Thursday, December 31, 2009

Sarah McLachlan: Angel

Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel” has been getting a tremendous amount of TV airplay in the last several years as the music behind her public service announcement (PSA) for the ASPCA regarding abused pets. It qualifies for our weekly TV Thursday feature – and so here it is.

This is a haunting song that charted in 1999 at #4 on the Hot 100 and #1 on the Adult Contemporary charts. I just love her voice on this tune. The simple, but beautiful arrangement allows her vocal to shine through especially on this live rendition. One major difference between this live interpretation and her studio release of 1997 is the change in key. The original is in Db, while she performs this more recent recording in D. Usually, people drop the key signature with age; however, Sarah uncharacteristically raises it a half step. It may have been done for ease of play – I certainly prefer D over Db any day on any instrument.

Wait, I can hear William Conrad's voice now, "Join our heroes next time for the exciting adventure: 'Sarah's all keyed up' OR 'You can tune a piano, but you can't tuna fish.'" (Apologies to Rocky and Bullwinkle, as well as to REO Speedwagon). 

The studio version was originally released on her 1997 album “Surfacing.” The single would not be released for another two years. While the credits list drum programming by Pierre Marchand, I hear no percussion (electronic or otherwise) on the studio version of this tune. It is possible that it is so far down in the mix that you cannot discern that it is there.

The only other instrument besides Sarah’s piano is the upright bass provided by Jim Creggan. In fact there are two tracks of the bass – one track played pizzicato that carries the rhythm. On the other, Creggan plays arco, providing some effects that are comparable to a synthesizer. I had to double check the credits on this, as other cuts on the album have a musical saw and Creggen’s playing seems very saw-like at times.

Studio Version

What does it all mean?

As I was listening to several versions of this song in preparation for today’s post, I found many people equating “Angel” to being a religious song; however, outside of references to angelic beings and being down on one's knees – there is not an overt spiritual message here. As I analyzed the lyrical content, the song seemed almost suicidal. The musician protagonist seeking a release from the troubles that he or she is encountering on the road.

I was not far from the truth, as McLachlan admitted that the song was written about the heroin overdose of Smashing Pumpkins’ keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin. The first verse corroborates this futile escapism via drugs, as she sings, “I need some distraction, Oh beautiful release. Memory seeps from my veins. Let me be empty, and weightless and maybe I’ll find some peace tonight.” Unfortunately for Melvoin there was no peace in the experience.

Massaging the song for a new Message

Occasionally marketers tend to take a snippet here and there out of context from a song to promote a particular message.  Does Royal Caribbean’s use of Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” come to mind?  Well, that has happened with “Angel” – and it has been very successful, I might add. For three years, "Angel" has been used by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in a heart wrenching video that reaches out for help. It is a very effective message that utilizes at least two of Aristotle’s three artistic proofs of argumentation and rhetoric.

One proof is ethos – motivating others to a course of action by encouraging that they pursue the “right” direction. The other is pathos or an emotional appeal.  Ninety percent of this this two minute message tugs on the proverbial heart strings. You can be the “angel” and rescue these abused animals.

While it may not be conclusive, Aristotle's third proof - logos may also be present.  This is the logical course of action, and if present, may be seen in the evidence that it costs less than 60 cents a day to care for one of these abused pets. It has been a very effective campaign for the ASPCA as they have reportedly raised over $30 million in donations from this PSA alone. Bravo ASPCA and Sarah for a job well done.


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Steve Miller Band: Winter Time

Today has been a typical winter day – cold, and turning colder as I write this. I picked today’s song to celebrate/eschew [pick one] the season of winter and to remember the late Norton Buffalo. On Sunday, I featured a cut from the Norton Buffalo tribute show in November. Norton, who died on October 30, 2009, had spent 33 years as a member of the Steve Miller Band and “Winter Time” was one of the first two cuts on which he played harmonica with Miller. This was even prior to Norton's becoming a member of the band.

While Norton Buffalo’s performance on this particular cut is subdued by his normal standard of playing (although at one point he mimics Miller's voice), it adds quite a bit to this laid back tune that was an Album Oriented Rock radio favorite. The moral of the story is that, it is not how many notes you play, but often it is what you don’t play that adds to the performance. In other words, less is more.

Norton Buffalo Live

Another aspect of this song that I like is the sitar. While Steve Miller is credited as playing sitar, it really sounds like a Coral Electric Sitar. The electric sitar was a staple in pop and rock music in the late 60s and early 70s. This unique instrument appeared on classics like The Box Tops’ “Cry Like A Baby,” Joe South’s “Games People Play,” Steely Dan’s “Do it Again,” Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love,” and hundreds more. Played like a guitar, the Coral Electric Sitar was designed by Vincent Bell and was produced by Danelectro.

Tulloch also coauthored "Guitars from Neptune" in the 1990s.

For Christmas this year, I asked Santa and received Doug Tulloch’s “Neptune Bound – Ultimate Danelectro Guitar Guide.” It is a great collection of photos, facts, and inside stories concerning Nathan Daniel’s operation in Neptune, New Jersey that produced wonderful, but inexpensive guitars out of Masonite. I have currently three Dano products – a Bellzouki (model 7010 12-string electric), the Silvertone 1448 with the amp in the case, and a tube Version of Danelectro’s Silvertone amplifier that was used with a twin 12-cabinet.

Vincent Bell LP showing his Bellzouki Model 7020 
- one of the three Bellzouki models made by Danelectro

I once had the solid state version of the same amp with speaker cabinet. It was owned by my brother Chuck and I traded him for it by doing lead sheets for songs he was having published. Unfortunately, the amp head got dropped and the circuit board broke in two. I was able to get the amp to work for a while (by using paper clips, solder, and a plastic comb - honest, I was out of duct tape) – but after three or four years, it finally failed and I pitched it. The cabinet lasted somewhat longer, but I blew out the speakers when I adjusted a synthesizer and a high pitched squeal was just too much for the drivers. I sold the cabinet, blown speakers and all, for $30 bucks several years later.

I have always been a fan of Danelectro instruments and have wanted an electric sitar. Back home in Pittsburgh, Monroeville Mall Music had one in their store. This was in the mid 1970s and it was priced at $295 - the original selling price of the instrument. I visited the store often and salivated at the Bell - the Vincent Bell signature model sitar, that is (a little Pavlovian humor there – very little indeed). I've always wished I could have gotten that gem, but someone else got it for a steal. Mint condition Coral models (as there are several different copies out now) can go for up to $5,000 these days.

Vincent Bell, the inventor of the electric sitar, 
shown in this classic ad from the 1960s.

What an investment that would have been. Alas, maybe I’ll get a Jerry Jones or Rogue model in the future – but, I am not holding my breath. Most of the copies are constructed like the Coral and have an additional set of 13 sympathetic strings.  These are also playable. The factory recommendation was to tune these strings chromatically; however, some players tune the strings diatonically, to a chord, or even in a modal tuning. It is Steve Miller’s chromatic runs on the sympathetic strings in “Winter Time” that lead me to believe he is playing a Coral Electric Sitar and not the garden variety Indian instrument of the same name.

“Winter Time” appeared on two Steve Miller Band albums: 1977’s “Book of Dreams” and 1978’s “Greatest Hits 1974-1978.” I have the latter – in fact mine is a limited edition copy that was released in blue vinyl. I was a collector of colored vinyl and have numerous albums and singles in every shade including hot pink, clear, and luminous vinyl. Blue vinyl or not, the album is one of the top selling LPs of all time in the US. The Recording Industry Association of America currently ranks it at #37.

The Steve Miller Band's Best Selling LP

Having sold over 13 million copies, the RIAA has certified the LP at the diamond level for sales in excess of 10 million copies. Of all the records/CDs ever released, only 106 have diamond level certification. The RIAA introduced diamond certification in 1999. Previous to this, the higher selling albums were certified at multi-platinum status with each platinum level attained with every million copies sold. Multi-platinum status still exists for albums selling two million copies or more.

Don’t tell anyone, but my blue vinyl copy was purchased at a store that sold new promotional copies of albums for $2.00 and $3.00 each. Therefore, my purchase did not contribute to the diamond status of the LP (sorry about that, Steve). While the name of the store escapes me, it was located on Fourth Avenue in Huntington, WV. The warning, “PROMOTIONAL COPY – NOT FOR SALE,” was covered over with a sticker, as were all the promotional copies that were sold from this establishment. I didn’t mind the sticker, as the prices were one-third to one-half that National Record Mart, six blocks down the street, was charging for legitimate copies - and hey, I was a poor student at the time - that is I was a student who was poor, not a "poor student."

I probably bought fifty or sixty albums in the late 70s from this store. Suddenly, the store went out of business and I eventually moved out the area never knowing why it closed. On a visit to the Huntington Mall several years later, I ran into the former entrepreneur who owned the previously mentioned establishment. At this time, he was working at one of the mall’s record stores. I hadn’t seen him in over 4 years and we caught up on old times. During our conversation, he confided that he was busted by the FBI for selling the promo copies and had spent some time in prison as part of his punishment. The FBI takes all kinds of music piracy serious – a lesson for us all.

Norton Buffalo's First of Two Solo Albums

Come to think of it, I bought my copy of Norton Buffalo’s first solo album, “Lovin’ in the Valley of the Moon” as a promo copy at the same store. Had any of his material from this album been available, I would have featured it. Perhaps someday a kind soul will upload some of these cuts to YouTube. As for now, be content with the Steve Miller Band’s “Winter Time” and the following tunes that feature the Coral Electric Sitar.

The Box Tops – “Cry like a Baby”

Joe South – “Games People Play”

Steely Dan – “Do it Again”

Redbone – “Come and get your Love”

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Mad Dog McRae: Raggle Taggle Gypsy

Our traditional Tuesday song is from Mad Dog McRae: “Raggle Taggle Gypsy.”

“Raggle Taggle Gypsy” is a song that Francis James Child in his The English and Scottish Popular Ballads dates to the early 18th century. According to Child the earliest printing of this song was dated 1720. Nick Tosches in Country: The Twisted Roots of Rock 'N' Roll alleges that the song is based on a true story involving Lady Jane Hamilton, the wife of John Kennedy, Earl of Cassilis, and her lover – an outlaw named Johnny Faw. From my understanding that Johnny Faw or Faa was the name given to all of the kings of the Gypsies in Scotland.

Unfortunately, while many including Tosches point to the Lady Jane Hamilton story as the origin of the song, it actually predates this particular story and is older than 17th century. Like many early folk songs, it has numerous versions with differing story lines and is known by various identities. Other popular names for this song include, but are not limited to, the following: “The Gypsy Laddie,” “Black Jack Davy,” and “Johnny Faa.” Mad Dog McRae, a traditional band from Plymouth, England, does a rousing rendition of this song. I picked their version over some better known studio versions of this song because of their high energy performance.

Unfortunately, outside of their Facebook and MySpace presences, Mad Dog McCrea has no dedicated web site. This is unfortunate as I would like to learn a little more about this band. Perhaps one of their fans could do the honor and build them a first class site. I hope they come to America soon, as I would love to hear them live. I’ll leave you with, what I believe to be one of their originals, a song about excesses, as they ask the questions, “Am I drinking enough: am I smoking enough; am I killing myself slowly, fast enough?”

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Wallflowers: I'm Looking Through You

Today’s cover release comes from the soundtrack for “I am Sam” and features The Wallflowers doing the Beatles’ album cut “I’m Looking through You.”

The Wallflowers' "I'm Looking through You" is from the Grammy winning “I am Sam” soundtrack.  This particular CD only contains Beatles’ cover tunes. With synchronization rights reportedly quoted as being $300 thousand per song, producer Sean Penn thought it was more prudent to re-record the songs by other artists than using the originals as he had intended. Hence, the reason the Wallflowers lent their talents to this particular song.

The Zimmer-men; looking but not sounding alike

Taking the lead vocals is Bob Dylan’s youngest son Jakob. Although there are some tonality and physical similarities between father and son, Jakob really sounds nothing like his famous dad. While it is difficult to improve upon any Beatles recording, this version is a nice interpretation of this classic Beatles’ LP cut; however, it fails to supersede the original release.

Version from "Rubber Soul"

This Paul McCartney tune originally appeared on my favorite Beatles’ album, “Rubber Soul.” The song was written about Paul’s strained relationship with his girlfriend at the time, Jane Asher – the sister of Peter Asher of Peter and Gordon. Paul and Jane dated for five years and at one time were engaged. 

Jane Asher - former McCartney Girlfriend

The “Rubber Soul” version was much faster than the version initially recorded by the Beatles a month earlier. The first take of the song surfaced on the 1996 “Anthology, Volume 2” CD as “I’m Looking through You – Take One.” Both versions feature Ringo Starr doing keyboard vamps on a Hammond Organ. It sounds as though he is playing a 7th chord.

Initial Version - Released in 1996


I'm looking through you,
Where did you go?
I thought I knew you.
What did I know?
You don't look different,
But you have changed.
I'm looking through you-
You're not the same

Your lips are moving,
I cannot hear.
You voice is soothing,
But the words aren't clear.
You don't sound different
I've learned the game
I'm looking through you,
You're not the same

You're thinking of me,
The same old way.
You were above me,
But not today.
The only difference
Is you're down there.
I'm looking though you,
And you're nowhere.

The only difference,
Is you're down there.
I'm looking though you
And you're nowhere.
Yeah, nowhere.
Yeah, I'm looking through you;
Yeah, I'm looking through you;
Yeah, I'm looking through you;

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Carlos Reyes: Amazing Grace

Today’s Spiritual Sunday song is an instrumental/jam of the old John Newton hymn, “Amazing Grace.” I stumbled on this particular rendition this week when I was looking for a song by harmonica player, Norton Buffalo. Buffalo died on October 30 and this was performed by Reyes during the tribute concert held at Sonoma, California in November.

Norton Buffalo’s name may not be familiar to many people; however, I am sure you have heard his work. He spent the last 33 years touring and recording with the Steve Miller Band. He also performed with Elvin Bishop and appeared as a session musician on scores of recordings. He is a talent that will be sorely missed. If you get a chance to pick up his fist solo LP, “Lovin’ in the Valley of the Moon,” do it immediately. It is well worth it.

The performer on this track is Paraguayan Carlos Reyes, who is known for his folk harp and violin work. This particular live recording of “Amazing Grace” showcases his virtuosity on the violin and is worth listening to this 10:00 instrumental track. Within this version are several different stylings of the song that give it a new interpretation with each verse. Enjoy.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Fairport Convention: What We Did On Our Holiday

One of my all time favorite bands is Fairport Convention and one of my all time singers was Sandy Denny. It was only a matter of time that I would feature one of their songs. This is probably going to be the first of several Fairport albums that I will feature in the months to come.

Sandy Denny first appeared of Fairport’s second album from 1969: “What We Did On Our Holiday,” which was released in the US on A&M Records under the name “Fairport Convention.” The band’s first album, also named “Fairport Convention,” was not released in the U.S. until 1970. I am sure that the same titles of the first and second albums in the US has caused a little confusion.

US release of the album with altered title and cover

Although living in the US, I bought the import of this LP under the original title in the summer of 1973. For some reason, I wanted the import and it became my third FC album; the first being the debut LP and the second was the UK compilation, “History of Fairport Convention” (another import). I still do not have the original US version of this album – although I have always liked the cover photo. The British original features a black board that was assaulted by the band.

Original UK release

This was not the only FC album that A&M altered. The third LP, Unhalfbricking, had a completely different cover – I preferred the UK version myself. There also was a slight difference on the “Angel Delight” LP. The US version had a reddish cover, while the UK issue was in yellow-cream.

Today’s song is the opening tune on the LP and it also became the name of Sandy Denny’s post Fairport band that she and her husband Trevor Lucas formed in 1970. With the exception of bassist Pat Donaldson, the other members would eventually be part of Fairport Convention including Sandy who rejoined the band in 1974.

The song was based on the historical story of the imprisonment and execution of Mary Queen of Scots for treason at Fotheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire, England. To make a long story short, Elizabeth I of England feared that her first cousin, once removed was a threat to the English throne and sentenced her to death. She was notified on February 7, 1587 that she was to be executed the following day. It is reported that she spent her final hours praying, writing letters, and putting her affairs in order. From my understanding, the inspiration for today’s song came from a book Sandy had read about Mary Queen of Scots.

Sandy Denny died on April 21, 1978 as a result of injuries suffered in a fall during March 1978.

Clipping of the Charleston (WV) Daily-Mail's announcement
of Sandy Denny's death that occurred a week earlier

Fotheringay - Lyrics

How often she has gazed from castle windows o'er,
And watched the daylight passing within her captive wall,
With no-one to heed her call.

The evening hour is fading within the dwindling sun,
And in a lonely moment those embers will be gone
And the last of all the young birds flown.

Her days of precious freedom, forfeited long before,
To live such fruitless years behind a guarded door,
But those days will last no more.

Tomorrow at this hour she will be far away,
Much farther than these islands,
Or the lonely Fotheringay

Unfortunately, the entire LP is not available via YouTube, so I cannot provide a playlist of all of the album’s songs in order. I will, however, provide you Fairport Convention’s signature tune, “Meet on the Ledge,” which also is from this album. This song features the vocal talents of Iain Matthews and Sandy Denny. Currently, Simon Nicol, the band’s only original member, sings lead on this song.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Ian Anderson: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

Merry Christmas. To continue the Christmas theme of the week and the daily them of Fun Fridays, I have decided to eschew the typical novelty records like “Grandma Got Ran over by a Reindeer” for something a little more satisfying. To fulfill this week’s obligation, I found this piece by Ian Anderson and the Rubbing Elbows band. What could be more fun than watching the leader of Jethro Tull on stage performing the Christmas classic “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.”

Recorded live on December 18, 2006 and aired on Christmas Eve of the same year, Ian Anderson is joined on stage with the Rheinland-Pfalz Youth Orchestra, his Rubbing Elbows Band, and Lucia Micarelli on violin. Recorded at the Maria Laach Monastery, the program was titled "Weihnachten mit dem Bundespräsidenten." Sprechen Sie Deutsches? Nein – then I better translate this: “Christmas with the President.”

This is a great instrumental version of the familiar song in Em that was first published in 1760. That particular broadsheet referred to it as “a new Christmas carol.” It was so ingrained in the minds of the English by the mid 19th century that Dickens makes mention of it in his “A Christmas Carol.”

I love Ian Anderson’s flute playing and I always wondered about his technique. He uncovers the secret in the accompanying video he is humming the same notes while playing – not unlike other musicians who do the same thing. Anderson mentions that Rahsaan Roland Kirk did something similar with his flute work. Other musicians I am familiar with that do this include Keith Jarrett & Mose Allison while playing the piano, Eberhard Weber on bass, and when Toots Thielemans plays guitar, he whistles the same melody.

I am not much of a flute player, but tried out Ian’s technique yesterday with not much success. I started playing around with the flute back in 1975 when a young lady from Chester, WV named Patty Williams gave me a few pointers and I found that I was able to play some scales on the thing. That little bit of encouragement went a long way. Between 1975 and 1978, I would occasionally borrow a flute; however, I never had one long enough to satisfy my needs at the time.

Anderson Discussing the Flute as a Rock Instrument

Eventually, I purchased my own flute during late 1978. I found it at the Fret and Fiddle when they were located in Huntington, WV's West End. Joe Dobbs had this Buescher Aristocrat made circa 1968 that he had taken in on trade; however, it was bent as if someone sat on it. Joe convinced me that it could be fixed and I paid him the $35 that he was asking. It really needed straightened as the lower notes of C through Eb did not note true. Mack & Daves in Huntington did this kind of repair and the $60 investment was worth it as it has played fine since.

I still don’t play it enough to be that good on it, but I did get to use it on Dr. Charles Polk’s 1995 CD release, “Just a Little Prayer.” I used it on one of the tunes and simultaneously recorded it with both dry and delay tracks much like Tim Weisberg did on his recordings and this turned out well.

I may have also used the flute one of my own demos that I cut at Doug Gent’s Media Productions in Oak Hill, WV in the late 1980s. There was a tune that I used a technique similar to Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound." I called it a “wash of sound” and it was repeated sparingly throughout the song at the end of the verses.

The "wash of sound" included an autoharp retuned to a major 7th chord, several keyboards tracks, and cymbals played with mallets. I am pretty sure that I also used a flute on this too playing some sort of trill. The “wash of sound” was mixed down to two tracks and was to have the timbre like quality of a unique instrument. I was very pleased with the outcome; however, I have misplaced my only copy of this demo.

I don’t think I have ever played flute live – although I had played recorder at least three times in 1973 & 1974 when I accompanied my brother Chuck on the song “No More My Lord.” Maybe someday I’ll get up the nerve to play it in a live setting – but don’t hold your breath. I would much rather sit back and listen to an expert like Ian Anderson do justice to Theobald Boehm’s creation.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Vince Guaraldi Trio: O Tannenbaum

For the Christmas Season, our TV Thursday feature is the Vince Guaraldi Trio with “O Tannenbaum.” I am not certain if the various Peanuts’ TV specials were aired outside of the US, but those in America will surely recognize today’s recording as coming from “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

“A Charlie Brown Christmas” was the first of several prime time animated specials based on the Peanuts comic strip. Released in 1965, it was also the first opportunity for many Americans to hear the piano stylings of the late Vince Guaraldi. While network executives were horrified at the choice of Guaraldi’s soundtrack, it was one of the defining moments in the success of this and future Peanuts specials.

The story is told that the special’s producer, Lee Mendelson, heard a Guaraldi recording on the radio during a cab ride across San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. Mendelson recognized this as the sound he envisioned and contacted Guaraldi who accepted the offer and began to score out the tunes. Joining Guaraldi on this recording were drummer Jerry Granelli and bassist Puzzy Firth.

In February 1976, Guaraldi was found dead in his hotel room. He was resting between sets at a local nightspot when he succumbed to a heart attack. Previously in the day, he finished recording the soundtrack for “It’s Arbor Day, Charlie Brown.”

“O Tannenbaum” or “O Christmas Tree” was written by Ernst Anschütz in 1824. Anschütz, a Leipzig, Saxony organist drew upon older works to complete this 19th century Christmas carol. In the writing of this piece, Anschütz borrowed a German folk tune and similar lyrical content that dated to the 16th century. The song has become a popular Christmas song in Germany and elsewhere.

Enjoy and have a Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Loreena McKinnitt: The Seven Rejoices of Mary

From her “A Midwinter Night’s Dream” LP, Loreena McKinnitt does a lovely version of "The Seven Rejoices of Mary" - a Christmas carol from the middle ages.

This is a Christmas song that I was not familiar with until last week when I was doing my preparation for the songs of Christmas that I wanted to feature. There has been a longstanding tradition of Protestants and Independent Christians to underemphasize the role of Mary – lest they be accused of elevating her to a status similar to that of the Roman Catholic Church.

In an effort to be disassociated from the Marian dogmas, non Catholics have swung the pendulum concerning Mary to the complete opposite direction. As there is some variance of opinion, I am not certain how most Anglican and Orthodox Churches treat Mary's importance; however, I would guess that she is regarded as having a higher status than most Protestants give her due.

Dogma aside, Mary was a very important scriptural character. The angel Gabriel’s opening salutation to Mary was, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” To reassure her, he continued, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.” When told why she was chosen of God and who her Son would be, Mary graciously accepted this awesome responsibility and said, “I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said.”

This young woman was willing to serve in one of the most honored roles given among humankind and we can recognize her ultimate responsibility as the mother of the Christ. While we may not agree concerning everything about Mary, I believe all Christendom can concur that Mary was truly a special person who fulfilled God’s plan. She is a central figure in the Christmas account.

Today’s Christmas carol dwells on the joys experienced by Mary concerning her son Jesus. It can be dated to the fourteenth century song “Joys of Fyve.” A later rendition added two additional “joys” to the song making it the “Joys of Seven.” Later versions expanded it to ten and twelve. All in all, there are 14 different joys that have been used for this song.

The most common arrangement, however, follows the first seven as was recorded by Loreena McKennitt. This song was rediscovered in the 1830s and had a resurgence during the mid 19th century when carol singing gained popularity during the Victorian Age. Prior to this though, the song traveled across the Atlantic, as musicologist John Jacob Niles discovered versions of it in Appalachia and the Great Smokey Mountains.

The arrangement of this song is beautiful. The interplay between the viola, violin, and cello is simply enchanting. The strings display a flutelike quality – with the viola taking the alto and violin the soprano parts. The cello rounds out the faux woodwind section by mimicking an oboe.

The rhythm is handled by a Celtic bouzouki and a Greek lute (also known as a lautoa), which is related to the oud. Of course, Loreena McKinnitt’s voice is perfect for this type of music. The instrumentation is listed below:

Loreena McKennitt: vocals, harp, & accordion
Simon Edwards: acoustic bass
Brian Hughes: Celtic bouzouki
Caroline Lavelle: cello
Hugh Marsh: violin
Stratis Psaradellis: Greek lute (lautoa)
Donald Quan: viola

Like many of Loreena’s recordings, there is an unlikely pairing of instruments – but it works. It is next to impossible to hear all of the instruments on this song, as the mix has the more rhythmic instruments combined into one synergistic sound. The lautoa and the bouzouki have been segregated to their own speaker – one in the left and the other in the right. Because the range is similar in these two instruments, it is impossible for me to tell for which one is which. Although, the lautoa is a full bodied instrument while the smaller bodied bouzouki is thinner sounding. My guess would be that the bouzouki is on the right and the lautoa is on the left.

The strings move to forefront when necessary and Loreena’s harp and accordian are present to add a flavored accompaniment. While the 19th century version of this song was written in Em, Lorenna moves it to Dm. As a bouzouki player, I prefer Dm over Em any day. At the end of the song, it resolves to D major. This is a nice, but unexpected surprise ending.

The Seven Rejoices of Mary

The first good joy that Mary had
It was the joy of one.
The first rejoice that Mary had
Was to see her new born Son.

To see her new born Son good man,
And blessed may He be.
Sing Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
To all eternity.

The next good joy that Mary had
It was the joy of two
To see her own son Jesus
Make the lame to go.

The next rejoice that Mary had
It was the joy of three
To see her own son Jesus,
To make the blind to see

To make the blind to see good man
And blessed may He be.
Sing Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
To all eternity.

The next good joy our Lady had
It was the joy of four.
It was the rejoice of her dear Son,
When he read the bible o’er.

The next good joy that Mary had
It was the joy of five.
To see her own son Jesus,
To make the dead alive.

To make the dead alive good man
And blessed may He be.
Sing Father, Son and Holy Ghost
To all eternity.

The next rejoice our Lady had,
It was the rejoice of six
To see her own son Jesus
To bear the crucifix.
The next good joy that Mary had,
It was the joy of seven
To see her own son Jesus,
To wear the crown of he’ven

To wear the crown of heaven good man
And blessed may He be.
Sing Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
To all eternity.

And glory may he be,
And blessed now be she.
And those who sing the seven long verses
In honor of our Lady.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Steeleye Span: Gaudete

It is Traditional Tuesday and we’re going to hear from one of those great oldies bands from England, Steeleye Span performing their rendition that fabulous Christmas hit from the 80s – the 1580s that is. Today’s Christmas song, Gaudete (pronounced Gowl-day-tay), was actually a hit in the 70s (1970s that is) for our featured artist Steeleye Span.

I’ve been familiar with Steeleye Span’s original recording of Gaudete from purchasing the compilation album: “The Steeleye Span Story: Original Masters” in 1977.  The song originally appeared on their 1972 LP: “Below the Salt.”  It is obvious that the song is in Latin and a cappella; however, I didn’t know that Gaudete was a Christmas carol until a few months ago. Having studied Greek for three years and not Latin will have to constitute my defense - hey, it's all Latin to me.

The first publication of this carol was in 1582 and it did not contain musical notation; however, the tune that is associated with the song predates the 16th century. The inspiration for Steeleye Span’s recording of the tune came from former guitarist Bob Johnson who heard the song at folk-carol service in Cambridge, England. Released as a single in 1973, it charted in the U.K. at #14 – one of the few hits either in Latin or without instrumentation. This combined double strike of Latin lyrical content and an a cappella arrangement was probably enough to keep the U.S. release of the single off radio which was detrimental for its sales.

There have been a few foreign language hits in the U.S. Kyu Sakamoto's "Sukiyaki" and the Singing Nun's "Dominique" come to mind immediately. Several other hits were bilingual in lyrical content (mostly Spanish and English).  Even fewer a cappella songs charted in the Top 40. Bobby McFerrin's number one hit "Don't Worry Be Happy" is the most popular.  Prelude's version of Neil Young's "After the Gold Rush" was another and I am sure there were several more. In either case, "Gaudete" was not among these Top 40 anomalies in the U.S.

The live version included here was from Steeleye Span’s 35th Anniversary Tour in 2004. Three of the five band mates appeared on both versions and include vocalist Maddy Prior, multi-instrumentalist Peter Knight, and bassist Rick Kemp. They are joined by drummer Liam Genockey, who joined Steeleye Span in 1989 and guitarist Ken Nicol, the newest member who has been with the group only since 2002.

Like the original studio recording of the same, it contains a five part harmony; however, the song key is one whole step down from the original version. The live rendition is in Bm; however, the original is in C#m (or Dbm if you prefer). I tend to think that the proper notation of the original would be C#m and not Dbm, as the song contains both E and B chords – which would indicate a presence of sharps rather than flats.

The possible reason for the drop in pitch might be based on the band’s inability in 2004 to hit the same notes as that they recorded 32 years earlier. I can tell a difference in my own range getting lower over the years. Recently, I had been preparing for a Christmas cantata (canceled by this week’s nasty weather) where I have two solos. I performed these same solos in 2005 and am having difficulty hitting some of the higher notes. I don’t remember having this problem four years ago.

Most people would not even recognize the pitch change and I only did by listening to the live and studio cuts back to back. In either key, Steeleye Span sounds great on this Latin carol. I have provided the original Latin lyrics and their English translation below.

Gaudete, gaudete! Christus est natus
Ex Maria virgine, gaudete!
Tempus adest gratiæ
Hoc quod optabamus,
Carmina lætitiæ
Devote reddamus.

Deus homo factus est
Natura mirante,
Mundus renovatus est
A Christo regnante.

Ezechielis porta
Clausa pertransitur,
Unde lux est orta
Salus invenitur.

Ergo nostra contio
Psallat lam in lustro;
Benedicat Domino:
Salus Regi nostro.
Rejoice, rejoice! Christ is born
Of the Virgin Mary, rejoice!
The time of grace has come
That we have desired;
Let us devoutly return
Joyful verses.

God has become man,
And nature marvels;
The world has been renewed
By Christ who is King.

The closed gate of Ezekiel
Has been passed through;
Whence the light is born,
Salvation is found.

Therefore let our gathering
Now sing in brightness
Let it give praise to the Lord:
Greeting to our King.

Monday, December 21, 2009

U2: I Believe in Father Christmas

Monday’s cover Christmas song is U2’s rendition of Greg Lake’s Christmas classic: “I Believe in Father Christmas.” The song premiered on December 1, 2008 on the (RED) WIRE website.

Although it is hard to top Greg Lake’s solo version, I really like what The Edge does with his stereo Rickenbacker guitar. As for Bono’s vocals, he does a yeoman’s job; however, I believe I still favor Greg Lake’s voice on this particular song. On the other hand, Lake was quite pleased with U2's results. In a statement made to the @U2blog, Lake revealed, “The clever thing about the U2 version is that it manages to capture both elements, the original and the inventive without really falling on one side or the other and in this way it is definitely unique. The guitar part is very clever and the vocal, as always with Bono, sounds sincere. That is the mark of a great singer.”

1994 Live Version by Greg Lake

Greg Lake as you may remember was the lead singer on King Crimson’s debut album as well as being the Lake in the progressive rock trio, Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. The song was cowritten by Lake and King Crimson lyricist Pete Sinfield. Although the 45 was released as a Greg Lake recording, it included both Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer as part of the instrumental compliment on this tune. ELP recorded two other versions of this tune that were released on 1997's ”Works Volume II” and 1993's “The Return of the Manticore.”

The original intent of this song was to protest the commercialism in Christmas and to promote peace on earth. Lake also acknowledged on the @U2blog that, “In some ways, ‘I Believe in Father Christmas’ is a very quirky song. It was never written with the intention of it becoming a hit single but was written, rather, as an album track making quite a serious comment about how Christmas had changed from being a celebration of peace on earth and goodwill to all men, into one huge and disgusting shopping orgy.”

Greg Lake and Pete Sinfield Interview about the Song

In has often been criticized that it is anti-Christian and anti-Christmas; however, Lake denies this and defended the holiday in a December 2004 Mojo Magazine article: "I find it appalling when people say it's politically incorrect to talk about Christmas, you've got to talk about 'The Holiday Season.' Christmas was a time of family warmth and love. There was a feeling of forgiveness, acceptance. And I do believe in Father Christmas."

Although now synonymous with Santa Claus, the Father Christmas legend developed in Great Britain. While it is similar to the Dutch legend of Sinterklaas, the personalities had different origins. In time, the two mutually exclusive legends were merged into one and adopted in the U.S. and elsewhere under appellation of Santa Claus.

Father Christmas in a Variety of Colors

While the bright red outfit is no doubt attributed to the Dutch legend, the fur lined outfit and hat were direct descendants of Father Christmas’ regalia. In Britain, Father Christmas was depicted in a variety of outfit colors. While it is common to see Father Christmas in scarlet, earlier versions had this personification of Christmas giving in green, blue, purple, brown, and burgundy.

I believe in Father Christmas. How about you?

The author as Santa Claus with some very happy kids; December 5, 2009

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Blackmore's Night: Emmanuel

As we hasten towards Christmas, the selections this week will reflect the forthcoming holiday. On Sundays, I typically feature a song of spiritual significance. Today, it’s Blackmore’s Night with the traditional advent song: “Emmanuel.”

Blackmore’s Night is led by the husband and wife team, Ritchie Blackmore and Candice Night. In a live setting the two principal members are surrounded by a compliment of side musicians. For the album “Winter Carols” from which this song is taken, only one other musician was utilized: producer Pat Regan who added keyboards to the mix. Vocalist Candice Night also plays the shawm and pennywhistle. The remaining instrumentation was provided by Ritchie Blackmore. In addition to guitar, he added mandola, nyckelharpa, hurdy gurdy, and percussion to this 2006 release.

Those familiar with history of rock and roll will readily recognize Blackmore’s name, as he was a founding member of both Deep Purple and Rainbow. Incidentally, he was a member of both bands – each on two different occasions. Blackmore was in Deep Purple from 1968 to 1975; that same year he formed Rainbow. When Rainbow initially disbanded in 1984, he joined a reconstituted Deep Purple. This relationship continued until Blackmore walked out on the band in August 1993. Following this untimely exit from Deep Purple, he reformed Rainbow and this band continued until he and Candice created Blackmore’s Night in 1997.

This Renaissance inspired band typically performs period songs and similar sounding original material. Today’s song “Emmanuel,” which is typically titled as “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” predates the Renaissance with roots extending back to the 8th century. Originally written in Latin as “Veni, Veni, Emmanuel,” the current tune and lyrics were not joined until the 15th century. John Mason Neale translated the song from Latin into English during the 19th century.

The song is based upon the Isaiac prophecy concerning the coming Immanuel, which is translated from the Hebrew as meaning “God with us.” "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel,” Isaiah 7:14 NASB.

This a beautiful rendition of this traditional air.  While there are several versions of the lyrics that differ from each other to some extent, Blackmore's Night uses an abbreviated version that contains only the first and third verses.

Blackmore’s Night Lyrics

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the face of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
And drag away the shades of night
And pierce the clouds and bring us light.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the face of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Complete Lyrics from One Version

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan's tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o'er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai's height,
In ancient times did'st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Elton John: Madman Across The Water

This Saturday's album feature is my favorite Elton John album and its title cut (my favorite EJ tune), “Madman across the Water.”

This is one of those albums that I fully discovered much later than its 1971 release. In 1976, I purchased a fellow student’s (Steve Jerles) entire album collection, and this was one of the many gems among the 100+ discs. Incidentally, my purchase included all of Elton’s albums through 1975’s “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy,” with the exception of “Empty Sky” and “Friends.” That was nine albums in all to get to know and appreciate; however, “Madman across the Water” took the top position in my book.

I was familiar with the two singles from the LP (“Levon” & “Tiny Dancer”), but nothing else. While both are memorable tunes, neither performed as well as later Elton John singles. “Levon” charted at 24, while its follow-up, did worse and peaked at #41. While the singles’ had lackluster success in the US, the LP did much better climbing to #8 on Billboard’s Top 200 Albums Chart. Unfortunately, “Madman across the Water” was Elton John’s worst charting LP “across the water.” It peaked at #41 in the UK.

All around this is a pretty good album that chronicles the talents of Elton John in his early days before the feathered boas and wild sunglasses. It has also been certified double platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.

Today’s featured cut was one of those gems I heard for the first time in my dorm room while wearing my headphones. This was a great tune to experience surrounded by the music for my initial listen. The interplay between the acoustic guitar and the piano in the song’s opening caught my attention immediately. My reaction was totally different than it was a few years earlier when I was listening to Pink Floyd's "Ummagumma" while wearing headphones. When David Gilmour let loose on the guitar on side two's "Careful with that Ax, Eugene," I nearly jumped out of my skin and was ready for the paramedics.  

Elton originally recorded the song "Madman across the Water" in 1970 as part of the “Tumbleweed Connection” album sessions. Probably, the prototype version's  9:01 length precluded its release as part of that LP; however, its heavy nature (heavier than the formal released version a year later) is really out of character with the country leanings of “Tumblewood Connection.”

The Original Version


I can see very well;
There's a boat on the reef with a broken back
And I can see it very well.
There's a joke and I know it very well;
It's one of those that I told you long ago.
Take my word, I'm a madman don't you know?

Once a fool had a good part in the play;
If it's so would I still be here today?
It's quite peculiar in a funny sort of way–
They think it's very funny everything I say.
Get a load of him, he's so insane.
You better get your coat dear,
It looks like rain

We'll come again next Thursday afternoon.
The In-laws hope they'll see you very soon.
But is it in your conscience that you're after?
Another glimpse of the madman across the water.

I can see very well;
There's a boat on the reef with a broken back
And I can see it very well.
There's a joke and I know it very well;
It's one of those that I told you long ago.
Take my word, I'm a madman don't you know?

The ground's a long way down, but I need more.
Is the nightmare black?
Or are the windows painted?
Will they come again next week?
Can my mind really take it?

[repeat chorus]

To give the visitors of the feel of the LP, I have created a YouTube playlist that allows you to listen to the album in order and in its entirety.

The Entire LP

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain: Fly Me Off The Handel

It is Fun Friday and the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain explores Georg Friedrich Händel’s pervasive chord progression that has contributed to many popular tunes in the last 60 years.

I learned about the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain when a cousin of mine sent me a link to one of their other performances. I was hooked and explored YouTube for more videos by the band that has a large following in their homeland.

Today’s song is a medley that contains:

  • Georg Friedrich Händel’s “Harpsichord Suite in G Minor”
  • Bart Howard’s “Fly Me to the Moon,” as made famous by Frank Sinatra
  • Francis Lai & Carl Sigman’s “(Where do I Begin) Love Story,” sung by Andy Williams
  • Charles Fox & Norman Gimbel’s “Killing me Softly with his Song,” made popular by Roberta Flack
  • Don Felder, Don Henley, and Glenn Frey of the Eagles’ “Hotel California”
  • Freddie Perren and Dino Fekaris’ “I will Survive” – the 1978 hit for Gloria Gaynor

Other versions of this mashup include “Autumn Leaves”; however, the round at the end is quite confusing with the extra tune. One of my favorite parts is the intentional substitution of colitas with fajitas in "Hotel California. It makes sense - "the warm smell of fajitas."

Have a good day.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Who: Join Together

In the past year or so, the classic Who single “Join Together” was used for a Nissan Maxima commercial; therefore, it qualifies as today’s TV Thursday feature.

I remember buying this single at Gimbles’ record department in the Eastland Shopping center in North Versailles, PA. While National Record Mart was just outside Gimbels’ entrance in Eastland’s “Underground Mall,” Gimbles often had singles before NRM and I would often buy them there without hearing them first. I’m not sure what motivated me to buy this single, but I had penchant for getting 45s that were not slated to be released on albums – and “Join Together” would not appear on an LP until the compilation album “Join Together” (later named as “Rarities Volume II”) was issued 10 years later.

It also was the last record by The Who to be released on Decca Records in America. That year, the Music Corporation of America consolidated all of its labels (Decca, Coral, Kapp, Uni, Vocalian, and MCA Special Products) into one label: MCA Records. The Bruswick label was not included as MCA had sold this trademark to Jackie Wilson's manager, Nat Tarnopol.

If I am correct, Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock/Elderberry Wine” single was the first single on MCA – I bought that one as well. The Who’s next single, “The Relay” (another non LP release), and Pete Townshend’s “Who Came First” LP were released on the Track label distributed by MCA. I bought both of these records at Gimbles that same year. I did get “Crocodile Rock” late in 1972 as well, but purchased it at H.L. Greens in McKeesport.

I was always intrigued by the harmonica sound on this song as I never could figure out how Townshend got the sound he did – until now. Seeing this video makes it all clearer as the instrumentation now makes sense. It was obvious that two jaw harps were used, but the video indicates that John Entwhistle played a bass harmonica while Townshend is playing a Hohner chord Harmonica.

Hohner Chord Harmonicas are huge with a length of 23 inches. Like the bass harmonica, it is hinged in order to give the options of more notes, and hence, 48 chords (with 4 sets of double reeds per chord). The top row or deck has major chords in the blow position and 7th chords in the draw position. On the lower set, the blow has minor chords and the draw chords are a combination of augmented and diminished chords.

Major Chords
Dominant 7th Chords
Minor Chords
Gbm Dbm Abm Ebm BbmFmCmGmDmAmEmBm
Augmented +
Diminished 7th - 













The Hohner Chord harmonica is extremely expensive listing at $2,469.99 new. Most retailers, however, only charge around $1700.00 for this model. While I have a chord harmonica, it is a cheaper version made in China by Swan. The Swan Compact Chord 48 is much smaller at 13 inches in length and only has four single reeds for each chord. I believe I paid about $50.00 for it a number of years ago – which is much cheaper than the nearly two grand that one would need for the Hohner model. Suzuki also makes a full sized 48 chord harmonica for under $1,000. 

These full-sized 48 chord harmonicas may be the largest harps still in production, although larger models may have been available in the past.  I have read of a 72 chord harmonica, but I have never seen a picture of this mythical beast.  If there were such an animal, it would have been considerably larger than the 23 inch Hohner Chord Harmonica 267/384.

The author with an even larger model - a Hohner store display from the 1960s. 
Since it is a store display, I call it my "Merchant" Marine Band Harmonica.

Used in harmonica orchestras, the chord harmonica joins the likes of the bass harmonica and the Chromatica – which is a specialty instrument that allows for glissando effects. I don’t have a bass harmonica, but I do have an old Chromatica that I picked up used. Although, it has some problems (with some reeds sticking), it was worth the $15.00 I paid for it, as a new one is $350. It is fairly large at 14 inches in length.

Hohner also made several other more reasonably priced glissando harmonicas under the Polyphonia name. I’m not sure how many Polyphonia models they made, but I have two – a Model 5 and a Model 6. Each has a different range and I got both of mine dirt cheap back when you could purchase harmonicas at a reduced cost that had been in stores for a long time and were not in danger of ever selling to the general public. The store owners were generally glad to get rid of the inventory that they had for possibly decades.

Comparative harmonica sizes (all Hohner except when noted).  From top to bottom and left to right:
Polyphonia 5, Polyphonia 6, Chromatica, Swan Compact Chord 48,
Echo Harp (tremolo), Lee Oskar diatonic, Echo Harp (octave).

The video makes it appear that Townshend is playing the top row of the chord harmonica, but I tried that with mine and could not replicate the sound. The song is pretty straightforward in F Dorian mode with F, Eb, and Bb – so initially, I was baffled. It wasn’t until I studied the piece more that I realized that Townshend was playing the bottom row and the first chord is a Bb augmented chord that starts the progression that is performed over a repeating F bass note.

The dynamics between the major chords in the song proper and the augmented and diminished chords make sense now. While my Swan Compact Chord 48 is arranged the same as a Hohner, the pitches of the individual chords are different and impossible for me to sound like Pete Townshend – which should not be any stretch of the imagination.

“Join Together” is a great tune that features an interesting array of non-standard instrumentation.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Quicksilver Messenger Service: Fresh Air

Today’s feature is one of those little known bands and their semi-hit: Quicksilver Messenger Service and “Fresh Air.”

I remember hearing this song when it came out, so it must have gotten some airplay in the Pittsburgh market. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until about a decade later that I discovered the identity of the artist and the title of the song. I thought it was called “Have Another Hit,” as that is the predominant hook in the tune. To top that off, the first line it is used it is combined with "Sweet Air" and not "Fresh Air." In another place, the line "Sweet California Sunshine" replaces "Fresh Air."

This is a great little song with a Santanaesque feel with the organ, guitars, and congas that are similar to their fellow San Francisco based musicians in Santana. The keyboard leads are courtesy of Nicky Hopkins who is playing an RMI Electra Piano (see my post on Rory Gallagher). Exchange the RMI Electra Piano with a Hammond B3 and replace vocalist Dino Valenti with Greg Rollie and this could pass for Santana any day.  From their fourth LP "Just for Love," "Fresh Air" was Quicksilver Messenger Service’s only single, and it barely scratched the surface charting at a dismal #49 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in 1970.

Besides Hopkins who has played with everyone from the Beatles to the Rolling Stones, the only other Quicksilver alumnus on this LP who is known predominantly outside of his work with QMS is bassist David Freiberg. In 1972, he joined Jefferson Airplane and replaced Jack Cassidy who left the Airplane to pursue his role as bassist in Hot Tuna. Eventually as the band metamorphosed into the Jefferson Starship, Freiberg continued in this role until 1984. Twenty-one years later Freiberg rejoined Starship and the rest as we might say is musical history.

Enjoy one of the great quasi-psychedelic bands of the 60s and 70s (with even a vintage light show on the video) – Quicksilver Messenger Service and “Fresh Air.”

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Gordon Lightfoot: The Way I Feel

This week’s traditionally influenced feature, “The Way I Feel,” is from Gordon Lightfoot’s 1966 debut LP simply titled “Lightfoot.” It is the original recording of this tune that still holds up well in 2009.

In 1967, Lightfoot rerecorded the tune and it was the title cut from his second LP on the United Artists label. It is a bit over produced for my taste and prefer his original version as it shows off the beauty of his voice without the all of the heavy reverb.

 The Way I Feel - 1967 Version

I first heard this song in 1973 as performed by Fotheringay with Trevor Lucas singing the lead. It remains a personal favorite of mine and I'll be featuring this album in the near future.

Fotheringay's Version of "The Way I Feel"

My experience with Gord’s version occurred when I heard it at a girlfriend’s house in the early 1980s. She was a Gordon Lightfoot fan and had a number of his earlier UA albums. I, on the other hand, was more familiar with his later Reprise hits such as "If I Could Read Your Mind," “Sundown,” “Carefree Highway,” “Rainy Day People,” and the “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” This became an important lesson in the repertoire of one of Canada’s national treasures.

Gordon’s baritone voice has always been a personal favorite of mine and I even had the opportunity to sing his song “Beautiful” at a friend’s wedding in 1982. I accompanied myself on my Finnish made, red España acoustic guitar.

In 1990, I used his “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” in a music unit for a proposed West Virginia 8th grade curriculum on the history of coal mining.  While the song has nothing to do with coal mining, it was used as part of a series of songs that chronicled industrial accidents and tragedies and compared these to coal mine disaster songs like the "Ballad of Spring Hill."

I hope you enjoy “The Way I Feel” and that it opens the door for you to explore his earlier recordings.


The way I feel is like a robin
Whose babes have flown to come no more!
Like a tall oak tree alone and crying
When the birds have flown and the nest is bare.

Now a woman – Lord, is like a young bird
And a tall oak tree is a young man`s heart.
Among it's boughs you find her nesting.
When the nights are cool she’s warm and dry!

Your coat of green, it will protect her.
Her wings will grow your love will too.
But all too soon your mighty branches
Will cease to hold her and she'll fly from you.

The way I feel is like a robin
Whose babes have flown to come no more!
Like a tall oak tree alone and crying
When the birds have flown and the nest is bare.

When the birds have flown and the nest is bare.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Moody Bluegrass: Legend Of A Mind

Monday’s cover feature comes from an album entitled “Moody Bluegrass” with a Moody Blues song that originally appeared on the “In Search of the Lost Chord” LP: “Legend of a Mind.”

I first heard this album over a year ago on Pandora – I’m not sure what I intended to listen to that evening, but one of the other Moody Bluegrass cuts surfaced in the rotation. After it finished, I had to hear more – so I listened to the entire LP.

“Legend of a Mind” is not one of the best known songs of the Moody Blues – but it is not one of the least known songs either. Flautist Ray Thomas wrote and sang this number. Its title is probably more obscure than the song itself. If you would ask the more casual Moody Blues fans what song is “Legend of a Mind,” they probably couldn’t tell you – but say, “Timothy Leary’s dead . . .” and they probably know this tune.

This obscure title is one of the anomalies that arises with songs.  In the mid 1980s, I submitted some ideas to Ken Barnes for his weekly column in Radio & Records. One that he used dealt with popular songs with titles that either were obscured in the lyrics or totally absent.  In other words, the title was not part of the song's hook.  Some examples included the following: Robert Plant's "Big Log," Bob Dylan's "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35," Small Faces "Itchycoo Park," and The Who's "Baba O'Riley" are only a handful of songs that fit this category.

What is "Legend of a Mind" about? When it was written Timothy Leary was very much alive, I have my suspicions though, as “he is outside looking in.” In other words, Leary's reputation preceded him, as in his philosophical bent "You could take a trip and never leave the farm." When Leary succumbed in 1996, National Public Radio played the Moody Blues' version of this song as a lead into the story of his passing, as "Timothy Leary is dead."

West Virginia's own Tim O'Brien

This cover version featuring a full bluegrass band features lead vocals by Wheeling, WV native and musician extraordinaire Tim O’Brien. He really sounds like Ray Thomas at the beginning of this number. Moody Bluegrass? It seems to work.

Here's the Moody Blues' Version

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Thrice: Come All You Weary

It’s another Spiritual Sunday and I was introduced to today’s feature by Brandon Waite who served as an intern at our church during the summer of 2008. The song, “Come All You Weary” by Thrice features the vocals of Dustin Kensrue.

“Come All You Weary” was the second single from the album “The Alchemy Index” and both tunes unfortunately failed to chart within the US. Many of the tunes performed by both Thrice and Dustin Kensrue have lyrical content of a deeper spiritual meaning. Combine the message with the haunting guitars of this alternative rock band and you have a winning combination. Check it out.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Edgar Winter Group: They Only Come Out At Night

Despite its unusual cover, the Edgar Winter Group’s album “They Only Come out at Night” is really one of the great albums of all time. Instead of featuring one of the LP’s two hits, I have picked my favorite cut “Autumn.”

This is truly a beautiful song written by bassist Dan Hartman and features Edgar Winter on marimba (although it sounds more like a vibraphone). Although I can’t verify it, I believe Hartman sang lead on this tune, as he did with “Free Ride.”

Produced by Rick Derringer, “They Only Come out at Night” has a plethora of styles. The hits from the LP included the instrumental “Frankenstein” at #1 and “Free Ride” at #14. I got this album at Pittsburgh’s Heads Together as part of a two-fer special as my high school graduation present from my older brother. By the way, the other album was George Harrison’s “Living in a Material World.” By far, the Edgar Winter Group album was the better of the two.

During summer 1973, the three Top-40 stations in Pittsburgh (KQV, 13-Q, & WIXZ) played three songs to death: “Frankenstein,” “Hocus Pocus” by Focus, and “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple. This was the studio version from Deep Purple’s “Machine Head” LP and the Pittsburgh airplay of this album cut forced Warner Brothers to release “Smoke on the Water” as single featuring the studio version on one side and the live version from the “Made in Japan” album on the other.

Although I own all three songs, the frequent airplay of these monster hits led me to not listen to them that much – too much of a good thing I expect. The other hit, “Free Ride” is a classic. I am including a live version that features Rick Derringer on lead guitar. It appears that guitarist Ronnie Montrose had already left the band at this time. Check out some of the interesting things happening in this song.

Live Version of Free Ride

First of all when Dan Hartman plays the opening riff on the guitar part of his double neck guitar/bass, Edgar is doing the hammer-ons on the bass neck. Edgar Winter also has his clavinet strapped around his neck. It is reported that he was the first person to strap on a keyboard – and if my memory serves me correctly - this may be so; however, Billy Preston was also doing this around the same period of time.  Contributing to this tune  is the great wind sounds from the ARP synthesizer.

I never owned an ARP, but I had my heart set on owning either an ARP Odyssey or a Micro Moog. When I had enough cash saved, I drove 90 miles to the Pied Piper in Huntington, WV. Instead of the Moog or the ARP, they convinced me to purchase a Sequential Circuits Pro-One instead. It was a little easier to use than the ARP or the Moog and I believe that the cheaper price was the real selling factor. I think I paid about $500 for it in 1981 or 82.

Needless to say, the use of the synthesizer in “Frankenstein” and in other songs such as Emerson, Lake, and Palmer’s “Lucky Man” influenced me to buy one in the first place. It would be difficult to imagine that “Frankenstein” could be played without a synth; however, the song predated “They Only Come out at Night” by at least four years. Edgar wrote this song when he was performing with his older brother Johnny in the band, Johnny Winter And. I found a live version of the Winter brothers doing this song without synthesizers and it is as powerful as ever. Check out the drum dual by Edgar Winter and Uncle John Turner - fantastic.

Johnny Winter And - "Frankenstein" from 1970

Finally, to give you a taste of what this LP was like when you heard it in its entirety, I have constructed a YouTube playlist with all of the tunes in order. Enjoy.

"They Only Come Out At Night" - the entire LP