Songs

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We’re pretty excited to see the Yawpers at 7th Street Entry on Friday. Their 2015 album American Man didn’t live up to the praise we’d heard poured on the trio, but this year’s Boy in a Well has become the subject of fascination around here. Why do we love this album so much? The record ostensibly tells the story of an unwanted boy abandoned in a well and is set in France during the first World War, but its not the rock opera aspirations with which we have fallen in love. In fact, we haven’t really figured out the story — but then again can you really explain the plot of Tommy without sounding dumb (bam, pun intended) or do you just like what you hear?

Boy in a Well is an absolutely magical amalgam of Americana. Rockabilly roots run alongside all the things we secretly love about hair metal. Some of the songs start or end in standard American folk music but take surprising turns along the journey. One of the things that really knocks us out about Boy in a Well is the incredibly inventive performance of drummer Noah Shomberg, who shifts genres with grace and really drives the connections which establish the album’s concept. He’s so damn good you can almost forgive them for being one of those bands without a bass. Lead singer Nathanial Cook, who turns from Jimmie Rodgers to Axl Rose as a born storyteller, couldn’t have realized his vision without Shomberg and second guitarist Jesse Parmat.

Bloodshot is releasing a 7-inch single of “Mon Dieu” from the album backed with a live recording of the band covering “Ace of Spades” next month. There will also be a comic book adaptation of the album which was previewed by Paste Magazine here. Truthfully, the ten page sample reminded us that even though we have listened to this album fifty times, we have no idea what the plot of the story is — it looks like the love child of R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural and Joe Sacco’s comic journalism and we love it.

The album was recorded by Alex Hall at Chicago’s Reliable Recorders. In the same studio Hall also captured what we think could justifiably be called one of the most beloved Minnesota records of the decade, the Cactus Blossoms’ You’re Dreaming. In addition, local legend Tommy Stinson served as producer and also contributed a “piano freakout” to the recording. The point is that these guys aren’t from here, but they should be welcomed with open arms.

Boy in a Well is maybe about a half hour long but it moves with an epic sweep in spite of Shomberg’s barrelhouse performance. Cook’s performance is so extraordinary that it is hard to believe there are not a half dozen or more vocalists on this album, and Parmat captures a true sense of everything Americana from Scotty Moore to Poison Ivy. Memorable riffs and motifs blur pass like power poles through the window of a train, and we have been entranced by the album’s epic tour of everything we love about rock and roll and all its bastard cousins.

The song we’ve sampled here is “Mon Nom,” from the second side. We couldn’t pick a favorite song from this album — in fact it was the focus of debate around here. The achingly beautiful “A Visitor is Welcomed” just wasn’t representative, nor was the mad and driven “A Decision is Made,” which precedes it. It’s just a damn good record from beginning to end, which is surprisingly rare these days. You can also hear the sweeping closer “Reunion” in its official music video here. Presumably the Yawpers will be playing many of these songs on Friday night at the 7th Street Entry. Locals the Person and the People will open. Details on the First Avenue website here.

One of our customers is a fan of John Prine, and came into the shop last week to report on his recent performance at Northrop Auditorium. Aside from the constant requests shouted by the audience, it was a great evening. She said she was happy with his setlist. We expected he would perform “Sabu Visits the Twin Cities Alone,” but apparently he did’t.

We mistakenly thought he had never released a live album, but in fact there are two. The first, thirty years ago, included “Sabu” and also a number of his most well-known hits. The second, twenty years ago, had fewer of his early classics (though it did include “Illegal Smile”) and presumably was a CD only release. And forty-four years ago (!) Prine included one live song on his third album, Sweet Revenge. “Dear Abby” has always been a favorite of ours.

Underdogs

sly a whole new thing

giorgio

There is a song on Mary Lou Lord’s long out of print album on Kill Rock Stars in which she recounts all her boyfriend’s favorite indie bands. The song is an entertaining “who’s who” of 90s noise, pop and punk.

She wrote a sequel a to the song a few years later called “His ND World,” which references the “No Depression” Americana scene. We’re not sure if this second song ever appeared on a record — its heard here in a live recording which a friend dubbed for us.

Several years ago we produced an hour long program on Peter and the Wolf for KFLA’s Wave Project. After the broadcast we posted it here, in case you’d lie to go back and hear it. At the time we did not have a copy of Allan Sherman’s 1964 album Peter and the Commissar. Accompanied by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, Sherman satirizes the state of the arts in the Soviet Union with the story of Peter’s effort to have his original theme approved by the tone-deaf commissars of music.

Prokofiev would have likely appreciated the intentions of Peter and the Commissar, even if he would have been forced to do so in private. His work after returning to the Soviet Union in 1936 was frequently constrained by the Union of Soviet Composers, a division of the Ministry of Culture. With his years of success in the United States and France, Prokofiev was often seen as an outsider and his works scrutinized for “anti-democratic” or formalist expressions.

Prior to producing Peter and the Wolf, Prokofiev composed a cycle of piano pieces for children about which we previously posted here. His work in the following period fit firmly within the strictures of Soviet realism, including the collection of mass songs using the works of Ministry sanction poets and the score to Sergei Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky. This was rearranged in cantata form the following year and, along with his music from Lieutenant Kije, was one of the first film scores to become accepted as essential canon.

Sherman had his own struggles, although they were not as severe as those faced by composers in the Soviet Union. His was often refused the rights to release his song parodies by the likes of Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers or the Gershwins. This is one of the reasons he used songs by lesser-known composers as the subject of his satires, such as Marchetti and Féraudy, French songwriters whose “Fascination” Sherman reworked as “Automation.”

photo (4)School starts earlier in Minneapolis than we’d like — between the cool weather and the rumble of school busses, you’d think it was already September. Kids are waiting on street corners all over the city, with cold lunches and new shoes and their annual tithing of school supplies. Usually this is when we post a classic anthem of rebellion like Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” or “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2” by Pink Floyd.

But once again we thought we’d go in a different direction…

photo (5)

 

Today’s post returns to Pete Seeger’s 1958 Folkways LP, Gazette, a collection of twenty topical songs which remain surprisingly relevant all these years later. We are also fortunate that this nearly sixty year old record remains surprisingly playable as well.

Seeger was a music teacher for a time during the years he, as a member of the Weavers, was blacklisted from radio and television and found booking difficult. Imagine sending your children to summer camp to have their counselor be the legendary Pete Seeger!

His song “42 Kids” describes the work and passion of a teacher through the melody of Merle Travis’ “Sixteen Tons,” a song which was a #1 hit for Tennessee Ernie Ford a couple years before Seeger recorded the songs on Gazette.

March may seem like a long time ago, but the decisions that Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendent Ed Graff announced then may have affect life inside your neighborhood school this week. Announcing plans to cover a $28 million budget gap, Graff planned to maintain current class sizes in keeping with the voters’ wishes expressed in a 2008 referendum. Most schools in Minneapolis saw staff reductions going into this starting school year, a subject which has made for at least one contentious and emotional school board meeting this summer.

We have two kids returning to Minneapolis Public Schools this morning. They have had an incredible and positive experience and we are very optimistic that will continue into this coming school year. We hope the same for all of you readers with your own kids starting school today (and we’re jealous of those of you whose school districts don’t start until next week!) and we’re thankful for all the Minneapolis teachers who have worked so hard to have everything ready for today.

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