Tag Archives: Bruce Springsteen

Enjoy Every Sandwich

20 Jul


Issued on Artemis Records/Rykodisc (RCD17304) in 2004, I picked this up last year for a ridiculously cheap price on Amazon. It’s a posthumous tribute to the songs of Warren Zevon, who died of mesothelioma in 2003.

The title is Zevon’s laconic response to an interview question about what having this terminal disease had taught him.

It’s an interesting mix of songs and artists paying tribute – not all of which work – but when they do, it’s terrific stuff.  Perhaps the two most noteworthy contributors are Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. Both are live recordings – Dylan’s heartfelt take on Mutineer is let down by the sound quality but Springsteen’s version of My Ride’s Here is rather good.

Apart from those, my favourite track is The Wallflowers take on Lawyers, Guns and Money (such a great title and lyric) while Adam Sandler has a brave attempt at Werewolves of London which works well and although Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt don’t really add much to the original of  Poor, Poor Pitiful Me , it’s always good to hear them.

Others on the plus side are Steve Earle (Reconsider Me) and a poignant version of Don’t Let Us Get Sick from Jill Sobule while on the ‘not quite’ side are The Pixies and Pete Yorn.

If you see this cheap, my recommendation would be to buy it – but probably one for completists otherwise.




American Folk Anthology

28 Jan


The news of Pete Seeger’s death, at the age of 94, came this morning so today’s post features a 2008 triple CD compilation on the NotNow Music label (NOT3CD020).

In his long and illustrious career as a musician, writer and activist, Pete Seeger made over a hundred albums and this collection brings together three, recorded in 1957. These are  ‘American Ballads‘ , ‘American Favourite Ballads‘ and ‘American Industrial Ballads‘ plus a handful of bonus tracks bringing the total to sixty songs. In the US the cultural significance of these recordings is recognised and they form part of the collections of the Smithsonian Institution (see http://www.folkways.si.edu/about_us/mission_history.aspx ). In Europe though, the recordings are out of copyright although this package has been pulled together with more care and attention than is often the case.

The production throughout  is unadorned –  with Pete Seeger’s own banjo playing the only accompaniment to his light tenor voice. The only exception I can think of without listening to every track is one of the bonuses (The Weavers’ ‘Kisses Sweeter than Wine’ with full orchestration).  Because of the ‘sameness’ of the sound, I tend not to listen to more than a few tracks at a time – but the songs are ones I return to regularly (as an exercise it’s fun to check out Seeger’s versions of the songs which Bruce Springsteen included in his 2006 ‘Seeger Sessions‘  homage to the music!). The simple unadorned delivery focuses attention onto the songs though – and what songs!

Most of the sixty tracks here are firmly grounded in  the American folk tradition (Old Dan Tucker, Casey Jones, Big Rock Candy Mountain, Blue Tail Fly and many, many more) but there are others that remind listeners how many old songs travelled to the new world from the British Isles with the early settlers and are part of a shared cultural heritage (Barbara Allen, Gypsy Davy,The Golden Vanity and The Derby Ram for example).   Not all songs were familiar to me although there are some (like St James Hospital, aka St James Infirmary/Streets of Laredo/Gamblers Blues, or in the English tradition, The Unfortunate Rake) I have in multiple versions and styles!  Most are traditional – but a fair number of the final 24 tracks (the ‘Industrial Ballads’) are not – although, irritatingly the package doesn’t give details.

The online obituaries (and those in tomorrow’s papers I expect) reveal the richness of Pete Seeger’s legacy: As a composer (If I Had A Hammer and Turn, Turn, Turn) and  as an activist (civil rights, anti-Vietnam War, pro-environmentalism, even Occupy Wall Street).  As a communist, his cannot have been the easiest of paths to follow in the USA. His refusal to be cowed by McCathyite witchunts back in the fifties was laudable but led to him being blacklisted by broadcasters for many years. What stands out for me though is also his  ‘curatorial’ role in passing songs on (he didn’t compose ‘We Shall Overcome’  for example but he certainly brought it to new audiences) and this collection is an ample demonstration  of his role in shaping American music (even when, as with Bob Dylan going electric at Newport, he was wrong).

Time alone will tell, but if only for today, I want to think Pete Seeger’s contribution is up there with Woody Guthrie as a giant of North American folk music.

PS: This Obit http://www.theguardian.com/music/2014/jan/28/pete-seeger-man-brought-politics-to-music is more eloquent but says what I wanted to say!

Darkness On The Edge Of Town

16 Jun



Saw Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band at Wembley last night and it was a great show. The highlight of the three hour-plus set came when they played the ‘Darkness On The Edge Of Town’ album, from 1978,  in its entirety. This made my evening because it was the first Springsteen album I ever bought!

Stadium gigs are not my preferred way of listening to music, I prefer more intimate venues.  I’m happy to make an exception for  The Boss though, since the first time I saw him, at the NEC in Birmingham back in 1981, was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.  That’s largely through the sheer effort that both Mr Springsteen and the E-Street Band put into the show. They really, really, do put their all into connecting with the audience.  The only reason I can put up with uncomfortable seats, queues, and a limited range of mediocre food and drink at premium prices is to know that the performers are committed to making the evening work – and that means a big performance style that matches the  size of the venue – not a problem for this act 

The full set-list of the show can be found at the excellent Blogness On The Edge Of Town fanzine. (http://bit.ly/168xiPa ).

The reason why I bought ‘Darkness’ first is because in the long gap between it and the earlier ‘Born to Run’, I’d got  all the earlier material on cassettes via friends!

It’s a sombre, mature and, above all, substantive collection when, for the first time, Springsteen’s industrial blue-collar vision came together into a coherent, extended vision (realised at greater length and in a slightly more cinematic way in his next double album (‘The River’)). It’s a songscape populated by men frustrated and rebellious at the extinguishing of their, generally modest, hopes and dreams. Of protagonists trying, not always successfully to do the right thing. And yet, it’s not all gloominess – there’s a sense redemption, of better days ahead, of refusing to be beaten down,

The four standout tracks are those which opened and closed each side of the original vinyl (‘Badlands’, ‘Racing In The Street’ from side one and ‘The Promised Land’ and ‘Darkness On The Edge Of Town’ from side two). Add to these the ace ‘Factory’ and you’ve  got half of the collection which were five-start classics when issued and which sounded at least as fresh, urgent and authentic when played last night.

I’m not enough of a Springsteen obsessive to know if this is the first time they’ve done the whole of ‘Darkness’ (although I note ‘Born To Run’ and ‘Born In The USA’ were featured in recent Italian shows), or when and if they’ll repeat the experience but it was a privilege to hear this extraordinary, charismatic and grounded ensemble reprise it live  – and in a venue just four or five miles where I was born too. Special.

Greetings From The Boss!

15 Jun


I rather like magazine cover discs.  I’d never buy a mag for the cover disc alone, but when done well, they’re a good way of getting acquainted with artists of whom you’ve never before heard or hadn’t been tempted to try.

From Uncut magazine and dating from 2007, comes the absolute best example in my collection – frankly, it’s better than many albums I’ve bought at full price!  What makes it stand out is that it is a collection ‘compiled from Bruce Springsteen‘s personally selected walk-in tapes of music played before his concerts‘.  I like it when artists I admire share ideas for new listening (think Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour programmes). 

So because The Boss is playing Wembley Stadium tonight, I thought I’d feature this today. There are fifteen eclectic, often vintage, tracks here – and none are less than OK so I’ll just give you the listing together with my personal ratings:

01– The Ballad Of Thunder Road [Robert Mitchum] Yes, it is the film actor – from 1958 4*;
02– Candy Man Blues [Mississippi John Hurt] The oldest track, from 1928 3*;
03– The Train From Kansas City [Neko Case]  From 2004 and the first 5* track. I’d never encountered Neko Case before. Great cover of the Shangri-Las song written by the excellent Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich;
04– Lost Highway [Hank Williams]. Classic Hank WIlliams from 1949. 4*. I couldn’t believe I didn’t have this in my collection already!
05- Chicken Shack Boogie [Amos Milburn]. From 1947, 5* – best track in the collection  and turned me onto a whole genre of music I’d never appreciated before!
06– Hard Travellin’ [Woody Guthrie], 1946. 4*
07– Take Out Some Insurance [Jimmy Reed], 1959 4*
08– My Blue Eyed Jane [Jimmie Rodgers], 1930, 4*
09– Dry Bones [Bascom Lamar Lunsford], 1928, 3*
10– Across The Wire [Calexico]. 2003. This wasn’t first time I’d come across Calexico but the first I appreciated them properly. 4*
11– The World Is Going Wrong [Mississippi Sheiks] 1930. 3*
12– Baby Blue [Gene Vincent]. 1958,  (I really ought to seek out a decent Gene Vincent compilation!) 4*
13– God’s Gonna Separate The Wheat From The Tares [Mahalia Jackson] 1937, 4*
14– Too Much Monkey Business [Chuck Berry] 1956. One of my favourite Berry songs and the third 5* song on the album.
15– St. James Infirmary [Louis Armstrong]. Great version of this American classic – both the trumpet and the vocal. 4*

Not worth seeking out on the secondhand market  (for what you’d pay you could pick up a new CD of many of the older performances which are out copyright) but it makes a good case for trying something new!

See My Friends

10 Apr


Neat idea – take the composer of some of the finest pop songs of the 1960s and get him to re-record them paired up with a bunch of admirers.  It did take a few listens before I warmed to this collection, which came out on Universal in 2010, because I kept thinking “how can this add something to the original?”. But after a while I found myself enjoying it – or at least most of it.

The opening track (‘Better Days’) with Bruce Springsteen sounds as if it could have been written by the Boss himself! The mash-up of ‘Days’ and ‘This Time Tomorrow’ with Mumford and Sons work really well as does ‘Lola’ with Paloma Faith. Sadly ‘Waterloo Sunset’ with Jackson Browne doesn’t work so well and ‘All Day and All Of The Night’ isn’t a patch on the original Kinks version.

One of the reasons I buy CDs more than download is because I am an obsessive reader of sleeve notes/booklets. Knowing who plays what on each track can really enhance listening as you can see if you can detect the differences between drummers or bassists or whatever. Similarly, good – or witty – notes also help and a nice part of this package are the paragraphs by Ray Davies on ‘Then’ and ‘Now’ reflecting on the origins of the song and its first recording and on the new collaboration.