JOURNALISTS GO ON RECORD
Norman Warwick shares recommendations
AllMuisc is an American online music database. It catalogues more than three million album entries and 30 million tracks, as well as information on musicians and bands. Initiated in 1991, the database was first made available on the Internet in 1994. AllMusic is owned by RhythmOne.
Critic, journalist, sometime musician, onetime actor, and full-time Midwesterner Mark Deming (right) was born in Jackson, MI, during a brief moment in the John F. Kennedy administration that James Ellroy failed to document in American Tabloid. In 1964, Mark’s older brother Steve brought home a copy of “Wipe Out” by the Surfaris, and played it at full blast on the family stereo as young Mark was busy colouring in the next room. From this point on, Deming was a child obsessed, absorbing any arcane information he could uncover on the subject of pop music. He began foisting his opinions about music and film upon others via the printed page in high school. While attending Michigan State University (where he received a B.A. in Journalism, thereby proving that just about anyone can), he became entertainment editor of MSU’s daily student paper The State News, where he once elicited a death threat for writing that Journey was “just not any fun.” After graduating, Deming wrote for a number of publications, including the Lansing Capital Times, Detroit Metro Times, Chicago New City, American Garage, and Resonance, while supporting himself by assembling multi-part carbon forms, guarding the parking lot of a Taco Bell, and impersonating a Hostess Twinkie. In 1999, he became an editor and staff writer for All Media Guide, where he spreads his knowledge to the four corners of the globe through what some guy on TV calls “the power of the Internet.”
As an actor, Deming mumbled his way into a supporting role in Robert Altman‘s 1978 film A Wedding, and ended his screen career with a larger but significantly more embarrassing appearance in GORP, which he described as “quite possibly the worst comedy ever made.” In his mid-twenties, Deming’s lingering adolescent obsessions led him to join the first of several rock bands, namely, the Kokobutts. The vocalist later lent what one critic called his “nasal Midwestern twang” to recordings by the Lime Giants, Mark Lansing and his Board of Water & Light, and the Clutters.
While Deming’s objects of musical fascination tend to wax and wane, a so-called “desert island” list for him would doubtless include items by Elvis Costello And The Attractions and Willie Nelson. There would, almost certainly be some of John Coltran´s jazz lined up by the record player under the palm trees too. With Richard And Linda Thompson on his play-lists as well as Emmylou Harris, you might not be surprised to know that we admire his taste, enjoy his writing and for the most part agree with his views. Whenever we gather his thoughts on these pages in future we will also urge you to read more of his work at https://www.allmusic.com/
´Levon Helm and his musical partners in the Band made a career from mining the rich traditions of American music – blues, folk, country, jazz, gospel, rock & roll, and much more – and fashioning them into something that honoured its sources yet was recognizably its own thing´, Mark Deming wrote recently in a review for AllMusic.
Any mention of The Band (right) always grabs my attention. They perhaps illustrated, better than all the rest, what the term Americana was invented for. The best of their recordings were simply timeless, sounding as if they had taken hundreds of years just to drift by you and continue their journey on light years of travel.
As a member of the Staple Singers, Mavis was first and foremost a gospel singer, but her music was also steeped in blues, R&B, and funk, and she discovered something strong, sustaining, and life-affirming in any song that caught her eye. The Band featured the Staple Singers in their 1978 film The Last Waltz, accompanying them on a sublime performance of “The Weight,” and Helm would cross paths with Staples every once in a while in the years that followed. On June 3, 2011, Staples played a concert at Helm‘s studio and performance space in Woodstock, New York, with Helm and his band joining Staples and her musicians for the show. It would be the last time they performed together, with cancer finally claiming Helm after a long battle in April 2012, and thankfully the recording equipment at his studio was running as they joined together in song. Carry Me Home is a live album drawn from that June 2011 performance, and it’s an excellent document of the simple, powerfully eloquent magic that happens when Mavis Staples steps before a vocal mike and lets her spirit elevate all around her. Helm‘s vocals are only very occasionally audible on these tapes, with cancer reducing his proud Arkansas tenor to a rasp, but the joyous, lively shuffle of his drumming gives the performances an audible boost throughout, and the addition of Helm‘s guitars and horn section turns this into a Sunday service that threatens to turn into a party at any moment. When Staples and her harmony vocalists get happy on these songs, they do so in the service of a message that only makes the music all the more effective, and turning the elation of her performances into something even more special. Mavis Staples and Levon Helm were two artists who were also friends and admirers, and they knew how to bring out the best in one another, and that’s exactly what they do on Carry Me Home, and it’s a thing of beauty to witness.
The track listing certainly makes interesting reading. There are the to-be-expected well known songs like The Weight that The Band so brilliantly made actually sound to be about half past dead´, and the gospel favourite You Gotta Serve Somebody. There are twelve tracks in all, including This is My Country, Trouble In My Mind, and Farther Along ( which I also remember as being a title track on a Byrds album). There is Hand Writing On The Wall and I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel, Move Along Train and This May Be The Last Time, (another familiar title). The theme of travelling through this life, or perhaps of being carried home, is explored in songs like When I Go Away, Wide River To Cross and You Got To Move. Mavis Staploes (left) is on fine form !
photo 6 Books I have read about Levon Helm (right) and Robbie Robertson suggest The Band were as fractious as any other band, no matter how sublime their collective or individual playing. The Staple Singers no doubt had family ups and down too, although their performances always seemed rapturously happy.
There is much to enjoy on this unexpected pairing. So, you have the details and we have a recommendation, so what´s it gonna take to convince you to buy a copy? Sorry, that was just a segue-way into another review, written by Stephen Thomas Erlewine, of What´s it Gonna Take by Van Morrison.
Stephen Thomas Erlewine (left) attended the University of Michigan, where he majored in English. While he was a student, he worked at the student radio station, WCBN FM 88.3, as well as the student-run newspaper, The Michigan Daily. At The Daily, Erlewine spent a year as music editor (1993-1994) and another year as general arts editor (1994-1995). During this time, he continued to be actively involved with All Music Guide, contributing written work to the database frequently. In the summer of 1994, he became a co-editor of the rock section of AMG, as well as the associate editor of the second edition of the company’s general record guide. The following year, he was an editor of The All Music Guide to Rock, to which he was also a major contributor. From there, he eventually worked his way up to the title of Senior Editor for AMG, writing thousands of record reviews in the process. In addition to being a member of Who Dat?, Erlewine is also a freelance writer and has written a handful of liner notes, including those for Pub Rock: Paving the Way for Punk.
Mr Erlewine´s records of choice would always be subject to last minute changes but would very likely have a core that would include music he never tires of hearing, such as Nick Lowe, Little Feat, Steely Dan, Frank Sinatra and Paul Simon.
With those five acts, and many others falling into the shaded area of a venn diagram of allmusic selections and sidetracks & detours selections you can be sure we will keep an eye on hios writing and regularly direct you to them when appropriate.
This latest Van Morrison release actually arrives hot on the heels of Latest Record Project, Vol. 1, the 2021 double album where, as Thomas Stephen Erlewine puts it, ´Van Morrison unleashed all of his frustrations at being locked down during the COVID-19 pandemic,
What’s It Gonna Take? finds the singer doubling down on all of his gripes. The shift in intensity is apparent from the artwork depicting a couple being controlled by the hand of an unseen puppet master, an image that crystallizes Morrison‘s belief that the government and other shadowy forces are conspiring to take away free will from the common man. Van believes himself to be among these little folks: as he sings on one of the record’s less politically charged songs, “I Ain’t No Celebrity,” he’s merely a working musician.
The fact that he was not able to work during the early months of the pandemic stoked Morrison‘s anger, and it shines brightly throughout What’s It Gonna Take?, seeming even more vivid because his vitriolic lyrics are married to jaunty R&B rhythms or slow, soulful grooves delivered with precision and enshrined in a clean production. There’s no ignoring Morrison‘s repeated references to Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, fake news, and mind control or his huffy denials that he’s a conspiracy theorist as they’re pushed right to the forefront. Plus, where he seemed merely cranky on Latest Record Project, Vol. 1, Morrison is filled with bile here, letting it bubble to the surface even on slow-burners like “Can’t Go On This Way.” By the end of the album, he points some of this anger inward, resulting in the relatively nuanced “Fear and Self-Loathing in Las Vegas” and “Pretending,” but that doesn’t change the general tenor of What’s It Gonna Take? The blend of anodyne R&B and anger makes for one of the odder albums in Van Morrison‘s body of work.
The track listing for What´s It Gonna Take runs to a total collection of fiteen of his own songs. Despite the title of track number 4 this is more than Fodder For The Masses, and is at times, as Erlewine suggests sometimes such as on the opening track as Dangerous, as Morrison at his best, and by track two he is already demanding What´s It Gonna Take? It seems He Can´t Go On This Way, though, because sometimes his bluster is Just All Blah Blah Blah. He sings a circle around the notion of fame with three songs, Stage Name, Not Seeking Approval and Pretending before saying I Ain´t No Celebrity. There is talk of a Nervous Breakdown and Money From America that might or might not have played a part in all this Damage And Recovery. There is hope in the title of Absolutely Positively The Most but we soon presented with evidence of paranoia in Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas.
On my first half a dozen plays of it, I´m beginning to think of itas an album with the symptoms of being bi-polar.
Nevertheless, Van Morrison is a favourite companion of mine whenever I am driving around on Lanzarote. When the sun is burning in the sky and ´the back of my neck is getting dirty and gritty´ with all the sand, there is no better sound than that of Van Morrison wrestling with the profundity of God and Time and The Cosmos and spittin´and cussin´ at his own inarticulate speech of the heart. He always sounds to me to be taking part in somew frustrating search for something (who knows what?) that he feels he might never find. Whenever he becomes ´warmíng to his search, though, he becomes less frenzied, if more didactic, He is man I´d like to have by side when the world is shouting at me and I think I´d enjoy his company in a dark, quite pub listening to him create order from disorder. Like he does in a song, like he does sometimes in the studio, and sometimes on stage in concert, because when Van Morrison creates that order that is, to those of us who follow him, as if we have finally seen the light !