Thursday, August 12, 2010

Fade-Outs: Knockin' On Heaven's Door

Randy Crawford

Randy Crawford: Knockin' on Heaven's Door


I've had an utterly craptastic day and need some music to cheer me up. My usual choices under the circumstances are J-rock or jazz. Since J-rockers don't seem to use the fade-out, you lucky folks get a jazz post.

This is the stellar R&B vocalist Randy Crawford, with David Sanborn on sax and Eric Clapton on guitar. The song, of course, is a Bob Dylan cover and fits my mood a bit. Now if you'll excuse me, the pain meds seem to be wearing off, so I'll go dip into the next dose and crank up the volume…

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Fade-Outs: Not Fade Away

Buddy Holly: Not Fade Away


I couldn’t resist the irony of this one. That’s right, the original recording of Not Fade Away fades out at the end. But the song never has. People have done all kinds of things with the song. The Rolling Stones gave it an intentionally muddy production, but with a great harmonica part. For the Grateful Dead, the song became a staple of their live shows, and a frame to hang some of their trademark jams on. There is even an ill-advised version by Diana Ross and the Supremes. And I assume the song is still played by bar bands everywhere.

So it’s surprising to go back, and here just how simple and skeletal the original is. Holly and the band set up that Bo Diddley beat, with no adornment, and they just ride it for just under two and a half minutes. There is barely any room for solos or anything else. Holly and his handlers probably thought they could have a quick hit by following the Bo Diddley beat fad, and that the song would ultimately be forgotten. Maybe someday, but it hasn’t happened yet.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Fade-Outs: Johnny Clegg

Johnny Clegg

Johnny Clegg & Juluka: Akanaki Nokunaka


Johnny Clegg & Savuka: One (Hu)'man One Vote


Johnny Clegg is a hero of mine, and not only for his music. In the 70s, he formed the first interracial band in South Africa, with all that entails. For starters, it was actually illegal under apartheid for the races to mingle, let alone form bands. Clegg, a white teen with an unstinting affection for Zulu music, persisted in learning Zulu guitar and dance from black musicians and artists, barely keeping one step ahead of the law. The biography of his early days is absolutely fascinating, describing how their popularity grew by word of mouth and in opposition to the South African government.

Clegg formed two bands: the first, Juluka, disbanded when his co-founder headed back to cattle farming. Clegg formed Savuka soon after. I'm including a song from each group. Needless to say, political themes dominate many of Clegg's songs. The first song I've featured is sung in Zulu, so I'm at a loss about the meaning. The second, though, is mostly English and the message is bold and straightforward. In the silly season of American elections, it's easy to forget the importance of democracy and the critical importance of the vote.

Fade Outs: I Believe In You

Talk Talk: I Believe In You


I've posted once before about Talk Talk and in that post I mentioned that I never recommend them to anyone. This is true. But if I had a list of the most underrated albums of all time (oh wait... I do) then The Spirit Of Eden would probably top the list. It's one of the most haunting albums in my library.

Fade outs are often cop outs, but there is nothing about The Spirit Of Eden or the featured track I Believe In You that cops out. On the contrary this album represents the moment that Mark Hollis fully embraces his artistic vision. He sloughs his New Romantic pop image and creates a masterpiece of brooding, cerebral post-pop with nary a radio friendly song in the lot.

The featured track is about talking a friend out of slipping back into heroin use, and as always, the cardinal feature of all Talk Talk songs is Hollis's weeping voice.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Fade-Outs: 4th of July

X: 4th of July


Dave Alvin: Fourth of July


I've been thinking - and blogging - about fourth-generation Californian Dave Alvin this week, as my family and I head up his native coast for the last weeks of school vacation; if you're a fan, or just a curious kitten, feel free to head over to Cover Lay Down for a few coversongs from his folkier side.

But sifting through the sands of any artist's career pulls up more than coverfolk. And interestingly, though his live version, recorded fifteen years afterwards on Out of California, finds a stopping place for its slowed-down, pensive transformation, Alvin originally recorded this song twice in the same year: once as a solo artist, and once as a member of the LA-based countrypunk band X. Both of the '86-'87 versions are rockers, in the same way that Springsteen was during the eighties, though the solo take is a bit more tejano-country; both fade out into oblivion, fitting both the unfinished emotional distance of the lyrics and the wail and cry Alvin pours through his frustrated and lost narrator.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Fade-Outs: Houses in Motion

Talking Heads: Houses in Motion


Almost two years ago, our theme here was Tricky Beats, and I did a series of posts on polyrhythm. If you missed it, I explained how polyrhythm works here. In polyrhythmic music, the Western ear does not hear divisions of measures, the way we do with the music we are more familiar with. Instead, there are these multi-measure cycles. The different rhythms all start at the same time, and there are times during the music when they all come together for a brief moment, before flying apart again. The effect is sort of like a musical perpetual motion machine, with each part moving according to its own logic. The resulting sound has the same fascination as watching a high wire act.

On albums of West African music released here in the United States, songs are usually less than ten minutes long. But when these same musicians perform in Africa, a single piece can last a half hour or more. Subtle shifts emphasize one rhythm over another as the music progresses, and the fascination never ceases. I have only read about these performances, but I would dearly love the chance to attend one some day. Talking Heads, with their album Remain in Light, were inspired by the music of West Africa. All of the songs on the album fade out. The songs are short by African standards, but the fade-outs suggest a longer work.

Me Last/Fade-Outs: Oh, Lonesome Me Edition

Don Gibson: Oh, Lonesome Me


Ray Charles: Oh, Lonesome Me


Neil Young: Oh, Lonesome Me


This is a case study in how to make a cover your own. The original was recorded by "The Sad Poet" Don Gibson in the late '50s. Despite its self-pitying lyrics, Don takes it at a fairly sprightly pace, a tactic that no doubt helped make it a country and pop hit. (Having "I Can't Stop Loving You" on the flip side didn't hurt, either.)

In 1962, Ray Charles released two critically acclaimed (and very successful) albums of country songs. The second volume, Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, Vol. 2, included a his version of "Oh, Lonesome Me". Ray picks up the tempo and gives it a big-band arrangement and a soulful vocal. And like most of his country recordings, it works surprisingly well.

Fast-forward another eight years. At the dawn of the singer-songwriter era, Neil Young decided to include a rare cover song on his own critically acclaimed and very successful album, After the Gold Rush. Neil's version is agonizingly slow, and in a way is a more appropriate fit for the sad lyrics, which themselves are a very good fit for Neil's style. Indeed, so completely does he inhabit this song, it was years before I realized it was a cover. (And when M. Ward and Lucinda Williams covered the song last year, they used the Young version as their template.)

Despite the disparate arrangements, all three of these versions have one element in common: Nobody could figure out how to end the song properly, so they all fade out, making this a good transition post between last week's theme and this week's.