Listen to this track by singer-songwriter and serial musical collaborator direct from Portlandia M. Ward. It’s “Color of Water” as taken from his second album End Of Amnesia, released in 2001.
In addition to his solo career, M Ward has worked with a wide spectrum of talent in a support role including Conor Oberst, Norah Jones, Howie Gelb, Jenny Lewis, Neko Case, My Morning Jacket, and several more. This doesn’t include his duet with actor-singer Zooey Deschanel, that project simply called She & Him. He’s also a part of the Monsters of Folk supergroup. But, before all that came this tune, with a decidedly Youngian vibe about it that isn’t a million miles away from Shakey’s Harvest Moon era output.
But, Ward is a unique voice, hooking into the primal waters that many have dipped into although not always with the same level of brilliance. So, how does this tune showcase that? Read more
Listen to this track by East Village ’60s scenester and folk and folk-rock interpreter Karen Dalton. It’s “In My Own Dream”, a track as taken from her second, and last, album In My Own Time released in 1971.
That album title was apparently very apt for Dalton, who was never comfortable in a studio setting. In some ways, she was the polar opposite of all those artists who are creatures of the studio, trying to perfect a recording for posterity. Dalton wasn’t about posterity. She was about the performance in the moment, never to be repeated again. This proved to be pretty trying in the studio when she came to record, a place where multiple takes in order to find “the one” is the common goal.
But, what was clear was the power of her voice, a favourite on the scene when she traveled north from the sepia dust of Oklahoma, eventually to New York City like so many others. Where others were students of American folk traditions, reproducing their studied interpretations on the stages of Cafe Wha?, Gerde’s Folk City, The Gaslight, and many others, Dalton brought only her voice, her 12-string guitar, and her banjo. And that was more than enough. She was the real thing. No study necessary. Read more
Listen to this track by L.A folk-rock-indie trio with a feel for psychedelic texture, Grant Lee Buffalo. It’s “Mockingbirds”, a single as taken from 1994’s Mighty Joe Moon, their second album. The song scored a top-twenty showing on Billboard’s “Modern Rock” chart, representing their initial exposure to a wider audience.
By the time this track was recorded, the band had a clearer idea of what they wanted to sound like, and had had some experience in the studio to help them realize their ambitions. That’s the magic of the second album! Also, though, they had had a lot of road experience as headliners and also as a supporting act of the some of the biggest bands of the time, including Pearl Jam, REM, and Smashing Pumpkins. They were seasoned pros by this time!
But, this sense of success, and the feeling of taking things to a more professional level began to become a source of stress, along with personal events in the life of head writer Grant Lee Phillips that seemed to run in parallel. How is that reflected on this song?
Listen to this track by former Fairport Convention front and paragon of British folk-rock Sandy Denny. It’s “It’ll Take A Long Time”, the opening track to her 1972 album, Sandy, her second solo album.
This record would feature a few of her former bandmates in the Fairports and in Denny’s follow-up band Fotheringay, including her soon-to-be husband Trevor Lucas in the production chair, violinist Dave Swarbrick, and Richard Thompson (who you can hear very prominently on this track) on guitar. All of the mojo that everyone brought to those classic Fairports records of the late 1960s can be found here. Further still, we get Sneaky Pete Kleinow on pedal steel, adding mellifluous texture to this song in particular, and Allen Toussaint who served as an horn arranger elsewhere on the album. That’s quite a supporting cast!
But, no one outdoes Sandy Denny herself on this record which is quoted in many places as being her solo masterpiece. This is particularly true on this song, which has always been one of my favourites. Beyond Denny’s undeniable voice that seems to hold an ocean of feeling under each note as she sings it , there is a lot going on thematically in this song that reveals another of her skill sets. Read more
Listen to this track by Calgary-based folk-pop songcrafter Lauren Mann and her associated and moderately eccentric troupe the Fairly Odd Folk. It’s a cut as taken from their first record as a collective Over Land And Sea released in April 2013, and a single too; “I Lost Myself”.
The band recently appeared at CBC Live in Deer Lake Park last month, an event I was lucky enough to attend. They made their appearance in distinguished company along with a sterling line-up of bands including Tegan and Sara, The Arkells, and Spoon. They played their own set, and later Lauren Mann took to the main stage alone, carrying her ukulele and proclaiming “this is the biggest audience I’ve ever played for!”
She was a charming presence on stage, and even more so when she presented this very song as a solo spot that captured everything that’s good about her music; heartfelt lyrics, melodic, and despite the acoustic and folky texture, decidedly pop too, all conveyed by her clear-as-a-bell voice, and deft playing.
So, how did Lauren Mann come to appear on that stage, the largest of her career? Well, it has a lot to do with an important Canadian value; championing our own. And what does this song represent in all of that? Read more
And now, good people, a special treat. Writer and music collector/appreciator Bruce Jenkins guests on the ‘Bin about one of his favourite songs, and albums and in the popular style of this humble blog, no less …
Listen to this track by self-revealing songwriter and one-time ‘Next Bob Dylan’ Loudon Wainwright III. It’s “The Here and the Now”, opening song on his 2012 album Older Than My Old Man Now. This autobiographical collection showcases the wry wit and sly humour of a man whose fame peaked with the unexpected Top 40 novelty hit “Dead Skunk” back in 1972.
With a CV that includes over two dozen albums, several marriages, a couple of musically gifted children (daughter Martha and son Rufus) and a considerable amount of therapy, you would imagine there was abundant material for an entertaining memoir. But no. Rather than typing 350 pages of reminisce, LWIII set himself the challenge of encapsulating his life in a 3 1/2 minute song. And he gets familial help. Read more
Listen to this track by future Fleetwood Mac stalwarts and Californian folk duo Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, AKA Buckingham Nicks. It’s “Frozen Love”, the closing track to their 1973 pre-Mac record called, appropriately Buckingham Nicks. It would be their sole (to date!) album together as a duo.
The record was created when the two young musicians were championed by producer and engineer Keith Olson, in turn helped by sessioner Waddy Wachtel who would be a frequent collaborator with Stevie Nicks in her solo career years later. Before they were signed as a duo, Buckingham and Nicks had both been a part of a rock band, Fritz, that had served as an opening act for some of the biggest acts of the late-60s, including Big Brother & The Holding Company, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and Jefferson Airplane. Before that, the two had known each other in high school, and had informally collaborated since they were teens.
When Fritz broke up, the two splintered into a duo, and eventually were signed to Polydor, whereupon they’d recorded this debut album that established both musicians as unique and supremely gifted singer-songwriters. But, the record didn’t sell, thanks to the inattention of Polydor at the time.
Showbiz strikes again!
But, this track in particular would help to lead the two out of the pop music briar patch. Read more
Listen to this track by Torontonian multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter Basia Bulat. It’s “Tall Tall Shadow” , the title track to her 2013 release, her third record. Bulat is known as a folk songwriter, pulling from acoustic instrumentation and storytelling traditions in that vein, complete with a penchant for performing with an autoharp – none more folk! But, on this track, it’s her pop sensibilities that are on glorious display.
“Tall Tall Shadow” and the rest of the record that bears that title was produced by Mark Lawson, and Tim Kingsbury of Arcade Fire. This perhaps explains the subtle layerings found here that go beyond the more spare leanings of her first two records.
But despite the more involved production flourishes and varied musical ingredients that include a gospel feel, it’s Bulat’s vocal delivery that sells this song for me, going past the stylistic associations with a folk or even a folk-rock style and into a more singular territory that makes deciding on what style this song actually is more of an exercise in missing the point.
This more sophisticated approach when it comes to a new sound may have something to do with a “deep loss” that Bulat has mentioned in interviews surrounding the making of the record. The one I heard was on CBC radio, and conducted by Stephen Quinn the evening before Basia Bulat was scheduled to play at the Rio Theatre in Vancouver.
During that interview, she talked about starting plans for a third album, and then feeling as though she needed to scrap those plans and start again before entering the studio. She talked about continuing to be honest, but also being less reticent about laying her thoughts bare in the songs.
The imagery in this song seems to reflect something of this struggle, with the psychologically impactful contrast of light and shadow pretty central to the drama. That’s reflected in the video, but in the song’s lyrics too.
Now every hour, change of heart You’re running away But the shadow is your own, your own One day when it finds you Take it to heart
And the question is that this song presents is who the song’s narrator is addressing; a loved one, or the narrator herself? Maybe it’s both. Maybe it’s about humanity in general, embracing our dark sides, holding them in check against that which are the sources for light in our lives, with both forces defined by the other.
Listen to this track by Mark Kozelek-led folk-rock-slowcore musical concern Sun Kil Moon. It’s “Lost Verses”, the opening track to the stellar 2008 album April. This record was the second to be released under the Sun Kil Moon moniker. But, Kozelek had been in the game for a lot longer, initially as the prime mover behind Red House Painters, as well as in the release of albums under his own name.
This particular musical vehicle was named after a Korean boxer Sung Kil Moon with boxing being a sport to which Kozelek has made reference before in his other material. Boxers Ruben Olivares and Salvadore Sanchez also serve as references in song titles. Yet, the music is far from what you’d consider to be combative. As evidenced here, it is music that takes its time, delivering a contemplative, expansive, and emotive tone.
This is not to say that the music is one-dimensionally gentle and with no punch – pardon the pun. “Lost Verses” is imbued with folk-rock textures, including a crunchy Neil Young with Crazy Horse-style outro to underpin it. Further to that, this particular song deals with a theme that certainly requires a great deal of bravery, both as something to write about and get right, as well as something to actually face when the time comes.
Here’s a clip of British blues-rock good ol’ boys when they’re asleep, the Faces. It’s “Richmond” a track that appears on their 1971 record Long Player. This performance is from Top of The Pops that very same year.
Rod Stewart sang lead on many of the band’s tunes. But in this clip, that’s him playing rudimentary stand-up bass. This track was written and led by singer, bassist, and guitarist Ronnie Lane, AKA ‘Plonk’ who was born this day in 1946. He would have been 67 today.
Lane died in 1997 of a debilitating and drawn out fight with multiple sclerosis. But, before his death, he was a valued, and well-liked musician among everyone in the upper tiers of his generation of musicians. But, beyond being a rock ‘n’ roll mensch, what else did Ronnie Lane bring to the table?