfit. For those who don’t know, they were the Jeffersan Airplane faction that didn’t go Starshipping; guitarist/singer Jorma Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady. They play blues and country and swing stuff, with a lot of extended guitar/bass breaks, always sitting down.

This is on a live album called Live At Sweetwater Two, and I saw them play more or less this set a few months before they recorded it. I was at an audiophile convention in Miami (at the time I had a minor gig freelancing for The Absolute Sound). Tuna were playing this dark smoky bar in not the greatest part of Miami, but it had really great acoustics. The music was so deep and organic, I was entranced, loved every second of it.

Hot Tuna

What I remember them looking like.

A ridiculous sidelight; there were a bunch of drunk hosers at a stand-up bar behind where we were sitting, talking about getting drunk, and this one dude was particularly loud-voiced and obnoxious, and at one point after he’d talked through a quiet song I leaped up, turned around, and hollered “YOU WANNA FUCKING WELL SHUT UP!?” Right in his face; I might have been drinking myself. He wanted to throw down but (thank goodness) his drunk friends dragged him out; maybe they’d seen that movie before. May have saved my life, he might have been packing.

Anyhow, like I said, Death Don’t Have No Mercy is dark, but this take isn’t, well yeah the words are, but it’s wrapped up in one of the nicest acoustic-blues instrumental accompaniments ever recorded, taken slow. Jorma sings nicely in a pleasing American baritone, and then his guitar, Jack’s bass, and Pete Sears’ piano weave an unhurried swinging sparkle around it, just oozing blues and swing and barrelhouse, it’s only five minutes long and I wish they’d kept going three times as long.

Now, there are a lot of other recordings — iTunes has like a dozen by Hot Tuna alone — and I don’t want to diss any of them, but this one is special to me, and I think it’ll please almost any ear.

This is part of the Song of the Day series (background).

Links

Spotify playlist. This tune on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify. There’s no live video that matches this performance, but there’s a 1978 solo performance in dim grey, and again in 2014 with good photography. And here’s a bonus, an old video of Rev. Gary Davis doing his own tune, very hard-core.

SotD: Ashes the Rain and I 15 Feb 2018, 8:00 pm

The James Gang was a stripped-down band that mostly played primitive rock and roll (which I love) very well, and Rides Again is an example of that, but Ashes the Rain and I isn’t primitive at all; five minutes of contemplative beauty.

James Gang Rides Again

Disclosure: Joe Walsh has been, and remains, one of my musical heroes; a guy with a reputation for dumb stuff who really doesn’t seem to be dumb at all. Plus, his guitar tone is second to, well “none” might be taking it a bit high, but it sure sounds great. If I keep doing this, he’ll get a rocker into Song of the Day.

My only copy is on an original vinyl of Rides Again, and it’s at the end of the last track and it’s pretty scratchy, but I still enjoy listening to it. I went and found a modern digital version of it while writing this up, and it’s really a fine-sounding piece of music.

This is part of the Song of the Day series (background).

Links

Spotify playlist. This tune on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon. There’s no live video worth sharing, but there’s a fine treatment which I gather is from Supernatural, whatever that is.

SotD: Brahms’ Variations 14 Feb 2018, 8:00 pm

Today, let’s do classical music, as in a great big splodge of orchestral goo by a dead German. Brahms op. 56a and 56b is a set of variations on a theme; he thought the theme was Haydn’s, thus called it Variations on a Theme by Joseph Haydn. But now they think the Haydn attribution on the theme is sketchy, so now you’ll see ’em labeled sometimes as the Saint Anthony Variations. Anyhow, this is a super tasty splodge of goo, the kind of thing orchestras exist to play.

Brahms in 1872

Brahms, the year before the Variations were published.

Brahms’ early career was up and down; he was in his late thirties before he got much traction. Also, everyone knew that if you wanted to be a big composer you had to write big symphonies. So Brahms premiered the Variations when he was 40 and his Symphony #1 three years later; both were major hits. I’ve heard the Variations described as a warm-up work for the Symphony; that seems unlikely since the latter had been under construction for a decade. I wonder if maybe Brahms had a little bit of imposter syndrome, which would be easy if you were trying to be the first really big German composer after Beethoven, and needed to convince himself he could write something big and orchestral that audiences would like. If you want more on this music, I’ve written about both pieces before.

Anyhow, this music is super-easy to understand; the Saint-Anthony theme is nice and simple, and Brahms doesn’t take any of the variations very far off the beaten track. But he keeps adding thicker and thicker layers of orchestral color and volume, and nobody was ever better than Brahms at that. Every moment of this is a treat for the ears.

Now… it’s kind of long for a Song of the Day, 18 minutes or so. Don’t have that much time for music today? Maybe re-examine your priorities. But, OK, try listening to the first two minutes or so to get comfy with the Saint-Anthony theme, then skip ahead and take in the last 4:15-ish to hear Brahms bring it home with a bang.

This is part of the Song of the Day series (background).

Links

Spotify playlist. This is easy music to buy; usually it’s packaged on a disc with the Symphony #1. I have, and like, both the Roger Norrington and Dorati/LSO versions (and both have fabulous sound). The Dorati (full album) on iTunes and Amazon. As for Spotify, hmm… Brahms Haydn variations has lots of results; adding Dorati yields a link to some “relaxing classical music” compilation. Anyhow, maybe start here.

As for live video, Duhamel/Berlin has a gentle, mellow sound, while Muti/Philadelphia lets the violins sing out a bit more. Brahms also wrote a less-popular two-piano version, here are Lupu & Perahia (no video).

SotD: Jah Glory 13 Feb 2018, 8:00 pm

Third World have always had had a different sound, leaning quite a bit on sweet harmonies and instrumental flavors. It’s reggae all right, but impure like most great music, and sounds as tasty as anything you can imagine. Jah Glory is such a sweet welcoming thing, a soaring song of worship. (You don’t have to believe in Jah.)

96 degrees in the shade by Third World

I saw Third World once in Toronto, I think part of the big Caribana festival, in a soccer stadium. The concert promoter had really screwed the pooch; the stage was one side of the field and when we filed in we found ourselves bottled up in the stands on the other side of the field, with the grass fenced off and a handful of cops lined up between the stands and the field. The band looked tiny, over there across the turf.

I can’t remember the sequence exactly; there was a certain amount of yelling, then a certain amount of looking at each other, then everyone got up and walked down the steps, across the track, pulled down the flimsy temporary fencing, and sat down in front of the band. Hmmm, maybe that’s the thing about Third World; it’s reggae you can sit down to. Anyhow, the cops shrugged ostentatiously and looked at the sky, what were they gonna do?

Third World

Jah Glory is on 96° In The Shade; the title track is probably their biggest hit too, but today’s song is the opener, and there’s just this great feeling when you cue up the album and those harmonies fill the room.

This is part of the Song of the Day series (background).

Links

Spotify playlist. This tune on Amazon, Spotify, iTunes. Here’s recent (2015) live video.

SotD: Dear Darling 12 Feb 2018, 8:00 pm

Mary Margaret O’Hara, a daughter of Toronto, hasn’t recorded much and hasn’t had hits and these are terribly sad things because she’s a gem, a wonderful unconventional songwriter and singer. Her stuff gets pretty far out over the edge sometimes, but Dear Darling is a lovely straight-up country tune, hardly weird at all, or only in places.

Mary Margaret O’Hara

Ms O’Hara’s performances were legendary in Toronto of the Eighties, and when she finally went into the studio and came out with Miss America, people thought she was on a rocket to the Top of the Pops. Despite, one hears, a parade of record-company executives throwing themselves at her feet, she’s only ever recorded once since then, on the soundtrack to the 2001 move Apartment Hunting.

I’m not convinced she’d ever have been a Big Star though. I saw her once in a Toronto bar a hundred years ago, and you can see it on video; a Mary Margaret O’Hara performance is a pretty strange piece of work; I’ve heard her approach described as “bouncing off the music”.

This is part of the Song of the Day series (background).

Links

Spotify playlist. This tune on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon. Live video (so charming).

Photo Antiphony 11 Feb 2018, 8:00 pm

Mobile-phone cameras are better this year than last, and next year they’ll be better again. The notion of carrying around a heavy chunk of metal and glass called “a camera” is becoming difficult to defend and this makes me sad, because I like cameras. Using the big fat Samyang 135mm F2 is giving me strong opinions about what a camera has to be to become the anti-phone, the one you’ll take along even though there’s a good camera on your phone.

This piece contains 7½ pictures, 1½ of which could have been captured with a mobile camera, and one of which was. You might want to scroll down and see if the distinctions are obvious to your eye.

What happened was, entertaining visiting relations, we went to Steveston, BC; an excellent place for a walk. As has become a habit, I kept the Samyang on the Fuji, shooting only with it and with the phone. Recently I wrote that the intersection between the photos my phone is good at and the ones where the big Samyang shines is basically zilch.

And that’s the point; the big 135mm F2 is all the things that the builders of next year’s mobiles probably can’t build. It can shoot things that are really a long way away. It can isolate subject from background, absolutely and effortlessly. And it can resolve details maybe finer than your camera sensor can.

OK, here are the pix. First, Mount Baker looms over a distant — really a long way away — part of the Steveston docks.

Mount Baker behind the Steveston docks

Some of the old marine infrastructure, now picturesquely abandoned.

Old posts in the river

Here’s one of the old warehouses; a lot of them are used now for art projects of one kind or another. Resolving that row of gulls at that distance is a neat trick.

Old warehouse at Steveston

Here are a couple of bark closeups; every tree’s skin has stories to tell.

Amputated birchSunlit winter tree

Here’s some marine infrastructure that’s still in use. It was way across this little inlet from me. Can you see where the ladder meets the water?

Pier reflections

Speaking of things that are long way away, my Kiwi relative who has shipping-industry connections tells me that this is a car freighter.

Car freighter

I don’t often do this sort of thing, but let’s have a closer look at that ship’s bridge; the half-picture I mentioned above. I think the lens has more resolution than the X-T1’s sensor. I could zoom in closer but I’m not sure the captain had put her pants entirely on before opening the cabin curtains.

Car freighter, close-up

Which is which?

The shot of the stumps in the water is the Pixel 2. The second shot of the bark could have been taken with the phone — the background more present than one would like — because for some reason I didn’t have the lens wide open.

What’s the experience like?

I’ll be honest, shooting with the Samyang is a lot of work. It’s heavier than the camera, and once it’s mounted, I can’t squeeze any other lenses into my (admittedly small) camera bag.

When you open it up wide (and why would you use a lens like this if you weren’t going to) it’s hideously difficult to focus; It took me a lot of tries to get these. It’s a manual, but I’ve never tried autofocus on a hair-trigger device like this, I have no idea how it’d work.

Finally, there are a lot of pictures it just can’t take. At 135mm (turns out to be 149 on the Fuji mount) it has to be pretty far away or pretty tiny. Which is OK, you can whip your phone out of your pocket for things that are big and nearby. I guess?

What does the camera of the future look like?

Where by “camera” I mean something that you’ll take the trouble to pack up and take along, and the time to unload and aim and compose and focus, even though you have a perfectly good cam on your mobile.

It needs to have a pretty long focal length and a pretty wide aperture, that’s what. Which means, barring significant new optical science, it needs to be big and probably heavy. Well, the lens part anyhow.

SotD: Mercy Street 11 Feb 2018, 8:00 pm

Nobody could call this obscure; Peter Gabriel’s So sold a kazillion copies and was right in the center of the zeitgeist for months back in the late Eighties. The songs were good, the sound was good, and (especially) the videos were good, which really mattered in 1986. Mercy Street was not one of its big hits, which always astonished me; I thought it by far and away the album’s highlight.

So by Peter Gabriel

So isn’t innovative or groundbreaking or anything; the song structures are conventional and the melodies are unfussy. The production quite properly focuses on Gabriel’s vocals, which on this record are outstanding in their artistry and just the sound of his voice, a pleasantly-rough English tenor, mostly singing in the comfortable center of his range.

The words of Mercy Street flow smoothly and you don’t really need to know that they’re inspired by 45 Mercy Street, a poem of Anne Sexton, and if you drill too deep, are probably terribly sad. This grabs at me: Dreaming of the tenderness, the tremble in the hips/Of kissing Mary’s lips.

This is part of the Song of the Day series (background).

Links

Spotify playlist. This tune is on iTunes but not apparently on either Spotify or Amazon; Gabriel must have razor-sharp attorneys. There’s an official video; as for live, there’s loads, and Gabriel has always been a showman, sometimes sharp, sometimes overwrought. His Secret World Live DVD is one of the best concert captures ever (but Mercy Street isn’t on it).

SotD: Fantaisie Impromptu 10 Feb 2018, 8:00 pm

After the hot guitar a couple days back, I thought some more flashy soloing would be fun, and the world currently has nobody flashier, on any instrument, than pianist Yundi Li, who seems to have rebranded himself as YUNDI. But I ended up at this Frédéric Chopin Fantaisie which has, yes, flash, but lots of music among and between it, and Mr Li really seems to understand Mr Chopin.

If he’s coming to your town, I recommend grabbing tickets; he’s obviously a really good pianist but also a showman. One of his gimmicks, which I really like, is that when it’s time for him to play, he strides onto the stage, plunks down on the piano bench, and his fingers hit the keyboard about 0.5 seconds later.

Yundi Li a.k.a. YUNDI

As an audio geek, I feel a little nervous about plugging Chopin in general or solo piano in particular, because there are no speakers in the world that sound anything like being in the room with 500kg of wood and steel being handled by a muscular well-practiced human artist. The real thing has a snarl and roar that reaches into your abdomen and then won’t let go.

But if you have to listen to recordings, Yundi Li’s Chopin: Recital is a good place to start: good audio, good selection of pieces, and Yundi Li in good form.

There’s a lot of really great Chopin music, but for me it’s just the for piano; the orchestral stuff goes right by me. In particular the Études and Nocturnes are full of deep wells of pure pleasure; if this series goes on long enough I’ll recommend one of the latter. Yeah, there’s lots of fast flashy stuff and it’s great, but there are also great pools of silence between and behind other parts of the music; Chopin knew just what he was doing.

The Fantaisie has both kinds of Chopin packed into just five minutes of music, obviously a good investment of anyone’s time.

This is part of the Song of the Day series (background).

Links

Spotify playlist. This tune on Amazon, iTunes, Spotify. As for video, I ran across a capture, on grainy low-rez video, of what appears to be the Deutsche Grammophon recording session for Fantaisie Impromptu.

SotD: Broken English 9 Feb 2018, 8:00 pm

This the title track from Broken English, an album by Marianne Faithfull, on which every song is good and some are terrifying (not this one).

I was sufficiently impressed by the album that I wrote a whole blog piece on it a few years back. Like I said there, Ms Faithfull has a lot of history and a lot of baggage; all worth reading about, and there are lots of places to do that that aren’t this blog.

Marianne Faithfull

In 2009. No longer a goddess nor a burnout, just a grown-up.

What’s interesting about Broken English is that it’s from well into her career, with a lot of glory and wreckage in the rear-view. The songs are informed by a life lived hard, and are way more than just pleasing ditties.

I picked the title tune because it’s pretty and well-sung, and because there’s a good live capture on the Internet. I think Witches’ Song is actually the album’s most beautiful; its most memorable is obviously Why D’Ya Do It, which is probably the most obscene song ever recorded in English, and a great rocker besides. But someone might absent-mindedly put on my playlist sometime and I wouldn’t want it peeling the paint off their office walls and getting a complaint lodged with HR.

Broken English is a sad song, about war. There will always be sad songs about war, because some of them are good enough to last forever, even if (let’s hope) us having wars doesn’t.

This is part of the Song of the Day series (background).

Links

Spotify playlist. This tune on Spotify, iTunes; live video from 2007.

SotD: Pride and Joy 8 Feb 2018, 8:00 pm

It’s been mostly gentle and sophisticated around here recently. Let’s turn to Texas and fix that; Pride and Joy, by Stevie Ray Vaughan, is about the simplest blues holler you can imagine, with a happy message and some smokin’ hot guitar.

Wow, Stevie Ray has been dead for 28 years. The last time I saw him feels like yesterday; it was just weeks before his death. Stevie Ray had managed to achieve sobriety after a lot of years of hard partying; like many sober addicts, he’d gotten to the point where the alternative was a coffin. Anyhow, that night when I saw him, he made a touching little speech about being sober, and how you had to take of yourself to be there for the people you love. A pity he got on that helicopter.

I loved almost every moment of every one of his recordings, because of the lovely guitar sound, the rockin’ blues stripped of everything but the bare essentials, and then the essentials turned up to eleven.

Also, he was just a cool guy, with a cool accent and a cool image; and great fun on stage, never holding anything back.

Texas Flood

Pride and Joy is on Texas Flood, maybe my fave SRV album. The title track and Tin Pan Alley are my personal highlights, but I felt like something uptempo and a little rude today. Old-fashioned sentiments to be sure, but perhaps not entirely out of place: “You mess with her, you’ll see a man get mean.”

This is part of the Song of the Day series (background).

Links

Spotify playlist. This tune on Amazon, iTunes, Spotify. Live video from the El Mocombo!

SotD: Sodade 7 Feb 2018, 8:00 pm

Cesária Évora is probably the only person you’ve ever heard of (now that you’ve heard of her) from Cabo Verde, which is an island group 570km west of Africa’s westernmost point. She was a really great singer and recorded lots of fine collections of music. It’s hard to pick from among them, but Sodade is a fine example.

Cesária Évora

I don’t know much about Ms Évora or about Cabo Verde either. Miss Perfumado, from which Sodade comes, is probably her best-known work. All of the songs on it are good, and in fact everything I’ve ever heard from her is pleasing to the ear. There’s not a lot of change in intensity or sound from one song to the next, which is not a problem. Her music really comes alive on my big expensive stero, layers of rhythm and melody shifting around behind her voice, with lots of beautiful room between the notes.

I never saw her live, but perusing videos reveals that she liked to perform with a big band, mostly plucked strings of one kind or another. The videos reveal another thing; she loved the stage. I poked around the web but couldn’t find any pictures of her with the big goofy maternal grin that her audiences got at the top of the show.

Wikipedia says that Sodade is “a Capeverdean slow coladeira song written in the 1950s by Armando Zeferino Soares.” It’s an exile’s song, the kind of thing they play in a little country that many have to leave to make a go of it.

This is part of the Song of the Day series (background).

Links

Spotify playlist. This song on Spotify, Amazon, iTunes. Live video. If you type Cesaria Evora live into YouTube, you’ll find a lot of full concerts, and pretty well any o them will improve any room it’s played in.

SotD: Both Sides Now 6 Feb 2018, 8:00 pm

Anyone’s list of top songwriters would include Joni Mitchell, and any list of her top songs would include Both Sides, Now. There’s little I can say that will add value here, just give it a listen and it’ll improve your day, any day.

Joni Mitchell

Notes

It was recorded by Judy Collins first, not Ms Mitchell. Speaking of “recorded-by”, check the list of cover versions, helpfully organized by decade; oh my goodness gracious.

I can remember once when I was stage manager for a concert, during the endless hours of take-down, load-out, and clean-up, someone put a tape on the auditorium PA that had a cover by a warm-voiced male singer, and since it was only a half-hour tape I heard it like six times, and to this day it remains the voice I hear when I think of the song. I was convinced it was Don McLean, but can find no evidence for the existence of such a recording.

Anyhow, one of the most beautiful melodies ever written by anyone, and perfect lyrics full of grace and wisdom.

This is part of the Song of the Day series (background).

Links

Spotify playlist. This tune on Amazon, Spotify, iTunes. There’s lots of live video from all ages of Joni Mitchell’s career, but this very early one made me smile. Admirers of Ms Mitchell will probably enjoy sampling this 1965 Canadian TV broadcast featuring the very young Joni when she had another last name. Her star power, even back then, is obvious.

SotD: Joan of Arc 5 Feb 2018, 8:00 pm

This is a song by Leonard Cohen, but I’m talking about it as performed by Jennifer Warnes. It may not even be Warnes’ best cover of a Cohen tune, but it’s good enough to be any day’s song, and the recording is special.

Famous Blue Raincoat

Many years ago, Jennifer Warnes released Famous Blue Raincoat, a collection of Cohen songs, and sold lots. It’s a fantastic record; Warnes inhabits Cohen’s tunes completely. Which is a neat trick, since she’s got a big, creamy voice as wide as a river and smooth as satin, while Cohen’s voice is exactly none of those things. And I love almost all of Cohen’s albums; but this is very special stuff.

It’s tough picking just one of these songs for -of-the-day service. Probably my favorite is the title tune; when Jennifer sings “Thanks (pause) for the trouble you took (pause) from her eyes, I thought it was there (pause) for good…” — stone would melt.

But I’m going with Joan of Arc for a couple of reasons. The first is the magisterial, arching video performance linked below. The second is…

Audiophilia

This is one of my major vices. I’m a worshipper of well-produced audio; there are blog manifestoes here and here. Anyhow, Famous Blue Raincoat is that rare thing, an audiophile fave that also has great music on it. If you go to an audio trade show and visit a suite where they’re showing a hundred thousand dollars worth of gear, it wouldn’t be surprising at all to hear Warnes singing Cohen.

In particular, it wouldn’t be surprising to hear Joan of Arc. Just on this song, Leonard drops by to sing it as a duet with Jennifer. It’s pretty awesome, and the way their voices are recorded, flowing around and over each other, is super awesome. Which is to say, if you find yourself in the presence of something that claims to be a good audio system, you might want to put this on and see what you think. Warning: This could lead to an expensive hobby.

The song

It’s a dialog between Joan and the fire that’s burning her at the stake. Which, while tragic, isn’t as morbid as it sounds. Leonard Cohen is good at words not just music, and finds the triumph in the tragedy. Also the tune is memorable, the arrangement is masterful, and did I mention it sounds great?

This is part of the Song of the Day series (background).

Links

Spotify playlist. Joan of Arc on Amazon, iTunes, Spotify. Now, as for live video, pull up a chair, find yourself a hanky, and check out this live performance, with a full orchestra and total commitment, in Belgium in 1992. It turns out to have been a big enough hit that they put it on the 20th-anniversary edition of the album (cover pictured above) and you can get it separately: Spotify, iTunes, Amazon.

Now, I’ve probably offended some Cohen fans (like my brother for example) by gushing over the Warnes performance. For them, here are performances by Mr Cohen both younger and older, both as duets, with fine female singers. Also, a high-intensity performance (no video) by Joan Baez. But my heart belongs to Jennifer’s.

SotD: Diaraby 4 Feb 2018, 8:00 pm

Today’s song comes from Africa (first in the series); Diaraby is a slow dreamy electric African blues with exquisite singing and guitar, by Ali Farka Touré; seven minutes of pure musical joy.

Let’s start our trip to Africa in Mali, famous among other things for being the location of Timbuktu; and for its music. In 1994 Ry Cooder and Malian musical godfather Farka Touré collaborated on Talking Timbuktu, which includes Diaraby and is one of my very favorite recordings.

Talking Timbuktu

It’s a can’t-miss record, cheerful yet deep, bluesy and African, especially appropriate for sitting outside on a warm day. I read the back story once of how Mr Farka Touré got into playing music that sounded simultaneously like John Lee Hooker and African campfire music, but I can’t remember it. I sure do love the music though.

Diaraby is just one of a half-dozen beautiful outings on this record. Ai Du has the blues runs played largely on an acoustic African violin. Gommi has the prettiest singing. Amandrai has an absolutely cosmic guitar break by Ry Cooder at 3:30, like liquid gold. But Diaraby is as sweet as any, a little more lively and, well, I could find a video of it.

Vieux Farka Touré

He’s Ali’s son, also a guitarist and singer, definitely an artist to watch. He does solo records and then a couple with Israeli keyboardist Idan Raichel as The Touré-Raichel Collective, which are awfully pleasing. For a taste, here’s their take on Diaraby (Spotify).

This is part of the Song of the Day series (background).

Links

Spotify playlist. This song on Spotify, iTunes, Amazon. As for video, I can’t find any of Ali and Ry playing together, but here’s a German TV clip that’s mostly an interview with Ry about Ali, with a couple of brief performance clips. Here’s a serene, crystalline performance of Diaraby, proving he didn’t need Ry Cooder around to be great. As an extra bonus, here’s Vieux Farka Touré playing Ai Du.

SotD: Happy 3 Feb 2018, 8:00 pm

The song-of-the-day recently has been trending a little bit to the eclectic and the obscure. Enough of that, let’s dish up a hearty serving of meat-and-potatoes rock-n-roll. Happy is a simple stripped-down hard Stones rocker, vocals by Keef, with a nice tune, tasty chord changes, and you know what? I need a love to keep me happy too.

Life, by Keith Richards

You have to be a little nervous plugging the Stones in the era of #MeToo; their work includes dark splashes of shocking misogyny. But Exile on Main Street has less (can’t actually pull any to the front of my mind), so we’ll cut them some slack.

I remember reading Mick Jagger being quoted saying “Happy is a big moment in the flow of a Stones concert” and having seen them once live, and a few concert films, he’s got a point.

I think for most of us Keith is at the center of the Stones’ appeal; the night I saw them was his 53rd birthday so we all sang Happy Birthday; he smiled and thanked us, seemed genuinely touched.

On Happy, he said “"That’s a strange song, because if you play it you actually become happy, even in the worst of circumstances.” Also “We did that in an afternoon, in only four hours, cut and done. At noon it had never existed. At four o’clock it was on tape.”

While we’re on the subject of Mr Richards, I heartily recommend Life, his as-told-to autobiography. Immense fun, you feel like you’re in the presence of a warm-hearted person, and you’ll learn a whole lot about the history of rock & roll.

This is part of the Song of the Day series (background).

Links

iTunes, Spotify, Amazon. Live video - 1990 with weak singing but fab Keith guitar break, 1972 with nice double lead vocal.

First Purples 3 Feb 2018, 8:00 pm

It’s a tradition that I blog a photo of our crocuses the first time each year that I’m home and they’re open and there’s some light. In the Pacific Northwest’s late winter, we use “some light” in a forgiving kind of way. The big-ass new 135mm F2 lens was quivering in the camera bag for a chance at these little guys, how could I say no?

CrocusCrocusCrocuses

The lens works well, but when I say “works” I mean the photographer does a whole lot of work to get the focus happening. It took really a lot of shots to come away with three that were usefully sharp. Granted, you don’t have to shoot at F2 all the time, but isn’t that kind of the point?

I like walking around with the big Samyang, if only because if you consider the photo opportunities it works well with, and then those appropriate for the (also excellent) Pixel 2, well, those two sets just don’t intersect at all.

Also, spring is coming.

SotD: Ne Nehledej 2 Feb 2018, 8:00 pm

I’m pretty sure Ne Nehledej, which is said to mean “Stop Searching”, is in the Czech language, because Iva Bittová is Czech. I don’t know that much about her and frankly this Song of the Day mostly exists to highlight remarkable video, but Ne Nehledej is a nice song and Bittová is a great entertainer while also being out there on the edge. She sings and plays violin, and is as much performance art as music. But (unlike some performance artists) this performance is all about music.

Eva Bittová

It’s a bit confusing, because this song appears on Bittová’s eponymous first album from 1986, but then there’s another 1994 album with that title, which in that listing is translated as “No, Do Not Seek”. One gathers perhaps that it’s a signature song for her?

Credits go to Lauren for this suggestion; I’d never run across Ms Bittová till she pointed her out.

This is part of the Song of the Day series (background).

Links

Amazon, iTunes (you have to buy the whole album), Spotify. Now, here’s that video of a live performance. I strongly recommend that you go hide somewhere for six minutes and pay attention.

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