“Here Comes the Sun” was written at the time when Apple was getting like school, where we had to go and be businessmen: ‘Sign this’ and ‘sign that.’ Anyway, it seems as if winter in England goes on forever, by the time spring comes you really deserve it. So one day I decided I was going to sag off Apple and I went over to Eric Clapton’s house. The relief of not having to go see all those dopey accountants was wonderful, and I walked around the garden with one of Eric’s acoustic guitars and wrote “Here Comes the Sun.”
One Sunday Morning by Wilco – Live in Manchester
by Cat Johnson
One of the slow-burning, standout roots albums from last year is Calling Me Home by Kathy Mattea. A product of the 1980s-era country scene, Mattea is now making music that makes her peak-era songs sound like popchart fluff. Embracing her West Virginia heritage, Mattea sings elegantly stripped-down, acoustic guitar-driven songs about coal mining, mountain-top removal, love, and the struggles and joys of living in Appalachia.
“[Appalachia] is one of the last places in our country, and maybe the planet, where people are this attached to where they live,” she says. “It’s our spot in the world. It’s one of the last places that has its own flavor.”
In 2008, Mattea released an album titled, Coal, which explored some of the songs, styles, subjects and issues of mountain living. She figured it would be a one-off and she would get back to her life, but as she says, “There was no life to go on with when I finished Coal.”
A continuation of Mattea’s return to her roots, Calling Me Home is full of devastatingly-beautiful, eye- and consciousness-opening tunes about people hanging on for dear life to their very survival. It’s about broken spirits, rivers running black and environmental devastation made in the name of profit. It’s also an optimistic nod to the beauty, culture and music found in the mountains.
Featuring songs written by Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard, Jean Ritchie, Si Kahn and more, Calling Me Home is a must-hear for fans of bluegrass, roots and old-time music.
If you’ve read any of my previous posts you know I don’t write much on new artists, but recently a young Brit by the name of Jake Bugg has caught my attention. Jake has said that he didn’t really have much interest in playing music until, believe it or not, he was watching The Simpsons and they used “Vincent” by Don McLean to set the mood of the scene. He was 12 at the time.
Bugg doesn’t know why, but the song had a strong impact on him and he began to dig through McLean’s work as well as artists including Johnny Cash, The Beatles, Hendrix, and Donovan. Around this time his uncle brought him an acoustic guitar and taught him a few chords. Not long after this, he joined his cousin’s band as a bass player, but soon started writing some songs of his own.
A couple of years ago, at the age of 16, Bugg decided to try his luck and send two of his songs to the BBC. His risk paid off and opened doors to large venues and even a deal with Mercury records. At 18 years of age his debut album went to #1 in the European charts and knocked heavy hitters Mumford and Sons off the top of the charts. He also toured the States with Noel Gallagher and opened for the Stone Roses! Not bad for someone who isn’t old enough to hang out in most of the venues he plays.
On Jake’s debut album he wears his influences on his sleeve without losing himself in the process. With hints of Oasis and touches of the The La’s, this album is great and will appeal to both fans of singer-songwriters and Brit Pop alike.
Here are a couple of my favorite songs from Bugg’s self-titled debut:
by Cat Johnson
Yesterday was the birthday of both Janis Joplin and Dolly Parton. What this means astrologically, I’d love to know. Is January 19th some kind of planetary incubator for pure, fiery, musical awesomeness? I’m thinking yes.
In honor of these two groundbreaking, game-changing, absolutely inimitable women, here are some of my favorite performances by them.
Janis at the Monterey Pop Festival
As the person who uploaded this video put it, “This performance is from when Janis was a nobody.” It’s true. She had been performing in and around San Francisco at the time, but this was her big breakout performance. You can see it in her eyes. She has an innocence and clarity that was soon to be eaten up by all those things that eat up too-much-too-soon artists. Check out Mama Cass’s during the performance. She literally has dropped her jaw and at the end, Janis leaves her shaking her head.
Here’s Janis killing “To Love Somebody” on the Dick Cavett Show
Dolly Parton has a reputation for being the fun-loving, voluptuous blonde who speaks openly about being nipped and tucked and simply oozes down-home charm, What some don’t know is that she is a master businesswoman who has demanded total control of her music publishing rights and business ventures. She told one reporter, “…[A] lotta men thought I was as silly as I looked, I guess. You know, I look like a woman but I think like a man. And in this world of business, that has helped me a lot. Because by the time they think that I don’t know what’s goin’ on, I then got the money, and gone.” Case in point: Parton made tens of millions in royalties from the song “I Will Always Love You.” Here’s her original version.
Here’s Dolly doing one of my favorite of her songs, a duet with Norah Jones called “Creepin’ In.” It’s a foot-stomping return to her bluegrass roots (Parton grew up dirt poor in the Tennessee mountains, one of 12 children.) that never fails to grab me.
So I’m thinking that January 19th should be declared a holiday of some sort. What do you think?
As we turn the corner on 2013, here’s a look back at the last 100+ years of popular music in the U.S. While some of the choices here are a bit unfortunate (I could go the rest of my life without ever hearing “I Like Big Butts” again and be perfectly happy) and it would be nice to have more jazz, blues, soul and hip-hop represented, the following video is, nonetheless, an interesting trip down music lane. There were some years that the shift in styles was quite dramatic (Check out 1959 to 1960).
Want to go back further? The following video starts with music from 1890 and includes more folk, jazz, country and blues. As with the above video, lots of great artists got skipped entirely (Led Zeppelin, anyone?) but it’s a fun watch.
Because when it’s raining like this, you might as well celebrate it.
A few Sunday morning songs from a woman who was fast friends with the blues, Billie Holiday.
by Cat Johnson
There’s a new soul sensation among us. Newcomer Michael Kiwanuka has burst upon the scene like a gust of familiar, yet fresh and oh-so-talented, air. Hailing from North London, Kiwanuka is garnering comparisons to Van Morrison, Bill Withers, Richie Havens and Otis Redding; not bad for a youngster who just dropped his debut album. Already attracting international attention, Kiwanuka would be a good one to keep your eyes on. His warm and rich voice, mature delivery and solid guitar chops have launched him into what promises to be a star-studded career. Here are a few singles from his album, Home Again.