I was a very late comer to the whole mp3 revolution and iTunes and will admit (with hindsight) that I was slightly snobby about the whole thing based on my absolute disgust at many so-called “music fans” whom I knew at the time completely ceasing to pay for recorded music at the first sniff of online sharing.
I’m a music fan who wanted to be a musician originally, so simply don’t begrudge artists that I listen to making a living off of the process. If someone along the line doesn’t pay, we’ll all lose out.
That notwithstanding, when I was growing up I did share music with my close friends; though I would defend myself by saying that those low-circulation mixtapes which I made for friends and girlfriends did in many cases lead to them buying records, t-shirts and concert tickets by many of those bands. Unlike the myriads of faceless thieves whom share recently released records online with a wide variety of similarly faceless downloaders.
As we all know there’s a real skill to making mix tapes that I won’t risk the ever-present fear for all muso’s of plagiarising Nick Hornby’s book “High Fidelity,” by repeating here.
It is a conversational process between two music lovers and one of the reasons that I finally turned up at the iTunes party is that I realised that you could quickly and easily sequence and re-sequence (also an advantage of the late-lamented minidisk) playlists; which are of course a digital mix tape.
I currently live on the other side of the world from my Mother, whom commented a while back that one of the reasons that she missed her children living nearby was because it removed her main access to new music.
As such, I began a process whereby I (much too intermittently) have given her playlists of music that I think she’d like. The first of which is published below with the accompanying notes that I provided, explaning my selection:
Rodriguez – Climb On My Music
Sixto Diaz Rodriguez (so called, because he’s the sixth child in a family of Mexican immigrants) made two albums of socially motivated folk funk in Detroit in the early 70’s (which sold less than four thousand copies a piece) before disappearing, disappointed at his record labels poor promotion and his lack of success. True to his political musical slant, the ensuing years were spent doing youth work, teaching in community college and he even ran for state congress.
Through the 80’s and 90’s his records developed a cult following, (especially in South Africa, where his songs regarding social justice struck a chord) and after a campaign by fans (most of whom had bootlegged copies of his records, because they’d been deleted from general release) he was located, his records re-released to critical acclaim and is again touring. (Including a well-received set at the Big Chill Festival last summer).
Band Of Horses – Factory
Band of Horses were the group that really started me listening to guitar music again after a long gap. Leader Ben Bridwell (and only constant member) is a North Carolina native, though the band formed in Seattle and were signed to ultra hip Seattle label Sub Pop (home of Nirvana, Mudhoney, Sebadoh and many other bands I listened to in the early nineties) until recently. They first came to prominence opening for the band Iron & Wine around Seattle. They used to be a tad more indie, but their latest album sounds like 70’s country rock, in the best possible way.
Jehro – Everything
Genre bending (folk, reggae, merengue, it’s all here) French singer from Marseille (which is a bit of a cultural melting pot itself). I know virtually nothing about him because his website is in French and he appears to have sold about twelve records globally. I think he’s French-Guianan.
Evan Dando – Frying Pan
I was a fan of Dando’s band The Lemonheads in the early nineties. He’s touring and recording again after a long break (not least due to a lengthy bout of crack addiction). This is a cover of a Victoria Williams tune – I saw Victoria Williams in Wellington which was incredible. One of the great country singer/songwriters of her generation, unfortunately now suffering from MS. The night I saw her, she was playing with…….
Vic Chestnutt (with Lambchop) – Until The Led
Chestnutt was discovered in an Athens, Georgia bar by Michael Stipe from REM, whom produced his first two albums. At 18 Chestnutt was involved in a car accident that left him without the use of his legs and partial use of one of his arms. This didn’t stop him producing some of the wittiest and thought provoking songs of the nineties.
Sadly, Chestnutt took his own life on Christmas day last year, less than six months after I saw him and Victoria Williams play one of the top 5 gigs I’ve ever been to. Here’s backed here by the alt-Country band Lambchop, whom are led by a guy called Kurt Wagner. I read an interview with him once that asked why he always sits on a chair when they play live and why they sound so relaxed and understated. He answered that his day job is running a company that fits hardwood floors, which is really physical work and that he’s usually exhausted in the evenings. I liked that a lot.
Jim White – Static On The Radio
Jim White (whom didn’t start making records until he entered his forties) has (as legend has it) worked as a comedian, a fashion model, a boxer, a preacher, a professional surfer, and a New York cab driver. His songs carry beautiful imagery, and whilst having a country element often veer-off into weirder and more experimental territory.
He doesn’t tour that often (he doesn’t like leaving his day job as a film studies lecturer at an American university) but his gigs always feature a great deal of his reminiscences and anecdotes behind the meaning of the songs. Probably top 5 gigs as well. My favourite Jim White intro was this, “Right here’s a song about Minneapolis. A state where, until very recently, there remained an outstanding warrant for my arrest. 1-2-3-4…”
Steve Earle – Pancho & Lefty
This is off ‘Townes’, Earles collection of Townes Van Zandt songs. Indeed, Earle is such a fan (and close friend) of the late Townes Van Zandt, that his son (also a singer/songwriter) is named Justin Townes Earle in his honour. Despite him never reaching a level of commercial success himself, Van Zandt songs have been covered by much of the commercial country hierarchy. There’s smaltzy versions of this by everyone from Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Dolly Parton et al. This is the song stripped back to its bare bones, and it better for it in my opinion.
Joanna Newsom – The Book Of Right On
Newsom is part of the ‘new weird Americana’ folk movement and had a fairly unique ‘beads on head/flowers on face’ aesthetic when she arrived on the scene with this tune shortly after her 18th birthday. She’s singing and self accompanying on harp, incidentally. She’s a bit more linear in her approach (the chorus of this goes, “I killed me dinner, with karate, kick ‘em in the face, taste the bodies..” if you didn’t get it) these days, but is still a shockingly precious talent.
Jorge Ben & Torquinho – Carolina Carol Bela
This is sampled on “LK”, one of the biggest selling drum & bass tunes ever. I’ve played it to people before whom know “LK” really well who didn’t even know it was a sample. (It’s about a girl, if you’re wondering).
The Low Anthem – Ohio
American Alt-Country band, very hip at the moment but don’t let that put you off. They’re particularly noted for all being multi-instramentalists and playing really weird things on stage; jews harp, accordion, crotales, singing saw etc. I think I like this because of the pipe organ.
Rodrigo Y Gabriela – Stairway To Heaven
Mexican husband and wife team of flamenco guitarists whom (weirdly, considering their current output) met whilst playing in a thrash metal band. They were discovered busking in Dublin and are proper bone-fide pop stars over there. You might not be familiar, but this is actually a Led Zeppelin tune. Interestingly, (I think) the really aggressive percussive rhythm player is the girl.
Fleet Foxes – Blue Ridge Mountains
This sounds like it’s by America (it reminds me of “Horse With No Name”) or Crosby Stills & Nash or something but is actually recent and by a bunch of blokes in their early twenties whom are also signed to Sub Pop. They have excellent beards, nearly as good as Band Of Horses, but not nearly as good as….
Iron & Wine – Cinders & Smoke
Samuel Beam’s a guy five years older than me from South Carolina (though now lives on a really remote farm in Texas with his five daughters) whom looks like a Confederate war General . He’s best friends with Ben Bridwell (Band of Horses singer)’s brother – hence them opening for him and getting noticed. I love the banjo on this.
Fairport Convention – She Moves Through The Fair
This is your era really, but I don’t remember Fairport Convention being played when I was a kid. This is whilst Sandy Denny (whom had also sung with The Strawbs) was still the vocalist. It’s a bit twee, but she’s got a belting voice. Richard Thompson (the guitarist, also did stuff with his wife as Richard and Linda Thompson) is supposed to be one of the most influential British guitarists but I can’t find a way into his material really, it’s again all a bit twee.
I’ve been listening to a bit of folk music (Martin Carthy etc.) but am really put off it by that bloke off of the Sean Bean TVshow "Sharpe" and that frozen fish advert (“Thou shalt have a fishy, on a little dishy, thou shalt have a fishy, when the boat comes in…”) with the folk jingle.
Without wanting to sound too much like an Americana fetishist; I hear English folk music, I think beards, bitter and people called Alan. I’d rather listen to Leadbelly (born on the 20th January, incidentally) or Robert Johnson (American delta blues guys) because it seems a bit more visceral. I did see a band called Rachel Unthank and the Winterset (now just called The Unthanks) a few years ago (again at the Big Chill Festival) whom played a lot of Northumbrian folk songs and even had a clog dancing solo. They were brilliant.
Jorge Ben – Oba, La Vem Ela
I just think this sounds utterly joyful. Slightly marred by the fact that when some bastard crowbarred my front door off and stole my decks that this was on the turntable and I have an empty sleeve for it. Jorge Ben’s second entry on the CD. That time has was talking about losing a girl, this is talking about another one walking by “Oh boy, here she comes.. I see her walking, I hear the sound of music, she’s so pretty like a summers day.”
Tyler Ramsey – When I Wake
Tyler Ramsey now plays lead guitar and sings backing (and occasional lead) vocals in Band Of Horses (see track 2). I first saw Band Of Horses circa 2007 and arrived late, missing his support slot (he would do a solo set, go and have a quick break – then come back on with the main act). I wish I’d seen him cos I love his album, “I Dreamt A Long Dream, Of Swimming Across The Sea”, which this is taken from.
Nick Drake – Northern Sky
Bookending the album, another singer/songwriter whom was commercially ignored at the time but has proven to be one of the most highly regarded and influential songwriters of his generation.
He was very quiet and developed a fear of playing live due to getting regular heckling between songs in folk clubs because he played in a lot of alternate tunings and would take a while to tune up. This caused him to totally retreat from live performance and made it extremely difficult for his label to promote his records through normal means.
Unfortunately, a comeback like Rodriguez's isn’t on the cards, as Drake died of an overdose of anti-depressants at his parent’s house (where he’d returned after living in London and recording) in 1975. His sister, the actress Gabrielle Drake, curates his back catalogue (3 albums, no singles) which has now all been repackaged and re-released to hugh success and overdue critical acclaim.