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lundi 9 janvier 2006

Dream week it remains.
During my weekend I caught up with more of 'The Blues' (PBS). Without the Blues, there'd be no Heather Nova, no 'South' on standby, no nobody, meaning most of the women on the log ... but there might be a lot of "monkey junk". That's different.

McShann and Eastwood"'She called me her lover and called me her beggar too'," Clint Eastwood's saying. "I know those words, I've used them many times."
Jay McShann (home), the Kansas City bluesman who's just amused Eastwood so much, goes way back. When he enjoys his 89th birthday this very week, on January 12, he should be in good company. His life is steeped in the sound that has since influenced almost every songwriter on this site. When it got a name, it was uniquely American.
The snap too good to resist comes from 'Piano Blues', Eastwood's contribution to a shared dream realised when Martin Scorsese found the fellow film-makers to bring it to the screen in 2003 with a landmark centenary set of movies. If they're all as good as his own -- known in France as 'Du Mali au Mississippi' -- and this one, they're a must-have for a musical wishlist.

Films about music are almost invariably at their finest when modest without being humbled by the art and those who make it. Eastwood pulls this off both sides of the camera. He has an easy manner with musicians like McShann and Ray Charles, content mainly to share a piano stool and ask where they started and listen, dropping in an occasional anecdote of his own and a few names to nudge memories and encourage some wonderful playing.
The enthralling outcome provides only a fleeting chance to hear Eastwood himself at the ivories, but he has no such pretensions in this film, a family affair. The sequence of piano duets at the end is a treat.

Ray Charles died in 2004, the year before a terrible tragedy befell New Orleans. We're fortunate memory is harder to drown today than any paper archive. The seven documentaries are widely available online, including from the enterprising French Wild Side project (video; Fr, see "collections").
Women were involved from the start, Marcia Ball (home) tells Eastwood part of their story, looking composed and sober about it until she starts playing. Marcia caught the Blues from her grandmother, a ragtime pianist, in New Orleans. In 1970, her car broke down in Austin, Texas. She didn't but decided she liked the place.
Technology cuts both ways. It makes 'The Blues' possible, like Marcia's new 'Live! Down the Road', but orchestral musicians rarely talk as they did about the richness and warmth of the Vienna string sound, the bite in Berlin's brass, the flair in Chicago and the mellifluous woodwinds of Paris. Never mind since the sense of place and people remains an important part of the "global village", while many musicians use today's tools to shape the traditions.
Marcia has

"a theory about how towns develop musically, that maybe there's a person who's a foundation. Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters in Chicago established a theme that inspired other great traditional blues guitarists and harmonica players. Therefore, to me, Chicago is kind of a guitar and harmonica town. New Orleans with its old horn tradition, starting with Buddy Bowlin and Louis Armstrong, is a strong horn town - brass and saxophone. Then the keyboards came up - there were great keyboard players to begin with, who were often included in Dixieland bands, but Professor Longhair is a foundation person as far as keyboard is concerned, and he invented a style that was carried on in the next two generations and is still going.
"So New Orleans is primarily a keyboard and horn town. There's (pianist) Ellis Marsalis and his horn-playing sons. Toots Washington, who was in his eighties when 'Fess was in his sixties, definitely had an influence on 'Fess, although he was much more traditional than 'Fess was," she told Michael Parrish for Dirty Linen a decade ago.

McShann speaks of music as a big family. So does Scorsese when he says the centenary "series is more about an art form seen emotionally, not in a chronological way. It's a series that came out of my trying to discover more about this music and also primarily to share this with the younger people, the people who had been asking questions and haven't gotten the answers to have a kind of continuity."
The 13 companion radio programmes made to mark the Year of the Blues, where those words come from, remain available online in a true public service.

So what is monkey junk? Before anyone could leap to tell me, young Susan Tedeschi saved them the trouble when she said why she's got the Blues:

"There's just so many people that have passed away in the last few years. But I do know that there are still some that are alive. And those are the guys I'm, you know, that’s why I’m out here doing it. I’m trying to pay homage to them. And also 'cause I love the music and I want to keep the history of it alive. And the Blues, you know, is basically like Son House used to say, 'The Blues is about a man and a woman, everything else is monkey junk.' That’s what he used to say. But, uh, but he, you know, he basically believed that all songs, you know, in Blues comes down to a relationship. And that's what I sorta think about when I'm writing songs, is relationships, either between people or between situations."
No singer-songwriter can limit such a feeling to the Blues any more than I'd usually capitalise the art form, but this is a special week. Like Martin Scorsese in a capital achievement, I'm less interested in chronology than the relations between people and the music of their lives. My own took a turn today of the kind I write up in The Orchard, since that's where I've got anything to say, if at all, on asking my own dreams to pinch me when they come true.

11:15:04 PM  link   your views? []

mercredi 4 janvier 2006

The precaution of multiple electronic bleeps and chimes did the trick but they were a far cry from a cock crow. When it comes to being haunted a dream that kept me in its sway for a day was too ghastly to detail. Disturbingly I awoke still the helpless observer of vivid violence against a woman of a kind my mind didn't know it could imagine and this was after what felt set to be the last "nuit blanche" of a long spell.
Tuesday's bid to go to bed relaxed at midnight was unsuccessful; a multitude of memories has pursued me, mostly pleasant ones conjured to mind by recent events, so I gave up and got on with mail, and then that dream. Do Martha Wainwright and a few others get an X-certificate for life episodes still only hinted at in their songs, not as explicit as their lyrics are marked?

Chiwoniso MaraireThen I spent time with a woman from Zimbabwe and said, "Despite the job, I can scarcely imagine how it is there right now." She told me. And she told me too of her homeland's Chiwoniso Maraire (Dandemutande), since I've cast my net deep into Africa and its contemporary voices without writing much yet.

Chiwoniso grew up steeped in African sonic traditions in the United States, went to Zimbabwe with her parent music teachers at 15, and says and plays things on the Internet that are an incitement to discover an international career new to me. She sings sometimes in Shona so I don't understand it, but when I know more we'll find out who else is in that net. Oh sad Zimbabwe, where the outlook sounds very bleak indeed!
My respite from my own homeland has proved to be a 25-year one so far, but not for very dire reasons as well as positive ones. I'm taking a break from African news now, but wish my Zimbabwean friend much more than you can say with a squeeze of the hand ... or perhaps, only that way.

What I wish her includes fresh air and room to breathe it. Repeatedly, I've been taking some for myself whenever the finger finds it way back to N for Nova. We're going to linger there awhile with Heather Nova and maybe women she brings to mind whose voices alone are so sublime they are "absolute divas" indeed. The reason a 'Redbird' write-up is still to come is that I've been flying all around this album and could make a large playlist of Heather's previous ones to be content with her for hours!
If variety is the spice of life, then Nova is life itself soaring and swooping across the stratosphere with what sounds like such ease another thing hard to imagine is how many tears and how much sweat it must have taken to develop such a talent.

"All pain, joy, rage, love ... wisdom, can be found in music. I am in awe when in the presence of its power."
That isn't Heather, that's Chiwoniso Maraire from the little I know of a woman who thinks "Music... It's an expression of God." I've explored music and sexuality, which is a blood-stirring and heart-warming subject open to many more words without too much thought for theory, and there have been women who take music to heal -- or maybe give us nightmares! -- but music connects our love lives to the sacred.
Maraire know this, so does Nova. "Sacred" is a powerful word, but it's a powerfully individual thing too. When BJ spoke at the weekend of doing a musicology course, somebody said, "I'm not too sure what musicology (Wikipedia) is."
True, it can sound scholarly, forbidding and there's worse: "ethnomusicology".

In the wrong hands, they are appallingly academic subjects. In mine, you're safe! I find these matters far too much fun to pontificate about them any other way with so many women to choose from as living illustrations of every kind.
Without even touching on the lyrics and life of Heather Allison Frith, who was born in Bermuda on July 6, 1967, it suffices to listen to hear "roots".
Roots of all kinds.
What does the Wikipedia say?
"Musicology is reasoned discourse concerning music (Greek: μουσικη = "music" and λογος = "word" or "reason"). In other words:

"the whole body of systematized knowledge about music which results from the application of a scientific method of investigation or research, or of philosophical speculation and rational systematization to the facts, the processes and the development of musical art, and to the relation of man in general ... to that art (Harvard Dictionary of Music).
"By this definition, the field includes every conceivable discussion of musical topics."
Indeed it does. But that's pretty academic, isn't it? More big words. "Reasoned discourse", scientific research, and "the relation of man in general ... to that art". Woman too, perhaps, but let's not be arch.

My career began with ethnomusicology (Wikipedia), which is about how people make it in different cultures. Yawning?
I did, with many of the books. Not at rock festivals. Not in African villages. Not on Indian trains or in the London Underground. As soon as you wonder "How does she do that? Could I ever do that?" or "Where did she get that instrumental sound from?" you're being a musicologist. If you say "I like her style, but I don't like hers," you know you're feeding an ethnomusicologist?
However, "reasoned debate" and snide remarks about your friend's tastes get tricky when it comes to the "sacred". You know how people can be about their religion: leave well alone. For anthropologists, who study different societies, mostly "primitive", and civilisations, "sacred" can be a more neutral word for that sense of "something other" in which many people find meaning in their lives.

These are all questionable words, open to endless discussion and fuss about my definitions, but I've got a useful cop-out. Let's forget words about words, listen to the music or make love and enjoy what it does for us and to us. Then it gets more agreeable.
I can listen to Heather doing her solo aerobatics at the start of 'Island' on 'Oyster', find them ravishing, then come the words:

"There are parts of me he'll never know,
My wild horses and my river beds,
And in my throat voices he'll never hear.
He pulls at me like a cherry tree,
And I can still move, but I don't speak about it.
Pretend I'm crazy, pretend I'm dead.
He's to scared to hit me now, he'll bring flowers instead."
The voice is gentle, the acoustic guitar full of melody, the backing light, the delivery even, and she is angry. The sacred has been stolen, profanities bring her down and she needs "an island, somewhere to sink a stone". That stone is a guy:
"He fucks with the beauty."

Heather and her bands are very good at this, each album different but often drawing on the sexual politics of the sacred and the profane. In any culture, people take what they find most sacred to bed with them, they eat with it, they sleep with it, and it's vulnerable, open to profanation, violation and rape.
Heather NovaSomehow the beauty can remain intact, untouched, deep in Heather and deep in us (and a concert snap taken by Marco van Hylckama Vlieg, 'The Net is Dead - Life Beyond the Buzz,' (his weblog, last August ... when I missed her in Paris!) There's no X-certificate to a song like 'Island', I know little about the woman's religion and have yet to listen to 'Redbird', but I'm finding out plenty about her faith and the way she expresses it in conjoining or separating words and music, playing them with or against one another.
When so inclined, Heather can pack a punch like a knuckle-duster. If music is "an expression of God", I feel wary of the deity in Heather's company, could find myself in trouble with priests and definitions, things we might say of "good" and "evil" and who or what is responsible for either.

I'm not sure I want to go there. By contrast, she sings directly to my own sense of the sacred and the profane, what we love, cherish and nurture in ourselves and in others, and where we cause hurt and wound. She addresses what we feel to be "right" and "wrong" through expression of the emotions in music that weaves often into words of wisdom.
It may be my own faith she sustains, one that has come to place angels and demons inside me, nowhere else, unable to blame others for what I do. Other people may have quite different ideas about all that from mine. Whenever I've returned to Nova though, at infrequent intervals, while I find her a very fine lyricist, what I've remembered most is the music and the voice.
It's almost less what she says than how she says it that has infiltrated me, haunts my circuitry. How Heather Nova does that as a musician who draws on many cultures and traditions turns on the ethnomusicologist for a rainier day, such is the variety. She doesn't want me writing about her as a woman too much though:

"'I think it's a shame that when it comes to being a female singer-songwriter, that gender seems to have become a genre,' Nova says. 'I thought that things like Lilith Fair would help to dispel that but, in the end, I guess that even seems to have become a trend.'"
I find she's said more of what I'm saying in that 2002 article on a fan site by April Labine, who writes that Heather composes in solitude, then needs to perform.
"'Sometimes I think when you're singing live and you’re involved in that process with an audience, you almost get in touch with something higher,' Nova says. 'I sort of feel that it's not about me anymore. It's just about soul. The music is creating a connection between the audience and me.'
"Nova admits that she often feels like a medium for the music. This is why performing is just as important to her as songwriting. To do one without the other would make her craft incomplete.
"'Songwriting is something that I need to do emotionally and performing is something that I find physically and spiritually important'" (Heather Nova: Anti-Pop Heroine).
She even talked about dreams there, how they can "paralyse you if you are too attached to them" but matter because "they keep you moving forward." I'd rather keep that piece of sense in mind than one morning's hangover welling up from I know not where, since what will shortly be physically and spiritually important to me is sleep.
"It's just about soul."
I'm glad she said it herself. Heather Nova has made several live albums that prove her other point, but so do studio ones. The exchange, for such it is, between her and you seems to get you in touch with something higher than you both.

1:45:58 AM  link   your views? []

lundi 2 janvier 2006

So here it is.
I wish everyone a New Year that brings you closer to realising the dreams you can't afford to lose if you stick to your own "music sheet"!
Today the "magic finger" wasn't allowed to decide, instead I scrolled the iPod to find a few songs that particularly lingered with me throughout last year. They made up for missing my morning meditation because I slept through both the alarm clock and a phone call, to wake up almost an hour after I should have been at work.
"Buy a new alarm clock," somebody said. The one I've got is bad enough. Maybe I should use an iPod, but if it's music, especially with words, it fills my mind too much for the meditative hour to begin empty of anything but the last dreams.
To a bloke who dismissed meditation as a "something waste of time", I suggested he wait until he reaches my venerable age. Granted, it might have had more effect without the cigarette waiting to be lit.

One of the songs was by the tough Martha Wainwright, whose cracks aren't always wise. She encouraged me to open a chat with the woman I sat down next to on the M since she moved an acoustic guitar to make room for me. The soft black leather carry-case was unzipped enough to show a classy instrument.
"Is that," I began, "for your life or a luxury?"
"What do you mean?" she said, after a habitual hesitation, in her case too short to count in seconds.
"Professional or pleasure?"
At best, it's hard to tell anyway. And now you know how easily some of those chats in the Métro start, though being able to have one with such an obvious musician is a rare delight. This one had long dark brown hair, a very brown tan, deep brown eyes and smiled a lot. She wore a black jacket and one of the most colourful floral skirts I've seen in a while.
It turned out to be "pleasure", but she opened up fast in 10 minutes and by the time she got off we were talking about how difficult it is to make a career of music when you write and perform "intimate folk-pop" songs, which is what she does. I wanted to know what she meant by "folk-pop" and found her answer a very good omen for the coming year.
Martha WainwrightIt proved to be the "etiquette" she has had to slap on her style and no more. She's a nice, lively girl in her late 20s. I didn't mention Martha Wainwright's debut album, her melancholy in some songs or say you can scarcely get more intimate than that record.

Of late I've read some more fuss about that song, 'B.M.F.A.', an acronym she spells out about her dad though Martha says he "inspired" it. Before hearing her do that again, since the singer who in November released the more extensive special edition of the album was still going while I shopped, I wondered whether she'd really needed to be public with such language and sentiments, but there's no doubt she had to get it off her chest somehow.
It's not my favourite song on a tough album full of strong writing and feelings. Nor, on the whole, were the Wainwright revelations one of the highest points of my year, since she has the balls, all right, but empties a barrel of bile. A phrase new to me makes sense in the Pitchfork review by Stephen M. Duesner: "romantic masochism".
That's extremely well put for an often excessive practice. Martha took music to transcend bitterness, she sure is sly and grabs the ear by sometimes slurring the delivery of her lyrics in a distinctive voice, cigarettes and honey maybe, dosed with bleach. It's still a relief that nobody could follow such a cathartic debut, where her strength and confidence win an inner battle she largely puts in the mouths of those who put her down, with more of the same.
In the notorious song, she sings,

"Oh I wish I wish I wish I was born a man
So I could learn how to stand up for myself
Like those guys with guitars
I've been watching in bars
Who've been stamping their feet to a different beat
To a different beat (...),"
but she's done it now.

There's less of the family -- in which other members have had a musical go at her father, Loudon III, who had very long hair and didn't seem tyrannical when I saw and enjoyed him in concert maybe 30 years ago and he was a lad himself -- and more of the poetry in the ballads that give Martha's first album real staying power for me.
As a woman who should remain one, she's got a gentle side and she does "folk-pop", but you could invent all kinds of other influences, from church to country, and she can sing in French. I'd hate to pin her down, like the love lyrics that speak for everyone and she's one of the many people to whom I'd wish a less stormy 2006.

The picture by Gary Porter comes from a Wisconsin concert last June and has enough man in it to remind you this site isn't and won't be exclusive. Several fellers had their say on today's musical selection.
When I turned Martha down to pay, the cashier was talking in Danish to people a way behind me in the store queue. Other people together nattered in French, some in Arabic or Tamazight, there were smatterings of African languages, a bit of Vietnamese and I wished the woman who took my money a happy new year in English, which she did back.
Nearly all of those voices belonged to women.

If the slender guitarist from the M should one day stumble on herself here, well: I saw how your eyes lit up, so if ever you try, I hope you make it.
The weekly Les Inrocks starts each new year with a good idea. Having selected from any number of new voices who sent in music, its reviewers give the readers the hard job, choosing 'CQFD' (Fr). On this year's sampler, there are a score of them.
I count six women songwriters or females up front in bands among "Ceux Qu'Il Faut Découvrir", and shan't vote myself, just listen, but if I chose to cast a ballot for a touch of wit without listening, I was amused to see a boy's "garage punk" band call themselves 'Second Sex'.
Here's a silly question to which the answer's rhetorical, not among those you've got to discover: will it never cease to be a very touchy subject?

11:17:35 PM  link   your views? []

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