Weekly Dance Break: Dozing Off Again

So this is less a dance break and more of a…give-yourself-a-moment-to-breathe-maybe-unplug-maybe-catnap break. But I think we could all do with a little bit of it.

Big Sound Saturdays: Old-Time Psychedelia

I imagine that everyone woke up like I did, sucking down your own personal version of a growler full of iced coffee (Spring & All, right?) and donning at least one item of mourning purple, asking the music gods What It All Means. So RIP Prince, the greatest!, holding hands with Hag and Lemmy and Bowie in 2016 heaven—this mix isn’t about any of you, but I place it at your feet!

Old-Time Psychedelia is actually a mix I’ve been sitting on for the past couple of weeks, because it’s so hard to untangle the wound-up-web of early 20th century weirdo Americana into ten little bites. It all started with Willie “Red” Newman’s 1936 rendering of the classic “St. Louis Blues,” a W.C. Handy tune on acid that was a $15 gift from the record den of niche-infamous Joe Bussard’s unbelievable collection of 78s. When I played the hopped-up proto-version of “St. James Infirmary” on WTJU’s “Walkin’ Blues” a few weeks back, I got so many text messages that I had to turn my phone off. It’s hard to believe that there’s a person behind those lopeing, driving harmonica notes.

I promise you, intrepid Saturday listener, the whole mix is like this! Check “The Cowboy’s Dizzy Sweetheart” (by Goebble Reeves, “The Texas Drifter”) —a yodeler whose chicken sounds rival those of the DeZurik (or, colloquially, the “Cackle”) sisters—for more truly disorienting feats in sounds-coming-from-human-mouths, or Tommy Settlers with his “Blues moaner,” a kazoo that he makes do wild, nasty things in “Big Bed Bug (Bed bug Blues).” Or listen (god DAMN it!) when Bessie Smith tells both you and her Shakespearian chorus of hot jazz accompanists to “hear me talkin’ to ya” in what I think is one of her most un-genre’d and disorienting songs, “Moan, You Moaners” (or “Moan Mourners,” depending on what 78 you’re looking at).

I set Blind Blake’s beautiful, tinkly “Guitar Chimes” as inauguration into Sidna Meyers’ banjo dream “Twin Sisters,” into prewar Hawaiian steel trendsetters Kalama’s Quartet’s “Sassy,” an up-tempo romp through the history of vaudeville and medicine show crossings between Hawaiian and popular black, white, and Cajun entertainers’ touring circuits, rounded off by two gospels and a mourning song. Elder Curry’s “Memphis Flu”—a vibrant sonic celebration of life, death, and God in the face of the flu epidemic of 1918—was made as popular as it has been in its 1952 reissue in Harry Smith’s “Anthology of American Folk Music” and again in the three disc opus “People Take Warning: Murder Ballads & Disaster Songs, 1913-1938” in 2007. And “Cuba 401” is the numbered shape note sheet music used by the oft-anthologized Alabama Sacred Harp Singers, singing a non-denominational and participatory refiguring of the solfege note progression into a gospel song.

Listen til the finish for the wonder that is the Segura Brothers’ “Bury Me In A Corner Of The Yard.” A medly of accordion and what sounds like a triangle or a cowbell with deriving, soaring lyrics sung in Cajun creole, it hollers over into a song that I’m saving for a different version of this mix, Blind Mamie Forehand’s “Honey In The Rock,” a blues sotto voce with guitar and some kind of bell, and back, deep, into the heart of popular, rural Americana. The perfect mo(u)rning song for a sunny Saturday in April.

Big Sound Saturdays: Spring and All

It is spring. That is to say, it is approaching THE BEGINNING.

Yes, The Beginning. Welcome, spring! This mix sits squarely in the 10-ish year period of 1966-1977, plus an irresistible tune from 1987—the year of the mystical collaboration of Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, and Linda Ronstadt—and the wonky, dulcet tones of Josephine Foster in 2005. At its center, Merle Haggard’s “Ramblin’ Fever.” RIP!

It is spring. That is to say, it is approaching THE BEGINNING.

Yes, The Beginning. Welcome, spring! This mix sits squarely in the 10-ish year period of 1966-1977, plus an irresistible tune from 1987—the year of the mystical collaboration of Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, and Linda Ronstadt—and the wonky, dulcet tones of Josephine Foster in 2005. At its center, Merle Haggard’s “Ramblin’ Fever.” RIP! Continue reading “Big Sound Saturdays: Spring and All”

Big Sound Saturdays: Valentine’s Day Blues

 

What’s everyone doing this weekend? I, personally, spent Friday night in The Pit trying to figure out how to make a condensed and an expanded version of blues Valentine’s Day that captures the elation, the bummer, the prickliness, and the hilarity that is this made-up holiday. On Sunday, I’ll play the longer version on the radio and potentially get one of the phone calls I used to get in my New York radio days when I had a V-Day show, a mouth-breather asking if he could pick me up from the studio and take me out to dinner. See what I’m talking about? Alone, together? Continue reading “Big Sound Saturdays: Valentine’s Day Blues”

Big Sound Saturdays: Rats in Paradise (New Year freak out!)

Did any of you go to the deep sea Oracle disco two nights ago? Who rung in the new year kicking and screaming to the dulcet tones of twanging, freak-out guitar “experiments” by three men in tox-screen space suits, did you take a picture that me and mine can sit in? Did your main squeeze serenade you with “Losing My Religion”? What kind of special drink did you make, can I try it! Is there a better holiday than New Year’s eve?

Continue reading “Big Sound Saturdays: Rats in Paradise (New Year freak out!)”

Big Sound Saturdays: Sanatorium Blues

Ushering in a month of guest mix-ers, P.F. gives us an extensive collection of heavy jams that are either tuberculosis related or T.B.-proximal. Check out @digamericana and digamericana.com to see some of the other stuff he’s working on, and settle in for the night – this one’s a doozy.

Sanatorium Blues is dedicated to the 1.5 million people around the world who die from tuberculosis-related causes each year.

S.A.: Ushering in a month of guest mix-ers, P.F. gives us an extensive collection of heavy jams that are either tuberculosis related or T.B.-proximal. Check out @digamericana and digamericana.com to see some of the other stuff he’s working on, and settle in for the night – this one’s a doozy. Continue reading “Big Sound Saturdays: Sanatorium Blues”

Big Sound Saturdays: Make the Devil Leave Me Alone (Halloween Edition!)

At the Newport Folk Festival about two years ago, I had the pleasure of seeing a friend play the kid’s stage—a stone’s throw from the main stage, guarded by snack tables, and elevated very sweetly about one foot above ground. After his glowing introduction by two ten-year-old boys, he launched into a heavy, guitar-slapping slide rendition of Robert Johnson’s “Me And The Devil Blues.”

Weirdly, watching these little waifish five-year-olds walk towards his very scary version of a very scary song with dead eyes and inclined heads made me realize that listening doesn’t change all that much as you get older. The thumping talking-guitar that mimes the devil’s footsteps to the frantic falsetto realization, “me and the devil, walking side by side,” is totally mesmerizing, even in daylight, at Newport, surrounded by fifteen babies. Continue reading “Big Sound Saturdays: Make the Devil Leave Me Alone (Halloween Edition!)”

Big Sound Saturdays: No Bed of Roses, Vol. 2 (Mixed Bouquet)

You won’t get a sense of any certain sound’s deep and movable investment in the flower (like I hope you did with Volume 1) , but you might start to hear a kind of cultural obsession bigger than country music—rose as friend, mother, and lover, rose as longing, illusion, something to both give as thanks and give thanks to but also something to deride or, at the very least, to suspect. In here, “Coming Up Roses” could mean anything.

Like the Pluto of the musicsphere, mixes are kinda like micro-histories, and crafting a history begs a staggering breadth of choices. What kind of history can you make with hundreds of songs about the rose? Continue reading “Big Sound Saturdays: No Bed of Roses, Vol. 2 (Mixed Bouquet)”

Big Sound Saturdays: Strange Love

When I was a teenager I dated a boy who put his pillow in the freezer so we could stay cool when we snuck into his bed in the California summer. In the beginning of college, a guy who spent his spare time tightrope walking and hanging with his dad’s pets. After him, one with a shadow mustache who’d lean against his junked-up soil-brown car and smoke a cigarette in plain view of my parents, which, honestly, still “gets” me. A guy who projected PBS’s live reenactment documentary about the Carter Family across the entire face of a ten-story building. A sweet man, now, who prowls like a wolf and sleeps like a caterpillar. There are through-lines in my romances, but they’re mostly wildly different from each other. Even my woozy nervy feeling morphs. Lately, I’ve been feeling it big enough to make a mix that sounds the thick of it.

When I was a teenager I dated a boy who put his pillow in the freezer so we could stay cool when we snuck into his bed in the California summer. In the beginning of college, a guy who spent his spare time tightrope walking and hanging with his dad’s pets. After him, one with a shadow mustache who’d lean against his junked-up soil-brown car and smoke a cigarette in plain view of my parents, which, honestly, still “gets” me. A guy who projected PBS’s live reenactment documentary about the Carter Family across the entire face of a ten-story building. A sweet man, now, who prowls like a wolf and sleeps like a caterpillar. There are through-lines in my romances, but they’re mostly wildly different from each other. Even my woozy nervy feeling morphs. Lately, I’ve been feeling it big enough to make a mix that sounds the thick of it.

Continue reading “Big Sound Saturdays: Strange Love”

Big Sound Saturdays: Apocalypse Sound!!

The 1940’s and ‘50’s boast such an enormous archive of atomic bomb scare songs—most of them lovingly compiled onto the Atomic Platters (“Cold War music from the Golden Age of Homeland Security”)—that it feels a little tired to loop them all into a mix that would probably end up being kind of hard to listen to. I went for apocalypses of mind and body instead…In the hopes of mixing these songs into something that sounds like an atomic explosion, this mix is a little out of my usual Big Sound Saturdays fare. Apocalypse Sound!! is loaded with garage rock, punk, riot grrl, afrobeat, rock ‘n’ roll, R&B, and some big tunes from Italy, Indonesia, and Thailand.

The 1940’s and ‘50’s boast such an enormous archive of atomic bomb scare songs—most of them lovingly compiled onto the Atomic Platters (“Cold War music from the Golden Age of Homeland Security”)—that it feels a little tired to loop them all into a mix that would probably end up being kind of hard to listen to. I went for apocalypses of mind and body instead, with tunes ranging from totally explicit (Elvis Costello’s “Waiting for the End of the World”) to personal disaster, the girl group Heartbeats’ self-released, organ-laden heavy-hitter “Cryin’ Inside.”

In the hopes of mixing these songs into something that sounds like an atomic explosion, this mix is a little out of my usual Big Sound Saturdays fare. Apocalypse Sound!! is loaded with garage rock, punk, riot grrl, afrobeat, rock ‘n’ roll, R&B, and some big tunes from Italy, Indonesia, and Thailand. I Giganti’s “La Bomba Atomica” is a 1960’s patchwork of low register swamp sounds and earnest falsetto, bombs in the night, and the ever-irrepressible Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “Frenzy” is to the tune of frantic disorientation that I’m hoping the mix will bring you, the listener, into. Barring Chance Halladay’s “13 Women”— a heavy, huge, hilarious apocalypse, like the Twilight Zone’s “Time Enough At Last” in Big Man fantasy space—everyone on here is pissed off. I even rounded it off with a song that The Red Elvises wrote for the post-apocalyptic rock ballad-cum-samurai film Six String Samurai, a furious ska boogie that dances itself all over Leonard Nimoy’s cautionary “Visit To A Sad Planet.” No holds barred in any of these songs. Paint them on your body, carve them in your walls!