Boneyard Media


Archive for May, 2007

Chris Knight (Gruene Hall, Gruene, TX, 5/18/07)

Friday, May 18th, 2007

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1 – If Phil Ochs used to write most of his songs by opening up the newspaper, most of the recent generation of Texas country rockers open up an atlas. Luckily, Chris Knight’s an adopted Texan from Kentucky who’s never felt the need to resort to that strategy.

2 – Knight, in fact, who will probably remind you of Steve Earle as you get to know his stuff, is a fine songwriter in his own right with a definite fixation on the gothic aspects of hillbilliana, and shows a healthy mistrust of certain Americana-syndrome production values on his Trailer Tapes album (dribbling B-3 organs, truck commercial Telecasters, overdrawn vocal drawls). Most Knight songs, in other words, leave behind a virtual corpse or two.

3 – Knight’s got a knowing look in his eye that contrasts pretty sharply with the blank frat faces that populate his shows and sing along to every word. Wonder what he’s thinkin’ up there.

4 – Knight’s hoarse Appalachian speaking voice is more grizzled and crusty and grammatically mangled than you’d expect after hearing his ability to turn a phrase in songs. (“I’ll bet y’all a bunch a tourist-ers,” he twice croaked to the Historic Gruene Hall crowd at historically low speed.) Authentic? Not necessarily an easy one because the shtick almost comes off as a put on, but I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt.

Joe Jackson, A Cure for Gravity: A Musical Pilgrimage (1999)

Monday, May 14th, 2007

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What you may not know about Joe Jackson’s A Cure for Gravity, in case you’ve thought about reading it, is that it only covers his formative years up to Look Sharp (1979), his first LP. Any insights we get into his later years as an established recording artist – of which there are generous helpings, actually – come only in support of this earlier part of his story.

This is fine because his book’s main idea is that his own self-discovery as a musician is just one phase, however significant, of an ongoing process, and you get the clear sense that Jackson hasn’t written the book so much to memorialize himself but to do something useful – even charitable – for his audience. Most of us are likely going through similar processes, he suspects, and his own experiences, however music-specific they may seem, are applicable to anyone who may be feeling the urge to reach a bit higher than usual or let loose some essential aspect of inner self.

He’s not ever saying he’s “made it” – just that he’s reached a level of satisfaction in his line of work that has mostly come through sticking to his guns. Certain drive-by critics have accused Jackson of elitism, acerbity and dilletantism (each of which he is quite aware of), but these are easy misinterpretations of idealism, intelligence, and curiosity; or, in one sweeping stroke, simple determination. It’s perhaps easy to forget, amid all of his own recorded sarcasm, how full his catalog is of positive messages (“Go For It” and “The Wild West” kept ringing in my head as I was reading). I guarantee that if you make it to the end of the book, where he declares himself an optimist, you’ll believe him.

Song ID: The Dells – “O-O I Love You” (1967)

Thursday, May 3rd, 2007

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The Dells are one of Chicago’s very finest, best known for “Oh What a Night” and “Stay in My Corner,” two late sixties smash hit updates of songs they’d done earlier (1956 and 1965 respectively). These wondrous doo wop revamps showcased the group’s pleading, seamlessly interchanging vocals and featured hip instrumental arrangements noted for their airy guitars and weeping, shimmering strings (the string arrangements in the best of late-sixties and early-seventies soul: another subject worthy of a book). “Stay in My Corner” is the ultimate Dells song in my opinion, in which they milk all they can out of six emotional and indispensible minutes.

“O-O I Love You,” though, another one of their chart hits – albeit a forgotten one – predates those two songs but at once serves as 1) a preview of the highly-charged, emotionally drawn-out direction they were headed and 2) an assurance that they were still able to pack an emotional wallop into three standard pop song minutes when they wanted to. The song kicks off with a corny basso recitation by Chuck Barksdale, making us hair-trigger types think we’ve got the whole song all figured out (“the pen writes and, uh, words are born”). But then lead tenor Johnny Carter takes over and we start to melt. After which we’re completely blown off our seats by the aching, majestic bridge. Then comes a burst of fireworks from lead baritone Marvin Junior, a final recitation by Barksdale, who now sounds completely seductive, and even more dueling fireworks for the glorious finale, courtesy of Junior and Carter. Fade into stunned silence.

The Dells – “O-O I Love You” (1967)

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