November 27, 2010

Lyrically Speaking: Burgundy Shoes

  To me, Patty Griffin is a vastly underappreciated singer and songwriter in popular music. Maybe the word popular is the problem. She is far outside the realm of the fans of Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and even to a majority of those who love, say, Bruce Springsteen. But those who know her and have really listened to her songs love her voice, one that can deliver beauty or a growl as needed. She was my first voice crush and continues to be to this day. Her album "Impossible Dream" is one of my top 5 albums of all time... yes, all time. Patty's lyrics capture the desperate, the needy, the redemptive. Love is usually just out of reach but not too far that hope is extinguished.
  One of my favorite songs is "Burgundy Shoes," from the album "Children Running Through." It's a tune she says was written after she was challenged by a friend to write a happy song. It captures a pleasurable memory of a bus trip with her mother when she was a young child, growing up in Maine. I just love the childlike details she captures in her description of that ride: "The bus driver smiles, a dime and a nickel/We climb on our seats, the vinyl is cold/"Michelle ma belle,"a song that you loved then/You hold my hand and sing to yourself."

"Burgundy Shoes"
We wait for the bus that's going to Bangor
In my plaid dress and burgundy shoes
In your red lipstick and lilac kerchief
You're the most pretty lady in the world

The bus driver smiles, a dime and a nickel
We climb on our seats, the vinyl is cold
"Michelle ma belle", a song that you loved then
You hold my hand and sing to yourself

The leaves are green and new like a baby
Tulips are red, now I don't miss the snow
It's the first day I don't wear my big boots
You hold my hand, I've got burgundy shoes

November 20, 2010

Lyrically speaking: Lantern

  Last week, I posted lyrics of Joni Mitchell's "Furry Sings the Blues," basically because I really dig the song. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought that it might be cool to ocasionally posted lyrics to songs and say a few words about why they rock my world. To be truthful, I'm not a huge lyric guy. Don't get me wrong, I love when a song makes sense, when an artist truly is inspired and puts words to things I could not dream of doing. But usually, it's the music that hits me first, then the lyrics. I will say that if the lyrics are crap, cliched or boring, forget it -- the song doesn't get much play by me.
 So here goes, my second in an occasional series of lyrics that kill me.

  Trying to pick one Josh Ritter tune to highlight the lyrics is like eating one potato chip. Near impossible. In fact, at the end of last year I declared his "Thin Blue Flame" as the song of the decade (still believe it so) and posted the lyrics because they are so brilliant.
  Anyway, here are the lyrics to his song "Lantern," off his newest album "So Runs the World Away."
Even without the music, this song reads like poetry.
  I mean, who else out there is writing lyrics like this: "Where the thistles eat the thorns/and the roses have no chance/and it ain't no wonder that the babies come out crying in advance/and the children look for shelter in the hollow of some lonesome cheek."
 The whole song is filled with brilliant, literate, and even profound insights into one man's need for love and understanding.

Josh Ritter, "Lantern"

Be the light of my lantern, the light of my lantern, be the light
be the light of my lantern, light of my lantern tonight
be the light of my lantern, light of my lantern, be the light
I need light of my lantern, light of my lantern tonight

It's a hungry world out there -- even the wind'll take a bite,
and I can feel the world circling, sniffing around me in the night
and the lost sheep grow teeth, forsake the lambs and lie with the lions

And the living is desperate, precarious and mean,
and getting by is so hard that even the rocks are picked clean
and the bones of small contention are the only food the hungry find

I'll need light from my lantern, light from my lantern tonight
light of my lantern, light of my lantern tonight

Where the thistles eat the thorns, and the roses have no chance,
and it ain't no wonder that the babies come out crying in advance
and the children look for shelter in the hollow of some lonesome cheek

And the sky's so cold and clear the stars might stick you where you stand
and you're only glad it's dark cause you might see the Master's hand
you might cast around forever and never find the piece you seek.

I'll need light from my lantern, light from my lantern tonight.
Be the light of my lantern, light of my lantern tonight

For every cry in the night, somebody says Have faith,
be content inside your questions -- minotaurs inside a maze.
Tell me what's the point of light that you have to strike a match to find?

So throw away those lamentations -- we both know them all too well;
if there's a book of jubiliations, we'll have to write it for ourselves,
so come and lie beside me, Darling, and let's write it while we've still got time

So if you've got a light, hold it high for me
I need it bad tonight, hold it high for me
'cause I'm face to face, hold it high for me
in a lonesome place, hold it high for me

With all the hurt that I've done, hold it high for me
that can't be undone, hold it high for me
light and guide me through, hold it high for me
I'll do the same for you, and hold it high for me

I'll hold it high for you 'cause I know you've got
'hold it high for you, your own valley to walk
I'll hold it high for you though it's dark as death
I'll hold it high for you and then gets darker yet

I'll hold it high for you though your past seems lost
I'll hold it high for you through the thieves and rocks
I'll hold it high for you, I'll keep you safe from harm
I'll hold it high for you, until you're back in my arms

Be the light of my lantern, light of my lantern tonight
be the light of my lantern, the light of my lantern tonight
be the light of my lantern, light of my lantern tonight
be the light of my lantern, light of my lantern tonight

This video is from Tarrytown, N.Y., where the crowd surprised Josh and the boys with glow sticks during the song. Check out the expressions on Zack's face and the fact that Josh had to basically stop and restart the opening lyrics because of the surprise. Classic.

November 18, 2010

Lyrically speaking: Furry Sings the Blues

Furry Lewis (from the Falstaff beer site)
This has always been one of my favorite songs by Joni Mitchell. The song written about bluesman Furry Lewis is amazing and the lyrics just brings him and Beale Street in Memphis alive.

Furry Sings the Blues from the album Hejira

Old Beale Street is coming down
Sweeties' Snack Bar, boarded up now
And Egles The Tailor and the Shine Boy's gone
Faded out with ragtime blues
Handy's cast in bronze
And he's standing in a little park
With a trumpet in his hand
Like he's listening back to the good old bands
And the click of high heeled shoes
Old Furry sings the blues
Propped up in his bed
With his dentures and his leg removed
And Ginny's there
For her kindness and Furry's beer
She's the old man's angel overseer

Pawn shops glitter like gold tooth caps
In the grey decay
They chew the last few dollars off
Old Beale Street's carcass
Carrion and mercy
Blue and silver sparkling drums
Cheap guitars, eye shades and guns
Aimed at the hot blood of being no one
Down and out in Memphis Tennessee
Old Furry sings the blues
You bring him smoke and drink and he'll play for you
lt's mostly muttering now and sideshow spiel
But there was one song he played
I could really feel

There's a double bill murder at the New Daisy
The old girl's silent across the street
She's silent - waiting for the wrecker's beat
Silent - staring ar her stolen name
Diamond boys and satin dolls
Bourbon laughter- ghosts - history falls
To parking lots and shopping malls
As they tear down old Beale Street
Old Furry sings the blues
He points a bony finger at you and
"I don't like you"
Everybody laughs as if it's the old man's standard joke
But it's true
We're only welcome for our drink and smoke

W.C. Handy I'm rich and I'm fay
And I'm not familiar with what you played
But I get such strong impressions of your hey day
Looking up and down old Beale Street
Ghosts of the darktown society
Come right out of the bricks at me
Like it's a Saturday night
They're in their finery
Dancing it up and making deals
Furry sings the blues
Why should I expect that old guy to give it to me true
Fallen to hard luck
And time and other thieves
While our limo is shining on his shanty street
Old Furry sings the blues

From the Shadows & Light tour in 1979

Videos and other stuff

I ocassionally run across videos and other things that catch my eye. In the past I've just posted them up on my Facebook page (HERE) because it is quick and easy. But in a little rethinking, I think they should be posted on the blog as well. So here are some of the videos I've gotten a kick out of the last couple days... Feel free to check in later for more.

Joni Mitchell - Free Man in Paris from Shadows and Light tour in 1979.

Grace Potter cooking... on her tour bus

Jimmy Fallon (as Neil Young) and Bruce Springsteen

November 11, 2010

An honor

  To quote Sally Field: "They like me, they really like me!"
I jest, but I am quite honored that this blog has been named one of the 25 Best Blogs for Folk Music Fans by

Here is what they say:
The horrible stereotype of the folk music fan — the guitar-packing sap, often a college student, who's almost too sensitive to live — is finally fading away. Folk music is as varied and intriguing as the stories and musicians that have made up the genre for decades, with styles and artists ranging from traditional music born in the 19th century to pop-folk of the mid-20th century to singers and songwriters in Americana, country, and rock. It's as much an attitude as a musical leaning. Accordingly, folk music fans embrace everything from classical sounds to anti-folk to modern rock and everything in between. Let these blogs show you the best of what's out there.
News and Reviews
  These blogs will give you a good grounding in the folk world and keep you up to date on the latest happenings.
12. Modern Acoustic: A blog that functions as an online magazine, Modern Acoustic highlights current folk artists and anyone who knows their way around a six-string.

Quite an honor!

November 8, 2010

Double play: Eilen Jewell at Johnny D's, Sarah Harmer at the Paradise, Nov. 6, 2010

Sarah Harmer at the Paradise

Ever have one of those nights where plans seem to just magically work, no matter what they are? Last Saturday, as much as a month ago, was tagged as a "tough call night" as to which show we would attend: Eilen Jewell at Johnny D's, Sarah Harmer at the Paradise, Dawes at Royale... and there were more. But since a good friend was leaving for Nashville, country seemed like the right choice, so Eilen got the nod. After diligently checking the schedule, we learned she was playing an early show... and if we could somehow make it from Somerville to Comm. Ave in Boston, we might be able to catch Sarah Harmer as well.
Let's just say this was not a sure thing. First, there's parking... or lack thereof. In Somerville it's either get ticketed for a meter space that runs until 8 (we were at the club at 5:30 to get our great spot for the show; FU, Somerville!) or try your luck in a city permitted space (maybe our car won't be there when we get back; double FU!). Then if your car is intact (no ticket, no towing!), you have to make it cross town (through Harvard Square, without hitting pedestrians) and find, yes, another spot on Comm. Ave (BU hockey game just ending) close enough to the Paradise to make it for Sarah's 10:30 set.
Let's just say we were standing in front of the stage at 10:20, beer in hand, as her equipment was being set up.
OK, now for the shows!
Eilen and her band had just returned from a European tour and were genuinely delighted to be home. The show was originally billed as a tribute to Loretta Lynn, based on her most recent release called "Butcher Holler." But it was clear from the start that they weren't sticking to the program. Her set was loose and fun and filled with songs from all her albums. The crowd, a surprisingly older-aged (40s and 50s), were in a dancing mood, which is perfect for Eilen's music. Her sound which ranges from straight-ahead country to early'60s-era rock fit the bill.
Some of the highlights included Lynn's "Fist City" (a crowd favorite), some great country shuffles "High-Shelf Booze," "Rich Man's World," and "Dusty Boxcar Wall" and some down and dirty rock tunes from her "Sea of Tears" album, like "Sweet Rose" and "I'm Gonna Dress in Black."
Her band, of course, is top-notch, especially guitarist Jerry Miller, who is a monster.
She finished the night with Miller going off on "Shakin' All Over," as he spent his 5-minute solo referencing songs from Creedence to the Beatles to the James Bond theme and more. It was dazzling. A quick encore break and they finished off by getting the crowd up and dancing on "Mess Around."
Then after a little crosstown traffic (the real kind!), it was time for Sarah Harmer.
It was clear from her setup that Sarah was gearing the night to a more electric set. I loved "I'm a Mountain," and less love her new album, "Oh Little Fire," but this would be a good test of that material. Live, the new material sounds very close to fellow Ottawa native Kathleen Edwards, which is a good thing.
One thing that is clear no matter which songs she sings: Sarah has an amazing voice. She hits notes that skitter upward in scale with beauty and depth. That is, in fact, what separates her from Kathleen Edwards, who doesn't have that range.
She played a lot of the tunes from the new album, including "Silverado," "Careless," and One Match," which actually fit in well against some her older material including "Almost" and "Pendulums" (from the album "All of Our Names") and "Basement Apartment" and "Lodestar" (from You Were Here"). She did one song, "The Ring," played solo with her backup singer Julie Fader, from "I'm A Mountain." From that and other tunes, it is clear that Sarah is pretty adept on guitar as well. She had a full band – drummer, guitarist, bassist – but allowed herself a little plucky solo on "One Match."
The crowd, a little sparse, was enthusiastic and Sarah seemed genuinely happy for the support.
For more of my Sarah Harmer pics, click HERE (my Eilen pics sucked!)

A video from the Eilen Jewell show (not mine)

A video from the Sarah Harmer show (not mine)