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Thursday, September 30, 2010

196. "The First Cut Is The Deepest" by Cat Stevens

Requested by Glen Uber.

And see, here's where things get kind of crazy. Glen requested this one as somewhat of a joke, on the occasion of the anniversary of his vasectomy. And look what I ended up going through to pull it off!

Stevens is somewhat of a blind spot for me, possibly owing to some of what I discussed earlier this week with regards to my musical upbringing, and possibly owing to the fact that the first thing I really ever heard about him was that he was supporting the good ol' fatwa calling for the death of Salman Rushdie. I was less than charmed at the time. That probably has been a barrier, really, since I've embraced plenty of artists cut from a similar cloth during the same era, but then again I did hear some of those guys at the time (Croce was big in our household). I had to scare up a whole new compilation in order to listen to the original... looking at the titles, I suspect I have heard more of his songs than I think. A few times over the decades, artists I like have introduced his songs to me as covers, and every once in a while I discover that something I have heard before but not known the artist, like that "Wild Life" song, is in fact by Stevens.

Looking at the list of people who have covered this song, I was little daunted by the fact that many of them seem rather, erm, more "singerly" than I usually think of myself, but it wasn't so bad. What is kind of weird is that I was almost done with this rather elaborate track before I remembered that the last time I'd given a song the de-luxe shoegazer treatment, it was a Carole King piece. So apparently there's part of me that wants to hear '70s singer-songwriters as imagined by the early Boo Radleys. All part of being me, I guess.

Personnel: Rex

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

195. "New Religion" by Duran Duran

Requested by Ken Ostrander.

It seems a while since I took drastic liberties with a song, so today, with the help of a copy of the newly mastered longform Butterfly Distractions session, I did so. And yet not... a lot of the essential elements of the original are present on my cover. Jittery dance beats, paranoia and confusion, synth washes, and power chords in the right place... all there. The fact that the chord sequence is at best implied and often worked against by the pre-recorded Butterfly jam makes for some really interesting tonal collisions. It's part experimentalism and part practicality; Miranda's bass playing is very discernible on the Butterfly recording, and it would've interfered with any other bass I might've added. I could have processed or EQed her bass down, but that would've compromised the recording of all the guitars as well, and I didn't want that, and as it shaped up, the colors provided by those occasional bass notes and the lock grooves working against the tempo of the drum loops created some of the coolest moments.

I'm not the world's biggest Duran Duran fan, but working on a song like this makes me take a closer look, which was always one of my goals for myself on this project journey deal thingy.

Miranda Broome ~ bass
Rex Broome ~ guitar
Derek Hanna ~ guitar
Clifford Ulrich ~ guitar
Vocals, additional guitar, keyboards, loops and editing by Rex
Butterfly Distraction performance extracted from the improvised composition "In Between Half Birthdays", available here.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

194. "Johnny Thunder" by The Kinks

Requested, once again, by Genevieve Broome. No, not making this up... the Randomizer has spoken.

First idea: let's do this like another band from the same era... a Stones or Byrds version.

Second idea: Deal with the piano thing. See, I have rudimentary skills on the keyboard. Live, I can play very simple organ parts, relying on sustain to cover up the fact that I can't move around much. Programmed, I can sound slightly more savvy. But the niceties of the piano completely escape me. I recognize chords, bass runs, melody lines and that kind of thing in piano playing, but integrating them all in some way that's physically possible for two hands is way more than I can manage. So I've had it in mind to try to program my way to something resembling a real (if incredibly, but hopefully interestingly, naive) solo piano performance. So that became the idea.

Third idea: manifests as I'm working through the second idea. This piano things sounds alright, but probably needs a little guitar to smooth out the overly geometrical feel.

Fourth idea: the result of messing around looking for a percussion loop to see if it will help. An absurd drum part from My Life in the Bush of Ghosts leaps out at me, and that's when, with all the melody and chord stuff already printed, the song starts to sound like a Jah Wobble track or similar.

The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society has been lodged in my personal Top 10 LPs list for years. Offhand, I believe "Houses in Motion" is the only other track from a perennial Top 10 album I've covered so far on 39-40. That list is pretty ossified, though. There are things on it that've always been there and certainly deserve it, but I'm not sure I haven't gotten more out of a few more recent discoveries and just can't admit it yet. These things take years, lifetimes, to work themselves out.

Personnel: Rex

Monday, September 27, 2010

193. "Monday Morning" by Fleetwood Mac

Requested by Steve.

Fleetwood Mac is pretty damned great. I probably wasted a fair amount of my music-listening lifetime thinking that there were good reasons to dislike Fleetwood Mac, but there really aren't. Are they a band that makes good music? Why, yes, they are. Is anything else relevant? Not really.

Most of my friends know my oddball musical history and most other people probably aren't interested, so I'll try to nutshell it. You can work out when I was born pretty easily what with the title of the blog and all. For most of my childhood I just plain didn't hear "top 40" radio; my family listened to country radio and folk revival records. We were too far out in the sticks for me to have any neighbor kids to hang out with, and I tended to listen to science fiction film scores and the occasional Dr. Demento-sanctioned novelty record. Somehow I developed a pretentious attitude that all pop and rock music must be stupid because it was popular. That persisted until maybe around 1986 when cable brought MTV into our home, but even then I was skeptical as hell, and in 1986 there was reason to be.

After only a brief time, though, during which little stuck with me besides Peter Gabriel and John Cougar Mellencamp, I latched firmly onto Talking Heads and R.E.M., for reasons that might come another day. But the thing that happened very quickly was that I read every interview with David Byrne and Peter Buck I could find, and rather than paying any attention to much beyond the college charts, I picked up every record I could find by every artist they name-dropped. And so there was maybe a year tops between my knowing nothing about any form of rock music and having a library full of Velvet Underground, Wire, Television and Soft Boys records. I skipped "classic rock" almost entirely save for the best of the '60's bands, with a heavy emphasis on Byrds and Beatles (the Kinks and Dylan obsessions were still a few years off).

So I don't have any nostalgia for, and not that much knowledge of, the really popular music of my putative youth. Let me be clear that I do not believe this makes me "cool". It's just the way it worked out. In fact, these days, it seems like the posture of "ironic" nostalgia for arena rock and so forth has outgrown its "irony" and I've come full circle back to being a dork for not knowing my Journey from my Boston from my REO Speedwagon. Unfortunately, I still really do hate most of that music; in that sense, being free from nostalgia lets me say without much bias that it seems utterly without merit, and "Don't Stop Believin'" is in a dead heat for my personal title of Worst Song Ever with "Youth of the Nation" by P.O.D.

But the other benefit of being nostalgia-free is that when the time comes for me to hear certain songs and artists who might, by many, be classed with that kind of stuff just because it was also popular, I can hear it clearly enough to dig it without prejudice. And so I am a latecomer to, let's say, Cheap Trick, but it's an effortless duck to water thing. Fleetwood Mac, which punk rock people like me were once supposed to despise because of... of... I don't know, I think it had something to do with cocaine and money or something, but anyway, I had sort of been warming to them casually when someone put it to me that I really ought to give Tusk a serious try. It was a quick sell. I listened to it steadily for a month, alternating with my other then-current obsession, Pere Ubu's Dub Housing. To this day I feel that there is a deep connection between those two (actually fairly contemporaneous) records which has yet to be revealed. Aside from the obvious one, which is their awesomeness.

It was really really hot today and I sweated too much while doing this to make it a big production, but I like the way it turned out.

Personnel: Rex

Sunday, September 26, 2010

192. "A Million Miles from Happiness" by Simon F

Requested by Miles Goosens.

I should probably make it clear that this performance isn't any kind of definitive statement on religion or anything. Like everything else on 39-40, it's a cover of someone else's song, and a song selected by someone else. I know this should be obvious-- I mean, two days ago I did "God's Children", and in recent weeks I've done both "Okie from Muskogee" and a song advocating the release of a guy accused of killing federal agents-- but people get pretty sensitive about their faith. Especially these days.

This song, which I'd not heard before today, suffers from the unfortunate circumstance of sounding very much like, in more than one particular, a subsequently released and much better known song, "God Part 2" by U2, which happens to be one of my least favorite U2 songs. This one is better. It's an interesting lyric, really; it's hard to say how earnest it is, but any way you look at it, it's a bit more sophisticated than a lot of the faux-nihilist bleating that passed for deep and poetical songwriting in a recent decade which shall remain nameless, although if you want a clue, one of the prime guilty parties was a guy whose name rhymes with "Billy Corgan".

Oh, and the challenge for anyone who knows Miles is to spot the sample from a band Miles hates. It's in there! Listen also for my imitation of a Macunian purveyor of incoherent verse who is, for once, not Mark E. Smith.

Personnel: Rex

Saturday, September 25, 2010

191. "Typical Girls" by The Slits

Requested by... several people. This request is an example of how the request side of things is rapidly becoming its own kind of sub-forum here and on Facebook. It's fun for me, and along the lines of what I was imagining when I conceived this project. Jokes and meta-jokes sort of dictating what I play and maybe even informing my take on it. Keep it up; it is much appreciated.

The Slits might be the most recent ascendants to my personal pantheon of all-time favorite artists. I'm floored by what they achieved, and deconstructing this song reinforces almost everything I love about them... the original, and indeed most of their material, sounds amazingly intuitive, raw, even, but every thing about it is actually really complex. The vocal arrangement alone, for all of the unrestrained primal energy of Ari Upp's voice, is really intricate and took way more time than usual for me to reconstruct (and, frankly, grossly simplify). The wonder of it all is that I'd known of The Slits forever, and heard a track here or there on compilations, but for some reason I didn't take them seriously as something I really needed to check out in depth. I think I imagined, and it's probably because of rock journalism I'd read, which, no, is not usually a good reason to imagine anything, a primitive precursor of Riot Grrl music or at best a rough dress rehearsal for what The Raincoats (whom I adore) would go on to do. But a few years ago the blogosphere vastly expanded the amount of semi-casual sampling of music one could do, and I, typically, used it to unearth old stuff instead of catching up with new music. It was a chance to hear all the bands I'd heard being namedropped as part of one scene or another through the years, and find out which decently respected artists really clicked with me (as well as unearthing numerous cases of the emperor's new, or old, as the case may be or have been, clothes).

Anyway, The Slits. Mind-bending stuff. I don't think I would have been ready for it when I did my first forays into the original punk scenes. It seems to demand an understanding of what was going on at the time well beyond the Pistols and The Clash, although The Clash's dub experiments are germane; certainly my few go-rounds with reggae and especially my recent dabbling in dub were key, and my long-standing interest in arty and/or beaty bands that have ties to punk but sure don't sound like what the kids think of when they hear the word started to prepare me. Sort of. I dunno. It was a big deal discovering this stuff-- the seeds of borderline obsession. Both of their original albums are essential (like so many bands of the era, the second record is vastly underrated). I can't really say much more; I'd definitely recommend that you at least give them a listen, because if you end up liking them, you'll realize you would've been much the poorer had you never heard them. Then again, most people will find it to be some kind of weird animal noise stuff, but what's 45 minutes of your life listening to that? Cut at least has an interesting sleeve.

On my version, a fair slice of the drums come from Slits followers The Au Pairs and some others come from The Fall, whose "How I Wrote Elastic Man" has a certain kinship with this tune. The 13-string gets a prominent workout, including me taking a slide to it. Too much fun.

Personnel: Rex

Friday, September 24, 2010

190. "God's Children" by The Kinks

Requested by Genevieve Broome. That's right, I never said that employees of Minco Records and/or family members of employees of Minco Records were ineligible to request tunes on 39-40. They aren't. And although it's a little amazing, Gen's request did win the randomizer for today (it's actually not that amazing, since there was a record low of 7 requests).

Now, what most people, family or otherwise, don't get to do is then commandeer the session and sing the lead vocal on their own request. And I honestly didn't expect her to do it... she's been kind of shy about doing vocals for the project. But I love her voice and love it even more when she plays and sings... when she picks up a guitar and starts singing, I always stop whatever I'm doing and have to listen. Always... it's a involuntary response. It helps that she's always singing a good song, either one of her own or a cover I wish I knew.

Another little experiment with guitar strings made it into today's cover. I'd determined it was well past time to change the strings on my primary acoustic (the Sigma listed here) but just as a lark I decided to record the guitar part twice, once with the old dead strings, and then again with the new ones after I'd gotten them on there. But while waiting for the strings to stretch themselves out, I started to feel like the first acoustic reading I'd done had been a little too inert compared to the dynamic and fantastical arrangement on the original, so I decided to have what was going to be a doubled acoustic track depart from the original after the first verse. Glad I did.

And finally, I can't believe this is the first Ray Davies composition I've covered for this project! I have so many Kinks records it's insane. And it was probably a conversation about the Kinks that led to Gen and I becoming an item to begin with, so if this is a bit late, at least it's been handled in an appropriate manner.

Genevieve Broome ~ Lead vocal
Rex Broome ~ Guitars, backing vocals

Thursday, September 23, 2010

189. "Long Distance" by Go Sailor

Requested by Aaron (I'm not entirely sure which one).

A few songs deep into this request format and a couple of patterns or tendencies are already starting to reveal themselves to me.

One is that I feel a lot more obliged to do a good job on each cover, because hey, someone actually wanted to hear what I would do to that particular song. And I also feel a little less inclined to take drastic risks with the material. Now, I'm thinking that all it will take is one major disaster of a cover, or one last-minute rush job, to break down that barrier. But I haven't hit the wall head on yet.

Another thing is that it's a little more frustrating to look at the finite list of potential songs, which average about 10 or so a day, and seeing the one or two you really really want to do before the randomizer picks a different one for you. This day's list had "Typical Girls" by The Slits on it. I'd really like to take a crack at that one. Anyway...

Go Sailor entered my consciousness very recently in an odd way. At some point late last year I was doing the Ultimate and Final Universal Clean-Up of my iTunes library, correcting tags, deleting redundant tracks, and identifying mysterious tracks. This latter part was tricky. I've absorbed big chunks of a lot of peoples' libraries over the years, and not everyone is as particular about their file tagging as I am. As I chipped away at the mystery tracks, I began to realize that a big chunk of them came from the same source, someone who was incredibly gifted at being wrong about stuff. You could see that all of the tracks had the same bitrate and were created around the same time. Most of them didn't have an artist name, but most of the ones that did were wrong; furthermore, the cited artist often didn't generally sound anything like the track in question. Then there were the track names themselves, which were often wrong in a variety of ways, sometimes all at once. Many of them were named after a phrase in the song that was not the title, and, better yet, the phrase used was misheard to the point where just listening to the song you knew it was wrong. And look, it's fine to get stuff all screwed up. But it's sort of a lot of work to tag stuff to begin with, so it just seemed odd to me that someone would go to all that trouble, over and over again, having absolutely no idea what they were mislabeling. Longstoryshorttoolate, several of those mystery tracks turned out, after a great deal of lyric-googling, to be by Go Sailor. (A whole bunch of the rest of them turned out to be the Stiff Records box set, but by the time I worked that out I had tagged most of them as original singles, complete with artwork from the 45's, and I left 'em that way for fun.)

Fun facts: the 13-string makes a prominent appearance again, and I used real amplifiers for the first time in an embarrassingly long while (during summer with the kids at home I tended to us more amp simulators just so as not to ruin their cartoon watching or game playing). Also, the drum samples used on this one include swipes from two separate tunes with the word "Gut" in the title, by two separate artists.

Personnel: Rex

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

188. "A Message to Pretty" by Love

Requested by His Lordship & Majesty Etc. Brian Huddell.

Now here's one that in my mind comes really close to being pretty good, but then in the end stumbles pretty badly. Most of the elements here should add up to awesome, but they don't quite gel. Part of that is because I tried a whole bunch of stuff along the way which I decided I didn't like and had to start that part again. One thing that really broadcasts as "off" is the wiggly timing, which is a big bummer in the summer (technically it's not fall yet as I write this); I was making a drum loop out of something really cool, but it wasn't dead on the beat as I cut it. Or so I thought, and I played a lot of the tracks trying to compensate, until, late in the game, I realized I was just hearing something wrong. But by that point it was too late to replay all the parts, and my mistake had magnified and compounded itself for hours, and... well, hell. Hopefully you can tell that my heart really was in it... I love this song.

The most interesting aspect of this, and something into which too much time went in and of itself, is the debut of my 13-string guitar. It really only has 12 strings, but it has one note, a super-high B, that a 12-string doesn't have, hence the name. I ordered a whole load of .007 strings in order to outfit my Rick 12 that way, but they inevitably break just shy of being tuned to a true B (and I do mean just shy of it; every single one of the first six I tried went well past B flat and most of them actually made it to the true note before self-destructing). After wasting those six, though, I realized what a moron I was being... all I had to do was glance at my acoustic 12-string, which has been permanently capo'ed on the 2nd fret for many years, to realize that I only had to get the string to A and then slap a capo on it. Not ideal and certainly not a proposition I'd like to bust out for a live gig, but it worked. But even that I managed to bungle, by choosing to replace the harmonica solo (don't have a harp in the right key) with a mandolin line. Yeah, good choice when you're trying to show off a new high string sound to steamroll over it with the highest-register stringed instrument there is. But there you go. The 13-string will be back, though... I like what it does.

Personnel: Rex

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

187. "Books About UFOs" by Hüsker Dü

Requested by Bill Rodeheaver.

I was all about to program the piano part on this, but I wussed out because I couldn't figure out how to scale the MIDI grid (or whatever it is) to the triplet figures that drive this tune. So instead I played the piano part on my mandolin. Which was pretty fair, until I realized that the last time I did a Grant Hart tune I did it all on mandolin, and then the last time I did a Bob Mould tune I started it off on a banjo. Look, I swear I'm not trying to start one of those bluegrass tribute albums, "Pickin' on Hüsker Dü and Its Songwriters"... things just work out that way every once in a while.

What rather a lot of fun it was to sing this song. I'll probably add this to my live repertoire.

Personnel: Rex

Monday, September 20, 2010

186. "Okie from Muskogee" by Merle Haggard

The new, looser request-based format of 39-40 is going to be played even looser from time to time, when events in the real world (birthdays, events of extinction-level win/fail, holidays) demand something a little more specific. In this case, the news that poor health has forced country legend and incredibly awesome dude Merle Haggard to cancel some shows and take some time off sent me running back to this recording of a performance Thunderhill did of "Okie From Muskogee" last month. And yes, some people did request a Haggard tribute, so here it is.

If you're familiar with Thunderhill, then you'll want to know that this is the first new recording of the band of any kind to be released since-- I'm fairly sure of this-- 1978, with the On the Road Again LP. There'll probably be more to come from the two shows Heckman and I recorded last month, and there's certainly big bunch of crazy archival stuff in my vault here at Minco Records headquarters, reaching all the way back to 1958 or thereabouts, predating even the "official" debut of the band.

If you're not familiar with Thunderhill, there's not much I can do to explain the whole thing. I will mention that I've been a little hesitant to label this incarnation of the band as "Thunderhill" since it doesn't include founding member Ed Jordan. But everyone called us that anyway, so it was hard to fight it. I'm still hoping to get Ed to jump into the recording process in some capacity.

Does this fit the rubric of turning out a cover a day, considering that the main part of the recording was done in August? To me, it does; I did all the mixing and editing today, and may even have added an overdub or two. In many previous cases I've based my covers on existing material, and in every case *something* has existed beforehand in some fashion. Doesn't matter, really. Here's some Haggard.

THUNDERHILL (2010 Edition)
Jim Broome ~ lead vocal, rhythm guitar
Rich Frush ~ drums, backing vocal
Rex Broome ~ lead guitar, backing vocal
Tom Heckman ~ bass, backing vocal
Jerry "Vic" Marsh ~ tambourine, keyboards

Recorded live at The Stray Cat Wing Shack in Keyser, WV by Tom Heckman
Mixed and edited by Rex at Minco Records, Silver Lake, CA

Sunday, September 19, 2010

185. "Fading Fast" by The Go-Go's

Requested by Paula Carino.

Last time we did a Go-Go's tune, Miranda was going to sing lead on a verse, but by the time we got back from Disneyland-- this was the one Eden recorded in the car, if you'll recall-- nobody was awake enough to do anything. Tonight, oddly, Miranda is the only one of the three kids in the house, so she got it all to herself, her first complete solo lead here if I'm not mistaken. I really dig it. I promise that the next time the Go-Go's come up I'll do my best Belinda Carlisle impersonation my own damn self. It's tempting to have Gen do it, but turned down her chance to be an actual Go-Go many years ago... she may feel that boat has well and truly sailed.

Charlotte wrote some good 'uns, it must be said.

Miranda Broome ~ lead vocal
Rex Broome ~ guitar, backing vocals

Saturday, September 18, 2010

184. "Jolly Roger" by Roger McGuinn

Requested by Kevin Studyvin. (Due to a bizarre hiccup in the space-time continuum, the winning randomly selected request for Sunday is being posted before the winning request for Saturday. The Doctor is investigating.)

This request relates in some way to yesterday having been International Talk Like A Pirate Day. In the future requestors are going to have to look on their calendars where holidays are concerned and get their date-specific requests in a day ahead of time... no good listening to a Halloween-related cover on November 2nd. But the kinks will doubtless work themselves out.

Anyway, hey, the cover of this one was performed by another band of mine, Butterfly Distraction. Now, I swear I'm not trying to appear to be in a thousand different bands. In fact I've long since been so sick of switching artist identities, and when we managed to name Skates & Rays, I took an oath that that would be the last name I put to any of my musical endeavors other than my own (with wiggle room for backing band names-- Rex Broome & His Living Room Demons, Rex Broome & The Chessie System, etc.) and have largely stuck to it. Midlife Crisis was by necessity an exception as the point of it was that it would be a band and not a solo vehicle for me, so we had to name it something. And Butterfly Distraction, well, I've been in this band for about 15 years, so it falls under the Grandfather Clause.

Butterfly Distraction actually formed a short time before I got involved, in 1995 or so. As a project it's had several manifestations, all of them experimental and improvisational, but most of the time it was a group of guitarists doing free-form improv for an hour or so at a time. The most consistend participants were Derek Hanna, Clifford Ulrich, Mark Erwin and myself. Derek was at the time the drummer in one of my earlier bands, as he is now the drummer for Skates & Rays; Cliff is now the bassist for Skates & Rays, but that wouldn't happen until about ten years later. Throughout its long, varied and sporadic life, BFD has been always different, but always the same. No, wait, that's The Fall, but it applies fairly well here.

Butterfly convened today for the first time in quite a while, this time with Derek, Cliff and myself on guitar, and my daughter Miranda (9) on bass. She fit right in, and not just because there are no rules for what to play; in fact, there are all kinds of unwritten rules for how to play this kind of stuff without it sounding completely inept, and she breezed right by those without even having to think about it. Anyway, in addition to the usual longform improvisation, we did this short one based on today's song; I recorded it in stereo and added the vocal and sound effects afterward. Bear in mind that for a long-standing experimental collective, performing something with even a rough song structure is actually more experimental than doing an "experimental" piece. It would be interesting to push this a little further, and we probably will. Meanwhile, I have another 68 minute Butterfly piece to mix and add to the big old pile that's accrued over the years.

Clifford Ulrich ~ seagul-sounding guitar
Derek Hanna ~ riffy melody-ish guitar
Miranda Broome ~ bass
Rex Broome ~ vibrato guitar, vocal
with outtakes from the original version of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, Disneyland
and the lonesome ol' buoy from Jaws

Friday, September 17, 2010

183. "What Goes On" by The Velvet Underground

Folks, as of today, the 39-40 project is more than halfway completed. My original plan was to celebrate this milestone by doing, for perhaps the only time, a song of my own choosing (and I know what it would've been). But after I posted an alternate mix of the Midlife Crisis cover of "Sacrifice"/"Radio Free Europe", Lisa Rodeheaver, the hostess of the show at which it was recorded, asked me if I had a recording of our performance of the Velvet Underground's "What Goes On" from the same show. And then a couple of hours later I found out that her daughter Ivy was suffering from pneumonia, a condition about which I know more than I'd like. Now, I don't think Lisa realized this, but I'd actually dropped Ivy's name into the lyrics of that very song, so it seemed like the cool thing to do would be to honor Lisa's request as the very midpoint of 39-40 and post a mix of that performance. It's also a sort of symmetry-- the very second 39-40 cover was a VU tune as well, with my own kids singing on it.

In any case, this also gives me an opportunity to wrap up:
BEHIND THE MUSIC: The Midlife Crisis Story (Part 2)

When I left off last time, Heckman and I were plotting three weeks worth of musical mayhem in and around Keyser, WV, piggybacked on a series of Thunderhill shows. And I was thinking a drummer would really put us over the top. Heckman and I talked this over and considered a few options before he put a call in with Chris Dixon in New York. Chris was our drummer in most of our High School era bands and a key part of our creative brains trust all through that time. He hadn't played drums in a while, but after some consideration he decided to give it a go, and we were almost "getting the band back together" (not quite, though; we had never played as a three-piece back in the day and I hadn't been a frontman at the time). So the garage was once again converted into a rehearsal/recording studio, with Heckman bringing in a full PA and drum kit from Morgantown, and all my recording crap being folded into it and off we went.

The denouement of the first night's rehearsal can be heard on 39-40 here; that's Dixon's end-of-the-night monologue while Heckman and I make stuff up in the background.

Now, at this point, given that I'm also supposed to be on vacation and taking care of my kids as well as maintaining my daily 39-40 schedule, and rehearsing Thunderhill (including learning a bunch of lead parts I'd never played before and helping Dad through relearning a few of the tune he was kind of nervous about, although please don't tell him I told you that), it was pretty obvious that I had way more going on than I could handle. For some reason I had imagined that in addition to learning an hour or so of music, the new/old band, which Dixon named, appropriately enough, Midlife Crisis, could bash out a few covers for 39-40 as we went. But the opposite happened: MiLC required a pretty laser sharp focus on the setlist we'd hammered out, and in fact took time away from my regular recording duties for the blog. Thus you got some real crap covers and my mumbling about how playing music was cutting into my playing-music time.

And a lot of other shit happened, a good deal of it fairly insane. Small town, old friends reconvening after 20 years, high profile jobs, and, it bears repeating, small town. But somewhere along the way I'd casually set up a warm-up gig playing a party at the Rodeheavers' place on Hooker Hollow Road. (I can't make this stuff up.) Billy and Lisa (then Chaney) were classmates of all of us MiLC guys and just plain the coolest people in the area, and they had converted this stand-alone garage at their house into a bar, called the Barage, and thought it would be cool to have bands play there. Sounded groovy to me.

We almost didn't make it, for various reasons all related to the fairly insane circumstances sketched out above, but we did-- we moved the entire band's gear from one garage in the middle of the woods at my parents' house to another one at the Rodeheavers, and added our racket to the katydids in the woods and had a grand time. And we were pretty good, dammit. I can be heard on the recording saying how wonderful the audience is and how it was the most loved I'd ever felt performing music, and that's pretty much true. There was a lot of unjudgmental, unjaded embracing of us just doing what we'd managed to put together; there was Lisa actually singing along with my songs from the Skates & Rays record, standing there radiating good vibes and joy like some astonishing goddess-muse-patroness of Rock As We Know It; there was Ivy, cartwheeling in front of us; there was Bill, beaming at having us inaugurating the Barage. Dixon held it together and completely rose to the occasion; Heckman and I seem from the tape to have been pretty well on our game... it was a small miracle. Ramshackle jams went on well into the night... too far into the night, really, considering that we were playing again, this time "in public" at thew Wing Shack, opening from Thunderhill, and that we had to tear all the gear down, move it to the Shack, and set it back up again before then. It... could have been planned better.

Midlife Crisis pretty much bombed at the Wing Shack. It wasn't disastrous; in fact it was more in line with what a band who'd only gotten together and learned an hour-long set in less than four days should sound like. But it didn't live up to, and of course was probably diminished by the long hours that went into, the show at the Barage the night before. Thunderhill's show, sort of ironically, was probably the tightest of the three we did. Heckman's excellent band Double Dragons finished out the night and graciously allowed me to sit in on lead guitar and occasional vocals throughout their set. Basically I played and sang my ass off for a good solid 24 hours.

And then we all went our separate ways again. But Heckman and I have multitracks of a fair amount of the shows, and I'm finally getting some mileage out of all that work here on 39-40.

Rex Broome: guitar & vocal
Tom Heckman: bass & vocal
Chris Dixon: drums
Recorded at the Barage on August 20, 2010 by Tom Heckman
Mixed today by Rex

Thursday, September 16, 2010

182. "German Shepherds" by Laika

This is Laika's cover of a Wire song. Being fairly obsessed with both Wire and Laike, I found this a cool thing when it came out, but I in no way anticipated it leading to Laika frontwoman Margaret Fiedler joining Wire on tour when Bruce Gilbert bowed out, some thirty years down the line. But that's not the point. What's kind of funny, but also not the point, is how seeing the cover to this Wire tribute album (which was also the home of just about the only real My Bloody Valentine recording of note to surface since Loveless) reminded me of something Margaret wrote in the liner notes to a Laika compilation this track eventually appeared on, sarcastically noting how "charmingly titled" the tribute album was.

And she has a point: Whore is a totally lame title. It relates to Wire's thematic concerns in very few particulars, and I can't even think of an instance in which they used the word in their lyrics. It may have been an attempt to play on the band's name, but it neither really looks nor sounds especially like the word "Wire". That said, it's funny if Margaret was trying to say it was a bit offensive, because within the first lines of her cover she takes Colin Newman's perfectly innocent if surreal lines about flying canines and changes them to "I saw two dogs fucking/There was a man on the end". That's my girl!

My version is based more closely on the Wire original, although you wouldn't know it to read the short list of instruments I used to create it.

Personnel: Rex

Cover art by Jeff Norman

NEW FORMAT: All Requests (starting with #184)

So, half a year into and halfway through this fairly enormous undertaking, I've decided to make a few changes. Well, one, really.

The songs I'll be covering will still be chosen randomly, but now they will be chosen randomly from a daily pool of requests from readers of the blog. (Details on how to request songs here.)

So why the change?

Well, I've noticed something that should've been obvious from the outset, which is that more people are more likely to listen to a cover when it's a cover of a song they know, or, moreover, love.

Which has frankly been the source of some mild frustration for me, because I've done some of my best work when spinning off of truly obscure source material. But realistically, I can't expect an unknown song (or commercial or experimental piece or audio fragment) to catch a lot of interest. The dustier corners of my music collection have given me some great challenges, yes, but in addition to not being that popular, those selections might be though of as extreme navel-gazing. And I've become aware that some people don't quite get the random-selection part of the process anyway... I often get asked how I choose the songs and why they're so weird. That's partly my fault because I've never posted anything laying down the 39-40 manifesto, other than the very first post, which is totally buried in the way that first blog posts inevitable are. So.

It seems that I've gotten comfortable with the random stuff from my own collection. It has, by definition, a certain safe familiarity for me. So moving to what moves the listeners and readers is redefining and increasing the challenge. Frankly, I don't think I would've been ready to do requests at the outset of the project. It's taken a lot of trial and error and casting about in the dark to get my abilities up to their current level.

And honestly, I hope this will make the project a little more fun, open, entertaining, and even more social than it has been. I was probably expecting too much when I envisioned the level of reader involvement the project might garner-- well, not really; I was fully aware that there was a fair possibility that absolutely nobody would be reading or listening after a month. In any case, this format is predicated on at least a bit of a dialogue with the readers, so I hope I get one!

Thanks for listening and I look forward to serving you again in the future.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

181. "Punk Rock Girl" by The Dead Milkmen

This marks the first time on 39-40 that I'm doing a cover of a song not randomly selected for me by The Machine. It's a matter of days before I switch to an all-requests format anyway-- I'll post about that tomorrow-- but I'm doing this as part of web-wide memorial for Carol Marie Geddes, organized around a ladybug release by her husband and my friend Glen Uber. It's in progress even as I write this. I'd hoped to be able to attend, but Glen asked me instead to dedicated today's cover to her, and I'm happy to oblige.

Glen's written a lot about Carol and his experiences since losing, and I asked if he wanted to say anthing to go with the blog posting. Here's what he had to say:

I don't know exactly what you want me to say about the song other than that Carol happened to be in the video at the very beginning and was thrilled because she adored the Dead Milkmen. She had moved on from punk clothing and haircuts by the time I met her, but she was still a little punk rock girl through and through. Her favorite band was the Ramones, though she also loved the Cure, the Beatles, Buddy Holly, and especially ska.

You've seen the posts I've made and likely read her obituary. Everything I've written about her or to her has been the truth, so feel free to use any of that if you'd like.

The best therapy for me this past year has been music, especially some of the music she loved and songs that remind me of her. Our songs. Our wedding songs. Our goofy, playtime songs. The love songs we had for each other. Rather than making me sad, they are oddly comforting in a bittersweet way.

I guess if you say nothing else, just say that I loved her more than anything in this world and will love her until I take my last breath. And I miss her like crazy.

Thanks, Rex! Ladybug Love always!

With a little luck, someone will spot this post soon and those at the release will get to hear this version of the song before it's over.

Personnel: Rex

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

180: "Sacrifice" by Robbie Robertson

Yeah, this one's confusing. And not just for the obvious reason that it's clearly, obviously actually "Radio Free Europe" with an interview with Leonard Peltier thrown into the mix to tie it to the Robinson track. Actually, it's a lot more considered than that, but I don't want to delve into the politics of the thing because the way it came to be is weird enough. Okay...

Look, the tone of my writing-- which, as much as I love to do it and can do it all night, you know-- on 39-40 has drifted a little bit confessional lately, so I might as well explain this whole thing, and what I was doing in West Virginia last month. Some of you know some of it, and I'm not going to bore anyone with all of it, but it goes like this.

I am, of course, a frustrated musician, although somewhat less frustrated and decidedly more of a musician since having started this blog. I have no musical career (career here meaning "thing from which you have ever made even the slightest amount of money") nor many prospects for same. I do, however, somewhat oddly for someone in such a position, have a band, a faithful and talented couple of guys who are willing to try whatever kind of weird stuff I may throw their way and make some songs out of it. Frankly, the whole thing is the drummer's idea; I owe him what you call a "life debt". But it's hard as hell to get your band booked in LA; we put out a record last year of which I am, I think, justifiably proud, and were able to do even less with it than I had expected, and, you know, not a lot of validation came our way. And this year it's been more difficult for us to get together due to completely understandable life stuff for all three of us, so we haven't played much. That's one of the reasons I took up the challenge of this blog. Of course, I expected the band to be doing some of the covers for the blog, and that hasn't happened yet (at least inasmuch as we've all sat together and played a song on purpose; Cliff has guested several times and a huge chunk of the sampled drums I've used have been loops of Derek's playing from master tapes and the like).

However, I am in an odd position to play music for an audience outside of Los Angeles. The reason for this is... really weird. See, my dad, who's in his mid-'70's, was the leader of a phenomenally successful band in the area of the West Virginia/Maryland border where I grew up. By successful, I mean local legends. Pretty much literally: in that area, Thunderhill (originally the Thunder Hill Singers) IS a legend, but most definitely local in that nobody outside that area has heard of them or is likely to "get" the whole thing. But lucky me, I grew up with my dad being a musical hero (among other things), and I got to learn to play on his gear when the band retired around 1984. But the band didn't entirely retire; there would be reunion shows from then until, basically, now, and by 1989 I was the de facto bass player for the reunion edition of Thunderhill, which played at most once a year to huge crowds and inevitably to raise money for local charities, usually school-related (since all of the band members had day jobs as educators).

Meanwhile, since initiating my latter-day musical-- okay, I've already declined the word "career", but maybe "ventures" would cover it; I'm essentially talking about the period when I got back into playing music after several years off and became, for the first time, a self-sufficient frontman and viable solo musician, basically the Skates & Rays era-- anyway, for the last five or six years I've been able to carve out a little niche playing my own music when I'm in my hometown of Keyser, WV. Sometimes this is in conjuntction with Thunderhill reunions; sometimes it's because the amazing and beautiful Laura Whitmore, whom I consider to be my East Coast touring agent, has set up a gig for me; sometimes I set 'em up myself.

Now, another giant enabling factor in just how I've gone about doing these performances is my friend Tom Heckman (hereinafter "Heckman"), who was in bands with me in high school, and who, like me (albeit with more of a "career"-type thing as described above) is still in the rock and roll racket with his fine band Double Dragons out of Morgantown, WV and various recording enterprises. We've actually played together a lot in recent years, which has been a lot of fun as we've both come a long way as musicians and seem to have, after all this time, basically compatible approaches to how we go about doing stuff. Heckman is also amazingly willing to drive huge stacks of gear all over the state, and more than once in recent years we've turned my parents' garage out in the woods of Great Oak Valley into an ad-hoc but pretty extensive studio. And we've played at insane places like our High School reunion, a hipster bar in Frostburg, a Christian ice cream shop in Keyser, and of course the Stray Cat Wing Shack.

This year a bunch of Thunderhill shows got booked around my visit, and it was kind of a special series of them, marred only by the fact that we couldn't talk original member Ed Jordan into joining in. But it was a pretty big deal for me in that I moved for the first time into the full-time lead guitar slot and did a lot more singing than I have in the past because, well, I can now. And it was a pretty easy sell to get Heckman to take the bass slot. But then, dumbass that I am, I start to get overly ambitious, and I'm thinking, hey, Heckman's gonna be there; I'll be doing some solo songs, sure, but if we can get someone to drum for us, we can throw an actual band into this thing. And hey, Eden's going to be there... she can do a set, too; I already know all of her songs. And you can kind of see where this is heading, but there are a few wild cards yet to be dealt.


Rex Broome ~ Guitar & Vocal
Tom Heckman ~ Guitar & Vocal
Chris Dixon ~ Drums
featuring the recorded voice of Leonard Peltier
mostly recorded live at the Rodeheaver Barage, Hooker Hollow Road, outside Keyser, WV, Saturday, August 20 2010
original recording by Tom Heckman
assembled and edited by Rex at Minco Records in Silver Lake, CA

Monday, September 13, 2010

179. "Wild and Blue" by Freakwater

I had a mandolin delivered to my door today, and yet I somehow managed not to use it, nor the banjo that I apparently found essential to the Bob Mould cover, on my version of this most old-timey tune. Seems like I did remember to put some twang into it about halfway, and half-ass, through. Are the vocals too loud? Do I really want to hear the answer to that question?

Personnel: Rex

Sunday, September 12, 2010

178. "No, Your Product" by The Saints

Sometimes, as with yesterday's Bob Mould cover, I just start with a basic idea and watch it blossom track by track into something else, and with each little decision that works it gains momentum towards being some particular thing to the extent that the final touches are practically written and played for me. That's cool. Other times, as today, each addition is a telltale that the original idea was not a good one and pursuing it is more or less a matter of cramming oneself down the wrong rabbit hole.

In this case I'd been feeling remiss for not having done a straight-up a capella reading of a rock song, like the kind of thing Petra Haden has been doing lately. I think that, about halfway through this one, I realized the absolute genius of her having started with The Who, and the early Who (well, the middle-early Who or whatever you'd call Sell Out) at that: while it clearly rocks like hell and doing Moony's drums with mouth noises must be incredibly fun, there is also a whole lot of harmonic content to the tunes in a way there's not with, let's say, the Stones or Kinks of the same period. The who are offering you three- or more-part harmonies and basslines that depart from the root chords fairly often, and Townshend's rarely throwing up a chord that he doesn't suspend a time or two. This Saints tune is more like the Stones model: Chris Bailey is certainly in a Jaggery-sneery mode here, and that kind of vocal is almost chord-neutral, I've found. The bass and rhythm guitar lines stick close together in true punk rock style, and the lead is bluesy blends. In short, it's a awesome rock song, but a crap candidate for the choral treatment. Live and learn, I guess... Ray Davies took longer to find it out than I did, and he actually released the record where he did worse than this to some of his own very best tunes.

Personnel: Rex

Saturday, September 11, 2010

177. "Stop Your Crying" by Bob Mould

Once twenty years or so ago I'd agreed to drive my friend KT to the airport from campus. This was back when they were still building what I assume is now the 105 or something; in any case, there were tons of unfinished onramps and disconnected, elevated freeway sections all over the place. And it started pouring rain, some of the most torrential rain I've ever seen in LA; there were points in the drive where the visibility was so lousy that I was taking offramps into what seemed like the sky and for all I knew I was just going to go flying off of one of those unfinished deals into the pounding wet void. I eventually dropped KT off successfully and was trying to get home; the freeways by now were completely jammed and in places beginning to actually fill up with water, like swimming pools. The wipers on my Mercury Topaz were nothing to speak of and I think it may even have been leaking; it was certainly dark and wet and hellish, and it began to dawn on me that the cassette I'd been listening to the whole time, Underwater Moonlight by The Soft Boys, was if not actually calling the downpour from the skies then certainly making me feel more submerged than I wanted to be, so I decided to switch it out for another one. I popped it out and felt around in all the likely places where I thought any other cassettes might be, but was only able to find one: Black Sheets of Rain by Bob Mould.

I think it would be really, really hard to be one of Bob Mould's exes.

Personnel: Rex

Thursday, September 9, 2010

176. "Mau Mau Mau" by The Hombres

The Hombres are known for their one small hit, the enigmatic and enigmatically titled "Let It Out (Let It All Hang Out)", which has been often anthologized, covered, and rather bizarrely sampled by Definition of Sound as the bedrock for a hip hop track which shares the title of, but absolutely no musical content with, Donovan's "Wear Your Love Like Heaven". Their one album isn't easy to find, but if you track down a vinyl rip of it, you'll find that like a lot of the LPs by the bands on Nuggets and the like, it has a few tracks comparable to (and sounding very much like) the hit, and a fair helping of un-punky, un-psychey, unchallenging filler. This song fits very much into the latter category, although you can briefly ponder what's up with the title phrase, being that it seems to be maybe a name, but how that's supposed to work is patently unclear. Anyway. I did one thing with my version of it that has a little bit of novelty to it... enough to make it worth the minute and small change of your time it takes to listen to it, I hope. Next!

Personnel: Rex

175. "Memorable Moments" by The Tyde

Another across-the-gulf-of-years collaboration with Greg Whitmore. I didn't do anything at all to the backing track on this one. It was tempting to extend it a little bit to allow the lyrics to breathe, but in the end I was able to rearrange them in a way that fit the ebb and flow of Greg's original piece quite nicely, I think.

Do you ever have one of those moments when you see that an artist you like pretty well has worked with someone so execrable that it throws your whole assessment of them into question? As I was searching (in vain) for the lyrics to this song online, I noticed that the third Tyde album includes contributions from some guy from Maroon 5 (whom I should admit I only assume to be douchebags because everyone says so) and another guy from The Thrills, who, yeah, I know, people like them okay and stuff, but it kinda bothered me that a bad from Ireland was so incapable of writing more than three songs without naming one of them after some place in California. But life goes on.

Greg Whitmore ~ everything except:
Rex Broome ~ vocal

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

174. "Say No Go" by De La Soul

I've been hoping something like this would happen for a while. There was a time when I really loved hip hop, and it was a glorious thing. I drifted away from it for reasons that probably at first had mostly to do with the state of me, wasn't able to find my way back in for reasons having to do with the state of hip-hop, and aside from the occasional thing that happens to catch my ear or abstract fancy from time to time, a huge swath of rap history has unfolded without my paying much attention other than by reading this or hearing that name mentioned over and over again in other media. But I do feel like I was there for the Golden Age, and I wouldn't trade that for much at all.

Now, way back when I did Egg Man, I didn't have any loop-building skills at all. It's a miracle that that track, which was built from the ground up (and took on some wacky challenges in the process) got finished at all. By its very nature it's completely different from the original. In this case, having worked up my abilities in the interim, I was trying to do the compete opposite, and replicate the original backing track as completely as possible, and with a little bit of surgery and a little fake organ playing I was able to do it fairly well. If that seems like a kind of banal end product for all that work, it was in some ways just an exercise, and in another way an attempt to not do anything to flashy with the track itself, because I wanted the point of this one to see to what extent I could flow. So that's what it's all about.

Original backing track ~ De La Soul
Vocal, loop surgery, fake organ ~ Rex

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

173. "Tension" by The Minutemen

You can never be too sure about these things, and I'm the first to be skeptical of it where my own skills and abilities are concerned, but I do believe I've grown a bit, musically, in a number of areas as a result of this project. But one thing is for certain: I'm not much closer to Mike Watt's level as a bassist than I was the first time I did a Minutemen tune for 39-40.

Still, I do thing the rhythmic switchup is fun on this one, and it is kind of quirkily fierce, and... wait for it... at least as my library shows it now, it's one second shorter than the original version!

Personnel: Rex

Monday, September 6, 2010

172. "Vanity" by New Model Army

So whilst casting about for material I can develop without, like, moving much, I noticed that I'd somehow completely forgotten this New Model Army tune which The Machine had chosen for me back in West Virginia. Weird. I'm not especially a NMA fan; I have this record because I became somewhat of an obsessive completist for all of the songs played on Paris radio station Oui FM between January and July of 1991, and this band's "Purity" was one of them. But there it was, to be dealt with. Fortunately for me, a glance at the lyrics made it look like a pretty good candidate for a spoken-word narrative.

Now, I've never met Russ Van Rooy, but I've known him and respected the hell out of him for many years, having met him via the Television/Verlaine/Lloyd e-mail list. I've kept up with his music over the years and I'm always happy to hear any new piece he's developing. He generously let me use this one as a backing track; I added drums and bass, implying an unintended chord change or two, I'm afraid, but I hope he'll be okay with it. I specifically stayed away from adding guitar, so everything you hear here on that level is pure Van Rooy. The result is kind of rousing, I'd have to say. Might argue for a second go-round, even!

Russ Van Rooy ~ guitars, original composition and recording
Rex Broome ~ vocal, bass, drum loops, fiddly bits