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243: Ricky Nelson, “I’m Walkin'”

Posted by jeff on Aug 5, 2016 in Rock and Roll, Song Of the week

hqdefaultRicky Nelson, ‘I’m Walkin’

Ricky Nelson, ‘I’m Walkin’ (from “The Ozzie and Harriet Show” episode “Ricky The Drummer” at 08:00)

Don’t hold your breath waiting for a Ricky Nelson revival. He ain’t Buddy Holly. He certainly ain’t Elvis Presley. Heck, he ain’t even Pat Boone (albeit arguably).

He was a mediocre musician who had 53 Top 100 hits between 1957 and 1973, 20 of them in the Top 20; an inductee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; and one of TV Guide’s 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time. Ricky Nelson is one of the most important singers in the annals of popular culture.

More importantly, he’s a crucial element in understanding post WWII American (i.e. world) popular culture. I’ll take that a step further. You can’t understand popular culture without understanding the Ricky Nelson story.

rockwellRicky was born in 1940, second son of big-band leader Ozzie and singer Harriet Nelson. Ozzie’s orchestra was featured on the hit radio show “The Raleigh Cigarette Hour” from 1941 till host Red Skelton was drafted in 1944. The producers then crafted the sitcom “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” (we’re still talking radio, folks) in its stead. It was a hit, with head writer Ozzie spinning tales of Rockwellian domestic bliss. In 1949, Rick and brother Dave (two years older) joined the show, replacing the actors who had portrayed them till then.

In 1952, “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” debuted, running until 1966, one of the longest-running sitcoms in TV history. Many of the series’ story lines were taken from the Nelsons’ real life. When the real David and Rick got married, their partners were written into the series as their girlfriends and then wives.

Ozzie, Harriet, David, Ricky in 1952 Could The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet have really been like that? Could the show have lasted all those years - some 22 seasons from its debut in 1944 on radio to its cancellation - offering nothing more relevant than programs titled "David Has a Date with Miss Universe" and "A Picture in Rick's Notebook"?

As a tween, Rick fiddled around on clarinet, guitar and drums. At 16, he was dating a teenie-bop Elvis fan. On an impulse, he told her that he was going to make a record in order to impress her. He went home and said to Ozzie, “Dad, I want to make a record.” (Unfortunately, that didn’t make it as an episode on the show.)

Already a fan of Carl Perkins and Elvis, Rick went into the studio and covered Fats Domino’s ‘I’m Walking’ (it contained the only two chords he knew how to play). He was following the pattern set by the likes of Pat Boone, who carved a great career by bleaching raunchy, authentic Black music for the lily-white audiences of mainstream radio. The original versions were thought to be too sexually suggestive for the impressionable white audiences, and were confined to de facto segregated R&B radio stations and sales charts.

 

Here’s Fats’ original ‘Ain’t That a Shame’, and Pat Boone’s version (both 1955).

Here’s Fats live in 1956.

Here’s Fats’ original ‘I’m Walkin’’ and Ricky Nelson’s very first recording (both 1957).

Just for fun (hey, what’s it been up till now??), here are Fats and Ricky singing it together, years on.

83513-74037Ozzie knew a meal ticket when he saw one. In a 1957 episode titled “Ricky the Drummer”, the lad sits in on drums with a swing band (at around 06:00). He does a creditable job, though he’s no Sammy Davis, Jr. Then at 08:00, he sings ‘I’m Walkin’’ (live). Check out the girl in the audience squealing. It hit #4 on the charts. The flip side, ‘A Teenager’s Romance’, hit #2.

Shortly after, he made an unpaid public appearance (singing “Blue Moon of Kentucky”) with the Four Preps at a high school lunch hour assembly in Los Angeles. He was greeted by hordes of screaming teens who had seen the television episode.

Thunder on the horizon.

Here you have it folks. The very first bud of spring. The first step of youth culture across network television’s Rubicon. The beginning of the end of the coherent, conservative mom & dad and two kids in the suburbs America. The beginning of the beginning of the cultural revolution we’re still in the throes of.

hqdefault (1)If you’ve ever heard of “The Ozzie and Harriet Show”, it’s probably as the icon of 1950s America—the world of Eisenhower, mortgages and Fords and good clean family living. Then came James Dean and Elvis Presley and Lee Harvey Oswald and the Nixon Doctrine in Vietnam. For baby boomers–Bob Dylan, Steven Spielberg, Bill Clinton–the Nelsons symbolized the Age of Innocence.

When asked to explain ‘The 60s’, I often tell the story of how I (and my entire generation) waited for Ricky in the 1950s (which actually lasted until November 22, 1963). We were kids, and we watched a lot of TV. But none of it was real. It was Republicans in white boxer shorts peddling their idyllic version of suburban bliss which just didn’t convince us. We wanted some grit. If you need a refresher, go rewatch “Rebel Without a Cause.”

najlepszy-westernNetwork TV was the medium for America’s self-portraiture. In 1957, it was as bland as Wonder Bread with Oleo. But every two or three weeks, at the end of an episode of “Ozzie and Harriet”, they’d let Ricky sing a song. We’d sit and wait, impatiently subjecting ourselves to what even in our tweens we perceived as the inanities of the show.

As soon as his singing career began to take off, he had the good sense to jettison his older jazz and country session musicians (who were openly contemptuous of rock and roll) and sign a band with members closer to his age, including the 18-year-old James Burton. Elvis was in the army, and the market was thirsty for ‘A Teenage Idol’ (his not-so-convincing attempt at poorlittlerichboy angst). Six years later we’d get ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’. Ricky’s song contains the line ‘I guess I’ll always be just a rolling stone.’ Ah, the irony.

Even though it was the only game in town and despite its commercial success, Ricky’s music was nothing to write home about. Here are a few of his hits as performed on his parents’ TV show—arguably the very first musical video clips.

Traveling Man’ — Check out Ozzie’s snazzy editing! This has been called ‘the first video clip’.

ricky-nelson-james-burtonHello Mary Lou’ — Perhaps plagiarized by the fine Gene Pitney (who also wrote Bobby Vee’s ‘Rubber Ball‘ and The Crystals’ ‘He’s a Rebel‘ and was the first American champion of The Rolling Stones). After “Hello Mary Lou” became a hit, legal action was taken by one Cayet Mangiaracina, who was then listed as a co-writer along with Pitney. Mangiaracina became a priest and claimed to give royalties from the song to the Southern Dominican Province near New Orleans, where he served. Pitney never spoke of Mangiaracina or the lawsuit.

Gypsy Woman’, not to be confused with the sublime ‘Gypsy Woman’ by Curtis Mayfield’s Impressions.

Stood Up’ — co-written  by Sharon Sheeley, whose very first song, ‘Poor Little Fool‘, was Ricky’s first #1 hit. She survived the car wreck in which her boyfriend Eddie Cochran was killed.

In 1959 he starred next to John Wayne, Walter Brennan and Dean Martin in Howard Hawkes’ classic “Rio Bravo”.

In 1961, on his 21st birthday, he legally changed his name from ‘Ricky’ to ‘Rick’. Few were convinced.

After a few minor hits, failed marriages, and a very successful run on the oldies circuit, Ricky (sorry, he’ll always be Ricky for me) died when his private plane crashed near De Kalb, Texas, on December 31, 1985.

Some critics have tried to rehabilitate Ricky’s musical reputation in recent years. They’re confusing good will with good music. Give a listen to Buddy Holly, his contemporary and stylistic cousin in those years of 1957-59. The difference is as great as the distance from Hollywood to Mars.

But I remember Ricky fondly. He may not have been the best, but he was the first. He single-handedly opened television to young music. Yes, Elvis had appeared on the Milton Berle and Ed Sullivan shows in 1956, but only as a curiosity (some said an aberration, the devil incarnate). Ricky was the first widely acceptable rock and roll singer, the harbinger of the Woodstock generation, the first crack in The Wall, the prototype of the world we still live in today.

Thanks for being understanding parents, Harriet and Ozzie. Thanks for being such a good big brother, Dave. Thanks for doing what you did, Ricky. It was well worth that half-hour wait.

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242: Dhafer Youssef, ‘Les Ondes Orientales’ (with Tigran Hamasyan)

Posted by jeff on Jul 29, 2016 in Jazz, Song Of the week

x_0e1c7b05‘Les Ondes Orientales’ (live video)

‘Odd Elegy’ (live video)

 ‘Hayastan Dance’ (studio)

Shatha’ (studio), with alternating measures of 5, 7, 11, 13, 17 and 19 beats, somehow swaying like a samba

Sura’ (studio)

Summer, 1968, I’m volunteering on a kibbutz in Israel. There’s a copy of “Sgt Pepper” (only a year old,  less of a household ikon than it is today). There’s a cool Indian guy on ulpan. He’s heard of The Beatles, but not of Sgt P. “You have to hear it!” I tell him. “George Harrison, the guitarist, plays sitar, and they use a tabla and a tamboura and stuff. They’re playing Indian music!”

Dhafer Youssef (14)I drag him. He listens attentively, lolling his head sagaciously. At the end he looks up with a big grin shiningly displaying his pearly teeth and chirps affirmingly “Rock and roll!

Since then, 48 years now, I’ve been very careful not to make assumptions or judgments in cultures (musics) whose basic vocabulary is foreign to me.

That being said, the Dhafer Youssef quartet, with Tigran Hamasyan on piano, creates the best music I’ve heard in years. If I gave grades, I would give it 100.

But if I can do it, so can you. It’s true that I live approximately midway between Tunisia and Armenia, but I speak neither language. I do speak some jazz, though, and have no difficulty following their quatralogue. Even if some of it is in an exotic accent. Who knows, perhaps due to that.

29-07-2016 12-41-51About a year and a half ago I wrote a post about Tigran Hamasyan in which I was rather overwhelmed by the breadth and variety of his musical projects. I’ve been listening to him ever since, of course, and this collaboration with Dhafer brings a critical point into clearer focus for me: Tigran Hamasyan is the most interesting jazz pianist working today. I say that having just seen a few weeks ago an thoroughly uninspired Brad Mehldau in concert (with John Scofield and Mark Guiliana— in retrospect, I should have stayed home and watched clips of the Dhafer Youssef-Tigran Hamasyan quartet.)

Guiliana there provided 5 minutes of interest with an electronic percussion solo in an otherwise soporific concert. Here, as the motor of Dhafer’s quartet, he’s solid liquid nitroglycerin, ready to explode at the merest pretext. No one sleeps on Mark Guiliana’s watch. If, like me, you usually find drummers a necessary evil and drum solos an unnecessary one, check out Guiliana here. He’s a brilliant, exciting musician, period.

4429451232_92fe607c93_zChris Jennings is the designated driver of the group – rock solid, Always Prepared, holding it all together. With three such volatile partners around him, you need a responsible, grounded adult.

Dhafer Youssef (b. 1967) grew up in a fishing village, from a long line of muezzins (leaders of prayer in the mosque). His grandfather exposed him to religious vocal music, which he practiced in his kitchen and refined in the cavernous hammam of the village. The resonances produced by his voice were his favorite toy.

He began singing with a local liturgical singing troupe, learned oud and then moved on to electric bass, playing at weddings and singing music from the radio in the traditional liturgical style. (Remind anyone of Ray Charles?) From the music conservatory in Tunis, he moved on to Paris and Vienna, where he’s been based since.

ad86f57229d126800af91dbc523ecHe recorded his first album in 1996, and since then has moved from project to project, each one exploring new territories, new sonorities, including the juxtaposition of the oud and northern European electronic-jazz textures.

From 2009-2012, his quartet was composed of Armenian pianist Tigran Hamasyan, Canadian bassist Chris Jennings and American drummer of everyone’s choice Mark Guiliana. Inspired by texts from the seventh century Persian poet known for his odes to wine, Abu Nawas, the collaboration produced a number of high-quality filmed performances, as well as the album “Abu Nawas Rhapsody” (2010).

Dhafer Youssef Quartet – ‘Abu Nawas Rhapsody’ (full concert)

Dhafer Youssef (10)His latest project is fascinating in itself. “Birds Requiem” takes a more Western, exploratory look at the Eastern materials. It employs an Estonian pianist, an incredible Turkish clarinetist, a British bassist, an Indonesian-Dutch drummer, a Norwegian rock-oriented guitarist, and a knockout virtuoso Turkish kanunist. Tigran’s latest, by the way, is “Luys i Luso”, an exploration of Armenian sacred music from the 5th through the 20th centuries, arranged for piano and chorus.

Both artists are well worth following in every project they do. But when they joined together, they reached a pinnacle, higher than Tunis’ Atlas Mountains, higher than Armenia’s Mt. Ararat (yes, the one where Noah got stuck), certainly higher than Mont Blanc. I urge you to take the time and have the patience to expose yourself to this quartet’s music at leisure. They make great, great music. I don’t give out 100’s lightly.

They can be just purely entertaining, providing unadulteratedly pleasurable, accessible-without-borders music. Like you can enjoy The Four Tops.
They can be emotionally wrenching, especially Dhafer’s vocal flights into nasal, hyper-falsetto stratospheres. Like Janis Joplin at her rawest, purest, most expressive.
They can be mindbogglingly, jawdroppingly dexterous, especially when Tigran gets that Keith Moon look in his eye and starts taking you places on the keyboard that no one’s ever been before.

dhafer_youssef_1_c_hassen_soufanTake for example ‘Les Ondes Orientales’ (‘Oriental Waves’). It begins with an oud/piano exposition, improvising on what will become the theme with utter gentleness, a warm group embrace. In the third minute it begins to accrue energy, then at about 4:20 begins to rock the theme a tempo.

At 5:30 Dhafer lays down the oud for his rubato vocal ‘solo’, backed by Tigran. The interplay between them half reminds me, surprisingly, of the legendary Bill Evans/Tony Benett duets. Nowhere else have I ever heard a pianist providing such eloquent support for a vocalist. But Dhafer ain’t singing ‘The Touch of Your Lips’. Check out the vocal climax at 8:45. Tony Benett never scaled those heights. And I’m not talking pitch.

The next section features Tigran. It is the finest piano trio music I’ve heard since Bill Evans died. Passionate, brilliant. At 12:30 Dhafer joins them to revisit the theme. It’s not George Harrison dabbling in sitar. It’s not pandering with exotica. It’s new, great music.

Dhafer: “Old meters are inspiring for me. It gives me the possibility to think the melody and bass line differently and opens doors. The most I hate in music is when it doesn’t groove. Old is really groove.”

Do yourself a favor, venture out of that old comfort zone, check out this quartet. Open your ears, I’ll betcha it’ll speak to you. Their language is universal – both within you and without you.

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241: John Sebastian, ‘Welcome Back’

Posted by jeff on Jul 15, 2016 in Personal, Rock, Song Of the week

Father and SonWelcome Back Kotter, opening credits

Big week coming up for me. Bigger than winning a million dollars in the lottery. Bigger than flying to the moon. Bigger than anything.

My son’s coming back home.

After seven years abroad, on various other sides of the world, N is coming back to the country where he was born, where his great-grandmother was born, where about a hundred generations ago all of his ancestors were born. Where we’ve all been waiting for him. Him and his wonderful wife (daughter in so much more than law) and his five wonderful children, each one of them bearing my grandfather’s name. Well, kind of, but that’s another Ellis Island story.

He’s going to be living 100 km away. Rather than 10,000. Two fucking zeros, in one fell swoop. There’s nothing in the world that could make me happier.

I think that’s cause for celebration. And since I don’t drink champagne on a Friday morning, I’m gonna share a song with you.

Kobi Nahmias: “Now Daddy will always be on my heart.”

Kobi Nahmias: “Now Daddy will always be on my heart.”

N’s motives for returning aren’t completely clear. He keeps his cards close to his chest. He had a great job out there in the diaspora, and he’s coming to a much-coveted one here. But that’s the vehicle, not the tenor. He chose to leave a situation devoutly to be desired by most sane people, in exchange for a cubbyhole in a crazy little corner of the craziest neighborhood in a patently crazy world.

I’m not quite clear just why he’s coming back. To tell the truth, I don’t think he is either. But since he’s never gotten around to explaining his motive (don’t look a gift son in the mouth), I guess I’m free to invent one for him:

Just to be near his dad.

I’m reminded of Kobi Nahmias, who played left midfielder for a 3rd division football club nearby. Kobi had his father’s portrait tattooed right on his left breast. It was the least he could do.

Ok, maybe I don’t expect my kid to go quite that far. You know, Leviticus 19:28 and all that.

But there are other models, musical ones.

Model I: To me he is ev’rything strong; no he can’t do wrong, my dad.

Donna_Reed_Show_1103Take, for example, Paul Peterson (b. 1945). Paul started out as a Mouseketeer, appeared in the 1958 film “Houseboat” as the son of Cary Grant and Sophia Loren (that’s some pair of genes!), then went on to find fame, fortune and family as Jeff (no relation) in eight seasons and decades of reruns in 1950s idyllic “Donna Reed Show”. He also shared the upstairs bathroom with his ‘sister’ Mary, Shelly Fabares, she who invented the tight cashmere sweater.

Following the success of TV turning Ozzie and Harriet’s son Ricky (Nelson) into a teenage singing idol, Donna’s real-life husband/producer of the show Tony Owen convinced both Shelly and Paul that they could sing. They were terrified, but he insisted. The result? Shelly’s #1 hit ‘Johnny Angel’, and Paul’s ‘She Can’t Find Her Keys’ and the iconic anthem of filial devotion, ‘My Dad’.

Model II: Just drop by when it’s convenient to, but be sure and call before you do.

IMG_4974

I engendered in my son a predilection for orange juice, a Van Dyke beard, and an appreciation of Randy Newman’s first album. His favorite? ‘So Long, Dad’:

Come and see us, Poppa, when you can
There’ll always be a place for my old man.
Just drop by when it’s convenient to
Be sure and call before you do.

Okay, it’s not Koby Nahmias, but he invited me to come whenever I want, didn’t he?

Model III: Welcome back to that same old place that you laughed about

A lot of energy has been invested over the years by those who know and love N speculating on his motives (not to mention his whereabouts). It’s a fruitless labor. He remains a sweet, eccentric, unique enigma.

hqdefaultPerhaps I’ll just resort to my internal data base’s default  Coming Home song, John Sebastian’s ‘Welcome Back’. It may not tell the whole story, but it sure reflects one aspect of my feelings and thoughts.

John (b. 1944) was of course the founder and leading force of The Lovin’ Spoonful (‘Do You Believe in Magic’, ‘Daydream’, ‘Summer in the City’, as well as another score of stunning pop poems). He’s always been one of my favorite artists. He was a pioneer of American rock (see SoTW 052, ‘Girl, Beautiful Girl’) and a major force in the rock world (he turned down an invitation to join Crosby, Stills, Nash and Sebastian). He’s one of the wittiest lyricists to come out of the world of rock (‘I could feel I could say what I want, I could nudge her and call her my confidante’). He’s an artist of sensitivity, depth and wisdom (see SoTW 098, ‘Younger Generation’).

He’s also a real mensch. At least his persona in his music is, and I’ve never heard anything to the contrary about him as a person.

imagesSebastian left The Spoonful in 1968, made a memorable spontaneous appearance at Woodstock in 1969, and released an uneven solo debut album in 1970, with help from friends and a few great songs (‘She’s a Lady’, ‘You’re a Big Boy Now’, ‘How Have You Been’).  But he got mired in contractual disputes, and his solo career has been one long downward spiral commercially. Fear not, John made a nice living investing in real estate, and seems to have followed a path of playing the kind of Jug Band and New Acoustic music that he loves.

In 1975, ABC was making a new sitcom tentatively entitled “Kotter”, about a former Sweathog (the remedial class in a lower-class Brooklyn high school) who returns to teach at the selfsame school, trying to try to rehabilitate the current class of idiots, led by Horshack, Boom Boom Washington, Juan Epstein, and Vinnie Barbarino (John Travolta’s breakout role).

armed-forces-ticke_1667099iSebastian was invited to write a theme song, and the producers liked it so much they renamed the show “Welcome Back Kotter”. The single went to #1. It was Sebastian’s swan song, but has occupied a warm and tender spot in my heart and that of many a nostalg, as only a Sebastian song can do.

The song even inspired a rap version. And while I’m here, I’m happy to have the opportunity to give a shout for the one other fine song in the album, ‘She’s Funny’, a charming, disarming paean to his lady’s sense of humor.

Every week for five seasons “Welcome Back, Kotter” had a happy ending. But life, Virginia, isn’t a sitcom. Coming back now after seeing The Big World (I mean that literally—the tales of N’s hair-raising and exotic odysseys may someday be told), I know the lad’s going to have a reality bath back in the old neighborhood. I do hope it’s a warm one.

Time will tell. Life, with its inevitable twists and turns, is never as simple as a Hollywood sitcom. But one thing I do know: when they tumble off that plane, all seven of them, they’re going to be welcomed back with the warmest embrace in this whole wide world.

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240: The Staves, ‘No Me, No You, No More’

Posted by jeff on Jul 8, 2016 in Rock, Song Of the week

web_thestaves_p9a7383-1No Me, No You, No More

Horizons

For several weeks now I’ve been listening to and watching little other than The Staves. My wife corrects me – doing little else.

Three young sisters from Watford, Hertfordshire. At first glance, they’re a folkie trio, three pleasant girls warbling. Oh, but they’re so much more.

They’re young. They’re funny and funky, sexy and sincere, prolific and precise. They warm up in the corridor backstage in stunning, genetically-matching perfect harmony – beer bottle in hand. They sing lyrics likeYou were right, and I’ve been wrong/To tarry here for far too long/Pick me up, wish me luck/Fare thee well/I don’t give a fuck anymore.” ‘Tarry’ and ‘give a fuck’ in the same verse. And they carry it off. This ain’t The Kingston Trio.

the-staves-eventThe Staves covering Springsteen’s ‘I’m on Fire’, oh, so convincingly.

For three weeks I’ve been going at them, and I still haven’t encompassed or grasped it all. They have a veritable myriad of material – thirty or so songs, with countless fine video performances – festival performances, taking refuge from the rain on a Cornwall beach, walking in the woods, in hotel rooms, radio and TV studios, soundtracks for video art, acting in mini- drama clips.

IMG_0656Three gems from the first album, home candids (in the finest sense):

Facing West

In the Long Run

Mexico

A couple of video art ventures, also from the first album:

Tongue Behind My Teeth’, a High Noon spoof in which The Girls wreak Revenge on The Bad Guy

Winter Trees’—an animated fairy tale

thestavesAnd a few from the second album:

Steady’ – even good girls have dark dreams

Blood I Bled’, a parable of something. Please, explain it to me.

Black & White’—in which a 1960’s newscaster couple’s relationship disintegrates on air

Nature/nurture. What happens when you have both? Not only a blending of timbre. A blending of blood, of eyes and ears and mouths and throats. And minds. And life experience.

337698_1They can sing together perfectly. But they have enough trust and confidence in each other and in themselves to go beyond blend.

Want to see them singing perfection?

Want to see them soulful?

Want to see them being artistically bold?

I happened to see recently a clip of the very young Everly Brothers. Don and Phil match. They’ve vocally Siamese twins from Kentucky.

The Everly Bros face each other, careful to match perfectly. The Staves face outwards, having each other’s backs, if you will, each projecting her own unique persona. Three young women who come from the same place. Literally.

I first tripped over The Staves backing Bon Iver in their new performances. Hey, any friend of Justin Vernon is a friend of mine.

maxresdefaultI just gotta digress here (that might be a fitting epitaph for my gravestone: “He Digressed”). A few months ago I wrote a posting about Bon Iver, Justin Vernon’s band, especially their performance on Austin City Limits. I’ve been watching that show over and over and over, and you know what? My appreciation just keeps growing.

These millenials are weird. Just as Justin Vernon’s band got really popular, he took a hiatus of performing for three years. I guess he had better stuff to do. As if there’s something more important than fame and fortune. Pshaw.

The-Staves-by-Graham-Tolbert-1“I became familiar with The Staves [in 2012] from an EP that was given to me by a friend. I asked them to support us on a tour and when I heard them singing it’s really like physiological; their sisterhood and their relation. The combination of their voices is unlike anything I’ve ever heard.”

Bon Iver recently returned to activity. Just a couple of shows, with The Staves in support.  I’m watching closely. And there’s this new ‘Heavenly Father’—the five band members with The Staves, standing in a circle around one mike, facing each other rather than playing to the audience – no matter that it’s not Vernon’s finest achievement musically. Bon Iver, with three lovely young women, singing a cappella? I’m hooked, lined and sinkered.

At the time, The Staves, sisters Emily (lighter hair), Jessica (black hair and guitar) and Camilla (long hair) Staveley-Taylor, had one really fine album under their belts, “Dead & Born & Grown & Live”, including songs like ‘Mexico’, ‘Eagle Song’, ‘Wisely and Slow’.

In-ear monitor + 2 earrings

In-ear monitor + 2 earrings

The sisters grew up on their parents’ American records – Simon & Garfunkel, Crosby Stills & Nash, Joni Mitchell. We’re talking second or even third generation children of The Woodstock Generation. There’ll be one child born to carry on. Hell, three children. Every time the keyboard on my cellphone gets too small, I remind myself: They’re still singing our music. It’s no nostalgia trip. They’re talented young, vibrant DIY artists standing on the shoulders of us when we were young. And they ain’t heavy, they’re our legacy and our future.

Listen to the very young Staves do a very respectable live cover of ‘Helplessly Hoping’.

But wait.

Listen to them warming up backstage in 2015 on Joni Mitchell’s ‘A Case of You’. Could CS&N have done it better, even back then?

And if you want to glimpse the outer limits of Nostalgia meets Aesthetic Beauty meets Existential Validation – remember 15-year old Little Peggy March’s #1 hit from 1963, ‘I Will Follow Him’? Check out the Staveley-Taylor sisters warming up on it. Those smiles aren’t for the cameras. They’re for the utter beauty of the moment they’re creating. Magic, just pure magic.

Vernon, 2015: “Because I care about them so much, I wanted to invite them here [to his hideaway studio in Wisconsin] which seems like such a safe place to them, to sprawl out all their ideas, give them the runway and tools and watch them grow into making a record. It’s undeniable, when you hear those voices… That comes from a well of family, and history and something that you just can’t get. That is the magic of The Staves.”

In Justin Vernon's studio

In Justin Vernon’s studio

He encamped them in his hideaway, together with core members of his gang of musical cronies, resulting in their second album, “If I Was”, including ‘Horizons’, ‘Teeth White’, and our SoTW, ‘No Me, No You, No More’.

Jessica: “It’s very much an album that’s been born from being away from home a lot and being on tour. We wanted the first album to be an honest representation of what we were on stage, but since then I think ideas and ambitions have grown. This feels like the most natural and honest we’ve been able to be in front of a microphone. So I think we feel like this is us, at the moment at least.”

Here’s ‘Make It Holy’, right from the studio, illustrating just that. And beautiful it is.

She also says, “I’m so lucky, to be touring with my family.”

Ukelele and bottle

Ukelele and bottle

If you care to really delve into The Staves, I recommend their performance at Glastonbury in 2015. I think that’s the definitive performance of where they are today.

Are they really that laid-back? Or is that a look, an attitude, a veneer, a cool? For two whole weeks I’ve been to grasp if their homey image is before or beyond the sheen of stardom. I’ve been knocking my head against that question for several weeks now, so I guess it’s a secret locked securely in the nether depths of the female psche, a Xanadu I’m resigned never to see.

After excessively long deliberations, we picked a Song of The Week to represent these very talented young ladies. We went for a slow, introspective song of unrequited love featuring their stunning vocal harmonies, ‘No Me, No You, No More’.

There are imperfections here in the Glastonbury version which you don’t hear in the studio version. This is as it should be. In the studio, the fine tuning of the blend is a goal. That’s their choice—they strive for, and achieve, perfect accord. But they also go out there, where it’s dangerous. With the wind and the rain and the mud and the real world. Where they need guts, not just vocal cords.

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