Monday, December 31, 2007

Why The H#ck Is Nobody In America Blogging About Moe Bandy!?!?

I just noticed on that nobody has ever done any kind of blog post on 1970's country music legend Moe Bandy. What's up America??? As demonstrated by my last post, Moe can bring the honky tonk. Now I realize that there is a somewhat limited market for cry-in-your-PBR-cheating-songs, but Moe's got that market covered. And then some.

Case in point No. 2: Moe Bandy - I Just Started Hating Cheating Songs Again

Best line: "I just found out my woman is the Devil."

Now go buy the Honky Tonk Amnesia collection. The song titles alone should be enough to persuade you to take the plunge. (Tell 'em Paul from STWOF sent ya.)

While were talking about still-living Honky Tonk legends that can bring it, try some early Randy Travis:

Randy Travis - There'll Always Be A Honky Tonk Somewhere (buy album).

Randy's first LP is solid country gold. Amazingly, it seems to be out of print. From where I stand, things really started to crap out in the world of mainstream country music after Randy released this one. So it's kind of a last stand worth tracking down.

Happy New Year!

P.S. I think there probably will be a Super Bowl in 2083. (But the Detroit Lions will not be playing in it.)

The Highway Fades To Black...

Read the story of Hank's last day here and here.

Check out these great songs about Hank. I especially like the Moe Bandy number. Good stuff:

The Blasters - Long White Cadillac (buy album)

Moe Bandy - Hank Williams You Wrote My Life (buy album)

The Blue Chieftains - I Think Hank Woulda Done It This Way (buy album)

David Allan Coe - The Ride (buy album)

For Hank's last hit song (before his death) see the Hank Song Of The Week at the bottom of this page.

The Death Car. Long but not white.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Nature Boy

In case you missed it, here's another re-post from earlier this year...

One night about sixty years ago, a young man rode his bicycle up to the back door of a theater in Los Angeles hoping to meet popular vocalist Nat King Cole. The man was turned away, but left behind an unaddressed envelope for Cole containing the following song:

There was a boy, a very strange enchanted boy
They say he wandered very far, very far, over land and sea
A little shy and sad of eye, but very wise was he.

And then one day, a magic day he passed my way
And while we spoke of many things, fools and kings, this he said to me: The greatest thing you'll ever learn, Is just to love and be loved in return.

Cole saw the beauty in the song and began playing it live. Through word of mouth, the song "Nature Boy" quickly became popular with his live audiences. Cole realized that he had to record the mysterious man's song, but he had no way of identifying its unkown author. After an extensive search, he discovered Eden Ahbez, living as a homeless "yogi" under one of the “L's” in the "HOLLYWOOD" sign. Thus began the hippie movement.

After making his mark with Nature Boy in 1948, Ahbez went on to compose material for artists like Frankie Laine and Sam Cooke. In the 1960's, he hung out with Brian Wilson and Donovan (with whom he reportedly had a "near-telepathic" conversation). Ahbez even made his own album called Eden's Island. In 1995, Eden Ahbez was killed in a car accident at the age of 87. (Read more about Ahbez here and here).

Here are the original and two excellent cover versions of "Nature Boy":

Nat King Cole - Nature Boy (buy album).
Big Star - Nature Boy (buy album).

John Coltrane - Nature Boy (buy album).

Here's another favorite Nat song: Nat King Cole - Sweet Lorraine - After Midnight Sessions (buy album).

And, finally, here's one that may have been inspired by the "nearly telepathic" conversation between Donovon and Eden Ahbez: Donovan - Atlantis (buy album).

Monday, December 24, 2007

Coltrane For Christmas

Christmas is a good time for John Coltrane:

Greensleeves(buy album).
My Favorite Things (buy album).
In A Sentimental Mood (buy album).
Ruby My Dear (buy album).
Lush Life (buy album).

This will probably be the last post of 2007. Thanks to everyone who visited STWOF since the doors opened in October. See you next year!

A Christmas Carol - 1941 Radio Play

This one's special to me. It's a 1941 radio play of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" (you know: Scrooge, Tiny Tim, & the ghosts). My dad bought this record long before I was born. Growing up it became a tradition in our house to listen every Chrismas Eve. Now I could probably recite the whole thing from memory.

It never would have become a family tradition if it weren't so good. The cast does a great job of telling the whole story in only 22 minutes (one side of a vinyl record) with many memorable scenes. Ronald Colman plays the role of Scrooge. Check it out:

A Christmas Carol - 1941 Radio Play

Sunday, December 23, 2007

New Blog To Check Out: For The Sake Of The Song

It's a lot of work putting together a music blog. But its fun. Whenever an idea pops into my head, I put it on a list of "future" posts. Real high on that list was Detroit's own R&B hero Andre Williams. One of my old bands did a cover of Williams' song "Is It True" that was the most fun thing we ever played (you had to be there). And there's an interesting story to be told about Williams' career.

So today I was happy to see Andre Williams featured over at the excellent new blog For The Sake of the Song (which, as you know, is named after a Townes Van Zandt song). Now, instead of writing a long post, I can just point you over to FTSOTS for the Andre Williams story. Check it out. It's worth the trip!

For The Sake of the Song is my kind of music blog because it features lots of great old music. In less then a month FTSOTS has featured, among others, Townes Van Zandt (a given), The Shangri Las, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, and now Andre Williams. I'm really looking forward to what comes next.

Here's one more classic tune from Mr. Rhythm:

Is It True?

Highly Recommended!

(I got this from a CD called "Mr. Rhythm," which now seems to be out of print.)

With God On Our Side

Here's another re-post from back in the early days of this blog:

One of the best early Bob Dylan tracks is With God On Our Side (buy album) from his third album, The Times They Are A-Changin’ (1964). It’s a powerful song. Read the All Music Guide review here. And if you want more early Dylan, there is a great 1962 radio interview (with many songs performed and a few lies told) here.

Part of Bob Dylan’s genius is knowing when to borrow a good melody or lyric for his own purpose. The musical and lyrical inspiration for With God On Our Side came from an Irish folk song called Patriot Game (buy album). This excellent version is sung by Liam Clancy, of the Clancy Brothers. Liam was a Greenwich Village drinking buddy of Dylan’s during the early 1960’s, and is featured in the Dylan documentary No Direction Home.

You would not expect With God On Our Side to translate well into an 1980’s pop song, but it did. The band Wire Train put a nice version of God On Our Side on their 1985 album Between Two Worlds, which I believe is now out of print. This version is not as powerful as Dylan’s but its an entertaining cover and great bit of 1980’s pop music.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Randy Newman, The Unreliable Narrator

Randy Newman is one of the smartest American songwriters, often making his point with literary devices like irony, satire, and the unreliable narrator.

There are a couple examples on his 1972 album Sail Away, which I think is his best.

In the song Sail Away, Newman takes on the voice of the racist slave trader making a pitch to the Africans to come "sail away" to Charleston Bay to live in America "where every man is free."

In America you'll get food to eat.
Won't have to run through the jungle and scuff up your feet.
You'll just sing about Jesus and drink wine all day.
Its great to be an American.

The slave trader is playing the role of the unreliable narrator to his audience in Africa. But since slave traders never had to recruit, I've always kind of figured that the song was partly about the conflicted slave trader's own internal dialogue, in which he deludes himself into thinking he's performing some kind of service. (He's his own unreliable narrator.) When the song was performed in 20th century America, it satirized more recent delusions about race. The song also works as a sinister object lesson why it's good to be skeptical about what's being sold to you.

In another song, Political Science, Newman takes on the role of the frustrated yet powerful American happily dreaming about nuking the rest of the world into submission until "every city the whole world round will just be another American town"--except for Australia because we "don't want to hurt no kangaroo" and "they got surfing too." This one's just straight up irony.

Sail Away
Political Science

(buy album.)

For some amusing political satire in blog form, check out Jon Swift's blog.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Jerry Jeff Walker - Sangria Wine

Here's a blast from the (recent) past. This post originally appeared a few months ago when my little blog's audience basically consisted of my mom, my sister, friends Dave, Kris, Greta, Brendan at The Rising Storm, and Terry at Fits and Starts. I'm re-posting now in case you missed it the first time around.

It's organic and it comes from the vine;
It's also legal and it gets you so high....

What I'm talking about, of course, is sangria. One of the best inventions of humankind. Today's assignment is to make yourself some delicious sangria. To get started you need to locate your copy of Jerry Jeff Walker's album "Viva Terlingua!" and spin track 3 repeatedly. In case you don't yet own the whole wonderful record, check this out: Sangria Wine (buy album). An all-time great.

Anyway, Jerry Jeff's recipe (taken from the lyrics of the song) requires mixing the following ingredients in whatever amounts suit your fancy:

- Start with some wine
- Get some apples and brandy and sugar just fine
- Add sparkling Burgandy wine (huh? more wine?)
- Everclear is added sometimes (especially in Texas on Saturday night)
- Lemons and Limes

There you have it. For another, slightly more complicated mixture (which will require you to obtain a red apricot and split a strawberry into exactly three pieces), check in with Martha Stewart here.

And now for a word about Jerry Jeff Walker. He's probably best known for writing the 1970's hit "Mr. Bojangles." But in my mind his greatest achievement was becoming a key part of the Austin, Texas outlaw country movement. Viva Terlingua is a great introduction to this genre. See AMG review here. It was recorded live in 1973 at a virtual ghost town called Luckenbach, Texas -- a locale made famous four years later by fellow-outlaw Waylon Jennings' song Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love) (buy album). In fact, one of the verses in Waylon's song (the last one, sung with Willie Nelson) mentions "Jerry Jeff's train songs."

Another one of my all time favorite Jerry Jeff songs is the irreverant Pissin’ In The Wind (buy album), which describes one way to end a Saturday night sangria party.

And now for a genre shift: All of this semi-rowdy country music brings to mind the Replacements' 3rd album, Hootenanny--especially this track: Treatment Bound (buy album). While not really a country album in any way, shape, or form, Hootenanny hits a lot of the same tones as JJW. And the album Hootenanny also contains one of the world's great rock songs, "Color Me Impressed," which will be fodder for another post...

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Stranger In The House - Elvis Costello Goes Country

Elvis Costello series, Part 3 of 3.

In 1981, Elvis Costello was coming off an incredible string of legendary rock albums (My Aim Is True, This Year's Model, Armed Forces, & Get Happy) when he decided to release an album of country covers called Almost Blue. Talk about a potential career killer! There are a ton of music fans whose favorite kind of music is "anything but country." So, for a lot of Costello fans and rock fans, this was one to skip.

Apparently, the reaction of the country music world was even more negative. In the book Written in My Soul (by Bill Flanagan, 1986), Elvis explained:

"I made the country record, Almost Blue, to get away from songwriting. I didn't anticipate the violent reaction some people would have to it. It became sort of a joke. We put a sticker on it saying, 'This record may bring out a violent reaction in narrow-minded people.' I'd completely underestimated the false and hypocritcal way some people in America assume ownership of this music. People who couldn't give a damn about it, actually, who couldn't name five country songs. It annoyed me because I probably cared more about the songs I was singing than the bloody hacks in Nashville. Billy Sherrill, the guy who produced it, turns out yards of music every week. He's a complete and utter hack. Hasn't got an ounce of feeling in him."
I guess Elvis isn't one to mince words.

By the way, Billy Sherrill was the guy who co-wrote Stand By Your Man, so he can't really be "a complete and utter hack," right?

All controversy aside, and 26+ years later, I think Almost Blue is a good album. Check it out for yourself and let me know what you think. Here's one from the album alongside the original from George Jones:

Elvis Costello - Good Year For The Roses (buy album).

George Jones - Good Year For The Roses (buy album).

The Rhino double CD version includes lots of interesting bonus material. Can you imagine Elvis Costello and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra performing a Flying Burrito Brothers song? While it may sound kind of scary, it's actually really good. The dramatic arrangement lends itself perfectly to the drama of Gram Parsons' lyrics:

Elvis Costello - I'm Your Toy (Live) (buy album).

Flying Burrito Brothers - Hot Burrito No. 1 (I'm Your Toy) (buy album).

Costello dabbled in country even before Almost Blue. One of my favorite Costello compositions is a song called Stranger In The House about a relationship gradually falling apart. It first appeared on the 1980 compilation of Costello's "odds and sods" called Taking Liberties. I'm impressed by the songwriting on this one.

The first stanza sets it up nicely:

This never was one of the great romances,
But I thought you'd always have those young girl's eyes.
But now they look in tired and bitter glances,
At the ghost of a man who walks 'round in my disguise.
The real payoff comes in the chorus:

There's a stranger in the house no one will ever see,
But everybody says he looks like me.
Elvis Costello - Stranger In The House (buy album).

If you buy the Rhino double CD version of Almost Blue you can hear Elvis perform this one as a duet with George Jones.

And now for a bit of personal history. The first song that I remember turning me on to country music was Elvis Costello's version of George Jones' tune Brown to Blue, which I heard sometime in the early 1980's when I was still just a kid. It features this great line: You changed your name from Brown to Jones and mine from Brown to blue.

Elvis Costello - Brown To Blue (buy album).

Well that's it for the EC series. Hope you liked it.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The "Perfect" Country Song?

If all of country music were distilled down into one song, what would it be? I'm not talking about the "best" song or your personal favorite, but about a representative piece. In other words, the most country country song, or, as David Allan Coe might say, "the perfect country song."

According to Coe, the key ingredients to the "perfect" country song are "mama, trains, trucks, prison, and gettin' drunk." Check it out here: David Allan Coe - You Never Even Call Me By My Name (buy album).

Steve Goodman (who, along with John Prine, co-authored Coe's hit) would expand Coe's list to include "farms," "dead dogs like Old Shep," and "Christmas": Steve Goodman - You Never Even Call Me By My Name (Live) (buy album).

Putting aside the cliches (but not too far away) I'd say there are four key elements to the perfect country song:

(1) Clever lyrics (a pun, a joke, or a play on words, preferably in the title of the song);

(2) A storyline based, at least in part, on regret (good for fostering tears in beers);

(3) A stalwart, but flawed, protagonist; and

(4) A peddle steel guitar.

Two other extra-credit elements would be:

(5) Alcohol (thanks to David Allan Coe and a host of others); and

(6) Reverence for the land, especially the South.

I'll reveal my choice at the end of this post. But first, let's first consider some contenders...

A popular pick surely would be this twangy classic: Tammy Wynette - Stand By Your Man (buy album) (But I say no because it's missing too many key elements.)

Here's a nice one from Ms. Wynette's ex-husband that really nails the regret angle, voiced by the stalwart, but flawed, protagonist: George Jones - She Thinks I Still Care (buy album).

Hag's relocation-to-premanent-residence-in-the-bar song is a solid choice: Merle Haggard - Swinging Doors (buy album).

We've got to include this great one from the master: Hank Williams - Your Cheatin' Heart (buy album).

Finally, here's a fairly obscure one from the 1980's that I've always loved. It hits almost all of the key elements (plus extra credit for both alcohol and love of Dixie): Dwight Yoakam - South Of Cincinnati (buy album). (But it's just not well-known enough to take the crown.)


George Jones - He Stopped Loving Her Today (buy album).

This one speaks for itself, and it's a real tear-jerker. Our protaganist pines in vain for years and years over a lost love only to finally stop loving her when.... Well, I'll just let George tell the rest of the story. [Read the AMG review.]

What ingredients do you think the perfect country song must include? More importantly, what's your choice for the perfect country song?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

In the midst of the laughter he cries

Pretty Paper is a good Christmas break-up song. Written by Willie Nelson during his songwriter days, it was recorded by Roy Orbison in 1963. Willie later recorded his own version.

I prefer Willie's version, which really makes you feel for the poor lonely guy on the sidewalk. Roy maybe gets too caught up in the pretty ribbons and bows (probably due to his dramatic background singers). Anyway, both are worth a spin this Christmas, especially if you've just been dumped and feel mocked by all the pretty things about.

Roy Orbison - Pretty Paper (buy album).
Willie Nelson - Pretty Paper (buy album).

Thursday, December 13, 2007

John Hartford: An American Classic

John Hartford is described in his AMG bio as "a multi-talented old-time musician, a riverboat captain pilot, a satirical songwriter, a one-man showman of exceptional talents, and one of the founders of both progressive country music and old-time string music revivalism." Impressive. Add to that list: master of the five-string banjo and session man on The Byrds seminal Sweetheart Of The Rodeo album. Given his many talents and compelling life story, its surprising that John Hartford isn't more well known.

If you are one of the many music fans who has not yet discovered John Hartford, I encourage you to read about his life in the bios, reviews, and other materials linked here. But first let's get to the music...

The Big Hit: Gentle On My Mind

This is the song that made John Hartford's career (and paid his bills for years). Glen Campbell's version was a hit in the late 1960's. It's a simple classic that still sounds fresh today.

John Hartford - Gentle On My Mind (buy album).
Glen Campbell - Gentle On My Mind (buy album).

The Lost Classic: Aereo-Plain (1971)
Hartford might have been more of a commercial success if he had tried to capitalize on his big hit by sticking to precisely the same formula (or by copying Glen Campbell), but that wasn't his way of doing business. Hartford continued to follow his own muse, which meant doing exactly what he wanted to do (including working as a riverboat captain). Aereo-Plain was the musical result, and it is a must-have album for anyone interested in bluegrass, country, alt-country, Americana, or folk music. Unfortunately--and inexplicably--it's now out of print. (Time for a deluxe re-issue!) The lynchpin of Aereo-Plain is the song "Back In The Goodle Days," a friendly, laid-back celebration of the future good old days, i.e., the present. For more information about Aereo-Plain, read: Stylus Magazine and The Rising Storm.

Back In The Goodle Days
Presbyterian Guitar

The Companion Piece: Steam Powered Aero-Takes
Oddly enough, this great collection of outtakes from the Aereo-Plain sessions is still in print. It makes a nice compliment to Aereo-Plain. There are also some alternate versions of some songs from the out-of-print Morning Bugle.

Because Of You (buy album).

Another Out-Of-Print Classic: Morning Bugle (1972)
Morning Bugle is almost just as good as Aereo-Plain and a bit less eccentric. My favorite track is "Nobody Eats At Linebaugh's Anymore," a poignant piece about the changes in downtown Nashville during the 1970's.

Nobody Eats At Linebaugh's Anymore
Howard Hughes' Blues

Mark Twang (1976)
This album is 50% riverboat folk music and 50% humor/novelty tunes. "The Lowest Pair" is sure to offend some, but it has one of my favorite John Hartford lines: "Give us today hors d'oevres in bed..." And it's a great example of Hartford's infectious sense of humor, which is present throughout all of his work. The Julia Belle Swain (pictured above) is the riverboat that Hartford captained in the 1970s.

The Julia Belle Swain
The Lowest Pair (buy album).

Nobody Knows What You Do (1976)
This album features a classic Hartford song that makes me want to quit my job. Gillian Welch did a nice live cover at the Mountain Stage tribute concert.

John Hartford - In Tall Buildings (buy album).
Gillian Welch - In Tall Buildings (Live) (buy album).

Live From Mountain Stage (2000)
Hartford returned to a more traditional style in his later years, as this nice live set demonstrates.

Lorena (buy album).

O Brother Where Are Thou? (2000)
Just like the Soggy Bottom Boys, John Hartford was steeped in the old-timey tradition, so it made perfect sense for him to contribute a few tracks to this popular soundtrack, including this fiddle piece.

Man Of Constant Sorrow (Instrumental) (buy album).

Video: Gentle On My Mind (with Glen Campbell), Bluegrass Medley (with Johnny Cash).

More information: Wikipedia, The Tennessean.

John Hartford died of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2001. Before his death a tribute concert was held in his honor. The final track from that concert, recorded by Hartford, says a lot about his engaging personality:

Give Me The Flowers While I'm Alive (buy album).

Hopefully the fine American music featured in this post will encourage you to further explore John Hartford's catalog. And tell your friends too!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The India Song (or just a dream some of us had)

I'd like to go to India, live in a big white house in the forest, drink gin and tonic and play a grand piano, read a few books, far from what saddens my heart...

Sounds like a nice exotic escape, eh? (A delicious G & T is always a good thing.)

Although there's not much to it, I've always liked The India Song (buy album) by Big Star.

Big Star's debut album #1 Record was not fully appreciated in its own time, but modern day hipsters have since made up for that. So I really can't call it "underrated"--just a great record. Digging around for something to say about The India Song I happened on two interesting (and conflicting) reviews addressing its merit.

Bud Scoppa said in Rolling Stone that "the only unsuccessful track is 'The India Song,' and that was written by Hummel; it just doesn't fit with the rest of the music. But 10 out of 11 is practically unheard of. No. 1 Record is one of the sleepers of 1972."

Robert Christgau saw it differently, describing as a "special attraction" Big Star's "fantasy about India with gin-and-tonic in it."

The India Song is the only track on the album composed by bassist Andy Hummel. In an interview Hummel explained "I was really into Joni Mitchell's "Blue" at the time and kind of trying to imitate her. Also I was upset about a girlfriend who had dumped me and feeling very depressed and escapist."

The song on Blue that most resembles The India Song is All I Want, but my favorite tune from that essential album is California (buy album).

Johnny Cash was also a fan of Joni (and her dulcimer): Click HERE.

STWOF trivia question: What does Joni Mitchell mean when she sings about kissing a "sunset pig"? Post answer in comments section.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Indoor Fireworks - Elvis Costello and Laura Cantrell

The second of three posts in the Elvis Costello series focuses on the song Indoor Fireworks from King Of America (1986).

It's no secret that Elvis Costello is a fan of classic country music--one of the many styles to have shaped his sound over the years. While Indoor Fireworks is not a straight-up country song like Stranger In The House or Radio Sweetheart, the country influence definitely shines through, especially when performed by country singer Laura Cantrell.

This should be no surprise, as Elvis was conscioulsy trying to write a Hank Williams song. Interviewed for the book Written In My Soul (by Bill Flanagan, 1986), Elvis humorously explained his goal in writing Indoor Fireworks:

"I tried to write one that had some chill in it. Like 'May You Never Be Alone' [by Hank Williams]. I was aiming up there. Whereas when I wrote 'The Only Flame In Town' I was only trying to write like Allen Toussaint. I was thinking, "How tough does Hank Williams ever get?" He didn't ever shy away from the matter. If you're going to be true to yourself you've got to say, "Could I say it as cold as Hank Williams did?" You have to keep reminding yourself how strong the really strong songs are."

While it's not likely Hank ever would have sung about Audrey being the "gin" in his "vermouth," (a good line for Elvis), I think Costello hit the mark pretty well with Indoor Fireworks.

Evis Costello - Indoor Fireworks (buy album).

Laura Cantrell - Indoor Fireworks.

And now for a word about Laura Cantrell (who deserves another post on this blog someday). Two of her albums, Not The Tremblin' Kind and When The Roses Bloom Again, are among my favorite country music albums from the last twenty years. Her voice is reminiscent of Kitty Wells and she picks superb material. The famous John Peel went further, calling Not The Tremblin' Kind "my favorite record from the last ten years, and possibly my life." Wow. That's pretty high praise coming from him!

Laura Cantrell - Not The Tremblin' Kind (buy album).

Friday, December 07, 2007

Billy boy has been shot, and Stagger Lee's come out on top... (Update)

Ed over at the Old Blue Bus has put together a great series of posts about the origins and recording history of the song Stagger Lee. It's a famous American folk song based on a true story. Click here to check it out.

My first exposure to the song came in the early 1980's when I heard this excellent Clash song, which makes good use of the Stagger Lee story: The Clash - Wrong 'Em Boyo (buy album).

The most popular version of the tune is probably this one from Lloyd Price: Lloyd Price - Stagger Lee (buy album).

UPDATE - Here is the original version of Wrong 'Em Boyo that Nicolas referenced in the comments. It's interesting to hear what the Clash did with it (not much, but speed it up): Rulers - Wrong Embryo (buy album).

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Almost Blue: Elvis Costello & Chet Baker

This is the first of a three-part series dedicated to the genius of Elvis Costello, who in my opinion is one of the most talented musical figures of the last half century. Today's edition features his wonderful composition Almost Blue.

Simply put, this song is a masterpiece. It sounds like something from Cole Porter or the Gershwin Brothers rather than just the latest tune from a prolific 28-year-old "punk" rocker.

The opening lines make the song:

Almost blue...
Almost doing things we used to do...
There's a girl here and she's almost you...

Wow! I wish I could write something like that. Simple but perfect.

Here's Elvis' original version from the album Imperial Bedroom:

Elvis Costello - Almost Blue (buy album).

Now listen this version of the song by jazz vocalist and trumpet player, Chet Baker, from the soundtrack to the movie Let's Get Lost:

Chet Baker - Almost Blue (buy album).

Baker was, to say the least, not in his best shape when he took on Costello's piece, but the song fits perfectly. The movie, which traces Baker's career from jazz idol to junkie (not an unfamiliar path) is worth finding and watching. While Chet's later work may not be for everyone (though, believe me, it grows on you), you have to try something from his 1950's catalog--perfect music for driving your rag top down the Pacific Coast Highway on a sunny Sunday afternoon:

Chet Baker - I Fall In Love Too Easily (buy album)

Highly Recommended!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Light Of The Stable + Bill Monroe

Not surprisingly, one of my favorite Christmas albums is Emmylou Harris' Light Of The Stable (1979). Emmylou mixes popular carols such as Silent Night with less-well-known (but still great) material like Rodney Crowell's Angel Eyes. She delivers the material over an accoustic band with just the right tinge of twanginess. Backing vocals are provided by none other than Willie Nelson, Linda Ronstadt, Dolly Parton, and Neil Young. Read the excellent AMG review here.

Get a taste with these two tracks:

Angel Eyes

O Little Town of Bethlehem

Then do yourself a Christmas favor and buy it.

As a bonus, here is one of Emmylou's heroes, Bill Monroe, performing a track that she covers on Light of the Stable: Bill Monroe - Christmas Time's A Coming (buy album).

And because you can't have just a little Bill Monroe, here's another one with a winter theme: Bill Monroe - Footprints In The Snow (buy album). (By the way, what happened to Nellie?)

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Writer's Block, Part 2 - Fred Rose

Today's post is about a true giant in the world of country music: Fred Rose. He was one of the first three men inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. (The other two were none other than Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams). He penned the classic song that provides the title to this website, along with many other tunes made famous by Hank Williams. And he was the first person in the music industry to "discover" Hank Williams' talent, athough he originally hired Hank for his songwriting talents not as a singer.

Beyond discovering Hank, Fred Rose was a key figure in molding Hank's recording career. With country star Roy Acuff, he formed the hugely successful music publishing company Acuff-Rose Music. Finally, as an A&R man for MGM records, Rose oversaw recording sessions by Williams and other iconic country artists such as Bob Wills and The Louvin Brothers.

Learn more about Fred Rose at All Music Guide, Country Music Hall of Fame, and Wikipedia. Read about the special relationship between Fred Rose and Hank Williams here.

Now enjoy some fine Fred Rose compositions...

(1) The title track to this website:

Hank Williams - Setting The Woods On Fire (buy album).

(2) A perfect country song:

Hank Williams - Mansion On A Hill (buy album).

(3) A song Hank made autobiographical:

Hank Williams - I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive (buy album).

(4) A classic Bob Wills number about a boy who couldn't stop eating:

Bob Wills - Roly Poly (buy album).

(5) Another Bob Wills favorite:

Bob Wills - Deep Water (buy album).

(6) One of the greatest country songs of all-time:

Willie Nelson - Blue Eyes Cryin' In The Rain (buy album).

(7) Another interesting version of the same tune:

Zeitgeist/The Reivers - Blue Eyes Cryin' In The Rain (out of print).

(8) And, finally, here's one not by Fred Rose, but about him:

Uncle Tupelo - Acuff-Rose (buy album).

[See Writer's Block, Part 1 - Harlan Howard.]