Ry Cooder/Note of Hope
Folksingers are pretty mad these days, at times to the point of pushing back at the ravening rich people who are sitting on their heads. Some even refer to class or (can it be?) speak up for unions. But not one has topped a sardonic satire like "No Banker Left Behind" with a murderous ballad about Jesse James and his illicitly retrieved .44 taking every bonus-hogging fat cat in heaven to hell with him, or despoiled a Christmas corrido for GIs on leave with anything as gruesome as "I'd like a mouth so I can kiss my honey on the lips." A few tracks drag and one or two misfire. But from John Lee Hooker's campaign song to the earned nostalgia of a lonely old Chicano who'll forgive you for driving a Japanese car, Cooder has brought his longstanding obsession with the Great Depression into the present, where it unfortunately, tragically, enragingly belongs. Kudos too to drummer Joachim Cooder. This doesn't rock, and it shouldn't. But it rollicks, skanks, and two-steps just fine. A MINUS
Note of Hope (429)
Bragg & Wilco? The folk-rock of dreams. Jonatha Brooke? Singer-songwriter. The Klezmatics? Er, his wife was Jewish. But assigning a Woody Guthrie "celebration" to bassist extraordinaire Rob Wasserman? Trailing the likes of Kurt Elling, Madeleine Peyroux, Tom Morello, Studs Terkel, Ani DiFranco, and Jackson Browne behind him? Reads like a jazzbo recipe for leftwing piety. And proves instead yet another winning realization of an idea I had doubts about from the first Mermaid Avenue rumors. Wasserman is all over a record that's less sung than spoken, providing a musical identity as distinct as any other in this motley series. Once again Guthrie's words are set to music, although sometimes these words were prose and sometimes they're rapped or sprechgesanged. They're sly, sexy, down-and-out, up-and-at-'em. Terkel and DiFranco deliver diary jottings of breathtaking acuity, and the Pete Seeger recitation ends: "There never was a sound that was not music. There's no trick of creating words to set to music once you realize that the word is the music and the people are the song." Then Jackson Browne sings a formally static 15-minute ballad about the night Woody met Marjorie and all the dreams he had. I said Jackson Browne. It's magnificent. A MINUS
George Jones on "I Ain't Got No Business Doin' Business Today"? A little upsetting.
Which brings me to a somewhat random observation: in Christgau's rankings (as presented in the book, not the original Dean's List), 1978 seems to be the only year in the 1970s that has no Black artists in the top ten.
Whoops- sorry Frap- errant thumbdown. I still like Some Girls just fine.
Returned yesterday after a week in Tennessee visiting relatives. First time up there in almost four years so was good to see everyone. Beautiful weather -about 15 degrees cooler than the sweltering Sunshine State. However, watching family and other loved ones age, get sick and lose their marbles is decidedly unpleasant.
Tried to keep up with posts and new music while I was gone, but there's some catching up to do after today's laundry and yard work.
Puts me in mind of the main character of Sherm****xie's heartrending story "Can I Get a Witness?"
"On the night his wife had signed their divorce papers, she called him up and cursed him. She was drunk and lonely and enraged.
'All right Mr. Funny!' she had yelled. 'Let's see how long you can go without telling a joke! How long! How long, Mr. Funny?'
'About seven seconds,' he'd said after seven seconds of silence.
She'd cried and cursed him again and hung up the phone....Why was it more necessary for him to tell a joke than to acknowledge her pain?"
Also, I'd never really payed close attention the lyrics of "When the Whip Comes Down." With the reference to 53rd street, is it correct to assume that the protagonist is a male prostitute? Mick apparently claimed that the protagonist was gay, as the first few lines make clear, but that he worked as a garbage collector. Not sure if he was being cheeky there.
The sprechgesangy part around the 10 minute mark finally lifts the curse he laid on himself with that horrifying spoken section in "Hold On, Hold Out" in 1980 ("I always figured I was gonna meet somebody here...And I don't know [breaks into falsetto] whyyyyyyyy.....)"
And not funny. But that's not a surprise.
Then I listened to Some Girls and it was terrible. Specially Mick's southern shtick on Far Away Eyes.Heh. I had the opposite response. I've dismissed Some Girls for years. When I put it on--for the first time in about 20 years--for this poll it blew me away. Still not sold on Far Away Eyes, but my intense dislike of that song melted into mere ambivalence.
'I thought "Singer-singwriter" was a play on words: indicating that Brooke was better off singing other people's songs, than actually writing them.'Xgau always does sh!t like this (you know, his own slang/funny spins); I thought the same!
1. I don't know when I'll listen to Note of Hope complete, because I just started with the Jackson Browne song and it is--as promised--magnificent. I love how the vocal tagline is echoed by a guitar figure that sounds (to me anyway) like the one in "Here Comes the Night." Then around the 10 minute mark Jackson starts reciting like he's Van talking about the letterbox in "And the Healing Has Begun."
2. I defer to Cam on the medical/psychological explanations of Woody Guthrie's disinhibition. Tragic. But I also want to note that it is in Whitman that so many of Guthrie's generation of leftist (men) found a very important model of how (and why) to merge the erotic and the political. Allen Ginsberg picked it up next. There's a great essay in the book collection Hard Travelin' (Santelli and Davidson) about Guthrie's art and erotic impulses. ("I'll say to my man come out of your walls and move in your/space as free and wild as my woman.")
3. "Remember the Mountain Bed" (on "Mermaid II").
Mick's southern shtick on Far Away Eyes
about the blogger
Starting in 1967, Robert Christgau has covered popular music for The Village Voice, Esquire, Blender, Playboy, Rolling Stone, and many other publications. He teaches in New York University's Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music, maintains a comprehensive website at robertchristgau.com, and has published five books based on his journalism. He has written for MSN Music since 2006.
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