By convenient circumstance, I recently caught Tony Jo White on a Sunday night at the Thunderbird Caf in Lawrenceville, a rapidly changing for the better part of Pittsburgh, Pa. In a small but sweet back room, White put on a low key show that shows both his voice and his ability to get in a groove and jam are still potent. His methods are easily understood, he comes out, looking vaguely like a long and lean version of Charlie Rich, when the Sliver Fox wore a similar kind of hat, and plays either spooky ballads or a bluesy, rumbling groove that runs for many verses and becomes a long jam. His hits (or “best known songs” if you prefer) , “Polk Salad Annie” which is probably most famous because of Elvis’ version (Tom Jones actually slays it as well) came off with the needed amount of snap to the choruses. And then there’s “Rainy Night in Georgia” a tune I always forget TJ wrote until he starts singing it or someone puts a Tony Jo record on. It’s a sweeping slow number whose chorus changes are really gorgeously bittersweet. The man has soul, there’s no doubt. And rock gigs like the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival gave him serious rock chops for awhile as well.
The Ugly American: stalking the streets of Paris’ Latin Quarter, tongue wagging, wrists dragging along the pavement like Quasimodo, desperately searching out record stores in which to spend my rapidly depreciating (Go!) Euros.
Berlin was a much smaller market yet there were some interesting music stores, headed by Mr. Dead & Mrs Free which sells only new vinyl. Nearby was Rock Steady Records (pictured above) which had a decent selection of used vintage vinyl. I hear the flea market by the Brandenburg Gate has a number of vinyl dealers but somehow I never made it there.
So call me a wild colonial boy, but while I found European record stores fun and alland being in huge Virgin megastores stuffed full of jazz and classical records made me long for the days when they were still in the U.S.one visit to Jerry’s Records in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania made me realize what that rock and roll immortal Chuck Berry said best “Anything you want, we got right here in the U.S.A.” Jerry’s is easily, I mean EASILY! one of the top five record stores here on Starship Earth. The man is a mensch, the store is a huge, rambling barn of a place, and my God does he have the product. No onesies at Jerry’s. You often have many different copies of a single title to choose from. Never, ever miss Jerry’s when you’re anywhere near Pittsburgh. Seriously, the place is as much a shrine to the vinyl LP as it is a store.
Seeing John Prine the other night on Governor’s Island with Stereophile's Stephen Mejias was a fairly profound experience, owing to Prine’s strange, elegiac tone. It may be that he wasn’t down with the venue (a windy island at night) or that he was simply tired (he looked it), but almost everything he sung, even the fun ones like, “Please Don’t Bury Me,” had an odd sadness clinging to it. I tried not to think about how Prine beat cancer back in 1998. The first time I saw him backstage after the cancer had been cut and radiated out of his throat, he cracked a smile and chirped, “Well Robert, this is what happens when you start smoking when you’re 14. What did I expect?” Thankfully his voice and his irascible disposition returned undiminished by the illness. He’s lost some tissue in his neck and his voice did indeed get a little growlier, but overall he was extremely lucky. I prefer to ascribe his lonely tone last Friday to the fact that he’s been singing some of those songs for 40 years and just decided to give them a different emotional bent in New York. Truly though I have never seen a Prine show that wasn’t laced with jokes, spot on wisecracks and sly references to the current world history. And never have I heard one of his signature songs “Donald and Lydia,” done so beautifully, its chorus lines turned into a near prayer:
“But dreaming just comes natural
Like the first breath from a baby,
Like sunshine feeding daisies,
Like the love hidden deep in your heart.”
It may be time to begin appending the words “The Great,” in front of the name of Wilco. At least that’s my unvarnished reaction to their headlining performance at the inaugural edition of their own Solid Sound Festival, held last weekend in North Adams Massachusetts. Where in the hell is North Adams you may ask, why across the Mohawk Trail is the answer. I once had a friend, upper crust Brahmin Bostonian he was, and his mother used to rhapsodize about “motoring along the Mohawk Trail. She must have been speaking about the end of the trail (otherwise known as Mass Highway 2), nearer to Boston because getting to N. Adams from Interstate 91 is an exercise in going up one side of a mountain (granted in Massachusetts mountains top out at like 900 feet above sea level so we’re not talking friggin’ K2 here), and down the other. It’s not a road for older ladies for whom cucumber sandwiches with the crusts left on is a big step.
When Sound + Vision splashed Tom Petty’s still remarkably vital mug across a recent cover it caught my attention. Inside, across 12 pages, they basically anointed his new record Mojo, as disc of the year. So Petty’s blues record, one that was a long time comin’, is the best album of 2010? No offense to Mike Mettler and Ken Richardson, both of whom I consider friends, but the whole thing seemed like a stretch to me.
One of the many musical sawhorses that I often put the spurs tobeing a pain the bass just comes with the territory I’m afraid7#151;is the whole bit about why labels who are all hurtin’ right now don’t spend more time digging in their vaults and hauling out treasure in the form of unreleased studio material and especially live shows. Well, the emerging empire that is Concord Records (proud owners of the catalogs of Telarc, Fantasy and now, Rounder Records), a label whose judgment I have questioned in the recent past (Stax Does the Beatles, WTF?), released a killer record earlier this summer that’s been finding its way back to my Musical Fidelity CD player as of late, Otis Redding, Live on Sunset Strip collects performances that didn’t make it onto the two previous albums, In Person at the Whisky a Go Go and Good To Me: Live at the Whiskey A Go Go Vol. 2, that came from a three night stand at the Whiskey in L.A. over Easter weekend 1966. While the set list of the three full sets on these two CDs contains some repetitions, it’s great to hear
First, it’s time for all good thoughts and good energies to be directed south, to Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville where Charlie Louvin, the great Charlie Louvin, is about to undergo the long and complicated operation needed to try and remove the stage 2 pancreatic cancer that he was unexpectedly diagnosed with last week. For those who don’t know, Charlie, 83, was once half of the Louvin Brothers, who were and basically still are the greatest duo act in the history of country music. Charlie has experienced something of a late career comeback in recent years thanks to Josh Rosenthal and his Tompkins Square record label. His brother Ira, (who Charlie calls EYE-ree), the man responsible for the tire fire on the cover of the duo’s most famous record, 1959’s Satan is Real was a hellion of the first order and was killed by a drunken driver in 1965. Charlie, not surprisingly, has been nearly the opposite and is one of the sweetest guys it’s been my pleasure to meet. I particularly remember one night at the Rodeo Bar in NYC where the man had an endless store of really silly sex jokes. He’s says he expects to be back onstage a month after his surgery so we’ll see. Despite his health, he’s gonna be a trooper and play a previously scheduled Opry gig this Saturday which because of the recent floods is back in the Ryman Auditorium, which seems very fitting for this Charlie appearance. He goes on at 8:45 PM CDT. Listen at www.opry.com
One of the weirder NYC boozing trends as of late is the faux speakeasy. Yes, that would be a room, usually subterranean, that for some unknown reasonperhaps every other cheeseball concept has been exhaustedtries to recapture some of those long lost flavors of the salad days of that joyous time in American history called Prohibition. You remember that grand social experiment perpetrated by the far right of American society that like all right wing idiocies, ignored reality and plowed ahead regardless of the damage it might have caused. Instead of stopping alcoholism, it spread the making and distribution of booze into the hands of criminals who got fabulously rich and turned horribly violent. Give those regressive social engineering types credit though; they sure know a good idea when they see one.