Weekend Music Break: Offa Rex, “The Queen of Hearts”

Image: Offa Rex (Olivia Chaney + The Decemberists)

[Offa Rex: Olivia Chaney (third from left) and The Decemberists]

While I’ve known of The Decemberists for years, and appreciate their reputation (among folks whose musical taste I trust) as musical geniuses, innovators, and so on, I confess that I’ve not spent much time listening to them. I should probably be embarrassed, too, never (until now) to have heard of English folkie Olivia Chaney. But plenty of others have heard of her, raved over her songwriting and performance… So as it happens, this “Offa Rex” joint project has given me plenty of opportunity to listen to all of them together.

The Queen of Hearts, says NPR, is “an interpolation of vintage British Isles folk music as filtered through electric guitars and a sinewy rock backbeat. The result is both a tribute and translation, connecting the dots between contemporary indie music and a deeper cultural legacy.” Adds The Guardian:

You’re not going to go far wrong with Chaney — a thrilling singer, the Anne Briggs of her generation — on a set of folk standards, but [The Decemberists’ Colin] Meloy and co also deliver. A shimmering, echoing ambience includes chiming guitars, drones, cello, harpsichord and harmonium; the churning “The Old Churchyard” is a standout.

I can’t think of much to add to either estimation (or, to pick just one more, this). But yes: “The Old Churchyard, especially,” grabbed me from the first listen. And Chaney’s rendition of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” while having almost nothing in common with Roberta Flack’s, can stand right alongside it.

Here’s Offa Rex then, and Queen of Hearts:

The Queen of Hearts

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Weekend (Sunday Afternoon) Music Break: Pistolera, and Sandra Lilia Velasquez in General

Pistolera

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I’ve had the opportunity to research and write for Deep Roots Magazine about music, particularly “Americana” music: music performed generally using acoustic instruments, something like country, something like folk, sometimes incorporating elements of blues and/or bluegrass, often for small, intimate audiences rather than large-scale ones. It’s modest music, and it’s music which springs not from glitzy high-flown impulses, but from simple ones.

But — maybe surprisingly — it’s not always in English. I’ll have more to say about the “international Americana” genre in my next Deep Roots article; in the meantime, I’ve been spending some time exploring some very interesting and to me wholly unfamiliar niches of American-but-not-American music in general.

Pistolera, strictly speaking, was not an Americana-with-an-a-on-the-end band; the name certainly didn’t sound like a typical one. When the band was active, until a few years ago, it was described by at least one source as “Mexamerican,” and I guess that was reasonable enough, at least superficially. The lead vocalist and songwriter, Sandra Lilia Velasquez grew up in a Mexican-American household in San Diego; her lyrics with Pistolera were unapologetically in Spanish; the band’s instrumentation (drums, upright bass, accordion, soft percussion) said Mexico with each note. But they were based in Brooklyn, New York. And they were ultimately (and apparently by design) hard to classify. As Velasquez told Rolling Stone Mexico (as quoted by Mother Jones), “People think that if you are born in the United States you should play rock and if you are born in Mexico you should play banda. I was born on the border. I play both.”

More about Pistolera and Velasquez, below. In the meantime, here’s Pistolera, with their evidently final (2011) release, El Desierto Y La Ciudad.

Pistolera: 'El Desierto Y La Ciudad'

Since Pistolera stopped performing and recording, Sandra Lilia Velasquez has branched off more or less on her own. Her main recent project, called “SLV” for obvious reasons, released its first album two years ago. As with Pistolera, SLV has resisted — flat-out defied — categorization. The single whose video appears below was described, on its release, as “Rotoscope-esque visuals meet bouncy synthpop”; as with “Mexamerican” for Pistolera, if you rely on that single verbal description to capture what the SLV album, This Kind, was all about, you’d be in for some honest-to-gods surprises. (You can stream This Kind here, at New Noise Magazine.) Here’s an excerpt from an NPR report at the time; the context is an interview by Rachel Martin (NPR Weekend Edition host) with Felix Contreras (host of the networks Alt Latino show):

MARTIN: …I need an alternative music fix. What you got?

CONTRERAS: OK. All right. Let’s go back to Latin Alternative but this time with a slight, slight pop sheen. SLV is Sandra Lilia Velasquez. Now for the long time she headed a Mexican folk band with an edge [JES: see? impossible to pigeonhole!] called Pistolera out of Brooklyn. Now she’s released two albums on [her] own. She’s got a great new album out. She’s written and produced the album with her bandmate, a guy named Sean Dixon. And it’s a wonderful collection of love songs with a band that shares her musical vision. It’s so perfectly executed. It’s so perfectly played. This is a track called “Fire Eyes.”

(SOUNDBITE OF SLV SONG, “FIRE EYES”)

SLV: I will melt you with fire and I, I, all the things you want to be. I won’t even have to say them to you, to you.

MARTIN: She has a lovely voice.

CONTRERAS: Doesn’t she?

MARTIN: Yeah.

CONTRERAS: And what she did was move from the Pistolera, from the Mexican folk which she sings in Spanish and did an all English album with a lot of different electronic layers and textures. You know, she’s not necessarily playing any Latin rhythms or any Mexican rhythms or anything. But it is her expression. Right? And for me it falls within the whole concept of Latin alternative because she’s making this music and trying to establish her identity within this contemporary sound.

Here’s “Heartbreaker,” from SLV’s This Kind debut:

Finally, if — as I am — you’re now interested enough in Velasquez’s creative arc to seek out more of her footsteps along the way, you might also check out her “kindie” group, Moona Luna. From that project’s “Bio” page:

Moona Luna delivered something fresh in its sophomore album,Vamos, Let’s Go! (2013). Songwriter and bandleader, Sandra Velasquez, found inspiration in American pop hits of the 50’s and 60’s, and staying true to her bilingual mission, crafted Spanish and English lyrics for each song. Moona Luna has performed all over the country — from the National Mall in Washington D.C. to Madison Square Park in New York City. Their third studio album celebrates their Latin roots and draws on broader musical influences from the African Diaspora. The album’s ten upbeat songs chronicle a family bus adventure through South America. P A N O R A M A was released on January 29, 2016 and won a Parents’ Choice Award.

Here’s a taste — the video for the album’s title track:

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Midweek Music Break: Midday Swim, “Hold On Tight”

I know almost nothing about this song, and am not sure I’ve heard of the band. For what it’s worth, though, here’s what Midday Stream themselves say about it in the publicity release:

We’ve just released a video for “Hold On Tight” — the heart of our upcoming EP Climbing Out of Caves.

The surrealist-fantasy feel of the video came from the director, Pedja Milosavlijevic, and our mutual admiration of films like “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” “Pulp Fiction,” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” as well as the general work of directors such as David Lynch, Wes Anderson, Emir Kusturica and some classic Spielberg…

When writing this song we made an effort to capture the spirit of childhood — a time when one’s imagination can run wild. Through a child’s eyes the world looks like magic and the song suggests that even now we should try to recapture that sense of youthful wonderment. There is a spirit of perseverance both in the instrumentation and the lyrics that we also wanted to reflect in the music video.

Those are some pretty good values to work toward!

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RAMH@9: The Music Break Mix

'Blown Hat Dance,' by John Fraissinet on Flickr

[Image: “Blown Hat Dance,” by John Fraissinet (found on Flickr, and used here under a Creative Commons license — thank you!). I love that the subject’s pursuit is a solitary one; to the extent that any of the bystanders notice him at all, they seem amused more than concerned, eager to join in, or anything else. When you chase your hat long enough, you get used to it: that’s just the way things go.]

This year’s anniversary post — if all goes well — will appear on Wednesday, April 19, rather than Thursday (i.e., the actual anniversary). If so, it will neatly confirm this year’s anniversary theme: that Wednesdays (and weekends), in particular, deserve some kind of musical interlude. Each song in the mix below was featured, at least peripherally, in a post for the “Midweek/Weekend Music Break” category, sometime in the last nine years.

All right, if you really want to get technical, the earliest selection below dates back only to February, 2011. But since the very first such post didn’t appear until January of that year, I figure I’m due a pass on the fact-checking.

As usual, each link in the track listing here takes you to the corresponding RAMH post. (Some of those posts featured numerous other songs, as well. You can tell which, probably, by hovering over the track title — you’ll see a little pop-up label showing the post‘s title. If the post title names this specific song, then that song is (always? most often?) the only one covered.) To actually play the mix, scroll down a bit further on the page for the audio-player device.

Track Title Artist Time
1 Steel Rail Blues Gordon Lightfoot 02:49
2 Lead Man Holler Harry Belafonte 04:13
3 Chuck E’s in Love Rickie Lee Jones 03:29
4 Easier Said Than Done The Essex 02:11
5 Take Me to the Pilot Elton John 03:46
6 Froggy Bottom ‘Mary Lou Williams’ (Geri Allen) 06:20
7 Black Magic Woman Santana 03:15
8 Old Paint Linda Ronstadt 03:04
9 Lyin’ Eyes The Eagles 06:23
10 Down by the Sally Gardens Loreena McKennitt 05:39
11 Fistful of Rain Warren Zevon 05:18
12 Once in a Lifetime Big Daddy 03:42
13 Un coin à nous Angela Easterling 04:34
14 The Only Thing Worth Fighting For Lera Lynn 03:16
15 Bandit Queen Sarah Beatty 03:20
16 Poor Side of Town Johnny Rivers 03:05
17 The Skye Boat Song Bear McCreary/Raya Yarbrough 01:36
18 Shine On Shook Twins 03:52

 

This year, the little audio-player whatsit lets you download each track as it’s playing — or at least as it’s selected. See the little “Download” button at the top left? There you go. (You can also pop out the playlist into its own window, if you don’t want to linger on the post.) The total length of this year’s mix is about 70 minutes: a CD’s worth. Either way, you can find this year’s version of my random anniversary thoughts below the fold.

Finally, for the record, here’s the list of links to earlier anniversary posts, most of which included playlists of their own. (As indicated, I did no playlist in 2009-10, nor in 2012.) One of these days I’ll combine them all into a single one; shuffled, especially, they really do make for an eminently listenable mix… although, looking back on them now, maybe my first priority should be replacing all the outdated audio players with the one I’m using nowadays. Ha.

As always, implicit in every post here is my gratitude for your visit. Thank you!

RAMH@9: The Music Break Mix

[Read more…]

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Weekend Music Break: Sarah Beatty, “Bandit Queen (Acoustic)”

Sarah Beatty, in performance

[Image: Sarah Beatty, onstage during an unidentified performance.]

Like writing (especially fiction), music  (especially rock/pop) seems to resist categorization more often than it accepts it. The term “genre” suits the purposes of marketers and distributors at least as much as those of performers and audiences: How do we pitch the products in Category X, using what language, images, and metaphors? How much shelf or disk space, or how much bandwidth will we need to display our Category-X holdings? How much money should we set aside to promote a Category X artist, versus one in Category Y — what will customers pay? And so on.

The artists themselves often try to duck the question (making liberal use of the slash character, as in “punk/power-pop/postmodern,” or claiming a revolutionary fervor the work may or may not deserve, like “a genre-busting novel”); sometimes, they answer it apparently head-on, but in a way which allows the audience to cast its own hopes or disregard on the work (“I write mainstream fiction,” or “I’m a singer-songwriter”).

All of which is to say: my sympathies are heartily extended to Sarah Beatty, her record label, and her management. In various places around the Interwebs I’ve found terms like these to describe her: “singer/songwriter,” “folk,” “old fashioned folk/country blues,” “blues, jazz, country, and soulful styled roots music”… And really, I have no idea what to call her, either. Maybe the best clue about what to expect appeared in a 2012 interview at the 100 Mile Microphone blog. The interviewer asks for an explanation of her first album’s title, Black Gramophone, since it contains no such song or other reference:

[SB] I thought about using a song title, or just my name, but the words ‘Black Gramophone’ just came to me one day, and made sense. Gramophones have this long musical history—RCA, the Grammies—but for me, my music is inspired by old styles. There’s a certain gravitas to my songs, and black represents that, visually.

[100MM] But it’s not funeral black—it’s little black dress black!

[SB] Oh! Thank you! Yes, it’s not meant to be dour. However, there’s a seriousness about it.

If you read between the lines here, you’ll see why this exchange appealed to me: she thinks about her work, and she knows how to use language, and she welcomes light and dark in equal measure.

These traits are all borne out in the debut single from her new album, both called Bandit Queen. While the album’s SoundCloud page, not yet publicly available, self-identifies using a lot of the same terms from the above list (folk, Americana, jazz, blues, etc.), it also includes a new one: folklore.

Belle StarrWhatever other songs on the album might deserve that label, “Bandit Queen” itself, oh yeah: folklore. It’s based on the story — “colorful,” to say the least — of the 19th-century “queen of the outlaws,” Belle Starr. (That’s her to the left, in a photo which Beatty considered using for the album’s art.) More than one party pooper has taken pains — sometimes exhaustive ones — to, er, shoot holes in Starr’s story as it’s popularly come down to us. But listen: folklore, okay? Boiled down, the shape of that story goes something as follows:

Old-West woman of some years — and a checkered domestic life — declines to go quietly into any goddam good night, thank you very much. Instead, she takes up bank robbery, horse-stealing, gunplay, murder, and general cussed criminal orneriness, and dies as she’d lived: violently and disreputably.

I mean, consider: Starr’s daughter became a madam in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Could there be a more perfect little biographical detail for such a creature as a “queen of the outlaws”?

Beatty’s lyrics here are cast in Starr’s own imagined voice. A sampling (the end of the first verse plus the chorus):

I’m a well dressed, fast talking, educated woman, with 40 dead men in sight.

I’m the baddest bandit queen, you did ever see,
I am Myra Maybelle Shirley Starr, hotter than top-rail kerosene.
I’m the baddest bandit queen, you ever did see.

Every detail in these words strikes me as perfectly balanced. But presented in the context of the kicking, take-no-prisoners music — well, I’m just knocked out by this song. That simple see at the end of the above excerpt? Somehow, Beatty’s voice manages to make of that an entire declamatory phrase, comprising what sounds like fifteen or twenty syllables.

She seems to like trying out various effects with her voice, pulling it down low and then rippling up and out: I wonder what would happen if I did this thing…? The voice goes up and down and slithers sideways; at one point, Beatty strongly reminds me of something which Aretha Franklin manages to pull off about 30-40 seconds into “Think.” Franklin’s voice itself: something of a Belle Star among a crowd of more everyday “strong woman” instruments, am I right? This is quite a stunt for Beatty, no matter how musically dissimilar the songs might be otherwise.

Over there at the right, the SoundCloud player for the acoustic version of the tune; listen for yourself. And keep your eyes (and ears) open for the upcoming February 3 release of the full Bandit Queen. What happens to it will ultimately be in the hands of all those confused marketing-and-distribution institutions I mentioned earlier, but it deserves a wide, hungry audience of music lovers.

Edit to add (2017-02-18): The Bandit Queen album, all thirteen songs, is exactly what I’d expected it to be: in short, more of the same kind of smart, idiosyncratic, generous songwork on display in the single’s acoustic version.

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Weekend Music Break: The Perfect English Weather, “Spirited Away”

The Perfect English Weather: cover of 'Isobar Blues' albumThe Perfect English Weather” may be a perfect English band name. Of course it makes reference to allegedly common knowledge about the English climate. But it also doesn’t take itself too seriously, opting for wryness over depression — especially when combined with the title and cover of their first album, Isobar Blues. (On this side of the Atlantic, you might achieve similar effects by naming your new band “The Uneventful American Presidential Election.”)

While you may not — probably have not — heard of TPEW specifically, if you’ve been following English pop music for a while you might recognize the name of the “real” band which shares the same two group members, Simon and Molly Pickles: The Popguns. Specifically, says the capsule bio on TPEW’s Facebook page:

The Perfect English Weather are Wendy & Simon Pickles, a duo from Brighton taking time out from The Popguns to tell the usual tales of soggy café chess games, conversations with cats and weekend trips to cancelled Morrissey shows.

Of the Popguns themselves, Wikipedia says, they “played a part in the British jangle pop scene.” And if you, like I, furrowed your brow quizzically at the term “jangle pop,” the ‘pedia will help you out there, too:

Jangle pop is a subgenre of rock music with its origins in the 1960s which features trebly, arpeggiated picking (typically on chiming electric twelve-string guitars or 6 string guitars, often employing a capo and chord inversions), together with straightforward song structures. The Beatles and The Byrds are commonly credited with launching the popularity of the “jangly” sound that defined the genre.

The term “jangle pop” itself emerged as part of the genre’s resurgence the early to mid-1980s that “marked a return to the chiming or jangly guitars and pop melodies of the ’60s”, and was epitomised by bands such as The Smiths. Between 1983 and 1987, the description “jangle pop” was, in the US, used to describe bands like R.E.M., Let’s Active and Tom Petty as well as a subgenre called “Paisley Underground”, which incorporated psychedelic influences.

(The article later references The Who, The Beach Boys, The Hollies, Paul Revere & the Raiders, and Simon and Garfunkel. The common sound of such bands, reportedly, comes from their use of Rickenbacker twelve-string guitars. I don’t know enough about music to say whether that’s true. But in general, seeing them all lumped together like that does help me grasp the notion of something that might conceivably be called “jangle pop.”)

So what of this specific track from TPEW’s debut album? Here’s an excerpt from an interview with Linear Tracking Live!:

LTL: …We have lost a great many artists this year. Is this about a specific musician or the collective loss of so many talented people?

Simon: During the year which this album was written I was working next to a beautiful big park in Brighton where I’d spend lunchtimes listening to music on my ‘phones whilst sitting on park benches and drifting off to those places that music takes you. It was more the fact that music and ideas live on long beyond their moment of creation that inspired the “spirited away” theme, but obviously the death of Bowie was such a big event around that time, and it’s easy to imagine him as the song’s subject. Having said that, my own bizarre fantasy for the song was around the possible passing of Steven Patrick [i.e., Morrissey] and how that could feel for those of us for whom he loomed so large. Then the actual title probably came from my son’s Studio Ghibli film collection. But I usually say that songs are often not about things, they are inspired by them and become something else. Then the meaning is in the listening, not the writing.

Sounds like the perfect way to close off 2016’s unholy catalogue of pop-culture deaths*, eh? Here’s “Spirited Away,” then, from Isobar Blues.

from 'Isobar Blues'

[Lyrics]

_______________

* Nope: apparently not just an urban legend.

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Midweek Music Break: I Moderni, “Carol of the Bells”

[Video: “Carol of the Bells,” by I Moderni]

I Moderni — Italian for “The Modern” — was at the time they made this video an a-capella quartet who placed second in the fifth (2011) season of the Italian X-Factor series. (They’re now a trio.) I’m crippled in my search to learn much about them: every single thing I’ve found on the Web about them, so far, is in Italian. Of course I can use Google Chrome to automatically translate, but it’s tough going…

In any event, here’s their decidedly unconventional video take on this familiar onomatopoeic Christmas carol. The song has always struck me as almost obsessive, hypnotically so; it has “lyrics,” but after you’ve listened to or read even a few stanzas it’s hard not to think, like, It doesn’t matter what the words say. (Poe’s ode to bells can do the same number on you. Clearly, there’s something about bells…) In I Moderni’s video reading, the words go even further — into territory like this:

Let yourself to be taken over by the music, your attention to the the world will wander. This will allow the real truths of the world to come out and play, unobserved, unbound by the familiar, animated not by human preconceptions but by their absence.

I really like this. It’s not quite horror; these aren’t “Chucky”-type dolls. But it sure as hell doesn’t square with “reality,” whatever that is. The right word might be eldritch.

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Midweek Music Break: Kelsie Saison, ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’

Kelsie SaisonWhen I’m putting together my annual list of Christmas music here, I draw most inspiration (of course) from my existing music collection. But I also try to keep my eyes open for other, newer sources; many music-marketing sites, for instance, offer Christmas music free or for a nominal charge, and these downloads often come from from interesting newcomers. That’s how I came across Kelsie Saison this year: at the NoiseTrade site for musicians and authors hoping to find an audience.

There’s not a whole lot of information online about Saison. She is, or recently was, a student at Belmont University, and she currently lives, or used to live, in Nashville (where Belmont’s located). The image posted here is the one featured almost exclusively on other sites. Her recordings are available from other sites as well as NoiseTrade — at SoundCloud, for instance. She’s got a Facebook page, and a Twitter account (at least, I think it’s hers)…

but the music — three EPs of Christmas music — all seems to have come out in 2013. That’s also when her last Facebook post appeared; her Twitter feed is more active, after a fashion, but even there she hasn’t posted anything for months.

Given the untimeliness of the little information I could find, I don’t know if we’ll ever get to hear more from her. But in the meantime, we’ve got the three EPs. “Just” Christmas tunes, as I said — with a twist: she plays the piano and sings, and it’s jazz: lightly swinging, slightly old-fashioned, easy-listening jazz.

Her voice naturally suggests, as her Facebook page says, that she’s fond of Ella Fitzgerald, Norah Jones, Diana Krall, Michael Buble, and Frank Sinatra. In today’s little gem, in particular, she seems to be channeling Fitzgerald: the song is a little over four minutes long, but she dispenses with the lyrics after the first ninety seconds or so. Thereafter, she scats through all but the last seconds of the remainder.

Scat singing is an interesting little back corner of music history. No one really knows where it came from, although theories abound. Louis Armstrong claimed to have invented it himself in 1926:

According to Armstrong, when he was recording “Heebie Jeebies,” soon to be a national bestseller, with his band The Hot Five, his music fell to the ground. Not knowing the lyrics to the song, he invented a gibberish melody to fill time, expecting the cut to be thrown out in the end, but that take of the song was the one released.

(Wikipedia)

Armstrong’s claim, like pretty much anyone else’s with a theory, almost certainly relies more on legend and “common sense” than on actual historic fact. Wherever it came from, scat just blends the concept of vocals with that of instrumentals: it turns the human voice into a purely auditory device. In that way, it extends the voice — a particularly potent technique, I think, when used by someone who plays an instrument in addition to singing. Says Barry Keith Grant in Representing Jazz, edited by Krin Gabbard:

Scatting, unlike vocalese, does not taint the music with the impurity of denotation… Just as one musician explained the title of Charlie Parker’s “Klacktoveedsedsteen” by declaring “It’s a sound, man. A sound,” so scat singing, in avoiding the use of words, is seen to strive for the abstraction, the purity, of the music itself.

By the standard expressed there, I think Kelsie Saison’s scatting through the second half of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas!” (she uses an exclamation point there) succeeds very well. I love the way it sounds.

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Weekend Music Break: Gershwin for an Early-November Sunday Afternoon

Gershwin - signature/inscriptionYou can be forgiven for feeling more than a little stressed out today, especially if you’re in the US and if (as is true for this post, and its author) today is the first Sunday in November, 2016 — or for that matter, if you’re elsewhere and just watching us a bit nervously.

Under the circumstances, without further comment, herewith a bit over an hour’s worth of easy-going music to accompany your newspaper-reading, blogging, airport-lounge-waiting, or what-have-you…

[Like that little signature/inscription over there on the right? You might like to see a brief analysis of it from Suzanne Shapiro, a “court-qualified graphologist whose thirty-five years of experience have led her to some unique cases, from analyzing graffiti for a Los Angeles Charter School to Bernard Madoff’s signature and most recently, Prince William and Catherine’s for ‘The Daily Beast.'” Just click on the image to open the analysis in a new window/tab.]

Gershwin Sunday

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Midweek Music Break: Jack White and Margo Price, “I’m Lonely (But I Ain’t That Lonely Yet)”

Jack WhiteThe White Stripes’ music never appealed to me. And I haven’t followed Jack White’s career much otherwise. But he keeps popping up on my radar anyhow, and in the back of my mind I’m Margo Pricepretty sure my inattention is hurting me more than him. My disregard (so to speak) stems almost entirely from media classification of the Stripes’ music; garage-rock is usually the label applied. And I’ve just never taken to other garage-rock performers, and I think, y’know, Why would the White Stripes be any different?

Wikipedia‘s classification of the White Stripes cites not only garage rock, but blues rock, alternative rock, punk blues, post-punk revival, and garage punk as the duo’s genre. I can’t even wrap my head around some of those genres.

But White himself is regularly said to be an aficionado and practitioner of old-time music: country, folk, straight blues… (Favorites of mine, all.) Furthermore, critics claim to hear those influences when discussing the White Stripes’ music.

So much for my critical acuity, eh?

White has appeared here at RAMH once before, as a featured performer (among Dylan, Levon Helm, Sheryl Crow, et al.) on the compilation/homage/archaeological-project of an album called The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams. Of course, Hank Williams’s own bona fides as an icon of Americana music — even from the mouths and instruments of rock, pop, and (yes) garage-rock icons — don’t need any evidence from this quarter. And now there’s very recent evidence that I’m missing a good bet in continuing to ignore Jack White: his appearance a few nights ago on Prairie Home Companion: dueting with country-music star Margo Price.

But consider that duet further: the song they performed, and which (of course) I’d never heard, comes from the White Stripes’ 2005 album Get Behind Me Satan.

As rendered by White, Price, and their backing musicians, it’s about non-garage-rock as one can imagine, right down to the mandolin, fiddle, and bass accompaniment. Even the soul of the song is Americana: a broken heart, family relationships (even hinting, ever-so-carefully, at incest), a touch of wistful wry humor…

Just as a sanity check, I spent several hours’ research looking into others’ reactions to the song, not just as performed on PHC but from its first appearance on the Stripes album. Probably ninety per cent of the results returned were (unsurprisingly) simple lyrics, or MP3 downloads, with no discussion of the song itself; most of the others were just casual mentions (especially of the PHC performance). But here’s a selection of the rest, in no particular order:

  • Reddit: discussion of the song and this specific performance (“Meet Your Theme Song…”)
  • The New Yorker: “The Gift & the Curse: Jack White’s Vexing Brilliance” (“…surely written by Hank Williams… White delivers the kind of compressed and restrained pain that country songwriters spend years trying to perfect”)
  • NME review: “The White Stripes: Get Behind Me Satan” (“a rousing waltz which… Loretta Lynn would have no problem singing”)
  • Slant Magazine: (ditto) (“steeped in heartbroken ‘woe is me’ wordplay but delivered with a solemn sincerity that tells you that Jack ain’t playin'”)
  • The Fader: “The White Stripes Want Truth, Romance and Beauty for a Fallen America” (“a straightforward country-soul-‘n’-gospel ballad on the piano, and Jack almost whispers the third verse”)
  • Baeble Music Blog: Time Capsule, on “The White Stripes ‘Get Behind Me Satan'” (“a piano-heavy, bluesy, stubborn lament, lacking a home yet too proud to look for one”)
  • Google Books: Jack White: How He Built an Empire From the Blues (by Nick Hasted) (“…straightforwardly comic. But the last verse’s barely audible murmur ends with a near-suicide in a river”)

And here, finally, is the video of White’s and Price’s performance on Prairie Home Companion (link to the full lyrics below):

[Video courtesy of Prairie Home Companion; lyrics here.]

And finally, if you’d like, you can listen to the White Stripes’ own version of “I’m Lonely (But I Ain’t That Lonely Yet”) here.

______________________________

Addendum: I should also mention the Dwight Yoakam song, “Ain’t That Lonely Yet.” [Video with lyrics here.] It appeared on Yoakam’s 1993 album This Time, and Yoakam’s performance won a Grammy as Best Male Country Vocal Performance. So far, I haven’t seen any evidence that the two songs are related (aside from their titles and the basic message — the tones are very different); no one else seems to have made the possible connection. However, I have found evidence that the two songs can be confused. (Ha.)

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