Sunday, May 11, 2014

Increasingly Occasional

Somehow happened upon this blog tonight and thought it was probably worth noting that content posted here probably will be very infrequent in the foreseeable future, as the new job at the Austin American-Statesman keeps me plenty busy enough with writing opportunities these days. You can find my stuff quite regularly at, and if you're interested in whatever I may be going on about. (Which mostly will be related to music news and events in the Austin vicinity.)

One parting note, then. When I first started this blog just after Vic Chesnutt's passing in December 2009, the idea was really just to put up a few thoughts about Chesnutt's music and personality. Looking back just now, I came across this list of potential names for the blog that I considered, before narrowing it down to That Magnificent Ghost. All of these are lyric snippets from Vic's songs. I think I'm happy with the choice I went with, but here were the others that lingered for awhile....

dream treefort

strategy not protocol

rabbit box

future stepped into my field

the tar is oozing from my little noggin

stupid preoccupations

primal griping

holding up a sparkler

jigsaw disposition

steeped in the dark isolation

only one of many

shimmer ephemeral

try to skedaddle

a rusty mass of machinations

that magnificent ghost

salient obsession

rambunctious cloud

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Picketts, from The Rocket, August 1995

Inspired by a photo that Miro Jugum posted of The Picketts doing an in-store at the long-gone Tower Records store on Mercer Street in Seattle -- in which the band mambers were holding copies of The Rocket with them on the cover -- I've dug out that cover story from my personal archives. Here it is, below.

A side note: Grant Alden and I were starting up No Depression at the very same time. Since I was writing about The Picketts for The Rocket, we needed another writer to do a piece on the band we were planning to run in the first issue of No Depression. That writer ended up being our good friend Mary Schuh. You can find it here:

The Picketts in No Depression #1, Fall 1995


From The Rocket, August 1995
By Peter Blackstock
            It would be easy to call the Picketts the best country band in Seattle, but first we must ponder the question: Are the Picketts a country band?
            Guitarist John Olufs cranks out riffs with the kind of raw twang that recalls the heyday of legends such as Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. But if you tune into country radio stations these days, Owens and Haggard are nowhere to be found, cast off to pasture in favor of your Garths and your Trishas and your Billy Rays and your John Michaels.
            Singer Christy McWilson has one of the most classically beautiful country voices since Loretta Lynn. But what's she doing over at stage right? Don't these guys know that you're supposed to put the cute girl singer in the middle and rename the band Christy & the Cowboy Nation?
            Instead, center stage belongs to Leroy "Blackie" Sleep -- a drummer, who plays standing up and shares vocal duties with McWilson. Since when have drums been a spotlight instrument in country music?
            OK, let's check these guys' credentials. Rhythm guitarist Jim Sangster boasts bass-playing duties in the Young Fresh Fellows, Seattle's most celebrated garage band. Olufs and bassist Walter Singleman were in Red Dress, who were -- well, it's hard to say what they were, but they sure as heck weren't no C&W hat act.
            Yet the Picketts ARE the best country band in Seattle.
            Meet the new country. It's about the same as the old country, really -- except that the old country has long since been passed over in favor of a starmaking machinery that stresses individuals over bands, smooth sounds over solid songs, and image over talent. It's no wonder country has become a commercial equal with rock and rap on the pop-music playing field in recent years: In its effort to reach the masses, Nashville polished off the edge that defined country music in the first place.
            So it's really not all that surprising to see the seeds of country taking root in the underground. As alternative-rock bands proliferate to the point of implosion and young punkers begin to wonder if there's really anything new under the sun after all, a traditional form such as country becomes more and more appealing. Especially when the genre is crying out to be reshaped and reinvented by fresh, creative blood.
            But doing this stuff well takes more than merely an attitude and a guitar. It helps if you have a certain amount of respect, rather than merely disdain, for the music that has come before you. The best alternative-country bands have taken the time and effort to seek out the great forgotten works of decades gone by, and have simply set about "to go through that music and take the parts and put them together in a different way," Olufs suggests.
            "There's so much back there to be inspired by," Sangster adds.  "And the more your learn about that music, the more interesting things you bring to the kind of music that we've all played before."
            As much as the Picketts have absorbed what has preceded them, however, they're not interested in being a retro band. "You have to make it happen right now," Olufs says. "It's really about having a feel for what you're doing, not with knowing so much the history of things."
            Sangster agrees. "You could know everything about every record put out and what you do could still be really crappy," he said. "And there's definitely a lot of music that's like that -- it's overthought, it's overeducated and it doesn't have any verve."
            For McWilson, who spent much of the '80s singing with the girl-group cover band the Dynette Set, the ability to use a traditional foundation as a springboard for personal creativity has been a gradual learning process. "I started off really emulating other things, but now I'm moving into my own experience," she says. "I feel like I'm pruning it or shaping it to something that's more relevant to me. I've gone from copying it to using it more as a form of self-expression."
            A good example is a song she recently wrote that was inspired by an old semi-novelty country hit called "The Girl on the Billboard." Both songs use an unusual device -- verses with lines that run on about three times as long as you expect them to -- but McWilson's lyrics have nothing to do with the rather sexist slant of the original. "It's kind of an answer, in a way," she says. "It's based on that song, but it's a reinterpretation; it's like my female response to it."
            It's also one of the best songs she's ever written, part of a healthy new crop of Picketts tunes that are ripe to be recorded for the band's next album. At the moment, however, the group finds itself in the somewhat awkward position of celebrating the release of an album that has basically been finished for almost two years but is just now seeing the light of day.
            The Wicked Picketts, the follow-up to the band's 1992 Paper Doll on local label Popllama, comes out this month on Rounder Records and gives the Picketts their first real shot at becoming nationally known. Until now, they've had to settle for regional recognition and a healthy pocket of fans in Austin, Texas, where the band has played several times.
            Long an established haven for country bands that don't quite fit into the Nashville mainstream, Austin not surprisingly has welcomed the Picketts with open arms. "The last couple times we were there, I've felt like that's  where we live," says Sleep.  "We go down there and people recognize us on the street and in the store, and they write stuff in the paper about us. We'd be riding in a cab, and the guy would recognize us. I was just blown out by that."
            In fact, the first time the band went to Austin, to play at the South by Southwest music conference in March 1992, rhythm guitarist Kels Koch liked the town so much he moved there. That marked the last in a long list of lineup changes that had hindered the band's momentum in their early years. No shortage of talented and accomplished local players have had stints with the Picketts, including the late Jim Silva, Gerald Collier (Best Kissers in the World), Larry Barrett, Brian Kenney (Lazy Susan), Steve Marcus and Jeff "The Dog" Leslie. Sangster, who had been playing with the band occasionally, took a full-time role after Koch's departure, and the lineup has remained the same since then.
            In addition to their trips to Texas, the band also has toured the West Coast a couple of times, but their upcoming plans to tour behind the new record will mark their first opportunity to take their music to rest of the nation. As fate would have it, however, those plans are basically on hold for a couple more months, as McWilson has been playing the single-parent role for most of this year while her husband, Young Fresh Fellows leader Scott McCaughey, has been on tour with R.E.M. as a backing musician.
            If timing hasn't exactly been on their side with touring prospects and album releases, it does seem to be playing a positive role in terms of musical climates and trends. With acts such as the Jayhawks, Wilco and the Bottle Rockets gradually broadening the audience for roots-influenced bands, the time seems ripe for the Picketts to bring their music to the rest of the country.
            Which reminds McWilson of an amusing anecdote from the band's earlier days. "Jim said something to me at a show where I was really depressed, and he put his hand on my shoulder, and -- I've never forgot this -- he said, 'Don't worry, Christy -- by the time people like the kind of music we like, we should be really good at it!"
            That time is now.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Deconstructing ELO

By Peter Blackstock

A confession, to begin with.
The first record I ever reviewed – or, at least, attempted to review – was the Electric Light Orchestra’s 1979 album Discovery. As a freshman cub-reporter for The Edition, the Anderson High School newspaper in Austin, Texas, I’d been writing short news and sports articles, and it occurred to me toward the end of the year that perhaps they’d let me do an album review.Discovery was the record (er, 8-track tape, actually) that I’d been listening to nonstop at the time, so I wrote up something and turned it in.
It was only after I’d submitted it that our teacher was informed by the paper’s editor that the album had come out nearly a year earlier, which nixed any chance of it being published. Such was the first misstep in my music-critic career, and my initial lesson about the significance of timeliness with record reviews.
It was probably just as well; mostly what I remember from what was undoubtedly a wretched piece of prose was my observations about the record’s “wacky special effects.” However, I believe I also pointed out just how hummable and memorable the melodies were – which, despite the band’s spaceship-oriented visuals and futuristic sonic palette, is really what had drawn me to the Electric Light Orchestra in the first place.
Though the band was plenty popular – I suspect both Discovery and its 1978 double-album predecessor Out Of The Blue went platinum – they were never much of a critics’ darling (at least beyond 9th-grade critics-in-waiting), which made it somewhat surprising when Lynne turned up in the Traveling Wilburys a decade later, alongside living legends Dylan, Orbison, and Harrison. His entree to that inner-circle seemed to be via Tom Petty, the slightly more mortal Wilbury who was at that time working with Lynne on his soon-to-be-chart-smashing solo disc Full Moon Fever.
While the Wilburys stint – brief though it was, since Orbison died shortly after the album was released – perhaps caused some folks to reconsider Lynne’s oeuvre, I don’t get the sense that ELO really has been taken much more seriously over the years. And perhaps with good reason. Because of the overreliance on those “wacky special effects,” much of ELO’s catalogue ranks with the most dated recordings in rock history; it’s hard to listen to much of their stuff and keep a straight face.
But if you do go back and listen, I swear that there really are terrific songs waiting to be excavated beneath all the studio dressing. It occurred to me that perhaps, somewhere in existence, are Lynne’s simple single-instrument-and-vocal early demo versions of these songs, and perhaps those recordings might be fascinating. Thus I was pleasantly surprised to stumble upon what was labeled a “Home Demo” of the Discovery track “On The Run” which was apparently included on a 2001 reissue of the album – but I could only laugh when I checked out the track; “home demo” in this case appeared to something like cutting from 64 tracks down to 32. It would appear Lynne has no relation to the concept of stripped-down and simple.
Just because he doesn’t, though, doesn’t mean other artists shouldn’t. When I hear Discoverytoday, compared to how I marveled at the multilayers three decades ago, what starts popping into my imagination are deconstructed remakes performed by roots-oriented artists well-versed in the art of “less is more.” I hear, say, Del McCoury doing “On The Run”. Or Rosie Thomas doing“Wishing”. Or Willie Nelson doing “Need Her Love”. (OK, maybe there’s no way to address the mini-rock-opera that is “The Diary Of Horace Wimp”.)
It’s true that such cover-selection is a tricky business, one that first and foremost is best-served by artists mining their own memories for songs that still resonate and connect on a personal level. But there is also a fundamental principle, I’d contend, that some of the best sources for interpretation are songs which may in fact be sound and solid at their core but that may have been disguised by the genre or arrrangement in which they’ve been cloaked. Those artists who are willing to remove the artifice and rediscover the song can produce revelations: consider the Gourds’ “Gin And Juice” (compared to the Snoop Dogg original), Gillian Welch & David Rawlings’ “Black Star” (compared to the Radiohead original), Bruce Springsteen’s “Dream Baby Dream” (compared to the Suicide original).
With the Electric Light Orchestra, there’s a whole catalogue out there that’s just waiting for the taking, if someone’s inclined to dig in. Just turn off Lynne’s electric bulb, light up a few candles, and let the melodies burn through.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Don Walser article in The Rocket, March 1995

[This was published in the late, great Seattle biweekly music publication The Rocket as a preview for a tw0-night stand at The Backstage featuring Don Walser, Butch Hancock, Santiago Jimenez and Tish Hinojosa on March 28-29, 1995.]

By Peter Blackstock

For a well-traveled man of 60 who just recently retired from his day job, Don Walser sure seems a lot like a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed teenager.

He may not quite have that youthful jump in his step as we slowly shuffle back to the office of Babe's, a restaurant in Austin where he and his Pure Texas Band play every Monday night, to do an interview before the gig. But once you get Walser talking, there's no mistaking the sprightly youthfulness in his manner -- from the beaming gleam in his eyes, to the wide-as-a-tractor-trailer grin that splits his double-chinned mug ear-to-ear, to the giddy giggle reminiscent of a juvenile junior-high prankster.

Not to mention some of the company he keeps in Austin. "Are you familiar with the Butthole Surfers, and ol' Jeff Pinkus, who used to play with them?" he says, when I bring up the subject of how he has become a favorite at Emo's, Austin's most popular alternative-rock nightclub. "Well, we were one of their favorite bands, and they always hung out with us when they were in town. And they finally got us down to Emo's to play.

"Oh, and there's another guy that comes out to see us all the time. He usually comes to Jovita's (a Mexican restaurant where Walser and his band play every Tuesday night). He has a group called Ministry. Do you know who I'm talking about?" Al Jourgenson? "Al Jourgenson, yeah, that's the guy. Anyway, I went out to his place one day, just me and my guitar, and we played a little bit. And he showed me his new studio he had. And right on the board, he had a bumper sticker, Pure Texas Band! And he told me, 'Your CD's the first thing we played on this thing!' "

Exactly how or why the Buttholes and Jourgenson became such big fans of someone who plays music so totally different than their own is anyone's guess, unless you simply accept that you don't necessarily have to play classic country music to appreciate it. And it's almost impossible not to appreciate Walser, who has a keen ear for the most revered songs country music has produced since the beginning -- and also a voice to belt it out like probably no one you've ever heard.

At one point during our interview, Walser ely not believe your ears. And how many singers do you know who can make their voice sound more like a steel guitar than a steel guitar does, as Walser demonstrates on the 1949 Stan Jones gem "Cowpoke"?

Playing songs that are half a decade old is an integral part of what Walser and his Pure Texas Band are all about. "My heart's just not into doing Top 40 country," he says. "When I first started singing, I noticed there were a few bands around that would get together and they would learn the up-to-date tunes, and that was all they did. But what you're doing, you're constantly working up new stuff, and then in two weeks or a month or six months, it's plumb gone and forgot about, and you've spent all that time on those old tunes that are no good. And I just decided I wasn't gonna do that."

Though Rolling Stone from Texas indeed delves significantly into the catalog of classic country music with tunes by the likes of Marty Robbins, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Jimmie Rodgers and Willie Nelson, Walser also wrote or co-wrote five of the songs on the album. Not that you'd really notice much of a difference between the covers and the originals; his own material is heavily rooted in the old sounds he dearly loves, even if it has meant he's never gotten much attention from the Nashville cats.

"I had a pretty good bunch of songs that I thought were good about 20 years ago, so I went to Nashville," he recalls. "And they all really liked what I had, but they all told me one way or another real nicely, that, 'This is great stuff, but we haven't done it in 20 years.' So I told 'em, 'Well, when 20 years comes from now, I'll still be doing it.' And I am, I'm still doing it. I just didn't want to play the games that you have to play. And of course now, I'm tryin' to help a few people keep this old traditional country music alive. It's like a big ol' oak tree out there. If you destroy the roots, it's gonna die, and that's what's happening right now, I think."

Walser's efforts seem to be paying off. Seeing a full house of tattooed, nose-pierced twentysomethings spinning and singing along to his band at Emo's on a Friday night is all one needs to confirm that there is indeed room for his beloved old country music in the hearts of the Alternative Nation, as incongruous as it may seem. Of course, there's also the possibility that the kids may see him as nothing more than an entertaining curiosity, but he's not so sure about that.

A 60-year-old solo traditional country act on a showcase full of rock bands at CMJ might seem strange enough -- but then there was the time a couple years back when Walser actually opened a show for his pals the Buttholes in Austin. "It was our band and the Bad Livers and the Butthole Surfers," he recalled. "And I'll never forget Jeff Pinkus -- I was tellin' him, 'Well, good, I've been wantin' to hear y'all play.' And he said, 'Oh, Don, you don't want to hear this band.' And I said, 'Sure I do!' And he said, 'Naw, you really don't. You need to just go on home!' And I said, 'Naw, I'm gonna stay and listen, man!'

"So I got up there on the side of the stage, and I found out pretty soon why he didn't want me to stay. They had these two screens going at one time, and one screen they had a naked lady gyratin', and then on the other screen, they had a sex change operation goin', changin' a guy into a girl! I know that's why ol' Jeff didn't want me to stay!"

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Butch Hancock article in The Rocket (Seattle), January 1994

By Peter Blackstock

It’s kind of an eyesore from the outside, this humble cottage industry that Butch Hancock calls home, a few yards from the antiquated streetcar tracks on a mostly deserted block in the middle of downtown Austin. Huge planks of plywood hide the graffiti that covered the abandoned storefront before Hancock moved in a couple years ago. Above the boards is a modest but intriguing sign, painted by Hancock, that depicts a city skyline as seen through a rearview mirror, along with the name of the establishment: “Lubbock Or Leave It.”

It’s an amusing but ironic phrase: Although Hancock left Lubbock for the culturally greener pastures of Austin a couple decades ago, there’s no doubt his old hometown still holds a special place in his heart. After all, it was in Lubbock that Hancock hooked up with the Flatlanders, a now-legendary revolving assemblage of musicians which included Joe Ely and Jimmie Dale Gilmore. The Flatlanders released an album in the early 1970s (reissued in the UK in 1980 as One Road More, and more recently on Rounder in 1990 under the title More A Legend Than A Band) that’s now considered a classic document of West Texas folk music.

Hancock moved to Austin in the mid-’70s and released his first solo album in 1977 on his own label, Rainlight Records. He followed it up with a steady stream of self-released records that chronicled the development of a songwriter sometimes referred to as “The West Texas Dylan.” Such comparisons often have become bad omens for promising songwriters, but Hancock can’t be cursed by the “New Dylan” tag because he’s already delivered the goods to be placed in such company. (Never was that more evident than the first week of February in 1990, when Hancock showcased his own material for six straight nights at Austin's Cactus Cafe and never repeated a song.)

Yet his impressive catalog of original material is only the most salient example of the creativity that radiates from this fascinating person. If Hancock isn’t jotting down song ideas or drawing sketches in one of the little notebooks he constantly carries around, he’s probably occupied with a camera. His photographs have been published in magazines and on the album covers of his peers, and have been been the subject of feature exhibits.

Nowadays, his photos frequently can be found on display at Lubbock Or Leave It, which not only is Hancock’s residence but also houses an art gallery, a tape duplication business, a store selling the music and merchandise of his peers, and a spacious studio room occasionally used for live performances. The multi-purpose setup is an ideal physical manifestation of Hancock’s do-it-yourself-and-do-everything ethic. And that includes simple manual labor -- he remodeled the place himself.

Such a task was old hat to Hancock; as he puts it, “I’ve done my share of hammerin’ and nailin’.” A student of architecture at Texas Tech University in Lubbock just before the heyday of the Flatlanders, Hancock spent a couple of years in the ’70s doing construction work in the Texas Panhandle town of Clarendon. Shortly after moving to Austin, he took a job remodeling an old train station into a house. His early days in Lubbock also included many a turn in the seat of a tractor, an occupation chronicled in the title and content of his debut solo album, West Texas Waltzes and Dust-Blown Tractor Tunes.

Such experiences are an integral part of Hancock’s character and have provided the wellspring from which his creative juices flow. “I literally wrote a lot of songs on the tractor,” he recalls. “On this old International Harvester we were pulling the terracing machine with, second gear at two-thirds throttle was about the key of G. So you could change gears, or speed up and slow down, to change the tune.”

The gears turning inside Hancock's mind mesh in perfect harmony when it comes to such seemingly disparate activities. “I just look at it as all one whole thing that’s completely related,” he explains. “My drawings and my photos are completely intertwined, at least in my brain, with my songs. I don't look at myself as a songwriter, or as a musician, or as a photographer; those are just part of what I do. And if I’m a tractor driver one year, then I’m a tractor driver, but that’s just part of what I do.”

“I never have understood the concept of just being a songwriter to crank out songs, because you’ve got to go out and get the experience and write from that. Otherwise, you just start imitating bad imitations of other imitations.”

These days, Hancock’s musical career is busy enough that it leaves little time for hammerin’ and nailin’ and tractor drivin’. But it hasn’t kept him from continually challenging himself with new experiences. In recent years, most of those experiences have involved international touring. In 1987, Hancock was one of a handful of Austin musicians who participated in a two-week tour of the Soviet Union as part of a cultural exchange program. In 1990, he and longtime pal Gilmore spent a month in Australia, where they played several shows and became enlightened to the art and culture of the indigenous Aboriginal tribes. (A live CD culled from shows on that trip was released in 1992 by Caroline Records.)

Among the more interesting endeavors Hancock has pursued in the past couple of years has been a series of “river-rafting concerts” on the Rio Grande, which divides Texas and Mexico. In coordination with with a West Texas travel outfit called Far Flung Adventures, Hancock and a couple of river guides take small groups of rafters on a three-day, two-night trip that includes campfire concerts by Hancock amid the walls of the river’s towering canyons. If you seek truly “Unplugged” music, this is the ultimate experience.

But enough about river trips, art galleries, tractor driving, architecture and the like. Ultimately, Hancock’s most significant contribution to the world has been his songwriting. His melodies and arrangements are generally pretty simple, but as a lyricist, Hancock has few, if any, peers in contemporary music.

Take, for instance, the barroom wisdom of “Firewater (Seeks Its Own Level)”: Perched on your back was a loudmouth vulture/ Y’all were talkin’ back and forth about the counter-counterculture/ Smoke was hangin’ heavy, everybody had to breathe it/ Your hands were on the table but your thoughts were underneath it.

Or the rambling stream-of-unconsciousness that drives “Cause You Never Compromise”: There was a goat on the ladder and a man on the trumpet/ A boy on the bass drum and buddy he could thump it/ A woman in a window and a monkey and a man on a chain/ I shook my head and the wind blew through my ears/ I looked away and heard the music disappear.

Then there’s the timeless beauty of his love songs, such as “If You Were A Bluebird”: If I were a highway, I’d stretch alongside you/ I’d help you pass byways that had dissatisfied you/ If I were I highway, I’d be stretchin’/ I’d be fetchin’ you home.

And that’s just scratching the surface. Several of Hancock’s best songs (including the aforementioned “Bluebird” and “Firewater”) are included on Own & Own, a two-CD set issued by Sugar Hill in 1991 and culled from the seven albums Hancock released on his own Rainlight Records label between 1978 and 1987. (None of those original albums have been issued on CD, but cassette copies are available by mail-order through Lubbock Or Leave It, 406 Brazos St., Austin, TX 78701.)

The real treasure of Hancock’s discography, however, is No 2 Alike, a 14-cassette, 140-song series documenting the aforementioned six Cactus Cafe concerts in February 1990. It’s sold only as a “tape-of-the-month club” -- you send $12 each month for an hourlong tape until all 14 have been delivered. It’s the definitive Hancock recording in terms of both quantity and quality: In addition to dozens of previously unreleased songs, the series also features the best versions of many Hancock classics.That’s due in part to a remarkable cast of guest performers -- Gilmore, Ely, Townes Van Zandt, Alejandro Escovedo, David Halley, Jesse Taylor, plus more than a dozen others -- and partly to the studio-quality sound of the recording.

In addition, several of Hancock’s songs can be found on albums by other artists. Both Ely and Gilmore have included handfuls of Hancock tunes on their solo albums; his credits also have recently turned up on discs by Emmylou Harris, the Texas Tornados and Flaco Jimenez.

In truth, however, Hancock’s catalog seems to have gone criminally unrecorded by a country music industry that too often relies on Nashville tunesmiths writing in office cubicles rather than seeking out folks who compose songs on tractors. To be fair, though, part of the reason Hancock hasn’t had a parade of hits is that he generally shies away from publishing deals, preferring simply to let the artists seek him out if they want to record his material.

“I’ve been real lucky just to retain control of my songs as I have,” he says. “Maybe the trade-off is that I haven’t had those one or two medium-sized hits or haven’t had songs on the charts or anything. But, you know, if it’s going to happen, it’ll happen.

“And if it doesn’t, well, so what?”

Sunday, February 12, 2012

JKutchma, the Five Fifths, and a Valentine

You don't cover "My Funny Valentine" light-heartedly or off-handedly. It's not a happy-go-lucky love song, despite its title; its melody is weighted with something heavier, darker, harder to reconcile. To be honest, it's never really been a song I've longed to hear around the Ides of February. And yet, there is *something* about it... a peeling-back of artifice, perhaps, leaving the singer with nowhere to go but straight through the heart of it, their persona betrayed by the way they choose to deliver those offbeat words.

I thought about that when Jason Kutchma chose "My Funny Valentine" to conclude his set at the Whiskey in Durham tonight. The best-known versions are probably those by Ella, or Frank, or perhaps Chet Baker; my frame of reference is probably a little skewed, as I came to know it through renditions recorded several decades later by Elvis Costello and Rickie Lee Jones. For both of those artists, the song did the trick: The character of their voices when they sang it revealed much about the distinctive nature of their respective personalities.

The same was true tonight, even after Kutchma and his band, the Five Fifths, had served up an album's worth of their own first-rate original songs (plus a cover of David Bowie's "Heroes") with tasteful arrangements of guitars, bass, piano, pedal steel and fairly minimal drums. Kutchma began the set solo and ended it that way too, imbuing the dark, warm, hazy room with a take on "Valentine" that was remarkably assured in spite of its vulnerability. His voice acknowledged the darkness inherent in the song, yet seemed determined to press on toward the light on the other side.

Fitting, then, that the first song they've served up to the public from the album they recently recorded is called "There's A Light On"....

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Giant Sand's "Classico" with Vic Chesnutt & Henriette Sennevalt

Well, this certainly needs to be posted here, of all places:

Thanks to Howe for sharing it with us, and Bill Carter for creating it.