Archive for August, 2009

When the Fiddler Stops All Hell Breaks Loose

August 29, 2009

So.  We were rewinding a tape and watching what was happening on WGBH when the image of a grey-haired man in a black suit and fedora holding a mic appeared.  Although I hadn’t seen him in many many years I knew immediately it was none other than the inimitable Leonard Cohen!  Can’t remember the song but I was transfixed and listened till the end of the concert without moving!  It was a presentation by WGBH of his concert in London.

The soundtrack of my life has been provided by the irascible Van Morrison; there was a Van  Morrison song for every occasion, every mood, every feeling.  My experience with Leonard Cohen’s work was (unfortunately) limited to Suzanne, Bird On a Wire, etc., the popular songs covered by other artists.  Thank you Judy Collins, Joe Cocker, and Johnny Cash!

I lost track of Leonard but checked into his life occasionally, learning about his severe depression, his stay in a Zen monastery and his loss of a significant amount of money.  It was not until this concert that I realized what I’d missed.  Leonard was dressed in a suit, as were his band members and three female back-up singers, all of whom were at least half his age.

He moved sensuously through his songs; at times with an impish grin, at times with a burning intensity, taking us to a place he knew quite well.  His phrasing and expression of each lyric were impeccable.  So Long Marianne was way different at 73 than at 20 something.  It was mind-blowing. In a quiet voice he repeatedly thanked the audience, stated his pleasure at being able to play for them and introduced his back-up band and singers several times, making sure we knew that it wasn’t all about HIM.

Of course I immediately went out and bought the CD Leonard Cohen Live in London.  The music was again, transfixing and the banter between songs humourously revealing.  (I’ve taken Wellbutrin, Effexor, Paxil, Ritalin….)  He could laugh at himself while presenting his message quite seriously.  He is, at 73, so much more than I think he thought he could be, and perhaps more than WE thought he could be.  Hallelujah!

The video of Closing Time is from a 1993 appearance on the CBC’s Friday Night show. Please enjoy!


Families That Sing Together Part 2 – The Everly Brothers

August 16, 2009

The Everlys’ superb 1968 album, Roots, begins with the voice of their dad, Ike Everly, introducing the boys (Don was 15, Phil 13) at the start of the family’s radio show. Don first had his own spot on the show at age 8, and they started singing together not long after that. By 1952, when the show we hear on Roots was broadcast, they were old pros, and by 1957 they were teen idols. Their run at the top of the pop charts lasted until about 1962, when the brothers joined the Marines, and never really resumed, although they made some good music even into the ’80s.

The Everlys were the culmination of a long tradition of close harmony country acts, many of them brothers: the Delmores, Monroes, Louvins, Bolicks. The Everlys’ translation of that tradition into rock and roll terms made their influence on the new music immensely important. The Beatles owed them a lot, the Hollies owed them everything but their name.

I saw the Everly Brothers perform only once, in 1970, at the Wollman Skating Rink in New York’s Central Park (the opening act was John Denver!). It wasn’t one of their better nights, as onstage bickering cut their set short. But as beautifully as their voices meshed, I’m sure that even their arguments would have eventually fallen into that unique harmony of theirs; no sounds they made together could have stayed harsh very long.

The video is a truly lovely performance of two of their greatest hits, Cathy’s Clown and All I Have to Do Is Dream, from a 1961 episode of British singer Alma Cogan’s TV show. Please enjoy!

Hear The New Joe Henry CD Free At!

August 12, 2009

I learn tonight from James Fallows’s blog over at The Atlantic Monthly that NPR has a feature called “Exclusive First Listen.”

What they do at “Exclusive First Listen” is post an about-to-be-released CD, in its entirety, for your streaming (but not downloading) enjoyment. The music goes away as soon as the CD is available for purchase.

Playing through my Macbook’s speakers as I write is this week’s exclusive feature, Joe Henry’s new one, Blood From Stars. One of these days I’m going to do the Joe Henry post I’ve been thinking about for a long long time, but today is not that day, so for now, just hop on over to and listen. Next week they’ll be streaming a 1967 live set from Tim Buckley (I want to hear that now!) and the week after that the 50th Anniversary package from the New Lost City Ramblers.

If you want to see Joe Henry as well as hear him, here’s a video of him singing Time is a Lion from his 2007 CD, Civilians. Please enjoy.

R. I. P. Mike Seeger

August 10, 2009

Mike Seeger has died at the age of 75. He was a man whose contributions to folk music, and through that music to the world at large, are impossible to measure. His impact as a human being was no less. The New York Times obituary is here.

I can’t imagine what my own folk music education would have been like without the work Mike Seeger did. The New Lost City Ramblers introduced me to the vast and unendingly beautiful world of old time music, and his work as a folklorist introduced me to Dock Boggs among many others.

Here’s a video of Mike Seeger performing Walking Boss at the Smithsonian Folkways studio in 2007. Mike, we’ll miss you.

Please enjoy the music and take a moment today to remember this great man.

The Families That Sing Together, Pt. 1: The Haden Triplets

August 4, 2009

It’s always seemed to me that family voices blend like no others. On the brother side we’ve got the Monroes, the Louvins, the Delmores and the Everlys just as openers. Sisters? The McGarrigles, the Roches, the McGuires, the Boswells and the Andrews Sisters are only the beginning. And don’t forget Tim and Molly O’Brien, The Staples Singers, The Kendalls, even Donnie and Marie! They’re all family, and nobody sings together like family.

Here’s the first of what I’m planning as a series of occasional posts featuring families that sing together, the better to appreciate these beautiful harmonies.

Charlie Haden is best known for his work as a jazz bassist; he performed on Ornette Coleman’s groundbreaking Free Jazz LP and later led the Liberation Music Orchestra, but he’s also the father of the Haden triplets, Rachel, Petra and Tanya.

While all the sisters sing, Rachel, like her dad, has worked most frequently as a bassist, including a recent tour with Todd Rundgren. Tanya, who’s married to the actor Jack Black, has been associated with many California bands, mostly as a cellist. Petra is a vocaliist as well as a violinist, and one of her projects was a solo a cappella recreation of The Who Sell Out. She sang all the parts herself and even did the recording – you’ve got to hear it to believe it. After the record came out, she toured it with a ten-woman chorus: just an amazing sound.

Petra, Tanya and Rachel perform as the Haden Triplets on father Charlie’s superb new CD, Family and Friends – Rambling Boy. This CD reaches back to Charlie’s roots as a young country and western star (really young – he made his first appearance on his parents’ show at the age of 22 months) and brings the whole family (and some famous guests) together on record for the first time.

The video is a live performance of Single Girl, Married Girl,  a cover of the Carter Family tune the original of which appears on the Harry Smith Anthology. The Triplets do a studio version on Rambling Boy. Please enjoy!