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Carolina Chocolate Drops – drop it like it’s sweet

This is what’s making me happy today…

Carolina Chocolate Drops, “Hit Em Up Style” – from the album Genuine Negro Jig

Ann Powers over on NPR’s All Songs Considered turned me on to this.  And turned on is right. Jazzed up. Knocked out.  Normally, in the past, this kind of roots music didn’t appeal to me, but I think Gillian Welch kind of opened my eyes/ears to being more receptive to what I had dismissed as “country” in the past.  This new alt bluegrass and roots music is amazing stuff.  New and old, deeply American, but in a way that is authenticate and interesting.  The racial dimension of Carolina Chocolate Drops is also compelling.  So much of what we take as American music comes out of this weird amalgam of Irish folk music and slave music that grew out African and Afro-Caribbean folk and native sounds.  As the LA Times described it, they “underline the connections between American bluegrass and folk with the genres’ little-known ancestry in Africa.”  And later that met up with Klezmer and Jewish music, when the other stuff hit New York and the songwriters and musicians working there, so many of whom were Jewish, starting working with it.

That’s the real American experience right there: Irish and British immigration, poor Irish getting off the boat and going straight into the maw of the American Civil War and ending up in Appalachia, slavery, Eastern European immigration in huge waves at the beginning of the 20th Century.  And it led to jazz, blues, r&b and rock. And then to alt bluegrass.

That’s what I like about America. That’s what people around the world like about America. Mitt Romney is the other America: lazy, stupid, arrogant, complacent, greedy, loud, utterly self-absorbed, contemptuous of other people and other cultures,  convinced that there is still a Manifest Destiny entitling people like himand his friends to get rich off the despoliation of the planet, and the exploitation and emiseration of others.

For more….

Filed under: Music, , , ,

Jonatha Brooke, The Works – and Woody Guthrie

Jonatha Brooke had a new album come out in 2008, The Works – I was out of the country which is probably why I am only hearing about it now. Here’s what she has to say about it over on her website:

I don’t think I’ve ever had such a creative high working on a record. I was inspired from the first trip to the Woody Guthrie Archives. Something magical happened and the melodies and the combinations of lyrics and prose just came together. I loved researching and hanging out with Nora, hearing stories about her dad. I definitely found a very different Guthrie than I expected. There is just so much nuance and beauty. And the musicians took the music beyond anything I could have dreamed. I know this record will speak to everyone. (via Jonatha Brooke.)

One of the songs on the album is “There’s More True Lovers than One.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Music, ,

Song of the Day: John Gorka, “I Saw a Stranger with Your Hair”

There was a woman in Michigan, when I was in grad school.  She was sitting on the N Judah yesterday evening when I boarded, and from the way my whole body went cold when I saw her you could have guessed how much I feel I hurt her.

It wasn’t her—someone who sat in the same way, bending over her book with a particular intensity that was so familiar to me, her hands clenching just so, the line of her jaw, and her dark hair… But as I said, it wasn’t her. I saw a stranger with her hair.

John Gorka, “I Saw a Stranger with Your Hair” – from his debut album, I Know (1987)

And here it is live, which is really how this kind of music is best heard…

Telling stories. Connecting with our lives in powerful ways—riding that shortcut through the limbic system to our hearts and hormones. Songwriters like John Gorka and Warren Zevon take a guitar and a few words—words that you and I use every day, to no particular effect most of the time—and make wonderful new things. Tell stories that move us, shake us, or make us laugh. And tell us what we’re feeling—as Gorka here captures some of what went on for me when I saw that stranger with her hair on the streetcar yesterday.

John Gorka (born 1958) is a contemporary American folk musician. In 1991, Rolling Stone magazine called him “the preeminent male singer-songwriter of what has been dubbed the New Folk Movement.” (via Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)

It seems strange to think of Janelle Monáe and Prince, Betty Everett and Linda Ronstadt, Billy Bragg, John Gorka and Warren Zevon, Fela Kuti, and Leopold and His Fiction—maybe even Bach and Glenn Gould—as all engaged in the same project. I guess that’s why we make these genre distinctions—classical, pop, rock, soul, folk, and so on—but even so… Maybe the project is only the same in the broadest possible sense—the making of culture. Maybe Bach’s Goldberg Variations have more in common with a painting than they do with John Gorka, and Gorka is more like a short story than like Janelle Monáe—who, by the way, in case you were wondering, totally danced up on them haters on Friday.

But music… no, there is a way in which all those disparate musicians are indeed involved in the same project, and it is different from short stories and paintings. Part of that difference, part of the key to understanding that difference is in that shortcut to the limbic system. Our brains process music in ways different to how we process words and pictures. And how marvelous the diversity of ways in which we humans have found to explore that process—from Bach composing complex but soothing keyboard exercises for an insomniac to John Gorka singing of how he “saw a stranger with your hair.”

I guess this means we’re back in heartbreak territory, though…

Filed under: Song of the Day, ,

Song of the Day: Laura Gibson with Ethan Rose, “Younger”

I first heard Portland-based singer-songwriter Laura Gibson, and a number of other artists who I’ve featured on “Song of the Day,” on NPR’s “All Songs Considered.” I can’t speak highly enough of this program. For anyone interested in indie, rock, pop, soul, rap and/or R&B – basically anything outside of jazz and classical (for which NPR has other excellent programs) – this show is a terrific resource, giving you a chance to hear things beyond what gets featured on commercial or college radio, with insightful commentary by regular hosts Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton and a great cast of regulars and guests. All Songs Considered is available online at NPR and also as a podcast and via iTunes, and also has a Twitter feed and a great blog.

A spin-off, NPR’s “Song of the Day” treats you to something new and different, and usually terrific, as you might guess every day. Today is a new song by Laura Gibson, with Ethan Rose, that put me in mind of björk at times, particularly in the dense, but also ethereal soundscape, but also in Gibson’s singing. Check it out…

Laura Gibson And Ethan Rose: Ethereal And Unpredictable: “Don’t let Laura Gibson’s quiet voice fool you: A soothing lozenge in human form, she may sing sheepishly, but she’s an inventive and commanding presence. As her career progresses, Gibson has reached well beyond singer-songwriter conventions. Her 2009 album Beasts of Seasons, for example, finds her exploring issues of death and rebirth amid hypnotically beautiful and affecting arrangements. And now, on Bridge Carols, she teams up with experimental musician Ethan Rose to craft a series of artily nonlinear, spliced-together songs and fragments.

Here’s a couple of other songs by Laura Gibson that are equally lovely but perhaps more typical of her work, which is generally folksier than what you hear on “Younger”:

“Hands in Pockets” – from the album If You Come to Greet Me (2006)
“Come by Storm” – from the album Beasts of Seasons (2009)

Filed under: Song of the Day, ,

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zerode

is an over-caffeinated and under-employed grad school dropout, aspiring leftwing intellectual and cultural studies academic, cinéaste, and former poet. Raised in San Francisco on classic film, radical politics, burritos and soul music, then set loose upon the world. He spends his time in coffee shops with his laptop and headphones, caffeinating and trying to construct a post-whatever life.

 

What's in a name... The handle "zerode" is a contraction of Zéro de Conduite, the title of Jean Vigo's 1933 movie masterpiece about schoolboy rebellion.

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