Tag Archives: Townes Van Zandt

365 Days of Album Recommendations – Oct 12

Townes Van Zandt – Rear View Mirror

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Honestly, it’s an impossibly choice, but if I HAD to choose a favorite TVZ album, I think it might actually be this obscure little gem.

It was recorded live, with elegantly minimal and perfectly complementary accompaniment from fiddler Owen Cody and guitarist Danny Rowland, and it includes a significant selection of Townes’ greatest songs, but most importantly, the artist himself is seemingly at just a perfect point to be delivering this material.

No longer the hopelessly youthful and sweet-voiced innocent, not yet the shambolic, booze-thickened wreck of later years—no, what you ever here is simply maturity and mastery.

Virtually every song here is just bone-chillingly beautiful; it’s extraordinary that one man could contain such vast amounts of haunting beauty within him—sadly, he couldn’t, actually, and that’s understandable when you here things like “Our Mother The Mountain” as it appears on this album. It’s literally TOO beautiful. It hurts.

 


365 Days of Album Recommendations – July 16

Townes Van Zandt –  High, Low And In Between

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This was the first Townes Van Zandt album I ever heard. I still remember the experience of putting it on, and listening to it for the first time.

Two Hands came on first. Ok, I’m interested. Bit of folk, bit of country, bit of gospel. Bops along. Groovy.

Then came You Are Not Needed Now. Holy shit. Didn’t quite see that comin’. Damn, that’s a hell of a song.

Next up, Greensboro Woman. Ok, I can breathe again. This is cool. It’s not soul piercing like that last song. But it’s good. It’s real good. And it’s familiar. Fingerpicking. Acoustic guitar. I get it. I dig it.

And then came Highway Kind.

At that point, I just felt like, HOLY FUCK! WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE???

By the time I got to  Mr. Mudd And Mr. Gold, I felt as if I’d converted to a new religion.


Albums You Should Resolve To Listen (Or ReListen) To In 2016

What follows are a selection of “modern” albums (#AltBlues #CountryBlues #DeltaBlues #AcousticBlues) that for me help define the spirit and mojo of #CountryBlues as it continues to inform, guide, mold, and move our music in these contemporary times. PLEASE never stop listening to Son House, Bukka White, Charley Patton, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Tommy Johnson, Mance Lipscomb, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Blind Willie Johnson, Mississippi John Hurt, Skip James, and so many more, but PLEASE also listen to these records. The spirit is with us, #DIG.

Chris Whitley: Dirt Floor

A modern genius of emotive, genre-defining authenticity; one of the very few who saw in The National a world of new sounds. This is exactly how he should be heard. Raw, naked, pure. Essential modern #AltBlues, vastly under-rated #SingerSongwriter, genuine #Americana.

Kelly Joe Phelps: Shine-Eyed Mister Zen

Kelly Joe’s hallucinatory slide-fueled lyrical spelunking into the wild, weird America of country blues can be both mesmerizing and maddening to follow, but on this album, everything comes together magically. He’s a slide virtuoso, with the perfect voice for these wistful and wandering narcotic narratives. Vital #AcousticBlues that proves #Songwriting is still required.

Alvin Youngblood Hart: Big Mama’s Door

I appreciate every turn that Alvin has taken on his incredible musical path, but I’ll never shake free of my affection for—and appreciation of—this first album. Full disclosure, I was fortunate enough to hear a lot of these performances in progress before Alvin recorded this album, but regardless of any personal connection, the album stands on its own—on very, very, very tall legs. If there is one album that proves #CountryBlues is alive and well today, it’s this one.

Corey Harris: Between Midnight And Day

Corey is another one who has wandered far and wide on his musical journey, and as with giants like Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal (among others) he has done wonderful work enacting the connections that bind this music and its makers and listeners the globe over. Ultimately tho, it’s this record—where he just gets raw and down it it—that I feel his power most. This was the future of the blues when it was first released, and for my money, it still is. Plus, Jesus, his voice … just listen to “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed And Burning” …

John Mooney: Comin’ Your Way

This album (and “Chops Not Chaps” from Roy Rogers) is why I wanted to sign with Blind Pig Records in the first place. John is rightly celebrated for his otherworldly ability to channel the ghost of Son House in his playing and singing (he actually “studied” with him in Rochester, NY!), and he’s also become somewhat of a new champion of the Louisiana sound, but for my money, he’s almost closer to Leon Redbone in spirit. That said, his National playing is another thing altogether, and the hoarse urgency of his voice a force unto itself. Critical #AltBlues that should never be forgotten.

Roy Rogers: Chops, Not Chaps

It gives 1992 for the release date on the Amazon page for this album, but it actually came out in 1986. I was awful young at that point, tho I was already trying to play country blues guitar. But if you’d a told me then I’d one day have my own album with the Blind Pig imprint on the back, I’d a thought you were crazy. At the time, Blind Pig meant not a thing to me. But this album sure did (I had it on a cassette!). I couldn’t honestly believe there was someone out there like Roy, who was doing this. This is a straight up brave album, made at a time when there was NO reason to do this, other than because you loved the music. Canonical #AcousticBlues.

Dave Arcari: Devil’s Left Hand

There are probably a lot of albums and artists that you’d expect to see on this list, that aren’t on this list. Why? Well, probably a few reasons, but honestly, the #1 reason why I don’t include some artists you think might would be obvious is because they don’t sing right. That may sound strange comin’ from a guitar nut like me, but it’s true. As far as I’m concerned, if you’re gonna play this music right, you have to sing it right. And that’s something most “interpreters” of this music just don’t get. If I had a dollar for every bloody so-called blues artist I’ve heard who might as well be a karaoke machine for how accurate their guitar playing is (and how crap their voices are), I could buy every karoake machine in the world, and break it. And that’s why Dave Arcari IS on this list. Sure he plays wild National (also important, wildness! i HATE clean picking!), and sure he writes great songs, but most of all, he SINGS it right. And yes, that’s a Scottish accent you’re hearing.

Will Scott: Gnawbone

I’m totally biased, I admit it. I worked on this album. But it’s a great bloody album, because Will Scott is a great bloody artist. Per my comment above, he sings it right, and he plays it wild. This is dangerous and creepy music, and so soulful, and his voice is dangerous, and his songs are lethal, and his whole juju thing is just invasive and excellent. This voice—Will’s voice—is THE sound of what modern #CountryBlues is capable of.

Lucinda Williams: Car Wheels On A Gravel Road

It’s a funny thing about Lucinda Williams. As far as I’m concerned, it wasn’t until she STOPPED trying to play #CountryBlues that she started to play #CountryBlues. Her early albums are pretty clear attempts to nail that authenticity (listen to “I Asked For Water”), but for me, they don’t make it. But, with this album, suddenly, it’s all there. There isn’t a thing on it that could pass for blues in any conventional sense of the term, but the spirit and the ghosty mojo are there. The Lucinda Williams of this album is as close to a heartbreaking, storytelling Sleepy John Estes as we have today.

Townes Van Zandt: Rear-View Mirror

Townes nuts can argue for hours over which is the best version of this so-very-important musician. The early, plaintive, over-produced but still heartbreaking early Townes, the stumbling, ravaged, but creepily compelling (and also heartbreaking) late Townes, the stripped-down acoustic Townes of Live at the Old Quarter, or some other available iteration. For my money tho, this is the best. The musicians here are SO sympathetic, the song choice is perfect, and Townes is in the perfect middle space where he’s old enough and has seen enough to sound right for his material, but still hearty and hale enough to simply nail every performance with lethal heart mojo perfection. This is #CountryBlues with an emphasis on Country, but if you think this ain’t blues, just listen to “Dollar Bill Blues,” and then be quiet.

 

Bob Log: Log Bomb

Jesus, what can ya say about this cat? Alternative Blues? Pretty much man. I first met him when he was still in Doo Rag. Those were the early days, when just about nobody was playin’ anything resembling Country Blues. So I dug it, big time. And I dig him on his own. Hard to resist. Weird as hell. The NEW weird America. Honestly, hard to pick one album, so start here.

Stevie Tombstone: The Dark Country Blues

This one is a little unfair, since it only just came out, but for God’s sakes, it’s actually called The Dark Country Blues! That pretty much sums it up, man, and if you’re lookin’ for a successor to the way Townes did it—a voice, guitar, and pen that know how to tell the raw stories right—then Mr. Tombstone is your man. #Dig.

16 Horsepower: Sackcloth & Ashes

The greatest band you might never have heard. If Dock Boggs—in all his creepy glory—was Country Blues (and he was) then 16 Horsepower is Country Blues. Raw, Gothic, Gospel Americana at its finest. Too deep. Must listen.

~

I could go on and on and on, but I won’t. Let’s just talk after you’ve given these all a really good listen.

 

 


On The Eve Of The Songwriter’s Showcase Finals, A List Of 23 Genius Songs We All Wish We’d Written, But Didn’t

Tuesday, May 5th, 7-10pm, Britannia

Tomorrow night, it’s the finals of the 13th Annual Songwriter’s Showcase (sponsored by Mars Studios, and hosted by the Britannia Arms in Capitola, CA), and I am to be a judge. Which is very exciting for me, and an honor I accept with the utmost seriousness.

Because said event is nigh, I have songwriting on the brain.

Now, in re: said event, based on what I know to date about the competitors, I think it is safe to say that we are not working with the broadest definition of singer-songwriter (i.e. anyone who sings a song they have written), but rather, we are operating within the more precise realm of the “Singer-Songwriter”; that is to say, within the folk-troubadour tradition. Operators within this space may claim as their ancestors and inspirations the likes of, say, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, or Joan Armatrading; James Taylor, Jimmy Buffett, or Townes Van Zandt; Bill Withers, Billy Bragg, or Neil Young; Tracy Chapman, Dolly Parton, or Nick Drake; Elliot Smith, Patti Smith, or Carol King; Phil Ochs, Suzanne Vega, or Ben Harper; Greg Brown, Indie.Arie, or Bruce Springsteen; Kris Kristofferson, Sam Cooke, or Ani DiFranco, or even, yes, John Lennon and Jerry Garcia. This IS Santa Cruz County, after all.

The point being, there is singing a song one has written, and then there are “Singer-Songwriters.” For this event, I think it is safe to say we are considering the latter.

And so, bearing that in mind, I have elected, almost strictly for personal kicks, to assemble a list of some of the greatest songs (fundamentally — with just a couple stretches– in this mold) ever written, songs that you and I both wish we’d written, but didn’t.

With no apologies for what I’ve left out or what I’ve included, and in no particular order, I proffer the following:

1. Willie & Laura Mae Jones, by Tony Joe White.
Dear ALL aspiring political songwriters. This is how you handle racism in a song. Funkily, powerfully, honestly, and narratively. A masterpiece.

2. The Ballad of Hollis Brown, by Bob Dylan
Devasting. One chord. That is all.

3. Here Comes A Regular, by Paul Westerberg (The Replacements)
If you understand the difference between this and “Piano Man,” you’re on to something. If you don’t, you’re not.

4. Grandma’s Hands, by Bill Withers
Can YOU be this powerful, soulful, beautiful, muscular, and emotional, while singing about YOUR grandma? Yeah …

5. In the River, by Michael Been (The Call)
White gospel, from an 80s indie band. Incredible.

6. Straight To Hell, by Joe Strummer (The Clash)
Just an unbelievably great song; epic, monumental; spooky, depressing; vivid, political, social, emotional, gut-wrenchingly raw, pathotically weird and funny and sad and strange and perfect. And so cool …

7. Glory Box, by Beth Gibbons (Portishead)
Incredible lyric movement, traveling from the personal and idiosyncratic, to the most fundamentally raw, sensual, and real. Killer … And that melody line, over that bass line? Killer …

8. Red Dirt Girl, by Emmylou Harris
As good a “story song” as any ever written, coming from out the folk-blues-southern thing …

9. Our Mother the Mountain, by Townes Van Zandt
Because if you write this …

Fingers walk the darkness down
Mind is on the midnight
Gather up the gold you’ve found
You fool, it’s only moonlight.
If you try to take it home
Your hands will turn to butter
You better leave this dream alone
Try to find another.

… then your s&%t is amazing.

10. Four Women, by Nina Simone
Because if you can powerfully and successfully address sexism AND racism in a song with a final line of “My name is Peaches,” and not only get away with it, but kill it? Then your s&$t is amazing.

11. Amsterdam, by Jacques Brel
Epic in every sense of the word. Dirty, seedy, and romantic; beautiful, tragic, and raw. And it ends with an image of pissing. Such an achievement … just towering.

12. State Trooper, by Bruce Springsteen
Simply one of the best road songs ever. And that’s saying something.

13. Death Don’t Have No Mercy, by the Reverend Gary Davis
It’s admittedly hard to concede ACTUAL songwriting credits when it comes to the “shared” folk-blues-gospel cannon, but this is pretty close to clear, so I’m just going to say it’s Davis’ song. I played a version of this recently, and someone from the audience spoke to me afterwards, referring to this song as “dark gospel, but true gospel.” To which I say, yes.

14. Psalm, by John Coltrane
There are technically no lyrics to this song, but if you know the story of this song, then yes there are lyrics. And this song is INCREDIBLE. Listen to this while reading the “lyrics,” and you’ll have one of the most moving poetry/music experiences of your life …goose bumps. Forever.

15. 16 Shells From A Thirty Ought Six, by Tom Waits
Because Tom Waits should be on this list somewhere, and because for my money, it was with this song that Waits not only created a language all his own, but became a genre all his own.

16. Back Home In Derry, by Christy Moore
No one does homesick like the Irish, and few do it better than Christy Moore with this song.

17. Fairytale of New York, by Shane MacGowan (The Pogues)
Ditto the above, except way, way, way sadder and more f&#*ed up …

18. Washington D.C. Hospital Blues, by Skip James
Most country blues artists didn’t really “write” songs in the way we think of it being done, and few if any wrote any new material later in life. The eerily excellent Skip James is the exception; he not only wrote brilliant songs of his own, he wrote NEW songs of his own post his “re-discovery.” This is one such song, and it’s utterly, totally brilliant for capturing in a single story (being sick in the hospital), and in a single couplet (I’m a poor man, but I’m a good man, you understand) an entire universe worth of the relationships between pride and shame, poverty and pride, and everything else about what it means to be both strong in, and at the mercy of, the world.

19. Diamonds and Rust, by Joan Baez
Any song that can sound amazing as sung by both the composer (Baez) and Judas Priest, HAS to be incredible …

20. I Shall Be Released, by Bob Dylan (The Band)
Is it possible someone actually sat down with pen and paper and just WROTE this song? Not possible …

21. Think, by Aretha Franklin
Yeah, she wrote it.  Well, co-wrote it. But she wrote it. And it’s so, so, so badass. It’s like singer-songwriter soul haiku, distilled down to the resonant power of just two words: Think. Freedom.

22. Cities In Dust, by Siouxie Soux
Apocolyptic, graphic, poetic, with a hook from the gods. One of the greatest songs from a great era, transcends all boundaries to simply be great, resonant, and powerful. Just play it on acoustic, solo. It swings so hard, and runs so deep …

23. Go Tell Aunt Rhody, author unknown
I don’t know who the hell wrote this lil’ lullaby of Gothic Americana, but it’s a monster lesson in The Weird Old America … Possibly the first song I ever learned, and possibly the song I’ve been trying to write my whole life …

~

Here’s to tomorrow night, and discovering something new to add to this list!


You’re No Townes Van Zandt

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It was a classic bar heckle, and it happened at Jerry’s Front Pocket earlier this month. But the story doesn’t start there. The story begins in Colorado, at the Durango Songwriter’s Expo, back around Y2K days.

I don’t normally attend events of this nature, but the missus and I were livin’ in Colorado at the time, my manager was keen on amplifyin’ my songwriting efforts, I’d just come off a run of lovely publishing mojo courtesy of my work with Eagle-Eye Cherry, and so we figured, why not? Let’s go be a pro songwriter …

Lots of meetings with agents, lots of listening and perfoming, and lots upon lots upon lots of song critiques. Which leads to the beginnings of my story. I was on a Townes Van Zandt kick of fairly epic proportions at the time, and apparently that was in evidence on my new demos. What happened was this, in a room of some 30 songwriters, a to-remain-nameless publishing VP listened to my tune, announced that it sounded a great deal like Townes Van Zandt, then said to me, “But you’re no Townes Van Zandt.” Shades of Lloyd Bentsen, what?

Well, the room let out the requisite groan, and we moved on.

All was not lost, however. I killed it at the closing show with –if I do say so myself—rippin’ good versions of Spaceman and Comin’ Up Aces.

And I also met my certified brother-of-another-mother soul mate Colin Brooks. In another song critique session, this was the song he played:

#NowPlaying Nobody by Colin Brooks on @Rdio: http://rd.io/x/Rl7WwEErUMw6Xg/

And I was completely, totally, floored. Just incredible stuff … Colin and I ended doing a lot of writing together, including this one:

#NowPlaying Wheels on the Ground by Colin Brooks on @Rdio: http://rd.io/x/Rl7WwEErUOGw0w/

Colin is a king high motherfucker. Plain and simple.

Anyhow, fast forward to Jerry’s. Announcing the next song over the mic, I said to those assembled something to the effect of, this song was my attempt to write a Townes Van Zandt song. To which someone in the crowd responded, “Do you know any REAL Townes Van Zandt songs?”

Damn …

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Anyhow, here is a live recording of the song in question, recorded live at Aptos St. BBQ just last week. The song is called “Seven’s In The Middle, Son” and this performance includes an appearance by a wonderful accordion player. Please click the link below to listen:

Seven’s In The Middle, Son: recorded live at Aptos St. BBQ

What’s particularly delightful about this whole saga, is that the individual who heckled me at Jerry’s, happens to also be the accordion player on this recording! So of course I told him the Durango story, and it was in fact him who reminded me of the Lloyd Bentsen bit, which if you know your political debate history, was an awesome slice of political pie.

Anyhow, the point is, I’m still trying to write Townes Van Zandt songs, and I hope you like this one! Lyrics below (and p.s. the heckler/accordion player is none other than Jon “Captain Ahab” Dryden!):

seven’s in the middle, son

made a deal with a strange man
he could deal his deck with either hand
winked at me and said goodbye
then switched his patch to the other eye

i did my best to play my song
but he stopped me before too long
took my guitar off my lap
tuned it up and then gave it back

rise and shine, and give god the glory, glory
rise and shine, and give god the glory

wrapped himself in an overcoat
silver necklace ’round his throat
rattlin’ keychain in his pants
sounded like bones when he danced

i faced myself in the mirror glass
swear to god i heard him laugh
felt his name rise in my gut
seven years of bad luck

rise and shine, and give god the glory, glory
rise and shine, and give god the glory

he said “seven is in the middle, son
pick a side and ride that one”
like jewels hangin’ on the vine
it’s a pendulum that’s drowning time

i lay my head down window-side
neon lights like a reaper’s bride
i tried to sleep beneath the black
of the space behind that devil’s patch

rise and shine, and give god the glory, glory
rise and shine, and give god the glory

he put a shiver in my soul
shook my hand and froze it cold
walked me ’round that endless shore
’til i knew i’d never been before

i hear him singin’ from the road
it’s a children’s song he knows i know
i lay myself down on the ground
emptied both my ears of sound

rise and shine, and give god the glory, glory
rise and shine, and give god the glory

 


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