Posts Tagged ‘Elvis Costello’

This week’s post comes about as a result of a friend’s observation that I have not been writing a whole lot (okay, nothing) about newer music. I am not quite sure why that is. While there is lots of music made in the last decade I don’t listen to, there are a large number of more or less contemporary artists whose music I enjoy. So here is a sampler. I would love to hear your choices.

Next week: Top Five Glam Rock Songs

1. My Morning Jacket

My Morning Jacket was formed in Louisville, Kentucky in 1998 by the truly charismatic singer, songwriter, guitarist and consummate front man Jim James. Their first album “Tennessee Fire” was released in 1999. A half dozen or so studio and a couple of live albums have followed since. I was first introduced to them in about 2004 or so when my friend Chris gave me a copy of “It Still Moves” which had been released a couple years prior. I loved them out of the gate, and became a card carrying convert when I saw them at The Commodore Ballroom around the same time. If venue is any measure of success, I saw them at the far larger and upscale Orpheum in Vancouver this spring.

My Morning Jacket’s music embraces rock, hard rock, folk, funk, gospel, pop, prog, psychedelia, country, alt-country and probably a couple other genres I missed. Their live shows are legendary, attaining almost mythical status after a four hour, thirty five song, two set performance at Bonnaroo in 2008. If everyone who says they were there were really was, it was an event bigger than Woodstock.

This track is from an appearance on the Letterman show in 2006 and will give you some sense of the musicality of the band in general and the presence of Jim James in particular.

2. Jack White

I was late to Jack White and first started listening when “Icky Thump” was released in 2007, ten years into the White Stripes’ career. It turns out this was their last album. The White Stripes consisted of Jack on guitar, keyboards and vocals and his then wife Meg on drums. Low fi and highly esthetic from the beginning, they took blues and rock motifs, stripped them down further and then blew the doors off them. It really is what he is still doing.

Jack has since become a producer of renown, winning a Grammy for his work with Loretta Lynn on the recent “Van Lear Rose” and reviving the career of Wanda Jackson. He is also the owner and operator of Third Man records, a drummer and occasional vocalist with Dead Weather, a guitarist and vocalist with The Raconteurs and most recently a solo artist. I saw him last week in Vancouver, with the all female version of one of his two touring bands, the other being all male. Jack wears his musical influences on his tailored sleeve, and they are “Americana eclectic”, a phrase I just made up but kind of like. Authentic rock and roll boys and girls, the kind you used to hear in garages around the land, albeit polished up a bit, but still with a wailing distorted guitar. Refreshing actually.

This is “Love Interruption” off Jack’s very first, very recent and very eclectic solo album. It is great song but what I really like is that you would be hard pressed to assign it to a decade if you were hearing it blind.

3. Alejandro Escovedo

My friend Evie turned me onto Alejandro Escovedo a couple years ago. I will be forever grateful. It turns out that although he is from and still resides in San Antonio, Texas, he also has roots in Vancouver, having been part of the local punk scene here in the early 1980’s. Punk influences still show through in his alt country tinged rock music. Playing in a succession of bands through the 1990’s (including a wonderful collaboration with Ryan Adams and Whiskeytown in 1997) and two critically received solo releases, he has nevertheless remained below the radar. He has however been enormously well received by many musicians of note, including Bruce Springsteen, Lucinda Williams and Steve Earle.

My favourite Alejandro anecdote involves his song “Castanets”. At some point he heard that George W. Bush had the song on his favourite iPod playlist. It was dropped from live play, with explanation, until W left office.

Here is the offending song. More garage rock, except this time with a fiddler and a cellist. Outstanding really.

4. Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams is singer/songwriter from Jacksonville, South Carolina. Originally part of the band Whiskeytown, Ryan’s first solo release was “Heartbreaker” in 2000, and featured prominently Gillian Welch and David Rawliings. He has recorded with several bands (including his death metal band Werewolph) , the finest being, in my opinion, The Cardinals. Ryan’s music-most of it-takes off directly from Gram Parsons. Usually labelled as alt-country, I like to think that it is “real” country, respectful of Hank and Johnny, not the pop music with a pedal steel guitar and a fiddle that you hear on the radio.

Ryan has hearing loss as a result of having contracted Meniere’s disease. He has said that this has contributed to his decision to quit the Cardinals, although he did tour solo last year, and is apparently currently recording two albums.

This clip, with the Cardinals, is from Letterman’s show in 2007.

5. Ron Sexsmith

Rox Sexsmith hails from St. Catharines, Ontario. Praised by the likes of Elvis Costello, Emmylou Harris, Paul McCartney and Ray Davies, he has critical success that has not been matched commercially. I have seen him twice in very small venues (good for me, not so good for Ron) and both times have wondered aloud why I am not walking out of a place that seats thousands. His story (quest really) was very well told in a recent documentary called “Love Shines” which premiered at the Vancouver International Film Festival in 2010, and is shown on HBO Canada from time to time.

Ron has many gifts, but the greatest is that of songwriting. His music is wonderfully expressive, intimate really, a word I think is overused when describing music but which I think is entirely appropriate here.

Here is Ron on Elvis’ show “Spectacle” in 2009. Watch the expressions on the faces of Jesse Winchester, Neko Case, Cheryl Crowe and Elvis, which say it all.

I saw Elvis Costello last night at the Orpheum Theatre in Vancouver.   It was once again an enormous treat. The two and a half hour show, with no opening act, came complete with audience participation, a spinning song picker, a cage dancer or two, and Diana Krall.

An ex girlfriend,  who has been a Bob Dylan fan forever, once remarked that Elvis was my Dylan, in part because of the length of time I had enjoyed his music and in part because of the many musical shifts in his career.  These were keen observations.  From the first note of “Welcome to My Working Week” on his debut album “My Aim is True” in 1976, I have been a fan.  I have followed him from the early “songs of sneer” as he now describes them,  through his embrace of any number of genres of music including country, pop, bluegrass and indeed classical.

Along the way Elvis has collaborated with many musicians including such unlikely candidates as Bill Clinton and Smokey Robinson.  My list of his Top Five collaborations are:

1. Nick Lowe

Elvis and Nick go way back, Nick having produced Elvis’ first five albums.  They here performs Nick’s song made famous by Elvis “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love and Understanding”, turning it into a county music ballad.  Having no less than James Burton on guitar helps to achieve that vibe considerably I should think.

2. Lucinda Williams

Elvis and Lucinda have recorded together a number of times.  This clip is from a CMT (Country Music Television) series called “Crossroads” which brings together rock and country artists.  It debuted with an Elvis and Lucinda episode in 2002.  The two songs here, the Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses” and Lucinda’s “Blue”, are a display of combined artistry that is nothing short of magical.

3. Paul McCartney

Elvis and Paul recorded a album together in 1998 (not released on vinyl so far as I know and rare on disc) called “The Studio Collaboration”.  “So Like Candy” is one of the gems off it.  Cool song.

4. Alan Toussaint

Alan Toussaint is a New  Orleans writer, producer and musician of enormous influence.  He and Elvis met at a benefit for Katrina victims.  In 2006, they released to wide acclaim “The River in Reverse” which came out of the first major recording session in New Orleans after the storm. I saw and heard them in Vancouver around that time.  They played for three hours with palpable joy at sharing their gifts.  One of my all time favourite concert experiences. This track is called “Ascension Day” and is illustrative of the theme of the album.

5. Burt Bacharach

Elvis had been a long time Burt fan when he recorded an album of entirely original co-written material with him in 1998, a busy year apparently.  This famous Burt tune (performed by Elvis and Burt), “Never Fall in Love Again” is from the Austin Powers’ soundtrack. It is worth a watch and a listen even if you don’t like Heather Graham.