Tragic Songs of Life

Charlie Louvin, one of the most influential and respected figures in American country music, passed away yesterday at the age of 83. He started out as part of the Louvin Brothers duo with his brother Ira and continued on his own following Ira’s death in 1965. The pair’s choice of songs and vocal harmonies were a big influence on subsequent acts such as the Byrds, Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris and Elvis Costello. Their most famous collection is Tragic Songs of Life from 1956. The song Kentucky opens that album and their original version of Knoxville Girl appears on it as well. He re-recorded a fine version of the song with a little help from Will Oldham in 2007. My favourite country singer, Gram Parsons, recorded a version of The Angels Rejoiced Last Night with Emmylou Harris before his untimely death in 1973. More recently, an album I played a lot when it came out was Missing … Presumed Having a Good Time (1990) by the Notting Hillbillies. I must admit that I only discovered last night that the song Weapon of Prayer was originally by the Louvin Brothers. Cheers, Charlie

Kentucky – The Louvin Brothers

Knoxville Girl – Charlie Louvin feat. Will Oldham

The Angels Rejoiced Last Night (Louvin Brothers cover) – Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris

Weapon of Prayer (Louvin Brothers cover) – The Notting Hillbillies

Try Whistling These

Today is Australia Day and to commemorate the occasion I’ve decided to pick some songs from down under. I’ve actually chosen eight acts from New Zealand, as I’m sure they’re feeling a bit left out today. Two of the most famous Kiwis of recent years are the Flight of the Conchords, a comedy duo who have a couple of TV series and the same number of albums under their belts. I still prefer their debut album from 2008 and Ladies of the World is one of my favourite songs from it. The Mint Chicks hail from Auckland but are now based in the States. Crush is their cover of a song by another Kiwi band called Tall Dwarfs, who were part of what was known as the Dunedin sound. They were part of a number of bands from the 80s that included The Bats, The Chills and The Verlaines. However, New Zealand’s most famous musician has to be Neil Finn, who wrote Split Enz‘s biggest hit, I Got You. He went on to even more success as leader of Crowded House and Better Be Home Soon closes my favourite album by the band, Temple of Low Men (1988). For the day that’s in it, I’ve included his fine cover of a 1985 hit from Australia’s Hunters & Collectors. Watch this space on New Zealand Day when I’ll post a few songs from Aussie acts

Ladies of the World – Flight of the Conchords

Crush (Tall Dwarfs cover) – The Mint Chicks

Miss These Things – The Bats

Rain – The Chills

Pyromaniac – The Verlaines

I Got You (Live) – Split Enz

Better Be Home Soon – Crowded House

Throw Your Arms Around Me (Hunter & Collectors cover) – Neil Finn

Image courtesy of Jive Turkey

Salute Them When Their Birthdays Come

Tonight is Burns Night in Scotland and it’s a commemoration of one of that country’s literary greats, the poet Robert Burns (above). Burns was born on this day in 1759 and his influence is still evident in parts of Scotland today. His poetry and lyrics were an influence on Bob Dylan, who chose A Red, Red Rose as the biggest inspiration on his own work for a music campaign a few years ago. Today’s date is also significant in relation to a number of other figures in Dylan’s life. 25 years ago, Albert Grossman died from a heart attack on a flight to London. Grossman was, of course, Dylan’s manager throughout the sixties. On the sleevenotes to his 1965 album, Bringing It All Back Home, Dylan writes at one point: “i’m standing there watching the parade /feeling combination of sleepy john estes. jayne mansfield. humphrey bogart”. Sleepy John Estes was a blues musician who was also born on this day in 1904 and his nickname came from his narcolepsy and not his fondness for shut-eye. The influence of Estes’ musical and vocal rhythms can be heard on a lot of the blues-influenced songs that Dylan released in 1965, including such numbers as Outlaw Blues and From a Buick 6

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Mr Bad Example

Yesterday, I had one of those serendipitous moments when I was listening to my iPod on shuffle while walking home from the shops. Warren Zevon‘s hilarious Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner came on and kept me company for four minutes of my journey. I’ve been meaning to write a post for some time now about this great American songwriter who sadly passed away in 2003. So, I looked up his biographical details and was pleasantly surprised to discover that he was born 64 years ago today (January 24th) in Chicago. I first came across Zevon’s music through his only actual hit, Werewolves of London, and later his first compilation album, the ironically entitled A Quite Normal Life (1986). His sense of irony was also present in the lyrics of songs such as Excitable Boy, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead and Poor, Poor Pitiful Me. I subsequently picked up most of his albums on CD, LP and cassette, but his self-titled album from 1976 eluded me for almost two decades until its recent re-release. A particular favourite of mine was the covers album of blues and rock songs that he did with three quarters of R.E.M. as the Hindu Love Gods. That tape was one of my most played throughout the 90s and it’s one that I still return to now and then

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Every Goliath Has Its David

Last August, the Irish Times ran a story about two American grammar lovers who drove around the States in 2008 in an attempt to find and correct punctuation and grammar errors that they could find on public signs and in printed material in restaurants and other businesses. The author of the article noted that it’s primarily small businesses that tend to be guilty of such errors and he wondered if the duo would be busy with their correction fluid and markers in Ireland. Personally, I think they’d have a field day. The above photo shows part of a poster that is prominently displayed on the window of my local pharmacy. The poster is obviously aimed at smokers who want to give up the dreaded weed and it should, in fact, say “It’s Arrived” or, to be more correct, “They’ve arrived”. This particular pharmacy is not a small family-run business, though it is a family-run independent chain that owns twenty pharmacies throughout Ireland. The Limerick branch is the only one that’s situated on the western part of the country, though I’m sure that the poster can also be seen at the remainder of their stores along the eastern coast. The company’s website could do with a bit of a makeover as well and there’s even some confusion there about whether the name of the company should have an apostrophe or not

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Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under

The American singer and performer Amanda Palmer released her second full-length solo album today. It was recorded in Adelaide and Sydney last year and its dozen songs include a number that are concerned with the world’s biggest island/smallest continent. The majority of the songs on the collection were recorded live and include Palmer’s always interesting banter along with some contributions from the crowd and assorted musicians. The humour and intimacy of her concerts are captured in the album’s opening version of the oldie Making Whoopee and later in Vegemite (The Black Death), an hilarious ode to how an Australian delicacy can test even the most committed of lovers. The set concludes on a fine version of The Ship Song by Nick Cave and the whole thing can be downloaded at her Bandcamp page for less than the price of a Vegemite sandwich. Three of Palmer’s more eager fans have already paid five grand each for a private concert from the singer at their home, while five more have paid $1500 each to hang out backstage at one of her Australian shows. Have a look at that Bandcamp link for a few more packages that are still available and that are lighter on the pocket. You can also buy her EP of ukulele interpretations of Radiohead songs from last year for a nominal fee here. Here’s a taster of one of those covers

No Surprises (Radiohead cover) – Amanda Palmer

Image courtesy of Patrick Dugan

Ten Kick-Ass Films From 2010

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2010 certainly wasn’t an exceptional year for cinema, but I went to my local picture house a few times and watched many more new releases on DVD. The ten I’ve chosen are evenly split between those I watched at home and those I saw at the cinema and are also finely balanced between adaptations and original films. Some of my favourite directors followed up on earlier successes, but it was my first time coming across three of the filmmakers below. A common theme in many of my choices was the high quality of the female characters on offer and this was matched by some wonderful acting as well. The first film is from Sweden and it introduces one of recent cinema’s more interesting characters. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was actually released in Sweden early in 2009 and throughout mainland Europe later that year. However, it wasn’t given a general release in Britain and Ireland until last year. It is Danish director Niels Arden Oplev‘s fifth film and is the first of three adaptations of Stieg Larsson’s popular series of crime novels. Michael Nyqvist gives an understated performance as disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist who accepts an offer from the head of a wealthy family to delve back into the unsolved case of his missing niece. He is soon assisted by a young computer hacker named Lisbeth Salander, an enigmatic character who is brilliantly played by Noomi Rapace. She certainly plays her part in making this a rivetting and stylish thriller. Inevitably, a Hollywood remake is on its way, though the good news is that it’s going to be directed by David Fincher. Fincher started out directing music videos before making his big screen debut with Alien 3. He then went on to make five thrillers of variable quality, with Seven and Fight Club being the highlights. This year he directed Aaron Sorkin’s fine script of The Accidental Billionaire, Ben Mezrich’s book about the founder of Facebook. The Social Network could have been just an ordinary teen flick, but becomes a fascinating study of greed and power in the hands of Sorkin and Fincher

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Losing Sleep

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I gave you the first part of my favourite albums of 2010 yesterday and today I present my top ten long players from the year gone by. Neil Young has released more albums than the rest of the acts on this list put together and he’s been doing it for five decades now. Fortunately, his talent shows no sign of abating and a lot of the younger whippersnappers below could learn a thing or two from his approach to making music. The title of Le Noise is a pun on the last name of its producer and Daniel Lanois has produced another excellent recording that shows Young’s voice at its best as well as some simple but effective riffing. My favourite tracks on the album are Love & War and The Hitchiker. These two songs stand out for me because they contain some of the most personal writing I’ve heard from a songwriter who’s at the top of his game. The next singer doesn’t write her own material, but is closest in years to Young. I Learned It the Hard Way by Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings actually sounds like it could have been released anytime during the heyday of soul music in the sixties and seventies. The Dap-Kings provide wonderful backing to Jones’ powerful voice on a dozen songs that primarily focus on romantic relationships and financial concerns

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