Big Sound Saturdays: Good Morning Blues

Good morning, sweet dreams ~

Tom Waits, harbinger of Good Morning Blues, was so delicate in the nineties. Like Blind Willie Johnson, he threw his voice in multiple directions, dug underground for the Mad-Meg-style scratchy gorging sound that definitely doesn’t owe, entirely, to the cigarettes, and rose above the surface for the croon that he sustained throughout his early years. “Blue Skies,” a sweet, lovesick prayer for the morning, is Waits at his upper-register prettiest.

It’s not really a “pretty mix,” though; Jimmie Rodgers’ “Sleep, Baby, Sleep” is lovely (and, I admit, something I’ve used before), The Beatles’ 1966 instrumental warm-up of “I’m Only Sleeping” has a lounge-y xylophone thing that’s very pleasant, Leadbelly’s “Good Morning Blues” is a peripatetic affront of an instruction book—how to fight the blues—and the song of my youth, Belle & Sebastian’s “Sleep the Clock Around,” is kind of aggressively nice, but the rest are much more unsettling. Sticking mostly within the late 1960s to the early 1990s, this mix is meant for the all-powerful and totally movable witching hour: can’t go to sleep, can’t wake up, early old morning and late late night.

Lee Hazelwood, whose music’s is so disorienting in the morning, all sexy and string-y and smarmy and full, sings back and forth with David Bowie (RIP): “The Bed” to early Bowie’s mono version of “Let Me Sleep Beside You.” Then across to Randy Newman—famed LA-lover and composer of one of the greatest cartoon movie theme songs ever—Randy Newman (“Last Night I Had A Dream”), and back out to the vibing and sufficiently wobbly Incredible String Band’s “No Sleep Blues.” Anchored by Rolf Harris—a comedian in Australia, once famous for being funny and for imitating the didgeridoo with his voice in “Sun Arise,” track 7—and rounded off with Marvin Pontiac, John Lurie’s very talented and “very elusive” alter ego, Good Morning Blues charts the sun in orbit. Good morning, sweet dreams ~


Big Sound Saturdays: Lonely Saturday Night

A thing I wondered about as I combed through 1960s girl groups, gris-gris, freak folk, regular folk, prewar blues, classic blues, The Basement Tapes, the Lomax collection, and the big 1970s—all in the service of making your Saturday night sadness (definitely a thing) into something soothing—is this: how best to listen when you’re feeling kinda low? Continue reading “Big Sound Saturdays: Lonely Saturday Night”

Big Sound Saturdays: The Big Heavy

Traditional non-American musics, first recorded in the early 20th century onto 78 RPM discs, were almost never recorded for the reasons we’d want them to’ve been, but I hope that doesn’t mean that we should forget them.

Without either the disposable income of long-lived, financially successful adulthood, or the manly inclination to “understand” by owning, record collecting has always felt like a far-off impossibility for me. I’m grateful to the men—and in the old-time world, they’re men almost exclusively—who perform this kind of labor, and I do think that these recordings couldn’t exist without them. Folk music archives have a fraught history, but thank goodness they have a history to begin with.

Without Deben Bhattacharya, we wouldn’t have “Mahour,” the Iranian folk song I’ve nestled between the Yogyakartan jam “Hai Clum Dong” (almost definitely sung by two very groovy kids) and Elliott Smith’s touching cover of, surprisingly, Hank Williams Jr. (aka “Bocephus,” of this and this reprehensible fame), the lilting “All My Rowdy Friends Have Settled Down.” Without ethnomusicologist, photographer, composer, and artist Jack Body, “Hai Clum Dong” never would’ve been recorded and released. The same for “Sea Lion Woman,” the funky children’s game song performed by Katharine and Christine Shipp (19 and 20 years old, respectively) and recorded by Alan Lomax in 1939. And the same for Hocine Slaoui (“Yamouia Ghanni”), recently reissued by the ethical and aesthetically with-it Dust-to-Digital label in Opika Pende: Africa at 78 RPM. Even Blind Willie Johnson, who (as I’ve mentioned before is about as famous as a country bluesman can be, and Abner Jay, and Jean Ritchie, are all rooted in the legacy of archival recordings, ethnomusicological desire for American old-time and world music exotica.

My dream is for a music-sphere where we can talk about how exploitative and, often, racist, a lot of these recordings were while still locating them in their context, and understanding the impact that these recordings’ sheer existence have on today’s music. Celebrating the artist, considering the recorder. Sacasas y su Orquesta’s “Rumba Negra” is a full, dense rumba, not possible without the orientalist legacy that helped bring the performing genius Josephine Baker into the spotlight. The Dezurik Sisters, also known as the “Cackle Sisters” for their masterfully synched and disorientingly accurate chicken calls, wouldn’t be singing a song called “Birmingham Jail” if not for the history of blues music that informs the country progression and vice versa. I hope we can keep talking about this, and talking about music should always come second to listening to it. A mix, then, to start us!

In truth, I made this mix for how huge and heavy these songs are, especially next to each other. If my heart could handle listening to Tom Waits’ “Anywhere I Lay My Head” more than two or three times a year, it’d grace these ranks as well. Traditional non-American musics, first recorded in the early 20th century onto 78 RPM discs, were almost never recorded for the reasons we’d want them to’ve been, but I hope that doesn’t mean that we should forget them.

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