The Genius of Miles

I listened to sides 3/4 of Miles Davis‘ ‘Bitches Brew’ on the way home from work today. Windows down, volume way up… it had been a while since I took a listen to this groundbreaking album, and I felt compelled to share a tune for the uninitiated…

…the stellar “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down,” echoes the influence of Jimi Hendrix; with its chuck-and-slip chords and lead figures and Davis playing a ghostly melody through the shimmering funkiness of the rhythm section, it literally dances and becomes increasingly more chaotic until about nine minutes in, where it falls apart. Yet one doesn’t know it until near the end, when it simmers down into smoke-and-ice fog once more. – review from All Music

Miles Davis: Miles Runs the Voodoo Down (wma) – From: Bitches Brew, 1970.

Old School 87

G-Unit, The Game, Lil Jon, Lil Dik-Dik, blah blah. I don’t know, I guess I’m getting old, but give me the pioneers of hip hop any day over those thugs. Today I take you back to the old school to join KRS-One and Scott LaRock in the South Bronx, the South South Bronx. Boogie Down Productions released ‘Criminal Minded’ in 1987, a great year for the rap pioneers: Eric B. and Rakim’s ‘Paid in Full’ and Public Enemy’s debut, ‘Yo! Bum Rush the Show’ hit the streets (including the mean streets of Wind Point on the outskirts of Racine, Wisconsin, byotch). I was rollin’ in my mom’s Buick Park Avenue back in those days, 17 years of hard living coarsing through my veins…

Boogie Down Productions: South Bronx (mp3)
From ‘Criminal Minded.

A Song about War

photo of Marah @ Long Wongs, Tempe, AZ – August 2000, 280 degrees F

OK, so I keep coming back to Marah. Yeah, well, I love ’em… their second album, ‘Kids in Philly’, includes a poignant, powerful, and very well-written tune from the perspective of a Vietnam veteran. The song is “Round Eye Blues”, and it’s full of intense imagery and musical references of the day:

The chorus:
“Take the hits boys take the hits
don’t smoke your bible and lose your wits
’cause the sky is filled with shrapnel,
& your eyes are filled with tears.
Hold your breath boys hold your breath,
finger your trigger and welcome death
’cause the choppers’ filled with your gutshot friends
& your hearts are filled with fear.”

From the opening cadence of the drums to the outro to the tune of the Ronette’s “Be My Baby”, this song’ll grab you by the shirt collar and take you on a journey…

Marah – Round Eye Blues (mp3)

Buy Kids in Philly on Amazon.

I’ll kiss you for each leaf on every tree

In between 1996’s ‘Being There’ and 1999’s ‘Summerteeth’, Wilco sat down with Billy Bragg and a bunch of Woody Guthrie lyrics to write and record 1998’s “Mermaid Avenue”. The album is a journey through Guthrie’s wildly imaginative, erotic and brilliant words, and the superb musicianship of Bragg and the boys from Wilco.

One of my favorites on the album is “Hesitating Beauty”. It’s an uplifting plea to Nora Lee, the object of the singer’s desires….

For your sparkling cocky smile I’ve walked a million miles
Begging you to come and wed me in the spring
Why do you my dear delay
What makes you laugh and turn away
You’re a hesitating beauty, Nora Lee

Well I know that you are itching to get married, Nora Lee
And I know how I’m twitching for the same thing, Nora Lee
By the stars and clouds above we could spend our lives in love
You’re a hesitating beauty, Nora Lee

We can build a house and home where the flowers come to bloom
Around our yard I’ll nail a fence so high
That the boys with peeping eyes cannot see that angel face
My hesitating beauty Nora Lee

Well I know that you are itching to get married Nora Lee
And I know how I’m twitching for the same thing Nora Lee
By the stars and clouds above we can spend our lives in love
If you quit your hesitating, Nora Lee

We can ramble hand in hand across the grasses of our land
I’ll kiss you for each leaf on every tree
We can bring our kids to play where the dry leaves blow today
If you quit your hesitating, Nora Lee

Well I know that you are itching to get married, Nora Lee
And I know how I’m twitching for the same thing, Nora Lee
By the stars and clouds above we could spend our lives in love
If you quit your hesitating, Nora Lee

If anyone out there has Bright Eyes’ latest album, ‘I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning’, listen to the similarities between “At the Bottom of Everything” (track 1) and Wilco’s “Hesitating Beauty”.

Wilco – Hesitating Beauty (mp3, live, unknown date and location)

Do yourself a favor and buy Mermaid Avenue.

Down in the Basement

Basement Apartment. This Minneapolis band came to my attention recently while listening to Radio Paradise. From the handful of samples I’ve heard, they’re a mellow bunch. To me, they remind me of a little Mazzy Star here, a little Luna there. This song, “Empty Skies” is a right up my alley. Laid back slide guitar, beautiful harmonies, and basically just a breath of nice clean air.

The audio to “Empty Skies” is from the Quicktime video available on their web site, which I highly recommend checking out. Go to their web site, click the Images link, and you’ll see the link for the QT video. They also offer a few mp3 downloads, as does CNET’s

The band is the brainchild of Vince Caro, who used to be in a band called Pilot Light. Don’t know anything about ’em, but – ah yes, – I shall investigate.

Basement Apartment – Empty Skies (mp3)

Buy Transistor! on CD Baby.

Standing in the Rain in Vain

Linton Kwesi Johnson was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and raised in the Brixton section of London.

Johnson invented dub poetry, a type of toasting descended from the DJ stylings of U-Roy and I-Roy. But whereas toasting tended to be hyperkinetic and given to fits of braggadocio, Johnson’s poetry (which is what it was — he was a published poet and journalist before he performed with a band) was more scripted and delivered in a more languid, slangy, streetwise style. Johnson’s grim realism and tales of racism in an England governed by Tories was scathingly critical. The Afro-Brits in Johnson’s poems are neglected by the government and persecuted by the police. – All

Well, my introduction to LKJ a few years ago didn’t come via a scathingly critical political song, but a laid back, sweet and humorous tune by the name of “Loraine”. It’s about his encounter with the lovely Loraine on a rainy day in May. Try as he might, ol’ Linton doesn’t get the girl, which gives us the great chorus:

Now I’m standin’ in the rain in vain, Loraine
Hoping to see you again
Tears fall from me eyes like rain, Loraine
A terrible pain in me brain, Loraine
You’re drivin’ me insane

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t know you (or maybe I do), but you’ll like this one.

Linton Kwesi JohnsonLoraine (mp3)

Linton Kwesi JohnsonInglan is a Bitch (mp3)