iPod Shuffle May 2016

  • Keep It To Yourself : Amy Rigby
  • Pennies from Heaven : Billie Holiday
  • Cocaine Blues : Rambling Jack Elliott
  • Blue Spirit Blues : Bessie Smith
  • Let’s Fall in Love : Spike Robinson & George Masso
  • Stepping Back In Time : Liz Simcock
  • Jennifer Lawrence : Girlboy
  • The Times You’ve Come : Jackson Browne
  • Falling In Love Again : Billie Holiday
  • Anthropology : Art Pepper

A pretty good shakedown, I think, beginning with one of several very fine songs written and recorded by Amy Rigby, comparatively little-known in this country and last heard of living in the Hudson Valley with Reckless Eric. In a small attempt to rectify this, here’s some basic info from her web site …

Amy Rigby is a songwriter, musician and performer best known for her album Diary Of A Mod Housewife and Little Steven’s Underground Garage favorite track “Dancing With Joey Ramone”. She was part of the late 70’s downtown NYC no wave nightspot Tier 3 gang and formed bands the Stare Kits, Last Roundup and The Shams before beginning her solo career. For the last twenty years she has toured the US, Canada, UK and Europe, appearing on Fresh Air with Terry Gross, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, World Cafe, Whad’Ya Know, All Things Considered, BBC Radio 6 Music’s Marc Riley Show and Mountain Stage.

and here’s Amy doing the song live …

Two Billie Holiday tracks have to be better than one. Pennies was recorded in 1936 with a Teddy Wilson group including Benny Goodman on clarinet and Ben Webster on tenor, and Falling in 1940 with Sonny White on piano and Roy Eldridge on trumpet.

The Bessie Smith track, one of her best, I think, was recorded in 1929 with James P. Johnson on piano. There are quite a few mentions of Bessie in August Wilson’s play, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, currently at the National Theatre. Rainey was happy to be known as the Mother of the Blues, as opposed to her only significant rival, Bessie Smith, who claimed the title Empress off the Blues. As Paul Oliver and Giles Oakley point out in their essays in the  NT programme, the younger and more glamorous Bessie was more appreciated in Chicago and the cities of the North, to which many  black Americans had migrated in the early years of the twentieth century, whereas Rainey retained the bulk of her following in the more traditionally minded South.

What else? Girlboy are Hayley Hill & Matthew Blake, an electrohop (their description) duo from San Diego and their sexy and slightly subversive song in praise of the many charms of actress Jennifer Lawrence has rarely been out of my various self-selected playlists since I first heard it played by Tom Robinson on Radio 6 Music. [Is it still called that?] Catchy as all-get-out.

The Art Pepper track I’m especially fond of as it has Pepper playing clarinet, an instrument  on which he has a beautiful tone but on which he comparatively rarely recorded. I was thinking about Art Pepper recently when watching the first series of Bosch, in which Titus Welliver plays Michael Connelly’s LA police detective Harry Bosch; it’s clear from the novels that Connelly is a big Pepper fan and I was a little disappointed that the soundtrack, even in the scenes when Bosch is alone in his apartment, was devoid not just of any Pepper but anything distinctively jazz-like, but then, in the final episode, there’s a sequence in which Bosch’s teenage daughter comes to visit and he puts a Pepper track on the stereo – Patricia, which Pepper wrote for the daughter that he, like Bosch – though for different reasons – saw all too little of.

 

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iPod Shuffle, March 2016

Okay, on this blisteringly cold but sunny morning on Hampstead Heath, this is what my iPod delivered.

  1. I Want You : Bob Dylan from Blonde on Blonde
  2. Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me : Mose Allison from M0se Allison Sings & Plays
  3. You’re Gonna Quit Me : Bob Dylan from Good As I Been to You
  4. Cold Hearts/Closed Minds : Nanci Griffith from Lone Star State of Mind
  5. Hospital Food : Eels from Electro-Shock Blues
  6. I’m Old Fashioned : Ella Fitzgerald from Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Jerome Kern Songbook
  7. Blues for Humph : Humphrey Lyttelton Band with Pat Halcox from Remembering Pat Halcox
  8. Baby Sister Blues : Johnny Shines from Standing at the Crossroads
  9. Dancing Dave : Henry Allen & His Orchestra from Swing Out
  10. Trinkle Tinkle : Thelonious Monk from Thelonious Monk Trio
  11. Reputation : Dusty Springfield from Goin’ Back
  12. Goodbye : Art Pepper from Unreleased Art Vol. III

The first track here is one of a very few I can remember hearing for the very first time – the place and the occasion, if not the precise date. The late 60s it would have been, several years after the album was first released, and I’d driven a minibus full of secondary school students up to London from Andover, where I was teaching, to the Roundhouse to see Nicol Williamson’s Hamlet, with Marianne Faithful as Ophelia. I’d promised the students that we would stop off, briefly, in Carnaby Street on the way home. And when I stepped into one of the then highly fashionable clothing stores they were playing I Want You at full, glorious volume. Why had I never heard it till then?

What else is especially interesting here? The Lyttelton track is a curiosity, Humph being laid low with some ailment or other and unable to make to trip to Prague and Pat Halcox, long time trumpeter with the Chris Barber Band, stepping in. It’s a longish track, recorded live, and, in addition to Halcox’s strong lead, features Malcolm Everson on baritone sax.

Johnny Shines has been one of my favourite blues singers ever since hearing the recordings he made for J.O.B. in 1953, his voice strongly reminiscent of Howling Wolf, his bottleneck guitar playing recalling his other main influence, Robert Johnson. After these recordings, he more or less gave up music, working in construction until, like many others, he was rediscovered in the blues revival of the mid-sixties, and began recording again, this time in a more contemporary Chicago style, working with musicians like Otis Spann and Big Walter Horton. This particular track comes from 1970 and finds him returning to the solo acoustic rural blues style of his earlier days.

And then, of course, there’s Dusty … sitting, perhaps incongruously, next to Art Pepper –but perhaps not. Two artists, two of many, whose particular demons laid them low too often, too soon.