December 2009

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Following up on the previous post, I have been mulling over exactly what set of traits are implied by the phrase “Rock and Roll attitude.” It is, of course, an amorphous term, and no single trait is either necessary or sufficient. Play along with me for a minute, and see what you would think of.
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Outtakes I

This year I accepted an invitation to participate in an annual holiday mix cd exchange. That’s part of why I haven’t been posting much, I always end up getting emotionally wrapped up in whatever mix that I’m working on.

In this case, working from the starting point of music that I’ve been enjoying lately, I ended up making a mix that’s about 70% bluegrass, with the remainder other folk/country/traditional songs. Listening that much to a genre of music is interesting, and got me thinking in various ways. I’m hoping to write up some of those thoughts, but I also don’t want to talk too much until the CD exchange actually happens, which should be sometime in January, so I thought I would start by presenting some outtakes that didn’t make the cut, for one reason or another.
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I was listening to Cameras In Paris by the Fixx and was surprised to hear something that sounded an awful lot like the “Who Can It Be Now” riff (and, in other parts of the song, I think the vocalist sounds a little bit like the vocalist from Men At Work, but I wouldn’t push that claim too strongly)

Now I’m curious who stole from whom. According to AMG, the album that song is taken from was recorded before the Men At Work album came out, but the concert that this performance comes from was after the release, and I haven’t heard the original.

Anyone have any theories or want to tell me that I’m making up the similarity?

There’s a track on Johny Cash’s At Folsom Prison that I find myself mentally referring to frequently, and it’s not one that, I imagine, he was too happy about — his version of Long Black Veil.

It’s interesting because you get to hear him try to recover from getting thrown completely off stride. After he sings the line, “I was in the arms of my best friend’s wife” he stops laughs, and asks the crowd, “did I hear somebody applaud?”

He stops, then starts singing again and almost manages to keep a straight face, but you can tell that he can’t quite get past that moment. And it sounds like he’s on the verge of laughing again at a couple of points in the song.

It’s a great moment, and you don’t often get to hear performers trying to recover their balance like that because most people wouldn’t chose to include that on an album release.

It makes me like Johny Cash, and makes me unable to hear Long Black Veil without thinking of that moment.

About a year ago, I had an idea for a post arguing that Malvina Reynolds belongs on any list of great songwriters of the 20th century (If you click that link, you will see that Pete Seeger believed the same thing). Last week I got my first copy of a Malvina Reynolds recording, and listening to it both reminds me why I find her so impressive, and gives me a different perspective on her performing.

The fact that I held her in such high regard before hearing any recordings of her is significant to the argument that I would make for her strength as a songwriter. I grew up hearing Malvina Reynolds songs without them every being identified as such. They were just songs that people sung. I think one of the most impressive and difficult accomplishments for a songwriter is to produce something that can survive and spread without depending on recordings or songbooks.
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