Category Archives: Country

Kendrick Lamar and Blues Tropes

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Latecomer as always, See That My Blog is Kept Clean is back on the scene, and as usual, about a year late in acknowledging some hype-garnering artist. By this point, if you’re not familiar with Kendrick Lamar’s brilliant 2012 album Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City you’re doing something wrong. While much well-deserved praise has gone out to the clever voicemails that structure the album and Lamar’s competent verses, so far no one seems to have picked up on two somewhat odd instances of blues tropes that resonate with the album. The first is the most direct. On “Backstreet Freestyle,” Lamar intones “Goddamn, I’ve got bitches: wifey, girlfriend and mistress,” oddly echoing Son House’s assertion, “I’ve only loved but four women in my life: my mother, my sister, my kid gal and my wife.” (Wherein, “kid gal” refers to a girlfriend or mistress.)

Much more interesting, because Lamar’s version greatly alters the tone and setting, is the echoed version of the blues and country platitude “If the river was whiskey and I was a duck, I’d dive to the bottom and never come up.” In “Swimming Pools (Drank),” Lamar modifies this inherently rural trope to update the phrase to the postmodern landscape of contemporary Los Angeles: “I’ma show you how to turn it up a notch / First you get a swimming pool full of liquor then you dive in / Pool full of liquor then you dive in it.” As the song deals more ambiguously with alcohol consumption than the blues songs that typically feature the above lyric, “Swimming Pools” contrasts this typically irreverent blues trope against a background of dark synths. Changing the setting from a river to a swimming pool alters the iconography, while maintaining the social resonance.

And yes, I understand Lamar is probably not in any way actually attempting to quote either of these blues traditions, but I do find it fascinating that these two common scenarios could be transferred across the years and styles from the blues to contemporary hip-hop. Culture is continuous, there are no hard and fast boundaries, and what’s green will grow, no matter what form it takes. I’m back.

Kendrick Lamar, “Backstreet Freestyle” (2012)

Son House, “Death Letter Blues” (1965)

Muddy Waters, “Rollin’ and Tumblin'” (1950)

Kendrick Lamar, “Swimming Pools (Drank)” (2012)

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Filed under Blues, Country, Hip-Hop, Music, Post-War Blues, Pre-War Blues

RIP Levon Helm (1940-2012)

Earlier this week we lost a legendary figure in the music world, the inimitable Levon Helm. Helm began his career as the drummer for Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks, before forming Levon and the Hawks. This group became became Bob Dylan’s backing band and collaborated with Dylan on the legendary Basement Tapes. This group, without Dylan, became known as the Band and released a string of game-changing Americana albums, most notably their self-titled 1969 album. The Band’s career concluded in 1976 with an all-star concert, The Last Waltz, that was captured by Martin Scorsese. Since then, Helm has released a string of excellent solo albums.

Levon Helm with be sorely missed, and his death is an incredible loss for the music world. Goodbye and thanks for all the music.

Levon Helm and the Midnight Ramblers, “Ophelia” (Live, February 2012)

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Filed under Blues, Country, Folk, Music, Rock

Lucero, Women & Work (2012)

Earlier this week, Tennessee country-rockers Lucero dropped their first album since 2009’s 1372 Overton and Park. The new album, entitled Women & Work, more predominantly features keyboardist Rick Steff as well as a horn section, giving the album a tone that alternates between Jukebox Country (“On My Way Downtown,” “When I Was Young”) and Bruce Springsteen (“Like Lightning”). Ben Nichols’ trademark gravel-tone anchors each track, while Brian Venable’s guitar maintains the blend of Southern twang and punk grit that Lucero is known for. As someone who spent much of their teenage years listening to Lucero, it’s hard for me to objectively weigh their continuing work. This album seems to both fit the Lucero mold and carry it a step further, allowing the band to expand their sound without alienating their fanbase. Needless to say, it seems like an album of solid tracks that any fan Lucero ought to appreciate. Check out the album preview below, and listen to the first single “Sometimes” here.

Lucero, “Women & Work – Album Preview”

Lucero, “Sometimes” (from Women & Work, 2012)

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Filed under Alt/Indie, Country, Music, Rock

Pistol George Warren, “I’m a Soldier in the Army of the Lord”

New live video from everyone’s favourite Sudburian alt-country rockers, Pistol George Warren. I’ve posted the video because its seems that Alan Lomax is often the glue that holds this blog together, and here we have PGW performing “I’m a Soldier in the Army of the Lord” from the Alan Lomax compiled Land Where the Blues Began. You may remember that another group from Ontario, Toronto’s Bruce Peninsula, have also used tracks from Land Where the Blues Began as inspiration. (Read about it here.) Check out the live video, recorded at Bertolo’s Old Rock on January 28th, 2012, and listen to the original track from Land Where the Blues Began below.

Pistol George Warren, “I’m a Soldier in the Army of the Lord” (Live, 2012)

Congregation of the Church of God, Clarksdale, MS, “I’m a Soldier in the Army of the Lord”

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Filed under Alt/Indie, Country, Field Recordings, Folk, Lomax, Music

Association for Cultural Equity: Lomax Archives

Prepare to have your mind blown. As I mentioned previously, The Association for Cultural Equity (ACE) is in the process of digitizing Alan Lomax’s vast archives and making them available for free streaming on their website, and I must say, they are doing a fantastic job. The interface is clear and well-designed, they have a wide variety of formats (sound recordings, video recordings, photographs, lectures, etc), and there is a huge wealth of items already available. The archive bills itself primarily as a scholarly research tool, but anyone with an interest in folk music from America and around the World could spend a fascinating afternoon just digging. Perhaps my favourite feature is the “Geo Archive,” which places a pin on an embedded Google Map for each recording session that has been archived, allowing the user click on each pin and listen to the recordings from that location. Users can also browse through each media type by session, location, genre, artist and so on. I’m not even going to link to any choice cuts from the archive because it’s well worth the time spend exploring. Check it all out, here. Enjoy!

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Filed under Blues, Country, Field Recordings, Folk, Lomax, Music, Photography, Post-War Blues, World Music

Maria in the Shower, “Train of the Pounding Hours”/”Old Joseph Brady”

Maria in the Shower are vastly different from Titus Andronicus is many, very important ways. In fact, perhaps the only thing both bands share is the top spot on my list of favourite live bands. Both bands can electrify a stage and captivate an audience, albeit often for completely different reasons. Maria in the Shower have a theatrical stage presence that doesn’t shy away from props, costumes, over-arching narratives or contrabass acrobatics. That said, Maria in the Shower is not a band that needs to, nor does, rely on gimmickery. Attending a Maria in the Shower live show is to be taken on a wildfire tour through the American Folk songbook, beginning with jazz, browsing through folk and bluegrass, and winding up sweating through some pounding blues-rock numbers.

Maria create an excellent facsimile of all these styles, particularly pre-war jazz. For my money, however, Maria is best at crafting driving Americana epics. Maria in the Shower produce the type of music that the Decemberists would if their recent stylistic shift had settled south of the Mason-Dixon Line. That said, Maria in the Shower know a good New England sea-shanty when they get their hands on it! Nonetheless, my two favourite Maria in the Shower songs are the two that best fit the description of “driving Americana epic”: “Train of the Pounding Hours” and “Old Joseph Brady.”

“Train of the Pounding Hours” begins with the clank and clatter percussion of a hammer and chains and is best played loud. The sounds in question are reproduced faithfully at their live shows in a marathon performance by drummer Todd Biffard, by alternately striking a actual section of railroad track with a hammer and crashing a fistful of chains against the dancefloor. The simple cello riff that begins the track leads the rest of the group through a building drone as the music swaggers and sways with the chaingang percussion. The simple, repeated gospel chorus really seals the deal. When performed live, Martin Reisle, who sings lead on this track, breaks down into a shouting Evangelical rhapsody as the instruments drop out leaving the band and audience moaning in unison: “We’re bleeding, Lord. Bleeding, Lord.” It’s a very powerful thing to experience.

Maria in the Shower, “Train of the Pounding Hours” (from Come Never, 2009)

Though perhaps more subtle, Maria’s other epic is no less resonant. The song begins with a single guitar chord and Reisle’s wavering voice, before Reisle and other vocalist Jack Garton begin to trade verses, building the tension in the narrative. The band slowly joins in as the track builds to a beautiful, shuddering climax before a harmonizing, a capella dénouement.

Maria in the Shower, “Old Joseph Brady” (Live, 2010)

Their albums are available to stream or purchase, here.

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Filed under Blues, Contemporary Blues, Country, Folk, Jazz, Music, Rock

Pony Boy, “Saints and Liars”

I have to thank fellow blog When You Awake for turning me onto L.A./London-based chanteuse Pony Boy.* Back in my adolescence, I read and thoroughly enjoyed S.E. Hilton’s classic youth novel The Outsiders as part of my school’s curriculum, and was immediately attracted this musical project, named for the narrator of that text. Pony Boy’s website describes her sound as junkyard-country influenced by all the right names from Tom Waits and Howlin’ Wolf to Bobby Gentry and Wanda Jackson. “Saint and Liars,” available for free download from the artist’s website, is a pleasant mix of slow-burning electric guitar, 1960s mellotron, and sultry vocals. The video, filmed at a Working Men’s Club in Glasgow, comes across as the Scottish corollary to the film Searching For the Wrong-Eyed Jesus. Either way, both the song and the video are excellent, and I’m very excited to hear more music from this project. Enjoy!

Pony Boy, “Saints and Liars” (2011)

* The name of the musical project is rendered in four different ways in the official promotional material: Pony Boy, PonyBoy, PONYBOY and Ponyboy. I’ve elected to use the most commonly, and prominently, occurring Pony Boy, despite the fact that in Hinton’s original the name is spelled Ponyboy.

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Filed under Country, Music, Rock