Category Archives: Blue Mondays

Blue Monday (The Once and Future Paul Simon Anniversary Edition)

Between the release of his superb new album, So Beautiful Or So What, and the 40th anniversary re-release of Bridge Over Troubled Water, his last album as the songwriting half of Simon & Garfunkel, Paul Simon is giving us a good long look at his once and future self. Is it any surprise that he holds up quite well under the scrutiny?

Part of my problem with Bridge Over Troubled Water was that when I got around to it (sometime in the mid-Seventies)  I’d pretty much lost my taste for well-scrubbed commercial folk-pop, and the epic title track was already vying with “Imagine” for designation as Most Overplayed Inspirational Song. The screechy strings on the big finale still do unpleasant things to my fillings.

But once you get past the three hit singles that loom at the start of side one — “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “El Condor Pasa,” and “Cecilia” — Bridge Over Troubled Water is surprisingly spry and light on its feet, with a sense of humor that points to Simon’s first solo albums. Bookends has always been the S&G album I return to most often, if only because it was the first recording that allowed glints of humor and wit to break through the clenched grad-school seriousness of their first three records: before that, their idea of lightening things up was “A Simple Desultory Phillippic,” a joke as leaden as its title. But “Baby Driver” and “Keep the Customer Satisfied” kick things into higher gear while keeping their tongues firmly in cheek.

There are also three coded songs that forecast the breakup of S&G, and the best of them,  “The Only Living Boy in New York,” stands with some of the best work Paul Simon ever recorded. Even if you didn’t know “Tom” was the codeword for Art Gurfunkel (he and Simon initially performed as Tom and Jerry) you’d know you were getting a glimpse into the mixed emotions of a working friendship, with its mingling of pride in the partner’s accomplishments (in this case, Garfunkel flying to Mexico to film Catch-22 with Mike Nichols) undercut by the other partner’s faint resentment at being left out. Even the recording itself plays into the feeling: Simon singing by himself, with Garfunkel’s ethereal harmonies floating somewhere overhead, a perfect blend of style and content.

On the value-added side, the 40th anniversary edition includes a DVD with “Songs of America,” a 1969 curio that aired once in 1969. I won’t say it should have been left to the bootleggers, but its very much a Sixties antique, both in its format (traveling landscape shots intercut with glimpses of Simon and Garfunkel at work and on stage) and its content (glimpses of John Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. as reminders of what was lost). A specially made documentary, “The Harmony Game,” has plenty of nice tidbits about the recording of Bridge Over Troubled Water — if, like me, you always wondered about the instrumental break on “The Boxer,” know that it was a blend of high trumpet and pedal steel guitar.

As for So Beautiful Or So What, it is indeed all the evidence you need of Simon’s continued creative fire. Not that there was anything wrong with You’re the One or Surprise, but if this turns out to be Paul Simon’s career valediction, we can say he went out on a high note. It isn’t as immediately accessible as, say, Simon’s first solo album, which remains one of the greatest pop records in history, but its offhanded, relaxed charms get through. If “The Only Living Boy in New York” is a great song about friendship, “Dazzling Blue” is a great one about marriage.

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Blue (Moody) Monday

James Moody, the jazz saxophonist and flutist who balanced serious musicianship with a complete refusal to take himself too seriously, died Thursday at the age of 85.

As Peter Keepnews tells it:

Mr. Moody, who began his career with the trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie shortly after World War II and maintained it well into the 21st century, developed distinctive and equally fluent styles on both tenor and alto saxophone, a relatively rare accomplishment in jazz. He also played soprano saxophone, and in the mid-1950s he became one of the first significant jazz flutists, impressing the critics if not himself.

“I’m not a flute player,” he told one interviewer. “I’m a flute holder.”

The self-effacing humor of that comment was characteristic of Mr. Moody, who took his music more seriously than he took himself. Musicians admired him for his dexterity, his unbridled imagination and his devotion to his craft, as did critics; reviewing a performance in 1980, Gary Giddins of The Village Voice praised Mr. Moody’s “unqualified directness of expression” and said his improvisations at their best were “mini-epics in which impassioned oracles, comic relief, suspense and song vie for chorus time.” But audiences were equally taken by his ability to entertain.

Defying the stereotype of the modern jazz musician as austere and humorless (and following the example of Gillespie, whom he considered his musical mentor and with whom he worked on and off for almost half a century), Mr. Moody told silly jokes, peppered his repertory with unlikely numbers like “Beer Barrel Polka” and the theme from “The Flintstones,” and often sang. His singing voice was unpolished but enthusiastic — and very distinctive, partly because he spoke and sang with a noticeable lisp, a result of having been born partly deaf.

The song he sang most often had a memorable name and an unusual history. Based on the harmonic structure of “I’m in the Mood for Love,” it began life as an instrumental when Mr. Moody recorded it in Stockholm in 1949, improvising an entirely new melody on a borrowed alto saxophone. Released as “I’m in the Mood for Love” (and credited to that song’s writers) even though his rendition bore only the faintest resemblance to the original tune, it was a modest hit for Mr. Moody in 1951. It became a much bigger hit shortly afterward when the singer Eddie Jefferson wrote lyrics to Mr. Moody’s improvisation and another singer, King Pleasure, recorded it as “Moody’s Mood for Love.”

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Blue Monday (Columbus Day special)

I hereby move we discontinue the observance of Columbus Day, the most bogus holiday on the calendar. And when the legislation passes, this Burning Spear song will be its soundtrack.

I and I old I know
I and I old I say
I and I reconsider
I and I see upfully that
Christopher Columbus is a damn blasted liar
Christopher Columbus is a damn blasted liar
Yes Jah

He’s saying that, he is the first one
who discover Jamaica
I and I say that,
What about the Arawak Indians and the few Black man
Who were around here, before him
The Indians couldn’t hang on no longer
Here comes first Black man and woman and children,
In a Jam Down Land ya
A whole heap of mix up and mix up
A whole heap a ben up, ben up,
We have fi straighten out,
Christopher Columbus is a damn blasted liar
Christopher Columbus is a damn blasted liar
Yes Jah

What a long way from home
I and I longing to go home
Within a Red, Green, and Gold Robe
Come on Twelve Tribe of Isreal
Come on Twelve Tribe of Isreal
Out a Jam Down land ya
A whole heap of mix up mix up
A whole heap a ben up, ben up,
Come on Twelve Tribe of Isreal
Come on Twelve Tribe of Isreal
Out a Jam Down land ya

Christopher Columbus is a damn blasted liar
Christopher Columbus is a damn blasted liar
Yes Jah, he is a liar
Yes Jah, he is a liar
Yes Jah, he is a liar
Columbus is a liar
Yes jah Christopher Columbus is a damn blasted liar
Columbus

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Blue Monday

I’ve written about this performance before, but this clip is just about the best merger of instructional words and inspirational music I’ve ever seen. It’s the celebrated Paul Gonsalves saxophone solo from the Duke Ellington orchestra’s 1956 stand at the Newport Jazz Festival. Read, listen, and have fun.

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Blue Monday

The new super-duper boxed-set edition of Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town is coming out in a couple of months. While the packaging looks complete to the point of overkill, it probably won’t include a snapshot of the T-shirt that defined the New Jersey summers during the three-year layover between Born to Run and the 1978 release of Darkness. As anyone who was in the vicinity of Asbury Park back then would know, Springsteen fans were walking around the boardwalk with T-shirts emblazoned with MIKE APPEL SUCKS. Appel, Springsteen’s original manager, did not go quietly when rock critic Landau moved in on his meal ticket, which is why the followup to Born to Run took so long to arrive.  That’s why, to me, the title of Darkness will always be Mike Appel Sucks.

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Blue Monday

I’ve been going through a heavy Jimi Hendrix phase with the bookstore playlist, balanced off with additional Seventies-vintage Eno tracks as palette cleansers. For years I favored Are You Experienced over any other Hendrix album, but I’ve come to realize how badly I underrated Axis: Bold As Love. I’m particularly taken with “Little Wing,” and apparently I have plenty of company. Lots of musicians and groups have put their own spin on the Hendrix classic.

This one by the Corrs is the biggest surprise:

I guess it’s only to be expected that Steve Vai would have a version. While there’s no denying his musicianship, I find Vai’s music often comes up short in the soul department, particularly in this case:

Now this is more like it:

I have never liked Eric Clapton’s bombastic take on “Little Wing.” Part of the song’s charm is its offhanded feel. It sounds like something that popped into Hendrix’s head while he watched a woman walk past.  I invariably skip past the Claptonized version when I listen to the Layla album, but for some listeners it was their way into the Hendrix catalogue:

But why should they have all the fun? Here’s your chance to play it yourself:

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Blue Monday

Embarrassingly enough, my first actual Jimi Hendrix album purchase was not one of the certified classics — not Are You Experienced, Axis: Bold As Love, or Electric Ladyland — and not even the two posthumous albums compiled from the songs Hendrix had mostly completed just before his untimely death — The Cry of Love, Rainbow Bridge — but Crash Landing, the first of two 1975 albums cobbled together by producer Alan Douglas from the huge backlog of Hendrix work tapes. The releases scandalized Hendrix fans because Douglas had peeled off the backing instrumentation and re-recorded the tracks using anonymously competent studio pros. Douglas claimed the existing versions were unreleasable, but fans and critics noted that the move also allowed Douglas to grab co-songwriting credits on two very lucrative albums.  The result was that Crash Landing and Midnight Lightning were the only two Hendrix albums to appear in record-store cutout bins, which is where I found them. I’d been meaning to check out this Hendrix guy for a while, and to my teenaged brain this seemed like a low-cost way to do it.

So I listened, and heard some great guitar playing, but hardly the kind of thing to justify the John-the-Baptist imitations that happened whenever critics mentioned Hendrix. Forgive me, people, I was young and ignorant. The only Crash Landing track that offered a glimmer of understanding was “Peace in Mississippi,” a dose of feedback heaven that riveted my attention.

Compare the Crash Landing version with the untampered-with version at the top of this post, and you’ll hear the subtle differences. Eventually I found my way to the original Hendrix albums, and I understood what I’d been missing. And decades later, the Hendrix family managed to wrest their late son’s legacy from the hands of the vandals, and the Hendrix legacy was properly released.

Ironically, both Crash Landing and Midnight Lightning — long deleted and out of print — have become collector’s items. What I assume are bootleg CDs go for upwards of forty bucks. If you’re the sort of completist who must have everything the man played in every conceivable configuration, that price might seem worthwhile. But believe me, the two bucks I paid for them in the late Seventies was just the right price — even more so today.

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Blue Monday

The fourth Pogues album, Peace and Love, is usually written off as the band’s first stumble, coming after two gem-packed records (Red Roses for Me and Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash) and a certified masterpiece, If I Should Fall From Grace With God. But I’ve been playing it a lot at the store lately, and if Peace and Love marks a falling off, it’s the kind of falling off most bands could only dream of.

I’m particularly taken with “Down All the Days,” the band’s tribute to Irish writer Christy Brown, who fought his way through poverty and a body wracked by cerebral palsy to become a celebrated author and poet. The song led me back to My Left Foot, the film version of Brown’s autobiography, which takes its title from the fact that Brown could only rely on one of his limbs to accomplish anything in life. The film established Daniel Day-Lewis, who played the mature Brown, as a god of acting, but Hugh O’Conor, playing the younger Brown, is every bit as good.

This scene, in which the boy first proves to his family he has a functioning mind, never fails to slay me:

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Blue Monday

The new Drive-by Truckers opus, The Big To-Do, manages the feat of outdoing its predecessor, Brighter Than Creation’s Dark. The trademark sound — dark, gritty rock shot through with country twang — is even more potent for the absence of filler: no borderline offensive goofs like “Bob,” just thirteen powerful songs about trying (and often failing) to keep body and soul together in the Post-Dubya Age of Suck. It’s Lynyrd Skynyrd with more brains, Crazy Horse with more inspiration, Nebraska with more drive. It’s a formula, but it’s not formulaic. I don’t listen to enough new music these days to feel comfortable making pronouncements like “The DBTs are the best American rock and roll band now standing,” but I’d like to see somebody argue against me on the merits.

   

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Blue Monday

I usually like my blues electric and noisy, but Eric Bibb’s quieter style of folk blues recently grabbed my ear and shows no inclination to let go. The “Booker” in this song is Booker White, aka Bukka White (1906-1977), whose old National steel guitar recently came into Bibb’s possession. The song served as the springboard for Bibb’s latest recording.

How about another song?

It goes without saying that White himself should get the last word on this post:

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