Archive for the ‘Rock & Roll’ category

Bob Dylan’s “Together Through Life”.

September 9, 2009

From the open dark doorway of a semi-public tavern in a narrow alley in the second city of an island in the Caribbean whose name can never quite be recalled, Whose shape is skated over by fingers on the map on their way to Jamaica, Cuba, Grand Cayman, Aruba, and which has never been bothered much by tourists, (and all that happy business with marimbas, congas and the like never made it there either), sometimes comes the sound of music wafting out to die against the soft ochre alley walls and dark cobblestones dissolving under the weighted tropic glare.

They play for the purest of reasons: to pass the time. They converse in a language of grunts, glances, knowing smiles and random words. Their most articulate, most ongoing conversations they make through their guitars, mandolin, accordion, and the like. The drummer plays a vestigial kit salvaged from the great hurricane of way back when. Sometimes a couple of the ever-present domino players are moved to rise from their endless game and blow along on their battered horns for a spell.

Old cronies, they’d learned about the blues long ago in the same way they learned about approaching weather: via shortwave radio, staticky, interrupted, far off. Without realizing it, they’ve developed their own sound over the years, in their isolation. A lazy tempo, heavy on the bottom end, guitar chords spreading out over the rhythm like a Japanese fan over pulsing coals, accordion’s long exhale, mandolin fluttering above, images of love rising from the singer’s smoky old voice, and those drowsy trumpets.

The singer had left the island out of curiosity many years ago and then returned after twenty five years of singing in second and third tier cities all over the U.S. Singing unloved songs in half deserted rooms where he and his ever-changing audience, if it could be called that, shared a mutual indifference. Curiosity satisfied, he returned to the island. His old acquaintances, friends, liaisons, were all there, playing the old songs in much the same old way. Their faces had sagged, their eyes grown rheumy, and there were fewer teeth among them.

His voice had changed during the last couple of years before his return. He’d struggled with it for a time, in an experience symmetrical with the voice change he’d gone through at 14. He and his new old voice had settled into each other comfortably by the time he returned home. He was taken back into his place in society without much fuss at all.

Sometimes, when a pretty girl, or two, recently come of age, happened down the alley on a sunny afternoon, an old familiar longing would rise up in the bass player and express itself as curiosity about far away places.

Once, as he and the singer stood side-by-side in the doorway to share a cigarette and watch two beauties stroll down the alley to the sun-bleached boulevard at the end, the bass player asked the singer, Why did you return?

The singer, his attention diverted by a savory gust from the ocean, said, with his nose to the wind, Beyond here lies nothing. Except the moon and stars, replied the bass player, glancing up at the glowering sky. It wasn’t necessary for the singer to reply, and he didn’t.
The soft clack of dominoes reminded them then of a song, an old song, a song they could play to pass the time.


The Night James McMurtry Came To Town

April 26, 2009

Saturday afternoon I was playing with Braydon, my brilliant, beautiful grandson, anticipating a quiet evening at home, when Scott called wanting to know if we were planning to go to James McMurtry at Cain’s that evening. Oops. Louise, especially, been looking forward to it for months because she has a thing for ‘smart badboys’, but we’d thought it was still weeks away. Yes, yes, yes! we replied. Scott was thrilled that he wouldn’t have to go alone. We called Braydon’s daddy and told him to come get Braydon by 8 o’clock because we had a prior engagement.

There followed no less than six frantic phone calls from Scott over the next two hours. They were sold out. They had only two tickets left, but there were three of us. He was going to pull the “Folk Salad Card”. He was preparing to beg. Begging had worked! He’d be at Sound Pony having a Marshall’s & could we bring him a Big Mac because he, the poor beggar, hadn’t had anything to eat. Louise put her lips on and we left. Soon we were sitting at the bar and Scott and I were having the McDonalds Happy Meal for Adults, which is a quarter pounder with cheese, French fries, and Marshall’s Pilsner. We shared our fries with Aaron the bartender. Louise ordered a tequila. “Do you want the salt and the lime?” “If it comes in a kit, I want the whole kit.” She drank two. Smart badgirl.

On to McMurtry. It was crowded but not to the extent that would alarm a fire inspector. McMurtry took the stage and delivered songs for the next two hours with the unmovable stern countenance of an old testament prophet with bad news for sinners. When the first song began, a woman had a seizure and was carried out through the crowd, neck arched, shoes missing. Let’s hope she was okay. He wore a dark fedora, shoulder length dark curly hair, spectacles, and a long goatee & moustache. Louise thought he looked like a rabbi. Rabbi McMurtry? Oy.

Looking around the room, Scott and I decided, by a logic that even we don’t understand, that the room was filled with the Folk Salad Demographic. These were surely our listeners. One other thing we noticed about the crowd. It was populated with an unusual number of large men. Why? It’s a mystery. What about James McMurtry’s music appeals to large men? Large men who insist on standing shoulder to shoulder between you and the stage? All we could see for most of the first set was a continent of backs grinding against each other like tectonic plates.

Most of his set was songs from his latest “Just Us Kids” which I hadn’t yet listened to. He’s a brilliant lyricist, on a par with Townes Van Zandt. He’s also a first rate guitarist. The music –Two guitars, bass and drums— is very lean, with a powerful, driving, purifying groove. Many of the crowd knew all the words to all the songs. The song everyone was waiting for, of course, was the Oklahoma epic, “Choctaw Bingo”, and when we first heard those opening chords a mighty roar rose up. Large men pumped their fists into the air and high-fived. And the line in that song that everyone was especially waiting for, the line about getting in between his two sexpot cousins with a hard-on like a bodark fencepost that you could hang a gate from, brought the crowd to a fever pitch. Hats were thrown into the air. Women howled. A fight erupted up front when two plates collided, which surprised and amused McMurtry enough to force a quick grin. I’m not making any of this up.

When the set ended, McMurtry thanked the crowd, stepped offstage, the lights came up, and he fended off well-wishers without breaking stride or making eye contact as he strode to the bar, ordered a whiskey, and exited to the greenroom. The band had managed to slip away while all eyes were on him. He enjoyed his drink (we presume) in a leisurely fashion as the crowd chanted his name over the house music. After several minutes, long enough to make us wonder, he re-emerged for his encore. This is how an encore really should be done, don’t you think? Make ‘em wonder.

We left during the encore. It was not quite midnight when we got into bed. “The room is spinning,” Louise said. “Close your eyes,” I replied.

Diamonds In The Dark by Sarah Borges & The Broken Singles

September 6, 2007

“I’m gonna throw my big wide arms around your neck!”

–Sarah Borges, from “The Day We Met” ©2007, James and Jean Music (ascap)

The sound of “Silver City”, their previous release, is the sound of Rock & Roll promises being made. Their latest, “Diamonds In The Dark”, is the sound of those promises being delivered.

This record by Sarah Borges & The Broken Singles is how we’d like to think that Rock & Roll in the main would have evolved, had it lived. What a great relief to find that somewhere, somehow, such a cheerful strain has survived, and, yes, evolved.

Borges, who writes much of the material, and producer Paul Q. Kolderie know exactly what they want, musically, and exactly how to get it. Her lyrics exhibit a keen ear for the classic themes of Rock & Roll, wrapped in catchy melodies and irresistible hooks delivered with whipcrack heat and conciseness by the kickass band.

The first song, “The Day We Met”, exemplifies all of that. It starts out at 90 miles per hour and never slows down. When it stops two minutes and twenty five seconds later, you feel as if you’ve been tossed out a side window, but still glad for the ride. Here’s a cheerful thought: listen to this song on your car radio with the windows down and imagine that it was this summer’s runaway radio hit.

On a couple of cuts, like “Around 9”, Sarah and the boys dabble in steel guitar-tinged country ballads, but with less distinctive results. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just that when they veer into the Country genre, they seem a little less engaged, and these songs are not why we really love Sarah Borges.

We love Sarah Borges most when we hear her Rock & Roll heart beating loud and fast.

“Diamonds In The Dark” by Sarah Borges & The Broken Singles is highly recommended.