6

120: Sam Cooke, ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll’

Posted by jeff on Aug 9, 2018 in Rock and Roll, Song Of the week

There are a number of artists I admire who to my taste lack a definitive record. I’d like to listen to them, but I just can’t find a really satisfying album that invites repeated visits. Thelonious Monk, whom I admire greatly. Neil Young, whom I begrudgingly admit as being spottily interesting. And this week’s SoTW artist, the great Sam Cooke.

A while back I wrote a SoTW about Cooke’s 1962 Rhythm and Blues classic, ‘Bring It on Home to Me.’ I wrote there about how he’s universally acknowledged  as one of the great singers of popular music. In terms of oeuvre, though, I’ve always been a bit stuck. He has a dozen great pop hits, but how frequently can you listen to them? His gospel music is somewhat beyond my ken. But I’ve often wanted to listen to him more, if I only had something fresh and interesting. Well, folks, I found it. It’s the fine, fine album “Night Beat”, from 1963.

Way you wear those dresses, the sun comes shinin’ through/ I can’t believe my eyes, all that mess belongs to you.

All Music Guide writes: “Saddled with soaring strings and vocal choruses for maximum crossover potential, Sam Cooke’s solo material often masked the most important part of his genius — his glorious voice — so this odd small-group date earns a special recommendation in his discography.” Or as John Sebastian put it so eloquently (as is his wont) in the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Good Time Music”:

I don’t want no cryin’violins, no sax, no slide trombones

I don’t want no screaming ya-ya girls, and no honkin’English horns

I don’t want no symphony orchestra with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir

All I want is a guitar, a harp and drum just to set my soul on fire.

I get over the hill and way down underneath

The arrangements on “Night Beat” are perfectly perspicuous – tasteful, enhancing, serving the vocalist, but  unobtrusive. They provide a perfect backdrop for a truly remarkable singer.

Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen’ (which he completely transforms from the hackneyed spiritual to a spot-on, moving personal statement); ‘Lost and Lookin’’, a virtuoso showcase with only a bass for accompaniment; ‘Please Don’t Drive Me Away’; ‘Get Yourself Another Fool’, utterly restrained, utterly passionate, a perfect example of the degree to which Sam Cooke invented the genre of Soul; ‘Trouble Blues’; ‘Fool’s Paradise’, three years after the Mose Allison version; ‘Little Red Rooster’, a hilarious, sexy blues showcasing the organ of 16-year old Billy Preston. Every single cut breathes with presence, immediacy, conviction. They’re just a pleasure to listen to, each and every one.

Big Joe Turner

But the show-stealer, by a whole bushel of black-eyed peas, is good old ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll’. I can see your reaction – sure, Jeff, another old singer from the early 1960s doing another version of that humdrum antique I’ve been bored by hundreds of times already. Okay, I’ll stake my reputation on this one. You listen to this and tell me you weren’t shaking your shaker, bopping your boppers, grinning from ear to ear. I dare you! It’s sparkling, ebullient, irresistible. It’ll make you shake, rattle and roll.

Listen to his Whoa!!! At 2:33. It’s as signature and irresistible as the moptop Beatles shaking their hair and smirking their ‘Yeah yeah yeah’.

Bill Haley

‘Shake, Rattle and Roll’ was originally recorded by Big Joe Turner in February, 1954 (“Everybody was singing slow blues when I was young, and I thought I’d put a beat to it and sing it up-tempo.”), with Jerry Wexler and Ahmet Ertegün singing the response chorus!! The lyrics (and the performance) were too blatantly sexual for White Top 40 air play, so Bill Haley sanitized it for his July, 1954 recording (three weeks after Turner’s version topped the R&B charts). His version is credited as being the first rock and roll song. Well, that’s a slippery slope, but it’s certainly got its bona fides.

One-eyed cat peepin’ in a seafood store–Copyright Alfred Wertheimer

Elvis Presley recorded the song in 1955 (for Sun) and 1956 (for RCA) with the bowdlerized lyrics. Here he is singing the whole shebang, dirty words and all, in about 1956. I’m going to give y’all enough credit as mature adults and not explicate the secret, hidden risqué meanings in the original. But only on condition that you let Sam Cooke get your buns bouncing.

Get outta that bed, wash your face and hands
Well, you get in that kitchen, make some noise with the pots ‘n pans.

 Way you wear those dresses, the sun comes shinin’ through
I can’t believe my eyes, all that mess belongs to you.

I believe to the soul you’re the devil and now I know
Well, the more I work, the faster my money goes.

I said shake, rattle and roll,
Well, you won’t do right to save your doggone soul.

I’m like a one-eyed cat peepin’ in a seafood store
Well I can look at you till you ain’t no child no more.

I get over the hill and way down underneath
You make me roll my eyes, even make me grit my teeth.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy:

023: Tommy Edwards, ‘It’s All In the Game’

028: Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, ‘The Tracks of My Tears’

048 Sam Cooke ‘Bring It On Home To Me’

 

 

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

 
1

287: Moses Sumney, ‘Incantation’

Posted by jeff on Aug 3, 2018 in Song Of the week, Vocalists

Moses Sumney, ‘Incantation’

Moses Sumney, ‘Plastic’

Moses Sumney, ‘Quarrel’

Moses Sumney, ‘Lonely World’

Moses Sumney, ‘Make Out in My Car’

Moses Sumney is the best vocalist I’ve ever heard.

If you don’t believe me, jump to the end of this clip, listen to “One minute of his singing, folks, one short minute.” If that doesn’t convince you, you have my blessing to go mow the lawn or water the cat.

You all know that I NEVER exaggerate, but let’s narrow that down a bit:
He has, at times, the vocal virtuosity of Bobby McFerrin, the orchestrational brilliance of Jacob Collier, the vocalese swag of Amy Winehouse, the intimate warmth of Nat “King” Cole, and the weirdness of his buddy Sufjan Stevens.

And that’s just in falsetto.

Moses was born in 1990 in California to Ghanaian pastor parents. When he was 10, they moved back for a number of years to preach The Word. He failed to fit in, speaking Twi with an American accent, so he spent his time alone composing a cappella songs (he still doesn’t read music). He moved back to California for high school, studied creative writing at UCLA, taught himself guitar and started playing in the club scene, where he caught the eye of Sufjan, Solange, Beck, Jose Gonzalez and James Blake, Erykah Badu, Thundercat, and other names that are supposed to impress you.

He creates wondrous floating sound paintings, changing the background and coloring at whim from performance to performance, but always featuring his sensual, warm, ridiculously agile falsetto. Think of Jacob Collier, in an intimate setting, with soul.

It’s true, he doesn’t write memorable ballads—yet. “A lot of people were trying to pull me in a very pop direction…[but I realized] I didn’t have to go there. I could go weirder.” You gotta love the guy already.

If you want to see just how mind-bogglingly talented this guy is, treat yourself to 20 minutes of this NRP Tiny Desk concert. He sings just three ‘songs’, compositions really.

In the NRP Tiny Desk concert, “Doomed” starts out on solo piano till 1’30”. Then for two minutes he uses the looping station to build a tapestry from his magical orchestra: harp, electric guitar, 5-string bass, soprano sax and That Voice. People like me really get exciting watching such marvelous music being built. You normal folks can skip to the last minute of the song, starting at let’s say 7’00”. You’ll hear some vocal aerobatics that could launch Nadia Comaneci into orbit.

“Quarrel” runs from 9’00” to 15’30”. Listen to the last minute. The song? “We cannot be lovers long as I’m the other.”

This is his explication, quoted from the NY Times article “Moses Sumney Does Not Sing Love Songs”: “You don’t realize the ways in which you have social power that allows you to be an oppressor, whether you’re intending to or not. For it to be a lovers’ quarrel would imply that we come to the table as equals. And we don’t.”

Say what? He talks about never having never having experienced romantic love. From his official videos (“Quarrel”, about horses, snow, and something else I’m not going to try to describe; or “Lonely World”, which depicts his very kinky relationship with a mermaid), I’d say he’s barking up the wrong tree. If you still don’t believe in mermaids, check out this wonderful 3-page play by John Patrick Shanley.

The closer of the NRP Tiny Desk concert is a solo show piece, ‘Plastic‘ (“I try to do it differently every time, to keep it alive.”) It starts at 16’30”, and ends with some riffing that is equally astounding technically, soulful and beautiful. The best vocalist I’ve ever heard.

The critics love Moses Sumney. The coolest young artists love Moses Sumney. I love Moses Sumney, even though I readily admit that my understanding of the world he works in is severely limited. I’m a heavy user of AllMusic.com, but their review of his one album, “Aromanticism” is written in a dialect I don’t speak. However, their attempt to tag him as ‘groove ambient music/art soul’ seems to me spot-on.

From my admittedly limited perspective, I see a group of incredibly talented young composer/writer/performers who mix acoustic and electronic sounds, experimenting with sound while making technically astounding, stunningly beautiful, accessible music, singing almost solely in falsetto – Bon Iver (Justin Vernon), James Blake, Jacob Collier, Antony and the Johnsons (Antony Hegarty), Asgeir, Sigur Rós (Jónsi), Sufjan Stevens. For my money, these are among the most interesting young musicians operating today.

But for our Song of The Week, we can’t help going for a cut off his second EP, “Lamentations”, ‘Incantation’.

The text is an obscure Jewish folk incantation, wrapped in the mist of Kabbalic mysticism, sometimes included in קריאת שמע על מיטה, the nightly recitation of the Hear O Israel prayers in bed just before sleep, calling on God and his angels to protect the supplicant.

The Zohar is the central work of Jewish mysticism, Kabbalah, written in Aramaic, the spoken language in Israel in the time of Jesus and the Second Temple, the language of the Talmud, Daniel and Jesus of Nazareth himself. This particular text is based on the Zohar’s riff on the first chapter of Leviticus (זהר במדבר פ’ איש על דגלו if you don’t believe me). Somewhere after the 13th century, the Aramaic version reverted to Hebrew and became The Angels’ Blessing, ברכת מלאכים.

How it got to a Ghanaian lad from San Bernadino who doesn’t believe in love is anybody’s guess. But this is some pretty amazing music. And I actually understand the lyrics (as opposed to most of his songs!)

קדוש קדוש קדוש ה’ צבאות מלא כל הארץ כבודו.
בשם ה’ אלוהי ישראל: מימיני מיכאל, משמאלי גבריאל, מלפני אוריאל, מאחורי רפאל ועל ראשי שכינת אל.

Holy, holy, holy, Lord of hosts, full of his honor is the land.
In the name of Adonai, the God of Israel: On my right Michael, on my left Gabriel, before me Uriel, behind me Raphael, and above my head the spirit of God.

Tags: , ,

 
11

121: George Harrison, ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ (Acoustic Demo)

Posted by jeff on Jul 26, 2018 in Rock, Song Of the week

Beatle of Spirit and Flesh

George Harrison died ten years ago this week [written in 2011]. The event could slip by unnoticed, in contrast to the invariably gut-wrenching anniversaries of John Lennon’s death. Paul Simon wrote a beautiful song about John’s death, ‘The Late, Great Johnny Ace’, (SoTW 078), but no one writes any songs about George.

John was the towering figure. He was the domineering 17-year old leader of the group  when Paul convinced him to begrudgingly allow 14-year old George to sit in with The Quarrymen. In the 1996 video documentary “The Beatles Anthology”, George was asked about his relationship with John (who had died 16 years earlier). “Well, he was John, you know. He was three years older than me. [Long, thoughtful pause.] He still is.”  A 56-year old Beatle candidly showing that the acute inferiority he felt as an adolescent hadn’t been dulled a whit by a lifetime of achieving more than most humans can even dream of.

Tip of the Iceberg Beatle

Read more…

Tags: , , , , ,

 
8

110: Mongolian Throat Singing (The Occidental Tourist)

Posted by jeff on Jul 19, 2018 in Other, Song Of the week

Two cool cats doing their Mongolian Throat Singing thing.

Two cool cats

I guess everyone knows that Mongolian throat singing is a style in which two or more pitches sound simultaneously over a fundamental pitch, producing a unique and vibrating sound. And I guess most people also know that the singer does this by manipulating the resonances which are created as air travels from the lungs past the vocal folds and out the lips to produce a melody.

You may be as surprised as I was to learn that when people speak of Mongolian throat singing, they probably mean Tuvan throat singing. Tuva just doesn’t get its just due. It’s a proud republic of good old Mother Russia to the west ofMongolia. So one can empathize with the neglect those Tuvans must feel when everyone just lumps them as satellite ofMongolia. But apparently those who distinguish between the finer nuances of Mongolian and Tuvan throat singing spend more time kayaking on icy rivers than surfing the internet, because I couldn’t find a single coherent explanation of the difference between them. So I’ll just stick with my unfortunate fuzzy preconceptions.

Steppes

Mongolian throat singing has enjoyed quite a fad in the West in recent years. Here’s Bela Fleck covering one of Tuva’s Greatest Hits, ‘Alash Khem’, with the help of a guest throat singer who looks like he’s having a very good time up there. But we all know that that his kimono was made in Honduras, because the guy’s wearing an ear monitor. Still, he seems like a very good-natured guy. So here’s what appears to me to be the real thing, as far as I can figure it out (which admittedly ain’t too far) –  two ultra-cool dudes flashing their chops (somewhat literally) while they’re watching the river flow (wholly literally).

More Steppes

I don’t mean to leap into stereotyping Southern Central Asians, but they seem like a very cheerful sort of folk. It could be that my attitudes are colored by a story a guy named NM. once told me:

While I was hitch-hiking across Siberia in 1992, on my way from Novosibirsk to Kamchatka, I decided to take a detour through Mongolia. I really wanted to see a Bactrian (two-humped) camel. There aren’t many roads in rural Mongolia. Just lots of steppes. There are trails, but they’re more recommendations than proscribed paths. You just pick a direction and go. Which is what I was doing when this little old truck came along. I flagged it down. Folks didn’t see a lot of occidentals out there, let alone backpackers, so I guess I might have looked rather strange to them. Anyway, they did stop the truck, and I asked them where they were going. They smilingly told me their destination was a town (the demographic definition of a town in those parts is at least three yurts and two yaks) vaguely in my direction, about eight hours by steppe path. So I asked if I could travel with them. I told them I’d give them money for gas, and they smilingly agreed.

(L to R) Yurt, truck

I tossed my backpack in the back of the truck and climbed in. There was Pa Enkhbayar, Ma Enkhbayar, and three little Enkhbayars.

JM: How did you communicate?

NM: A little bit of Russian, a little bit of Chinese. Not a problem.

So we were rolling along, having a real good time. I was juggling for the little Enkhbayars, which kept them out of their parents hair for a while. After a few steppey hours, we came upon a nicely decked-out yurt. Pa Enkhbayar suggested we stop for a break and a repast, and I readily agreed. The hosts seemed rather nonplussed by our unannounced visit, despite the fact that there didn’t seem to be much traffic of locals on that particular steppe, let alone waigouren (foreigner) hitch-hikers.

(L to R) Yurt, horizon

They graciously asked us into their yurt. Before we sat down to eat, they showed me how to wash my hands in the traditional fashion. You fill your mouth with water from a canteen, yak-gut I think, then gradually release a stream of water onto your hands, rubbing them together. It works pretty well, actually. Then we sat down to eat.

JM: What was on the menu?

NM: Oh, I don’t think you want to know that.

Two cool bactrian camels having a woo!

Anyway, after the meal, they asked me if I’d like to play a game. “当然”, I said, and they brought out the paraphernalia from under the yak-hair mat. It consisted of a board; a long, narrow strip of handwritten paper with symbols and numbers, and four yak molars. They explained to me that each molar (right upper, right lower, you get the idea) had six faces (a small stretch of the imagination), each with its own unique shape which (to them) resembled another animal (dog, Bactrian camel, yak, you get the idea). I had a hard time discerning that. They explained that each participant in his turn rolls the molars, and according to the way they land, you consult the list of possibilities (dog-dog-yak-camel, for example) on the long, thin strip of paper and win a certain number of points, apparently in accordance with how common or rare that roll of the molars was. The winner of the game was the one who accumulated the most points. See, games are the same all over the world.

Urban Mongolia

NM: No, we were playing for woo.

JM: What’s ‘woo’?

NM: You know, “Woo!” Fun. Excitement.

JM: Oh.

I didn’t quite grasp the nuances of how the points were allocated, but they said I’d catch on as we played. Well, we were rolling along. I didn’t really understand too much, but we were all having a real good time, everybody smiling and laughing and smiling. Each one would roll the molars in his turn, they’d consult the long, thin strip of paper, and give out points. I really wasn’t sure how the competition was going, but it didn’t seem like anyone cared too much about that. They were just in it for the woo. But then after we’d been playing a while, it was my turn, and I rolled the molars. The host consulted the long, thin strip of options, and got this puzzled look on his face. He showed the handwritten strip to Pa Enkhbayar, who got the same puzzled look.

I asked what was wrong. They showed me the list, and the roll of the molars, and explained that my roll wasn’t on the list. They’d been playing Yak Dice for many centuries, and this had never happened.

(L to R) Yak, Yak owner

Well, I knew about Aces & Eights in poker and the tritone (diabolus in musica) in harmony, and I was just a little afraid of what the ramifications of my roll might be. But they kept smiling, and it seemed that nothing more had happened than a major woo. But it did seem pretty clear that no one wanted to press fortune further, so the game was over.

The Enkhbayars all made their good-byes and went out to the truck. I was thanking the hosts, telling them what a great time I’d had, when I heard the engine start up and the truck begin to drive away. I ran out of the yurt, hitting my head on the low opening, and saw that in fact the Enkhbayar truck was bouncing across the steppes toward the Mongolian horizon. “Wait!” I shouted. “Wait!! My backpack!!” Which of course had my passport, my money, and my other pair of socks. I was running as fast as my Western legs could carry me, eloquently pleading “Wait!!!”

Why was Pa Enkhbayar doing this? Had he just been waiting for the ripe opportunity to steal my bag? Was he afraid to transport a waigouren who made unnatural rolls of the yak molars?

Finally, after what seemed like five kilometers worth of steppes, the truck slowed down and allowed me to catch up. I ran to the window to see what had motivated Pa to behave so unexpectedly.OlePaEnkhbayar was laughing away. Laughing and smiling and laughing, and slapping his Mongolian knee. It seems he had been playing a practical joke on me.

I was too out of breath to do much laughing or even smiling myself, but when I think back on that day, it seems to me that the Mongolians really are a pretty good-natured people.

Well, NM, I guess you would know. All I know is that these two cats show no little aplomb, however the yak molars fall.

 

If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy:

030: The Bulgarian State Radio and Television Women’s Choir (Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares) – ‘Pilentze Pee’

068: Hermeto Pascoal, ‘Santa Catarina’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

Copyright © 2018 Jeff Meshel's World. All Rights Reserved.