Posts Tagged ‘Jesse Winchester’

A Six-Pack Of North

November 30, 2011

Originally posted January 14, 2009

Readers from other areas than the United States’ Upper Midwest must sometimes wonder if my clear obsession with weather – especially cold weather and its travails – is mine alone or if I share it with others.

Let me be clear: Nearly all of us here in this northern tier of the U.S. are obsessed with our winter weather. We shudder at the thought of it every autumn, celebrate its leaving in the spring and remember it fondly during the warmest part of summer. And during the actual season of winter, we shiver, we kick clusters of accumulated dirt and ice from the wheel wells of our vehicles, and we cock our ears for the latest wisdom from our local television forecasters: “It’ll be brutally cold tonight here in the metro area, colder still in the outlying areas. Bundle up, and make sure you have your emergency kit in your car if you need to drive. If you don’t need to go, stay home.”

We talk wintertime survival with the folks next to us in line at the hardware store: “A fella could do a lot worse than to have a couple sets of jumper cables in the car, you know,” said one of the parka-wearing customers the other week when I was waiting to pay for my new show shovels. Three similarly clad customers – chilled cheeks and noses glowing red in the store’s fluorescent lights – nodded. Most of us, I think, settle for one set of jumper cables in our vehicles, but the man who advised us was correct: There are worse things that having two sets. You could have none and be stuck in the shopping mall parking lot with a dead battery as the day’s light fades.

Even the national news folks noticed our current cold snap. Our weather was the lead item yesterday on the CBS Evening News. The piece showed pretty accurately the perverse pride we take in surviving and maybe even thriving in brutally cold conditions. Later last evening, during one of those little chat moments that happen during local newscasts, the anchorwoman on another Twin Cities television station told her colleagues that friends of hers had moved to Minnesota from Florida in the past year. She said she’d had a difficult time getting those friends to understand what they’d be facing come this cold season. I got the sense that the truth had startled the newcomers and that the newswoman was taking at least a little satisfaction from her friends’ chilly bewilderment.

From what the weather mavens tell us, tonight and tomorrow will be the coldest in this particular siege. Here in St. Cloud, the temperature will drop to -27 Fahrenheit (-33 Celsius), and with winds coming from the north, the wind chill will range from -36 to -46 Fahrenheit (-37 to -43 Celsius). It doesn’t look as though we’ll be setting any records, though. On February 2, 1996, folks in the little northern town of Tower, Minnesota, kept heading outside every few minutes to check the outdoor temperature, hoping to establish a new state record. They succeeded: The thermometer reading dropped at one point to -60 Fahrenheit (-51 Celsius).

This cold snap won’t bring with it any such extreme, from what I understand. And that’s fine, except for those folks in Embarrass, Minnesota, who would like their record back. As for me, sometime this afternoon, I will head out into the chill wind to run a few errands. I won’t be out long, and I’m not going far. But as I walk from the car to the stores, I’ll hunch my shoulders against the wind and – metaphorically if not literally – look back over my shoulder to see what’s coming at me from the north.

A Six Pack of North
“Girl From The North Country” by Joe Cocker and Leon Russell from Mad Dogs & Englishmen [1970]

“North Star” by Jesse Winchester from Third Down, 110 To Go [1972]

“Northern Sky” by Nick Drake from Bryter Later [1970]

“Song for the North Star” by Jorma Kaukonen from Quah [1974]

“North, South, East And West” by the Church from Starfish [1988]

“Theme from Northern Exposure by David Schwartz [1990]

A few notes:

The Cocker/Russell duet, though it gets a little ragged at the end, is one of my favorite highlights from the Mad Dogs & Englishmen album. I sometimes wonder if Cocker and/or Russell thought for a split-second: “Oh, my god, Bob Dylan’s come to listen to us!”

The Jesse Winchester track comes from the second album Winchester recorded in Canada while he was exiled from the United States for evading the Vietnam-era draft. It’s a pretty good album, if a little bit inferior to his self-titled debut.

Nick Drake wasn’t utterly unknown during his lifetime, but he was a pretty obscure singer/songwriter. Now, in the age of CD re-release, he’s better known than even he might have though possible before his death in 1974. Bryter Later was the second of the three albums he released during his lifetime and is not quite a bleak as the other two records.

Quah was the first solo album by Jorma Kaukonen, guitarist for the Jefferson Airplane. Since 1974, Kaukonen has released a string of good albums in a style that leans more and more toward Americana, with 2007’s Stars in My Crown being the most recent. (A new album, River of Time, is set for a February 10 release, according to All-Music Guide.)

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A Baker’s Dozen from 1978, Vol. 3

August 10, 2011

Originally posted September 17, 2008

Wandering around the movie channels at the high end of the cable offerings last night, I watched the last forty minutes or so of National Lampoon’s Animal House as I munched on a late-night snack.

I’ve seen it before, of course, generally in bits and pieces like last night. In fact, I think the only time I saw the movie all in one serving was when it came out in 1978, most likely on a date in St. Cloud before my lady of the time had moved to Monticello. If my memory serves, she wasn’t amused; I was.

To a degree, I still am. Yes, it’s sophomoric and very often in bad taste. Portions of it are still very funny, though, or at least diverting enough to hold my attention while I nibble on a bowl of tortilla chips late at night. And seeing it is a random thing: I don’t check the cable channel to see when it’s going to be aired. But if I run into it while climbing the ladder of stations, I’ll watch it for a few minutes.

A couple of things cross my mind pretty much every time I see a snippet of Animal House these days:

First, the relatively large number of cast members who went became prominent in other films or other endeavors: Tom Hulce (who woumd up playing Mozart in Amadeus), Stephen Furst, Tim Matheson, Karen Allen, Kevin Bacon, Robert Cray (as an uncredited member of Otis Day’s band) and musician Stephen Bishop (as the earnest folksinger whose guitar is broken against the wall). There are others as well, I’m sure, but those are the folks who come to mind this morning.

Then there’s John Belushi. His brilliant, over-the-top performance as John “Bluto” Blutarsky is always tinted by the awareness of his self-destruction less than four years later. And then I mentally shrug as I change the channel or the credits roll.

Here’s some of the music that was around during the year the Tri-Delts amused at least some of us:

A Baker’s Dozen from 1978, Vol. 3
“Thornaby Woods/The Hare In The Corn” by Magenta from Canterbury Moon

“I Can’t Do One More Two Step” by LeRoux from Louisiana’s LeRoux

“Leaving Louisiana In The Broad Daylight” by Emmylou Harris from Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town

“Human Highway” by Neil Young from Comes A Time

“You Don’t Need to Move A Mountain” by Tracy Nelson from Homemade Songs

“Waiting For The Day” by Gerry Rafferty from City To City

“Feels So Good” by Chuck Mangione, A&M single 2001

“Is Your Love In Vain” by Bob Dylan from Street Legal

“Cheyenne” by Kingfish from Trident

“Loretta” by Townes Van Zandt from Flyin’ Shoes

“Ouch!” by the Rutles from The Rutles

“Hold The Line” by Toto, Columbia single 10830

“Little Glass of Wine” by Jesse Winchester from A Touch On The Rainy Side

A few notes:

Canterbury Moon was a British folk-rock group very much in the vein of Steeleye Span but much more obscure. With vocal harmonies centered on three female voices, the group’s sound is unique.

LeRoux combined R&B, funk, jazz, rock, and Cajun music into a tasty stew that sold a few records back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Still active, the group had a couple of pretty well-known songs: “New Orleans Ladies,” from Louisiana’s LeRoux, and “Nobody Said It Was Easy (Lookin’ For The Lights),” a single that went to No. 18 in 1982.

I’ve offered three Baker’s Dozens from 1978, and each time, a track from Neil Young’s Comes A Time has popped up. That’s just fine with me: It’s one of my favorite albums.

A while back, the album version of “Feels So Good” popped up during a random selection. Now, here’s Chuck Mangione’s single, which went to No. 4 in early 1978.

Dylan’s “Is Your Love In Vain” kind of plods along, almost as if it’s way too much work to get too involved. A lot of the Street Legal album was like that, loaded down with horns and background singers and never really taking off. And that’s too bad, as some of the songs on the album – “ Is Your Love In Vain” among them – were as good as anything Dylan had written in years. Cryptic, yes, and I think especially of “Señor (Tales of Yankee Power),” but good.

Kingfish was a San Francisco band that originally featured Grateful Dead member Bob Weir. By the time the band recorded Trident, Weir had left, and the band’s sound had become more mainstream, although there are still echoes of the rootsy, countryish folk rock sound that the group’s earlier albums presented.

Saturday Single No. 63

June 20, 2011

Originally posted March 22, 2008

As she often does, Nature played a joke on folks here this week. The vernal equinox passed on Thursday, and we marked the beginning of spring with a fairly warm day – temperatures about 40 or so (about 4 degrees Celsius) – and it was sunny enough that the three cats here lay in the sunshine coming through the southern windows.

Outside, most of the snow cover was gone from the lawn, except near the parking lot, where the huge piles of snow pushed from the lot during the winter were slowly diminishing. Evidence of that was the little streams flowing through the parking lot toward the storm sewer, like spring rivers flowing out of the mountains onto the plains.

I ran a few errands outside, prosaic stuff like taking cans and newspapers to the recycling bins and walking down to the mailbox (hoping that a record ordered last week would have arrived; sadly, it hadn’t), and doing them was certainly more pleasant in the sunshine. It’s not a great distance from the building to the trash/recycling bins or to the mailboxes, but in the depths of winter, when the wind slices in from the northwest, somehow both the bins and the mailboxes seem to be further away. Thursday’s walk – short as it was – was pleasant.

And then the storm blew in. We didn’t get hit badly, like some areas of Minnesota and the rest of the Midwest. The storm went pretty much south of us, and we got around four inches of snow. (An online report from one of the Twin Cities’ television stations says we got 1.7 inches, but it looked like more than that; the city of Chaska, on the southwest edge of the Twin Cities metro area, got 10.5 inches.) And if the forecast is right, and we get sunshine tomorrow and Monday, what little snow we got will melt away quickly.

So it’s not like I’m disheartened or anything. But it’s very typical of Nature to send us a warning like this, telling us that thoughts of springtime, of green grass and budding trees and tulips, are fine, but we shouldn’t forget that for at least a while, those are all hopes and the reality is still chilly. And even though the calendar says it’s spring, it’s entirely possible to have more of the white stuff yet – lots more. I remember more than one end-of-March blizzard.

So I console myself that at least I’m not as discouraged as Jesse Winchester was when he and Robbie Robertson wrote “Snow,” a song from Winchester’s first, self-titled album in 1970, today’s Saturday Single.

Jesse Winchester – “Snow” [1970]

Another Walk Through The Junkyard

June 4, 2011

Originally posted January 18, 2008

I’m not feeling particularly well this morning (it will pass), and I am behind on household chores, so I’m not really going to write anything. But I thought I’d take a fifteen-song walk through the junkyard (pre-2000) and see what we find. I’ll sort the songs by running time, and then start with the best song I see at about the midpoint of the collection, and we’ll go random from there.

“I’m Ready” by Muddy Waters from Fathers & Sons, 1969

“I’ll Follow The Sun” by the Beatles from Beatles For Sale, 1964

“Not My Way Home” by Nanci Griffith from The Dust Bowl Symphony, 1999

“I’m Her Daddy” by Bill Withers from Just As I Am, 1971

“Feels Like” by Al Stewart from Famous Last Words, 1993

“Little Girl” by Billy Preston from Encouraging Words, 1970

“Quiet About It” by Jesse Winchester from Jesse Winchester, 1970

“The Woo Woo Train” by the Valentines, Rama single 196, 1956

“The Spa” by John Barry from the soundtrack to Thunderball, 1965

“Funky Broadway” by Wilson Pickett, Atlantic single 2430, 1967

“Angel of the Morning” by Merrilee Rush & the Turnabouts, Bell single 705, 1968

“High, Low and In Between” by Townes Van Zandt from High, Low and In Between, 1972

“If (I Could Be With You)” by Lavelle White, Duke single 198, 1958

“I’ll Be Satisfied” by Don Covay from Mercy!, 1965

“The River” by Dan Fogelberg from Home Free, 1972

A few notes:

Fathers & Sons was a Chess Records project that brought together Muddy Waters and piano player Otis Spann with three members of the Butterfield Blues Band: leader Paul Butterfield, guitarist Mike Bloomfield and drummer Sam Lay. Also sitting was Duck Dunn of Booker T and the MGs, while drummer Buddy Miles played on one of the live tracks that made up the final album. Such mergings of talent and generations don’t always work out, of course, which makes Fathers & Sons that much more of a treasure. It’s one of the great albums of Waters’ long career, and a milestone for the other musicians, as well.

“I’ll Follow the Sun” is listed here as being from Beatles For Sale, and that is where it’s found these days in the CD racks. But I’ll always hear it as part of Beatles ’65, one of those albums that Capitol created during the group’s early years by trimming a few songs off a British release and adding some singles that weren’t on albums in the U.K.

The Dust Bowl Symphony was Nanci Griffith’s attempt to recast some of her more memorable songs as a suite, with backing from the London Symphony Orchestra. It doesn’t always work, and most of the songs on the album are likely better heard in their original settings. (“Not My Way Home” was originally released on 1997’s Blues Roses From the Moons.) One track that works, and is worth seeking out, is “Love at the Five and Dime,” which Griffith recast as a duet with Darius Rucker of Hootie & the Blowfish.

The Valentines were one of those groups that sprang up on street corners all through New York City during the mid-1950s. According to Marv Goldberg’s R&B Notebooks, “The Woo Woo Train” was composed and arranged by the group in the recording studio’s men’s room the morning of the recording session. I think it’s a great track; I especially love the raucous sax solo.

Come June 1, it will be forty years since “Angel of the Morning” entered the Top 40. It’s still a gorgeous song – written by Chip Taylor – and a great record, and it’s certainly one of the most enduring of all one-hit wonders.

The bluesy R&B grit of “If (I Could Be With You)” is, to my mind, of a kind with most of the recordings coming from Texas-based Duke records in the late 1950s. (The label was also the home of legend Bobby “Blue” Bland.) Lavelle got her first success with the self-penned “If,” which she recorded while she was in her late 20s, if the date of 1958 is accurate (and it seems to be). White is still recording, and since 1994, has released three albums, two of them on the Antone’s label. The most recent of those is 2003’s Into the Mystic.

A Baker’s Dozen Of Winter

May 25, 2011

Originally posted December 5, 2007

Through the window, I hear the skrik-skrik of someone scraping ice from a vehicle in the parking lot. We got another six inches of snow yesterday afternoon (on top of the six or so inches from Saturday), and it came in the afternoon, causing havoc during what passes for rush hour here in St. Cloud.

It looks like this winter is going to be a tougher one than the past few have been. At least, it’s starting out that way, with two six-inch snowfalls in four days and another storm heading our direction for tomorrow. The past few years haven’t seen much snow at all, and it’s generally come later in the season. And some of those winters have seemed to bring fewer days of sub-zero cold, the kind of cold that makes snow squeak under your feet and makes your cheeks burn.

Were winters colder when I was a kid? I don’t know. I remember walking in some pretty cold weather during my elementary school days. For the seven years I went to Lincoln School (kindergarten through sixth grade), I walked the five blocks from Kilian Boulevard to the school almost every day. On those winter days when the wind came from the north or northwest, we’d turn around and back our way to school, whole clusters of kids walking in reverse along Fifth Avenue Southeast.

(One very clear recollection that points out how times have changed is that the girls were still required to wear skirts or dresses in school. They could wear slacks under their dresses or skirts when they walked to school, but those slacks had to come off once they got inside.)

On very frigid days, those snow-squeaking days when the temperature was at twenty below zero or colder (that’s about twenty-nine degrees below zero Celsius), my mom or dad would drive us – my sister was three years ahead of me – the five blocks to school, often picking up classmates of ours along the way. And on occasion during my first few years of elementary school, I’d get a ride to school from Ed, the college fellow who lived in the next block and was the quarterback for the St. Cloud State Huskies football team.

Do kids still walk to school in any season? I don’t know. I do have a sense that kids no longer do as much outdoors as we used to do. Forty years ago, there were two city-maintained outdoor skating rinks within walking distance of our house: one right across the highway from Lincoln School (with a walking bridge over the highway providing easy access), and another about six blocks south of us on Kilian Boulevard. I was never a very good skater, but I spent my time with Rick and the other neighborhood kids scuffling around the two rinks. And on occasion, we’d go downtown where the city maintained a skating surface on Lake George.

And once every couple of weeks, we’d grab our saucer sleds and head down to the big hill in Riverside Park for a weekend afternoon of sliding, coming home cold and wet, tired and happy.

The rink on Kilian is long gone now, its location having become part of a permanent rose garden. I don’t think there’s a rink near Lincoln anymore. The open area that was flooded each winter is still there, but the warming house is long gone. And the old warming house on Lake George came down years ago, too. I suppose kids who want to skate do so in the ice arenas that were built during the years I was gone.

I would imagine, though, that kids still slide down the hill in Riverside Park. I hope so. And this year, it looks as if there will be plenty of snow for them.

A Baker’s Dozen of Winter

“The First Chill of Winter” by Boo Hewerdine & Darden Smith from Evidence, 1989

“Winterlude” by Bob Dylan from New Morning, 1970

“A Hazy Shade of Winter” by Simon & Garfunkel from Bookends, 1968

“Song of Winter” by Françoise Hardy from One Nine Seven Zero, 1970

“Winterlong” by Neil Young, unreleased, 1974

“Wintery Feeling” by Jesse Winchester from A Touch On The Rainy Side, 1978

“The Coldest Winter in Memory” by Al Stewart from Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time, 1996

“In The Winter” by Janis Ian from Between the Lines, 1975

“Song For A Winter’s Night” by Gordon Lightfoot from The Way I Feel, 1967

“The Winter is Cold” by Wendy & Bonnie from Genesis, 1969

“Lion in Winter” by the Bee Gees from Trafalgar, 1971

“Winter Winds’ by Fotheringay from Fotheringay, 1970

“Sometimes In Winter” by Blood, Sweat & Tears from Blood, Sweat & Tears, 1969

A few notes on some of the songs and artists:

I’ve posted the Hewerdine and Smith album Evidence here before, but I could not resist starting this list with “The First Chill of Winter,” which is one of my favorite songs.

The album One Nine Seven Zero, the source of French chanteuse Françoise Hardy’s “Song of Winter,” was originally released in 1969 in South Africa under the title of English 3. A year later, it was released in the U.K., Australia and New Zealand as One Nine Seven Zero. In the U.S. and Canada, the album’s title was Alone. I don’t think there’s any difference between the albums, but the source I had for the album called it One Nine Seven Zero, so that’s what I’ve called it.

The Neil Young track, “Winterlong” was included on Decade, his 1977 retrospective. The only other place the song shows up officially is on the 2006 release, Live at the Fillmore East, which documents a 1970 performance by Young with Crazy Horse.

Gordon Lightfoot’s “Song For A Winter Night” may be more familiar in a version by Sarah McLachlan. Her nicely done cover of the song was released on the soundtrack of a 1994 remake of the Christmas film, Miracle on 34th Street, although the recording was not used in the film.

“The Winter Is Cold” comes from one of the more remarkable one-shot recordings of the 1960s. Genesis came from San Francisco-based sisters, Wendy and Bonnie Flowers, who were seventeen and thirteen, respectively, at the time. It was released on the Skye label, which folded soon after the record came out, dooming any chances for the record to gain any attention. “The Winter Is Cold” is one of the lesser tracks on the album, I think, but the album – re-released on the Sundazed label in 2001 with bonus tracks – is worth finding.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1970, Vol. 2

April 22, 2011

Originally posted May 30, 2007

Every once in a while during the years this blog generally deals with – and I haven’t bothered to sit down and calculate how frequently this actually happened, so that generality will have to do – a song/record came along with an opening that was utterly electric.

I’m sure others had the experience, too: The first time you heard it, you stopped whatever it was you were doing and stared, thinking to yourself, “What in the world is that and how did they do that?” Then, if you’re like me, you went to the turntable and lifted the needle and started the song over again. Or, in at least one case long ago, I rewound the tape and started it again (the awkwardness of which taught me why tape was never going to replace vinyl; it was too painstaking to cue up one specific song). These days, of course, you don’t have to do anything but push the “back” button on the CD or mp3 player.

But no matter how you get back to them, there are songs that announce themselves with such force and vitality that they bring a moment of stunned silence and require a second playing immediately.

That experience came to mind this morning because of the presence on today’s Baker’s Dozen of “Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad?” from Derek & the Dominos’ classic album Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs. The first time I heard the Eric Clapton-Bobby Whitlock tune was not, for good or ill, in its original context. I wrote in an earlier post about buying the 1972 compilation Eric Clapton At His Best, a compilation that led me to some of my favorite musicians. “Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad?” leads off the last side of that two-record set, and I recall jerking my head up as I heard the churning A-minor to G-major riff, followed by the surge of Whitlock’s organ and the wailing guitar lead.

That certainly wasn’t the first time a song announced itself with such power, but it’s a first listening I recall more clearly than most, and the song and the recording remain a favorite of mine to this day.

There is, of course, another song on Layla that announces itself with anthemic ferocity, but I don’t recall the first time I heard the album’s title song. Most likely it was soon after the album’s release in 1970, when “Layla,” the song, was released as a single but went nowhere. Certainly by the time the single was re-released two years later, it was a familiar piece of music, but familiarity didn’t – and still doesn’t – make the opening any less gripping.

A few others come to mind as well. Not all of them are on the same level as “Layla” or “Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad?” but then, very few songs are. But some of the songs with, to me, memorable introductions are:

“One Of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later),” the Bob Dylan tune that comes from his classic Blonde on Blonde album. For some reason, the European edition of Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits included this wonderful cut (I never did bother to figure out what recording from the American edition was left off the European version), and when it rolled around on my tape player one evening in Denmark, I sat straight up at the harmonica announcing itself over a rolling accompaniment.

“Question” by the Moody Blues. I love the madly strummed guitars, punctuated as they are by the thrusts of mellotron (I assume) and horns.*

“She Was Waiting For Her Mother At The Station In Torino And You Know I Love You Baby But It’s Getting Too Heavy To Laugh” by Shawn Phillips. Unlike its title, this song – which opens Phillips’ 1970 album Second Contribution – proves that less is more. Phillips opens the song almost a capella, with only the distant rumble of (I think) tympani providing an accent. The sound of his voice is so distant as he begins to sing that the ear strains to hear and at the same time, the listener – this listener, anyway – marvels at his audacity in opening an album so quietly. (The song is, I imagine, colloquially known as “Woman.”)

“Photograph” by Ringo Starr has an opening figure that would sound like a fanfare – and almost a clichéd one at that – if it were performed by horns of any sort. On piano, it’s an effective and ear-catching entry to a nicely written and produced piece of popcraft (and it has one hell of a saxophone solo, too, performed by Bobby Keys, who at times seems to spell his last name “Keyes”).

I would guess that at least twenty songs by the Rolling Stones belong in this list. “Satisfaction” would likely be the earliest, although it’s never really grabbed me the way other songs listed here do. “Brown Sugar” starts with a bang, as does (appropriately) “Start Me Up.” For my nickel, though, the most gripping introduction to a Stones’ song comes from the chiming guitar that starts “Gimme Shelter.” Sly, spooky and from another world, the slowly layered introduction is perfect for a song about how the world has begun to fall apart around us and we’ve noticed it far too late.

Well, that’s five in addition to the two from Layla, and that’s likely enough for the day. I imagine that as soon as I post this, I’ll think of two or three others I should have listed instead. But that’s one of the joys of writing about music: Two lists on the same topic compiled at separate moments can be utterly different.

And I’d like to know, what are the intros that grab you? Leave a comment, if you would. And enjoy today’s Baker’s Dozen, our second exploration of the year 1970.

“Old Times, Good Times,” by Stephen Stills from Stephen Stills

“Factory Band” by Ides of March from Vehicle

“Poor Boy” by Nick Drake from Bryter Later

“Feelin’ Alright” by Lulu from New Routes

“Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad” by Derek & the Dominos from Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs

“Delta Lady” by Joe Cocker from Mad Dogs & Englishmen

“You and Me” by Aretha Franklin from Spirit In The Dark

“If You Gotta Go, Go Now” by Rick Nelson from Rick Nelson In Concert (The Troubadour 1969)

“Sweet Peace Within” by Mylon Lefvre and Broken Heart from Mylon

“That’s A Touch I Like” by Jesse Winchester from Jesse Winchester

“Gypsy Queen, Part Two” by Gypsy from Gypsy

“Baby, Take Me In Your Arms” by Jefferson, Janus single 106

“Country Road” by Merry Clayton from Gimme Shelter

Some notes on some of the songs:

“Old Times Good Times” might have showed up on an earlier Baker’s Dozen, but it’s too good a song to click past. It’s from Stills’ first – and best – solo album, and Jimi Hendrix provided the guitar part.

According to All But Forgotten Oldies, Jefferson was the pseudonym for British-born pop star Geoff Turton. Prior to going solo, Turton had been the lead singer for the Rocking Berries, a 1960s British pop group. “Baby Take Me In Your Arms” reached No. 23 in the U.S.

Mylon Lefevre, whose “Sweet Peace Within” shows up here, began his musical career with his family’s Southern Gospel group at the age of 12. His work on Mylon with Broken Heart is among the best of his career although one can make an argument that 1973’s On The Road To Freedom – with British rocker Alvin Lee and a supporting cast of stellar sidemen – was better. Nevertheless, “Sweet Peace Within” is a very nice listen from a performer whose work seems to be forgotten these days.

Merry Clayton’s Gimme Shelter album is legendary, as is her scarifying background vocal on the Rolling Stones’ single of the same name. “Country Road,” written by James Taylor, is the album’s opening song and sets the stage for a spectacular solo debut.

*The mellontron/horns are only on the album version of “Question.” The single version, which I almost certainly heard first, has only strummed guitars and a bit of percussion leading to the vocal.  Note added April 22, 2011.

Saturday Single No. 3

April 17, 2011

Originally posted February 24, 2007

One of the great themes of popular music – from the pre-recording days when music’s popularity was measured only by sales of sheet music, through the entire Twentieth Century to today – is displacement. From the day in 1853 when Stephen Foster – America’s first popular songwriter – wrote “My Old Kentucky Home, Goodnight,” American musicians and listeners have celebrated, longed for and grieved their separations from, places dear to them.

The separation need not be physical: Time pulls us away, too, as places change and we ourselves are altered by the turning of the calendar. Joe South’s 1969 lament, “Don’t It Make You Want To Go Home,” mourned the changes brought to his home place – and by extension, the entire south – by the so-called progress of that decade, which replaced orchards with offices and meadows with malls (and the orchards and meadows continue to disappear to this day, of course, not just in the south but all across the country).

The era during which Joe South sang – those volatile years from, say, 1965 to 1975 – was one of displacement for a lot of folks. Many of those who were displaced, of course, had not one bit of use for rock or soul or any of their relatives; they instead found their solace in gospel music or in the country stylings of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard and their contemporaries. But the sense of longing wasn’t limited by genre. It’s not an accident that one of the better singles of the Beatles, the best group of the time – or any time, for that matter – told us all to get back to where we once belonged. We all wanted to go home.

One of those who couldn’t go home was Jesse Winchester, a native of Memphis who’d left the U.S. for Canada in 1967 instead of reporting for military service (and most likely an assignment to the war zone in Vietnam) when he got his draft notice. Living in Montreal in 1969, he met Robbie Robertson of The Band – himself a Canadian, of course, like three of the other four members of The Band. Robertson produced and played guitar on Winchester’s first album, Jesse Winchester, and brought along his band-mate Levon Helm to play drums and mandolin. The record, says All-Music Guide, “was timely: it spoke to a disaffected American generation that sympathized with Winchester’s pacifism. But it was also timeless: the songs revealed a powerful writing talent (recognized by the numerous artists who covered them), and Winchester’s gentle vocals made a wonderful vehicle for delivering them.”

Winchester, of course, was unable to perform in the U.S. to promote either the record or his career, and thus never was able to capture the attention of the listening and buying public as well as he likely deserved. He recorded four more albums in Canada until an amnesty proclaimed by President Jimmy Carter in 1977 allowed him to return to the U.S. He’s recorded infrequently since then, but has been an active performer, with his most recent trio of releases being live albums.

When one listens to today’s Saturday Single, “Biloxi” – or indeed, any selection from the Robbie Robertson-produced debut, Jesse Winchester – one can hear the regrets and longing under the gentle vocal as Winchester remembers the joy and solace he once found in a place he might never be able to see again.

“Biloxi” by Jesse Winchester [1970]