Saturday, November 29, 2008

Nick Lowe

All I have to say is that Nick Lowe is an amazing songwriter. His biggest hit (and source of endless royalty checks) is “(What’s So Funny ‘bout) Peace, Love and Understanding,” which Elvis Costello recorded. Lowe’s tunes are full of hooks, but his wordsmithing is what grabs me. Here are three selections spanning a few decades of work, starting with this performance of “So it Goes” with his band Rockpile in 1978.

And another one from the same era: Crackin’ Up.

This last is from Lowe’s 2007 album “At My Age.” You just have to love the cadence and syncopation as he delivers his lyrics, perfectly squeezed into the space available.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Richmond Fontaine

While I walked the dog tonight, I was listening to the album “Thirteen Cities” from Richmond Fontaine, the Portland band fronted by singer-songwriter Willy Vlautin. Vlautin’s tunes stand out as exquisitely written short stories reminiscent of Raymond Carver. In an interview about the album published in the online journal, Uncut, Vlautin described the album as a “record of drifters,” saying “I initially wanted it to be a record about the West, its decline, and the way I see it. But it turned into a record about drifting, both literally and guys just drifting from themselves, guys falling apart or, you know, redeeming themselves".

The following tune, “$87 and a Guilty Conscience,” is a particularly evocative one:

Vlautin is also an author of two novels: “Motel Life” (2006) and “ Northline” (2008). I look forward to reading them, though why do I suspect that they are quiet dark?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Sister Rosetta Tharpe Rockin' the House

Over at Culture Shock, the other site at which I post commentary on life and culture in Portland, I recently ran a series of music videos tied to an election theme. That series included a clip of Sister Rosetta Tharpe singing the gospel classic, “Trouble in Mind.”

That clip and the next were filmed in 1964, when Sister Rosetta Tharpe traveled to the U.K. with other blues and gospel artists as part of the "American Folk, Blues, and Gospel Caravan" -- a tour that included Muddy Waters, Otis Spann, and the duo Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. "Didn't It Rain," actually preceded "Trouble in Mind" in the concert. I particularly like her moves at 3:26.

Here's a song, "Up Above My Head," featuring Sister Rosetta in what I expected to be a straight-ahead gospel tune given all the choir robes in the background. But, there's that white Gibson SG, and a sizzling solo at 1:25 (watch for the little windmill move at about 1:46).

Sister Rosetta learned her craft singing gospel in church, and was a star in that genre her entire career. But, she bridged the sacred and the profane from time to time, courting some controversy with those who thought that secular music as the devil's playground. Here's a very young Sister Rosetta (age 26) singing "Four or Five Times" with the Lucky Millinder Orchestra.

UPDATE: The risk of using videos other people have posted on YouTube, is that the links occasionally go dead. The clip with Sister Rosetta and Lucky Millinder's band is no longer available.

Instead, here's a clip of Ruth Brown ("Miss Rhythm"), who also sang for Lucky Millinder for a short time. This is "Tears Keep Tumbling Down."