Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Give Blood

The Crickets. The Beatles. Creedence Clearwater Revival. Led Zeppelin. The Ramones. P-Funk. The Smiths. R.E.M. Nirvana. Radiohead. There have been an awful lot of great bands.

This is not one of them. But only because it wasn't a real band—it was a solo artist with as good a backing band as has ever existed. If had been a real band? The core of Pete Townshend on vocals and rhythm guitar, Dave Gilmour on lead, Pino Palladino on bass and Simon Phillips on drums...well, the mind reels at what they could have created.

Incidentally, in case you were wondering, yes, this is maybe the most perfect drum performance ever, when it comes to the combination of staggering technique, brilliant inventiveness, off-the-chart energy and yet remarkable taste and restraint, including (at 3:44) the single greatest use of the double bass drums ever.

Terrible editing, of course. Hey, it was the 80s.

[ETA: ...huh. Turns out I wrote about this four years ago, and said pretty much the same thing, although I used a different version of what I think is the exact same performance.]

Tuesday, August 13, 2019


I don't know, exactly, what determines if a song works to its full desired effect. It's a highly subjective thing, right? One person gets choked up hearing Bruce Springsteen's "Backstreets," another can be moved to outward emotion by Kansas' "Dust in the Wind." Two wildly divergent forms of music, but each capable of triggering something in the individual listener.

So I don't know the exact formula; it's likely that no one does. But I will say this. When two young sisters write a song honoring a musical legend, and then perform that song in front of that musical legend, and that musical legend is moved to tears by that performance? Yeah, I think that is a good definition of success. Of a song that has reached its desired effect.

Case in point. Here is what I am talking about.

I'll be honest, I had never heard of this sister duo, called First Aid Kit and born, like them, in Sweden. Not until it was suggested I watch this video. But Lord am I glad I checked this out. The Soderberg sisters—Johanna is the older one, she's on the left singing harmony and taking lead on the bridge, and her younger sister Klara is on the right, playing guitar and singing lead—are each in their early 20s during this (I think) 2015 performance, and they are admittedly singing in front of one of their idols. Yet they show the poise of hard-boiled musical veterans, flawlessly delivering a song that is just unceasingly tender and lovely.

Much like the Everly Brothers of a different era, or the Carter family or the Jacksons or even the Osmonds, there is something about siblings singing together that, when done right, reaches an ethereal level that is nearly impossible to top. It's organic, embedded in marrow and plasma and intertwined in the DNA, and Johanna and Klara just put it on full display here. Johanna introduces the very meaning of the song with crystal perfection, and offers a bit of meta commentary on First Aid Kit while she does it, "We were so inspired (by the music of Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons) that we wrote this song, which is about the joy and the magic of singing with someone you love."


As for the magnificent Emmylou? Well, her reaction pretty much says it all. From the warm double kiss she blows to them at the outset, to the tiny wistful smile we see on her face as she focuses so intently on the song, to the tears she wipes from her eyes when the song inevitably overtakes her, that reaction is just priceless.

Oh, and the guy sitting next to her seems to appreciate it too. And he's only the freaking King of Sweden. But no pressure, ladies.

I'll be your Emmylou 
And I'll be your June 
You'll be my Gram 
And Johnny too
And I'm not asking that much of you
Just sing, little darling, sing with me

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Gentle on My Mind

I'm not sure I recall a time when I didn't love Glen Campbell's music: "Rhinestone Cowboy" was probably the first song of his I really knew, or maybe "By the Time I Get to Phoenix"? Later, of course, "Galveston" and, most of all, "Wichita Lineman" became favorites. And as a music-obsessed teenager, I knew that he was a hotshot session guitarist before he became a country-pop superstar. But I never actually heard any of his playing. Thanks to YouTube, that sort of research became easier by a magnitude of precisely 28949. And yet, for quite a while, video evidence of Campbell's chops were in short supply. Fortunately, not anymore.

This might not have seemed like an obvious example at first glance: it's Campbell's lovely take on the John Hartford classic, later covered by Elvis during his late 60s resurgence. Except he skips the second verse in order to rip off a solo in its place. And what a solo! How good is it? Well, just look at the legends sitting around, laughing at how ridiculously good it is, and under that kind of pressure: Willie Nelson, Roy Clark, Chet damn Atkins and is that Waylon Jennings shown briefly?

Campbell gives a laughing nod to the greatness assembled around him at the end...and yet his face as he's playing seems to indicate he knows he's got this puppy in the bag, as indeed he damn well does. Check out Clark studying Campbell's playing: when a player of his greatness pays that close attention, you know something serious is happening. As indeed it damn well was. The way Willie's head shoots up when Glen says he's about to play a solo? Willie doesn't react that quickly to something unless it's damn worthy.