Kevin Morby’s Gorgeous “City Music” Should Blare From Apartment Windows Everywhere

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , on June 17, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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Some years ago, when contemplating the life I would lead in New York after graduating from a college set in the fields and orchards of Western Mass, I would stare at the jacket of Donald Barthelme’s collection, City Life.  A couple in nightdress, he older and somewhat delirious, she younger and game for the dance, seemed to sum up how much better life would be in the big city.

Yesterday was Bloomsday, which celebrates unquestionably the greatest love song to a city ever written, and of course it was fitting that Kevin Morby released his magisterial new album, City Music. For those late to this story, Morby was the bass player in Woods, and co-bandleader of The Babies, and beginning in 2013, a solo artist whose powers increase record-by-record.  His paean to city life is as heartfelt as Joyce’s, and the respect he pays to certain moments in modern urban history resonates deeply with me.

The title track of last summer’s fine sophomore album, Singing Saw, invoked the magic of  Talking Heads’ More Songs About Buildings And Food, and on City Music, the sometime-New Yorker invokes Television, Talking Heads, Garland Jeffreys, Lou Reed, and the Ramones, to name just a few of Fun City’s champions. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that Dylan’s a New York artist too. Morby doesn’t.

In a lovely NPR piece published yesterday, Morby walks us through the album song by song. It’s worth a read, revealing as it does how this young artist absorbs influences and uses them as inspiration.  He cites “Marquee Moon,” as the source of the title track’s guitar sound, and it’s as fun to listen to as seeing Wilco cover the original by seminal New Yorkers Television.  On Singing Saw, Morby had the benefit of Sam Cohen as producer and a guitarist whose lines take these completely unexpected left turns; the ensemble assembled on City Life is a congenial and accomplished band that you’d love to see live.  Even on the slow songs, they swing.

Morby’s voice isn’t particularly expressive, but his songwriting and storytelling more than make up for it, and his ambitions seem to be growing.  On Singing Saw, songs like “Dorothy” and “I Have Been To The Mountain” were so strong that they masked weaker material elsewhere on an album that was pretty universally acclaimed, including in these here parts.  There’s no such problem on City Music: every song, even the cover of the Germs’ “Caught In My Eye,” will make you want to play this album loud enough to bug the neighbors in your stifling apartment building.

A year ago, when Morby was able to tell the story of how he picked up and moved from Kansas City to Brooklyn, landing a few weeks later in Woods — then and now, a highlight of modern New York bands — the notion of the Bright Lights, Big City luring him from the midwest placed his narrative in familiar terms.  In City Life, he’s made it, he’s gone from the periphery to the center, like Dylan, like Jimmy Reed of Dunleith, Mississippi, who wrote the song, and Jay McInerney of Hartford, Connecticut, who wrote the book.

Around the time that we sat in our college dorm dreaming of joining the party in New York, we fixated on another great work of its time, Raymond Sokolov’s Native Intelligence.  The novel begins with the college admissions essay written by a young midwesterner who wants to go to Harvard to participate in the intellectual discussions he imagines exist there.  The opening chapter ends with the admissions officer’s notes, written in longhand in the margins: “Grades, SATs, and high-school recommendations all very high.  We will, of course, accept him, but I think he is going to be disappointed with Harvard and depressed by Radcliffe.  Another case of great expectations in the boondocks.”

Thank Heaven young Kevin Morby got on that bus.

 

 

Capital Pride Parade 2017: A Photo Gallery

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on June 11, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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All images Leica M10 and 35mm Summilux FLE

Since Trump’s inauguration, we’ve taken to the streets, camera in hand, to capture the energy he’s unleashed.  The crowds have been determined — to fight back, to remove him, to save the nation and the planet — but it’s been pretty joyful, all in all, from the Women’s March through the Climate March and the smaller ones like last week’s March for Truth.  Even those spontaneous demonstrations following the Muslim Ban were filled with fellowship, if not precisely happiness — people smiled for the camera, they were glad to be counted.

The 2017 Capital Pride Parade today was as if the blight of Trump had not settled upon the land.  It’s always a fun event, but today’s felt like we caught a glimpse of what life will be when this pestilential administration has gone back where it came from.  What a delight it is to live in a city with such a large and dynamic LGBTQ community, and their thousands of friends, gay and straight, who come out each year to show their true colors.

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At The March For Truth DC: A Photo Gallery

Posted in Trump Protests with tags , , , , on June 3, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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All images Leica M10 and 35mm Summilux FLE.

Six months in, with the damage of the Trump presidency more obvious by the minute, the resistance will not let up.  On a hot summer day in DC, crowds still came out for the March For Truth, the protest organized around the principle that the President of the United States, his family, his staff, and their collusion with the Russians should be properly investigated.  This will be a big week on that score.  We believe our Saturdays will continue to be organized around capturing this steady resistance.

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At The Rolling Thunder Parade: Gallery Of Images

Posted in 50mm Apo Summicron Asph, Leica Images, Leica Monochrom, photography with tags , , , , , , on May 28, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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All images Leica Monochrom (Typ-246) and 50mm APO-Summicron-Asph

Donald Trump may have gotten 4% of the vote in the District of Columbia, but in certain precincts over Memorial Day Weekend here in the Nation’s Capital, we’d bet his vote was higher.

One can’t help but be moved by some of those who come each year, many by motorcycle, to celebrate Memorial Day.  For everyone who comes for fellowship, a good ride, a fun weekend, there are others in possession of raw emotions, more than 40 years after the Vietnam War, and memories of their loved ones and earlier selves.  We came upon this fellow sitting by himself, a few yards from the Wall.

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This ritual each year means a lot to our visitors who roll in from around the country.

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And some wars are never over.  (We see this guy here every year.)

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While some wait patiently for the Rolling Thunder motorcycles to come roaring by, others go into the pedestrian mall set up every year, to buy food and insignia, motorcycle gear, even holsters.

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And while few are still on active duty, some carry their rank with them wherever they go.

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While others carry the burden of their lives in the sadness of their eyes.

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Holy Grail Alert: We Found Henry Badowski’s “Life Is A Grand” In A Digital Format

Posted in Music with tags , , on May 20, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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In June 2013, we asked a simple question: Is Henry Badowski’s Life Is A Grand THE great lost album of all time? After all, this perfect gem of an Eno-esque solo album, released by IRS Records in 1981, had defied the near universal jukebox reality we have lived in since the dawn of the CD era, when record companies, hot to sell everything a second time, brought virtually all vinyl records into a digital format.  It never came out as a CD.  It couldn’t be found as a legal digital download.  Unless you had the vinyl, or paid up for it, you would have to take the word of people like me: this was about as close to the Holy Grail of record collecting as a modern power-pop fancier could get.

Over the years, a fair number of people have read that post, linked to it, and commented.  Every once in a while, there is some spike in Tulip Frenzy’s traffic and it quite often comes from some diehard finding the piece and linking to it.  Henry Badwoski’s fans may be fairly few, but they are devoted.  As they should be.

I’d like to think that some people have learned about Henry from that piece.  After all, we said “the record is like a mix of Eno’s Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy and Bowie’s Low –– though it is so endearingly sweet, you have to imagine Bowie on ecstasy, not blow.  It is almost entirely upbeat, and the rhythm section could easily have been the Moxhams from Young Marble Giant — minimalist, spare — underneath Farfisas and simple keyboards.  All we see of Badowski from the album cover is a fey, Bryan Ferry head of hair posed near a hedge on one of those great British country gardens.  And that’s all we’ve seen of him for 30 years or more; he disappeared, at least on this side of the pond.  And the record?  It disappeared too.”  Who wouldn’t want to know more, to track it down, to hear it?  What self-respecting rock’n’roll fan wouldn’t be intrigued?

A few weeks back, someone commented on Tulip Frenzy that they’d found the record as a digital download on this here Internet thing.  And sure enough!  You can download “Life Is A Grand” here!

Now, let us say, we are opposed to artists not getting paid for their work, and have never participated in illegal fire sharing.  But there is no other way to get a digital file of this record.  And we justify posting a link to the site where you can download the record thusly: we bet that, if Henry is not going to be able to get royalties from his 1981 masterpiece, he would want people to listen to it.  To remember him.  To recognize that he produced The Great Lost Album of the post-punk era.

Happily, it’s lost no more.

Robyn Hitchcock Brought His Guitar, Sense Of Humor, And The Best Catalogue In Rock To His Two Nights At Jammin Java

Posted in Music with tags , , , on May 12, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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It is an article of faith in these here parts that the songwriter with the strongest collection of songs written over the final two decades of the 20th Century and the first two decades of this one is Robyn Hitchcock. For much of this Spring, Tulip Frenzy World Headquarters has rung with the chiming sounds of a two-hour long playlist of Hitchcock’s work going back to his time with The Soft Boys.  Our daily commute of late has passed far faster thanks to continuous playing of his most recent, eponymous album, his best in years.

Wednesday night at Jammin Java Hitchcock played a solo acoustic set featuring 20 of his own songs and a handful of covers.  Only one of his songs was off the new album, and just one more was chosen for our two-hour compendium of personal favorites.  Does this give you a sense of just how deep his oeuvre is? The show was, of course, brilliant.

Like Bob Dylan — his only threat in the Championship Round of the competition — Robyn Hitchcock’s songs are based on beautiful melodies, artful phrases, and an underlying sense of humor.  (“There’s a thin line between what you do and what you should/Every time I cross it I just feel insanely good.”) Both artists have surrounded themselves with great musicians, can easily shift between real rock’n’roll and quieter folk, write love songs with tenderness and irony, and are as much rock historians as they are musicians. (Though unlike Dylan, we can’t think of a Hitchcock song, even those that are mean, containing the least glimmer of misogyny.)

So why is Bob Dylan “Bob Dylan,” and Hitchcock playing solo before an audience of 200 or so at a small club in suburban D.C.? We have a theory, but first, more about Robyn Hitchcock, his hardest rocking, most complex, and best album of the past decade, and a bit more about that show Wednesday night.

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Hitchcock makes his home these days in Nashville, and thank Heaven he does, because his neighbor, Brendan Benson, was inspired to produce his newest record, requesting that it sound like The Soft Boys.  Robyn Hitchcock, released in late April, does sound like The Soft Boys’ two ’70s records, as well as his first solo album, Black Snake Diamond Role, which came out in ’81. Truth be told, it also sounds like the 19 studio albums he’s released since then.  That is the purest of compliments. Few are the artists who have changed so little over 40 years — and thank God for that.

To the uninitiated: if you want a good entry point to Hitchcock’s work, at age 63, his new album provides it. From the hard rocking opener, “I Want To Tell You About What I Want,” to the gorgeous closer, “Time Coast,” it touches every base.  When rock critters describe Hitchcock’s influences and antecedents, Dylan, the Beatles, Kinks, and Byrds are the first references, with those looking to score points throwing Captain Beefheart in — not because he sounds like Don Van Vliet (though they do each possess multi-octave voices), but because of his absurdist sense of humor.  On the new record, Hitchcock sounds like… Dylan, the Beatles, Kinks, and Byrds, which is to say, after 40 years of record making, he sounds like Robyn Hitchcock, an artist who should be in their ranks, but somehow isn’t, except in our house, and those of uplifting gormandizers.

On Wednesday night, Hitchcock dipped into his repertoire and sang in strong voice, the fingers of his left hand moving like a tarantula up and down the neck of his guitar, songs introduced with a stand-up comic’s storytelling magic.  It was one of those sets that remind us that live music can transport us from the tedium of the everyday into another, better world.

So back to the question of why isn’t this greatest songwriter of the past 40 years carried around in a sedan chair, his face adorning The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, dozens of bands referenced as Hitchcockesque? Other than the old standbys that life is unfair and there is no justice, we think there may be a reason, absurd though it may be.

Our theory is that, when the Soft Boys hit our shores in that second wave of British punk, and found common cause with the jangle of the dBs and other Big Star/Byrds and folk-infused bands like R.E.M., Hitchcock’s English eccentricities put him in a box.  A radio programmer might grok an incredible song like “Kingdom Of Love,” but with lyrics like these — “You’ve been laying eggs under my skin/Now they’re hatching out under my chin/Now there’s tiny insects showing through/And all these tiny insects look like you” — Hitchcock could be segregated into the Captain Beefheart box, chains wrapped around it, visible only via underwater moonlight, pushed away from the main currents of even “alternative” music.

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Over the ’80s and ’90s, Hitchcock released a powerful series of albums that occasionally broke through, with songs like “So You Think You’re In Love” getting radio play.  Hell, Jonathan Demme made a concert film and put him The Manchurian Candidate. By the 21st Century, he was putting out one amazing album after another — dip into Ole! Tarantula, or any of the Oslo albums, Goodnight Oslo or Tromso, Kaptein, and you will hear work deserving to be in the same conversation as Love & TheftModern Times, and Time Out Of Mind.  And yet there he was at Jammin Java, for financial reasons not even bringing the ace band of young Nashville tyros who played with him last week in L.A., stomping through a proper set of rockers culminating in the Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues.”

Robyn Hitchcock is a national treasure — and he’s ours now, fuck Britain.  His shows should be performed at the Verizon Center, or at least he should be able to tour, like his hero Bob Dylan, minor-league ballparks.  At Jammin Java Wednesday night, he began his two sets with Dylan’s “Not Dark Yet,” and concluded it with “Visions of Johanna.”  In addition to covers of songs by Nick Drake and The Doors, he played 20 originals spanning 40 years of our devoted fandom, 40 years of pleasure. His body of work is so rich he could play 19 songs not on our list of his greatest ones and the evening still was glorious. That he is hilarious and eccentric is his charm and his undoing.  No one and nothing, not even time and commercial neglect, can take away his greatness.

D.C.’s Funk Parade Is A Reason To Reclaim Our Optimism

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on May 7, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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All images Leica Monochrom Typ-246 and 50mm APO-Summicron-Asph

Just a year ago, we believed that the annual Funk Parade along U Street was a reason to live in the Nation’s Capital.  What a simple, innocent world we lived in then, when those of us in urban areas were clueless about the post-election pall about to fall upon the land.  But if you want to reclaim your sense of what life could be like if people of good will were to come together in a spirit of joy, yesterday’s Funk Parade — despite the rain and gloomy weather — could do it.  Once again on Chocolate City’s “Black Broadway” families came together to share in the funk, and it was wonderful.

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