Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Twenty Four Hour Service / Ian Gomm

I'll be honest: this is a test post.  So it made sense to try it out with an artist I've been dying to write about, who doesn't have a ton of YouTube links (the handy resort of bloggers who don't need to get obscure). The sad truth being that I DO need to get obscure sometimes.

Though honestly, folks -- why should Ian Gomm be obscure? When Brinsley Schwarz dissolved (I refuse to say "broke up") in 1975, while most of the group re-formed as the Rumour (as in Graham Parker and the), both bassist/singer/songwriter Nick Lowe and rhythm guitarist/singer/songwriter Ian Gomm headed off to try solo careers.  And they had every reason to. Nick's career took off, sorta-ish, and thanks to his serendiptitous meeting with Dave Edmunds, with whom he formed Rockpile, managed to get some traction.  But we forget that Ian Gomm did pretty well out of  the gate as well, charting a #18 hit with "Hold On" in 1979. Yeah, Nick produced for Stiff Records and Elvis Costello, but Ian produced the Stranglers and Alec Korner at his studio up in Wales. Now that we're in the throes of this Nick Lowe renaissance, maybe we need to take a second look at the very talented Ian Gomm as well.

Okay, let's backtrack. Ian Gomm was a late addition to Brinsley Schwarz, joining them I think in September 1970 (please, Ian or Will, correct my research) -- early enough to join all but their first two albums, but late enough to completely escape responsibility for the Fillmore East debacle. This is a good thing.

Once Ian showed up, Nick Lowe wasn't the band's only songwriter any more -- which, given the congenial pub rock culture, meant collaboration as well as competition.  Okay, quick quiz:  Who wrote Nick Lowe's only bona fide hit single, "Cruel to Be Kind"?  People tend to forget that this was a co-write job, and Ian Gomm never gets the credit he deserves.

Check out this addictive track from Ian's first solo album, 1978's Summer Holiday. (Originally titled Gomm With the Wind in the US.) 


What's not to love about this track? That upward bubbling rhythm line, the confiding lyrics of the verse, exploding into a joyful profusion of snappy horns -- this is a feel-good track indeed. (Got to love the Presley-like low voice as he sneaks in the "twenty-four.")  Now that we actually live in a 24-hour service economy, we should pay homage to this prescient track. This came out back when it was actually special, and kind of exciting, to offer around-the-clock service -- sad that it's become a jejeune thing.

And if Nick Lowe is currently producing some of the best work of his career, I direct your attention to Ian Gomm's 1997 Crazy for You or 2002's Rock 'n' Roll Heart. C'mon, folks, expand your horizons!

And please let me know if this method of linking worked for you.  Because I need to get back in the game with those obscure tracks we all want to know about!

Monday, April 23, 2012

All I Know Right Now / Marshall Crenshaw

All I know right now is that there are only a few days left for you to be part of something pretty amazing. Marshall Crenshaw has mounted a new project on Kickstarter which will allow music lovers to help underwrite his new baby:  a series of EPs to be released on vinyl over the next year or so, featuring a mix of new original Crenshaw songs and dynamic cover versions of other people's songs.  (Because, as you know if you've ever seen Marshall live, he really digs performing other people's music too.)

Click here and Marshall himself will tell you all about it: Marshall's Kickstart campaign

I signed up.  You should too.

One of the cool things about this Kickstarter project is that it will allow you to sample many facets of this multi-dimensional artist. There's the romantic spirit, full of yearning and emotional vulnerability, that breaks through the lush 80s-style wall of sound on his 1983 album Field Day. "All I Know Right Now" is a song that literally stops me in my tracks everytime I hear it:

But anyone who thinks that Marshall Crenshaw is only about bright and bouncy power pop deserves to listen more. He does dark and brooding and edgy perfectly well -- like this song, "On the Run," from his 1989 album Good Evening.  I have this track on my favorite workout playlist, and everytime it cycles up, I feel a burst of power.

And lest you think he's a relic of the 80s, just listen to the powerful stuff he's doing today. "Stormy River" is . . . well, I was about to say it's one of my favorite tracks from Marshall's most recent album, Jaggedland, but that's crazy talk:  I love the entire album, just love it to death. Because the real great artists don't stop growing.

Now as you know I'm a besotted fan of this guy, and I've written about him a lot: Here and here and here, just for starters.  Oooh, and I can't help throwing in a link to this post, either.  And maybe just one more YouTuber, because the accompanying video is just too much fun:

So now that you've spent your afternoon listening to all this Marshall Crenshaw -- isn't it time you went and got yourself a little piece of the action?  Marshall's Kickstart campaign

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Weight / The Band

Obvious, I know. Levon Helm dies, and every blogger has to pipe up. But this death did get to me, a real sock to the gut, more than I ever would have expected. 

It's not because I was a longtime fan of The Band or anything.  Count me in the legion of music fans who only discovered The Band when The Last Waltz came out in 1978. (Hey, at least I'll admit it.) I explained it all when I wrote last year about "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down."
In that film, watching Levon, with his gingery beard, open grin, and twangy drawl, I immediately sensed he was the authentic heart of The Band. The guy from Turkey Scratch, Arkansas, was real country, as opposed to those Canadian wannabes. If the Band invented Americana -- and we might as well give them credit for that -- Levon was their pipeline to the real stuff. Okay, okay, so that's a gross simplification. The music we now label Ameericana has always been a fabrication of sorts, a self-conscious blending of folk rock and bluegrass and Delta blues, There's no reason why a talented bunch of Canadians couldn't do it as well as anybody. If Nick Lowe can pass himself off as a country crooner, anything is possible.

But accidents of geography aside, Levon's joyous passion for music seemed to me to be the energy feeding The Last Waltz's performances. I saw that same passion still alive a year and a half ago, when Levon joined Nick Lowe, Richard Thompson, and Allen Toussaint at a taping of Elvis Costello's Spectacle. Even though Levon couldn't sing -- he claimed it had nothing to do with his bouts of throat cancer; now I wonder -- just watching him bash those drums was a joy. There was no disguising the evident affection those other musicians felt for Levon, either. I went to that taping to watch Nick and Elvis, but in the end it was Levon's night all around.

So here, in tribute to one of the music greats, is another Band classic:

In many ways this is the quintessential Band song: the traded harmonies, the rustic setting, the Biblical overtones, the old-timey storytelling.  From the very first line -- "Rolled into Nazareth, I was feeling 'bout half-past dead" -- we seem to be dwelling on the border between gospel and folk song. Never mind that it's most likely Nazareth, PA, he's rolling into, home of the Martin Guitar factory -- you can't tell me that Robbie Robertson didn't assume listeners would think he was writing about Jesus.

The ambiguous clues keep on coming. The traveller can't find a place to sleep, just like Mary and Joseph stranded in Bethlehem. He runs into the Devil, walking down the street. There's a Luke (like the Gospel writer) waiting for the Judgment Day. There's a Miss Moses, who he tells to "go down" (like in the spirtual "Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt land, / Tell old pharoah, / Let my people go").  Come on, Robbie!

And what is this "weight" that the singer/s is going to take off of Anny and "put right on me"?  Is it really just a simple obligation, to say hello to an old friend?  Or is it Christ taking on the sins of the world?

Of course, Robbie Robertson wasn't writing a Christian parable. All of the people the traveler encounters -- a song structure that he totally ripped off of their mentor Bob Dylan -- are supposedly real people they knew, all the way down to Crazy Chester and his dog Jack. (Do we not love Rick Danko's strangulated singing on the Crazy Chester verse?) But if Robbie could rip off Dylan, why not borrow a little flavor from the Bible, too? All smoke and mirrors, my friends.

And yet, the lyrics of the song aren't why it's great.  It's those stately, momentous piano chord progressions, the glorious wailing harmonies on the chorus, and, yes, that loping whack of the drums, courtesy of Mr. Levon Helm.  It's definitely more than the sum of its parts.  How perfect to have the Staples Singers join in on this number in The Last Waltz, testifying their hearts out.

I'm sorry now that I wasn't more clued in in 1968 when Music From Big Pink came out. This music may have sounded old-fashioned, but at the time it was in fact something original indeed. In a world full of Beatle-esque pop and psychedelia, someone was finally coming out with a new sound.  (Not that it didn't have its own psychedelic buzz...).

And at the heart of it all was Levon Helm, one of the music greats. Lay your head down in peace, brother.