Saturday, August 30, 2014

Add 1113 Tangerine Dream

Fans generally acknowledge the classic era of Tangerine Dream as coinciding with their Virgin years, which this collection rounds up nicely, opening with two landmarks, Phaedra and Rubycon, then including the group's broadening of scope and direction with the live Ricochet, Stratosfear, and Cyclone. This was directly after the early avant-garde years, consisting of experimental, arrhythmic work like Atem and Electronic Meditation, and before the Hollywood years, when Edgar Froese and co. began composing work for movie scores like Risky Business. Phaedra and Rubycon have not dated at all since their early-‘70s recording, despite Froese, Peter Baumann, and Chris Franke’s early adoption of Moog technology, along with Mellotron and other electric or electronic instruments. Along with the full LPs in their most recent remastering, the collection also rounds up single edits and 7” versions when they were originally available.


Friday, August 29, 2014

add 1112 Joni 1976

Joni Mitchell's Hejira is the last in an astonishingly long run of top-notch studio albums dating back to her debut. Some vestiges of her old style remain here; "Song for Sharon" utilizes the static, pithy vocal harmonies from Ladies of the Canyon's "Woodstock," "Refuge of the Roads" features woodwind touches reminiscent of those in "Barangrill" from For the Roses, and "Coyote" is a fast guitar-strummed number that has precedents as far back as Clouds' "Chelsea Morning." But by and large, this release is the most overtly jazz-oriented of her career up to this point -- hip and cool, but never smug or icy. "Blue Motel Room" in particular is a prototypic slow jazz-club combo number, appropriately smooth, smoky, and languorous. "Coyote," "Black Crow," and the title track are by contrast energetically restless fast-tempo selections. The rest of the songs here cleverly explore variants on mid- to slow-tempo approaches. None of these cuts are traditionally tuneful in the manner of Mitchell's older folk efforts; the effect here is one of subtle rolls and ridges on a green meadow rather than the outgoing beauty of a flower garden. Mitchell's verses, many concerned with character portraits, are among the most polished of her career; the most striking of these studies are that of the decrepit Delta crooner of "Furry Sings the Blues" and the ambivalent speaker of "Song to Sharon," who has difficulty choosing between commitment and freedom. Arrangements are sparse, yet surprisingly varied, the most striking of which is the kaleidoscopically pointillistic one used on "Amelia." Performances are excellent, with special kudos reserved for Jaco Pastorius' melodic bass playing on "Refuge of the Roads" and the title cut. This excellent album is a rewarding listen.


add 1111 Tribute Joni

Joni Mitchell covers dot the musical landscape the way Tim Hortons doughnut shacks line the highways of Ontario. It's a little surprising, then, that the first Mitchell tribute album to be released on a major U.S. label didn't emerge until 2007, which was coincidentally the same year Mitchell was scheduled to release Shine, her first studio effort to appear in some ten years. And as far as tribute albums go, A Tribute to Joni Mitchell isn't half bad. The compilation is split up between songs that were recorded specifically for the tribute album, such as Sufjan Stevens' "A Free Man in Paris," and those that were recorded and released previously, such as James Taylor's "River." The tracks that were recorded specifically for A Tribute are far and away the best. Stevens approaches "A Free Man in Paris" with his characteristic, and fitting, over-the-top irony and band geek sensibilities. Opening with a brass fanfare, the kind that wouldn't be out of place in the opening credits of a network news show, Stevens' cover tackles the original with an appropriate sense of theatricality and fun. Björk's lilting cover of "Boho Dance," lush with synthesized bells and whorls, arguably rivals the original. She does a very good job of allowing Mitchell's lyics to unfurl, even while she twists and transforms the song, fairy godmother-style, into something otherworldly. And Caetano Veloso's rendition of "Dreamland" is simply a revelation. It's not a huge stretch from the original, but Veloso's light, gentle vocals, augmented by the the warm, loose Brazilian instrumentation, somehow manages to grab Mitchell's narrative and bring it to life. Mitchell is a storyteller, and the best tracks on here are those that welcome and explore her narratives. The worst ignore or misinterpret them. Prince pays little attention to Mitchell's lyrics on "A Case of You," slashing the first two verses in order to cut right to the chase. This abridged version has a lot of soul, but it does little to pay tribute to Mitchell's original; Prince cut out the pathos and made the song sappy. To be fair, Mitchell's a difficult person to pay tribute to, let alone cover, seeing how she's one of those rare singer/songwriters whose abilities as a performer are equal to her compositions. This stands in stark contrast to someone like Bob Dylan, whose songs were often just as, if not more, enjoyable in their Jimi Hendrix or Joan Baez incarnations. But while she's ultimately the best performer of her own work, Mitchell, with her warbly soprano and idiosyncratic sense of composition, hasn't always lent herself to the unaccustomed ear. A Tribute to Joni Mitchell is thus a great listen for those who'd like to ease into the breadth and range of Mitchell's work by way of established, accessible artists like Prince, Sarah McLachlan and Taylor. Granted, fans will probably find themselves yearning for the original material after listening to this disc, but this is only another way in which A Tribute succeeds. These interpretations, imperfect as they can be, provide new vantage points from which Mitchell's original albums can be located, analyzed, and appreciated.


Thursday, August 28, 2014

add 1110 Maya Beiser

Artist: Maya Beiser
Title Of Album: Uncovered
Year Of Release: 2014
Genre: Classical/Rock
Label: Innova Records
Quality: MP3 320 kbps
Total Time: 50:51
Total Size: 119 Mb

1. Black Dog (4:55)
2. Moanin' At Midnight (2:59)
3. Little Wing (3:30)
4. Summertime (4:59)
5. Epitaph (8:33)
6. Wish You Were Here (6:59)
7. Louisiana Blues (2:51)
8. Lithium (4:12)
9. Back In Black (4:37)
10. Kashmir (7:12)

Cellist Maya Beiser’s latest, Uncovered, is an album of classic rock tunes re-imagined and re-contextualized in stunning and multi-layered performances. Consisting almost entirely of Beiser’s multi-tracked cello with drums and bass added by collaborators Glenn Kotche (Wilco) and Jherek Bischoff, these “uncovers” -- in new arrangements by Evan Ziporyn -- breathe new life into works by Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Nirvana, Janis Joplin, Howlin’ Wolf, King Crimson, Muddy Waters and AC/DC.

“I approach every song like an open canvas,” says Beiser, “constructing each layer of sound, rhythm, harmony, color and melody -- building and experimenting until it feels right.” Raised in the Galilee Mountains in Israel and surrounded with the music and rituals of Jews, Muslims and Christians while immersed in the study of classical cello repertoire, Beiser has dedicated her work to reinventing solo cello performance in the classical arena.

The results of her work on Uncovered are impressionistic, but not gauzy. Her performances here are incendiary, in line with New York magazine’s assessment that “Beiser is not the sort of musician who zigzags around the planet playing catalog music for polite and sleepy audiences. She throws down the gauntlet in every program.” With an arm’s length list of performances from the Sydney Opera House to Carnegie Hall to the World Expo in Nagoya, Japan, to the Royal Albert Hall (and the deep discography to go with it, including 2010’s Provenance on innova Recordings), Beiser is not so much ready to take the world by storm as already directing a creative whirlwind of a career in ever-widening circles. Spin her latest and hear for yourself.


Monday, August 25, 2014

add 1108 Nick Drake 1

It's little wonder why Drake felt frustrated at the lack of commercial success his music initially gathered, considering the help he had on his debut record. Besides fine production from Joe Boyd and assistance from folks like Fairport Convention's Richard Thompson and his unrelated bass counterpart from Pentangle, Danny Thompson, Drake also recruited school friend Robert Kirby to create most of the just-right string and wind arrangements. His own performance itself steered a careful balance between too-easy accessibility and maudlin self-reflection, combining the best of both worlds while avoiding the pitfalls on either side. The result was a fantastic debut appearance, and if the cult of Drake consistently reads more into his work than is perhaps deserved, Five Leaves Left is still a most successful effort. Having grown out of the amiable but derivative styles captured on the long-circulating series of bootleg home recordings, Drake imbues his tunes with just enough drama -- world-weariness in the vocals, carefully paced playing, and more -- to make it all work. His lyrics capture a subtle poetry of emotion, as on the pastoral semi-fantasia of "The Thoughts of Mary Jane," which his soft, articulate singing brings even more to the full. Sometimes he projects a little more clearly, as on the astonishing voice-and-strings combination "Way to Blue," while elsewhere he's not so clear, suggesting rather than outlining the mood. Understatement is the key to his songs and performances' general success, which makes the combination of his vocals and Rocky Dzidzornu's congas on "Three Hours" and the lovely "'Cello Song," to name two instances, so effective. Danny Thompson is the most regular side performer on the album, his bass work providing subtle heft while never standing in the way of the song -- kudos well deserved for Boyd's production as well.

add 1111 Nick Drake 4

Hunger for "new" Nick Drake material had reached enough of a fever pitch by the 21st century for Island to try digging up enough for this odd patchwork collection, combining outtakes with remixes of tracks that had been previously issued on the Time of No Reply album. The result is a curious disc that's not quite an anthology of wholly previously unreleased material, and thus of somewhat limited value to Drake collectors, though it contains much good music. The only song here previously unavailable in any form is the 1974 outtake "Tow the Line," a melancholic solo acoustic performance (as are most of the tracks on the CD) that's well up to the standards of Pink Moon and the 1974 tracks that previously surfaced on Time of No Reply. Also new to official release are spring 1968 solo acoustic versions of "River Man" (later to appear on Five Leaves Left with orchestration) and "Mayfair" (a later recording of which was used on Time of No Reply), as well as a March 1969 version of "Three Hours" that's longer than the one later cut for Five Leaves Left. There's also a newly discovered take of "Hanging on a Star" (one of the 1974 outtakes used on Time of No Reply) with a different vocal. The differences between these and the familiar studio renditions aren't knock-your-socks-off different, but certainly good and well worth hearing by Drake cultists.
It's the rest of the material that might be the target of criticism from concerned consumers, whether for posthumous tampering or redundancy with previously available albums. Most controversially, two tracks from Time of No Reply -- "Time of No Reply" itself and "I Was Made to Love Magic" (the latter here, for some reason, retitled simply "Magic") -- have been altered to include Robert Kirby's original orchestral arrangements, recorded in 2003. Actually in both instances, the substituted orchestration is integrated very tastefully, but it can never be answered whether Drake himself would have approved or had it done the exact same way. The remaining cuts are simply remixes or remasterings of six songs that appeared on Time of No Reply, the remixes of the 1974 songs "Black Eyed Dog," "Rider on the Wheel," and "Voices" (originally titled "Voice from the Mountain" when it first appeared on Time of No Reply) being done by the original recording engineer, John Wood. Though those remixes of the 1974 tracks in particular are an improvement (the songs on the original release had been mixed onto a mono listening tape), again it's not the sort of thing that will generate revelations unless you're an audiophile. As everything Drake recorded was worth hearing, this CD too is quite worthy judged in isolation, and certainly full of the subdued mystery the singer/songwriter brought to his music. It's just not the gold mine of discoveries for which some might have hoped.


add 1110 Nick Drake 3

After two albums of tastefully orchestrated folk-pop, albeit some of the least demonstrative and most affecting around, Drake chose a radical change for what turned out to be his final album. Not even half-an-hour long, with 11 short songs and no more -- he famously remarked at the time that he simply had no more to record -- Pink Moon more than anything else is the record that made Drake the cult figure he remains. Specifically, Pink Moon is the bleakest of them all; that the likes of Belle and Sebastian are fans of Drake may be clear enough, but it's doubtful they could ever achieve the calm, focused anguish of this album, as harrowing as it is attractive. No side musicians or outside performers help this time around -- it's simply Drake and Drake alone on vocals, acoustic guitar, and a bit of piano, recorded by regular producer Joe Boyd but otherwise untouched by anyone else. The lead-off title track was eventually used in a Volkswagen commercial nearly 30 years later, giving him another renewed burst of appreciation -- one of life's many ironies, in that such an affecting song, Drake's softly keened singing and gentle strumming, could turn up in such a strange context. The remainder of the album follows the same general path, with Drake's elegant melancholia avoiding sounding pretentious in the least thanks to his continued embrace of simple, tender vocalizing. Meanwhile, the sheer majesty of his guitar playing -- consider the opening notes of "Road" or "Parasite" -- makes for a breathless wonder to behold.


add 1109 Nick Drake 2

With even more of the Fairport Convention crew helping him out -- including bassist Dave Pegg and drummer Dave Mattacks along with, again, a bit of help from Richard Thompson -- as well as John Cale and a variety of others, Drake tackled another excellent selection of songs on his second album. Demonstrating the abilities shown on Five Leaves Left didn't consist of a fluke, Bryter Layter featured another set of exquisitely arranged and performed tunes, with producer Joe Boyd and orchestrator Robert Kirby reprising their roles from the earlier release. Starting with the elegant instrumental "Introduction," as lovely a mood-setting piece as one would want, Bryter Layter indulges in a more playful sound at many points, showing that Drake was far from being a constant king of depression. While his performances remain generally low-key and his voice quietly passionate, the arrangements and surrounding musicians add a considerable amount of pep, as on the jazzy groove of the lengthy "Poor Boy." The argument could be made that this contravenes the spirit of Drake's work, but it feels more like a calmer equivalent to the genre-sliding experiments of Van Morrison at around the same time. Numbers that retain a softer approach, like "At the Chime of a City Clock," still possess a gentle drive to them. Cale's additions unsurprisingly favor the classically trained side of his personality, with particularly brilliant results on "Northern Sky." As his performances on keyboards and celeste help set the atmosphere, Drake reaches for a perfectly artful reflection on loss and loneliness and succeeds wonderfully.


add 1107 Spare Rib & The Bluegrass Sauce


add 1106 Latcho Drom


add 1105 Real Estate

Jersey-bred indie rock golden boys Real Estate arrived in the late 2000s with a subdued approach to guitar rock that stripped away all unnecessary clutter and presented their tuneful songs in a manner as attractive and steadfast as primary colors, spring days, comfort food, or any of life's basic staples. Free of gimmicks, pretense, and artifice, their tunes tapped into the insular, college-aged melancholia of the Clean or Yo La Tengo's soft summer-night pulsations, later moving into a markedly Go-Betweens-steeped phase on their more sophisticated 2011 album, Days. With third full-length Atlas, Real Estate grow even further into the sound they've been spinning for themselves, mellowing more while they become more nuanced in both playing and production. Beginning with "Had to Hear," the band's sound is decidedly signature, based on chiming chords and lilting vocals from songwriter Martin Courtney, lead guitar from Matt Mondanile that wanders between psychedelic curiosity and airy punctuation, and the surefooted rhythm section of drummer Jackson Pollis and bassist Alex Bleeker. All these elements feel increasingly familiar and confident. Their songs have always resided somewhere between head-in-the-clouds lightheartedness and day-dreamy nostalgia, but the ten songs that make up Atlas seem more mature, more deliberate, and lacking some of the carefree naiveté of earlier work. "Past Lives" ruminates on the strange feelings of returning to the neighborhood streets where the narrator spent his youth, while "Crime" relates a relationship in peril to something more harrowing and malicious. The upbeat "Talking Backwards" folds some of the nostalgic melancholia into a gorgeously produced pop song about long-distance communication breakdowns as bright and straightforward as Luna in their prime. The album was recorded in part at Wilco's Chicago studio the Loft, and the production is less hazy and more suited to the band's increasingly clear-headed melodies and expanded sounds, filled out with understated organ and keys from Matt Kallman this time around. Even seemingly buffering tracks like the Mondanile-penned instrumental "April's Song" (more in line with his solo compositions for Ducktails) and the Yo La Tengo/Galaxie 500-modeled "How Might I Live," sung by bassist Bleeker, seem to have a considered place in the album's flow. The songs float by quickly, not giving all of their secrets away at first listen. As Real Estate continue to grow into their own vision of pop, they take their place in a history of classic American indie bands, falling naturally in line behind the groups that influenced them as they add to the conversation with each subsequent album


add 1104 Rob McCoury


Thursday, August 21, 2014

1103 Paul Thorn

Prior to What the Hell Is Goin' On?, singer, songwriter and guitarist Paul Thorn issued six albums since 1997, all of them packed with (mostly) original material. His sensibility as a writer is informed by the wildly varied life he's lived (see bio). It was questionable, however, as to whether he could bring his qualities to bear on an album of covers. The 12 tunes Thorn's chosen here are rooted in classic forms -- barroom blues, roots rock, soul, gospel, country, etc. What's immediately apparent, whether you are familiar with the original tunes on this set or not, is just how Thorn has made them his own. The razor-wire electric funky blues of the title track (which features its author Elvin Bishop on guitar), the raw wail of desire in Free's "Walk in My Shadow," the slightly off-kilter rhythm 'n' soul in Allen Toussaint's "Wrong Number," or the scorching country-funk pried from bluegrass in Wild Bill and Martha Jo Emerson's "Bull Mountain Ridge" (with an excellent guest vocal by Delbert McClinton), all bear Thorn's indelible imprint. There are some excellent curveballs here, too: the set opener is a rumbling, martial read of Lindsey Buckingham's "Don't Let Me Down Again," from the 1973 Buckingham/Nicks LP. Bill Hinds' slide guitar shines, as does Michael Graham's skittering organ. Thorn's voice is much lower and rougher than Buckingham's and unique in its phrasing, but he captures the song's intent and turns it on its head, its meaning no longer ambivalent, but pronounced. Another highlight is Thorn's read of Buddy & Julie Miller's "Shelter Me Lord," as a ferocious, roiling gospel blues with backing chorus vocals by the incomparable McRary Sisters (they are present throughout the set; check them on the closer, a rave-up on Eli "Paperboy" Reed's "Take Me with You"; they almost steal it). While the song always felt like a prayer, Thorn sounds desperate, like a man going down for the last time. The only thing that isn't quite up to snuff here is this version of Ray Wylie Hubbard's anthem "Snake Farm." It doesn't contain the grimy, raw sensuality of the original, but that's a small complaint from What the Hell Is Goin' On? On it, Thorn proves his ability to interpret great songs as well as write them.


add 1102 Paul Thorn

Paul Thorn got started in show biz at the age of three when he got on-stage to perform with his father, a Pentecostal preacher. Since then he's been a furniture maker and boxer, which may explain his rough-hewn, hard-hitting style. His songwriting draws from that deep well of sanctified intensity, always delivering true-to-life vignettes that will make you laugh out loud even as they make your hair stand on end. His blend of gospel, R&B, rock, blues, and country is called Americana these days, but it's a throwback to the early days of rock when all Southern music, black and white, infused the songwriting of working-class guys and gals looking for a way out of their poverty with nothing but a guitar and a compelling story to tell. Thorn brings to mind a Southern-born Springsteen with his gruff, forceful delivery, but he also has a deadly sense of humor that's peculiarly Southern. Case in point: "I'm Still Here," a song about watching his neighbor getting run down by a car. Its combination of roadhouse grit and gospel exuberance looks death in the face with a wink and a "Glory hallelujah!" A funky snare and popping bass guitar introduce "Crutches," a song about drugs, booze, and rehab. The jaunty music belies the serious nature of the lyric as the singer dreams of freedom while still embracing his own personal hell. The rolling of distant thunder and a simple guitar figure open "Burnin' Blue," a dirge about lost love. A pedal steel adds its eerie accents to Thorn's desolate vocal. "What Have You Done to Lift Somebody Up" has a more straightforward message of hope -- part gospel rave-up, part blues shuffle, and downright uplifting. "Starvin for Your Kisses" is gloriously sensual, with Thorn's sneaky, seductive vocal testifying to the power of pure sex. "A Long Way from Tupelo" is a short story with a nasty twist at the end, a tale of flat tires and inflated desire sung with the deadpan humor that's Thorn's trademark. The bandmembers are tough and gritty throughout, and by blending their gospel-infused licks with Thorn's sweaty profane growl, they've come up with something oddly unique, a sound that's spiritual and carnal at the same time.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

add 1101 Bahamas

Bahamas' third studio album, 2014's Bahamas Is Afie, finds lead singer/songwriter Afie Jurvanen once again guiding his folk-inflected Canadian indie outfit through a handful of his own introspective yet melodically enticing songs. Produced by Jurvanen with help from Robbie Lackritz (who produced 2012's Barchords), Bahamas Is Afie is a measured, organic album largely centered around Jurvanen's burnished, laconically soulful voice. Jurvanen, with his penchant for yearning, rootsy songs full of twangy guitars and poignant lyrics, often brings to mind both Canadian singer/songwriter Ron Sexsmith and American Blue Note artist Amos Lee. Which isn't to say that Jurvanen doesn't have his own, beautifully layered, longing pop sound. On the contrary, cuts like the opening "Waves," with its jazzy strummed guitar and languid, summer-sad melody, and "Stronger Than That," with its soulful guitar lines and gospel-tinged backing vocals, are immediately memorable songs that get to the root of what makes Bahamas' sound so engaging. Elsewhere, Jurvanen delves into several bittersweet acoustic numbers ("Can't Take You with Me," "Nothing to Me Now"), as well as a few '70s soft country-sounding songs ("Half Mine," "Little Record Girl"). Along with superbly crafted material, Jurvanen often dresses his songs with light horn and string adornments that complement his more direct country and rock sensibilities. There is a warmth, joyfulness, and sly humor to Bahamas' sound here that keeps you listening even when Jurvanen turns toward melancholy sentiments, as he often does. Ultimately, it's that juxtaposition of front-porch balladry, lyrical intimacy, and urbane studio savvy that makes Bahamas Is Afie so unforgettable. As Jurvanen opines on "All the Time," "I got all the time in the world/Don't you want some of that?"

add 1100 Impressive

Artist: Various Artists
Title Of Album: Look Again to the Wind - Johnny Cash's Bitter Tears Revisited 
Year Of Release: 2014 
Label: Masterworks 
Genre: Folk, Country 
Quality: Mp3, 320 kbps
Total Time: 00:52:21 
Total Size: 125 Mb


01. Gillian Welch & David Rawlings - As Long As The Grass Shall Grow
02. Emmylou Harris & The Milk Carton Kids - Apache Tears
03. Steve Earle & The Milk Carton Kids - Custer
04. Nancy Blake, Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch & The Milk Carton Kids - The Talking Leaves
05. Kris Kristofferson, Gillian Welch & David Rawlings - The Ballad Of Ira Hayes
06. Norman Blake, Gillian Welch, David Rawlings, Nancy Blake & Emmylou Harris - Drums
07. Gillian Welch & David Rawlings - Apache Tears (Reprise)
08. The Milk Carton Kids - White Girl
09. Rhiannon Giddens, Gillian Welch & David Rawlings - The Vanishing Race
10. Gillian Welch, Nancy Blake & David Rawlings - As Long As The Grass Shall Grow (Reprise)
11. Bill Miller - Look Again To The Wind

NEW YORK, July 8, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- Of all the dozens of albums released by Johnny Cash during his nearly half-century career, 1964's Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian was among the closest to the artist's heart. A concept album focusing on the mistreatment and marginalization of the Native American people throughout the history of the United States, its eight songs—among them "The Ballad of Ira Hayes," a #3 hit single for Cash on the Billboard country chart—spoke in frank and poetic language of the hardships and intolerance they endured.

Now, 50 years after it was recorded, a collective of top Americana artists has come together to reimagine and update these songs that meant so much to Cash, who died in 2003. Look Again To The Wind: Johnny Cash's Bitter Tears Revisited (Sony Music Masterworks, August 19), produced by Joe Henry (Bonnie Raitt, Aaron Neville), features American music giants Kris Kristofferson, Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Bill Miller, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, and Norman and Nancy Blake, as well as up-and-comers the Milk Carton Kids and Rhiannon Giddens, interpreting the music of Bitter Tears for a new generation. As his project was for Cash, the new collection is a labor of love with a strong sense of purpose fueling its creation.

"Prior to Bitter Tears, the conversation about Native American rights had not really been had," says Henry, "and at a very significant moment in his trajectory, Johnny Cash was willing to draw a line and insist that this be considered a human rights issue, alongside the civil rights issue that was coming to fruition in 1964. But he also felt that the record had never been heard, so there's a real sense that we're being asked to carry it forward."

Bitter Tears, widely acknowledged for decades as one of Cash's greatest artistic achievements, did not realize its stature as a landmark recording easily and quickly. At the time that Cash proposed the album, he was met with a great deal of resistance from his record label. They felt that a song cycle revolving around the Native American struggle as perpetrated by the white man took him too far afield of the country mainstream and Cash's core audience. Cash still released the album and although it did not perform as well as he had hoped, he remained extremely proud of the album throughout his life.

Ironically, at the same time that his own label was balking because it felt he would alienate the country audience with his Native American tales, Cash was finding a new set of admirers among the burgeoning folk music crowd that had recently made stars of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Peter, Paul and Mary. Cash's debut performance of "Ira Hayes" at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival had earned him rave reviews. His appeal was undeniably expanding beyond the country audience, and for those who did connect with Bitter Tears, among them a 17-year-old aspiring singer-songwriter named Emmylou Harris, its music was revelatory and important. "The record was a seminal work for her as a teenager," says Henry. "She bought the album brand new and realized at that moment that Johnny Cash was a folk singer, not a country singer, and was involving himself politically and socially in a way that she had identified with the great folk singers at that moment."

Henry's awareness of Harris' affection for Bitter Tears led him to invite her to contribute to Look Again To The Wind: Johnny Cash's Bitter Tears Revisited. Following the epic, nine-minute album-opener "As Long as the Grass Shall Grow," written by Peter La Farge—a folk singer-songwriter with Native American bloodlines who Cash had befriended—and sung here by Welch and Rawlings, Harris takes the lead vocal on the Cash-penned "Apache Tears," which also features sweet, close harmonies by the Milk Carton Kids, the duo comprising Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan. For Henry, carefully matching artist to song was integral to the integrity of Look Again To The Wind. For some of the tracks, that process required a great deal of consideration. But when it came to deciding who would interpret "The Ballad of Ira Hayes," Henry quickly zeroed in on Kristofferson.

Another of five songs on the original album written by La Farge, "The Ballad of Ira Hayes" is based on the true story of Ira Hamilton Hayes, a Pima Indian who was one of the six Marines seen raising the flag at Iwo Jima in an iconic World War II photograph. Hayes' moment of glory was followed upon his return to civilian life with prejudice and alcoholism—Cash, moved by Hayes' story and La Farge's recounting of it, vowed to record the song. When planning out Look Again To The Wind, Henry knew that only a few living singers could deliver the song the way he wanted to hear it. He called Kristofferson, utilizing Rawlings and Welch to sing background.

"I wanted somebody whose relationship with Johnny Cash was not only musical but personal," he says. "I'd worked with Kris on a couple of other things and I thought why not ask? Who else has a voice with that kind of power and authority?" That same sense of intuition guided Henry to choose the other participants and the material they would render. For La Farge's "Custer," the album's third song, the producer knew instinctively that Steve Earle was the right man for the job. "Steve is an upstart, and there are very few people I can imagine working right now who could deliver a song that is that pointed in that particular way and do it authentically without cowering from it or making it feel a little too arch," Henry says. "He really could embody the kind of swagger that that song insists upon." 

Similarly, Henry chose Nancy Blake (with Harris and Welch on backing vocals) for the Cash-written "The Talking Leaves," Norman Blake to sing "Drums," the Milk Carton Kids to lead "White Girl" (both of those authored by La Farge) and the powerhouse vocalist Rhiannon Giddens of the Carolina Chocolate Drops for the original album's finale, "The Vanishing Race," written by Cash's good friend Johnny Horton. To bolster the album (the original, typical of mid-'60s vinyl LPs, ran just over a half hour), Henry fills out the track list of Look Again To The Wind with reprises of "Apache Tears" and "As Long As the Grass Shall Grow"—both sung by Welch and Rawlings—and ends the set with the title track, a La Farge tune that did not appear on the original Johnny Cash album but instead on the songwriter's own 1963 release As Long as the Grass Shall Grow: Peter La Farge Sings Of The Indians. Here it's sung by Bill Miller, with Sam Bush providing mandolin and Dennis Crouch upright bass, a fine and fitting coda to the collection.

From the start, Henry looked at the project as one that would require great personal commitment and responsibility on his own part. Approached as potential producer of the project by the man who first envisioned it, Sony Music Masterworks' Senior Vice President Chuck Mitchell (who'd been in conversations with Antonino D'Ambrosio, author of A Heartbeat and a Guitar, a book about the making of Bitter Tears), Henry immediately understood the importance of the assignment. "Johnny Cash was my first musical hero and I feel a profound debt to him as an artist, and as a courageous one," he says. "How could I say no to that?"

He also realized that the Bitter Tears album held a special place in Cash's canon, and that in many ways the issues it raised still resonate today—this had to be apparent in the new versions. "Mr. Cash knew that if he took this on, even if his point of view was not adopted, he had the power to be heard," Henry says.

The album was recorded in three sessions: the first two in Los Angeles and Nashville and, lastly, one at the Cash Cabin, in Cash's hometown of Hendersonville, Tennessee, where Bill Miller cut his contribution. Providing the instrumental backing for most of the album are Greg Leisz (steel guitar, guitars), Keefus Ciancia (keyboards), Patrick Warren (keyboards for the L.A. sessions), Jay Bellerose (drums) and Dave Piltch (bass).

Monday, August 18, 2014

add 1099 Robin Hitchcock

Robyn Hitchcock has made a few albums that announce themselves as masterpieces right out of the box, such as I Often Dream of Trains, Fegmania!, or the Soft Boys' Underwater Moonlight, but his catalog also includes a handful of records that sneak up on you with a subtle excellence, such as Eye,Respect, and Jewels for Sophia. Propellor Time falls into the latter category; on the surface, it doesn't feel all that different from the albums that immediately preceded it (Olé! Tarantula and Goodnight Oslo), but play it a few times, let it sink in, and this album sounds like one of the most satisfying thingsHitchcock has made since the mid-'90s. Primarily recorded in 2006 but not completed until 2010,Propellor Time features Hitchcock backed by his frequent partners the Venus Three, featuring Peter Buck on guitar and mandolin, Scott McCaughey on bass, and Bill Rieflin. The performances are intuitive and a wonder of subtle control; these players fit together with the precision of a jigsaw puzzle, and if there isn't a great amount of flash in the music, the players serve Hitchcock's melodies beautifully, and the artful interplay of the arrangements is as good as anything Hitchcock has offered us in a decade. (Buck's mandolin work on "Luckiness" is marvelously playful, and the performance is so tight it's surprising to hear the applause at the end and realize it was a live recording.) Hitchcockalso brought aboard a few notable guests, most notably Johnny Marr, who co-wrote "Ordinary Millionaire" and adds some understated but powerful guitar work, while Nick Lowe and John Paul Jones also lend their estimable talents to these sessions. But from the first moments, Propellor Timeis clearly a Robyn Hitchcock album, and he captains this ship with a steely confidence; the lyrics are typically mysterious and witty without playing too strongly to Hitchcock's fondness for bizarre imagery, his sly vocals fit the music with an uncommon agility and wisdom, and the ten songs blend together like the ingredients of a fine meal. Robyn Hitchcock doesn't really make bad albums, but he doesn't always make legitimately great ones; Propellor Time thankfully feels like one of the high-watermarks of his post-millennial body of work, and it's beautiful, essential listening.