Monday, September 29, 2008

Mockingbird Bible

Dearest Friends, you will recall that last year I was captivated by the songsmithery of local country-western-folk-blues singer/songwriter Rodney DeCroo. Well, he has a new album out, Mockingbird Bible, and I got religion.

As a quick recap for those of you who weren't listening the first time around, he's been variously compared to Steve Earle, Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson, Neil Young, John Prine, and even Bruce Springsteen. But don't let yourself get lazy and think that with that you've got him pegged; he's kinda sorta like the best bits of them all stitched together, with more on top.

At the core is a man with a superb talent for crafting poetic stories out of words and experience. Stories of people carrying burdens of regret, shame, fear, trauma, and self-doubt; of loves and relationships gone askew; of difficult memories and difficult questions; and also of beauty. They are sung in Rodney's supremely evocative voice; it's neither a polished nor a perfect voice, but its gritty and gravelly imperfections convey an honesty and authority based on hard experience and emotion. The songs are carried forward by Rodney's acoustic guitar, which he plays with an an elegant economy, and are embellished on the album by contributions from some fine Vancouver musicians; sweet backing singing by Sam Parton of the Be Good Tanyas, Ida Nilsen's tender vocals and piano, and the rich pluckings of stringmeister John Wood.

Mockingbird Bible is shot through with an introspective sadness and bitterness. The album's quasi-title track, 'Mockingbird,' is downright harrowing; Rodney picks at the strings as if they're his nerves as he sings an tense, high-pitched blues story of rejection and betrayal that leaves me exhausted each time I hear it. 'Loneliness Has The Heart Of A Spider,' which is just a fantastic metaphor, is mellower, mournful tale redolent of self entrapment. 'Shooting Stars' seems to lament the loneliness of a life on the road, with Rodney singing of "lonely girls in heartbreak bars / they love the way you play your guitar."

But it's not all gloom and doom and bleakness; if you want that, just stick to your Joy Division, you miserable gits. For in amongst all the angst are islands of spirituality. Now rest assured, I'm not talking about old-time, tub-thumping evangelism or kumbayah hippy-drippiness. It's a less-focused faith in grace and redemption, one that brings a sense of hope, however grubby. Nowhere is this more in evidence than on 'Spinning Wheel,' which sits roughly in the middle of the album's sadness: "I stand at the razor's edge / as these lights burn through my head / and despite every word I said / I praise this spinning wheel."

Probably what I find most powerful about Rodney's music is how it often it will sneak up and suddenly stab straight through my outer hide and pierce some damned, dammed up pool of emotion that I didn't even realize was there. Heck, that happened the first time I ever set eyes or ears on him, and it happened again while listening to the album. Twice, in fact. And though sometimes I can figure out why it does ("Oh my mother / Oh my father / Will we ever be reconciled? / Though I went out and I wandered / I am still your only child"), often I'm not really sure. "Deep waters, they don't run dry" - why does that bit from 'Black Earth, Green Fields' twist my heart in a knot??

I've been trying to figure out why the album is called Mockingbird Bible, which is odd because usually I'm fairly accepting of whatever an album is dubbed. Life's A Riot With Spy Vs. Spy? Yeah, sure Billy, cheers. Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? Um, right, WHAT-everr. I even asked Rodney, who gently encouraged me with a twinkle in his eye (well, there probably was one while he typed the e-mail) to decide that for myself.

So what did I come up with? Well, I was reminded of Miss Maudie's declaration in To Kill A Mockingbird: "Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy ... , they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us." In the book the bird becomes a symbol of innocence, and of innocence tarnished. I think Rodney just wants -perhaps needs- to sing his scarred heart out for us. And this album is his Bible, chapter and verse.

To top it all off, folks, Rodney is an excellent live performer. To mark the release of Mockingbird Bible he played a packed Railway Club with the robust backing of his three-piece Convictions. Interestingly, the band punched up the songs to a rockier-n-rollier pace, which traded in some of album's sadness for a greater sense of urgency. All of which was grand; after all, if a band just plays their repertoire note-for-note on stage, why bloody bother going out & staying up late??

Bottom line, Dearest Friends: buy the album, and go see him live. If you're in western Canada, you may well have the chance to catch one of the shown on his current tour of BC, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. If you do, take it. Pop over here to check out dates.

Rodney DeCroo - Shooting Stars (buy here)

Friday, September 19, 2008

Torn Covers

Quilt by Lisa Visser, photo borrowed from here

Yes, yes, I know I'm late again. My excuse this time is that I'm nursing a cold. Forget rats or mosquitoes, kids are without a doubt THE most efficient disease vectors...

Anyway, I'd still like to draw your attention to the Contrast Podcast, which this week dove back under the covers to bring you a slew of cover versions that are very different from the original. In fact there was so much coverage that Dearest Young Tim only managed to bring us half this week; the rest will be forthcoming this coming Tuesday. Download it here, vent yourself here.

What's lurking beneath the covers:

Polysics - My Sharona
Tim from The face of today

(03:41) Hands on Heads - School
Ross from Just gimme indie rock

(05:02) Erroll Garner - (They want to be) close to you
Chris from

(10:45) Rats with wings - Hungry like the wolf
Matthew from Song by Toad

(16:34) Cake - I will survive
JC aka The Vinyl Villian

(26:13) Jill Sobule - Hot in herre
Agnes from It all started with carbon monoxide

(29:56) La Perversita - (I can’t get no) satisfaction
ZB from So the wind won’t blow it all away

(32:57) The Cardigans - Iron man
Greer from A Sweet Unrest

(37:41) The Postal Service - Against all odds
Andy from Circles of Concrete

(42:28) Giant Bear - Head like a hole
Natalie from Mini-Obs

(47:05) TV on the Radio - Mr Grieves
Bob from Gimme Tinnitus

(51:33) The Secret Machines - Money (that’s what I want)
The In Crowd from I’m Learning to Share!

My contribution is coming up next week, so I'll wait until then to share with you what almost made the cut. But while perusing my covers collection I remarked how many versions of Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" I seem to have amassed. Indeed, if "Yesterday" by The Beatles is the most covered song in history (as the Guinness Book of World Records tells us), then I think "LWTUA" must be hot on its mawkish heels. Now plenty of others in the blogosphere have remarked upon this, so this ain't no big revelation. But truth be told, I think the original meets John Peel's definition of the perfect song: "There's nothing you could add to it or subtract from it that would improve it." And that, Dearest Friends, is why I didn't consider submitting any covers of it for the CP.

But that won't stop me sharing a wodge of them with you tonight...

Vitamin String Quartet - Love Will Tear Us Apart (buy here or e-here)
A stringy version performed by Vitamin Records' anonymous house quartet. From The Gothic Wedding Collection, but I recxkon that if you're playing this at your nuptials then you're pretty much doomed from the start...

Rebecca Hancock & The Prison Wives - Love Will Tear Us Apart (buy e-here)
A sorta acoustic, C&W, folky take by Aussie singer-songwriter Hancock. Wouldn't be out of place on your local honky tonk's jukebox.

P.J. Proby - Love Will Tear Us Apart (buy e-here)
Oh my, here the vintage Texas crooner/friend of Elvis/JD-swiller/ex-shepherd takes stab at it. Surely it should have been Love Will Tear My Trousers Apart Again?? No, please, hold your applause till the end of the show, folks...

Paul Young - Love Will Tear Us Apart (buy here)
A fairly characteristic version by the eighties white soul boy. I always thought he sounded a bit like a strangled bullfrog.

Bis - Love Will Tear Us Apart (buy here)
The now-separated Scottish DIY rascals give it the electro-indie treatment.

Tiger Baby - Love Will Tear Us Apart (buy here)
Less bleep, more ambient electronica and breathiness from these dishy Danes.

Boy Division - Love Will Tear Us Apart (from the Zick Zack Records sampler "Bis Auf Weiteres eine Demonstration - Geräusche Für Den Tag Danach" which I have no idea where to find)
No, this isn't queercore. Boy Division are a shouty trash-pop-spielart cover band from Hamburg, Germany whose singer is given to broadcasting his vocals via megaphone.

The Cure - Love Will Tear Us Apart (don't think there's a versh to buy, but correct me if I'm wrong...)
Does exactly what it says on the tin.

The Shanes - Love Will Tear Us Apart (buy here or e-here)
Ye gods, another German cover version, this time in a Poguesian, Eastern European, squeezbox stylee. Recorded live in Serbia, apparently.

Calexico - Love Will Tear Us Apart (buy here)
A fine, motoring interpretation from Arizona's finest collective.

Albert Kuvezin & Yat Kha - Love Will Tear Us Apart (buy here or e-here)
Oh yeah, a Tuvan throat-singing version. This sort of mix-n-match gets my juices flowing...

Swans - Love Will Tear Us Apart (buy here or e-here)
Seminal NYC noiseniks have a go, with The Living Jarboe on vocals.

Oh, there are more, but that's all you get right now...

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

I'm gonna try. And I mean what I say.

Dearest Friends, once again I find myself in a horribly vexed position. I've got scads to write about, but no time in which to write it. My hyperactivitied offspring have conspired with AIG and Lehman Brothers to suck up all free time. Curses, foiled again!!!

But let me try to start the clawback...

Recently I fell in love with Havana Guns. "But FiL," you cry, "they're old news! So passe! So oh-five-oh-six!" Yeah, well, I'm a couple of years late, so fucking what. The fact is that their single She Always Goes Down made its way onto my computer and I've been utterly smitten by its aching, yearning, uber-catchy pop. "But still we danced all through the night / the DJ could not save our lives / the record stops then starts again." Gaaaah! I'm not sure why, but those lyrics cut me right through to the heart.

So, first I rushed over here to buy the only available vinyl single. Then I did a bit of snooping around on the interwebby to see what I could find about The sound comparisons are sound: The Strokes meet Blondie having a ciggy with the Jesus and Mary Chain while The Long Blondes play a set up on the pub stage. They call it "motorcycle pop." The band formed in 2004 in London, had some indie success with She Always Goes Down, and released NYCS in 2007. Most of the Guns seem to have recently coalesced into Rock City Sixteen, which seems to have added a big smear of post-punk into the mix and amped up the shoegazy guitar fuzz. I bought that single as well - told you it was love...

Havana Guns - She Always Goes Down (buy here)

Rock City Sixteen - Antarctica (buy here)

And here's a wee video of the brilliant NYCS for you:

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Cheese, Glorious Cheese

A platter of pure loveliness: (clockwise from top) Stinking Bishop, Epoisses,
Chabichou de Poitou, Beenleigh Blue, 5-year gouda

Last week the craving returned. I tried to resist, for the sake of both my wallet and my body. I tried manfully, but ultimately to no avail. By Friday morning I was desperate.

I had to have ... CHEESE.

And so round lunchtime I hopped, skipped, and jumped the few blocks from workplace to my main local dealer, Les Amis du Fromage, and dropped an embarrassing amount of money on some fine dairy product.

At home that evening, I realized with much disappointment that I had left my swag in the fridge at work. I managed to sweat through the night, and the next morning Little Man and I made a Hail Mary run to the office for salvation. After discharging some ancillary errands, we returned to the house for lunch. And we ate our cheese.

I was uncertain whether Little Man would share my enthusiasm for any of the ponging, pungent pieces that huddled on the cheese tray, but I needn't have worried; his favourite was the butterscotchy five-year-old gouda ("Almost as old as me!" he declared), followed by the wrinkly, goaty splendour of the Chabichou du Poitou (or "Chubby-chew," as he dubbed it). The sweet mouldiness of the Beenleigh Blue he found pleasant, but he was less keen on the the in-yer-face strength of the Epoisses and my favourite, the delightfully fetid Stinking Bishop. Give him time...

Dearest Friends, I nearly wept for joy. Joy at the sight, smell, taste, and texture of my beloved cheeses, and joy at the fact that Little Man loved them too

Les Trois Fromages - La Tartiflette (buy e-here)
French pop-punk whippersnappers sing the praises of cheese. Straight up.

P.S. Since 'tis once again the season to automotively schlep the kids from activity to activity, I burned a CD for inflight enjoyment. So here are three of the tracks that Daddy FiL and the bairns currently bop to en route:

Althea & Donna - Uptown Top Ranking (buy here)
Thee Headcoatees - Teenage Kicks (buy here or e-here)
The Real Tuesday Weld - Bathtime In Clerkenwell (buy here)

And if you've never seen the Bathtime In Clerkenwell video, you need to do so right now.

Friday, September 05, 2008


Dearest Friends, it's been an odd little week full of niggly little things and bereft of both motivation and energy. To be quite honest, I was rather fed up with it all by this afternoon.

So thank goodness this came on the empeefree playah in the car on the drive home. I kept it on ear-splitting repeat all the way, my head bobbing like an electric chicken.

I love this song with every fibre of my quivering, dirty, lo-fi heart.

The King Khan & BBQ Show - Fish Fight (buy here or e-here)

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Poetic License

Crow stolen from here

Soft! What dulcet verse
From yonder 'puter gush?
'Tis a wondrous podcast
Of contrast rare...

Yep, this week Contrast Podcast gets all poetic on yo' collective arses, Dearest Friends. The focus is on the words, the images, the cadences, the syntax, as each contributor offers up a poem of their choice for your delectation. But of course there's always music, and each plate of verse comes with a side order of song, carefully selected to complement the main dish. You can download it all here, and pen your own poetic responses here.

Of contrast rare
And wordsmiths fair:

(00:00) Dorothy Parker - I shall come back
Hungry Lucy - Love vigilantes

Adam from Pretending life is like a song

(06:19) Richard Brautigan - Map shower
Johnny Powers with the band of Stan Getz and Tom Cats - Long blond hair, rose red lips

ZB from So the wind won’t blow it all away

(08:37) Shel Silverstein - Hug O War
Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs - Hug you, kiss you, squeeze you

Natalie from Mini-Obs

(12:02) John Cooper Clarke - I wrote the songs
Jodi Jett - Greasy

Tim from The face of today

(16:05) John Anderson - Blair Bush news conference on Iraq
Barenaked Ladies - Fun and games

James from Appetite For Distraction

(20:21) Janet Paisley - Glen Village
Passenger - Night vision binoculars

Greer from A Sweet Unrest

(24:31) Carl Sandburg - Stars, Songs, Faces
Shearwater - The hunter’s star

Linda from Speed of dark

(28:19) Mountain - Nantucket sleighride

Lyle from Mentok the Mind-taker

(35:05) Ted Hughes - Lovesong
The Fugitives - Haunted

FiL from Pogoagogo

(41:05) Joyce Maxtone Graham - Evening
Counting Crows - Colorblind

Marcy from Lost in your inbox

(45:14) Johann Wolfgang von Goethe - The Erl King
Hannah Fury - Beware the touch

Victoria from Muruch

(50:20) C.P.Cavafy - Despair
Japan - Despair

Conrad from White Car Records

(55:14) John Betjeman - Loneliness
Joy Division - The Eternal

John Q.

(01:01:35) Attila The Stockbroker - Nigel wants to go and see Depeche Mode
Depeche Mode - Leave in Silence


(01:06:32) Robert Burns - Despondency: An Ode
The Smiths - I know it’s over

JC aka The Vinyl Villian

(01:13:35) The Undertones - Teenage kicks

Dirk from Sexy Loser

(01:17:10) Edgar Allan Poe - The Lake
Antony and the Johnsons - The Lake

Agnes from It all started with carbon monoxide

(01:23:12) E. E. Cummings - Love is more thicker than forget
Elbow - Newborn

Mark from Cinema du Lyon

I chose a Ted Hughes poem because, although the man was a cad and a bounder, I find his words electrifying, uncomfortable, mythical, and revelatory. And he wrote about crows, wot are one of my favourite birds. The piece I went with, Lovesong, brilliantly captures the anguish and horror of all-consuming lust/love. But there were other contenders:

Billy Childish - The Huddie Poem (buy here or e-here)
Childish is not only a garage guitar hero, but also a painter, author, and poet. But he's no posey art-school fop, Dearest Friends; for starters, he's entirely self-taught and his work --in whatever medium-- is pure and authentic and uncontrived. This piece, relating the birth of his son Huddie, squeezes my soul until tears of love seep out.

Ivor Cutler - I Believe In Bugs (buy here)
I wasn't really in the mood for Dadaist whimsy this week, or else you might well have gotten a delightful dose of Scotland's finest.

As for the music, well, The Fugitives fairly leapt up to be chosen. I've mentioned them in passing before, and I thought the slam-poetry-peppered music purveyed by these shining Canadian youngsters would be most complimentary to Teddy Boy's verse. Here's another track of theirs, one that's abit more upbeat about this whole love thing:

The Fugitives - French Tattoo (buy here)

And here's the video for Haunted, so you can see what they look like. Well, sort of.