Monday, July 14, 2008

Whiskey Before Breakfast

Noticing lists of summer listenings by some of my fellow blogposters, I can't help but indulge myself in the same.
What I have here is a list (with a bit of rumination) of 7 songs that I keep playing OVER AND OVER again.

Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams, Lady In Red - Stan Getz (April 14, 1950 NYC)

Getz (tenor sax) Tony Aless (piano) Percy Heath (bass) Don Lamond (drums)

The 23 year old Stan Getz was already nicknamed "the Sound" for his incomparable tone. Getz was a tempestuous personality who ironically, at the time of this recording, oft played with a gently diaphanous, high-register, detached sound, like an angel flitting about on Cloud 9 removed from worldly cares. On these two tunes he introduces a more varied, full-bodied, though still light-in-weight, sound, that dips more frequently than usual into the lower registers.

More importantly these cuts have a quality of utter effortlessness and swing. The beginning of "Wrap" has Stan floating right in on Cloud 9 with a round fogtone reminiscent particular recordings his his idol Lester Young did on one of his brief reunion sessions with Basie, in 1944, that featured Lester Leaps Again and After Theatre Jump.

To my ears, Getz rarely sounded so naturally melodious, spinning continuous, flowing, thread after thread and I can't conceive of ever getting enough of these tunes!

Here is a soundclip of Stan Getz playing There's a Small Hotel from earlier the same year, demonstrating the same qualities as the above tunes. Here he is playing with the rhythm section he was sharing with Charlie Parker at this time; Al Haig on piano, Tommy Potter on bass, and Roy Haynes (still very active today!) on drums.

Dixie Chicken, Fat Man in the Bathtub Little Feat (1973)
Guitarist Lowell George was a gifted slide guitarist and songwriter with a soulful voice, now enshrined as a "rock-star casualty" legend for his early demise. He formed the band Little Feat which was notably off the beaten path, forging a style as portrayed in these particular tunes, that fell somewhere in between New Orleans funk and rhythm and blues, and slide-driven southern roots rock. George was a bit of a Renaissance man of the musical world having early on mastered harmonica, flute, oboe, and baritone sax (he was even in on some Frank Sinatra recordings playing the latter two) before mastering the guitar. The Rolling Stones and Jimmy Page were both ardent admirers and Bonnie Raitt said she moved out to California solely to meet and hang with George, whose slide-guitar work she so admired.
"Dixie Chicken" and "Fatman" are great examples of Lowell's impassioned vocals, songwriting, guitar-playing and - with hats off to his bandmembers including New Orleans percussionist Sam Clayton - infectious New Orleans groove.
Here is Dixie Chicken.

Whiskey Before Breakfast, Under the Double Eagle
Norman Blake (1976)

On a recent visit to NYC I was delighted to find a small record shop in the East Village that had a cd version of one my favorite long lost lps, Norman Blake's Whiskey Before Breakfast.
Blake is one of the premier flatpicking guitarists on the planet. He is the epitome of taste, never resorting to lightning pyrotechnics unless they lend themselves to the musicality of the piece.
Blake, a native Tennesseean, was longtime accompaniest to June Carter and later a longstanding meember of Johnny Cash's touring band. Subsequent to that he drew "mainstream" attention for his work on Bob Dylan's Nashville Skyline. More recently he caught some attention, not for his flatpicking but for his nofrills vocal rendition of "You Are My Sunshine" featured in the Coen Bros., "O Brother Where Art Thou". He is not an exceptional vocalist but an unaffected and, upon gradual familiarity, pleasing one.
The tune "Whiskey Before Breakfast" has Irish origins (shocking, I know) and Blake delivers it here with Appalachian panache minus the TV hillbilly hokum. Another favorite of mine is his version of "Under the Double Eagle". In fact the whole album is a great listening experience for anyone with a liberal musical ear; no need to be a hardened bluegrass fan.
Here is a youtube clip of Norman playing Under the Double Eagle from Whiskey Before Breakfast

Rain and Snow The Be Good Tanyas Blue Horse(2001)

The Be Good Tanyas are an endearing, engaging, multi-instrumental, multi-vocal trio of gals out of Vancouver who play what i would call for the sake of convenience Old Timey American Root and Original music.
Rain and Snow is an old-time traditional tune that I first encountered as a regular set-piece at the Grateful Dead concerts c. 1969-1972 in Sunny California. Yes, as many of us are tired of repeating and many are tired of hearing, you had to have been there and see them live to know what the fuss was about, (I don't even mention this any more to the uninitiated because, well...); as I believe David Crosby said "there is nothing like the Dead on a good night!" - and, before you roll your eyes, chemical reinforcement was not necessary - trust me!
In any case, here the Tanyas deliver a this tune with their own unique spin and groove. Here is a myspace recording of the Tanyas doing Rain and Snow.
Here is a youtube soundclip of the Be Good Tanyas playing one my favorite of their tunes Ootischenia