13 October 2005

country joe & the fish - "not so sweet martha lorraine" (from the john peel - a tribute lp, import available for preorder here.)

in brief : top cut from peel's favorite album of the era.

the same day i read about the peel tribute album, i went into work and heard "a house is not a home" being played over the muzak system. this set me to thinking about another recent tribute album to someone whose name i must sadly attach the adjective "late", so amazing: an all-star tribute to luther vandross.

the version of "a house is not a home" played was an homage to luther's restructuring of the song; the saxophone faithfully followed luther's melisma. one could, then, envision a smooth jazz tribute to luther--but how in the world would such a thing be accomplished by singers? i mean, after all, if you're just going to follow luther's pattern, good intentions aside, why even bother?

this is not to slight luther's considerable talents as a composer, a career that spanned nearly thirty years, from david bowie's "fascination" in 1975 to, indeed, 1986's "so amazing," and ending far too soon w/ last year's "dance with my father." instead, it should only speak to luther's unparalleled gifts as an interpreter that such songwriting accomplishments could pale in the comparison. and it is the intepretations that figure heavily on so amazing, since nine out of the 15 tracks are covers of other's peoples' music.

i suppose what made luther special, then, was that i can hear a muzak version of "a house is not a home" or, as i later did, "creepin'," and know that it's his version. the luther approach was, in the main, a change in tempo and an elongation of time. (i've often thought that luther was born to late, that as, essentially, the male dionne warwick, he would've thrived as an uptown soul singer; he probably would have killed to have had bacharach/david write for him, to have played the role of lou johnson.) but so much of it is down to the vocals (and backing vocals); a more successful approach probably would have been a cover of his songs and not his interpretations. but it would also have been a less commercially successful project.

the peel tribute, too, is an interesting spin on the idea of a tribute record. it is a compilation, not of his compositions, and not of his interpretations, but of songs that inspired him as a young man ("lost john," "dust my blues"), that were written about him ("bird of cuzco"), and that somehow became associated w/ him (everything else).

"not so sweet martha lorraine"--imagine blonde on blonde if dylan was interested in the possibilities of the recording studio--comes from electric music for the mind and body, john's favorite record of the psychedelic era; its lack of commercial success confounded him; had it been released during the height of peel's powers, perhaps it might have been different. one wonders if it was exactly this sort of thing--the commercial failure of records he thought artistic successes--that would spur him on later in his career.

this poses an interesting question for the music obsessive: if you had two 80-minute cds to fill as a representation of yourself and the things you love, what would you put on it? keep in mind, this is quite different from what you want played at your funeral (for me, "sunflower river blues" by john fahey and "stardust" by louis armstrong). rather, it should sound like your life flashing beside your ears.

and for those of you who don't just read the "in brief" description!

bonus : roy harper - "when an old cricketer leaves the crease" (from the hq lp, import available for purchase here.)

the last song played on tonight's tribute.
when the moment comes,
and the gathering stands,
and the clock turns back to reflect
On the years of grace,
as those footsteps trace
for the last time out of the act.
good night all.

3 comments:

Richard said...

Looking at the Peel tribute tracklist, I'm disappointed (and unsurprised) at "How Soon Is Now" as the choice from the Smith's catalog. One suspects that JP's sense of humor would have dictated "Panic" as the only logical selection. And, although her version of "Two Seconds" may be one of my own personal faves from the past few years, Peel was obviously a bit more ecstatic about Miss Cantrell's "Queen of the Coast".

Oh, and "Sunflower River Blues" is a fab choice for a funeral song.

Thomas said...

Fred, your make-your-own-tribute-CDs idea is a killer; I'm working on it myself and will hopefully be posting something over at my place within a day or 2. Your writing continues to impress, as well; someone should be paying you to do this.

fred said...

thomas, you continue to be too kind.

but, yeah, i'm really somewhat obsessed by this idea. it's turning into a musical biography. i should have a list made tomorrow. i look forward to seeing yours!