Thursday, August 26, 2010

Day 11: Terry Evans "Walk That Walk" and Pete Seeger "Headlines and Footnotes"

My pretension was that my music library would constitute some sort of music appreciation class. I have to admit that I envisioned it as some sort of musical equivalent of some well-read professor's den full of 'must reads.' That I would be able to walk to a section, I guess tobacco pipe in hand, and pull from some shelf and be able to remark on that moment in musical history or the importance of this particular influence or how interesting so-and-so incorporated such-and-such.

In short, I was privately plotting to be a complete bore at best and douche at worst.

I don't know why I wanted to do this. I can see people's eyes glaze over when I try to explain to them how music works or why they like the stuff they like or the development of this or that. Hell, I sometimes get bored myself. I don't throw parties and if I did I couldn't just put this stuff on random and expect anyone to stay (or at least commandeer my stereo).

Perhaps I'm living that fantasy by blogging the collection. I get to say all the 'smart and well considered' stuff about the CDs to almost no one (thanks to those that are reading), get it off my chest.

It's personified most popularly now in the Hipster's Dilemma. Alright, as far as I know no one calls it that and there probably is something else called that, but I don't feel like googling. For the sake of my argument, here is the Hipster's Dilemma: You've stumbled onto something fucking cool. It has changed the way you look at and consider whatever it comes from. Well, it's no fun to enjoy it completely by yourself, but the people already into it are way ahead of you. So you have to hip other people to it. But if that happens too often, now there are too many people into it and you're just one of the crowd.

I'm not really all that concerned that I'm going to hip 'too many' people to abrasive jazz or obscure CDs that didn't sell when they had the chance. But the first half is true. It's no fun to dig something all by your lonesome. You need that acknowledgment, this is awesome. Recognize its awesomeness.

Which travels a little bit from my original point, which is that very infrequently does the Albatross present itself in a manner that allows for that 'music appreciation' way. Except today, where it has served up another Telarc Blues release from a half session/half lead act, and a folk legend.

Essentially being represented are the two co-existing folk forms of the American 20th century played back to back. This is awesome...dammit.

Terry Evans
Walk That Walk

As much as I made of the universality of the blues in the last post, the truth is you really don't know what you're getting when you get a blues CD in the same way you wouldn't if it simply said 'jazz' or 'rock.' There's Chicago Blues, Delta Blues, there's blues that sounds suspiciously like rock (or rock that sounds a lot like blues), there are singers happy about getting the blues, there are singers seriously bummed out by the blues. There is blues that you dance to, there is blues that you tap your feet to, there is blues that you cry in your beer to.

Sometimes the cover can help you out. For instance, a lone bad-ass lookin' guy standing in something representing travel like a set of train tracks or an empty road, you're likely to get a band. It will be a little less rigid on the whole '12 bar''ll be the electric, and the singer is likely not to be happy about the blues.

According to what I was able to salvage from the liner notes, Terry Evans plays on a lot of other blues players albums and then has a handful of his own. Despite the guitar case on the cover, he only contributes guitar on a few songs, the rest of the guitar work handled by Ry Cooder, apparently returning the favor for Evans' appearing on Cooder's albums.

The truth is that I wasn't exposed to much actual blues early on. I found blues in jazz history classes where we discussed the influences and foundations of jazz. As much as I loved all the jazz I discovered in those classes I kept thinking, "No, wait, that was awesome, too...why are we spending so little time on it?"

So I used my promo-gathering as a chance to fill the gap. But since I didn't know as much about blues as I did about jazz, I grabbed everything and hoped to sort it out later. Welcome to later.

The problem is that the barrier is sometimes a little lower with blues, and as recording got cheaper a lot of people who managed to learn the 12-bar format recorded. So my blues CDs are a bit of a minefield, which made me a little gun shy to go through them.

I've already mentioned I love the lyrics in blues. So much has been said about them I'm not going to find something new and clever to say in general, but some of the stuff here is awesome. The title track really breaks down apparently to advice on what kind of shoes to buy and what to do if they're not optimal. Ultimately, don't get shoes that are too tight. Apparently. Good advice.

Dance With Your Belly Up is described at the end of the song as holding your baby tight and letting her know it'll be alright...then sort of dancing with your belly up. He says he was sure that the listener didn't know how to dance with your belly up, and he was right. Still not entirely sure. When in doubt, assume they're talking about sex.

A blues about credit cards that kind of feels like a School House Rocks element closes the CD. It almost seems like the theme song to credit reform. I wish I had been packaging a news piece and knew I had this. Pretty cool. Even has a lyric about pre-approved cards and everything. "Get you to sign that big contract / that's when they kick you in the sack." Awesome. "Credit Card Blues, gonna be in debt until they lay your body down." I guess it's kind of a middle class complaint by blues standards, but still cool.

Pete Seeger
Headlines and Footnotes

Another unwrapped CD, but this time I think it's because I intended to give this one to my friend and collaborator (you can see some of his work under 'sous rature' on The Sandwich Machine). He had gotten into Woody Guthrie and 20th Century American folk music and this was a pretty good collection. I may have gotten a few of these, so I don't know if he ever got one. I guess if he hasn't I can give him this one.

That's not to say that I don't have a fascination with this kind of music either, but he knew (and still does, I think) a lot more about it than I did. From a musical stand point it pretty much just 'is.' Often they just took traditional melodies and wrote new words over them. It is more important from a cultural anthropology stand point than a musical standpoint. That interests me a great deal, but I was behind the curve on it.

In an awesome moment of symmetry the album opens up with a song about shoes. I dig it.

There's a song about a senator named Bilbo (not a song about Lord of the Rings...) scolding him for his xenophobic policies. "Listen Mr. Bilbo, listen to me / I'll give you a lesson in history / listen while I tell you that the foreigners you hate / are the very same ones that made America great." Could sing that song now, except of course the song's subject would confuse people I guess. "Bilbo Baggins is a racist? Ah man..."

There's sort of a working class journeyman ideal image I had of him but, I'm reading in the liner notes, he had intended to be a journalist and was traveling with his musicologist father collecting songs and he caught the bug. He dropped out of Harvard and started playing. The academic turned folk singer is probably more common, I guess, and it makes sense when you consider the commentary in his songs, accented here since it's a collection of topical songs, but it does kind of deflate that romantic image. Of course the movie Face in the Crowd does a pretty good job of that, too.

I have a few of these Smithsonian Folkways collections and I liked them a great deal. They essentially cataloged the first century of American recorded music that otherwise would have been lost.

Listening to this CD is like getting short three minute history lessons in stuff where by the time you go "Wait, what happened? That's fucking crazy, when was that?" there's already another song about another crazy thing that happened that you suddenly want to know more about. This isn't folk music about friendly dragons or spinning in fields. Oh hell, as I'm typing this, a song from the point of view of a seven year old who was evaporated by the bombing of Hiroshima. Yeah, this can get pretty depressing.

From what I can gather from the liner notes, Seeger never stopped gathering music after the trip with his father. Taking poems and other written works and bringing them to a wide audience and helping convey their issues with a musicologist-meets-journalist's ear.

Little Boxes, the song not about weed that is associated with weed now because it's the theme to Weeds, is on this collection. I had been told this before but I didn't believe it, apparently the woman who wrote it (Malvina Reynolds) really did write it about Daly City, CA, which in fact looks like a bunch of little boxes from the freeway.

I have to be honest, I'm not used to paying this much attention to the lyrics, but I'm afraid of missing something important. It's completely opposite of how I usually experience music, where I start to tune in if the music hooks me and then I find out about the lyrics.

He actually explains Guantanamera, turns out that's kind of depressing, too. "With the poor people of this earth I want to share my fate / The streams of the mountain pleases me more than the sea." Apparently the last poem of a Cuban revolutionary before he was killed in an aborted uprising.

I also tend to think of his time as being older, but there's a song about the Women's Movement in 1971 (cleverly playing off "There Was an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly"), an anti-Vietnam song that can be applied to any quagmire situation, and a song anticipating the images from the first space flights.

Also, didn't know that The Lion Sleeps Tonight was on top of another song altogether. The whole Wimoweh thing is a South African song more or less about a king coming back to liberate his people. The Safaris (that 's what the liner notes say, Google disagrees...the Surfaris were a surf band, this song was first popularized as The Lion Sleeps Tonight by The Tokens according to the internet) just sort of co-opted and, as the liner notes put it, 'trivialized the song' into the one that we know.

An unexpected way to end a collection of folk songs: a breakdown of the science of the solar system and how it will come to an end, then an ode to his grandmother's culinary improvisational technique.

This is the kind of music you have to listen to with your finger on the Google search bar and a quick draw. The musicologist father has a lot to be proud of in his folk singing son.

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