Thursday, August 23, 2018

American Girl

If the slowed down, stripped down cover of an uptempo classic has become more than a little clichéd, well, it's for a reason: it works.

This isn't going to cause anyone to forget the Tom Petty original but it's (almost) always nice to hear one major artist paying tribute to another major artist and putting their own stamp on things.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Thursday, August 16, 2018

RIP Aretha Franklin

The greatest American singer of our lifetime? The greatest female singer of our lifetime? Or simply the greatest singer of our lifetime? Pace Frank Sinatra, Sam Cooke, Elvis Presley, Marvin Gaye, John Lennon and Prince, it's pretty damn hard to argue that the Queen of Soul wasn't just the first two but all three—certainly until yesterday she was the greatest living pop singer in the world.

But she was also a brilliant artist, who knew how to make the most of her spectacular instrument, turning in mind-blowing performance after mind-blowing performance. Taking "Respect," a song already done fantastically by its writer, Otis Redding, and blowing his version away by adding a bridge and her pipes and transforming it into a feminist anthem should not have been possible. And for the Queen, it was a day's work, and a life's triumph.

And if that was all she had done, her place in history would have been assured. But of course that's just the tip of the iceberg.  "Chain of Fools," "(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman," "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)," "Think," "Do Right Woman - Do Right Man," "Rock Steady" and dozens of others don't even begin to scratch the surface of her contribution to popular music. And that's without even getting into her importance to the civil rights movement.

For many of us suburban white kids, her incendiary performance in The Blues Brothers was our first conscious introduction to Aretha, although of course her music had been in the air since we'd had ears.

I was deep in my hard rock Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult, Aerosmith phase the first time I saw the film, and this kind of soul music was not in my wheelhouse. And yet I remember being utterly transfixed from the moment she began singing, barely breathing until the song was over. I've probably watched it two dozen times since then and it's never lost one bit of its power.

Steven Hyden wrote about her performance at Montreux:
If you’re like me, it’s impossible not to compare what she’s doing to what Art Garfunkel did. In the Simon & Garfunkel version, the part when Garfunkel sings “…and pain is all around” always chokes me up. He’s a friend offering solace, but you can tell he’s not exactly in the best way, either. He’s trying to be strong, but he can’t help but expose his inner pain.
Aretha does not sound weak. She is not praying to God for deliverance. She is the voice of God.
When Simon & Garfunkel perform “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” the final “sail on silver girl” verse seems superfluous after that “pain is all around” verse — the song’s emotional peak has already been reached. But when Aretha does it, that last verse feels like a legitimate climax. As a listener, you feel yourself ascending toward the divine. She’s reaching out, extending herself to give all of humanity a big bear-hug. “Your time has come to shine / all your dreams are on their way,” she sings, and you believe her, because her voice has automatic authority when it comes to such matters. She sounds immortal, and this is a relief, because what is immortal can’t ever die.

Damn skippy.

That performance, obviously, also features some sweet damn piano playing from Ms Franklin—if your band was auditioning for a new pianist, and she walked in and started playing the way she does here, you'd sign her up after about three bars...and that's without even hearing her sing.

For further proof, let's turn to her takeover of Elton John's "Border Song."

Again, that fantastic piano is courtesy the Queen herself, a reminder that had she wanted to go in that direction, she absolutely could have beaten the likes of Elton or Billy at their own games—hell, she could have been a leading studio pianist without even ever opening her mouth. And while I've never actually heard him say it, I like to think Elton John (an avowed fan) had the same reaction to hearing her cover of his song as Otis Redding did (with admiration) when he heard her version of "Respect": "that woman stole my song." I mean, from literally the first line, when she's barely singing above a murmur, she's in complete and utter command—of both her voice and the song. And, of course, being Aretha, she just builds from there.

And yet the recording I keep finding myself going back to is this, for reasons which I suppose are pretty obvious.

As with the recent losses of Prince and David Bowie and B.B. King, there's a gaping hole in the soul left by their absence. But those holes are only there because those brilliant artists made room in the soul, stretching and pulling and pushing and enlarging, through their art in the first place. And for that we should be eternally grateful.

Rest in peace, Queen. And thank you.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Time Song

I'm trying to wrap my head around having this song, this recording, in your vault and thinking, "nah...not quite good enough."

As if anyone required further proof of just how great the Kinks were...