Sunday, March 7, 2010

Peter Gabriel Sings the Hits

The other day NPR ran a story about Peter Gabriel's new album, Scratch My Back, on which he interprets songs from artists ranging from Arcade Fire to Randy Newman. That report gave the album high marks, saying it "ought to be the ultimate in inessential vanity projects — an album-length love letter to a star's impeccably curated record collection — but it flat-out isn't."

To be fair, I only listened to two tracks all the way through, and snippets of a handful more. I would have listened more, but I got bored. Gabriel has adopted a stripped-down approach that lets the lyrics stand out, but his lugubrious pace is dirgelike--and, yes, I know that lugubrious and dirgelike mean pretty much the same thing, but I just had to say it twice.

NPR thought Gabriel found new dimensions in Bon Iver's Flume, but I must have missed it. Perhaps, for me, it's a song that is so defined by Justin Vernon’s quirky falsetto that nobody else should even try. Tell me what you think:

The song that really put me off is Gabriel’s version of David Bowie’s Heroes. He’s stripped away the rhythmic drive that, to my ear, defines the song and makes it great. If you don’t fall asleep too quickly, you’ll hear a little Philip Glass-ian rhythm at the end of Gabriel's take, but it misses the point.

The first clip below is Gabriel’s version (with video in support of a Haiti relief effort). It’s followed by two versions by Mr. Bowie. The first of those is from a Bing Crosby Christmas special in 1977, of all things. I post it for the novelty value and because of Bowie's self-love demonstrated at about the 1:00 mark. The second clip is a live performance from (I’m guessing) the mid-1990s, when Bowie was at the pinnacle of coolness. Plus, he sings an alternate opening verse which is fun. I have not posted the concert version he signs in German.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Little More McGarrigle

In a tribute to Kate McGarrigle posted at Bloggorhea the other day, friend and colleague Mead Hunter embedded a video of Ms. McGarrigle performing her beautiful song “Talk to Me of Mendocino". That live performance with accompaniment from her talented children, Rufus and Martha Wainwright, led me to another version that was recorded as part of the BBC’s “Transatlantic Sessions” program--a show that brings noted musicians from both sides of the ocean together, with a particular focus on Scots-Irish musical influences. I’ve used videos from the sessions in past posts and recommend that you either get the DVDs or search YouTube for “Transatlantic Sessions” for more.

Here’s Kate McGarrigle singing "Talk to Me of Mendocino" with Karen Matheson, a Scottish singer known for her vocals with Capercaillie.

That led me to this version of “Farewell, Farewell”, which was written by Richard Thompson* and first appeared on Fairport Convention’s “Liege and Lief” album. I wore that album out by playing it hundreds of times in high school. I think it was originally my sister's album, but I may still have it squirreled away somewhere. This version of the song is beautifully rendered by Irish singer Mary Black, and it's hard to believe it wasn't written 300 years ago.

* Richard Thompson will be playing at the Aladdin Theatre on February 16th and 17th. He comes through Portland every few years, sometimes solo and other times with a band. We've had the privilege of seeing him a few times, including a memorable solo show under the summer sky at the Oregon Zoo. In another show at the Aladdin with band in two he let loose some fiery guitar solos.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Goodbye Kate McGarrigle

The sad news came out this morning that Kate McGarrigle has died, succumbing to clear cell sarcoma, a form of cancer with which she was diagnosed in 2006. Kate and her sister Anna, wrote and performed as the McGarrigle Sisters, an accomplished folk duo emerging from Canada in the 1970s. Together, they are exemplars of the beauty of harmony sung by siblings. Kate may be better known to younger readers as the mother of Rufus and Martha Wainwright, children from her marriage to another great singer-songwriter, Loudon Wainwright III.

In her honor, here is Kate McGarrigle with her sister, son and a few notable colleagues, singing a sumptuous rendition of one of Stephen Foster’s most moving songs, “Hard Times Come Again No More.” You can play this one at my funeral.

UPDATE: Noah Adams at NPR has a new story on Kate McGarrigle, including a song link.