Archive for the ‘Nanci Griffith’ Category

There’s not much I can say about John Prine’s passing that hasn’t been said better elsewhere. While his music and children are his main legacies, so too are the many up-and-coming singer-songwriters with whom he shared a stage. His embrace of those new artists speaks volumes of him as a person, just as the reverence those artists have for him says much about him.

Anyway, I discovered John Prine’s music in the mid ‘80s while deejaying a folk show on my college radio station. I picked up Bruised Orange and the 1976 best-of on vinyl, and – a few years later – The Missing Years on CD. I was never a huge fan, in other words, though he was someone whose music I liked and respected; I always intended (and still intend) to explore his oeuvre, but have yet to get there. In 1993, Diane and I saw him with Nanci Griffith when they played the Mann Music Center in Philly on a co-headlining tour. Most of my memories of the night have long been lost, though Diane and I both recall being surprised at the numerous Warlocks or Pagans (Philly’s versions of the Hell’s Angels) in attendance. They, like the rest of us, were spellbound during his set.

Here he is with Nanci in 1990 on the U.K. television show “Town and Country.”

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: New Music, Vol. CIII, given that it’s the 103rd day of the year.

1) Neil Young & Crazy Horse – “Shut It Down.” After first listening to “Shut It Down” last year, I liked the music but found the lyrics somewhat simplistic. Now? I hear them as oddly prophetic. As the new music video for the song shows, we are, indeed, shutting the whole system down.   

2) Hazel English – “Five and Dime.” I featured one of Hazel’s other new songs a few weeks back. This one, the latest teaser track from her forthcoming long player, is as hypnotic.

3) Shelby Lynne – “I Got You.” If the songs released thus far are any indication, Shelby’s new album – which features some (remixed) tracks from the Here I Am soundtrack alongside new tunes –  is going to be great. 

4) Shelby Lynne – “Don’t Even Believe in Love.” To my ears, this sounds like a long-lost Dusty in Memphis track, which is about the highest compliment I can give. Play it once and you’ll play it twice, and then find yourself playing it ad infinitum.

5) The Petersens – “Gentle on My Mind.” I stumbled upon this track this morning. It represents everything wonderful about music.

And one bonus… 

6) 10,000 Maniacs – “Hello in There.” In the late 1980s and early ‘90s, it became a thing for acts to release CD “maxi-singles” that coupled their latest hoped-for hit with a few songs not available elsewhere. Such was the case with the You Happy Puppet CD from 10,000 Maniacs, which featured the Blind Man’s Zoo cut alongside an acoustic version of “Gun Shy,” the Carter Family’s “Wildwood Flower” and this cover of the John Prine classic – which, as it happens, is my favorite song by him (I’ve known many lonely older folks in my day).

Years long ago, on the early evening of Saturday Sept. 6, 1997, Diane and I saddled up our faithful Dodge Colt and traipsed the trails fantastic to the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, Pa., to see Nanci Griffith at what must have been the apex of her touring career. And eight days later, we set out on a longer sojourn, this time to the Grand Opera House in Wilmington, Del., to see her again. Supporting and joining her on both occasions: the Crickets (aka, Sonny Curtis, Jerry Allison and Joe Maudlin).

The Tower fits a little more than 3000; and the Opera House a bit more than 1200. I’m not sure, now, if one or both were sold out, but given her popularity at the time, I’d guess that, if they weren’t, they were close. She’d been on something of a commercial roll since her major-label debut in 1987, Lone Star State of Mind, with each new release expanding her audience while simultaneously expanding her sound. She didn’t approach her music as a lather-rinse-repeat exercise, in which every new release sounded like the old, but as a mode for artistic expression and exploration. Pop sensibilities surfaced on the classic Storms (1989) and less-classic Late Night Grand Hotel (1991), for example, but receded for her 1993 collection of covers, Other Voices, Other Rooms, and what may well be her finest album ever, 1994’s Flyer, which were both folk- and folkabilly-minded affairs.

Blue Roses From the Moons, released in March 1997, was both solid and sad, however. Primarily recorded live in the studio with her longtime band, the Blue Moon Orchestra, and the Crickets, it veers from the sublime (“Everything’s Comin’ Up Roses”) to the ridiculous (a cover of Nick Lowe’s “I Live on a Battlefield”) and back again, and revisits old themes (“Saint Teresa of Avila”) and even old songs (“Gulf Coast Highway,” this time with Darius Rucker subbing for James Hooker). And, truthfully, her voice often sounds shot.

To the shows: The Crickets didn’t open. Instead, Nanci and the Blue Moon Orchestra came out first and played for 40 (give or take) minutes, with the Crickets joining Nanci for the Sonny Curtis-penned theme to The Mary Tyler Moore Show, “Love Is All Around.” With the baton thus handed off, the Crickets then played for about half an hour, with their set including – as one would expect – a few Buddy Holly chestnuts. Nanci and the Blue Moon Orchestra then closed out the night.

My memory of the Tower show is near non-existent despite the ticket showing us as having very good seats, while my recall of the Wilmington show is slightly better, though I don’t remember meeting members of the Crickets afterwards, which Diane says we did. That said, I do remember leaving both thinking that the concerts were solid, but not sublime, with my favorite moment of each being…the MTM theme, plus the older material, especially “Trouble in the Fields” and “The Wing & the Wheel.”

The Crickets were fun, and Nanci and the band were in good form – but placing ‘50s-styled rock ’n’ roll in the middle of Nanci’s country-folk stylings didn’t quite jell the way one might think it would or should.

That said, one of the encores, “Well, All Right” (from the Not Fade Away Buddy Holly tribute CD released in 1996) was a delight.

This was the set list from Denver a few months later: 

Speed of the Sound of Loneliness
Across the Great Divide
Two for the Road
These Days in an Open Book
Love at the Five and Dime
Ford Econoline
Gulf Coast Highway
Love is All Around
Do You Wanna Be Loved
I Fought the Law

Oh Boy
Lover You More than I Can Say
Maybe Baby
Everyday
Summertime Blues
I Gotta Pass
The Real Buddy Holly Story
True Love Ways
Peggy Sue
That’ll Be the Day
Rave On

Everything’s Comin’ Up Roses
The Flyer
Tecumseh Valley
She Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere
Boots of Spanish Leather
It’s a Hard Life Wherever You Go
I’ll Still Be Someone
Walk Right Back
Not My Way Home
This Heart

Encore:

Well Alright
Trouble in the Fields
The Wing & the Wheel
Darcy Farrow

This morning, during a rather hellacious commute, I whiled away the time listening to Courtney Marie Andrews’ May Your Kindness Remain, which is an early contender for my esteemed Album of the Year honors, and then listened to it again. I listened to it on the way home yesterday, and the day before that, and almost every day since its release.

It’s everything good about music. As I said in my First Impressions piece, “it’s the sound not of a generation, but of the generations.”

I told Diane as we were leaving her Boot & Saddle show last month that it’s likely the last time she’ll play there. The next time she’s in Philly (XPoNential Festival aside), she’ll be headlining the World Cafe Live’s downstairs room, which holds 300 to 600 (depending on whether tables are present; let’s hope for tables, as us old folks can only go so long on our feet), and instead of 100 fans in the room, it’ll be sold out. (Of course, I predicted that after we learned from Dillon Warnek that they were slated to appear on NPR’s World Cafe radio show two days later.) I hope I’m right.

Anyway, one of the thoughts that crossed my mind this morning: Songs that Courtney could and should cover – and not just any songs. Timeless songs, like hers.

And with that, here’s today’s Top 5: Timeless Songs.

1) Iris DeMent – “Livin’ in the Wasteland of the Free.” This is one of Iris’ most passionate and political songs, and even now – 20-plus years later – it resonates because, truth be told, not much has changed in the intervening years. And twang accent aside, it’s a perfect fit for Courtney. 

2) Merle Haggard – “If We Make It Through December.” One of the greatest songs about hard times ever written or performed.

3) Kris Kristofferson – “Help Me Make It Through the Night.” Another stone-cold classic, though one that’s been covered many, many times by many artists through the years.

4) Steve Earle – “Someday.” Another gem about working-class realities, and dreams of escape. (From Steve’s essential Guitar Town album.) Courtney would kill it. 

5) June Carter – “Juke Box Blues.” Long before she became Mrs. Cash, June was Nashville royalty – for good reason, of course. That said, she was frequently cast into comedy numbers due to the fact that she often shared the stage with sister Anita, whose voice is beauty set to song. “Juke Box Blues” was the B side to “No Swallerin’ Place,” a 1953 single. Unlike the A side, which is a joke set to a melody, the song is comedic primarily due to June’s delivery; the lyrics themselves are a testament to the power of music. (It was written by June’s mother Maybelle and sister Helen, for what that’s worth.) It’s long overdue for a revival – plus, Dillon could have a field day on guitar.)  

And one bonus…

6) Nanci Griffith – “If Wishes Were Changes.” What can be said about this gem? In short, to use one of my many overused words, it’s wondrous.

I’d planned to trip back in time today to the fabled Summer of Love, but found myself distracted by the events of the present.

As I write, Hurricane Irma is ravaging Florida’s west coast. We’ve weathered a few hurricanes here in the Delaware Valley through the decades, though nothing of Irma’s magnitude – we’re far enough inland that they’re generally teetering on tropical status by the time they reach us. But I remember one – Irene I believe, in 2011 – that found Diane and I, and our wooly bully of a cat, huddled in our stairwell (the safest place in our old apartment) while the storm thrashed outside and tornado warnings flashed incessantly on our cell phones.

Storms (of all kinds) eventually pass, just never as fast as we would like.

1) Which leads to the first entrant in today’s Top 5, “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day” by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Springsteen wrote it following a storm of another stripe, of course, and paired the joyous melody with bittersweet lyrics about overcoming grief.

2) Storms, as evidenced by that Bruce song, work well as metaphors. This Nanci Griffith song, which was penned by her former husband, Eric Taylor, is another example…

3) …as is this one from the Nobel Prize-winning bard, Bob Dylan:

4) There’s also this classic from Neil Young:

5) And, finally, “Shelter” from Lone Justice, a song I could play on a loop for weeks on end.