Monday, July 20, 2009

They Put A Man On The Moon

It's a wonderful night for a moondance...

Plenty has been written and said about the 40th anniversary of the moon landing in the last week or so, and I won't add to it here, just post this little playlist to celebrate the mystery and romance of our little companion.

Does the picture indicate we believe the conspiracy theories? No, not really. But we will end it with R.E.M...

Frank Sinatra - Fly Me To The Moon (It Might As Well Be Swing, 1964)

Van Morrison - Moondance (Moondance, 1971)

The Drive-By Truckers - Puttin' People On The Moon (The Dirty South, 2004)

The Marcels - Blue Moon (Blue Moon, 1961)

R.E.M. - Man On The Moon (Automatic For The People, 1992)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sunday Morning Coming Down

A Sunday morning selection here - perfect for a long, lazy lie in bed. The seven songs I went for are heavy on the plaintive strings, bright acoustic guitars and double-tracked vocals; a couple even build to a climax, gathering momentum like a helpless snoozer working towards getting out of bed.

We begin with two gorgeous and unlikely covers: Petra Jean Phillipson brings a much needed woman's touch to Nick Cave's Into My Arms, while Tindersticks dismantle a minor disco classic from Odyssey. They are both followed by folk gems, jazzy detours and Bon Iver's sublime Re:Stacks, but hopefully the mood is already set. Pull back the curtains, crack open the alka seltzer and enjoy.

Petra Jean Phillipson - "Into My Arms" (Notes On Love, 2005)

Tindersticks - "If You're Looking For A Way Out" (Simple Pleasure, 1999)

The Cinematic Orchestra - "That Home" (Ma Fleur, 2007)

Gemma Hayes - "A New Day" (Work To A Calm EP, 2001)

Tunng - "Man In The Box" (Comments Of The Inner Chorus, 2006)

Terry Callier - "Trance On Sedgwick Street" (Occasional Rain, 1972)

Bon Iver - "Re: Stacks" (For Emma, Forever Ago, 2008)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Under the Covers: Neil Young Edition

First, a little housekeeping, in the form of an apology for a lack of posts on here of late. The combination of Glastonbury and related hangovers, followed by a bout of overnight shifts, knocked me back a bit. The bad news - I now have some time off to make up for it. Expect a rash in the next few days.

Right. Welcome to the first edition of Under the Covers, which will become an (ir)regular feature on Ragged Glories going forth. It does what it says on the tin, which is to say it deals exclusively in cover versions. And what better way to start than with five of the best Neil Young covers.

Johnny Cash - Heart of Gold (Unearthed II: Trouble In Mind, 2003)

Take one old master, emptying the tank on his final set of recordings, and give him a Neil Young song to cover. This can only work out well.

Heart of Gold was one of two Neil songs Johnny Cash tackled during the American Recordings, but both it and Pocahontas were added to the pile of cast-offs before finally appearing on the posthumous Unearthed. Thank goodness they did.

Pocahontas is the better song, one of Neil's best, but this is the better cover. While Pocahontas suffers from a little over-elaboration, distracting from the raw beauty of its battle-weary lyrics (which should have been perfect for Cash's fading voice), Heart of Gold is given a fresh lease of life by a man coming to the end of his life. When Neil first summed up his search for a Heart of Gold with the line "...and I'm getting old", there was irony - he was 25 years of age. When Cash sings it here, it is with the rueful smile of a man who has conducted a life-long search.

Emmylou Harris - Wrecking Ball (Wrecking Ball, 1995)

If you're going to cover a Neil song, and need someone to do backing vocals, who do you get? Neil. Only if you can, of course, but Emmylou Harris can.

There's absolutely nothing not to like about this. Whisper it, because I can hardly bring myself to write it about Neil, but it's better than the original (it's okay, it's not like he wasn't there and involved, right?). Emmylou's take is more tender and touching than the original, and these are lyrics that seem like they were written for a female voice. Emmylou subtly adds "I'll" to the chorus lyric "Wear something pretty and white", which is no longer a request but part of the offer.

This served as the title track of Emmylou's 1995 album, which ushered in something of a revival for her, followed as it was by the likes of Red Dirt Girl and Stumble Into Grace. Working with Daniel Lanois, best known as U2's producer, she used an updated electric sound, far more atmospheric, which only served to enhance the greatest voice in country music.

Scott Miller & The Commonwealth - Hawks and Doves (Reconstruction, 2007)

The original sounds like it was recorded in a bar, presumably quite considerably after closing time, so what better way to cover it than live, in a bar, with closing time fast approaching.

A gloriously ragged slow stumper back in its original form, Hawks and Doves epitomised Young's surprising and controversial rightward political tilt at the start of the 80s.

Miller first covered it for his 2006 album, Citation, but I've gone with the more raucous live version from 2007's Reconstruction. Cleaned up and speeded up, Miller turns this into an anthem, and one I used to love belting out at the top of my lungs flying down the freeway - "I'm proud to be living in the USA" is a great lyric to sing when you've just moved to the country, as I had when this came out.

Given how misplaced most of the analysis of the original proved, we won't even consider the politics of covering this at the time Miller did, but just appreciate a good ol' sing-along.

The Pixies - Winterlong (Bridge: A Tribute To Neil Young, 1989)

This was one of the true highlights of the 1989 collection, Bridge: A Tribute to Neil Young, for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, this song is something of a lost classic - at least as lost as anything that figures on the essential Neil compilation Decade can be. Never appearing on an album proper, it almost seemed to be forgotten in the great mass of Neil's works.

The Pixies rescued it from obscurity and made it their own - which maybe wasn't too hard given how the flowing melody of the vocals over a driving rhythm echoed their own sound.

Buddy Miles - Down By The River (Them Changes, 1970)

If you were drawing up a list of songs that no one should bother trying to cover, there's a strong case for putting Down By The River somewhere near the top. Let's be honest, Neil nailed it. The original version is among the greatest nine minutes and 27 seconds in musical history.

But Buddy Miles clearly was not put off. Bringing his soulful sounds to the party, Miles polishes the raw edges of Neil's classic, changing the mood to something more sinister. Gone is the emotion that charged the original, almost as though Miles doesn't care what he's done.

No, this isn't as good as the original, but it's a more than worthy effort.

PS - The picture credit for this post goes to my good friend Jack Doyle - this was our view of the great man at Glastonbury. Fantastic.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Help Me Make It Through The Night

Today's playlist is pretty much entirely about self-preservation. I'm heading into a week of nocturnal activity which will play havoc with my already largely mythical sleep pattern. I'm going to need a little help to make it through the night, every night.

So here are 10 of my favourite songs of the early hours, each and everyone of which is going to be needed to help me last until next Sunday on the barest amount of sleep. We open with CCR, pausing only to ask whether any band was ever any better at choosing covers to complement their own work, and race through to Neil Young's timeless classic by way of sinister goings-on in REM's garden and Scott Miller's advice for songwriters - remember, the best material is in the Bible.

Enjoy. And remember, sleep is for the weak. Good night.

Creedence Clearwater Revival - The Midnight Special (Willy And The Poor Boys, 1969)

Gram Parons - Sleepless Nights (Sleepless Nights, 1976)

Scott Miller - Good Morning Midnight (Are You With Me? 2000)

Kris Kristofferson - Help Me Make It Through The Night (Kristofferson, 1970)

Whiskeytown - Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart Tonight (Stranger's Almanac, 1997)

Lucinda Williams - The Night's Too Long (Lucinda Williams, 1992)

R.E.M. - Gardening At Night (Dead Letter Office, 1987)

The Kinks - All Day And All Of The Night (Kinks-Size, 1965)

Bruce Springsteen - Prove It All Night (Darkness On The Edge of Town, 1978)

Neil Young - Tonight's The Night (Part II) (Tonight's The Night, 1975)