by Carl Wilson
I was fortunate enough this weekend to be present at the revival of Double Double Land in Toronto’s “Talking Songs” series, in which people play recordings for other people and talk about them, featuring a special guest – the independent intellectual, anthologist, vintage 78s collector and “Fonotopia” DJ/podcaster, Ian Nagoski, who regaled us with the sounds and stories of Indian classical singers with disreputable pasts, Lemko-American bands, Carpathian “hillbillies” and the parallels between bluegrass and polka (both urban adaptations of mountain stringband music), the Okeh laughing record (though he didn’t mention the great Tex Avery cartoon that uses it as soundtrack to its second half), canary breeding as a form of musical composition, and much more.
Much beyond collecting for collecting’s sake, Nagoski’s fascination with non-English-language (aka “ethnic” at the time) records made in the U.S. before the Second World War serves him as a lens on ignored or suppressed histories of America, non-canonical views of musical development (in which it doesn’t all culminate in rock) and the confidence games of the American dream.
On that last theme, one person he didn’t play but alluded to is Marika Papagika, a great singer of many styles, including what we today would refer to as rebetika (or often “rembetika” in English). She was a Greek immigrant to New York who, with her husband Costas, made many successful recordings and opened up a nightclub nearby where the Port Authority is today – until they lost it all in the stock-market crash of 1929, just a year after the song above was shellacked. The emotional detail of her singing is spellbinding.
Nagoski has played an important role in reintroducing her to modern (and non-Greek) audiences, by including her music on his compilations Black Mirror: Reflections in Global Musics (1918-1954) and To What Strange Place:The Music Of The Ottoman-American Diaspora (1916-1929) and finally a collection entirely of Papagika songs, The Further the Flame the Worse It Burns Me. The one he’s rhapsodized over the most is below, the even-more-plaintive Smyrneïko Minore, which the Kronos Quartet heard on Black Mirror and arranged and performed it in concert.
by Carl Wilson
Michelle McAdorey was one of the first Toronto artists I ever wrote about, after moving here; I’m very pleased that she has new music out (and reportedly more to come) and that she’s performing again, beginning with a Wavelength show this Thursday (with Iceland’s Valgeir Sigurðsson and Toronto’s Prince Nifty). This song is so pretty it’s almost hard to listen to. You start holding your breath, knowing something is going to break.
From the upcoming album Takes Time.
“Fire all the hired guns –
I know I’m not the only one.”
Dan Berry on vimeo.
by Carl Wilson
For un-b2tw reasons last week I was looking for Captain Beefheart’s appearances on David Letterman in the early ’80s but then wondered if I could dig up this even rarer clip. Via a misleading for-devotees-only pitch-dark live clip, I landed here. Shhh. Both from Doc at the Radar Station, which unfashionably might be my favourite Beefheart record, no doubt just because it’s got the new/no-wave-vertical-horizontal-flip-nervy-shakes that are my personal national rhythm. And maybe a lyrical economy compared to what he was doing in the previous decade.
For those who don’t know Capt. Beefheart, maybe it just sounds perfectly banal by now, and not like something illegal is happening on your TV.
by Carl Wilson
Ever since I talked about her in my best-of list last week, Aimee Mann references have seemed to turn up everywhere, by my skewed definition of “everywhere”: She was on WTF with Marc Maron telling a seriously fucked-up story about her childhood, and she had a song last weekend on Girls. Then today a friend posted on Facebook, “When I die, I will probably come back as a lesser Aimee Mann album.” I went to look at a list of Aimee Mann albums to figure out which would be the lesser ones, and it included something called Bark Along with the Young Snakes from 1982. This turns out to be an EP put out by Mann’s pre-Til Tuesday band, a kind of experimental post-punk trio that built up a small Boston following, then quit in frustration. And next I found this song. (There are more if you look.) Happy Aimee Mann Week.
As part of Toronto music series Wavelength’s THIRTEEN festival, songwriters Andre Ethier and Laura Barrett performed at Soundscapes on Saturday, with me doing interviews with each of them in front of the audience in between sets. It was beginning to blizzard outside. All the songs Andre played were new. They were all written in open D (he noticed this toward the end with a little blush). None of them have bridges, because Andre’s done a lot of deep exploring in the English traditional “Child ballads” in recent years and noticed none of them had bridges. He concluded songs don’t need them. (As I said in our talk, no one tell Franklin Bruno, who’s writing a book about bridges, and writes great ones himself.)
I found Andre’s new songs even more singular than his older work – pretty and stubbornly withholding, so funny and so clear. I particularly adored this tune, a Child ballad in a more literal sense, in which he projects his currently four-year-old son into the future and across an ocean, and writes him a beseeching and beguiling parental love letter … with just a faint homoerotic undertone, like a lemon twist.
PS: This recording was made and shared with me very generously by Joe Strutt, of Toronto’s wonderful live-music-archiving blog, Mechanical Forest Sound.
PPS: Andre tells me, “I’m thinking of rewriting the lyrics of that song but keeping the title, so you may have an exclusive on your hands,” but adds, “I like the idea of the first draft being out there.”
Sure, it ain’t “Ain’t Nobody,” but it’s still Chaka Khan. New single, dropping soon, performed at benefit for the United Negro College Fund.
by Carl Wilson
I had a hell of a time deciding what of Veda Hille‘s to share with you today. Though she hails (and rains and sleets and mists) from Vancouver, Veda is in Toronto right now, because she’s about to open a new version of her (and Bill Richardson’s) musical, Do You Want What I Have Got? A Craigslist Cantata, at the Factory Theatre. She’s also, though this is a highly contested title, probably the least-known of the very best songwriters in North America. You won’t guess that from this one song, though it will help if you listen to it more than once. But it does show off the quizzical sideways leaps of her mind and the wonder-laden shelves of her musical imaginarium. This is from her last studio album, This Riot Life, which mobilizes a lot of fragments of religious language, though it’s not religious, to talk about other matters – the proximity of death to life in the region it’s working, for instance.
It’s only as these songs and their strategies gradually assemble, into a body or constellation or archipelago, that you start to sense their range of silliness and scariness, and get accustomed to their peculiar volatility and spirality, their literally geological wisdom, and feel them becoming indispensable.
So if you’re in Toronto this month, go see Do You Want What I Have Got, and come to see Veda at the Music Gallery on Feb 25. The rest of you maybe go do a little more exploring.
Bio, found on YouTube: With the sudden heart attack of songwriter, poet, and novelist, Francis Bebey, on May 28, 2001, Cameroon lost one of its most creative artists. The recipient of the prestigious Grand Prix Litteraire De L’Afrique Moudio for his first novel, The Son of Agatha Moudio, in 1968, Bebey went on to scribe several additional novels and scores of poems and songs. Active until shortly before his death, Bebey released two albums of his songs — Dibiye and Mbira Dance — to celebrate his 70th birthday. His compositions were covered by John Williams and the Kronos Quartet. According to Stelio Farandjis, secretary general of the High Council of Francophonie, “(Bebey’s) voice, his flute, his guitar, and especially his heart and his faith, enchanted the large ones of this world like the humblest among the humble ones.” Born in the Cameroonian capital city of Douala, Bebey was educated in his homeland and in the United States.
Much of his work was rereleased last year by French label Born Bad. Here’s Robert Christgau’s review.