Monthly Archives: March 2009

ALTERNA-NATION RISING Pearl Jam

With the
release of debut album
Ten in 1991, the
Seattle band steered classic rock in a whole new direction.

 

BY
GILLIAN G. GAAR

 

If
not for a little album called Nevermind,
1991 might have been the year of Pearl Jam (indeed, when opening for Nirvana on
December 31, 1991, guitarist Stone Gossard played a few riffs of “Smells Like
Teen Spirit” between songs and joked, “Remember, we played it first!”). But
while Nirvana has become increasingly mythologized since Kurt Cobain’s suicide/martyrdom
in 1994, Pearl Jam is still standing, and directing their own reassessment of
their history, beginning with their debut album, Ten.

 

In
retrospect, it’s strange to think that Ten,
and even Pearl Jam, were lumped into the “alternative rock” category, as their
music so obviously draws on the classic rock tradition; well crafted songs,
topped by the bluesy angst of lead vocalist Eddie Vedder. But it was, of
course, that very angst that became synonymous with “alternative rock” and
“grunge,” and songs like “Jeremy” – written at a time when school shootings
were anomalies instead of the expected, even routine, occurrences they are now
-even more bittersweet than when the album was originally released.
Nonetheless, Pearl Jam had a knack for making ostensibly gloomy material
strangely uplifting, most notably in “Alive,” whose story is rooted in Vedder’s
troubled family life, but which became in concert a bonafide, singalong arena
rock anthem. The band also exudes a heartfelt sincerity that’s noticeably
missing from our ever-more dumbed down American
Idol
-ized music world.

 

That
sincerity won Pearl Jam the most rabidly devoted following this side of the
Grateful Dead, and the fans are being rewarded with not one, not two, not even
three, but four different editions of Ten (issued by Epic/Legacy, and also available at PearlJam.com). The standard set
features two CDs, one with the complete album, the other with the album newly
remixed by producer Brendan O’Brien. It’s cleaner-sounding, but was a remix really
necessary? After all, the original album suited its 12 million customers just
fine. But you also get six bonus tracks, including a couple of demos recorded
when the band was briefly going by the name Mookie Blaylock. The deluxe edition
throws in a DVD with the band’s excellent 1992 MTV Unplugged performance. There’s also a vinyl set (de rigueur these days), and they go all
out on the “Super Deluxe Edition,” which has all of the above, plus a buoyant
September 20, 1992 Seattle concert (on vinyl), and a replica of an early demo
on cassette, the legendary “Momma
Son,” demo, with early versions of “Alive,” “Once,” and “Footsteps,” the very
demo that won Vedder a place in the group. Oh, and you also get reproductions
of flyers and other goodies, plus an “Eddie Vedder-style composition notebook.”
Whew.

 

Ten is also just
the beginning of a two-year campaign of reissues that will culminate with their
20th anniversary in 2011. And after this reissue, they’ve set the
bar pretty high for their subsequent releases.

 

 

THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH Adam Franklin

From Space Travel Rock
and Roll to the Toshack Highway:
the Swervedriver frontman is re-entering Earth’s orbit.

 

BY ERIC TISCHLER

 

For fans of Swervedriver’s Adam Franklin, the previous eighteen
months have been like Christmas. His 2007 solo debut, Bolts of Melody was followed by reissues of Swervedriver’s Raise and Mezcal Head (Second Motion), a reunion tour, and another side
project, Magnetic Morning, with Interpol drummer Sam Fogarino. As he cruises
through the second year of what feels a lot like a comeback, Franklin will spring
a more-assured follow-up to Bolts titled Spent Bullets-and he says he’s
got a lot more rock to share before the year is out.

 

***

 

Righting the Wrongs
of History

 

The Swervedriver reunion could seem like a brilliant career
move, but fans of the band know that its name is a very apt description of its
career trajectory.           A brilliant
blend of Hendrix and the MC5 via Sonic Youth, los Swervies were criminally overlooked
in the alt-rock goldrush:  They were less
obvious (read: ham-fisted) than tourmates Soundgarden and Smashing Pumpkins and
overshadowed by labelmates and friends My Bloody Valentine. Worse, the band’s
history of label fuckups meant that what was arguably its best record, psychedelic
guitar pop masterpiece Ejector Seat
Reservation
, was never released in the U.S.
(and deleted from UK
label Creation’s catalog after one week). Their last record, 1997’s 99th Dream, landed at Zero
Hour-after falling through the cracks at Geffen-just before that label went
belly-up. For those who followed the band’s fortunes, it seemed like the
group’s fuel had been exhausted, and the only question that remained was
whether history would be kind to their heroes.

 

Cut to last year’s 10-year reunion tour that brought out the
faithful and neophytes in droves, and prompted quotes from Radiohead: Even the
ever-modest Franklin
calls it an unqualified success. “We were all blown away by how well it came
together,” he says. “The songs sounded great and [it was great] getting out on
the road and playing and having these people show how much they love the band.”

 

 

“Supergroup” Is Not a
Pejorative

 

On the heels of the reunion tour, Franklin released A.M., the first record by Magnetic Morning. A songwriting
collaboration with Fogarino, the record is majestic yet relaxed, although
standout track “Motorway” is a blistering guitar workout that’s in keeping with
the Swervedriver legacy. “It’s certainly been a creative and artistic success,”
says Franklin,
“and the whole band thing works out fantastically and the crowd response has
been great.” But Magnetic Morning toured the album in October; the CD didn’t come
out until this past January. This might suggest that Franklin inherited Swervedriver’s label
problems but, fortunately, the story doesn’t end there. “There’s a plan to
properly issue [A.M.]. We’d love to
do some more touring later this year and take it out to Europe
and tour it out there; I think this band will blow a few people away.”

 

 

Reloaded

 

Before Magnetic Morning gets a second chance to make a first
impression, Franklin
is going to give Spent Bullets his
best shot. Where Swervedriver tended to sound like a peyote trip aboard a
spaceship that’s burning up on re-entry, Franklin’s post-Swervedriver work,
from Toshack Highway onward, has sounded more like a nice, hash-fueled night at
home. That’s not a knock. The guy has a record collection that extends well
beyond Swervedriver’s Stooges-meet-Dinosaur Jr. template, and, as on ’07’s Bolts
he gets to get his record collector geek on, from the Hendrix-meets-Chi-Lites
brilliance of “Big Sur” to the psychedelic doo wop of “Bolts of Melody” to the
frontier waltz  “End Credits,” Franklin gets to stretch his wings and
really fly.  Of course, Franklin
doesn’t skimp on the rawk, as on opener “Surge” and the slow burning future
classic, “It Hurts to See You Go.” 

 

 

But on that album, Franklin
sounded like one of the boys in the band-on Bullets,
he’s front-and-center in a way he hasn’t been before. He says recording both
albums “was an unbridled joy,” but on Bullets you can actually hear that joy. The
dude has one of the coolest voices in rock, yet it always played second fiddle
to the guitar heroics in Swervedriver. It’s a thrill to hear it employed on
elaborate backing arrangements throughout; Franklin even scats(!) to wondrous
effect on “Big Sur.” He pulls out every trick in his seemingly bottomless
guitar arsenal: spaghetti western arpeggios, abstract soundscapes, maxed-out delay
pedals and wah pedals bubbling over with lava, and they’re all employed in
service of some great songs.

 

 

Back To the Future

 

In addition to the anticipated solo and Magnetic Morning
tours, Swervedriver has had some more offers and Franklin confides with an audible wink,
“There are songs that I put to one side that could be Swervedriver songs if the
occasion arose.”  So 2009 sounds good, right?  But that’s not
all!  How about a team up with Ride frontman Mark Gardener? “We’re
thinking of doing some sort of recording, just for shits and giggles.” 

 

 

Apparently it’s a slippery slope from shoegazing retiree to
hardest working man in show business.  Welcome back to Earth, Mr. Franklin. 

 

 

[Photo Credit: Johnny Moto]

 

 

[Go HERE to read about the two recent Swervedriver
reissues.]

 

NEVER LOSE THAT FEELING Swervedriver

As evidenced on two
key reissues, the British band made music that was simultaneously gritty and
pining.

 

BY FRED MILLS

 

And onward they came, hurtling into history….

 

Although the U.K. shoegaze movement is rightly credited with
unleashing upon the world a swathe of gauzy-textured, occasionally over-earnest
(but still vividly tuneful) dreampoppers – including Lush, Chapterhouse,
Slowdive and Ride, sons and daughters, all, of My Bloody Valentine and the
Cocteau Twins  – shoegaze also produced a
handful of anomalies whose stylistic allegiances were definitely of a more
rockist bent. That’s “rockist” in a good way, incidentally, and none hoisted the banner in more memorable manner than
Oxford’s Swervedriver, whose hirsute fusion of skull-denting Stooges/MC5 hard
psych, Hüsker Dü/Dinosaur Jr-styled punk anthemism and classic pop melodicism
set the group apart from The Scene That Celebrates Itself despite being lumped
into said Scene by dint of personal and geographical associations.

 

Swervedriver, in fact, made their Stooges allegiance
explicit from the very start, initially forming in ’84 as Shake Appeal, the
moniker taken from a Stooges songtitle. Early on the band comprised Graham
Franklin (vocals), Adam Franklin (guitar), Paddy Pulzer (drums) and Adrian “Adi”
Vynes (bass), but following a protracted series of roster changes, the lineup
settled down with Adam Franklin handling guitar and vocal duties and Vynes on
bass and vocals, plus drummer Graham Bonner and guitarist Jimmy Hartridge. The
far more evocative name Swervedriver was duly adopted, and the stage was set.

 

After Creation Records’ Alan McGee heard a demo from the
band he quickly offered a contract, and in 1990 Swervedriver debuted with the
“Son of Mustang Ford” EP. That song, with its titular nod to T. Rex and high
velocity lyrics conjuring Hunter S. Thompson, J.G. Ballard and such automobile noir films as Two Lane Blacktop and Christine, and with a hi-octane
melodic assault arc-welding together “Search And Destroy,” “My Generation,”
Spacemen 3’s “Revolution” and Dinosaur Jr’s “Yeah We Know,” was a rock
fetishist’s dream. It immediately caught the attention of critics on both sides
of the Atlantic: yours truly came across the 12″ record in an indie record
store, and to this day I can still recall the looks of jaw-gaping awe among
sundry clerks and customers as it issued forth from the store stereo, very
nearly peeling the paint off the bins while leaving sunburnt streaks across our
stunned faces.

 

Two EPs later, it was time for a proper full-length, and
thus came 1991’s Raise (issued that
fall in America
on A&M). Listening now to the Hi-Speed Soul/Second Motion (www.secondmotionrecords.com) label’s
new expanded/remastered reissue, Raise is every bit as vital in 2009 as it was nearly two decades ago. In addition to
the aforementioned Stooges, its pedal-stamping, toggle-switching ferocity owes
a massive debt to Dinosaur Jr of course, with Franklin’s keening, slurry sneer also
bringing to mind the vocals of J. Mascis.  Opening with “Sci-Flyer,” a massive wall of
whorling riffs and convulsive drumming that sends the listener hurtling off
towards vanishing point territory, that band announces its volume-dealing
intentions from the get-go. Subsequent songtitles telegraph the rest: “Sandblasted,”
“Pile-Up,” “Rave Down,” and of course “Son of Mustang Ford” (which should be a
mainstay of any self-respecting anthology of British music from the era). Only
dreamy album closer “Lead Me Where You Dare…” is overtly shoegazeish; by flaunting
the band’s hard rock and punk roots, Raise at times seems almost defiantly metal, and for sheer visceral
wallop and brain-uncorking sizzle, it remains one of the most kick-out-the-jams
Brit-rock releases ever.

 

The reissue features a smartly-designed 16-page booklet
boasting photos, reproductions of EP sleeves and new liner notes from Franklin
and Hartridge. Also included are four bonus tracks: “Andalucia,” a jammy number
which, according to Hartridge, has only seen previous release in Japan;
psychedelic guitar showcase “Hands,” remixed some time after the Raise sessions by Alan Moulder; “Kill
the Superheroes,” originally one of the B-sides of “Son of Mustang Ford”; and
“Over,” a skronky composition loosely based (as Hartridge explains) on Sonic
Youth’s “Pacific Coast Highway.”

 

“[The name Swervedriver] doesn’t mean anything,” observed
Hartridge, in the group’s official A&M biography that accompanied press
copies of the LP. “But it’s got the word ‘drive’ in it,” he added. “And the
notes swerve around, because sometimes we bend them. The name makes more sense
as time goes on.” More prophetic words were never uttered. A few months after
the release of Raise, Swervedriver scorched
through the American heartland to promote the record, and I was on hand to
witness them blast hot sheets of solar wind not just at but through a punk club’s patrons in the most bone-rattling display I’d seen since early
‘70s Black Sabbath. My abiding memory of the group’s unholy vortex of
overdriven guitars, jackhammer drums and woozy, what-drug-am-I-on? vocals is
one of profound disorientation – the good kind that lingered for days afterwards, an afterglow gradually replacing the
telltale ringing in the ears.

 

Swervedriver was unable to sustain that level of intensity,
however. The apparently unstable Bonner freaked out and split during the
American tour and Vynes quit the following year. The group had recorded an EP prior
to both musicians’ departure, “Never Lose That Feeling,” so by way of a holding
pattern that was issued while the band quietly regrouped, eventually reemerging
at a trio: Franklin and Hartridge swapping off on bass and guitars, and new
drummer “Jez.”

 

If 1993’s Alan Moulder-produced Mezcal Head doesn’t
top its predecessor for sheer psychological impact (few sophomore platters do),
it’s still sonically superior, offering a crispness and a clarity that comes across
even more strikingly now with the remastering job. Where Raise boasted a thick, all-enveloping wall of sound, MH stares you directly in the eye – just
like the long-horned, nose-ringed steer confronting you from the front cover of
the album – and dares you to blink even as it applies a series of blunt objects
directly to the sides of your skull. Highlights include the
now-thundering/now-glistening first single “Duel” (so named for a ’71 Stephen
Spielberg car-chase flick, thereby maintaining the group’s automotive fetish);
“Blowin’ Cool,” a true-to-its-title mélange of wah-wahs and jangles, plus some
of the most sweetly tuneful vocals of Franklin’s career; a none-too-subtle
tribute (musically speaking at least) to the grunge scene, “A Change is Gonna
Come”; and the dreamily psychedelic “Girl on a Motorbike,” which may or may not
be a hat-tip to the ’68 cult film Girl on
a Motorcycle
starring Marianne Faithfull.

 

Oh, and lest we forget: “Last Train to Satansville” – which
with its amped-up neo-choogle, shuddery swipes of whammy bar dripping like dark
chocolate over clanging, twanging, droning riffs, and Franklin unspooling a tale
of betrayal, revenge and regret in classic murder-ballad fashion – is very
nearly the equal of “Mustang Ford.” It’s like a spaghetti western theme recast
for the alterna-generation, the protagonist making his escape at the very end
not on a horse but a Harley (the actual sound of a revving bike is audible in
the song’s closing moments).

 

Sings Franklin,
in a voice so full of woe and regret you can practically see him grit his teeth
as tears stream down the sides of his face:

 

 

“In one dream there’s
this girl I love

And we dance ev’ry
waking breath

And in the other
they’ve thrown me in a cell

And they’re trying me
for her death.

I’m only young and
young in love

As I hold that girl
today

But I’m old and tired
and in the cell

And I’ve nigh-on
withered away…

She promised me the
world and more –

How could she do this
to me?

And now mine’s
tumbling down around

But at least my eyes
can see –

And those stars in the
sky are for me.”

 

 

As with Raise, the
booklet for Mezcal Head is well done,
containing additional liners from Franklin and Hartridge that bring the band’s
story up to date: after the trio finished the recording, they cast around for a
bassist so they could tour behind it, eventually locating Steve George and
landing a U.S.
trek opening for Smashing Pumpkins. Four bonus tracks round out the disc: the
aforementioned “Never Lose that Feeling,” another solid Swervies anthem; plus
obscurities “Planes Over the Skyline” (a zig-zagging, woozy number that’s a live
favorite among fans), “The Hitcher” (yes, more automotive madness, as the nod
to the Rutger Hauer-C. Thomas Howell film suggests), and “Cars Converge on Paris” (a kind of dubby,
blissed-out experimental piece).

 

“We wanted to make music that was gritty and yet pining at
the same time,” writes Franklin,
in his Raise liners. That
Swervedriver did, and although they only lasted for two more albums, 1995’s Ejector Seat Reservation and 1997’s 99th Dream, before disbanding
in 1999, that gritty/pining quality, as revisited on these two albums, was
profound and enduring. The group reunited in 2008 for some well-received shows
(including an appearance at Coachella), and as Franklin puts in an interview with BLURT,
located elsewhere on this site, “We were all blown away by how well it came
together.”

 

Never lose that feeling, lads.

 

 

MOSES RISIN’ Isaac Hayes

Discover anew the
maestro’s lusty charms via the deluxe Stax reissue of 1971’s
Black Moses.

 

BY REV. KEITH A. GORDON

 

 

By the time of his death last year, more people were
familiar with Isaac Hayes’ portrayal of the lusty school chef on Comedy
Central’s South Park TV show than were
with his enormous body of music. It’s a shame, of course, one only partially
redeemed by the current drive by the revived Stax Records and the Concord Music
Group to revamp the soul giant’s back catalog for the new millennia.

 

 

Isaac Hayes, for those that need smartened up, was more than
“Chef,” more than the dusky-voiced badass that sang the theme song
from the movie Shaft. Hired as the
keyboardist of the Stax Records’ house band in 1964, Hayes performed behind
folks like Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, and blues great Albert King. Hayes
would later form a songwriting partnership with David Porter. Together, the two
wrote over 200 songs, including hits for artists like Sam & Dave, Carla
Thomas, and Johnny Taylor, among many others.

 

 

Hayes launched his own solo career in 1967 with Presenting Isaac Hayes, but it would be
the release, two years later, of Hot
Buttered Soul
that would provide his commercial breakthrough. Comprising
four lengthy songs, three of them inspired, reinvented cover tunes, the album
defined the progressive soul movement. Hayes would take another great
commercial and creative step forward in 1971 with the release of his score for
the hit movie Shaft, with its
ubiquitous theme song, as well as with the ambitious, groundbreaking Black Moses double-album.

 

 

One cannot underestimate the influence of Black Moses on the direction of soul
music during the ’70s. With fourteen songs sprawled across two discs, Black Moses provided four sides of
effervescent funk, passionate soul, and old-school rhythm & blues. Hayes
created Superfly cool a year before
Curtis Mayfield; his lusty spoken-word interludes would inform hip-hop/rap
music a decade later; and his lush, rhythmic orchestration would foreshadow disco’s
rise in popularity during the late-70s (shudder…!).   

 

 

It was Hayes’ reinvention of soul music, his penchant for
virtuoso instrumentation, his songwriting skills, and his ability to take
another writer’s song by the throat and make that sucker his bitch that made Black Moses – here now in a deluxe
reissue edition courtesy Stax/Concord – such an important effort. Forget about
Barry White or Al Green, Hayes’ cover of “Never Can Say Goodbye” is
sheer breathless seduction. Displaying the full breadth of Hayes’ vocal
abilities, and backed with on-point harmony vocals and a lush soundtrack, the
song’s romantic overtures take on an entirely different vibe here.

 

 

Hayes takes Mayfield’s “Man’s Temptation” and
turns it inside-out, his desperate vocals often accompanied by a lone drumbeat
or shots of keyboard before soaring into passionate washes of backing harmonies
and subdued instrumentation. With “Going In Circles,” Hayes layers
sensuous harmony vocals, shocks of blasting horns, and jagged washes of funky guitar,
his own soulful vocals darting in-and-out of the mix for max effect.

 

 

The original “Good Love” comes out of the gate
with some irreverent laughter and a tongue-in-cheek spoken intro before jumping
into a funky romp with squalls of wiry guitarwork and fleet-footed rhythms.
Tackling accomplished country songwriter Kris Kristofferson, Hayes builds upon
other versions of “For The Good Times” with a wonderfully sublime
vocal performance, sparse instrumentation, and understated moxie.

 

 

(By the way, the über-cool fold-out cover showing Hayes in
full soul-savior glory that worked so well as a 12″ LP is mostly just a
bother on a 5″ cardboard CD cover; with the two discs crammed into tight
pockets you have to be careful not to tear when you take ’em out. Sure, it’s
groovy and all that, but couldn’t we have had form and functionality? Jus’ sayin’….)

 

 

Black Moses would
prove to be an enormous success, hitting 1 on the R&B chart, 2 on the jazz
chart, and rising to 10 on the pop chart while yielding a Top Thirty hit single
with “Never Can Say Goodbye.” The album would win Hayes a GrammyTM Award and would cap off a dominating year for the veteran soul man – Hayes’
soundtrack for Shaft would top all
three album charts, win three GrammyTM Awards, and earn Hayes the first Oscar
won by an African-American composter.

 

 

More importantly, Black
Moses
would provide a creative and evolutionary shift that would have a
profound effect on soul and jazz music for a generation to follow.

 

WORKING CLASS HEROINE Marianne Faithfull

The daring British
chanteuse promises to find herself, darling.

 

BY A.D. AMOROSI

 

45 years into a notorious daring career and it’s
surprisingly Easy Come Easy Go for Faithfull.

That’s just how the dusky British chanteuse, actress and
writer of song and autobiographical book prefers it. For this 22nd album
and tenth collaboration with producer Hal Willner, rather than essay the good
and the mad herself, Faithfull is singing – no, inhabiting – a selection of
other peoples’ tunes recounting tales passion, age, God and country that fit
her sauntering vocal dips and slips most exquisitely.

 

Along with such aching joyful songs come singing partnerships
with friends old (Nick Cave, Keith Richards) and new (Antony, Chan Marshall).

 

Faithfull has seen better (there’s been such great delight
in her life) and worse (she’s bitten and been bit by labels, men, drugs, cancer,
and beaten them all). And that provocative voice of hers shows it all with
every crack, via Willner’s intuitive atmospheric production to warm her. Now
living in Paris, Faithfull took a brief holiday
in Bengal before the start of her Easy tour.

 

 

***

 

 

BLURT: Anything you
miss about living in New York City?

 

MARIANNE FAITHFULL: God yeah. I think it was great for me to
be there. It was like a dream. I was able to fulfill things that I was unable
to do anywhere else. I mean, working with Angelo Badalamenti and the plans made
for “Twentieth Century Blues” and “Seven Deadly Sins” at BAM. Those were the
first times I performed the whole Weimar
cabaret sound. So that was like a wonderful playground for me do the things I
wanted to do.

 

 

 

What are the most
deadly-treacherous, even dangerous, lyrics on Easy Come? The lyrics that might make you uneasy?

Dangerous how? Nothing here’s un-easy. That’s why I chose them. I know how people
like to think, but…

 

 

 

No. I mean dangerous
in the way that “Solitude” explores such desperate loneliness.

 

Well, yes, oh. I see. Of course that. After I’d recorded the
song, I took it all so personally. I could hardy bear to listen to it. Plus my
relationship broke up not long after I got back from recording. My whole love
life fell apart so “Solitude” is particularly haunting and incredibly sad for
me. It took a while to be able to able to hear that one.

 

 

 

Are you luckier at
cards than you are at love?

 

Yes. [laughs] That’s a nice way of putting that. I might just be, BUT I’m loved in
more ways than anyone would expect, you know. You can’t have everything

 

 

From your first single
to the newest album, as bad as the biz has been, record, you’ve navigated it.
How so?

 

I’m very keen and enthusiastic about the entire process. I mean,
I’ve been depressed about it too. I’ve made some wonderful records in the last
few years. Not making conventional pop has often been a problem. I’ve always
known that. But I do want people to like my records. I do.

 

 

 

You’ve used Willner
to record a whole kit ‘n’ kaboodle of your stuff ever since his Kurt Weill
cover project, Lost in the Stars. How
come?

 

Wilner is real, unaffected and not driven by phony commercial
things. Hal’s much more educated and cultured than most people might think.
There are people like that in the music business [snickers]. I know them. Nick is. Keith is – he’s very well read.
Not all of them though.

 

 

 

How did you two snag
songs for this? What were the criteria?

 

I really like songs that grab me that I can put my heart
into – melody and lyric. We chose separately but the thing that really drew me was
the construction of the songs. After all this time, I’ve grown fascinated by
the technical structure and brilliance of the songs. I don’t mean that in a
cold way. And there’s got to be a line or two in a song that means something to
me personally. I’m always fascinated to see just what it is. It could be such a
tiny little thing, but… Even the words “easy come easy go.” I love it. I really
believe that. You know, however hard it is, whatever stuff you’re going
through, I feel like I have to be a ballerina whose feet are bleeding. But who has
a smile on her face.

 

 

 

Know what description
I don’t love for you anymore – “world weary”.

 

Me neither. I like the part where I can put across songs
with great sophistication. But “world weary” implies boredom. And I’m not that.
I’m very involved and never bored.

 

 

 

Though I find every
bit of the album enrapturing, one track is personal to me because acquaintances
of mine wrote it. “Children of Stone” is an Espers song and they’re from
Philly.

 

So is Hal. His father had a wonderful deli in Philly. I know
everything about Hal. I really do. Probably more than he knows I know. I love
that song too. I love the spell it makes. And what Rufus [Wainwright] did with
me. In effect, he made a chorale of it. That song does create a spell. Which is
all I ever really wanted – all I ‘m trying to do is create that magic. You must
see how wonderful it is… when you can do it.

 

 

 

So what do you call
“Sing Me Back Home,” the Merle Haggard song you did with Keith?

That’s another kind-of spell. I didn’t ask Keith to do that for nothing. It was
a carefully considered choice. I remember when Keith used to sing that song
with Gram Parsons. I was there.

 

 

 

You guys have
collaborated before when he produced [1994’s] “Ghost Dance” for you. What sort
of idea must you have in your head so to want to ring him up?

Well I do ring him up, you know, just to talk. We are very good friends. We
don’t see each other as often as I’d like but whenever we can. we do. This
song? I would’ve been very unhappy – gutted really – if he hadn’t agreed to do
it.

Of course he didn’t let me down. I sent him a fax actually
to ask him. And he sent me the most wonderful fax back that I’ve kept. He
finished with “I‘ll do it for you baby if you do it for me.”

 

 

 

What would you say is
your most marked physical trait?

I know this sounds corny but the most important thing about me are my eyes. No
matter what else, my eyes have changed you know?

 

 

 

Marlon Brando used to
hate talking about all this you know – so much so I think he learned to loathe
acting.

 

He should have picked himself up when he got bored. It’s in
your discipline. If you have a great craft – like he had and I do – it behooves
you to treat it with enormous respect. You must respect yourself and your
audiences. He was self indulgent. That’s not to say that I don’t get
disheartened but I come back with hope. I want to do this. I don’t have to be
bored. Maybe it’s because it’s better for me now – a better time. People
change. The press has gotten better to me.

 

 

Have we? What was wrong with us?

Not you, darling, but in Europe, I’ve had
people say to me, “How could you dare sing ‘Working Class Hero’?” Sure because
of the royalty thing. But mostly because of my voice.

 

 

You do sound posh.

 

That’s so depressing. They thought I was so upper class. But
it wasn’t.  I’m an artist…a working
artist. My family’s background is bullshit. I’m a worker like everybody else.
That’s a class in-and-of-itself. And I’m a hero.

 

 

 

So where are your
songs for this record? I really miss them.

 

Wring my own songs? I know I’ve had shit from Nick about it.
He doesn’t like me to sing other people’s songs. He can give me shit if he
likes. You can too. I need a good boot up the ass sometimes. I‘m afraid of
writing at the moment. I’m frightened. I feel as if I often write the same
story. They say that of most writers, don’t they? So I may do as well. I think
I’ll have to change my attitude. I must be more conscious.

 

I’m very un-confident you know? I compare my songs to people
I love, like Lou Reed and Dolly Parton and Duke Ellington.  I may have got a bit overwhelmed with all the
great writing on Easy Come Easy Go.
They’re my favorites. But I’ll find myself, darling, I do promise.

 

 

BLURTING WITH… Buddy Miller

The in-demand multitasker on his new
album with wife Julie, on working with all those other gals, on Robert Plant,
and more.

 

BY ANDY
TENNILLE

 

“I think
everything that I do is influenced by everything that I’ve done before,” Buddy
Miller reports from a Nashville studio in late January. “I try to learn something
from everybody I work with.”

 

In the more
than 40 years he’s been playing music, Miller – the celebrated 56-year-old
Nashville singer/songwriter, guitarist, and producer – has cribbed from the
likes of Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Jim Lauderdale, Gillian
Welch, Lucinda Williams and the Dixie Chicks. For the past year, he’s played
guitar on Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’ ‘Raising Sand’ world tour, earning a
chance to join the duo in the studio this winter for the recording of the
follow-up to their Grammy-award winning debut.

 

“Working with
T. Bone Burnett and Allison and Robert the last few weeks in the studio has
just been…well, there’s a lot to learn there,” he says with a humble laugh. “It’s
a wonderful thing.”

 

The consummate
musician’s musician, Miller’s joy for his craft is exceeded only by his humble
demeanor, a trait that likely served him working as sideman to so many artists.
Yet of all the tremendous talents Miller has worked with throughout his career,
none may be more influential on him as an artist than his wife, Julie. The
couple has worked together for more than 25 years, collaborating on each
other’s projects since Buddy engineered Julie’s 1990 debut, Meet Julie Miller.

 

“It’s an
unspoken thing for us,” Buddy explains. “We don’t have to talk about it before we
do it, we don’t have to talk about it while we’re doing it. It just happens and
seems to come from a place that we both feel it from.”

 

Written in Chalk, the Millers’ new album out this
month on New West Records, builds on the unspoken chemistry of their music, but
not in the way you might assume most duet records would.

 

 “We worked on all the songs together, but
there are some things where she’ll just sing, sometimes she sings with Patty
Griffin or someone else, and I don’t sing at all, just play” Buddy explains,
“and then there are songs when it’s just me or me with Patty. It’s different
from anything else we’ve done, I hope.”

 

(Editor’s Note: Three weeks after this
interview, Buddy suffered a heart attack after a concert in Baltimore, MD while
on tour with Harris, Griffin and Colvin. He was taken to Johns Hopkins
Hospital, where he underwent successful triple-bypass heart surgery. All of us
here at BLURT offer Buddy and Julie our best wishes for a speedy recovery.)

 

***

 

BLURT: How did this album come
together?

 

BM: Well, it
started a long time ago. Some songs are from a while back. The one that
probably goes back the furthest might be that song, “June.” Julie wrote it, and
we recorded it, the night June Carter passed away, which was several years back
now. (Ed. Note: June Carter Cash passed
away May 15, 2003
)

 

 

Yeah, almost six years ago, now.

 

BM: That song,
we didn’t re-record it. I just used the version we recorded that night, because
it felt like it fit into the story of the record. There are a few songs that
are pulled from things that we worked on, and then a bunch of newer songs, too.
So there’s not a simple answer. Most records I’ve worked on – mine or other
people’s – you get the songs, you have friends come over and play, and that’s
the record, basically. You work on it a few weeks, and that’s it.  This record was different. The songs felt they
were being pulled towards the record itself.

 

 

You mention that you kept the
original recording of “June” for the album. What was in the original
performance that you felt was captured or couldn’t be replicated on another
take?

 

BM: It just
felt right. Julie wrote it the day June Carter passed away, and we recorded it
that night. We weren’t friends with Johnny and June. We’d met them and opened a
show for them once, but they had such a big impact on us…on anyone, really.

 

So it seemed
like we shouldn’t touch it. Why would you, you know? It was recorded when the
air was…I remember it was raining that night and it was like nature was
responding to this tragic loss. Even though the track might not be perfect, it
just seemed like that’s what you’d want to use. It had the feeling our little
part of the world felt that night, from the air in the room to the way it’s
sung. I didn’t want to mess with that, and I don’t really go for making things
perfect anyway. It just felt right.

 

 

It sounds like Johnny and June and
the music they made together was pretty inspirational to both you and your
wife.

 

BM: Well, like
I said, we didn’t know them, except one show that we opened for them when John
first signed with American. We were asked to play the show, and they stood on
the side of the stage and watched us through the entire set. Afterward, John
came up to Julie and gave her a big bear and asked her what song of theirs we’d
sung. They were just so sweet. People don’t stand on the side of the stage and
watch the opening act. Hardly anybody does that I’ve seen anyway, but they were
just really warm, giving folks, and I think that’s just who they were. They had
that effect. As people, they were inspiring and the music, gosh, yeah.
Incredible.

 

 

I wanted to ask you about the
musical synergy that you have with your wife. You’ve worked with so many
different female artists over your career: Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch, Linda
Ronstadt, Shawn Colvin, Patty Griffin…the list goes on and on and on and on.
Having worked with all of these fantastic female artists, what’s the special
magic that you have with Julie when y’all play together? Can you put it into
words?

 

BM: You know,
I sometimes wonder why I’ve worked with all these girls. I feel pretty lucky.
Working with Julie, we’ve been together a long time and just have a natural way
of singing together, because we know each other so well. But the longer we’ve
known each other, the harder it gets to work with one another, too.

 

 

Really?

 

BM: Oh gosh,
yeah. It’s a very natural thing and at the same time it can be just unbearable
for each of us. Almost impossible, really.

 

 

Because you know each other’s
idiosyncrasies and can sense each other’s frustrations better as the years go
on?

 

BM: Well,
sensing frustration is one thing, but there’s just no time to pretend, you
know? Whatever is there comes to the surface. Moving a couch with your partner
can be difficult enough but working on music together can be just excruciating.
That’s another reason it took awhile, ‘cause the record changed forms a few
times. It started out in the direction of being Julie’s record, and then I was
gonna do the record. About halfway through, we decided to make it the two of us.
So it’s the two of us, but it’s not a duets record in the traditional sense. We’re
not singing every song together.

 

 

Tell me about Julie as an artist and
a musician.

 

BM: Well, I’m
obviously a little biased, but she’s really my favorite writer, or right up
there with some of my other favorites. It’s incredible to me how she keeps
music in a very special place where it can’t be calculated. In the town we live
in (Nashville), and probably in other big music towns, songwriting is like a
business. Songwriters get together in little rooms at ten, twelve and two to
write, sometimes just to write a song and sometimes to write a song for a
specific artist.  More often than not,
they get together with somebody they’ve never even met before. I think that’s
how it works, cause I’ve never done it before. But to Julie, it’s almost like a
sacred thing. You don’t want to calculate it, and you don’t want to manipulate
it. That’s not to say it always works, and every song is unbelievable that she
writes, but I do see that it’s a very special thing to her and not taken
lightly. I respect that so much. And I love her singing. She’s just free. Parts
come to her seemingly out of the air, and songs do, too. She’ll just start
singing something and a song will appear. She’s very different from anybody
I’ve ever worked with. It’s inspiring to watch.

 

 

I did a story a couple of years ago
on the record that Emmylou Harris and Mark Knopfler recorded together. One of
the things that Mark said was that he and Emmy were constantly talking about
finding the third voice, meaning that when they sang together, a unique third
voice was born. Is that something that you aspire to when you record with other
female artists or specifically with Julie? Are you searching for that third
voice as well?

 

BM: Yeah, it’s
funny you ask about that. I didn’t know that about Emmy and Mark, but we would
say the same thing. You don’t think about it. I don’t anyways. But you know
when it happens. You’ve got something that’s you, something that’s her, and
then something that’s part of both of you. That’s the way I always thought
about it. It’s like with harmoniums or some organs, they have stops you pull
out where you’re playing one note but it just makes a different and a fuller sound.
It’s its own thing.

 

 

Is that a sign of the best
collaborations? When you achieve that?

 

BM: Yeah. I
never think about it when I’m singing because I’m just lost in singing, but
when it happens, you know it. Everyone knows it.

 

 

When you’re working on material
either for an album for yourself or on something with Julie, is the songwriting
process collaborative?

 

BM: It used to
be that we’d sit down for the whole process, but she’s become so good at it on
her own. I need her more than she needs me as far as the writing goes. I’ll
come to her with what I’ve got and ask her to help me. Or I’ll go to a friend
like Lauderdale if I think I’ve got something up his alley. That’s another nice
thing about this town: everybody’s pretty close together. Jim’s just a few
blocks away, and Julie’s usually just downstairs or with the animals. Once in
awhile, she’ll ask me to kind of flush out what she’s got as far as playing it
on the guitar. She’ll come up with the guitar hooks or whatever you call them. “Smooth”
has this guitar thing that I play, but Julie came up with it. When she was
writing it, she knew what she wanted but couldn’t quite play it, so she sung it
to me and told me what I was doing wrong until I got it. That’s kind of how we
work together.

 

 

In a bio of yours I read, it said
this about your decision to record in your home: “A living room, a Pro Tools
rig, and a complement of vintage mikes make, somehow, an environment no proper
studio can.” Why do you love to record at home?

 

BM: There’s
just something about being in the house that feels right. All the musicians
that I work with are our dear friends, so it’s just like friends coming over to
hang out at the house. It’s also less people. In the studio, there always seems
to be more people hanging around. When I work on something of ours, I tend to
not get an engineer. Anybody else’s record I produce, I’ll get an engineer and
assistant engineer, but for me, working on our stuff, I like as few people
around as possible. We have a pretty big house that’s like 100 years old. It’s two
stories and the whole downstairs is just dedicated to recording, with pretty
good lines of sight between all the rooms so everybody can see each other. It
feels good. I don’t have to think about anything else but what we’re doing. It’s
really natural and it sounds good, too.

 

 

Do you still record to tape?

 

I used to have
a Studor two-inch tape machine when I moved to town that would rattle when it
was used. It was like the size of a refrigerator, and the buttons on the remote
that somebody made for it would go flying off when I pressed too hard.
Eventually, it ended up in the middle of the living room, and one Christmas, Julie
ended up decorating it with holly. It started rattling one night when we were
using it and the holly fell into the tape and tore up the tape. That’s about
the time I made the switch to Pro Tools. (Laughs)

 

 

Tell me about “Gasoline and
Matches.” It’s one of my favorite tunes on the album.

 

BM: Well, it’s
funny the way songs get started. Julie started that song and wrote most of it,
and I think I was upstairs hanging out with her while she was sitting with a
guitar in her lap. I was getting up to go downstairs to work on something and
as I was walking away, she just started singing “Baby, baby, baby, baby,” off
the top of her head. That’ll happen sometimes, but this time she was doing it
to sort of keep me around. I was halfway out the door and had to come back in
because I liked it. I stuck around awhile to help her get it down and then
before we recorded it, we finished whatever was needed. I forget what it
needed, but it didn’t need much. It was pretty much written in less than an
hour.

 

 

 “Ellis County” kicks off the album, and the
protagonist sings about their longing for the past. Is that reflective of your own
affinity or nostalgia for what’s come before?

 

BM: In a way,
it is. That’s a special song Julie wrote specifically for her mother. That’s
basically her mother’s story song. Everything in it is based on fact. One thing
about Julie’s writing is most everything she writes is true.

 

 

Tell me about the track you recorded
with Robert Plant.

 

BM: That was
cool. We cut it between soundcheck and before dinner on his and Allison’s tour.
I waited ‘til we were at a venue with a nice, big dressing room and asked the
guys in the band if they’d be into it. They brought their drums and upright
bass, and I set up some mics in the dressing room and just cut it live. We did
it super fast and cut everything, including the vocals, live. I think we played
the song twice through and got it.

 

That song
probably wasn’t either of ours first choice. He had some ideas, and I had some
ideas, and we talked about them. Somehow, we ended up with this old Lefty Frizzell
song. It just seemed like it would be a cool duet. And it was. I loved that
band and playing with Robert. He’s just a wonderfully generous guy.

 

 

Did you know that you wanted to do a
song with Robert, or was it that you had a particular song in mind and were
looking for the perfect person to work with it on? How did it come together?

 

BM: We were
playing in L.A. and I had a meeting with New West, my label. The record was
done, so I went over there, but they said it’s too late to come out this year, which
was last year. So I came back after the meeting and at dinner Robert said, “How’d
it go with New West?” I told him everything went well, but it won’t come out
until next year. After dinner, he said, “Well if you need me for anything, let
me know.” It took me about a half a second to respond. I hate to take advantage
of people but hey, if Robert Plant offers…

 

 

YOU’RE WELCOME Amadou & Mariam

The West African duo
makes music for the good times, even in bad times.

 

 

BY JENNIFER KELLY

 

 

Why does the world’s most life-affirming music always come
from the most troubled places?  Welcome to Mali (Because Music/Nonesuch),
Amadou & Mariam’s follow-up to 2005 critical favorite, Dimanche a Bamako,
is, on the one hand, pure sensual joy, a raft of infectious-rhythmed,
ebulliently performed funk-rock-desert-electro-dance songs.  The poverty, the political corruption, the
personal suffering of two singers who have been blind from birth are present,
but subsumed in a music so generous, so inclusive and celebratory that you
cannot help feeling a wave of optimism.  
In a First World funk over wasted
401(k) balances, layoffs, foreclosures and soaring college tuition costs?  Amadou & Mariam invite you to a party,
with borrowed chairs, home-made liquor, a ragtag assortment of multi-national
guests and music that goes on all night. 
It’s just what you need… really.

 

 

Amadou & Mariam have always incorporated lots of
different musical styles and ethnic influences into their West African
aesthetic.  Their breakout album Dimanche
a Bamaka
featured producer Manu Chao prominently.   Musicological purity is not their
thing.  So it is, perhaps, not surprising
that Welcome to Mali is not solely – or even especially – Malian.  People who have spent the last year listening
to African Scream Contest or Nigeria Rock Special compilations may find the orchestrations a little slick, the cross-cultural
borrowings of reggae, American and African hip hop and IDM jarring.  But, with few exceptions, the genre-hopping
works fairly well.  This is
African-tinged pop, with the emphasis on pop. 
There’s nothing archival or field recorded about it. 

 

 

“Sabali,” for instance, the opening track and one of two
produced by Damon Albarn, intercuts Mariam’s high, wistful voice with tense new
wave piano chords and glitchy electronics. 
Albarn adds a programmed beat to this cut, rather than the live African
drums you might expect, and a series of high, scale-cascading
synthesizers.  It’s an interesting
juxtaposition, the ultra-clean, ultra-modern IDM arrangements around an
achingly natural, non-Western voice, but you quickly get beyond
“interesting”.  The track works as the
purest kind of electro pop, natural and synthesized, danceable and subtly
melancholy.  

 

 

Later, on “Djama”, a reworking of a song originally recorded
in 1979, Amadou & Mariam experiment with a back-beated reggae sound, and
“Je Te Kiffe” with guest vocals by Juan Rozoff, shades towards Western indie
rock.  The huge, call-and-response
choruses of “I Will Follow You” and the title track are underlined by a full
string quartet, and concert hall piano. 
Yet in all cases, these non-African sounds are integrated, enveloped
almost, with the buoyant rhythms, the scintillating funk guitars of West
African pop.  

 

 

Western influences pop up everywhere, but there are also
some wonderfully distinctive African touches, too.  Toumani Diabate brings his unearthly kora to
“Djuru,” its sharp, reverberating tones somewhere between a harp and a
guitar.  In this cut, the shuffling,
hip-shifting beat is all body, the kora untethered spirit.  Later, in “Bozos” and the hidden track
“Boula”, Zoumana Téréta plays a rough, evocative “suku” or Malian violin, the
instrument’s low, scraped-out tone adding an additional layer of emotional
depth to the songs.   And rapper K’naan,
out of Somalia, comes on
board for “Africa”, a love song to a troubled
continent, imagined as a woman.  

 

 

Welcome to Mali can be heard as a party, but there
are darker, more politically-engaged undertones scattered throughout the
album.  Amadou sings about the tangled
politics of Africa in “C’est N’est Pas Bon,”
and again on “Boula.”  “Masiteladi,” an
open-hearted travel song, touches on the long separations from family that
Africans must endure to make money in its cities.  Yet even these songs are full of joy,
celebrating survival, friends and music, even in very difficult
circumstances.  The worst depression in
history in the west would be a pretty flush year in Mali.  Welcome to Mali is for the good times,
even in bad times.  

 

 

 

 

KARMA KOMMANDERS Radiohead

Their early career gets the deluxe reissue treatment.

 

BY A. WATT

 

It still seems strange that any band could get from Pablo Honey to OK Computer in less than five years time, from being written off as post-Nirvana one-hit wonders – thanks, “Creep” — to their current standing as the Most Important Rock Band on the Planet. Even after 12 amazing years of adding challenging new chapters to that legacy, OK Computer remains the album people tend to speak in tongues about when the talk turns to Radiohead and the genius thereof. But as this new series of Special Collectors Editions arrives to remind us, they’ve been brilliant all along.

 

 

Even Pablo Honey (8 out of 10 stars) has held up surprisingly well. While clearly not the “major work of art” every subsequent Radiohead release put so much effort into being, it’s a great guitar-rock album, just “alternative” enough to grab you by the flannel in the post-Nirvana marketplace while clearly shooting for a grandeur more in keeping with the best of U2.

 

 

And while Thom Yorke hadn’t really found his voice yet (that eerie falsetto that haunts OK Computer, but which rarely shows its face here), Jonny Greenwood’s lead guitar work is truly amazing, bringing the feedback with savage intensity. This has to be the album people think of when they piss and moan about how under-represented Greenwood’s lead guitar is on their later, more experimental records. And I almost get that after hearing this again. At times, the music strives too hard to be U2 (“Stop Whispering” could be a Coldplay song, it wants so desperately to be U2). But “Creep” is genius. Really. Yorke may beg to differ, but he’s still too close to have a vote here. It’s haunting, it rocks, the self-loathing alienation of the words is total Yorke and even after all these years, I still get chills when Greenwood whacks those deadened strings going into the chorus.

 

 

The acoustic “Creep” included on the 22-song bonus disc just reinforces how much Greenwood added to the song’s appeal. But plenty of the other bonus tracks are made of more essential stuff, including the early recording of “You” originally featured on the Drill EP, an intense live rendition of “Ripchord” and explosive post-punk outbursts “Million Dollar Question” and “Inside My Head.” The bonus DVD features four early videos (including a truly bizarre one of Yorke in a coffin and vampire makeup singing “Pop is Dead”), a Top of the Pops performance of “Creep” and nine songs captured live at The Astoria in London a year after the album hit the streets, by which point tracks like “You” and “Anyone Can Play Guitar” had only gotten more electrifying while “Creep” had definitely gotten creepier.

 

 

The Bends (9 out of 10 stars) holds up as both the logical next step from Pablo Honey and the gateway drug to the headier sonic experimentation of OK Computer – a moody masterpiece that places Greenwood’s slashing lead guitar work front and center in its more explosive moments, from the darkness of the title track to the electrifying, Steve Albini-does-Nirvana climax of “My Iron Lung,” a song that seeps in on a psychedelic riff John Lennon might have written the same day as “Strawberry Fields Forever.” At the opposite end of the musical spectrum, The Bends also features a pair of their prettiest pop songs – the impossibly majestic “High and Dry” and “Fake Plastic Trees,” two largely acoustic-guitar-driven ballads whose bittersweet pop sensibilities make the most of Yorke’s falsetto. If “High and Dry” has the prettier melody, “Fake Plastic Trees” packs the harder emotional punch, in part because they play it so damn slow as it builds to a Beatlesque climax of anthemic chamber-pop grandeur.

 

 

The bonus disc starts with “The Trickster,” a track that could pass for an outtake from OK Computer when, in fact, it was released before The Bends, on the My Iron Lung EP, their first session with OK Computer producer Nigel Godrich. The only tracks that don’t turn up from that amazing eight-song effort are the title track and an unplugged rendition of “Creep.” Other highlights of the bonus disc range from a rocker called “Lewis (Mistreated),” their bid for greatest one-song mod revival of the ‘90s, to the anthemic power-chord bombast of “Maquiladora,” a “High and Dry” B-side. But the real essentials here are four tracks from a ’94 BBC Session, including a sneering, explosive rendition of “Just” that features some of Greenwood’s most inspired work. Two bonus DVDs feature the relevant videos (including two for “High and Dry”), appearances on Later With Jools Holland and Top of the Pops, and eight different songs from the same 1994 concert featured on the Pablo Honey DVD.

 

 

It’s a tribute to just how futuristic the music on OK Computer (10 out of 10 stars) must have sounded back in 1997 that it still feels like it’s drifting in from outer space today, from the opening seconds of “Airbag” through the operatic drama of “Paranoid Android” and “Karma Police” to the album-closing space-rock lullaby, “The Tourist.” It’s the quintessential headphone album, even after all these years, and listening that way only underscores the feelings of alienation and dread that course through nearly every song. The lyrics are as dark as Roger Waters’ bleakest moments, maybe darker, but the melodies are gorgeous. And beneath all those cutting-edge textures and digital hijinks (check out the Orwellian robot-voice narrative of “Fitter Happier”), the songs themselves betray an innate love and understanding of the future’s distant past, even lifting a piano part from “Sexy Sadie” on the achingly Lennonesque “Karma Police,” where Yorke asks the Karma Police to arrest a girl whose Hitler hairdo is making him ill.

 

 

The bonus disc features plenty of outtakes that turned up on singles for “Paranoid Android,” “Karma Police” and “No Surprises.” And at least one outtake, the dramatic rocker “Pearly*,” could have fit in nicely on the proper album, which I don’t say lightly. Other standouts range from “Polyethylene (Parts 1 & 2),” whose parts are more like separate songs without the seamless transitions of “Paranoid Android,” to “Airbag,” caught live in Berlin. But once again, the highlight of the bonus disc is a BBC Session, including gorgeous live renditions of “Exit Music (For A Film)” and “No Surprises.” The DVD, sadly, is skimpier, offering videos for all three singles (one of which, “Paranoid Android,” only undermines the essence of the song with darkly comic animation) and three songs done live on Later with Jools Holland, including a much truer representation of “Paranoid Android”).

DUKES (AND DUCHESSES) OF HAZARDS Decemberists

As his band storms
SXSW this week, it’s back to ravaging female protagonists for Colin Meloy.

 

BY A.D. AMOROSI

 

 

After four smart albums and several fan club EPs, it’s nice
to know that the Decemberists can still cause a revolt with their fifth, The Hazards of Love, out March 24 on
Capitol. And that tumult has nothing to do with the Russians of 1825 and their
little uprising.

 

You don’t necessarily always expect a lyricist/singer such
as Colin Meloy and melody making musicians Chris Funk, Jenny Conlee, Nate
Query, and John Moen to continuously churn out lushly arranged, complexly
compose songs from career’s start through to it continuation.

 

Killing wily whores and distressed damsels with all manner
of fabulously arcane accoutrement, hanging with barrow boys, romancing
throughout a Civil War and telling archly detailed tales without the lame-oid
ruminative aspects that most alt-pop-blobs employ is hard work. You might think
Meloy would want to give the picaresque story telling a break. On occasion, he
has: he’s released a private stock of other folks’ songs – Morrissey’s, Shirley
Collins’, Sam Cooke’s – on three limited-edition EPs, while on Colin Meloy Sings Live! he nodded at
both Fleetwood Mac and Pink Floyd.

 

Does he hold the Decemberists songs to match the stature of those
he’s covered? Meloy’s humble and fumbling on this count. “I wouldn’t begin to
suppose that my songs in any way match the stature of Sam and Moz,” he says. “The
reason I cover them is because I am in awe of what they do.  I’m like a Pinto owner given an opportunity
to look under the hood of a, I don’t know, 1964 GTO.”

 

Though last fall the Decemberists quickly recorded and
released the three-volume Always the Bridesmaid 12-inch singles series of handily catchy tracks (“Valerie Plame,” from the
first volume, became a surprise AAA radio hit), when it came to composing The Hazards of Love, melodically and
conceptually all they needed was tenacity. The whole Hazard thing started as an exercise in writing a series of songs
that were all written in order, blending into one another. 

 

“As soon as I had finished one, I would use the last chord
of that song as the jumping-off point of the next song,” Meloy claims. “As it
stood, everything was in drop-D, and it started to get a little, y’know, un-dynamic.  But that is still the reigning tone and key
of the record: drop D.  Chris Walla
visited us in the studio and was wandering around, idly strumming on the
guitars that were lying around, and it turned out that every guitar was tuned
in drop D.”

 

There’s the obvious wonderment (OK, obvious to me) as to why a 17-song suite and what
forced its hand to keep going or stop when it stopped. But then again I’ve
always questioned whether or not Ten Years was One Year After too many. And
that really, Nine Inches of Nail really didn’t say quite enough.

 

“I would make some cryptic remark about the numerological
significance of 17, but I’ll spare you,” says Meloy, sparingly. “It just stopped
when it stopped.  I had the last song of
the cycle earlier on, so it really was just a question of filling in the story
between the two bookends.”

 

When it came to the legerdemain and the inspiration for
where Hazards would go, you can look
no further than one of Meloy’s most naggingly insistent obsessions: shape
shifting animals that maul women, like “Margaret” and the “animal” what snagged
her.

 

“Yeah, that’s definitely a common theme for me; the Crane Wife songs were similar in that
[regard]. I think it’s an interesting and common motif in folk song and tale.
It just happened to be the spark for this narrative. It’s also a motif borrowed
from “Tam Lin” or “Tambling” or “Young Tamblin,” depending on what version
you’re hearing.  Tam Lin doesn’t shape
shift, but he does just kind of emerge from a tree.”

And then?

 

“And, of course, ravages the female protagonist,” says Meloy
with a snicker before intoning his song’s words.  “And he’s never once asked her leave,”
says the song.

 

Before quizzing Meloy about specific songs I wanted to know
how he and fellow Decemberists came to include the voices of My Morning
Jacket’s Jim James, Lavender Diamond’s Becky Stark, My Brightest Diamond’s
Shara Worden and Robyn Hitchcock into “The Rake’s Song.” If there was effect he
was looking for, did he find it? Were they characters to be etched into the Hazard‘s script or were they just having
lunch around the corner? A little of both it seems.

 

“Robyn and Jim were corralled just because they’re our
friends and they were around and seemed game to do something.  Becky and Shara, on the other hand, are two
people for whom I have utmost admiration. 
When this thing was being deliberated, it was their voices I was hearing
singing on these songs.”

 

Fair enough.  For
those seeking a Led Zep reunion that will never and should never happen (easy
for me to say – I saw them) [Braggart. –
Ed.
], the Decemberists do something that only Page-n-Plant – and maybe Jethro
Tull on a very great day – do in that they make the whole leap from crunchy metal
(“The Queen’s Rebuke/The Crossing”) to a lute/accordion’s lilt (“Isn’t it a
Lovely Night”) while keeping all the stitching of it seamless.

 

“My metal phase has come very late,” says Meloy, of Zep’s
influence. “When all the other marginalized kids were sewing DRI patches on to
their denim jackets, I was quietly ensconced in a Smiths-R.E.M.-Hüsker Dü
reverie. But, as I read in a review recently, it’s still the kind of music that
gets you stuffed into a locker.”

This look into Meloy’s past allows me entrée into a few things that had been bugging
me since the band’s start:

 

 

 

BLURT: Is there
anything you miss about being on Kill Rock Stars?

Colin Meloy: I miss Slim Moon.

 

BLURT: Other than a
new car and a spiffy hat what did signing with Capitol and selling bunches of The Crane Wife afford you?

CM: Ha. Have you been stalking me?  The
Crane Wife
has afforded me modest things. I live in a house in the
woods.  It has afforded my quietude.

 

BLURT: You did loads
of Democratic Party stuff including the whole Always the Bridesmaid thing and that mini-tour for Obama throughout
2008. What’ll you do if he screws up, honestly?

CM: I was indoctrinated a Democrat in the womb.  As long as he sticks to the core principles,
I won’t be disappointed.  Nobody’s
perfect.

 

 

 

Back to the Hazards of the present, Meloy’s pen rendered pride and ardor into his tale of lenore
(my word blending “new,” “lore” and “yore”).

 

Named after an actual traditional song, Meloy’s “Annan
Water” is one of many “river-as-obstacle” narratives in folk music. To
Meloy’s reckoning, things were trickier in the days when bridges weren’t so
common. Then there’s “The Queens’s Approach” which, according to Meloy, is “the
‘Repaid’ riff played on banjo, backed by manipulated strings. For a while it
was going to be guitar, but we nixed it. 
If it had survived, it would’ve been the only instance of me using my
new ’77 Ibanez Rocket Senior Flying Vee. Yeah, like the one Bob Mould played.”

 

When I tease him about going on tour with Hazard and its promise of playing the
album from front-to-back and the possible costuming of such, I stumble on
something I heard within this new CD that I’ve not felt or dealt with
throughout the Decemberists catalog – some jokes, a ripping tip of a yarn here,
some black humored bits there.

 

What gives, Colin Meloy?

 

“Yes, I think it has a kind of over-arching humor to it that
might be lacking in the other records,” he admits. “There’s some funny shit on
there, I think, but people may not pick up on that.  What can you do?”

 

 

[The Decemberists will
be at SXSW in Austin
this week, performing
The Hazards of Love in its entirety and in sequence: Wednesday, March 18, at midnight, at
Stubb’s as part of the NPR showcase.
]

 

 

 

CRUISING CAYAMO STYLE

Blurt goes on Cayamo, a seven-day feast of
sea and sounds.

 

By LEE
ZIMMERMAN

 

“Amazing”
seems less than adequate as a descriptive term. Even “awesome” doesn’t do. “Terrific”
totally falls flat. No, none of these words do justice when speaking of Cayamo,
a veritable floating festival in the form of a seven-day music cruise to the
eastern Caribbean. Combine that cruise with onboard entertainment featuring an
array of singer/songwriters who practically define the genre-artists such as Lyle
Lovett, Indigo Girls, John Hiatt, Patty Griffin, Joe Ely… and it can only be
described as the experience of a lifetime.

 

Of
course, if you don’t care for music and you don’t enjoy being pampered by
extraordinarily polite people from far-flung countries who treat you like
visiting royalty, than disregard the above and read no further. The Cayamo
cruise isn’t for you.

 

Presumably
though, you are among those who might relish such an opportunity to indulge in
music and merriment. And given all Cayamo has to offer -who isn’t? This then,
is our impression gathered from a week’s worth of the best onboard experience
ever.

 

 

Day One

 

Sixthman,
the group that created and runs Cayamo, really has its act together. This is
only the second year for this particular cruise, and yet, it operates with all
the efficiency of a festival with considerably more tenure. After the initial
confusion that accompanies boarding a cruise ship for the first time (“What
time are the shows?” “Where are the restaurants?” “Which shore excursion do we
take in Tortola?” “What’s with that guy in the silly hat?”), things quickly
fall into place. Meals have an obscene amount of choices, guaranteed to satisfy
the glutton in us all. Tall fruity drinks pack a perverse quality of alcohol,
sure to raze the sensibilities of the unsuspecting. And of course there’s the
music, an overwhelming amount of choices that create some of the biggest
dilemmas passengers would face throughout the cruise. Do we opt for the
Spinnaker Lounger and see Darrell Scott or stay poolside for Brandi Carlyle? Check
out the Johnny Cash Throwdown or watch the Second City Improv? Damn, when do we
have time to eat? So much food-so little time.

 

Fortunately,
the music choices offered on Day One went fairly smoothly. The bon voyage party
at poolside with the Cajun band Roddie Romero & the Hub City Allstars
seemed mandatory, Romero and company being the obligatory sort of party band
well equipped to get things rolling. Then given the line-up in the lounge-the
irrepressible and surprisingly amusing Emerson Hart (former front man for
Tonic), a spunky and saucy Kathleen Edwards (whose request for whiskey was
finally met threefold), Collective Soul’s Ed Roland (looking like he could have
subbed for Sean Penn in  Fast Times At Ridgemont High, given that
he’s fond of saying the word “dude” in every other sentence), the father and
son team of Marc and Ted Broussard (the former one superb singer, the latter a
guitarist extraordinaire) and finally Shawn Mullins, who didn’t take the stage
until nearly one AM when a good portion of the audience was understandably
nodding out, but whose poignant narratives provided ample reason for
resuscitation.

 

Whew. When
we finally hit the cabin at 2:30 AM, we already felt like we had gotten our
money’s worth. And we had yet to seriously peruse the merch stand.

 

 

Day Two

Setting the watches forward the night before and losing a precious hour hardly
provided incentive to get up early. So finally, at 10:30 AM, after looking at
the line-up for the day ahead, we realized there was no time to waste. Rest and
relaxation be damned; there was a sake and sushi tasting to be savored instead.

 

Strike
that. Duty called. Lyle Lovett and Shawn Colvin were holding court in the
library. We were tempted to ask him about Mr. Hart’s comments the night before
(“There’s nothing funnier than the sight of Lyle Lovett in a life preserver”),
but we refrained out of due consideration for his current condition. Apparently
Lyle was feeling a bit under the weather from the rocking of the ship. He
doesn’t let that deter him however, and instead he and Colvin engaged in some
informative banter about their beginnings and songwriting styles. As the press
session concludes, Lyle made his way down the row of assembled journalists,
allowing for personal introductions and small talk. He genuinely gave the
impression of being a very personable, down-to-earth kind of guy, leaving the
fond hope among all those present that the ginger ale he’d been prescribed
really would work its wonders.

 

Outside
by the pool deck, the afternoon festivities were well under way by 1:00 PM,
initiated with a rousing rendition of Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice Its Alright”
courtesy of the Indigo Girls and the ever-constant Brandi Carlile. Despite the
breezy conditions topside (“Did you ever trying singing with hair in your
mouth,” Emily Saliers of the Indigos asked, causing a few smirks among the less
than politically correct males in the audience), they put in a well-received
set, clearly passing the unofficial audition required of any band that’s new on
the cruise.

 

The two
bands that follow-rockabilly raver Webb Wilder and elegiac chamber pop combo
Over the Rhine — proved equally adept at adapting to circumstances, although
the motion of the vessel doesn’t go unnoticed. “I’m not trying to strike a rock
‘n’ roll pose,” Over the Rhine’s singer Karen Bergquist insisted. “I’m just
trying to hold on.” Later she coins a phrase that could have served as by-word
for the duration of the cruise. “Forget rock ‘n’ roll. This is more like pitch
‘n’ roll.”

 

Whether
it’s the accumulated effect of too many of the funny fruity drinks or the
general unbalanced feeling brought on by the tilt of the sea, there’s an
immediate camaraderie amongst the passengers, with strangers striking up
spontaneous conversation and veterans of previous Sixthman cruises, who seem to
be in the majority, sharing their experiences. The musical line-up was almost
unchanged from the year before, the two most notable exceptions being Emmylou
Harris, whose place was taken by the Indigo Girls and Buddy Miller, who was
forced to bow out at the last minute due to an emergency triple by-pass only
days before. In fact, Cayamo itself has already fanned a fervent following,
spawning the kind of personal fraternity common to most festivals. Fans spoke
about performers as if they were personal friends-and indeed in many cases that
seemed to be the case with namedropping the order of the day. “I can introduce
you to anyone you want to meet,” Barbara from Lafayette LA offered. Not surprisingly,
veterans were also quick to compare this year’s cruise to last. Lin from Austin
remarked that she liked last year’s ship, courtesy of Carnival Cruise Lines,
better than the Dawn, part of Norwegian Caribbean’s fleet. “You didn’t have
this artificial cement hole in front of the stage which made for better
seating,” she said of the performances on the pool deck. On the other hand, Bob
and Judy from Pennsylvania claimed the Dawn was definitely the better boat. “You
have a wider choice of restaurants,” they maintained. Then again, Bob also
suggested last year’s bands appeared more upbeat.

 

Fortunately
then, the Indigo Girls couldn’t be accused of slacking when it came to
accelerating the energy. They also seemed to have brought along their own fan
following, and their performance that evening in the Stardust Theater, the
ship’s spotlight venue, garnered unabashed admiration from both the faithful
and novices alike. While most of the set tended to focus on softer fare-with
special attention given their new double disc, Poseidon and the Bitter Bug-a rotating cast of characters (Carlile,
Shawn Mullins and assorted others) gave the show more of a cabaret feel as
performers slipped on and off stage at odd intervals. Indigo’s Emily asked if
the crowd minded the format and judging by the reaction nobody seemed to have
any objection. Indeed, by the time the girls finished the set with a spirited
take on “Galileo,” the audience was rapt with devotion.

 

There
was still more music to be enjoyed later in the evening, and after dinner, the
center of the action was once again at the Spinnaker, where Darrell Scott
provided an exceptional display of guitar dexterity-not to mention superb
songwriting. He was followed by Joe Ely and accordionist Jose Guzman, who
joined forces to give Ely’s sagebrush serenades a decided South of the Border
Tex-Mex flavor.

 

Which
begs the question-why wasn’t Ely accorded headliner status?

 

 

Day Three

 

Samana,
in the Dominican Republic, allowed the first official respite from the nonstop
musical mélange thanks to a varied array of shore excursions that challenged
one’s dexterity, pocketbook or both. A horseback ride to a pair of remote
waterfalls proved more challenging than expected due to a rocky trail over
uncertain terrain and a subsequent steep hike that gave the riders a chance to
personally experience the environs from the horse’s perspective. Happily, the
one-to-one attention given by the local guides proved a godsend to those
unprepared for such a tedious physical challenge. Even so, by the time everyone
was back on the boat, most were ready to shuck their hiking shoes and resume
the relatively undemanding task of assuming audience duties and immersing
themselves in the music.

 

There
seemed to be three subjects that every performer espoused upon in common-(one)
the ship’s motion, as described earlier, (two) asking which members of the
audience had experienced Cayamo the year before, a query which seemed to elicit
a positive response from the majority of the crowd (and hence make us
first-timers feel like a distinct minority), and (three) expressing gratitude
to everyone-veterans or not-for coming to see them perform. Almost always, the
gratitude was given Sixthman for making it all possible, but being that the
cruise cost  upwards of $1,400 apiece and
required a supreme financial sacrifice, ample appreciation was lavished on the
passengers as well.

 

 “Its because of you folks that we get to do
what we love to do every day,” Lyle Lovett told the audience at his show that
night, and once again, his humility was truly touching. No wonder this crowd
loves Lyle. It may have had something to do with his extraordinarily dry sense
of humor as well. “This is the most open-minded ship,” Lovett remarked in mock
astonishment, referring to the sexual preferences shared by the Indigo Girls’
female faithful. “The bond between a man and a woman is so twentieth century. ” He then initiated a hilarious vamp with
back-up singer Arnold McCuller, one that cast the two as quarreling spouses and
brought down the house.

 

In
fact, Lovett captured the crowd from the first moment he stepped onstage and
continued to ensure the lock throughout. He was aided in his efforts by an ace
backing band (which included veteran drummer and session legend Russ Kunkel), a
gracious invitation to John Hiatt to share the stage (remarking the Hiatt
looked like the stereotypical surfer dude as he struggled to keep balance while
the ship suddenly shook during departure), and a set list that included the
most tender coda offered onboard, a touching rendition of his classic “Closing
Time.”

 

Later,
back in the Spinnaker Lounge, former Toad the Wet Sprocket front man Glen
Phillips offered a gleeful expression of gratitude of a different sort. “This
is the first time in thirteen years my wife and I have been away together
without the kids and we’re taking the time to become (ahem) reacquainted,” he
remarked before adding, “Hell, I’m just saying this because I’m so trying to get laid.”

 

Indeed,
for all the talk heard throughout the trip of a common bond between audience
and performer, perhaps no one shared that sentiment as succinctly.

 

 

Day Four

 

A day
of sightseeing on St. Thomas, U.S.V.I. was considerably less strenuous than
that undertaken in Samana the day before, and if by evening, everyone wasn’t
quite rested from all the activity, then the music gave cause for a revival.
John Hiatt was the featured performer at the early show and he measured up to
the anticipation aroused in the crowd. Hiatt seems to have grown comfortable
into his role as a veteran troubadour, one whose ample stock of songs assures
any set list can double as a recitation of greatest hits. This evening’s
selection was no exception, given the inclusion of such certifiable classics as
“Cry Love,” Drive South,” and the set’s soulful closer “Have a Little Faith in
Me.” So too, Hiatt’s trademark sense of humor was out in full force, echoing
similar themes to those of his compatriots. As he launched into the second song
of his performance, the ship pulled anchor and lurched forward, causing his fan
and floor monitors to vibrate about the stage like the toy players on an
electric game board. “Thanks for putting me back together,” Hiatt said to his
frantic roadie, before sputtering in mock irritation, “Damn this ship! They
broke my fan!”

 

As
expected, that wasn’t the only shipboard scenario Hiatt had comment on. “I used
to have trouble interacting with people,” he confessed. “But here on this
cruise there’s no escape. Actually, it’s good for my personal progress.”

 

Curiously
enough, in the second major headlining of the evening, Shawn Colvin seemed to
shrug off her difficulty in connecting. Appearing solo in the big venue of the
Starlight Theater, she seemed wrapped up in her own world, closing her eyes,
cursing the fact she had to continually tune and confiding that she actually
felt a bit naked, given that in recent weeks she had been touring in the
company of Patty Griffin, Emmylou Harris and the sadly missed Buddy Miller. At
times, her interaction with the audience seemed somewhat strained, and a
surprising number of empty seats seemed to testify to that divide. However, if
that bothered her, she didn’t let on, and it certainly didn’t deter her from
casting a few disparaging comments about onboard conditions.

 

“Has
anyone had a good meal?” she asked with a mix of cynicism and sarcasm. “I’m
such an asshole,” she added apologetically.

 

Tift
Merritt, on the other hand, conveyed a persona that was anything but
quarrelsome. Working an overflowing crowd in Dazzles, the informal bar located
mid-ship, she invited her audience to crowd in around her and fill up the empty
spaces. Standing solo and alternating between guitar and electric piano, she
offered a soaring set of emotionally-tinged originals, belting each out in a
homespun voice borne of Southern soul. Charming and enchanting, she appeared
genuinely delighted at the warm response, even as she admitted she may have
become certifiably insane after 45 days of continuous touring. She also offered
a truism of her own.

 

“Being
on a cruise is kind of like being back in high school,” she suggested. “You
know there’s a party going on somewhere, but you haven’t been invited.”

 

“The
party’s right here,” a member of the audience protested, and afterwards, as she
graciously greeted fans individually, exchanging pleasantries and patiently
posing for pictures, it seemed that those words had indeed rung true.

 

 

Day Five

 

Sightseeing
mixed with beach each time in Tortola, the gray looming skies notwithstanding. Opportunity
for a nap, time to catch a massage and better yet, a chance to catch a breath.

A brief
breath at that however. Brandi Carlile, a relative newcomer compared to the
other artists on board, put on one of the most memorable performances of the
entire cruise, no small feat considering the exemplary caliber of the shows
overall. Her connection with the audience was genuinely engaging, and when she
and her two backing musicians, twin brothers Tim and Phil Hanseroth, stepped
out to the edge of the stage to sing a cappella, it added to the embrace. “When
you throw artists together in close proximity, they develop a sense of
community,” Carlile commented the next day. “They become friends. It makes
everybody more accessible to the fans and each other.”

 

Later
that evening, Ed Robertson, front man for Barenaked ladies, Adam Arkin
look-alike and last minute substitute for the ailing Buddy Miller, also found
common bond with the audience as he settled into the Spinnaker. It was
difficult to discern which was funnier-his commentary between songs or the quirky
tunes themselves. After all, anyone who can work in a lyric about aspiring to
be Billy Barty, “but normal size” would certainly seem somewhat off-kilter. When
he brought on special guests Kathleen Edwards and her husband and musical foil
Colin Cripps, he went into a rap about how any two people could have a special
song, even if they weren’t, ahem, otherwise connected. Eyeing Cripps
seductively, he invited him to duet on Wham’s “Careless Whispers,” much to
Edwards’ chagrin. She made it appear that the two shared more than harmonies.

 

That
liberal attitude apparently goes a long way on a Cayamo cruise

 

 

Day Six

 

By now
I’ve come to the realization that in the pursuit of catching concerts,
attempting to get a glimpse of the stars, making new acquaintances and divvying
up my time between the devoted journalist and the unabashed groupie, little
time is left for anything else, be it eating, napping, grabbing the occasional
photo op, or-and this is by no means in order of preference-spending time with
my wife on the occasion of our fifth wedding anniversary. Nevertheless, I tried
to press forward on all fronts, although admittedly some more than others. It
was also time to do some networking, first by introducing myself to Andy
Levine, the scion of Sixthman, its founder and all-round cheerleader, and later
Eric Brace, leader of the Nashville band Last Train Home and current
collaborator with Nashville journalist, singer and songwriter Peter Cooper on a
terrific new album called Which One of Us
Do You Like Better
. Eric was an affable sort, and the exchange of words of
mutual admiration doubtless served both our egos well.

 

By this
point, the boat was really rocking, Bob from Pennsylvania’s protests aside. It
was physically rocking, and rolling, and pitching from side to side, due to
high seas and sporadic bouts of squally weather. It caused the less hearty
guests to flee the pool deck during Bonepony’s rousing set of backwoods
rave-ups, while sparking the other artists to continue to revive their
commentary about the boat’s perpetual motion. In fact, given the nonstop roll,
it became all but impossible to distinguish those who were walking unsteadily
due to inebriation from those merely attempting to keep their balance. And
considering the length of the NCL Dawn is roughly half the length of Rhode
Island-or so it sometimes seemed-navigating under the effects of the weather
condition was no small challenge. During a press session later in the day, John
Hiatt dismissed any notion that he’s been the victim of seasickness, insisting
it was his wife who was so afflicted. (In all fairness, he also credited her
with being the social ambassador for the two of them.)  Patty Griffin, who followed Hiatt’s brief
bout with the press, opted to add to the shipboard scenario in a different way,
bringing as her escort her self-proclaimed “Cabana Boy,” an extremely oversized
man dressed in tights and a tutu.

 

Hopefully,
the need for an entourage had nothing to do with loneliness. Like Colvin, she
was adjusting to performing solo sans the other members of her usual touring
ensemble-Colvin, Emmylou Harris and the waylaid Buddy Miller. “There is some
emotional pressure,” she conceded. “It’s nice to have people to share the stage.
Not just great singers and songwriters but also people who are great at
carrying the show.”

 

Speaking
of shows, the evening brought another full bill, beginning with the
ever-soulful Dave Ryan Harris, who added his own take on the apparent
prevalence of same sex attraction. “Sometimes when I’m singing a song like ‘Sexual
Healing’ in falsetto, my eyes are closed, and when I open them and I find I’m
staring at a dude! So if I offend anyone, I do apologize,”

All
disclaimers aside, Harris also added to the chorus of gratitude. “Thank you for
taking a week to spend time with artists your co-workers have never heard of,”
he said before encouraging all the other musicians in attendance to stand and
applaud the audience.

 

Other
than the set by Harris and the truly extraordinary Vienna Teng, whose
atmospheric piano ballads stoked the most amazing ambiance from her
arrangements, the rest of the evening’s entertainment consisted of reprises-Joe
Ely, Glen Phillips and Over the Rhine. And as we passed him playing to a full
house in Dazzles near midnight, there was Ed Robertson intoning one of his
familiar refrains, one that went “I hate Winnipeg.” What caused him to feel
that way was never quite discerned.

 

 

Day Seven

 

“This
year it’s just as exhausting and just as mind-blowing as last year,” said the
gregarious guy from Seattle occupying the next lounge chair. He seemed a bit
tipsy and given the fact the ship was now anchored securely in Nassau-having
been diverted due to foul weather from the original destination, Great Stirrup
Cay-one had to assume it wasn’t the boat’s perpetual motion that was cause for
his condition. Earlier in the day we had strolled about town, doing our best to
elude the entreaties of the locals who were hawking their wares. However, the
one plea we found ourselves unable to resist-the same set-up that had stopped
us in our tracks at all the other ports-was the person in the oversized animal
costume -disguised a giant parrot, dolphin or other creature of undetermined
species-who lay in ambush to lure tourists for the obligatory debarkation
photo.

 

Other
than that, our day was spent peacefully-the inebriated individual from Seattle
notwithstanding. A bit of time in the hot tub with members of the band Oakhurst
and the Greencards provides a pleasant respite prior to the last night of
catching all those missed initially. Thereafter, an hour of Patty Griffin gave
way to a sampling of the aforementioned Oakhurst (after hot tub time, it almost
seemed obligatory) and then on to the night’s finale, credited to the
No-Buddies due to the fact it was originally intended as a Buddy Miller show. In
fact, it turns out to be a series of songs by the various performers, some in
duo mode and others reprising a song or two from their regular sets. Our last
show of the night-and of the cruise-comes courtesy of the Greencards, a band
consisting of two Aussies, an Englishman and a Yank who have deftly melded
their talents to create a fusion of English folk and American bluegrass.

 

Earlier
in the evening, Sixthman’s Andy Levine had finally revealed the meaning behind
the word Cayamo-a combination of ‘Cay,’ meaning ‘little island’ and ‘amo,’
derived from the Spanish word for ‘love.’ “This is all about what the world
should be,” Levine says, and after spending seven carefree days in such
pleasant circumstances, one can’t help but agree.

That
said, we’ll leave the final thoughts to others:

Ed Robertson (at the Starlight on the final night): “I’ve done the math. There
are more of us than there is crew. So let’s meet in the Sixthman office at 3a.m.
and commandeer this vessel so we can keep this cruise going!”

 

The
Greencards (the final night in the Spinnaker): “What did we like most? Lyle,
the lobster, Tift Merritt and the towel animals made by the cabin boy.”

 

A
friend overheard confiding to the ever-affable Shawn Mullins: “They really seem
to love you, Shawn.”

 

And
finally, Andy Levine, Thursday night to the assembled audience back at the
Starlight: “When you wake up Sunday morning after the cruise, you’re going to
realize how much the real world sucks compared to being on this cruise.”

Amen. Can’t wait for next year.

 

 

[Photo
of John Hiatt & Lyle Lovett: Alisa Cherry]