Sunday, May 16, 2010

Peaking at 64

In the spring of 2008, I attended a Houston cultural festival, called iFest (i for International) to see a performance by guitar blues legend Buddy Guy (who was terrific). However, the warm-up act, a one-hit wonder R&B singer named Bettye LaVette, also blew me away. Her phrasing, the way she conveys emotion, is amazing. It turns out that I was not alone in my assessment and that LaVette was just hitting her stride. The past couple years have been very good for Ms. LaVette. Since that show, she has gone on to:

- Win a BMA (Blues Music Award) for Best Contemporary Female Blues Singer
- Perform a show-stopping version of "A Change is Gonna to Come" as a duet with Jon Bon Jovi at the Obama Inauguration Concert

Bettye LaVette, who turned 64 this year, is getting more attention now than she did for most of her career. She recorded her first song in 1962, when she was 16, and has been working as an entertainer ever since. That song, "My Man - He's a Lovin' Man" became a Top Ten R&B Hit. Her next hit, 1965's "Let Me Down Easy," led to a tour with The James Brown Revue.

Watching this video of her performing The Who's "Love Reign O'er Me" at the 2008 Kennedy Center Honors, you can see clearly why she is suddenly receiving the attention she deserves:

When I saw her perform, she mostly performed work from her 2007 album, The Scene of the Crime, telling powerful stories and transforming country songs. On that album she is backed up by the alt-country band, The Drive-By Truckers, a group I will feature in a future blog posting. A special treat is the one song she wrote, her autobiographical "Before the Money Came".

On her website, Ms. LaVette is promoting her new album, Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook, which will be released on May 24th. This summer she will be touring with Robert Plant. A line from a review in this week's New York York Times proclaims, " Ms. LaVette, 64, now rivals Aretha Franklin as her generation’s most vital soul singer."


Monday, May 10, 2010

A movie, a romance, and a band

In 2007, 37-year-old Glen Hansard and 19-year-old Marketa Irglová , both singer-songwriter indie musicians, agreed to star in a film. The film, Once, was both written and directed by John Carney. In the film the characters played by Glen and Marketa fall in love while creating music together. For me, the best part of the movie is how it captures the joys of musical collaboration. The film, which was filmed for $160,00 and shot in a month, went on to win critical acclaim and an Oscar for best song, "Falling Slowly." That song is used as the background music for the trailer of the film. And while the film was being shot, Glen and Marketa fell in love (I'm not making this up0.

Fast forward to 2010. While their romance is over, their song-writing collaboration continues. Hansard's and Irglova's band is called The Swell Season. Their new album, Strict Joy, deals with their break-up. The music is on this album is painfully powerful and beautiful. The Swell Season continues to put on wonderful live shows.

Below, you can see a clip from the fim Once, featuring the song "When Your Mind's Made Up":

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Born from the magical mystery tour

The made for TV movie of Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour briefly features The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, a group I very much enjoyed when I was a teenager, performing the song "Death Cab for Cutie" (credit for that title, correctly or not, has sometimes been attributed to Ringo).

Fast forward about 30 years as a new band named Death Cab for Cutie forms in the early 1990s at the University of Washington. Stylistically, one can hear influences from The Beatles and other groups from the late 1960s through mid-1970s.

All of the songs for DCFC's 2008 release Narrow Stairs were written by Ben Gibbard in the same cabin where Jack Kerouac wrote Big Sur. The songs are thoughtfully poignant and heartfelt. Many of the songs, while dark, are hauntingly beautiful. A sample follows:

How I wish you could see the potential
The potential of you and me
It's like a book elegantly bound
But in a language you can't read just yet
from I Will Posses Your Heart, Narrow Stairs

The video to the song quoted above follows. While it runs for over 8 minutes I find the time to be well spent. Listen to the long crescendo as the song builds -- this goes on for the first four minutes and forty seconds -- paying careful attention to how the band slowly adds different instrumental sounds and tonal colors to the build-up.

Since Narrow Stairs, DCFC has released an EP (a short album) of songs that were not included on Narrow Stairs. I'm looking forward to their next release to see what they come up with next.