Saturday, December 23, 2017

Dys-FUN-ctional Christmas - 2017 Edition - NSFW

Once again Christmas is knocking on the door, actually rammed into your face if you go into any and I mean any retail store. Make me listen to another version of "Jingle Bells" and I will jingle your bells myself.

The time to be merry just doesn't add up for everyone, so I went on the prowl again to find Christmas songs that are different, off the beaten track, like I did with my Honky Tonk Christmas in 2011 and my first edition of Dys-fun-ctional Christmas two years later.

The animated gif-meme to the right was actually sent to me by a good friend I'm married to and to my astonishment, I actually found the appropriate song to work as a soundtrack. Not sure who is hiding behind the moniker Mrs. Claus, but her demand goes a tad further than to just wanting to kiss Santa under the mistletoe. Not sure if Mrs. Claus, who appears on the "X-RATED XMAS" compilation got her inspiration from the 2003 movie "Bad Santa" starring Billy Bob Thornton and Lauren Graham when she asks him to keep his hat on, while they are bouncing in his car.

From x-rated to G-rated, and 60 odd years back into the past. Not that all old Christmas songs are more innocent.
The recent discussion about "Baby, It's Cold Outside" being a date-rape song may after almost 75 years after its creation and a changing landscape, be eerily true in today's surroundings. In the past, it may have conveyed as another society no-no, that of a woman actually being in charge of her own destiny fighting society no-nos and approaching a man on her own and then having societal doubts as in, a good girl doesn't do this and that she really should leave.
But no, the throwback to older days I'm talking about, brings us to 11-year old Brenda Lee. During her first recording session in July '56 with famous Nashville producer Owen Bradley, she also recorded two Christmas songs, and no, it's not her more famous "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree" (1958). That Decca peddled her to her fans as Little Brenda Lee, claiming she was only nine, makes "I'm Gonna Lasso Santa Claus" even more innocent.

Watching the new Netflix movie, the weirdly, funny "El Camino Christmas" (3.5 out 5) I was really intrigued by the to me, obscure opening theme,"¿Dónde Está Santa Claus?" while Luke Grimes (as Eric Roth) is driving into town. That ditty, written by George Scheck, Rod Parker, and Al Greiner is sung in the movie by somebody named Cruz Martin. Unfortunately, I could not find either his version or any additional information on that kid that's begging his mom, to tell him where Santa may be.
But I did find the original from 1958, sung by 12-year-old Puerto Rican Augie Rios, managed by songwriter George Scheck. His original 45 on Metro was backed with the not really charming "Ol' Fatso (I Don't Care Who You Are Old Fatso, Get Those Reindeer Off My Roof)." Well, lesson learned as a non-believer you aren't a receiver.

Bing Crosby together with the Andrews Sisters had a huge, seasonal hit with it -  the talk is about the only Hawaiian Christmas song I know, "Mele Kalikimaka." There are quite a number of versions around, I'm not completely sure anymore whose version I heard first when I used to do a Holiday themed radio show some 30 years ago around this time, but it may have been Poi Dog Pondering with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band from a Christmas compilation called "Acoustic Christmas." For this blog, I found this gorgeous live version by roots musician Pokey LaFarge which was recorded on a local St. Louis, Missouri metro train.

Luckenbach, Texas - Christmas
While searching for versions for "Mele Kalikimaka" I also stumbled upon Kacey Musgraves, not only has she her own version of that song, but she also incorporates part of it, in a song where she wishes everyone "A Willie Nice Christmas" together with - you guessed it - the redheaded stranger himself, Willie Nelson. It doesn't really matter if you are in Luckenbach (photo) or in Waikiki, just have a willie willie nice Christmas.

Chicago record label, Bloodshot Records came out with a new compilation this year called "13 DAYS OF XMAS" that features - among 12 other acts - Nashville singer-songwriter Zach Schmidt's "I'm Drunk Again This Christmas." Schmidt told Rolling Stone Country magazine when approached by the label to do a Christmas song: "I immediately thought about my distaste for Christmas and how, for a lot of people, it is often a terrible time of year.  So I decided to write about what I thought was a stereotypical American Christmas: a family who doesn't really care for each other but is there anyway because it is Christmas." As a disclaimer he hopes that mentioning his dad in the song, was just purely for reasons of rhyming and somehow less of meaning in this else autobiographical song.

Joe Pesci as lounge singer Cousin Vinnie just wonders what happens how "fat-fuck" is running his sleigh if there is no snow on the ground.
Until the next time, I have enough obscure Christmas songs to write another installment of "Dys-FUN-ctional Christmas."

By the way and that's not a joke, did you know that there are more babies born in September than in every other month of the year. Do the math. To use Pesci's words: "Get the fuck out of here." Hug your loved ones and have a merry fuckin' Christmas or is it a fuckin' Merry Christmas?

Sources: YouTube; SoundCloud; Spotify; amu communications photo (Luckenbach);

Friday, July 28, 2017

Give Me Flowers - How A Bluegrass Song Became A Yodeling Tune - Gib Mir Blueme

Polo Hofer (l) and Hanery Amman (r) - Friends and Composers
On July 22nd, 72-year old Swiss Rockstar Polo Hofer passed away. Often credited as being the first (or one of the first) artists to use the Swiss-German dialect in Rock music, in his case the German of Bern or Bernese, he became larger than life, actually a national treasure.

A composition he co-wrote with his former neighbor, Hanery Amman called "Alperose" (Rose of the Alps) was voted to be the ultimate Swiss song and is now taught to grade school children more than three decades after its original release. His music simply became the bedrock of Swiss dialect music to come.
Polo, who used his boy scout name, whose real name was Urs Alfred, constantly reinvented himself, from his first commercially successful band Rumpelstilz to Schmetterding which was replaced by Schmetterband. Then the Alpinistos were in charge and finally, he recorded solo albums and guest artist projects. But what was always common through all the years was a huge love of music from the American South: Roots, Blues, Rock, Singer/Songwriters, Country - he especially loved the melting pot of what the Texas capital, Austin used to be and loved singers like Delbert McClinton and Lucinda Williams. Songs like Little Feat's "Missing You" (Paul Barrere) became "I Vermisse Di," Bruce Springsteen's "Jersey Girl," penned by Tom Waits got adapted into "Meitschi Vom Wissebueehl."

 So after his passing, friends were sending me obits, links to TV specials, and even to one of his films he starred in. Well, this morning I had "Gib Mir Blueme" in my Inbox, in a version where Polo sings it together with TV host and Schlager-Singer Nik Hartmann, while being accompanied by the Swiss TV orchestra, SF Husmusig recorded in Grindelwald in July of 2010.

The song and its theme sounded awfully familiar and sure enough, it's an old bluegrass or bluegrass-gospel composition "Give Me Flowers, While I'm Living," originally recorded by Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs in 1957. Written by their wives, Gladys Stacey (Flatt) and Louise Certain (Scruggs) together with Elvin Bigger (known as a former member of the Four Virginians in the 1920s), Flatt & Scruggs recorded it for different albums, so I'm not completely sure, which version the one below is.

Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs

Knowing that Polo wasn't that much a bluegrass fan per se, I started wondering where he may have heard this song, there was a missing link. And sure enough, I found it, on the Amazing Rhythm Aces' fifth album "How the Hell Do You Spell Rhythum?" released in 1980.

Amazin' Rhythm Aces

Polo recorded his first version of "Gib Mir Blueme" for a live album that was released in 1993, and nine years later a studio version with Schmetterband for his album "Xangischxung" (Bernese for "Singing Is Healthy"). I assume that the resophonic guitar (dobro) part was played by my former English teacher Martin Diem on this recording.

Polo Hofer & Schmetterband

So let's forward from 2002, when Polo recorded his studio version, to the live TV show on top of the page, eight years later. Done in the TV show in Swiss Volksmusik style, even though not in its purest forms, Yodel club Wiesenberg from the state of Nidwalden, saw potential in the composition and recorded the tune acapella for their 2012 album "Bluämäpracht." The clip below shows the Jodlerklub Wiesenberg performing the song for another TV show.

And that's how a bluegrass song became a yodeling tune.

Mick Jagger Releases Two New Singles - Proves He Still Matters

Yesterday, he celebrated his 74th birthday, today (7/27) Mike Jagger released two brand new singles repressing the changing political landscape. He again demonstrated that as an "old" man, he can still tell the youngsters how to react and put to music, an engaging form of criticism and be viable not only to contemporary politics but also music. In the year since Brexit and the half-year since the Orange Agent sits in the White House, we should have experienced a bigger criticism from artists abroad and statewide.

In "England Lost!" he takes a football loss of the English national team, which during the whole song evolves from England lost to England's lost. In a great black and white video, featuring Welsh actor Luke Evans, who fears to be followed and starts on a bizarre, running escape through London, the countryside and at the end reaching the ocean to be pulled back by bystanders and told by a little girl to "Pull Yourself Together."

★★★/★★★★★ (3 out of 5)

Jagger also mentioned that he wanted to use UK Rapper Skepta for a version of his "England Lost!" single - he did so, in the lyric video, where he added the moniker "Reimagined" to it

Right from the off when I started writing England Lost, I imagined having a British rapper on the track .. Skepta stepped in at a moments notice and I just loved what he did.

In the email, he mentioned that he started these songs recently and had an urge to publish them, while they still matter

I started writing these two songs a few weeks back and wanted to get them out to you straight away.

While not as poignant in "England Lost!" in "Gotta Get A Grip" he re-emerges as a protest singer, actually pulling himself together. He's lamenting the clowns in government, the constant lies we are fed, the ignorance of the electorate, the shunning of intellectuals, greed, and xenophobia. Sir Mick paints a dark, but a too real picture of the current state of affairs and proves at 74 that he still matters! 

But read for yourself: 

Gotta get a grip
Beat it with a stick
Gotta get a grip
She goin' for the hit
THe world is upside down
Everybody lunatics and clowns
No one speaks the truth
And madhouse runs the town
Well you gotta get a grip
Beat it with a stick
You gotta get a grip

Everybody's stuffing their pockets
Everybody's on the take
The news is all fake
Let 'em eat chicken and let 'em eat steak
Let 'em eat shit, let 'em eat cake
You gotta get a grip
You gotta get a grip
You gotta keep it zipped
And shoot 'em from the hip
Yeah, yeah, you gotta get a grip
Beat it with a stick

I tried diversion and I tried coercion
Mediation and medication
LA culture and aquapuncture
Overeating and sex in meetings
Induced insanity, Christianity
Long walks and fast drives
And wild clubs and low dives
I pushed and I strived
But I can't get you, can't get you
Can't get you out of my mind
Gotta get a grip

Oh you, oh you
Oh you, beat it with a stick
Immigrants are pouring in
Refugees under your skin
Keep 'em under, keep 'em out
Intellectual, shut your mouth
Beat 'em with a stick
Oh you
Gotta get a grip
Gotta get a grip
Chaos crisis instability, ISIS
Lies and scandals, wars and vandals
Metadata scams and policy shams
Put 'em in a slammer
Gotta get a grip
Gotta get a grip
Come on

The song features a heavy, great guitar riff that helps transpond the dark message into an almost positive fighting song. We "Gotta Get A Grip" and fight the demons that are here.

★★★★(★)/★★★★★ (4 ½ out of 5)

Sources: Universal Music, Twitter, YouTube

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Evan Michaels - "Ain't No Stopping This" - EP Review

Not that there is anything wrong with "Ain't No Stopping This," it's a genuine six-song EP in the Texas/Red Dirt genre. But the EP, produced by Stillwater, OK singer/songwriter Evan Michaels and his keyboard player (Andrew) Bair, somehow isn't inciting enough to light a fire. Their current radio single "Bet On A Backroad," sounds too much like a Nashville Bro-Country song with all its cliches forefront and is currently bubbling right outside the Top 100 of the Texas Regional Radio Report and can't be found in the CDX Traction Texas Chart. This is songwriting lite, I normally don't expect from great Red Dirt music.

I bet it's on a backroad
In the middle of nowhere
We take the shortcuts
to get us there

I love the idea behind "Too Big For The Both Of Us" which stipulates that a relationship may only survive in a small town as it is predestined to fail in the big city. But the contemporary, almost Nashville-like arrangement kills the song. A nice change of rhythm, with a jingle-jangly feel, gives us the mid-tempo reflection of an ex-girlfriend; but "Like It Should" seems like it was copied out of Reckless Kelly's songbook.

The only outstanding track is the opener and title song "Ain't No Stopping This" with a great Chris-LeDoux feel to it. Even though knowing that an encounter is doomed from the beginning, there is nothing that can stop it from happening: Temptation is bigger than reason.

As to "Must Have Been Drinking" and "Tomorrow Today," there are some good approaches, but in the end, both songs fail to grab me. Most likely, even after multiple listens, because nothing new is offered. The arrangements sound like run-of-the-mill country-rock fare a 70s cover band would cover.

With just one song really grasping my attention it will be difficult for Evan Michaels to really stand out from an ever-increasing crowd of Red Dirt singer/songwriters and bands. There are some great ideas on this EP, but better songwriting and having his own sound are recommended. This six sampler still sounds as he would be trying to find his own self, lyrical-wise as well as musically - I miss an edge that sets Evan Michaels apart from the mediocrity that now seems to sweep through the Texas/Red Dirt scene.

As to Evan's voice, it's pleasant and strong enough to sing hits. Unfortunately, there are some blocks on the road, and his way to the top may take a little longer than he stipulated with "Ain't No Stopping This."

★★(★)/★★★★★ (2 ½ out of 5)

Sources: RPR Media,

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Queen Of Soul - Aretha Franklin - Retires

Aretha Franklin calls it quits, well kinda. The almost 75 year old (in March) Queen of Soul, will only perform select shows about once a month. Still in the works though, a new album to be released later this year. In a phone interview with Detroit TV station "WDIV Local 4" Aretha told the news  "I will be recording, but this will be my last year in concert. This is it."

She also shared that Stevie Wonder will be producing her quite versatile new, not yet titled album:   "Of course, several of the songs are going to be produced by Stevie," she said. "There's only one Stevie, right?"

Singer Aretha Franklin: 'I am retiring this year' after release of new album

Currently touring on her 2014 release "ARETHA FRANKLIN SINGS THE GREAT DIVA CLASSICS," that has quite a modern pop/R&B feel to it, the collaboration with Stevie Wonder hopefully lets her shine in a more "old school" way.

Celebrating a secular career that is over 56 years old, if you include her gospel album from 1956 a career that is in its 7th decade. Her early releases on Columbia got her mostly Top Thirty Hits in the R&B Charts, only after switching to Atlantic in 1967 began her star to illuminate many. By the end of that year with big hits like the Otis Redding penned "Respect," Don Covay's "Chain Of Fools" and the self-written "Baby I Love You" she was crowned the Queen of Soul.

In 1967 she had another Top Ten Hit with the Gerry Goffin and Carole King co-write "Natural Woman," a song Aretha sang in 2015 to Carol King as she was bestowed the Kennedy Center Honors, a prize Ms. Franklin herself received as well in 1994. David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker and many others - including President Obama, who had to squish a tear - were so taken by her powerful version, that in a later portrait about Ms. Franklin, titled "Soul Survivor" he built his article around that performance. But watch for yourself.

And who could forget her performance as Mrs. Murphy in the 1980 "Blues Brothers" movie with her own composition "Think," a song she originally published in 1968 from her "ARETHA NOW" album. For the movie they recorded a longer version with a sax-riff by Blues Brothers band member, Lou Marini with backing vocals by Elwood & Jake, as well as Aretha's sisters.

Sources: Local 4 Detroit, The New Yorker, Aretha Franklin's webpage