A fixture on the Greenwich Village folk scene for 40 years during the mid-twentieth century, the late-Dave Van Ronk remains one of the most celebrated folk artists of all time. Recently, Smithsonian Folkways released Down in Washington Square: the Smithsonian Folkways Collection.
A jam-packed, 36 track, two CD set, the collection serves to reaffirm Van Ronk’s influence and importance and introduce his music to a new generation of folk enthusiasts.
Here he is performing, talking about lucid dreaming, meeting Mississippi John Hurt and how they managed to get Hurt’s song “Frankie” onto a 78.
What do you do when you’re headlining a festival and you miss your ride? If you’re Jimi Hendrix, they send a helicopter for you. Not a bad way to arrive at a gig, eh?
The recently-released album, Jimi Hendrix Experience: Miami Pop Festival, contains an hour of previously unreleased music. A dvd companion details two years of Hendrix’s life, including footage from the Miami gig.
There’s a new album by Jack Johnson, titled From Here to Now to You that is, as you would expect from Johnson, a feel-good record full of love, good vibes and easy feelings. Here’s the first track:
And here’s a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the album.
Hit play, sit back and relax, and enjoy the sound of the inimitable Nina Simone doing an 18 minute version of George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” mashed up with the poem “Today is a Killer.” Happy Sunday.
by Cat Johnson
Born in Chickasaw County, Mississippi, Bobbie Gentry was one of the first women in country music to write and produce her own music. Her runaway hit, “Ode to Billie Joe,” juxtaposed the news that a local boy, Billie Joe McAllister, had jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge with a family’s usual dinner conversation: “Pass the biscuits.” etc.
The song led to fans everywhere to speculate why Billie Joe jumped, what he and his girlfriend had thrown off the bridge the previous day (guesses included a draft card, a wedding ring, drugs and flowers). Gentry initially wouldn’t say what it was, then at one point said she didn’t know. She eventually said that the questions are of secondary importance in her mind.
The story of Billie Joe has two more interesting underlying themes. First, the illustration of a group of peoples’ reactions to the life and death of Billie Joe, and its subsequent effect on their lives, is made. Second, the obvious gap between the girl and her mother is shown when both women experience a common loss (first Billie Joe, and later, Papa), and yet Mama and the girl are unable to recognize their mutual loss or share their grief.
The song’s widespread success inspired a book and film, both of which posed that Billie Joe killed himself because he was gay. What do you think?
by Cat Johnson
A blues classic that is one of the most covered songs in music, “Baby Please Don’t Go” was a folk song that was passed around for several generations before it was first recorded by Big Joe Williams in 1935. His version became a big commercial hit and exposed the song to countless ears, paving the way for it to become the blues and rock standard that it is.
Here are several notable versions of the song, including the original.
by Cat Johnson
Imagine pure, unadulterated, Southern, country gospel that is so powerful it damn near takes your breath away. That, my friends, is the music of the Como Mamas.
Hailing from Como, Mississippi, these three women–Ester Mae Smith, Angela Taylor, and Della Daniels–were an “undiscovered” treasure of the area when, during a field recording project for Daptone Records, they were “discovered.”
Knowing that they had stumbled upon something extraordinary, the recording crew made a return trip to Como to properly record the trio. They set up in the local church, the women did their thing and the result is the album, Get An Understanding.
If you’re turned off by the gospel thing, don’t be. These women sing with a strength of spirit that transcends religion and theology. This is soul-stirring stuff.
Check it out:
Bach, Beethoven and Vivaldi reworked, shredder-style:
by Cat Johnson
Mavis Staples is at it again. The soul/gospel legend whose voice powers the Staple Singers’ “I’ll Take You There,” one of the grooviest, uplifting jams ever, has, again, established herself as one of the unshakeable matriarchs of music.
For the recently-released album, One True Vine, Staples again enlisted the help of Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy—Tweedy produced her 2012 masterpiece You Are Not Alone—who played much of the music and held down production duties. The result is a collaboration that is rocking, exquisitely-crafted and full of subtlety and soul. And the beauty is that, in spite of the album’s great production and arrangements, this is absolutely a Mavis Staples album. Her voice, with all its inflection, spirit and weathered beauty, is front and center throughout.
Props to Tweedy for understanding that Staples is one of the great treasures of music. She’s been in the game for nearly 50 years and Tweedy’s respect for her is palpable. He does exactly what he should do: make Mavis sound really great by giving her a musical foundation that she can take off and do her thing from.
There are a few Tweedy-penned tracks on the album as well as songs written by Nick Lowe (“Far Celestial Shore”) and old-time gospel-bluesman Washington Phillips (“What Are They Doing in Heaven Today?”). But the standout track is a cover of the Funkadelic hit, “Can You Get to That.” Tweedy and Staples bring enough of the original to capture the spirit of the head-bobbing classic, and they add new dimensions that give the song new life and texture.
As a whole, One True Vine is a polished-yet-human exploration of faith, struggle, joy and redemption.
Available on CD and vinyl