Music

Sunday morning coming down

Featured image On October 23 Time-Life Music released the new Don McLean recording Still Playin’ Favorites (read about it here.) My eyes lit up. Don’s Playin’ Favorites (1973) is one of my favorite albums. When a message from Don’s publicist turned up in our in box that morning, I asked if I could interview Don. The publicist arranged a 30-minute telephone interview for me with Don this past Thursday. It turns out »

Sunday morning coming down

Featured image Today is the anniversary of the birth of singer/songwriter Laura Nyro. I want to take the occasion to revisit a few highlights of her songbook and perhaps acquaint some readers with the joys of her work in another extended lockdown edition of this series. In my high school class those of us who followed pop music obsessively knew we had discovered someone special in Laura Nyro. We prided ourselves in »

Stanley Crouch told it like it is

Featured image Stanley Crouch died yesterday at the age of 74. Crouch is best known as a great jazz critic. His biography of Charlie Parker is a classic. But Crouch was also a literary critic and a critic of our culture. Here are some gems from his criticism: On rap: It is “either infantile self-celebration or anarchic glamorization of criminal behavior.” On Toni Morrison: She has a certain skill, but she has »

Loose Ends Updates

Featured image Let’s catch up on some updates to the regular themes and stores we’re covering right now. • Here’s our feel good story of the day: Mayor Bill De Blasio Plans 22,000 Layoffs, As People Flee New York City In Droves New York City may lay off tens of thousands of municipal workers. Even with this massive downsizing, it won’t be enough to stem the financial hemorrhaging plaguing the city. The Wall »

Sunday morning coming down

Featured image Tomorrow Van Morrison turns 75. I have to suspend my intended vacation from this series to pay tribute in some form to this genius of what Gram Parsons called the Cosmic American Music. Van is a brilliant, eccentric, enigmatic, essential songwriter, performer, artist and multi-instrumental musician. Clinton Heylin peered into Van’s life and work in Van Morrison: Can You Feel the Silence? (2003). By contrast with his work, Van’s life »

Remembering Liverpool’s other “British Invasion” band

Featured image When I think of England in the 1950s, I think of shortages, decline, and despair. Part of that impression stems from the play “Look Back in Anger” and the movie “The Entertainer” (also a play) — both by John Osborne — so it might be an exaggeration. But certainly much of the art and literature of 1950s England reflected pure bleakness. I view the early Beatles as an answer, or »

Sunday morning coming down

Featured image I need to take a break from these special lockdown editions of this series. Locking down these lockdown editions, I thought I would take a slightly off-center look at the British Invasion. This is where I came in. We begin with the Beatles, but the popularity of the Beatles had the effect of uncovering incredible talent in the United Kingdom. My emphasis here with a few exceptions is on the »

Sunday morning coming down

Featured image Songwriter Jimmy Webb celebrated his birthday this past Friday. He turned 74. I want to take the occasion to compile my notes on Webb’s work and revisit it this morning. Webb is a winner of numerous Grammy awards and a member of the National Songwriters Hall of Fame. He first achieved fame as an incredibly precocious songwriter in the ’60s — the composer of the over the top pop epic »

Sunday morning coming down

Featured image I’ve written about Chris Hillman several times over the years. In 2017 he released a new disc with his long-time friend and musical partner Herb Pedersen (Bidin’ My Time, produced by the late Tom Petty and Herb). In April 2018 Chris and Herb came through town to play at the Dakota Jazz Club and Restaurant in downtown Minneapolis, where we saw them up close. I snapped the photo at right »

Sunday morning coming down

Featured image I’ve just about exhausted my knowledge of popular American music in this series. This morning I present videos featuring what I think of as Beauty and Beast pairings for the sheer pleasure of the thing. Norman Granz produced three albums on Verve that paired Ella Fitzgerald with Louis Armstrong over a few days in 1956 and 1957. They glow with a beauty-and-the-beast chemistry. Here is “Under a Blanket of Blue” »

Sunday morning coming down

Featured image The Byrds sent me down a byway to bluegrass music. It’s the world out of which Chris Hillman came. They drew on some of it for Sweetheart of the Rodeo. And then I happened on to one of the Saturday morning radio shows devoted to the music. I could hear America singing. As a newcomer to the music, I found a world with its own storied history. I tried to »

Sunday morning coming down

Featured image Four years ago I posted three installments of this series with songs that had a special meaning to me one way or another. To me they feel like stones in the road. I have aggregated the videos in this extended lockdown edition of the series and included personal notes about the songs and/or the performers to try to pique your interest. Richard Thompson made a name for himself in the »

A word from Lowell Pickett

Featured image Lowell Pickett is the proprietor of The Dakota in downtown Minneapolis. He has become a friend whom I greatly admire. Like so many small businessmen, he is concerned about the viability of his business under current circumstances. He called me on Thursday to talk briefly about the special challenges confronting him. He had just finished writing a message to his customers that he read to me. He asked if we »

Speker’s lockdown project

Featured image Scrolling through this morning’s daily update from the Times of Israel I found the story on Robert Speker’s lockdown project: “UK Jewish seniors go viral as they rock iconic album covers during lockdown.” Subhead: “Keeping busy despite a ban on visitors, residents of Sydmar Lodge recreate famous images of musical artists such as Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie, and Elvis Presley.” The story opens: Martin Steinberg’s jeans-clad tush has recently »

Sunday morning coming down

Featured image Ernest Hemingway famously observed that “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.” It’s a slight exaggeration to say that everything I know about popular American music comes from one band put together by Roger McGuinn called the Byrds, but it’s not too far off. Tomorrow is McGuinn’s 78th birthday. I thought we might take the occasion for another extended lockdown edition of this »

Sunday morning coming down

Featured image Looking for an excuse to offer one more extended lockdown edition of this series, I thought it might be fitting to compile a set with an American theme in honor of Independence Day. As always, the compilation reflects the limits of my taste and knowledge, but I hope some readers may take pleasure in discovering something new, in rediscovering something old in a new context, or in returning to a »

Sunday morning coming down

Featured image Listening to a show on the SiriusXM Grateful Dead channel last week, I heard one of the announcers mention that Nicky Hopkins played with the Jerry Garcia Band. Hopkins was a fantastic English pianist whose session work is virtually ubiquitous on great rock recordings of the ’60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. Take a look, for example, at this Nicky Hopkins discography. If he wasn’t quite everywhere, everyone wanted his services. His »