Friday, December 19, 2014

“On the Nickel” – The Cover Version #4

Some music for your Friday; & some heartbreakingly beautiful music at that.

It’s no secret that I’m a big admirer of Tom Waits’ music, & today’s selection has been a long-time favorite of mine. Waits recorded “On the Nickel” for his 1980 Asylum release, Heartattack and Vine. His next studio project was the album Swordfishtrombones, released on Island in 1983, & that signaled a major departure from the sound Waits had perfected from the mid 70s through Heartattack & Vine.

“On the Nickel” actually was part of the soundtrack Waits composed for the 1980 film of the same name. “The Nickel” of the title is 5th Street in Los Angeles—skid row—& Waits has described the song as a “winos nursery rhyme.” The lyrics are dense with imagery, & they contain some memorable lines: “I know a place where a royal flush can never beat a pair; & even Thomas Jefferson is on the nickel over there” is one of the best examples. Actually, the lyrics Waits sings on Heartattack & Vine are not the original words, which I generally like even better, especially the great line: “You’ll never know how rich you are till you haven’t got a prayer.”

Just as the songs lyrics pack a lot of punch, the music is notable for modulating up by full steps before taking an unexpected turn at the end. Starting out in the key of F#, the song then progresses through A-flat, Bb, & finally resolving in the key of G; since Gm is the relative minor of Bb, & is a chord used prominently during the Bb section, the resolution to G almost has the effect of a Picardy third. Waits’ gravelly vocal, hovering between melody & speech rides beautifully on top of a piano & strings arrangement.

In the cover version I’ve selected, we get to hear another singer I’ve long admired, Carla Bozulich. Bozulich has fronted a number of bands & has been a long time fixture in the Los Angeles punk & indie scene, but I know her best for her work with one of the great cow-punk bands, The Geraldine Fibbers. When they released Lost Somewhere Between Earth & My Home in 1995 I couldn’t get enough of it, & their sound & lyrics certainly were an inspiration to the poetry I was writing at the time. After the breakup of the Geraldine Fibbers, Bozulich has kept busy with a number of projects, performing in Bloody Claw, the Night Porter, in a duo with Ches Smith, as a solo artist, & perhaps most notably in her ever-morphing group, Evangelista.

I love Bozulich’s interpretation of “On the Nickel.” She stays close to the spirit of Waits’ original with the lush string background, but the short bursts of dissonance that punctuate throughout are a perfect accent. Although Bozulich is known as a singer who can belt out a song with the best of them, her voice is almost fragile as she sings these lyrics; a more melodic singer than Waits, Bozulich uses that fragile sound to convey the “winos nursery rhyme” sensibility of the song, & also to deliver its poignancy in an understated but very immediate way. It’s simply a beautiful recording.

Hope you enjoy it.

Image links to its source at Wiki Commons
Photo of Carla Bozulich: Michelle Cottam. Original uploader was Trobik at en.wikipedia
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

“Like Michelangelo, Only the Opposite”

Like Michelangelo, Only the Opposite
Miss Custer,
pretty as a movie star,
blonde, blue-eyed,
picks me
--well, George Guerrieri and me--
because she likes me--
well, because I draw and paint so well--
for the Christmas poster contest.
(Guess she likes him a little too,
or why couldn't I paint it myself?)

For weeks that late fall
we stay after school, in the art room,
on hands and knees,
just the three of us counting Miss Custer,
like Michelangelo, only the opposite,
the canvas on the floor not the ceiling,
drawing and then painting
Santa Claus, reindeer,
sleigh full of packages.

Our painting wins.
They put it on a billboard
on Wood Street facing downtown.
The whole family goes every night to see it
right up until Christmas.

But that isn't the best thing.
the best thing is when we work on it,
when it's time to quit
and Miss Custer has us stand one at a time
(That's when I wish George wasn't there too),
and with her lovely eyes up close to mine
so I can see me in them,
wipes the paint off my face
with a damp rag,
tilting her head this way and that,
like she's painting a picture herself.

Carmen Leone
© 2014

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons
Colony For Artists Under Six- Evacuees To Dartington Hall, Totnes, Devon, England, 1941.
Danny Ludlow, evacuated from Gravesend in Kent, shows his teacher Miss Betty Hall a painting that he has been working on at Dartington Hall in Totnes, Devon. Miss Hall was evacuated to Dartington Hall with the children.
Date     1941

Public domain [see note at this link]

Thursday, December 11, 2014

"pick it up"

pick it up

A/N: Thank you to S. for putting in the line breaks for me.

she dropped a beat somewhere early in this slate sky early late winter day
and forgot in all the chaos to pick it back up

half eight and she's banging down on her boyfriend's door,
man, don't you know this kid ain't gonna drive herself to school?
and the beat pulses in her pocket like a dead man's missing heart
while he shuffles sleepy and sheepish looking for shoes

one two one two one two and

the way the world spins turns whirls
(faster than men's heads when she come by in those jeans)
drops her from where she was dropping off her daughter
pico de gallo burrito warm kiss on cold air
at tzarich cama devar ken aval ma?
And she hit the ground,
less like an egg hits the floor -
with all the urgency and bruises of a lockdown drill -
and less of the shatter of glass on pavement but more like

one two one two one


one two

and can't shake that sick feeling of something lost forever

she's choking on her own thoughts by four
like they're dry swallowed pills,
dry heave at the bitter taste and constricted throat
and the world, it don't care if she wanna get off

the cold is forever, she says
because in hell even permanence be some comfort to the damned
cold is forever, she says
gulps down ice like ocean death like nicotine like that kiss she can't have

one two one two

slam of horns slam of breaks loss of light loss of life
spin like you want a simple gift
spin til you outspin the sick stomach and spin again until you drop break fall

on your knees with your hands in the air the only way the world gonna take you

don't bother
don't even front
ain't no other way
and don't say that hard cold gravel pavement frozen ground wet grass don't feel a little bit like redemption soakin through your stockings don't don't even

like a dropped penny it's there
in the grass

on your knees
hands up
only way you take the world


one two

one two one two one two

pick it up child

one two one two one two one two ...

Mairi Graham-Shaw
© 2014

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons
“foto 1” - Augusto De Luca
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Linus and Lucy – Jazz on Nylon #7

Okay, I really promise not to contribute overmuch to the ubiquitous holiday soundtrack, but I do have a wonderful performance today of Vince Guaraldi’s “Linus & Lucy” as part of the Jazz on Nylon series. It’s such a delightfully buoyant composition, & it seemed just the thing for a rainy Portland day.

“Linus & Lucy” became known through A Charlie Brown Christmas special that first aired in 1965—& yes, I was one of the many who watched during that first airing. Guaraldi’s score for the special produced not only “Linus & Lucy”, but also the lovely “Christmas Time is Here” & “Skating”. The song was originally written in Ab & is notable for an immediately recognizable bass line that weaves under the melody.

Vince Guaraldi was, of course, much more than a one-off composer who happened to score a Peanuts special. He was a highly respected jazz pianist & composer who also had a hit with “Cast Your Fate to the Wind”, released in 1962. Unfortunately, Guaraldi passed away in 1976 at the young age of 47.

Today’s version is by a formidable guitarist, Andrew York, who was one of the founding members of the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet. York’s recording career dates back to the mid 1980s with Perfect Sky, which not only includes his version of “Linus & Lucy”, but also some of his own noteworthy compositions like “Andecy” & “Sunshine Rag”. His most recent release is Yamour, which came out on Majian Music in 2012.

York’s version of “Linus & Lucy” is in an interesting tuning that I’d not encountered previously: DADF#BE. The open strings form a D6/9 chord, & it’s a hybrid of standard tuning & open D tuning. Using this tuning—not to mention his very impressive chops!—York keeps the bass line moving as he moves the melody all over the fretboard. But the performance is much more than a tour de force; it’s a joyous & lyrical interpretation.

Hope you enjoy it!

Image links to its source. This is an image in Andrew York’s press kit; the photograph is by Terry De Wolf

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

American Tune – The Cover Version #3

Some music for your Tuesday & your Thanksgiving week. It seems “seasonal” to me in many ways, & not just the obvious.

Paul Simon wrote “American Tune” for his 1973 There Goes Rhymin’ Simon album, his second solo release following the break-up of the Simon & Garfunkel act. In the context of the United States in early 1970s, with the Watergate scandal, the lingering effects of the long Viet Nam war, & ongoing civil unrest, the  song addressed a country that had neglected its better angels, as the Statue of Liberty is seen sailing away
in contrast to the approach of the Mayflower, with its underlying hint of Governor Winthrop’s “city on a hill”. The song has some nice harmonic wrinkles. Originally composed in C, the changes come quickly under the melody, with shifts from the major to the relative minor, & with some additional variations that take the song's structure beyond the basic I-IV-V format.

If we fast forward to the 2000s—& those of us who’ve been around to witness since the 1970s & before may feel that time span to have simultaneously gone by very quickly & also stretched back over a gulf—we find the song’s themes continue to be relevant. In today's video, recorded in 2008, John Boutté & Paul Sanchez give the song a reading that renders it both immediately relevant & timeless. This live recording is a nod to their wonderful album on Threadhead, Stew Called New Orleans, which is brought to a sublime close by an “American Tune.”

Fans of the Treme television series are familiar with John Boutté’s singing, & to my mind he is one of the most soulful & passionate singers around, as well as one who possesses formidable technical chops in terms of phrasing & range. There’s always an urgent immediacy about his singing, & he can transform songs drawn from a wide musical palette—from Big Joe Turner to Leonard Cohen, from Hoagy Carmichael & Gershwin to Stevie Wonder & Sam Cooke, & lots more. Sanchez is a frequent collaborator with Boutté & is himself an impressive singer & songwriter.


Image links to its source on Photo by Michael Crook

Friday, November 21, 2014

"Here’s That Rainy Day" – Jazz on Nylon #6

Music for a Friday—& a rainy Friday at that for those of us in Portland.

“Here’s that Rainy Day” was written in 1953 by the songwriting team of Jimmy Van Heusen & Johnny Burke; Van Heusen & Burke were of course prolific, & wrote many other standards in the “Great American Songbook,” including such notable songs as “Swinging on a Star”, “Moonlight Becomes You”, “It Could Happen to You”, & “Imagination”. Both Van Heusen & Burke collaborated with others, Van Heusen working with Sammy Cahn, with whom he composed “All the Way”, “Call Me Irresponsible”, “Come Fly with Me” & many others. Burke meanwhile also worked with (among others) Arthur Johnston, with whom he penned the standard “Pennies from Heaven”. “Here’s that Rainy Day” was written in F major, & was debuted by Dolores Gray in the Broadway musical, Carnival in Flanders.

Here’s a fine short analysis of “Here’s that Rainy Day” by Jeremy Wilson on

John Barrett Jr. aptly described “Here’s That Rainy Day” as “a gentle yawn, the sun rising on a sad feeling.” It is a ballad about lost love, about love turning to a cold, rainy day. With a relaxed tempo and a feeling of melancholy, the lyrics and music support each other in creating the mood. That is not to say that it is a simple song. Alec Wilder, in his book American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950, comments that “Here’s That Rainy Day” is “a very difficult song” with a complex bass line. He characterizes it as “powerful,” “affecting,” and with “great weight and authority.” The song is an excellent example of the sophistication that became acceptable in popular songs in the 1940’s.

Jazz musicians appreciate the elegance of “Here’s That Rainy Day” with its surprising melodies and harmonies. The song’s flexibility has allowed it to be recorded hundreds of times as a ballad, a swing number, and even an up-tempo, bossa nova tune.

Eric Hill is today’s guitarist, & I wish I knew more about him. He does have a website, & we learn there that he retired after a long career as a professional classical guitarist & teacher. He also mentions that his retirement occurred after recovering from a serious illness, & goes on to say that in retirement he plans to work on improvisation using jazz standards. His YouTube channel has a handful of videos, each excellent—& each will probably appear in this series as it continues—but it’s worth noting that he hasn’t uploaded anything since 2008; not sure what that means, but it is certainly a loss, because Mr Hill is a formidable player.

Hope you enjoy this.

Image links to its source at

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

"bossa ballade "

bossa ballade

Triste é saber que ninguém pode viver de ilusão
Que nunca vai ser, nunca vai dar
O sonhador tem que acordar


green guitar: a foliage of notes spreading into twilight,
notes chocolate, blue smoke, yellow orchid, a
single mayfly, a heart in my hand transfixed with a
half note’s stem, calla lily in perpetual shade & the
sunset’s tendrils as she lets down her hair—your
name inscribed on the one planet visible to the east,
the airplane glides past never touching down as we speak,
waking from one dream to the next to the next

& so far so good—a mockingbird in the willow singing
ultra-violet: triste é viver na solidão—a water-
fall drifting through rocks hollow like cups that can’t
contain water long, which is the garden’s sad
melody amongst rhododendrons—the blue streetcar’s
sighs transformed to major 7 chords in the hills, these
sunflowers gone black against a pale sky as we speak,
waking from one dream to the next to the next

your beauty itself an airplane—perplexity in a
sky so clear, a quarter note’s fade, a willow’s
witness to this sunset—a word arriving from
silence becoming magnolias, a blue train lost in a
forest, a teakettle’s vapor, a crimson cloche—what
wonder: a common language—this evening star
so green, guitar so green, airplane gone as we speak,
waking from one dream to the next to the next

how can the mockingbird be lonely being many
o dreamer awaken like a guitar strummed at dusk
how that airplane soars close by the planet as we speak,
waking from one dream to the next to the next

A.K. Barkley
© 2014

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons
Juan Gris: "View Across the Bay" – 1921
Public domain