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JoeMc on 06/17/2010 at 12:00PM

I (Re)Write the Songs

Crooning to the Gents--and, presumably, the ladies (courtesy aurélien./flickr)

I must admit, with a hint of shame, that I'm a big fan of high concept records (and low concept records, come to think of it). Whether it's somebody doing a cassette of Prince covers or somebody else recording an album about their grandmother, I'm ready and willing to make the journey with them (a momentary pause here to salute the Gods of high concept).

One of the latest bands to drop by WFMU with full concept in tote is Everybody Was in the French Resistance...Now!, a clunkily named but fun outfit whose concept is to name their songs in response to popular rock songs of the past, sometimes even addressing those songs. This concept isn't new at all, just a slight twist on the rock 'n' roll tradition of the answer song, but it's still fun to play spot the reference.

Answer songs, in case you don't already know, were songs recorded by artists in response to a big hit by someone else. A famous example is Kitty Wells' "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels," which was a response to Hank Thompson's "The Wild Side of Life." WFMU's own Dave the Spazz covered this phenomenon from the rock 'n' roll and country angle on his 2003 premium, while WFMU's Noah did the same thing a few years later with the notorious run of Roxanne answer songs from the early days of hip-hop (see number 6). A couple of years ago, Ace Records put out their own nice compilation of answer songs from the 1960s.

Anyway, as a public service, I thought I would make explicit the references from EWITFRN!'s songs, in case you missed one or two. While I perform this thankless task, do have a listen to a couple of songs from the band's live session on the Evan Funk Davies program last month.

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JoeMc on 06/04/2010 at 01:00PM

Edith Wilson: Hot Chocolate and Pancakes

Edith and Hounds. Where's that banjo?

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about the great blues singer Mamie Smith. Mamie was a pioneer of recorded blues, particularly blues recorded by female singers, and many other women followed in her footsteps. Today I'd like to focus on a blues singer who not only followed in Mamie's footsteps, but who was so hot on her heels that she could be considered something of a pioneer herself: Ms. Edith Wilson.

"Take It 'Cause It's Yours," which is the song by Ms. Wilson featured below, is a fairly representative sample of her art. First, she lays out the conceit of the song, which is about a faithful woman who is emotionally wronged by her man (who happens to be a "delivery man," in the best blues tradition). This dude thinks she digs him for his money, but she throws his "filthy lucre" back at him and reaffirms her fidelity with the double entendre of the title. We don't know what happens after that, but my guess is that he took it (and I don't mean the money).

Edith sings it like she means it, but what's also terrific about this record is her crack band, the Original Jazz Hounds, who saunter through it with a nice dose of raunch. I like the way Charlie Dixon's banjo clomps hard through the song until its grungy break right in the middle, before Johnny Dunn's trumpet solo. This particular verison on the FMA is also great because it's from an old disc that's a little distorted, which gives it the rough sound that all the lo-fi kiddies love these days.

So, yes, check out the song below, and then read on if you want to learn more about Edith Wilson.

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JoeMc on 05/20/2010 at 02:30PM

A Ragged Life; or, How to Invent Modern Music in One Easy Step

If he looks unhappy, it may be because in 1908, when this photo was taken, things were going south.

If there's one thing that seems inarguable to me about popular music, it's that it operates on a continuum. Nothing springs full-grown from the head of a Gershwin or an Armstrong or a Hank Williams; the music we think of as new all comes from those who have come before. The best musicians and performers will revamp, recombine, and renew the music of past generations, but the roots are always showing.

Well, almost always. One guy who is pretty darn close to the main root of all of the musical trees that grew up during the 20th century is a quiet little dude from Texas who decided that mixing some African syncopation into European forms might make for an interesting hybrid. His name was Scott Joplin, and his experiment in musical miscegenation would transform popular music in America.

Ugh, that sentence there sounds like a PBS documentary is about to start. Have no fear, this post will be shorter than Ken Burns' Jazz (at least a little shorter). But the truth is, Scott Joplin did have a lot to do with creating the music that led to the music we listen to now. He never actually recorded anything himself, but we do have some piano rolls he had something to do with, and if you play them back, you can get a hint of what he might've sounded like. Listen to a couple of them below, and I'll make an attempt to continue in a slightly less PBS-inspired manner after the jump.

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JoeMc on 05/13/2010 at 01:00PM

Herb for Life

Imagine the sombrero and bandito moustache.

Ever seen Carol Reed's 1949 thriller The Third Man? This is the film that takes place in a shadowy, dank and dangerous post-war Vienna, and climaxes with a famous speech by the slippery, silvery-tongued fascist/opportunist Harry Lime, played by Orson Welles:

In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had six thousand years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.

You may also remember The Third Man's famous score, which was composed and played on the zither by Anton Karas, an unknown musician that director Reed discovered playing in a wine garden. Karas' oddly jaunty title theme plays ironically against the darker-than-dark themes of the film, and it became one of the biggest hits of 1949. You can hear it in your head right now, can't you?

Well, now imagine that The Third Man took place not in the doomy depths of Vienna at night, but instead on a sunny beach in Mexico. Harry Lime's speech isn't delivered on a dilapidated ferris wheel, but in a tijuana taxi, and the house band has umbrellas in their drinks and doesn't even know what a zither is. Got that?

I now give you Rat City Brass.

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seattle, kexporg
JoeMc on 05/07/2010 at 11:00AM

Hi, Mom!

Mamie and Hounds remembering mom. You'd better, too!

A timely reminder from your friends here at the FMA: If you haven't yet sent out that card or those flowers to your M-A-double M-Y, then it's time you got FTD on the phone, or at least staggered down to the Duane Reade to pick up a Hallmark. it's pretty much the least you can do. Even if your own mom makes Mo'Nique seem like Mother of the Year, you still ought to show a little respect to the woman who thrust you out of her loins and scrambled up her innards for the remainder of her natural life for you.

OK, so you've got the card. To get you in the mood to write that inscription that will make the ink run from your mother's happy tears, here's a little gem from the great Mamie Smith, along with her Happy Jazz Puppies (probably their original name). If you aren't packing the camper in route to Hometown, U.S.A. after hearing this one, then your heart is colder than the look on your boss' face when you come in late for the 47th time.

I'll say a little bit more about Mamie Smith below, but be sure to listen to the song.

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JoeMc on 04/22/2010 at 02:00PM

Knock on Wood

GHG in mid-knock.

Many instruments now considered "serious" instruments began life as "novelties," or the aural equivalent of a whoopie cushion. These kinds of instruments, although originally employed by comedians to punctuate gags back in vaudeville days, could and sometimes did make the transition to more dignified usage. Two examples of instruments that made this transition are the saxophone and the harmonica, both originally treated as toys, but later accorded respect by virtue of their importance to jazz and the blues.

One instrument that perhaps didn't make the transition as successfully is the xylophone. Although there was a period in jazz in the 30s and 40s when a few hardy souls made this bulky hunk of metal and wood semi-respectable (Red Norvo being the most popular of the bunch), the xylophone never did quite shed its reputation as a novelty. These days, you don't hear too many xylophones at all, probably for this reason. Modern pop strains so hard to sound tough and grown-up that the whimsical, jolly tone of the xylophone mostly sounds out of place (nice try, Gordon Gano).

There was a time, however, when the xylophone did appeal to your average record buyer, and at that time, the guy who did the most to make it popular was a fellow named George Hamilton Green. He not only sold a lot of records, but he pioneered the use of the xylophone in cartoons, a move that ironically may have damned the instrument to novelty status forever.

Here's a tune that Green recorded with one of his many groups, the All-Star Trio, that could have been the soundtrack to a cartoon. If you can, though, try to judge this happy tune on its own merits as a bright example of great xylophone playing. And then read on below for more about the xylophone and George Hamilton Green.

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JoeMc on 04/08/2010 at 03:30PM

Get Golden

Zlatne Uste Balkan Brass Band (via lastfm)

Around this time last year, WFMU's own Doug Schulkind produced a wow of a compilation for his marathon fundraising premium. It was a little celebration of the brass band called Around the Horn: Brass Band Music from All Over. The CD featured bands from India, Italy, Surinam, Benin, and Mexico, just to name a few. There were even a few American brass bands on there. Sometimes homegrown, sometimes born of colonial influence, the brass band has made its way around the globe in a procession of tuba blatts and trumpet fanfares, and Doug highlighted just a few of the more interesting players in this wide-ranging parade.

If you were lucky enough to pick up a copy of Doug's premium when it was available, you know how good it is. But if you missed it, rest assured that the FMA has something that will make you feel at least a little bit better. We've got some serious brass band music here, all designed to make you jump in the air or at least grab a beer and some kielbasa.

The track I'd like to feature today is by the Zlatne Uste Balkan Brass Band, one of the great popularizers of this kind of music in the U.S. "Zlatne Uste" translates as "Golden Lips," and this 13-strong brass band sure enough has 'em. They also are one of the best promoters of the scene through their organization of the annual Golden Festival, the biggest festival of its kind outside of Europe. A New York-based aggregation, Zlatne Uste celebrates its 25th year as a working band in 2010.

"'Jaws' Čačak" is a track that originally appeared on Zlatne Uste's In the Center of the Village album (Azalea City Recordings, 1999), but here it is in a live recording from the 2010 Golden Festival, surged through at a tempo more associated with hardcore than horns. Just so you know, the brass bands were there first!

This weekend you'll have a chance to hear them do it live at the Balkan Shout Out!, a fundraiser at the Ukrainian National Home located at 140 Second Avenue in Manhattan. Zlatne Uste will be performing, as will Red Baraat, an Indian-style brass band, also from New York. If this track whets your appetite and you're in the area, do yourself a favor and experience them in person. Zlatne Uste likes to perform right in the crowd, so you can get up close and get an earful.

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JoeMc on 04/01/2010 at 02:52PM

Vialka: Plus de vie que la musique

Vialka live, somewhere in the world. (Photo CC by-nc-nd courtesy Smoet/flickr.)
Take a bit of Ex-ian anarcho-punk, mix it with some Afrirampo-like abandon (and occasional facepaint), add in some Sublime Frequencies-style world music exploration, and finish it off with a soupçon of Gallic attitude, and you're getting close to what "turbo-folk micro-orchestra" Vialka puts across.

Vialka is Marylise Frecheville (drums, vocals) and Eric Boros (guitar, vocals) who reside somewhere in the Pyranees of "deepest France." Well, at least that's where they are for now. Boros is originally from Canada and Frecheville from France. They have lived in Canada, Switzerland, and Slovenia, but really they are a band that makes the world their home. In fact, their performing M.O. is to crashland in all sorts of out-of-the-way places to wake up the locals with a barrage of their unique brand of DIY. Right now, they are touring China, where they are playing in 18 different cities. From China, it's on to Taiwan, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Australia, and...New Jersey!

Yes, one of the out-of-the-way places Vialka will be crashlanding soon is at WFMU, where they will be Brian Turner's guests on April 20th. They also play in Brooklyn the following night. To get you in the mood for what promises to be a great radio session and live show, check out a few tracks below from Vialka's six-album deep catalogue. If you like what you hear, read on for more about this barnstorming duo.

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JoeMc on 03/25/2010 at 09:00AM

Moonlighter's Serenade

S.H. Dudley's successor Harry Macdonough, busy as a bee (courtesy Library of Congress)

OK. You're a busy person. You've got things to do. You can't just be playing around on blogs all day. Who's got the time? Eighteen minute stoner jam? I think not. Ten-minute electronic dance anthem? No way. Even a three and a half-minute pop song can seem like forever when you've got to get going. After all, we're all working two jobs now, right?

Well, have I got something for you. Here's a cultural bon-bon you can digest quickly and with satisfaction: one-minute and thirty-three seconds of pure fun, circa 1902. A hundred plus years later, it's as irreverent as ever, and it was performed by a dude who also worked two jobs back in the day.

Take a cable car ride with S.H. Dudley, and then read below for more on this multitasking champ.

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JoeMc on 03/04/2010 at 10:38AM

Speed the Blau

Photo courtesy of stephjoyous/flickr.

It's already Thursday and Karl Blau hasn't put out a new album yet.

Something must be terribly wrong!

Of course, I jest. But if you think I'm kidding about how prolific this fellow is, check out this list of releases from his Kelp Lunacy Advanced Plagiarism Society label that feature him in a primary or supporting role:

The Dark, Magic Sea  ::  The Coconutcracker Suite  ::  Turning Tutu/Turning Leaves  ::  Dunkel Blau  ::  Purple Heart ::  Baby Nettles  ::  Remember Tomorrow  ::  Clothes Your I's  ::  Nature's Got Away  ::  Dubble Dooty Booty  ::  Trust in Sirens ::  It Was Hot, We Stayed in the Water ::  Welsh Phantoms and Other Ghosts of Western Europe ::  Sea/Saw  ::  Stereoearrings  ::  If I knew Zen What I Know Now ::  AM ::  Sing Together/Alone Under the Covers  ::  Beer and Chai ::  Flotsam and Jetsam ::  Let It All Out  ::  Sigh Lens  ::  Bread-n-Grease  ::  Trunkal Howl  ::  Free the Bird  ::  Dance Positive ::  Good Lovin' Country and Beyond  ::  In Return from Ghost Country  ::  1,000 Pictures  ::  An Unconscious Pattern  ::  Blue Nomad  ::  Doin' Things the Way They Happen  ::  Dragon Tape  ::  Into the Nada  ::  One Summer Night on Halloran  ::  Purple Shack of 4-Track  ::  Songs to Make a Living ::  Beneath Waves  ::  96 

And these are just his self-released items. I'm not even counting his albums on Knw-Yr-Own records or his last three on K Records, including last year's Zebra. Does Robert Pollard have something to worry about? I should say so.

Happily, this quantity makes for great stylistic variety--sometimes folky, sometimes electronic, sometimes poppy. I'm partial to the pop mode. Back in 2006, Mr. Blau released a swell tune of this type on K Records as a single. It was called "Slow Down, Joe" (fine advice I'm taking to heart, thank you). This song also appeared in slightly different form on the Dark, Magic Sea release, and that's the one I'm spotlighting today. Its propulsive, march-like rhythm and bristly guitar get me every time.

Listen, and then see below for a bit more on the Blau.

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karl blau
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