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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

257. "Frosty the Snowman" by Jimmy Durante

Rebooting after the longest layoff and deepest difficulty in seeing the light at the end of this here tunnel. November's tracks were largely bashed out in batches, and that led to nights and even weeks of me not doing a new tune. The effect of this was not so much me getting rusty, but more me getting incredibly embarrassed about the whole project. It just sounds awful to me right now, and I'm sort of scared to start singing again because I really don't like the way it's all turned out. At the moment.

I'm allowing myself to dodge that bullet at the moment by posting something I found by sheer chance over the weekend when the internet was down at our house for a really long time. My wife was trawling through some old video files and discovered a few artifacts of a December 19, 2007 gig at the now defunct Scene Bar in Glendale at which I did double duty in Skates & Rays and The Chiggers. Happily it includes evidence of what was probably the only live performance of my song "I Can't Even Hear Myself Drink", sung by Nigel, but more relevantly to the project at hand it also had a complete, albeit lo-fi performance of this bizarre arrangement of "Frosty the Snowman" cooked up by Nigel for this particular one-time-only expanded and accordion-drenched lineup of The Chiggers, which also included (inaudibly here) bass guitar support from Cliff of Skates & Rays.

Songwriting trivia: Walter E. "Jack" Rollins, the cowriter of "Frosty", was born and is buried in my home town of Keyser, West Virginia.

Nigel Cox ~ vocal
Patrick Morrisson ~ drums
Rex Broome ~ guitar
Lynnae Hitchcock ~ accordion
Clifford Ulrich ~ bass

Monday, November 29, 2010

256. "One More Cup of Coffee" by Bob Dylan

And here, for the first time, is a new Skates & Rays recording created specifically for 39-40. It's not all that could be hoped for, being a very much on-the-fly recording of our first rehearsal-- in fact the first time we've played together as a band-- in eight months or so, the longest delay between playing together in the history of the band in point of fact. It's a rough stereo recording captured by two mics in the room (erm, plumbing shop) in which we were playing, and the vocals are obviously way too low in the "mix"; that and the fact that it sounds like what it is, a first take at a half-remembered song by a really rusty band, make it a little hard on the ears. However, as many mistakes as all of us make, it does warm up as it goes along, maybe 2/3 of the way through I think you can get a feel for why we like being in a band together, and maybe why it's worthwhile for us to get back up to speed.

That Cliff is singing the lead on this song instead of me is for a number of reasons. He's always had the lead vocal on this song, just as I inherited all of the Crazy Horse guitar solos that didn't used to be there, and he sings it better than I could. Most of all, though, I wanted to get a cover recording out of the rehearsal for 39-40 purposes, and I just couldn't think of any covers we've ever done that I haven't already done on my own for the blog. Except for when we do "Heroes" with Derek singing the German lyrics, but he was getting over a cold and didn't do any singing that night anyway.

There should be more of these to come, and I should be able to get better at recording them. It'll be fun, especially once the request line gets back up and running.

Clifford Ulrich ~ Lead vocal, bass
Rex Broome ~ Guitar, backing vocal
Derek Hanna ~ Drums

Sunday, November 28, 2010

255. "Take the Skinheads Bowling" by Camper Van Beethoven

Another one I learned, or rather just grew into the awareness that I already knew, quite some time ago. I played and sang this straight through, using Eden's old nylon string mini guitar to add a little sonic variety, and then in the course of mixing it realized that I was using the same session as I had for "Vapour Trail", and had in fact forgotten to erase the wacky electric guitar whammy-bar divebombing overdubs that came in halfway through that song. But they actually sounded kind of cool along with "Skinheads", so I just nudged them over less than an inch to give them a more dramatic entrance (into a little break that I just made up for my version of the song) and let them play out. So yes, the electric guitar part on this song is indeed the same part, and the same recording of the same performance, as the one on my version of "Vapour Trail". What of it?

Memo to the person posting the lyrics to this song on the intarwebs: "I get up and pray to John"... really? You're into CVB enough to be transcribing the words to their songs, but you can't recognize the most obvious reference to Rastafarianism imaginable? What, sir, aren't you smoking?

Personnel: Rex

Saturday, November 27, 2010

254. "Visions of Johanna" by Bob Dylan

In addition to being simply one of my favorite songs of all time, "Visions of Johanna" was a major breakthrough for me in terms of performing songs all the way through, if for no other reason than learning to memorize lyrics. It was probably the centerpiece of all the songs I learned to sing for baby Miranda to help her go to sleep, and I took it on for her partly because it had so many verses. The idea was twofold. On the one hand, I thought that if I were going to start memorizing lyrics to sing, I ought to really, really memorized some lyrics to sing: if I could get this one down, I shouldn't have many problems with an average three-verse pop song. The other impetus behind it was a sort of odd responsibility I felt toward Miranda herself. She often needed a long stretch of singing and playing to get to sleep, and it seemed somehow just not good enough to sing the same two or three verses of something over and over again for her. That's just how it felt to me. So a long song was called for.

The other fun part was that it was an easy hop to substitute the name "Miranda" for "Johanna", and I imagined that would be comforting and identity-building for her. What she might make of the jelly-faced women and the ghost electricity were another matter entirely.

In a departure from the recent acoustic malaise, there are a few overdubs on this one. I quite like the deep dub sound on the bass bouncing off all of the wooden stuff around it... might do more of that in the future.

Personnel: Rex

Friday, November 26, 2010

253. "Vapour Trail" by Ride

This is a song Trespassers William stole from Charles Manson, or somebody... maybe Marilyn Manson or just plain Mansun. I forget. Anyway, I'm stealin' it back.

Features only the second time I've ever recorded anything using a guitar with a whammy bar.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

252. "Pink Moon" by Nick Drake

Another Lightning Round tossoff.

It's a stereotype (meaning in this case "something that is totally true") about "hipsters" that they are much concerned with making sure everyone knows that they were into something long before it became cool. I'm generally not concerned with such things, but in this case, because it concerns not just the artist but the specific song, I would like it to be clear that I wasn't introduced to this song by a television commercial. Not only was I a Nick Drake fan before the VW ad, before Norah Jones, before that guy who plays the seven hour version of "River Man" on the piano, and before the requisite inclusion of a Drake tune in every elegiac indie film released for three years in a row, I'd actually learned this song-- which I still find terrifying and spellbinding-- for my very own reasons and based on my own personal obsession. I stumbled on my version of it while developing the piece of music, in drop D tuning, that became Skates & Rays' Kristin's Blues, which is a pretty old tune itself by now. For a while, S&R did an extended version of "Pink Moon" at rehearsals, an extremely electric stomper which sounded sort of like a cross between Catherine Wheel's "Black Metallic" and Neil & Crazy Horse's "Change Your Mind". Its inclusion here is a bit of an accident: in the course of messing around with "Kohoutek" as described yesterday, I went into drop D, and towards the end of the experiment this song just naturally emerged.

The added verse is definitely an oddity requiring a brief explanation. Around the time I learned this song, I was playing around with songs based on found phrases, scribbling down a lot of same in notebooks for future assembly. One night my friend Nona and I were leaving the now-defunct Virgin Megastore on Sunset (which certainly dates this story) when we saw, in the parking garage, a beat-up red sedan with white spraypainted graffiti on its side. On instance read "POWERED BY ENGINE" with an arrow pointing to the hood; the other was "ANGRY DYKES ARE THE BORG". This all seemed strange and stuck with me, but for some reason, instead of making it into its own song, it became fused with "Pink Moon"... probably because the Skates & Rays version could go on for 15 minutes or so and there's only one verse to the song so I needed something else to sing. I hasten to point out that I didn't take the graffiti as homophobic or anti-gay at all (it was on the side of a car in Hollywood) and nor do I sing it as such. In fact it brings back memories of the Borg costumes a couple of my friends wore for Halloween around that same time: neither of them broke character all night. Amazing. Anyway, as I sang it, I realized I hadn't really worked out how the line was meant to end, and my eyes lit on the tinfoil Thoth sent to me by the late, great Gnatalie Jane, and that was instantly incorporated as well.

I think this is the first time I've included a false start on a posted 39-40 track, in spite of all the opportunities I've had before now. Why? Dunno. This one sounded kind of cool to me.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

251. "She Comes in Colors" by Love


This is going to be very old news to some, but it should be better known, so I'll repeat it before moving on: Madonna's song "Beautiful Stranger" is completely ripped off, part by part right down to the arrangement, from this song. That'd be fine if it were an homage or a loving tribute of some kind, but it ain't. It could have been, seeing as how the Madonna tune was made for inclusion in an Austin Powers soundtrack with all the groovy faux-'60s-ness that implies, but last time I checked, it was still being passed off as an original. I mention this because Madonna is, or at least generally has been, perfectly good at what she does, but I have yet to figure out why so many people keep expecting her to evince some kind of depth as a songwriter, or indeed insisting that she already has done so. In fact, I have no idea why songwriting sophistication is now routinely expected to develop in performers who have been made famous for every reason other than that. Honestly, what the hell is going to come out of insisting someone start expressing themselves in a meaningful way when their main concerns are that it's hard to have been made famous for every reason other than expressing themselves, and maybe Kanye is mean to them at award shows and the world at large attaches an immense amount of importance to same? Songwriting is its whole own thing, best left to those who feel called to it. Let entertainers be entertainers... we do need those, you know.

Completely apart from that, I learned this song a long time ago... can't remember whether it was before or after the Madonna song, honestly. The toughest thing about performing it is that there are parts where I feel compelled to sing it as close to Arthur Lee's vocal as possible, and other parts where I have no problem loosening up and singing it like myself. It took me a few takes to get a version which comfortably split the difference, and even now there's a certain schizoid quality to this version. The weird playout fade thing came about accidentally: I was a little surprised to have gotten all the way through the song and then fluffed a chord at the very very end, and sort of tripped over the last chord, as you can hear. Recovery meant keeping going for another measure or two, and it had already turned itself into a strange 3/4 time pattern by then, and I just kept repeating it over and over again like an appropriately psychedelic loop.

Da Capo is really an extraordinary record. Side 1 is really possibly one of the greatest LP sides ever recorded; Side 2 is of historical interest only as one of the earliest whole-side free form jams, and it's really not all that compelling even by the standards of such things. You always get some edgy duality with Arthur Lee... maybe this one's the most primal expression of just that.

Personnel: Rex

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

250. "Driver 8" by R.E.M.

To a certain segment of my readership, "Driver 8" is probably such a hoary, overplayed, and overcovered song that I shouldn't even be doing it. But there are also a lot of perfectly musically well-rounded people who consider "early R.E.M." to commence around "Shiny Happy People" and might well not recognize much on the first three IRS records. And for that reason, I doubt that "Driver 8" really is covered very much: your average cover band probably wouldn't dip into the R.E.M. songbook much deeper than "The One I Love", while all the indie bands most likely think that everything on Murmur, Reckoning and Fables is grossly overexposed and would be more likely to attempt a post-ironic take on... well, "Shiny Happy People" or something.

For my part, Fables is one of a handful of records I think I could play and sing in reasonably recognizable form from top to bottom without rehearsing. That's due to the fact that it's in the basic musical idiom in which I've worked since roughly the time it came out, and the frequency with which I listened to it in my most formative musical days. Those two things don't always go together... I listened to Peter Gabriel's melting face album almost as much, but my acoustic interpretation of that one would be a little more free-form.

Anyway, in true lightning-round form, immediately after finishing this performance, I decided to see how many Fables songs I really could do. The first one I tried was "Kohoutek", which I remember playing lo those many years ago in my bedroom back in Great Oak Valley, only to realize that while I somehow hadn't worked it out at the time, it was clearly played with a drop D tuning. That sorted, I looked up the lyrics online. Now, it stands to reason that the lyrical transcriptions of early Stipe lyrics might be dicey at best, but the lyrics to "Kohoutek" appearing on every site I checked are really weak: they just don't even bother to guess at a whole bunch of the lines, leaving you to guess at what line they're guessing at. I therefore ignored them and recorded a few takes of me mumble-moaning what I thought they sort of sounded like from memory. I got a little better each time, but ultimately it was too embarrassing to keep doing it over and over again, so I gave up, leaving me with a guitar in drop D... which is where we pick up the tale on Thursday.

Personnel: Rex

Monday, November 22, 2010

249. "I Walk the Line" by Johnny Cash

This was Gen's request for the 5th anniversary of our first date, which was a dinner and a movie thing when the film Walk the Line came out. Originally we'd been planning to see Pride & Prejudice, which we did on our second date and which Gen has watched countless times on DVD by now, but the chat before Walk the Line was especially interesting. We were talking about our own experiences with Johnny Cash's music and I told her a bit about doing the Cash medley with my dad in Thunderhill and so forth, and she told me that she had been really close friends with Carlene Carter (who was depicted in the movie as a young girl), and had the dress for Carlene's wedding to Nick Lowe, footage of which made up the video for "Cruel to Be Kind". So that happened. After a few years I started getting used to finding out she knew people I thought of as sort of unreachably cool, but that was pretty much the start of it.

I'm almost positive that somebody else before me has covered "I Walk the Line" interpolating, for obvious reasons, John Cale's "I Keep a Close Watch", but I have never personally heard it done, so I did it. I probably didn't take as much time working out the logistics of it as I should have. I basically pulled up a chord and lyric chart for the Cale song, noted that it was in D instead of E as the Cash tune was, and said to myself, okay, I'll go into this after the third verse of "I Walk the Line" and transpose all the chords up a whole step as I go... how hard can that be? And it wasn't too bad aside from the vocal leaping up a little more than I expected; the clunkiest part, really, is the transition back into the first tune. Not perfect, but now it exists for sure and I can sleep a little better at night.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

248. "Divine Hammer" by The Breeders

Early in the days of Skates & Rays, this song bubbled up from my subconscious as one of several originally female-sung songs I wanted to try to cover. I thought we'd probably come away with a slightly more garage-sounding version of it which would sit nicely alongside our original material. And over the years we have started to work on it a time or two, but never to the point of presentability. I have done it at a few acoustic gigs, sometimes as part of a medley (a tiny bit of which makes it into this recording) and it's come to be one of my acoustic standbys. The last time the band was looking to expand our covers repertoire I threw together a disc of the original versions and was surprised to find out I'd been playing it in a very different key from the recording. Usually I pluck the right key out of the air, but not this time.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

247. "Early Mornin' Rain" by The Kingston Trio


This song was written by Gordon Lightfoot, and I have a whole bunch of different versions of it, but this particular performance by the Kingston Trio is the one that made me fall in love with it. The Trio changed the chord structure from Lightfoot's original, and I follow their lead here (although I completely reinvented the instrumental passage to sound a little more troubled). Both versions have an unusual construction that's not immediately apparent. There's no proper chorus, just the refrain of the title, which isn't at all unusual in blues or folk tunes, but the structure of the verses themselves are an odd sort of chordal sandwhich: the first and fourth lines share a chord sequence starting with the relative minor chord, but the middle two lines are a more consonant I - V thing. The fact that the 4th line comes right off of the 3rd while the 1st is more of a cold opening make it sound quite different each time: the minor chord at the beginning has a the effect of creating tension while the one in the 4th line has the effect of a sigh of resignation.

The limbo of being alone at an airport is a special kind of haunted purgatory, and all the worse if you can't actually go anywhere... the lyric captures that perfectly, and I loved it so much that I eventually wrote a song based on the same rough idea, "Redeye" (which never quite found a place to live itself). I also strongly relate this song to Merle Haggard's "Silver Wings", another favorite. I guess it's just a setup that resonates with me. I once scrawled down a line in a notebook about "the poetry of unloved places"... I had in mind the nondescript patches of litterstrewn land next to an average interstate gas station, which has probably been the site of innumerable breakups, breakdowns, family dissolutions, crimes, epiphanies, sex acts and other emotionally supercharged incidents, but are, in the end celebrated by no one. Sometimes I believe that is "my" subject matter.

Friday, November 19, 2010

246. "All Tomorrow's Parties" by The Velvet Underground


Incredibly dicey performance even by the ever-plummeting standards in these parts these days. It's partly because, in my haste, I erased two better takes of this and got sick of trying to get it right... the vocal is just bad, and the sketchy timing on the guitar is definitely an artifact of impatience. I'm leaving it here just as a rough sketch of what I think is a kind of cool solo acoustic arrangement of the song.

If the vocal were better, it would be easier to tell that it's less of a tribute to Nico's on the original than to John Cale's powerful and immensely moving live version on the Live MCMXCIII reunion album, which has to rank as one of the most frustrating listening experience there is. Consistently on that record, Cale, Mo Tucker, and especially Sterling Morrisson kick all kinds of awe-inspiring and deeply-felt ass (if you will (and you will)). Lou is right there with them on guitar, but every time he takes a lead vocal, you can't help but ask yourself, Jesus, is he really pissing on us, to say nothing of the band and some of his very best songs, on purpose? I challenge you to make it through his vivisection of "Venus in Furs" without wanting to smack him around just a little bit.

Personnel: Rex

Thursday, November 18, 2010

245. "Almost With You" by The Church


This song would almost certainly have to be one of the earliest tunes I figured out how to play on guitar with any sophistication beyond just following the chord sequence. Ironically, in this quickie performance I realized when I came to the bridge that I didn't remember how the chords went. For some reason what entered my head instead was the bridge for another Church song, "Tear It All Away". My mind managed to pull out of that while it was still able to attain escape velocity, but that didn't help me remember the real chords, so you'll hear me instead play the verse chords before going off on some kind of improvised tangent and then, none too soon, finding my way back into the song proper. Could've fixed it, but that wouldn't be Lightning Round.

The image on the cover this time just is what it is: the first non-Churchy image that came up in a Google image search on the words "almost with you". Yes, it looks more like the results of a search for "pwnt", but I'm being very hands-off about this whole process.

Personnel: Rex

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

244. "Birdshead" by Robyn Hitchcock

A break from the Lightning Round to commemorate the 2/3 mark of the 39-40 project, I am here violating one of the primary tenets of the project by presenting a previously recorded track by myself. However, another primary tentpole of the enterprise is that I can do anything, however sketchy, to stay on track... so long as I only employ each cheeseball tactic once. So today's tactic is: post a previously recorded cover.

I have a couple of other reasons for doing so... one being to break up the monotony of the bare-bones acoustic torpor of the Lightning Round (which itself is a dicey strategy allowing me to focus on other big projects). Another is the disappointment that I've come this far into 39-40 without being able to present a single genuine new Skates & Rays track as my daily cover, when I'd honestly thought at the outset that I'd be doing so at least twice a month or so, but real life concerns for myself and especially our drummer Derek have made getting together very, very difficult this year. I'm sure we'll knock out a few covers before it's over, but I've felt a little diminished in my ability to present good stuff for you all because I haven't been able to utilize one of the key things I have to recommend myself as a musician: better musicians who are willing to collaborate with me.

This recording was created in 2008 for Bayard Catron's ongoing Glass Flesh series of tributes to Robyn Hitchcock. I had long since had the idea to do an expansive dream-rock version of the song (I still kind of hate the term "shoegaze") but hadn't developed the recording know-how to create anything vaguely listenable as a fake rhythm track, so I brought it in to a rehearsal and we knocked it out in a few hours, pretty much getting lucky that our hit-and-miss recording setup had a relatively hitty day. Then I took it home and did massive amounts of overdubs, basically doing everything in exactly the way that, two years and 243 39-40 recording later, I totally never would. Somewhat as an artifact of my intentions for the arrangement, it doesn't sound very much at all like Skates & Rays, who, as a relatively honest 3-piece rock band generally have a sonic approach closer to that of, say, The Jam or the earliest Go-Betweens records than My Bloody Valentine, but it seemed to have worked out decently at the time. So here it is.

As a bonus, you get Robyn's rarer live version of the song from the multi-artist Pave the Earth promo compilation, the first version of the song I ever heard and a more direct source of inspiration for my performance than the version that's surfaced on his own compilations.

Personnel: SKATES & RAYS
Rex Broome: Guitars & vocals
Derek Hanna: Drums (and usually vocals but not on this one, so don't blame him)
Clifford Ulrich: Bass (and also usually better backing vocals than these)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

243. "In Between Days" by The Cure


I'd have to class myself as a relative latecomer to true appreciation of The Cure. In my early days of musical exploration I tended to be dismissive of image-heavy bands, and at the time The Cure were really hitting my consciousness I was much more enamored of American underground music, at least on the rock band side of things-- the Sonic Youths and Hüsker Düs and R.E.M.s-- so the British bands which would, bizarrely to me and (and I can't emphasize this enough) much later be thought of as founders of the "goth" movement struck me as a bit silly and lightweight (in addition to paling, as it's hard not to do, in comparison to the likes of contemporaries like Echo & the Bunnymen and Joy Division) . Within a few years, though, I got over a lot of that prejudice in general, and specifically came to think of The Cure as one of the greatest singles bands of all time; it's only much more recently that I've come to appreciate their earlier album output as much as I always should have.

This performance is tossed off even by 39-40 Lightning Round standards. It came to be quite by accident during a stint in West Virginia when I accidentally booked a show at a Christian ice cream shop with some guys who were fixing my parents' air conditioning, resulting in a show that the always righteous Laura Whitmore would later correctly describe as positively David Lynchian. Somehow, on less than a day's notice, I managed to corral Heckman into showing up in Keyser and sharing the bill with me; I'm fairly sure that was the first of what have now become our traditional seat-of-the-pants Keyser musical collaborations. Trying to whack a set list together via e-mail, we both decided we wanted to do this tune. As I was practicing it, my dad mentioned that it sounded sort of like an Alabama tune Thunderhill used to play, and damned if it didn't. This bizarre medley now stands as a memorial to the profoundly surreal performance that folllowed.

Personnel: Rex

Monday, November 15, 2010

242. "Return of the Grievous Angel" by Gram Parsons


Purely by accident, the second Byrd-related post in as many days.

Gram is, I believe, the only musical artist, and in fact probably one of the very few actually good-looking humans, to whom I've been said to bear a physical resemblance. I wouldn't even dare to throw that out there if I hadn't heard it from a few independent sources. I'm holding on to it since, as the title of the blog suggests, I have for some time now been older than Gram ever lived to be, sadly.

As I go along writing about all of the songs I bashed out in the first part of the Lightning Round, it strikes me that trying to quantify why I chose these particular songs to commit to memory and adopt into my repertoire is turning out to be futile. They're all great songs, but there are millions of great songs, often right next to these on their original albums, which are easily just as great and yet for some reason never leapt out and said "Learn me!" at any point in time. That's certainly what happened with this one, around the time I went from a casual Gram fan to a more involved listener. My attachment was further cemented when, at some point early in the building of Skates & Rays, I popped this one out at a rehearsal, and Cliff, whom I didn't then know incredibly well, turned out to have a pretty good memory of the words and vocal feel for the Emmylou part. I think that was one of the key moments in my process of trying to become a frontperson dude guy, and in fretting about whether my last-ditch effort to create one last band before chucking it, when I truly felt, "You know... this might work out after all".

Personnel: Rex

Sunday, November 14, 2010

241. "She Don't Care About Time" by The Byrds


Like a lot of Gene Clark songs, this one is damned near perfect. I've been drawn to it for almost as long as I've cared about music for reasons that have changed along with me, but it has never gotten tiresome to me, and I doubt that it ever will. The recording is an anomaly in the Lightning Round in that it features a overdub of a harmony vocal, which was just too easy to do in no time at all at the last minute. It's also pretty bad, but in the Lightning Round spirit I wasn't greatly inclined to fuss about it.

I first truly learned this song to perform as the toast at my friend Simon's wedding, and that's what you're looking at as the cover art. In my mind that event seems to be well before Miranda was born, but as I think about it I realize that it was in fact the very year she was born, and so this fits into my early "lullabye" phase of learning and singing songs; I believe that's because this wedding was toward the end of a phase where I performed toasts at a lot of my friends' weddings, and always did it in the form of a song. I was proud of having become the go-to guy for that kind of thing, and believed it said more about my ability to maintain and grow friendships than any true musical talent. Ironically and sadly, due to some atrocious decisions I made in the subsequent years (about which I can't do anything at this point, having already asked for forgiveness, and of which others who have not been ostracized as I have were guilty as well) if most of these weddings were to be held today, I wouldn't even be invited. If you're interested in hearing what a bastard that makes me feel like, you can listen to this, the opening track on the Skates & Rays LP, and understand that I wrote it primarily as an indictment of not just the general human capacity for self-delusion but specifically my own. I mention it primarily because either nobody really seems to have worked out what's going on in that song, or nobody has really even listened to it in more than passing, which is understandable, because they could be listening to awesome Gene Clark songs instead.

Personnel: Rex

Saturday, November 13, 2010

240. "Protection" by Massive Attack


I recently read, in a post on his fascinating and not-totally-unlike-this-one blog 300 Songs, David Lowery passingly describing Massive Attack as "vastly overrated", and I was somewhat taken aback. David Lowery doesn't like Massive Attack? I thought everyone liked Massive Attack. Now, there's no reason, really, for me to actually expect David Lowery to like Massive Attack, and in fact people of a genre-centric mindset might fully expect the dude from Cracker, who might cynically be viewed as an artifact of the grunge and/or Counting Crows/Hootie side of recidivist '90s rawk, wouldn't seem the likeliest of trip-hop fans to begin with. Lowery, though, was one of my earliest musical heroes in his Camper Van Beethoven days partly for being the very antithesis of genre-centrism, a guy who seemed positively gleeful about knocking over genre barriers, setting fire to them, pissing gleefully on the fire and then, I dunno, setting fire to them again while Jonathal Segal fiddled along all Nero-like. But hell, maybe he just finds Tricky irritating or maybe he encountered Massive Attack when their hype had reached shrill proportions whereas I was lucky enough to have first heard them well before they had a stateside record deal. He mentions this in the course of dissing a Virgin Records exec who kinda screwed his band over, and whose credentials included an association with Massive Attack, so there's that. I guess it doesn't matter, but I always find it a bit odd when my musical favorites actively dislike each other, is all.

I think I started playing this song (a long time ago) because I accidentally stumbled across that very cool signature chord change, the switch from a major 7th to a 7th with a suspended 4th, on a guitar, which is not an instrument that one associates with the original. It also caught my fancy because, as the next week or so of the Lightning Rounds will bear out, I like adopting songs that were originally sung by female singers as a way of creating, by definition, covers that force a reevaluation of the original, and as a throwback to the days largely before recorded music when traditional singers felt far less bound to sing songs specifically tied to their own gender. The fact that the lyrics in this song play fast and loose with gender to begin with makes it even better. A long time after I'd started to work on my version, I heard, on a tape of a friend's radio show that sat around for years before I listened to it, another interesting version of the song by a male-fronted rock power trio, but it seemed to get at the song from a completely different angle from the one I felt I was using, so I've continued to try to work it up from time to time.

Personnel: Rex

Friday, November 12, 2010

239. "Revolution Blues" by Neil Young


A song I've wanted to cover since just about the first time I heard it, at which time it was probably slightly more obscure than it is now (if not by much): it had been out of print along with the whole On the Beach LP for at least a decade and wouldn't be issued on CD for another decade or more still. At that time, around 1989, I had no notion of actually singing it; I just found it very eerily prescient and a fantastically terrifying lyric, one of Neil's best. Over the years following that, events like the Oklahoma City bombing, the rise and fall of the Unabomber, and the Branch Davidian siege made it seem even more so... in 1971, talking about "revolution" in reactionary instead of radical and Luddite terms would have been seriously discordant, or so it seemed to me, whereas by the '80s and '90s it was becoming, disturbingly and surprisingly, the American norm.

For some reason, all of this and its relationship to the song unfolded for years in my mind without my ever hearing the crucial piece of apparently common knowledge about the song: that it was specifically based on the Manson Family. And learning that was a disappointment to me, a sort of magnified version of the thing that happens when you find out that an individual line in a song isn't what you'd thought it was, and you think your version is way better. It made me feel a bit stupid for not having worked it out on my own, but after living with it for a while I started to feel like the details and changes Neil had made to the Manson mythos still seemed startlingly clairvoyant. And I applied the old Dylan "A song is anything that walks around on its own" tenet to the whole thing, making my initial evaluation of it just as valid as the "true" Mansonian one. I never really doubted that it was just a brilliant, brilliantly scary song anyway.

Personnel: Rex

Thursday, November 11, 2010

238. "Skyway" by The Replacements


On maybe four or five occasions during my sorry excuse for a songwriting career, I've either set out to write a song kind of like "Skyway" or gotten partway through a song only to realize that I was already ripping off "Skyway". None of those songs turned out any good, and in fact some of them are among the worst trash ever written not only by myself but by anyone at any time ever. Today I cut to the chase and, instead of generating any more "Skyway"-esque travesties, I just go ahead and ruin "Skyway" itself.

Personnel: Rex

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

237. "Drunken Angel" by Lucinda Williams


I learned this one in the "singing lullabyes for baby Miranda" phase, although I didn't sing it for her much, if at all. It was just one of those lyric-and-melody combinations that really clicked, made me want to sing it; at the same time, the full band arrangement sounded like exactly what I was going for at the time. The 12-string riff seemed to make it a sort of evil twin to Grant McLennan's "All Her Songs", and although the song was relatively new when I learned it, it felt like the kind of thing that would serve me well for years to come in whatever kind of dive bars I might, if I was lucky, end up playing. I haven't really played enough dive bars either to justify this theory or to suit my own desires since then, but the song has held a place in my off-the-cuff performances for a long time... I've lost track of how many keys I've sang it in, as it's been present during a number of phases when I've had different ideas of what my vocal range is supposed to be.

I love Lucinda, though. I met her under some pretty weird circumstances earlier this year, in a capacity where she was sort of just one of the crowd, and as usual when I meet people whose work is truly significant to me, I just didn't have anything to say that didn't sound idiotic (at least to my own ears), so I just hugged her. I've decided that's going to be my new thing upon meeting the real giants in my pantheon. They've heard all the fannish blather there can possibly be, and a physical embrace is the closest I can come to the intimacy with which they've touched me, at least in the public arena, so it suddenly seems silly to waste the opportunity. So far I've only gotten to do this with Lu and, a little earlier, Peter Buck. But that's a good start: both of them are well up my ladder.

Personnel: Rex

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

236. "When I Grow Up" by Garbage


Oh, I forgot to mention that there is one manner in which I intend to preserve randomness in the Lightning Round: the cover images. I'm basically doing a google image search on the song title and selecting the first image that (A) does not relate to the actual song in question, and (B) is big enough to look okay in a square on the blog. In this case, well, I guess the Pussycat Dolls did a song with the same title as this one. Live and learn. Learn dumb shit, but still.

In any case, I created this arrangement of this song a long time ago, and I can't quite remember why. It was very early in my singing days. To be clear on that, I started playing guitar and performing in bands around the time I was 16, and I have always sung backup, but almost never sang lead. Various people at various times basically told me my voice sucked, and what I heard when I put a half-ass effort into trying it seemed to confirm that. There's also the fact that the person to whom I was basically married for 12 years, probably the 12 years of my life when I was most likely to amount to anything in rock and roll, was awfully adamant about my inability to sing, which was a bit of a barrier.

There was a period after my last ill-advised band ran aground in the mid-'90s (due, ironically, to the same person's spectacular failings as a rock and roll singer and frontperson) when I didn't do much with music at all, but at some point I made a halting start at being able to play and sing at the same time (for the duration of a song, that is, not the here-and-there of harmony singing, which was never that tough for me). I don't remember the specifics, but it came in two stages, and it was during the first one that I had the idea to take this song and recast it as boisterous folk-revival arrangement somewhat akin to (once again) The Kingston Trio's version of "When the Saints Go Marching In" (which I think may have been borrowed from the Weavers anyway) and probably a few other such "clever" recastings. There would follow a period when I went into a recording collaboration that put me off singing again, and then Miranda was born, inspiring me to start singing and playing for her. I'm much clearer on the tunes I learned then, because I played them for her over and over again; some of them have cropped up on 39-40 already ("What Goes On", and in a few amendments to my assigned songs, most recently the entirety of "Bye Bye Pride" tacked onto the tail of "Needle-in-a-Haystack Girls"). That would've been 2001, and was also the commencement of a period of songwriting and just-for-the-hell-of-it demo recording which led directly to the formation of Skates & Rays-- in the attempt to recruit Derek, the drummer from that last bad band, into the recording project, I gave him a disc of the demos and suggested working on those instead, insisting that I sing them, and so I learned at rather an advanced age to do the kind of stuff I do now. There's way more to that story, some of it incredibly anguished, but I gotta go bash out another dozen or so of these tunes, so, like, bye.

Personnel: Rex

Monday, November 8, 2010

235. "Elevate Me Later" by Pavement


So, owing to a Multiple-Stage Hard Drive Disaster (MSHDD), a lot of bad things have happened to my files. There's no point in describing the MSHDD. There never is. I admit, every time it happens, especially when it involves some new and incredibly improbable twist, that I almost always feel compelled to spell out the details to anyone who will listen. I don't know why the hell that is. I really don't. And I recognize that acting on this urge would be a bad thing, a Waste of Everybody's Time, and so I'm patting myself on the back just a little bit. Naturally, while my one hand is doing that, my other fist is through the wall and my only throat is wailing a long, bestial growl of inarticulate rage at All and Self. But moving on...

Because of the irritating, irritating, and irritating process I have to go through to reconstruct all of this stuff, I'm basically going to be incapable of doing the many things I need to do daily to bring a full 39-40 post into existence. What I'm going to do instead is a Lightning Round: I'm going to stockpile a bunch of acoustic songs over the next few days, songs I just already happen to know like the back of my hand, and deploy them over the two weeks or so that it's going to take me to Fix Everything (and work on the Thunderhill album project as well). So the randomness of the whole thing is taking a temporary vacation, but at the same time you'll get a brief glimpse into the odd assortment of songs which have, for some reason, accrued over the years into my standing repertoire, as I don't plan to use any reference on these tunes other than a google search on the lyrics in front of my face as I perform them (that means no listening to the originals before hitting Record). If you're only here for the production numbers, it'll be pretty boring for a while, but if you have the slightest interest in what makes me tick as a musician, or maybe you want a glimpse into how I dealt with covers before I started this project, hang in there.

Personnel: Rex

Sunday, November 7, 2010

234: "PEMDAS (The Order of Operations Song)" by Ms. Wong's 4th Grade Class

The second labor-intensive, long-term, Broome-family-centric project to be completed and posted here in as many days. There may be some argument as to whether or not this is, strictly speaking, a "cover", since I created the backing track and composed the music, and I'll flat out admit that vocal you hear on my version is the scratch track I recorded for the demo that evolved into the final track with the kids on it, but I finished the class version first, and the song is intended to be heard as their performance, so I consider the one with my vocals secondary. Whatever... I put a lot of work into this and though it deserved to be heard here on 39-40.

It's the result of about a month and some change's worth of volunteer teaching and recording in Miranda's class at Hancock Park Elementary. The sessions were roughly once weekly, and they progressed quickly: the first one was a songwriting overview... by the second one the kids had written verses about what they were studying in math class (I'm quite sure they'll never forget this concept now!) and we spent an hour hammering the rhymes into uniform meter and grafting them onto this song that I was pretty much making up on the spot. The third week, in a whirlwind session before the class left for an early field trip, I recorded all of the full-class vocals in the classroom with my ad-hoc "portable" "studio"; Miranda wasn't even there, but the same session yielded the backing vocals on my cover of "Magick Power". At the fourth session I tried to get as many of the kids' individual lead vocals as possibe, leaving Miranda's to do at home for the sake of expediency in the classroom. But last week I was, as documented pathetically here, very sick and didn't even get to see Miranda and Ridley as a result, but I'm just now winding down a bonus weekend with them and was able to record Miranda's invaluable vocals (including a some real rump-saving bridging parts) and the window dressing stuff like the horns and lead guitar, and it's finally done. The class gets to hear it tomorrow, so I still have a busy day of burning CDR's ahead of me tomorrow, but it's been fun.

Some of my favorite questions and comments from the kids:
"Mr. Broome, did you ever play an electric guitar?"
"Mr. Broome, how are you so young?" (I still don't get that one, but like three kids asked me about it.)
"My mom said the song was catchy." "My mom said it was annoying!"
"Mr. Broome, you have hair like a Beatle. Maybe you can be a Beatle if they need somebody new."
"Um, my cousin? Has a guitar? And he plays it? And he has a band."

I'll come back here and add a full list of the students when I have one, so the following personnel list is far from complete...

Personnel (Class Version):
Vocal soloists in order of appearance:
Costya ? ~ "Talkin' 'bout math class"
Miranda Broome ~ "If you find yourself..."
Ryan Yoon ~ "Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally"
Angela Lee ~ "Parentheses"
Leigh ? ~ "Penguins Exercise Monthly..."
Margad Bayarmagnai ~ "Multiplication"
Aleyana Ndiaye ~ "Division"
Natalie Darsson ~ "Addition"
Dee Green ~ "Subtraction"

Backing vocals and percussion by the whole class.
Backing track by Rex Broome.
Written by the class with Rex Broome.

Personnel (Rex version) ~ as above except all lead vocals by Rex.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

233. "Take Her Out of Pity" by The Kingston Trio

Simultaneously one of the very most ambitious things I've attempted on 39-40 and a total cop-out, since it comes from and is destined for a project I'm working on anyway, this one has a lot of unique features, none of which will interest you unless you're into either my dad's band or the half-ass gearhead aspects of how I get things done. If neither of those things appeal to you, skip this write-up, but please do give the song a listen and give me some feedback, because this is basically the "beta" version of a track I hope to get onto a CD to be released before Christmas and I'd like to get it right.

The basic tracks for the cover version here are almost as old as the original. They come from a giant pile of 1/4" tapes my dad had kept over the years, most of which were recordings of his band at various stages in their career from the late '50s (various college bands before the Thunder Hill years) through the mid '70s. They were incredibly difficult to sort through and digitize, being sometimes four-track tapes which were recorded on and over multiple times at different speeds in either direction at the same time... at one point I literally had three songs stacked together, with one song running the opposite direction and at a different tape speed on the stereo left channel of another one. After a hell of a lot of work, it boiled down to about 24 hours of audio and a raft of oddities to sort through and identify, from middle school choir concerts to radio broadcasts of '50s hits to me blathering into a microphone at 5 years old. But the good stuff was a solid bunch of unreleased Thunderhill recordings that are finally going to see the light of day.

One of the most surprising and frustrating nuggets I found was this fragment of a recording of the song "Take Her Out Of Pity". Dad's not entirely sure what brought it about... it sounds like a studio (or oddly upscale rehearsal) recording (with no chatter and a conspicuously cool-sounding slapback echo on it), but the truth is I'm not even totally sure who the personnel are or when it was recorded. It's definitely Dad and Ed Jordan. The bass might be either Tom Lowry or Jerry Marsh, quite likely Lowry because this would've been a very early number as the K3 version was released in 1961 and Thunderhill formed in 1963. As a sidelight, the version here is substantially different from the Trio performance where the lyrics are concerned. It's a traditional song, so I thought I'd have an easy time tracking down who else might've performed it in a closer version to the Thunder Hill one, but the Internet isn't showing me much evidence for any other recorded versions save a later solo John Stewart rendition and a short stack of songs probably coincidentally entitled "Sister Sarah" recorded in the '90s, so that remains a little odd. But far and away the most problematic thing about this piece is pretty obvious... it cuts off before the second verse is even over. There's also some major corruption on one side of the stereo picture, especially during the intro. I messed around with that sporadically for a year or so before determining that it was never really stereo to begin with, but just sounded that way because there was corruption on one side of the tape and not the other-- in other words, it was a mono recording that got screwed up in stereo. Which, I know, duh, but hey.

So this one, along with a couple of other bizarre challenges, has been something I've worked on in my mental downtime for a couple of years now, and as I've gotten better at various aspects of recording and engineering and editing I've sort of solved my dilemmas one at a time until just about exactly now I thought I'd be able to do something with it if I really worked it. And man did I work it-- this is definitely some of the finest fine-tuning and minutest minutiae-minding I've ever done. The solution was going to be faking the thing into stereo and using new tracks to cover up the edits and audio-recycling it was going to take to keep the song going to its conclusion. There was a lot of tempo quantifying and stretching, and the intro guitar riff was cycled into an incessant loop meant it all together. A lot of new instruments were added, almost all of which were designed, played, EQ'ed and otherwise manicured to sound like they were not only not new but in fact the same damned instruments that were already on there, just moveable and played continuously and live (since the real original instruments were now being sliced, diced, and replicated (there are many copies, and they have a plan)). It's fortunate (albeit unsurprising) that I both have appropriate instruments-- to all intents and purposes, my Epiphone 12-string appears to be the same instrument my dad is propping up in that photo up there, and I managed to get a fair fake standup bass sound, I think-- and know how to play this kind of stuff fairly well. A lot of basically uninformed trial and error effort went into EQing the individual tracks, ending with the realization that the rule of thumb solution was to remove all bass from the ancient tracks and max out the bass in the tracks I was recording in the now. The words "labor intensive" don't even begin to cover it.

I ended up exetending it to more than twice the length of the original fragment. The core of the chorus is unfortunately identical all three times it crops up, but the dressing around it changes (and there's even an additional voice on the harmonies varying things up). The third verse was just never going to reappear, so I did a John Householder-inspired 12-string solo instead, and put a choral "answer" where the last line of the 2nd verse was supposed to be... it's short and sweet and gets back to the chorus before (I hope) it registers as too "modern" sounding.

So the question is, is a blurry mush or a mushy blur? Well, that and is it any more of a murry blush than the recording was to begin with? It's obviously not supposed to sound like anything totally pristine... it's just supposed to get to the end without sounding like it was screwed around with too much by anybody's then-unborn son forty-seven years later with some kinda damn Flash Gordon computer smaller than a high school yearbook. The absurdity of which makes me a little curious as to what my daughters might do to this thing in 2057...

Personnel (196?):
Jim Broome ~ Guitar, lead vocal
Ed Jordan ~ Guitar, harmony
Jerry Marsh or Tom Lowry ~ bass
(and maybe Dale Rawlings is on there, I dunno)
Personnel (2010):
Rex Broome ~ Rhythm & 12-string guitar, fake string bass, backing vocals, tambourine, thumb-numbing nob-twiddling



One of the above puzzles was solved as of April 2011 and the preparation of the liner notes for the Thunderhill compilation: this song is apparently not a traditional song at all, but an original K3 composition.