Wednesday, December 14, 2005 ... 10:36 PM
Boney's Anachronistic Best of 2005, part one
This weblog dosn't have much journalistic currency. I try sometimes, when something new interests me. I write about the shows I manage to see. I wrote about Ryan Adams and Steve Earle when their most recent records came out. I have no illusions that my finger is on any pulse.
But now's the season for Year's Best lists. I enjoy reading them. I'm only slightly embarrassed by how few albums released in 2005 I've actually heard, but I've heard few enough that I won't go on record about which songs albums artists guitar-solos hairdos and so forth I think are the best. I've listened to a lot of music this year, though, that came out of a lot of different years. It's all new to me. So here is part one of my 2005 Top Ten List of Best Music From Whenever, culled from the stuff I've been listening to for the past 12 months. Find old, new, borrowed, and blue in this Earnest wedding year.
1) Tim Easton, "They Will Bury You," Evening Muse, 7/8/05.
You have bottleneck slide on a crusty old flattop guitar, you have minor chords. Portentous lyrics that skim the collective dream. You have rasp. Mainly, you have atmosphere. Listening to this music gives you the feeling that you've got your ear to a thin wall between your own consciousness and American Mythology. Sounds goofy, I'll admit, but it's the feeling that flipped the twang switch in my head years ago. I heard it first in Grant Lee Buffalo and Mazzy Star, and then early Cowboy Junkies. I get it from Clarence Ashley, Skip James, and Neko Case. It's what I want when I go hunting for music: that bottomless depth, that ear to the wall. In a tiny nightclub, around four fans turned up to witness a Tim Easton suddenly turned hoodoo man, summoning this sensation of thunder rumbling your floorboards -- that summer storm feeling of the sky holding its breath.
Listen at Tim's site.
2) Detroit Blues: Blues from the Motor City 1938-1954 (JSP)
Disc C, "Stop Breaking Down," Baby Boy Warren
Disc A, "Highway 61 Blues," Sampson Pittman
Baby Boy Warren came from Louisiana and cut his teeth in Memphis, but in the 1950s became a staple in Detroit's postwar blues scene anchored by the Hastings Street ghetto. Black folks moved up around the Great Lakes from all over the South to work in the motor plants. A lot of these guys brought the primal seed of the rural blues with them. It rooted in the concrete. It mutated in the assemby lines, hardened, buzzing with electrical current and the pumping of brass valves. John Lee Hooker hit a major stride in Detroit, grew up and out, crossed over to the lucrative white market.
Baby Boy Warren didn't quite. When the Hastings Street scene got bulldozed in the 60s, he quit music to focus on feeding his kids. He died in Detroit in 1977. I love his take on Robert Johnson's "Stop Breaking Down." I like Warren's gregarious delivery, predicting the pressed professionalist passion of Motown acts to come. I like the angular, workmanlike thrum of his band: saxophone, piano, drums, guitar, well-oiled, lit up. The factory has wrung out any traces of the Delta, of the individual bluesman's expressiveness. It's urban party music, loud and grinning.
Sampson Pittman, though, is pure individualism, acoustic expressiveness. He survived the misery of wild, lawless Arkansas levee camps and arrived in Detroit before the War, where he cut some songs and stories for Alan Lomax, after which he apparently disappeared. Lomax liked his rhythmic oral histories, but I think his best narrative is given by his slide guitar performance on "Highway 61 Blues." That's cheesy, I know it. But listen to it. The cut starts at a stomping Texas tempo, and Pittman with his dirtpile voice moans out a couple of floating blues verses. Then he goes out on a guitar break, and never comes back. If there are more words to this tune, he doesn't know them, or he's lost interest in them. He's given up on the lyrics, which don't belong to him anyway. Whatever he has to say, he has no use for words. The music spreads wide, out through his hands. The tempo picks up, but organically. His bottleneck licks are varied and simple. There's no rhythmic thunking of the bass strings like you hear in Delta blues. It's all melody, curling into the air like smoke.
Making Notes: Music of the Carolinas
(Novello Festival Press, April 2008)
includes my essay, "Link Wray"
Flop Eared Mule
The Celestial Monochord
Dig and Be Dug in Return
Modern Acoustic Magazine / Blog
The Old, Weird America
Honey, Where You Been So Long?
The Greensboro Review
Fried Chicken and Coffee
Mungo (This was the blog of my friend, the late Cami Park. Miss you, Cami.)
Cat and Girl
Film Freak Central