Monthly Archives: April 2017

Write Here, Write Now: 4.30 – Chain of Fools (2)

Bill Frisell – Chain of Fools. saying goodbye to the fools with some easy difficult listening.

Bill Frisell is a guitarist and this is an instrumental version of the song I started this months’s ‘fool’ theme off with – a chain of fools.

Bill Frisell is a jazz guitarist and this is a jazzy version of the song. but jazzy in a way that rocks out in a noisy way. I like Bil Frisell because he seems to be on the edge between different musical worlds – jazz and rock  (as here) and country, folk and most importantly for me, pop. This song is a bit of a crowd-pleaser. It’s done in a suitably Frisell-like ‘angular’ way, but there’s enough of the original song melody in it to be recognizable to people who know the Aretha Franklin version. you can’t really dance to it, but nod your head in an agreeably engaged way.

Some songs try to be difficult, or should I say, don’t make an effort to engage the listener – ‘find your own way in, mate. It might take you hundreds of listens, and you might not even like it when you are familiar enough with it to know what’s coming next. But I’m an uncompromising artist…’

That doesn’t seem to be the case with Bill Frisell – there’s a warmth, a comfortable welcome, a light touch in his music (the pop sensibility), that doesn’t deny depths that can be appreciated from repeated listens. I first came across him as a supporting musician for Hal Willner’s delightfully eccentric ‘Stay Awake’ Disney tribute album. Fairly faithful covers were given a sightly unfamiliar and satisfyingly melancholic extra dimension from Bill Frisell and Wayne Horvitz.

As it is here. The instruments potter along, roughly in line with the song’s melodies, but there are elements of frenzied fret fests, noodly picking and muso- lite drum and bass rhythms. It is the somewhat sterile muso elements of what sound like self-imposed ‘musical quality’ which detract from the rough and ready feel I would like more, but that’s a quibble. A pop sensibility requires a bit of easy listening to sweeten and leaven the complicated jazz rock doughy pudding.

I know next to nothing about Bill Frisell, but from his music he seems like the sweetest of fools to end the chain with – skilled enough a musician to play with other musical experts, but aware of the limitations of that approach not to take himself or the canon too seriously, and willing to engage a wider audience through catchy pop numbers like this one.

I will continue being a fool through the rest of the year, throwing caution to the wind in my use of cliche and untested ideas and over-familiar thoughts – all in the pursuit of the essence of the fun in music and what it can mean. I’m not sure that I’ll bother with a theme next month, though. Just see where the music takes me.

A pinch and a punch!

Write Here, Write Now: 4.29 – Runnin’ Out Of Fools

Aretha Franklin – Runnin’ Out Of Fools. Nearly closing time for the fools

It’s a day before the end of the month and there’s room or just two more fool songs. There are still 20 songs with the word in the title I could have chosen (Elvis, Beatles, George Michael, Bryan Ferry, Sam Cooke again, Kula Shaker, etc). But this seems like a good one for the penultimate one – a third song from Aretha. There is even one more I could have gone for (What A Fool Believes).

Another song from the Colombia era, this is a sassy number, Aretha seeing right through another unsuitable suitor – ‘sure, I’ll hear you out, but don’t think I’m going to fall for your BS a second time. And I’ll dismiss your efforts in my silky smooth and calm voice – am I bovvered? Do I sound remotely bovvered?’

Well, almost not. There’s something in the passion in singing “even fools like me” that suggests the flash of anger breaking through the cool exterior. But it’s channeled efectively through her words – there’s no esprit d’escalier here. She gets all her retorts in straight away, multiple strikes straight to the target. ‘I was hurt, but I’m over you, and I’m taking you down as I walk away from you’.

It’s a song well-supported by a shuffling brushstroke drum beat, a persistent, steady underpinning to her determination not to be swayed. Not that it’s shown in the video, but I can imagine her beating time impatiently as she listens to the caller trying to string her along. Yeah, yeah, whatever – spit it out, you’re not fooling me.

And her words are echoed by, not just the oohing backing singers, but also by the emphasizing piano phrases. Musical melodies that bring out her wry amusement at the chutzpah of the bloke trying it on at the end of his black book list.

And this month has been quite a list of fools – some tender, some bitter, almost all caught up in love stories gone right or wrong. I’m not sure what lesson that gives about being a fool – it happens to all of us as nobody can see the whole picture of two people coming together and how they approach each other – to ignore faults and look for the best, to wake to a history of sleights that overshadow good experiences. To be truly involved with someone else means deliberately avoiding the external perspective that brings objectivity – taking a leap of faith into a world of trust – foolishness, or just removing the emotional shields to the innocence of a fool.

One more fool song tomorrow, but no more singing. It’s good to end with the echoes of Aretha’s voice and her final ambiguous words “…even old fools like me”. I’m sure they do, darling.

 

Write Here, Write Now: 4.28 -Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool

The Bluebells – Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool. The curse of indie bass.

Back in the eighties, I really liked ‘I’m Falling’ (bought the single) and ‘Young at Heart’. Clear voiced, bright guitar pop – great songs. This isn’t nearly as good to my ears. It’s the wheezy, asthmatic (mouth organ) kid in the playground aping its peers with a whingey song about, as far as I can tell, how he doesn’t like and is rejecting the listener. The kid does a shambling dance (bass), throws in a few intellectualisms (guitar), wheezes a bit more, then stops, (abruptly turns heel and flounces off).

I like the clear guitar notes, the lead singer’s distinctive voice, but those features are more prominent in the other two songs. What really grits my teeth is the bass, which seems to slavishly follow the main melody, without giving any real rhythm to the song – something I now realize was a feature of too many of the C86 indie bands of the 80s – you couldn’t dance to their fey tunes – a musical crime in my book.

So, maybe, if everybody is somebody’s fool, there is somebody out there who likes this song, but it isn’t me. Give me one of their far superior numbers instead.

Write Here, Write Now: 4.27 – Maybe I’m A Fool

Aretha Franklin – Maybe I’m A Fool. Why am I hearing Nick Drake?

Another fool song from Aretha this month. And it might not be the last one. She does reward listening. This is a song from a collection I bought in Cologne about 12 years ago (and still haven’t really investigated in depth – what is it about collecting media – movies, music, books – and not consuming them?).  The Queen In Waiting, from the years before she hit her classic period on Atlantic Records, I think.

There’s something of an otherworldly, more formal era in this music – the politely strummed guitar in the background, the gentle honks on the saxophone, the piano accompaniment, even in part Aretha’s demure and rather submissive lyrics.

Of course, she lets rip beautifully, even in this timid beastie of a song.
“Yeah, taking you back would be foolish. Then MAYBE, oh, MAYBE I’m a fool” as she finishes off the song.

But the thing that intrigues me somewhat about this song is how it reminds me of Saturday Sun by Nick Drake. It’s not just the phrasig of the piano notes which sound so similar, or the slow pace in which the singers, um, sing. It’s also the section just before she sings “And I know, I know that I’ll long for your kisses” or “And I’ll say, I’ll say that I’ve taken you back”, when the saxophone kicks in and rises up the scale a little. It doesn’t have the ‘Take Hart gallery’ vibes (literally) of the Nick Drake song, but the instruments seem to have a similar sound in each song. I wonder if Nick was influenced by Aretha?

Maybe I’m a fool? A question asked already once in this month’s themed blogs by The Barely Works. I don’t think there is any question of it. A fool’s errand, this, taking time to practise writing and listening when there are other, more worldly matters to attend to. Currently, life is quite hard, the middle-aged body aches, tiredness overwhelms and mortality in all its forms beckons from every angle. Function, ambition, drive, planned determination. These things elude me much of the time. But at the end of a long day, the appeal of losing myself in music, in trying to twist expression out of listening brings me to a good place. When, elsewhere, control, self-determination, meaning, seem absent, hacking and chipping out a little space, Shawshank-like restores a sense of purpose.  Embracing and working through my foolishness may be the way to go.

Write Here Write Now: 4.26 – Fool Yourself

 Little Feat – Fool Yourself.  Wins me over? Almost.

This might be the song that wins me over to Little Feat. It’s good-natured and worldly-wise, dispensing words of wisdom over a bed of swinging drums and a collage of other instruments, playing in sympathetic  harmony, rhythm and melody.

Drawn-out vocals with such smooth harmonies that it’s hard to tell which is Lowell George singing, which are the backing singers. The drums kick things off with an infectious beat, then joined by a cute keyboard riff, the voice and then bass, guitar, etc.

It sounds like good time, easy listening music, that is hard to unpick, such is the mix of sounds. And that might be what stops me from being a complete fan of the song – not being able to hear the different parts from the cohesive whole. I like being able to follow an individual instrument through a song. At the moment; I don’t feel able to do that.

Maybe a few more hundred listens to acquaint myself with the song would help, but it still feels too much like a pleasant noise at this stage of listening. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but I suspect to know the song better would be to enjoy it even more. So, Lowell, “keep on singin’ the same old lines” and I’ll come back to listen to “same old story once again”.

Fool yourself? Self-knowledge probably comes with repeating the same action over time and then observing your behaviour patterns, seeing where you act the fool – catching yourself in the act, and then changing, or acknowledging faults, failures, personality weaknesses and compensating for them. As the song says, friends probably help too. Until then, I’ll keep on fooling myself.

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YqE_Has88fA

Write Here, Write Now: 4.25 – Won’t Get Fooled Again

The Who – Won’t Get Fooled Again.

I don’t really like The Who. A classic outfit with very familiar songs, even if I rarely actively listen to them. Things like Pinball Wizard, My Generation, I Can’t Explain – difficult to avoid staples of pop culture, but fairly charmless slabs of rock. A bit so what, really.

This song is interesting for the synth part, which endeavours, apparently,  to replicate human emotion in musical form. It tops and tails the song as a solo instrument and is pretty impressive. Keith Moon’s drumming is dynamic, powerful and engaging, but I could easily forget all the other instruments. The bass sounds lost in the mix somewhere, there are rather dull power chords from the guitar, and mid-Atlantic whining from Daltrey.

A singer either makes or breaks a group for me in terms of whether I like them or not. The sound of their voice is such a distinctive part of the songs, that, no matter what the other instruments sound like, it’s difficult to give a band any leeway if the vocals don’t impress or appeal. Daltrey always sounds so full of himself, it’s an instant turn off. I have a similar reaction to Mick Jagger, though not so extreme.

It’s good to finally work out why I don’t like The Who.  I  don’t know if it means I won’t get fooled again, but it does mean I can focus on bands I do like.

Write Here, Write Now: 4.24 – A Fool For Your Stockings

ZZ Top – A Fool For Your Stockings. Bluesy guitar, silly song.

This is a silly song, but it’s quite catchy. It’s a straightforward verse chorus verse chorus middle eight verse chorus song. It’s bluesier than their 80’s hits. I like the solid bass, the bluesy guitar is OK – I like the play and release of the notes – possibly that’s what will stay with me the longest from the song. I’ve listened to it 30 times in a row, and it doesn’t get any better or any worse. I notice a few more drum rolls than I did the first time.

I’m weighing up whether it’s better or worse than the similarly titled song by another blues rock band – Whitesnake’s Fool for Your Loving. I think, on balance, it’s better. The blues snap at the start is a bit reminiscent of Ry Cooder’s Paris, Texas, and Billy Gibbons is singing about being a fool for her stockings and is quite happy about it, while David Coverdale resented being a fool.  Better a fool who knows himself and has self-acceptance than one who refuses to accept it and clearly has vanity issues.

What with the song ‘Legs’, I’m guessing Billy might have a thing for that part of the body – who knows? Well, we do – after all – he’s “telling everybody”, even though he “might not want to admit it”. I suppose, these days, with the high waist band jeans which seem to be popular and twerking, and Kim Kardashian, the bottom is the fetished body part de nos jours. God I feel and sound old…

It’s a silly song, but I think it’s quite a gentle one. I imagine Billy being a bit like Arnold Layne, getting a bit carried away on washing day near the clothes line. Odd, but harmless.

Maybe I should try to write more about this subject, but I can’t think of anything else to say that wouldn’t be embarrassing.

While I don’t think I’ll be hunting out this song again, the live version in this clip has got more energy than the album track I’ve been listening to: