31 May 2005

hurdy gurdy man : donovan

click here to listen
listening time: 3m 17s

here's something that randomly played in my ipod while i was getting a grilled veggie sandwich for lunch. it's a 1968 classic from the british folk legend donovan. the song would make for a good soundtrack for a pre-apocalyptic dream. most recently though it was used in the excellent but highly disturbing film l.i.e., which is about child molestation. brian cox turns in an outstanding performance, and the kid should be making more movies, but he doesn't seem to be. a history of the song, from wikipedia:
Released in May 1968, his next single was the swirling psychedelic nugget 'The Hurdy Gurdy Man', a song he originally intended for his old friend and guitar mentor Mac MacLeod who had a heavy rock band called Hurdy Gurdy. Donovan had also considered giving it to Jimi Hendrix, but when Mickie Most heard it, he convinced Donovan that the song was a sure-fire single and that he should record it himself. Donovan tried to get Hendrix to play on the recording, but he was on tour and unavailable for the session. In his place they brought in a brilliant young British guitarist, Allan Holdsworth. Jimmy Page also played on the session, and it is believed that John Paul Jones may have played bass with (possibly) John Bonham on drums. If so, this would make it the first recorded performance featuring the three future members of Led Zeppelin. Both Jones and Page have stated that the idea of Led Zeppelin was formed during the 'Hurdy Gurdy Man' sessions.
The heavier sound of 'Hurdy Gurdy Man' was a deliberate attempt by Most and Donovan to try and reach a wider audience in the United States, where the new hard rock sounds of groups like Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience were having a major impact. Most's commercial instincts were spot-on, and the song became one of Donovan's biggest hits, going Top 5 in both the UK and the USA and Top 10 in Australia.
and about the hurdy gurdy: it's a musical instrument.

28 May 2005

jump : aztec camera

click here to listen
listening time: 2m 50s

this is roddy frame's mellowed-out cover of the van halen original. it's a feel-good song that i turn to when i actually need it. the original is great, a classic, i love it. but it's also quite overwhelming. the deafening keyboards, the searing vocals, the air-guitar inducing albeit brief solo in the middle, and not to forget david's outlandish showmanship and eddie's flipped-out perma-smile on the video -- jesus, you've got to be all high, happy, and oversexed to be able to match the energy of that song. which is ironic because it's supposed to be about a man flirting with suicide.

which makes frame's version quite appropriate. set against a background of light-handed drum beats and innocuous bass, this acoustic take on jump is reluctantly positive. frame's lackadaisical vocals accompanied by gentle guitar picks deliver a sentiment that, if it catches you in a sullen state, is both bittersweet and alleviating. i get up, and nothing gets me down. what can be more hopeful than that? on a technical note this song is also a perfect proof of the timelessness of acoustic arrangements. frame made this cover about a year after the original was released -- that's 21 years ago -- but he could have done it yesterday and it would still come out just as listenable.

23 May 2005

the boss of me

i finally finished ripping all of the cd's i care about into my mac, and transferred most of the songs i care about to my ipod. out of 60 gigs, i have just a little over 2 gigs of space left, and i'm leaving that for some pictures. here's a shot of my ipod's screen. well actually, this is a recreation of my ipod screen, shamelessly knocking off a publicity shot from apple's website. i did try to take pictures of it using a digital camera, but they all came out looking like this.

i also tried scanning the thing, but it came out worse.

now all i need to do is get rid of duplicate songs from compilations and best-of collections. i wonder how much space that'll free up.

21 May 2005

satellite (show me the worth of the world) : tabla beat science

click here to rock your world
listening time: the best 8m 48s that you will ever spend on blogger

have a groovy weekend, all. here's something from tabla beat science, the musical collective that includes talvin singh. i have no idea what the vocalist is saying apart from the chorus, or if she (it could be a he, i don't know, i'm too lazy to look at the cd liner notes) is saying anything at all. nor can i guess why this is called satellite. but heck, this record is so much fun. get the album if you too are a fan of the tabla, which i think is very versatile and in the right hands can easily get out of the traditional and asian underground scenes. this album was recorded live in 2001 at the stern grove in san francisco.

update: just looked at the liner notes. it is indeed a female vocalist, and she is ethiopian artist ejigayehu 'gigi' shibabaw. the male backing vocal belongs to istad sultan khan. interestingly, tabla beat science has this to say about the album: "peace and respect to george harrison for opening our ears."

19 May 2005

then i'll be smiling : matt nathanson

click here to listen
listening time: 2m 56s

this song by san francisco-based artist matt nathanson is so beneath the surface i had to google what the word 'awarenesses' means. i've never used that word in the plural form in my life, and apparently it's some sort of a philosophical concept. read the lyrics here. i still don't get completely what the song means, but if my reading is right then matt makes a very poignant statement about shallow friendships. my guess is it's about a guy who has made a series of mistakes in his life and feels that his friends, with their "half concerns," have outgrown him. or it could be the other way around: he gained from his failures a deeper sense of self-awareness that he has outgrown his friends, the liars and fools he's probably referring to, who in contrast have become too self-involved. i may be reading too much into this, but it's only because the words are so captivating, delivered with understated woe, and all blending very well with the beautiful melody of the song.

anyway. matt's a brilliant artist, and i hear he's funny live. i love every song on the first cd of his that i bought, still waiting for spring, which includes this song, and his new one, beneath these fireworks, is even better. matt is what happens when a guy who listened to kiss before 12th grade discovers suzanne vega, indigo girls, and tracy chapman. that's more or less his own description. i'd fly to san francisco to see him. well only if mark kozelek is playing around the same time. then i'll be smiling.

been littered with small awarenesses lately?

18 May 2005

never stop : the brand new heavies

click here to listen.
listening time: 4m 42s

this is the not-quite-funk version of the acid jazz hit, from bnh's album original flava. not sure who did the vocals, probably guitarist simon bartholomew. obviously nothing beats the n'dea davenport version, which is one of the few songs -- of any genre -- that can totally blow you away. but i like this because it's downtempo, which is more often my mood. i'd love to do this on acoustic guitar, substituting the keyboard with heavy strums. if only i knew how to play the darn thing.

17 May 2005

never do that again : ivy

click here to listen
listening time: 3m 32s

ever had one of those moments of uncomfortable silence with your significant other? moments of estrangement that seem to have come out of nowhere? on an ordinary night, one of you will be sitting in the armchair reading a book, and the other will be lying on the couch watching television. this is how you wind down your day, and it's a habit that's as familiar as the pattern of conversation that ensues. one of you will say something trivial or insightful -- perhaps something that you saw or read, or something that happened to you during the day -- and the other will reply with a sentence, a phrase, a soft hmm. it doesn't matter how the conversation develops, or if one does at all; what matters is that both of you are silently taking comfort in each other's presence, aware of the same invisible connection that manifests itself most powerfully when you're making love. tonight, however, words are simply not in order, and every minute that passes without the familiar non-conversation amplifies the possibility that something might not be right. you try to brush the feeling off, yet it remains. suddenly, you start to notice that a neighbor is stuggling with his door key, or that one of the light bulbs in the hallway that leads to your kitchen is dimmer than the others. a light but eerie sense of touble prevents you from collecting your own thoughts. you feel as if something between you and your significant other has been violated, and you have a nagging feeling that it could be your fault. is everything okay? you ask, and the other replies with a yes that you think wouldn't sound as cold if it were true. and so you ask again, are we okay? and you receive the same unconvincing reply. and so you let it go, but not really, and you're left wondering how this moment is going to end.

this is the soundtrack to that moment.

16 May 2005

torn : ednaswap

click here to listen
listening time: 3m 43s

i was going to post something that randomly struck me on my way home today after a three-day weekend break, but i thought i'd better gather supporting evidence first. it goes something like this: when it comes to pop music, vocal standards are lower for men than for women. i'll say no more.

in the meantime, enjoy the original version of torn, popularized in 1996 by natalie imbruglia. i remembered this song because i saw her new cd being promoted on tv earlier this evening, and i wondered, why bother? what possible tv-viewing demographic is her label trying to reach? in fact, who continues to like natalie imbruglia? i will admit, though, that i was a big fan of her version of torn. her voice has the perfect touch of emotional injury that the lyrics require, something the original doesn't achieve. ednaswap's arrangement would work if a male vocalist were singing; it doesn't work with someone trying to sound like chrissie hynde. i don't know. maybe i'm just too tired to think.

good night.

13 May 2005

pressure drop : david kitt

click here to listen.
listening time: it'll be over before too long

i tried to restrain myself from posting this song but i couldn't help it. it grew on me, and i even had it on repeat in my ipod on my commute to work this morning. to appreciate the song, which is originally by the reggae band toots and the maytals, you have to first know how the more popular versions sound like. there's one by the clash, and another by the specials. (click on the bands' names if you'd like to stream 30-second samples on amazon.)

david kitt's version is what it sounds like when you deliberately overdose your best friend, shock him with extra-strength defibrillators (those electric plates they used in the movie flatliners) and hold him at gunpoint to sing a reggae song as soon as he comes to. an acoustic singer-songwriter from dublin, kitt never claimed that his vocals was his strongest suit. where kitt excels, as he demonstrated in his first two albums, is in his ability to exploit it to infuse every song with just the right amount of emotional disquiet – to make his listeners empathetic, as opposed to sympathetic. when i first heard the song song from hope st. (brooklyn, new york), in which kitt observes the sudden slow-motion of our pace in the winter, i wanted to come over to his apartment and help rearrange his furniture.

kitt's version of pressure drop comes from his fourth album the black and red notebook, made up almost entirely of covers, from r.e.m.'s (don't go back to) rockville to jj cale's magnolia. what kitt has done is sap each song of its passion and render it dry. which is normally a bad thing, but kitt, i'd like to believe, did it deliberately. for what purpose? i have no idea. the album isn't mediocre, just puzzling and oddly jaw-dropping.

09 May 2005

million miles from home : keziah jones

click here to listen
listening time: 3m 58s

two months before summer and my mind's already somewhere else. in limbo, to be exact. i had completely forgotten that i have 43,000 air miles expiring at the end of july, so i've been trying desperately to book a flight with very limited success. i'm looking to travel before end of june to either morocco or russia, which means i have to transit somewhere in europe, but in both options i can't get a return seat out of london or zurich. so as a backup i booked a flight to tehran via gulf air, the status of which i'll find out only today. as another backup, i booked johannesburg via cathay pacific, and this one's confirmed. but damn, i want either of my two first choices. i'm wanting to trek the atlas mountains or mount elbrus. must find other ways to get there on miles. damavand in iran should be okay, but what if our good friend from washington strikes again? the drakensberg in south africa i heard is breathtaking, but for some reason i have very little interest in it. give me some altitude i can cover in a week!

oh well. here's a great song by the amazing nigerian-born guitarist keziah jones. he will eat lenny kravitz alive. turn it up, this one rocks.

07 May 2005

a tribute to street musicians

baby can i hold you : orzo
click here to listen
listening time: 3m 20s

his name is orzo, and he's a street musician who played every night at ponte vecchio during our trip to florence last easter. on the evening we sat down on the sidewalk of the bridge, orzo received a visit from a policeman in a blue-and-white car. as if by routine, even before the cop could get out of the car, orzo pulled out pieces of paper from behind the chord sheets laid out on his music stand, walked over his guitar case which had just a handful of coins, and handed the papers over. the policeman leafed through them, gave them back, and left with a friendly salute. this is orzo's spot, the papers must have said, and what a perfect spot it was, getting more foot traffic at this late hour than any other corner of the historic quarter.

street musicians are everywhere, from plaza murillo in la paz to montmartre in paris to insadong in seoul. their presence in such diverse places is an affirmation of popular music as a universal language, touching universal feelings by provoking uniquely personal memories. (we all have stories about chiquitita, don't we?) street musicians don't always play with competence, but they always sing with passion. unfortunately that passion is lost on the majority of people who pass them by without a glance, or is only fleetingly shared by the passerby who drops a dollar, or hums along in his mind on his way to lunch. as a tourist i find them as a source of comfort. comfort that the city i'm alien to is friendly enough to have them. comfort through the familiarity of their songs in a land whose language i don't speak.

i've always been intrigued by street musicians, especially those who do it alone in a country not their own, like these guys. the one on the left is from the chatuchak market in bangkok, and to be honest i can't remember what song he was singing, though based on the way he looks it was probably dylan or cat stevens.

there must be elaborate stories behind them, but i've never had the courage to bother them and ask. what brought them to where they are? are they globetrotters saving up for their next destination? are they trying to escape from unpleasant circumstances at home? that's what i thought when i saw this other guy below in insadong in seoul. i thought he was russian, or from one of the caucasus states. i remember this shot very well. his pronunciation was so bad, i could barely make out a word. he was strumming, words were coming out of his mouth, but was he singing? and then, finally, something comprehensible: oh-wo-wow yesterday...

in any case, i tend to romanticize every street musician as the free spirit can only i wish to be.

that night on ponte vecchio, we shared the sidewalk with a group of 15 to 20 teenage tourists, probably eastern european, who insisted that one of them sing. orzo obliged, and the tourist sang shakira's underneath your clothes. she mimicked the colombian artist's voice very well, which means she probably shoved a ball of sock in her throat too. (no, i've never been impressed by shakira. well, okay, i like her mtv unplugged dig on ojos asi.) orzo obviously likes connecting with his audience. he performed other crowd-pleasers like u2's with or without you, which somehow morphed into the calling's wherever you will go, and america's horse with no name, which became fool's garden's lemon tree. the teenagers danced and sang to this tune. an old man (the one smoking in the picture at the top) started peddling orzo's cd, and since my significant other was having a good time, she insisted that i buy one. it cost 10 euros, quite expensive, but hey, we should all be supporting free spirits.

03 May 2005

cucurrucucu paloma : caetano veloso

click here to listen. it starts off very softly.
listening time: 3m 50s.

very briefly in his college life, my father was in a band that played latin music in hotel lounges, and even though he played upright bass, he was very good with classical guitar, an instrument he played with melancholy everyday since his heart kept him homebound at 36. one of his favorite musicians were the mexican trio los panchos, and he owned one of their lp's that featured this song, composed by tomas mendez and popularized in 1954 by lola beltran. i remember having a laughing fit the first time i heard it as a child; i thought "cucurrucucu" was the funniest-sounding word i'd ever heard. my appreciation only grew the more i heard the song, and this version by the brazilian singer caetano veloso, from the soundtrack to the film hable con ella, is the most haunting and heart-rending rendition of this timeless classic. memories of my father rush in everytime i hear this song. without the requinta, a small, high-pitched guitar that was the trademark of los panchos, my father played this song similar to the way veloso does. it wasn't perfect, but it was his.

by the way, if you liked this song, you'll probably also love this one.