lucinda

This week marks the release of Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone, the 11th studio album from Lucinda Williams. It’s a first in many ways – her first double studio album, her first on her new self-run record label, and her first to feature lyrics written by her father, poet Miller Williams. Williams spoke with AD via phone earlier in September about learning to expand her songwriting palate, using other songs to craft her own, starting the new record label and how you should get out and play in front of an audience all ready.

Aquarium Drunkard: The last time you and I talked, we talked a little bit about whether there was a theme to that album, Blessed. And you said it was difficult to answer, that you hadn’t really thought about a theme ahead of time. And maybe this is me projecting my own thinking onto your work, but this time it really feels like there’s a connective thread for these songs, especially built around the title track and your father’s poem. Was there a more conscious decision this time?

Lucinda Williams: Uhm, not really. [laughs] As far as the songs – we actually recorded about 35 tracks worth of material. This group of songs were picked to work together from those, so in that sense, yes, it was a conscious effort. The other ones will be on another album separately. But when I was sitting down to write the songs, I wasn’t thinking of a specific theme.

And the “Compassion” song [ed. note: which contains the album title phrase], I wrote that kind of at the 11th hour. I didn’t have it written. I’d been trying to get that done. I’d been wanting for years to take one of my dad’s poems and turn it into a song, but it’s a really hard thing to do. It proved to be really challenging. And the title [of the album] was decided before I had got that song. But I finally got the song done. It was something we wanted to see happen, but I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to pull it off or not. That was the last thing we cut.

AD: If you hadn’t been able to finish the song, the record would have still had the same name?

LW: Yeah. Interestingly enough, on the inside of [2007 album] West, we used the same quote from that song. It just seemed to be sticking with us and making sense. It was all just kind of a work in progress.

AD: In the promotional material, it talks about how you’ve been coming up with more material for each record than there is room for..

LW: I used to not do that though! [laughs] I’m not sure why that is, but I’ve become more prolific as I’ve become older.

The Mekons - Where Were You I'll Have To Dance Then On My OwnI don’t want to talk about the Mekons. There are plenty of hardcore devotees out there who will be more than eager to tell you everything: how the Mekons are possibly the most prolific college radio act ever, how they started as snotty-nosed art students making meta-critical punk, how they borrowed Gang of Four’s gear to record their first album and inadvertently sounded post-punk, how they then moved into synthy New Wave territory before that was viable, how their mid-Eighties embrace of folk and country (on Fear and Whiskey) is maybe up there with X’s mid-Eighties embrace of folk and country, how they galloped into the Nineties with Pogues-like abandon—and, obviously, how they are still going strong twenty albums into their career. There’s even a Mekons documentary in the offing that can tell you all this. So no, I don’t want to talk about the Mekons.

What I do want to discuss is something no Mekons fan will ever tell you, either because they want to keep it a clubroom secret or else because it doesn’t fit so neatly into the history of the band.  For the fact is this: in between the Mekons’ tongue-in-cheek debut single and their more focused debut album, something strange and unexpected happened. And it lasted for just two minutes and forty five seconds, then it didn’t happen again.

This was the winter of 1978. Punk had hit the barricades and the carnivalesque rambunctiousness of the prior eighteen months had burned itself out. For a whole subset of new bands, the neon and the lipstick traces had given way to black-on-grey, paranoid Eastern Bloc aesthetics. The Sex Pistols were already as dead as Bambi and now Public Image Ltd, The Cure, Gang of Four, Throbbing Gristle, Joy Division, and Cabaret Voltaire were all responding in their own dark and despair-ridden ways. And it was into this icy, underground atmosphere The Mekons submitted their second single, titled ‘Where Were You?’

It’s not what you’d expect. The song sounds, from the offset, like a one-off, like it can’t sustain itself. We begin with a lone guitar figure that could just as easily come from Pete Townsend as Lou Reed: there is the familiar threat of feedback, the ringing chords, the jagged chord-changes. In the distance, a drum roll builds and builds, holding everything in suspense, until it’s almost too much—until the volume of the snare overtakes the guitar completely. Something is charging at us, getting louder–nearer–but we can’t see through the distortion. Is this even a song? What is happening? Finally, there’s a break, like the b’dump-bump of a one-liner, only there’s no punch-line to be had, no release. The guitar just continues jabbing away at the same chords while the bass drum barges in with a new tempo. When a glorious drum-fill finally arrives, we’re a third of the way through what seems like an act of pure energy: no histrionics, no catering to anything but being alive with a heartbeat right now, at this moment. Listen up.

It’s hard to describe what makes ‘Where Were You?’ special because it can’t be pinned down by period context. It isn’t bleak enough to be post-punk. It isn’t quite the angular power pop The Buzzcocks either, or even the proto-New Wave of someone like Elvis Costello. I could keep reaching for names—The Strokes, The Stranglers, The Jam, Jonathan Richman, The Troggs—but you’ll more than likely hear all these elements converging when you listen for them. That’s because what’s happening here is bigger than The Mekons. The resonances before and after are just too great. As with Kingsmen’s version of ‘Louie, Louie’ the song transcends the very band recording it, because it seems to presage a boundless future while at the same time channeling a boundless past. It is, in other words, timeless because it sounds so out-of-time. You don’t listen to ‘Where Were You?’ and hear the spirit of ‘78, or of any fixed point in time; you listen to it and you feel a whole lineage pinning you down in the here and now. This less like an artifact of a bygone era than it is an oracle.

We could go back to ‘Roadrunner,’ or ‘Kick out the Jams, or ‘I Just Can’t Control Myself’ and find some of the same primal urgency. We could go even back to the chorus-less abandon of The Chips’ 1957 recording of ‘Rubber Biscuit’ and locate a similar musical stance, one that isn’t about setting the mood so much as shaking the listener out of it (‘What do you want for nothing? A rubber biscuit?’). This is music that refuses to be background. How could you divert your attention anywhere else while something so effrontery? Here is Pete Townsend, discussing the process:

‘We were leading a revolt against the old values and order of music…Everybody was full of resentment. It was also a means of intimidation: this is all there is. If you are in this room with us, all you get is us. There’s going to be no drinking beer, no chatting up women, no hanging out with your mates.’

When ‘Where Were You?’ kicks off, its two guitars unleash an exuberant back-and-forth that could have been recorded anytime in the past fifty odd years, and yet it also sounds weirdly present-tense. The way ‘You Really Got Me’ can sound present-tense—rigid and nervy and there in the room with you. Likewise the attitude of the song, as proclaimed lyrically, isn’t reducible to any movement or fad (whether that attitude is eager to destroy, make peace and Love, or to shake-shake-shake your booty). What we get instead is that most perennial of themes, the poetic through-line from Goethe to The Violent Femmes: anxious, angst-ridden longing. As pilled-up as the speaker in ‘My Generation’ once sounded, this kid is even more socially awkward, stuttering not on his words but on his own neediness:

I wanna talk to you all night/ Do you like me?/ I wanna find out about your life/ Do you like me?/ Could you ever be my wife/ Do you love me?

These are not things one expects to hear amidst the rubble that punk left in its wake—not until The Smiths came around, anyway. ‘When I was trying to hide in bed/ Where were you?’ Again, the irony with which The Mekons must have gone into the studio to record such lines is transcended by the vitality of the recording itself. They probably thought they were just recording another throwaway, as mock-pathetic as it was pogo-friendly (albeit a song that would remain a staple of the live shows ever since). By the time we hear the words ‘Where Were You?,’ however, we are confronted by more than just a cheeky lyric. The Ghosts of Rock n’ Roll Past, Present, Future are asking that question from within the song too. It therefore becomes interrogative, directed right at us—anyone in the room, bearing witness. Where were you?  words / dk o’hara

The Mekons :: Where Were You?

Our weekly two hour show on SIRIUS/XMU, channel 35, can be heard twice every Friday – Noon EST with an encore broadcast at Midnight EST.

SIRIUS 358: Jean Michel Bernard – Générique Stephane ++ Ty Segall – Tall Man Skinny Lady ++ Pain Dimension – Everything Spinning ++ White Fence – Anger! Who Keeps You Under? ++ Jack Name – New Guitars ++ Jack Name – Pure Terror ++ Thee Oh Sees – Toe Cutter – Thumb Buster ++ David Vandervelde – Nothin’ No ++ Landline – Wire ++ The Fall – A Lot Of Wind ++ No Age – Teen Creeps ++ Atlas Sound – Recent Bedroom ++ Ought – Pleasant Heart ++ The Kinks – Supersonic Rocket Ship ++ Hal Blaine – Love-In (December) ++ Flo And Eddie – I Been Born Again ++ The Beach Boys – Old Master Painter/You Are My Sunshine ++ Vic Chesnutt & Liz Durrett – Somewhere ++ Cole Alexander Ft. Adron – Porpoise Song (The Monkees) ++ Winston’s Fumbs – Real Crazy Apartment ++ Serge Gainsbourg – Requiem pour un con ++ Nico – Sixty Forty ++ Jonathan Rado – Valentines’ Day ++ The Rolling Stones – Downtown Suzie ++ The Montgomery Express – The Montgomery Express ++ Miriam Makeba – Love Tastes Like Strawberries ++ Broadcast – Long Was The Year (Black Session) ++ Broadcast – Where Youth And Laughter Go (Black Session) ++ Broadcast – Long Was The Year (Black Session) ++ Broadcast – Echo’s Answer (Black Session) ++ Courtney Barnett – History Eraser ++ Kelley Stoltz – Words ++ Ty Segall – Goodbye Bread ++ Frankel – Know (Nick Drake) ++ Vic Chesnutt – Degenerate ++ Steve Gunn – Water Wheel

*You can listen, for free, online with the SIRIUS three day trial — just submit an email address and they will send you a password.
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uralUral Thomas is a soul singer from Portland who, despite having allegedly rubbed elbows with the likes of Otis Redding, The Rolling Stones and James Brown, never quite made it to the show.

No one can argue with the man’s talent. Look no further than his 1967 tune “Pain is the Name of Your Game,” a psychedelic soul ballad, with haunting organ, cascading piano, and ghostly backup singers, all supporting Ural’s raw, passionate, gravelly bellow.

Thomas is a life-time resident of Portland, Oregon, and therefore it should come as no surprise that he’s caught the attention of the inimitable excavators known as Mississippi Records. In 2011, they reissued two of the man’s lost singles, as part of their North Portland Music Series, and we all owe them a beer for this.

“Push ‘Em Back” is a pure hip swinger, a dance floor filler that you’ll do well to include in your next party playlist. Shimmering organs and a wild, scatting Thomas keep the good vibes steamrolling ahead. But the real treat here is the slow burner. A nightcap for when all the partygoers have gone home, and one or two hears have been broken. Slow, smooth, downbeat and cool, Ural Thomas’ “Smile” is nothing if not mood. A spectral gem of a recording that is at once blues, gospel and soul. A ragged guitar, wandering in place like forlorn lover. Low, distant drums, like an echo from a nearby room that feels miles away. And Thomas’ cracked, quiet cooing, singing that real: a soulful blues that can come from nowhere else but experience.

Ural Thomas :: Smile

Post script – Ural Thomas is still at it, touring around Portland with his band Ural Thomas & the Pain. And, if you’re in Portland, I understand they’re not to be missed. Whether you’re in Portland or not, however, you should strongly consider signing up for the Mississippi Records Subscription: a mail-order vinyl service that surprises you at your doorstep with a monthly grab bag of the label’s finest digs. words / c depasquale

CMJ-14-aquarium-drunkard

We’re heading to New York, so come party with us. Aquarium Drunkard – CMJ 2014 – No Jacket Required. October 24th at Rough Trade in Brooklyn. Tickets available, here. More details next month. . .

Kevin Morby ~ Twin Peaks ~ Springtime Carnivore ~ Chris Forsyth & The Solar Motel Band ~ Ryley Walker ~ Modern Vices ~ Geronimo Getty ~ DJ Sets by Mondo Boys

babsBy the time she got around to recording 1968’s Here is Barbara Lynn, set for reissue October 28 by Light in the Attic Records, young Barbara Lynn was already a hitmaker.

Born in Beaumont, Texas in 1942, Lynn was drawn to the guitar, in her case a left-handed model, and she set to learning it, developing a singular style of picking. After learning hits by Elvis Presley, Brenda Lee, and Ray Charles, Lynn set about writing her own songs, and eventually the underage guitarist convinced her parents to let her head to New Orleans, to record in the late Cosimo Matassa’s J&M Studios. With manager Huey P. Meaux in tow and players like Mac “Dr. John” Rebennack on deck, Lynn cut her debut single, “You’ll Lose A Good Thing” in 1962. The song catapulted Lynn into the music business, and its success led tours with the R&B vanguard: Ike and Tina Turner, Marvin Gaye, Dione Warwick, B.B. King, Smokey Robinson, Otis Redding, and soulful stars.

The song is reprised on Here is Barbara Lynn, alongside a selection of flat out stunners: the charging “Take Your Love and Run,” the devoted “Only You Know How to Love Me,” and a pair of tracks, “Sufferin’ City” and “(Until Then) I’ll Suffer,” that focus on painful endurance. The album showcases Lynn’s gorgeous voice, her inspired guitar playing, and powerful songwriting. She spent most of the ‘70s and ‘80s out of the spotlight, but she remerged full force in the late ‘80s, due in no small part to the cult fandom albums like Here is Barbara Lynn engender. Best played at a comfortably loud volume with a strong-to-very-strong drink in hand. words/ j woodbury

Barbara Lynn :: (Until Then) I’ll Suffer

madisen and mama bear

Meet Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear, a mother and son act from Kansas City. The guitar and vocal duo weave a charming and homespun cloth of country, blues and folk. Their interplay of guitars is warm and tender – joyous, yet delicate. Mama’s sweet, worn backup vocals provide a sturdy footing for Ward’s dynamic and eccentric range – at times bold and boisterous, at others alien and reedy – not unlike Robbie Basho, a strange, wavering voice.

“Live by the Water” feels timeless and familiar, yet completely fresh. Ward’s lyrics paint comfortable, rural visions, a paean for the simple, untethered life. “All I need is a sip of cherry cola and pie / When I die, you’re gonna know the reasons why / Live hard, breathe high, break a couple of bones / Cut that wire between you and the telephone.” It’s a sweet, gentle song at heart, a song befitting their dynamic. But there is unique, intangible magic about them that deepens the experience – a solemn, thoughtfulness in their delivery and a mysterious beauty flowing from their voices, their guitars and their bond. words / c depasquale

tinariwen_joshuatree

If it seems you are seeing Tinariwen’s name with more regularity these days, it’s because you are. In addition to this year’s Emmaar lp, recorded in Joshua Tree, California, and lengthy Western tours, the group just saw the reissue of their albums Amassakoul and Radio Tisdas Sessions — both for the first time on vinyl, via Light In The Attic Records.

The groups story continues October 7th with the release of the five song acoustic EP, Inside / Outside Joshua Tree Acoustic Sessions. Recorded in Joshua Tree while the band were working on Emmaar, Tinariwen would jam live in the house, nightly, where the studio was settled and outside around a campfire. First taste, below.

Tinariwen :: Iljaych Tareq

CLIFTONS_CORNER

(Volume 25 of Clifton’s Corner. Clifton Weaver, aka DJ Soft Touch, shares some of his favorite spins, old and new, in the worlds of soul, r&b, funk, psych and beyond.)

When I began compiling this installment of Clifton’s Corner, I didn’t really have a particular theme in mind. It was just going to be a mixed bag of songs that I’d been into of late. However, I’m noticing that I subconsciously picked all tracks from the 1970s, many with socially conscious themes. From the Afro-funk of Geraldo Pino’s “Power To The People”, the early Prince performance with 94 East, to the subtle and sublime jazz influenced soul of Larry Saunder’s “Free Angela”, this collection of songs represents, to me, some of the very best qualities in ’70s music.  The superb musicianship, original songwriting, and social conscience are a full-flowering of the seeds sown during the previous decade. But rather than let my words get in the way, I’ll let the music do the talking.

Geraldo Pino & The Heartbeats :: Power To the People
Soul Hustlers :: Super Party Pt. 1
B.L.O. :: B.L.O.
Geoffrey Stoner :: Check Out Your Mind
94 East :: Games
Cesar 830 :: See Saw Affair
Mahmoud Ahmed :: Aynotché Térabu
Jerry Jones :: Compared To What
Larry Saunders :: Free Angela Pt. 1

Related: Find archived Clifton’s Corner entries, HERE…