Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Muffled Prayers

Sitting in the Hotel Congress "Cup Café" in Tucson, having breakfast and chatting with the waiter - a tattooed alt-folk rocker. We're discussing "new folk" sounds. I've been checking out the new music of writers like Bon Iver, The Felice Brothers, Will Oldham, Fleet Foxes, Iron and Wine…and on. The exploration began when hearing the sounds and production on the Dylan biopic film soundtrack: "I'm Not Here." My ear caught Jim James of "My Morning Jacket," singing Bob Dylan's "Going to Acapulco" accompanied by Calexico. Mariachi horns, powerful singing…it was novel and great. My perception was and IS…. there's something happening with these folks. At least musically and production-wise. Hell, I can’t spend my life listening to Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited" everyday. (But I might try.) The internet opened up world music to younger artists, and they draw from all influences: Haitian, West African, Mariachi, Flamenco, Ska, folk, blues…etc. They concoct their own hybrid sound. It's fresh. But where were the songs? Where is the core of it all? I spoke out loud. The tattooed waiter passed by with a plate of pork cutlet and scrambled eggs - and pointed a fork. "There aren't any songs." I heard footsteps above me and a howling noise. Upstairs at the Historic Congress Hotel the ghost of John Dillenger walked the halls. He'd been caught here in the 1930's and broke out of jail with a gun carved out of soap. Maybe a lot of the new music culture is a gun carved out of soap. Core-less. Bullet-less. I'll keep digging, though. I arrived in Tucson with the hope that 12 crafted songs and a hipper sound might come close, feel-wise, to that version of "Goin' to Acapulco," and I was right. I've learned a lot and haven't resorted to rounding up the usual suspects. These desert musicians could play anything; referencing Nigerian High Life and Andalusian Flamenco, and sub-pop backwards guitar runs. And along came Barry Walsh, and his "Erik Satie meets Eno" classicism - and you've got a mix. I'm enjoying the journey. It's akin to recording with the Blue Men of Morocco. Meanwhile one of our last true writers, Leonard Cohen, is touring the world performing three hour concerts with his timeless songs, which he refers to as "muffled prayers." And so…we are in need of "new folk" and sub pop explorations which deliver the cross-pollinations of sonic world variety. But there remains our cultural and personal need…our desperate yen… for the passion and poetic truth of "muffled prayers." Deliverance to the core.


Anonymous said...

Eh, you're not going all Paul Simon on us, are you? :-)

The Sweetest Little Song
You go your way
I'll go your way too

-Leonard Cohen

Remi said...

I love a lot of the new stuff - I'm dying to see Will Oldham when he comes to Toronto in May - but I do worry that their music is focused a little too firmly on the navel. If they just looked up once in a while and explored the world around them, I think it would do wonders for their songs.

It's a small quibble, really, as I love a lot of the artists you cited. And I guess change can be a good thing. Heck, it's just nice to see people dedicated folkier, rootsier stuff in these days of soulless autotuned pop.

I saw Cohen last June. It was the most expensive concert ticket I've ever bought and it was worth every penny.

Neil Crabtree said...

On Pandora.com, they play different new artists when you set up your Favorites stations. Right now I'm listening to TR sing-talk Van Ronk off Hotwalker. Incredible piece. But next they'll play some new guy I never heard of. After hearing about Dave Van Ronk, I'm going to listen to that goddam song.

Nagrom said...

Funny to come here and see this post, and the suggestion of Pandora.
I just finished writing a blog piece about an old folkie/hippie wanderer that I encountered in a coffee shop, and was accompanying it with some mood music on Pandora. A mix of my Tom Russell, Arlo Guthrie and Josh Ritter channels.
I think Ritter is one of the best examples of these new folkies and what they can do.

Great entry, and great thoughts.

El Marko said...

The Pugilist is 59 today (3/5/09). Happy Birthday Tom!

editor said...

There are no songs.

That's it, right there. There's some nice sonic cross-pollinations but no songs. Because songs are hard work. Saw a guy recently (no names) who has some really brilliant images in his songs, but they're just pasted together, pieces that never make up a mosaic, never hit you with that solar-plexus strike of real poetry, where your world just changed on the turn of a line.

No poetry and no real craft.

TR has identified the why of this before. These writers aren't drawing from a well; they didn't school themselves on a tradition.

There are honorable exceptions, of course. But it's too easy to carve a gun out of soap and it'll fool the people it has to fool. But boy, you're screwed if you ever have to shoot your way out.

Saddle Tramp said...

Perceptions become reality [ Dead or Alive ]

Tom . . . How about those slippery figures of your birthdate [ sic ] ? Anyway I hope you enjoyed some salty Margaritas.

Whether it was carved of soap or of wood painted with black shoe polish , it got the job done for Dillinger. Unfortunately, the red dress that was not brought on his demise.

Tom, with your field of training in criminology it is a shame that you are not in Dylan's rolodex. A recent Theme Time Radio show was on " Cops and Robbers ". Dylan enlists the help of his friends from time to time for contributions to his show. Tom Waits has weighed in on past shows. For his " Cops and Robbers " show he received help from Steve Earle over a cup of coffee. Steve's contribution was a corrida " La Muerte de Fred Gomez Carrasco ". Fred was the imprisoned heroine lord of South Texas. Fred had real guns smuggled into the Huntsville Texas State Prison for
an attempted breakout. Fred didn't make it out alive!

As far as singwriters go, I am thankful as hell for the great ones we have both dead and alive.I could also settle for
Dylan's " Hwy 61 Revisited " with just one addition; and that would be Hendrix cover of " All Along the Watchtower "
First they grabbed me by the throat and then they shook my soul and it cannot let go.

Leonard Cohen also inhabits that territory of the rarest of the rare. He proclaimed that he overthrew his family for an education in the world. He could not betray his muse. What a rich muse he has and how much richer we are for it.

Tom, you have impeccable taste and your high standards
are reflected in [ your ] deliverance to the core . . .

Mr. E. Tramp
Via: Chino Valley Truck & Tank Wash

Unknown said...

The Songs were there last night at the St James Hall.

Thank you Tom and Michael for a wonderful show. Nina Simone and Quadalupe lingered on the ride home. This morning, mellow from another great Tom Russell concert, listening to One to the Heart, One to the Head, dinking an extra strong cappuccino, lost in My West, thinking how Tom's songs can do that ... yeah there is some good music out there today but at least one writer is still giving us SONGS.

Can't wait for September and the new record! Bands like Calexico, guys like Iron and Wine, many others, that my 17yr old son has introduced me to, all talented musicians of the acoustic genre. Man, pair them with Tom Russell's songs and I can see a whole new spike in music and songs coming at us. So looking forward to this.

Hope you folks have a terrific swing through Victoria and Salt Spring Island. Big music community over on Salt Spring, Randy Bachman, Valdy, Bill Henderson, Shari Ulrich, Roy Forbes, Gary Fjellgaard, others ... hoping the island gives you some new songs.

see you down the line,

dannyjackred said...

"But where were the songs? Where is the core of it all?"

Thanks Tom. You're darn right : )

Where is the core indeed? Maybe it's lost in the cynical landscape we live in now, I dunno? Part of it has to do with thinking it's easy to write a song and maybe it is. Anyone can put a bunch of words together, but to tell a story or to move someone with words. It's harder than it looks. Or sounds.

Thanks Tom

Paul Sachs

Saddle Tramp said...

Where you ask . . .


between our EARS the Sage said . . .

-saddle tramp

Via: California's Central Valley full of orchards and highways in full bloom waiting for a song . . .
North of Madera and Chowchilla . . .

Saddle Tramp said...

I would be remiss if I did not include a disclaimer on the previously referenced Corrido " La Muerte de Fred Gomez Carrasco " and Steve Earles interpretation and presentation of the facts ( if you happen upon them ). He is very fast and loose with the handling of them. Another example of distorted journalistic shortcomings. The myth prevails however. This song was tempered in blood , to that there is no doubt. Fred was a hero to his oppressed admirers, no matter his psychopathic methods. Myth trumps facts, sometimes to a higher truth and sometimes not. We prefer it that way. Condensed and simple. Even if it leads to hypocricy, millions will still follow. A true message usually lies at our feet, but most will trip
over it and keep on running. The corrido " La Muerte de Fred Gomez Carrasco " was written in the blood of both the guilty and of the innocent. It don't get any darker than that.
It is still ocurring in the Borderlands everyday. A shadowy line drawn between guilt and innocence. More Corridos to
come . . .

You enter that dark woods, alone into a pathless
wilderness. That's where you find them. It ain't easy.

-saddle tramp
Via: Somewhere in that wilderness

Charlene said...

I picked up 4 cds at the music store today. Blood on the Tracks, Country USA 1965, The Best of Arlo Guthrie, and Helen Reddy's I Am A Woman.

Maybe I'm doing things a little backwards. I've never owned a copy of Blood on the Tracks but I was inspired to buy it from Mr. Russell's covers and that wonderful story of the little red book.

My three kids and I will be taking a road trip from El Paso to California for spring break, guess what my 13, 12, and 8 year old will be listening too?

Thank you for everything Mr. Russell and keep writing those songs and making those records, you never know who will be listening to them 50 years from now.

Anonymous said...

There is no backwards, no forward. We each follow our own time line of discovery.

My latest 4: Mark Germino's Atomic Candlestick, Steve Young's Stories Round the Horseshoe Bend, The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem In Person at Carnegie Hall (all from Village Records), and John Reedy's Twisted Vignettes (from the Twisted Cowboy hisself)...

Funny thing, I don't have a single Rolling Stones album. Just a 45 of Mother's Little Helper. But then I file Elvis Presley under Comedy :-) The other Elvis (Costello) gets filed under Rock. El Vez would fall somewhere between the two, if I had any of his CDs...

Saddle Tramp said...

Quoth Shakespeare . . .

The man that hath no music in himself
Nor is not mov'd with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils;
The motions of his spirit are dull as night,
And his affections dark as Erebus:
Let no such man be trusted. Mark the music.
( The Merchant of Venice, Act v , Scene I. )

Tom. A passing note for you. Just picked up Richard Grant's " God's Middle Finger " ( Into the Lawless Heart of the Sierra Madre. ). This has probably not got past you, but just in case . . . Familiar territory to you no doubt.

-saddle tramp

Just off a delivery to Abbeville, Alabama having travelled down Hank's Memorial Lost Highway and through the vestiges of the " Old South "

A nod to Abner :

You must leave to arrive
Arriving you must leave . . .
Thus describes eternity


Fresh off the highway . . .

Saddle Tramp said...

. . . tour these shores for the first time since 1994, " When " he quipped, " I was just a 60-year-old kid wuth a crazy dream ".

- Halleluljah Leonard Cohen
By John Aizlewood, Evening Standard, 18.07.08
( From the liner notes to the " Live In London " cd / dvd )

-saddle tramp

Via: inexileontheroad