Monday, June 29, 2009

Luthea Salom - Sunbeam Surrounded By Winter


Regular visitors here know something about my musical taste by now. I enjoy songs that do a good job of telling a story. I want images to stick in my head. And I like music that takes me out of my zone, and gets in my head, precisely because it isn’t what I normally go for. Enter Luthea Salom.

The first song I heard was Dragonfly. I wasn’t paying close attention to the lyrics. What drew me in was the texture of the piece. Over an electronic pulse, but not a robotic beat, is a keyboard that sounds almost, but not quite, like an accordion; the rest of the band doesn‘t arrive until the first chorus. And there is Salom’s voice. She sings in a high soprano, in a very clear voice, and her voice has an unusual quality that I would call a wink. She sounds like a good person to seek out for reassurance, and it turns out that many of the songs here find her reassuring herself.

Salom plays acoustic, Spanish, twelve-string, and electric guitars, and some keyboards; by herself, she might have limited the instrumentation to those options, and I would have thoroughly enjoyed that. The song This New Skin is what that might have sounded like. But Salom was able to pull off a major coup: she got Malcolm Burn to produce the album with her. Burn worked along side Daniel Lanois before going out on his own. He likes to add texture and layers to arrangements, and he often adds in unusual instruments for color. All of that is on display here, and the songs are mostly well served by it. Sunshine Gold has a repeating riff played on a viola and echoed by single notes on electric guitar. The rhythmic feel of Like a River is Brazilian, achieved with electronic percussion, stand up bass, organ, and guitars. Winter Tires opens with a rhythm played on acoustic guitar, which almost stands in for percussion; this role remains once the rest of the instruments join in with the harmonies and counter-melodies.

Salom sings the words clearly, but the meaning is subtle. These are not stories, and the imagery is sparse at best. These songs are snapshots of emotional states. There are scant clues to what may have happened; the focus is on, “This is where I am, and this is how I find hope.” Hope is the theme of this album. In Sunshine Gold, Salom depicts a relationship that has evidently hit a rough spot. But she is sees sunshine there, because she does not believe that love is gone. Beautiful follows a similar path, expressing a series of doubts before concluding that there is goodness and beauty in the world. Winter Tires has the most detailed imagery on the album, but the images are metaphorical. Here a man bent on the conquest of a woman falls for her instead; the opening lines of the song are repeated at the end, but the meaning has completely changed.

So, I thoroughly enjoyed twelve of the fourteen songs here. Unfortunately, the two songs I did not care for are the first two on the album. Die to Live is the opener; this a pop-folk tune which I found to be too produced, curiously, the song is reprised to close the album in a much sparser mix, which I much prefer. There are other pop-folk tunes on the album which worked for me, but this one did not. The second song on the album is a cover of Rebel Rebel; this is just a poor choice for Salom. Her gifts as a singer are not well suited to this material. So my advice is to start listening to this album at track three, which happens to be Dragonfly. Go through to the end and enjoy the ride; it’s well worth taking. Then go back for the first two tracks, and see what you think. But make sure you give the rest a fair chance first. Luthea Salom deserves it.

Luthea Salom: Sunshine Gold

Luthea Salom: Winter Tires

Friday, June 26, 2009

For a Song: Calypso

Suzanne Vega: Calypso


Suzanne Vega is a favorite of mine. In fact, her song The Queen and the Soldier was the first song I ever posted to a blog. So, it’s high time that she made her appearance here.

Blogging about music has taught me some things about my own musical taste. I never realized how drawn I am to songs with strong visual elements until I discovered that this is a recurring theme in my posts. And Calypso is another song with wonderfully realized imagery. Vega needs only a couple of lines to describe the lushness of Calypso’s garden. But Odysseus returns to the sea and his journey, and the final image is of a barren sandy waste of a beach, as she watches him sail away. That he leaves by her choice does not ease her loneliness, which returns like the tide at his departure.

So Vega has found the perfect match of imagery to emotion, and it is completely organic to this story. We know exactly what moved her to write the song. And Vega’s voice and arrangement perfectly fit the material.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Songwriters React To War

My parents came of age just in time for World War II. They used to tell me how the whole country united behind the war effort. My Father was proud of his small part in helping to defeat the Nazis; he saw it that way, even though he served in the Pacific. And the history books reinforce the fact that this was a war that everyone in America believed we had to win.

But my coming of age occurred during the Vietnam War. That same father took me to my first peace march. The country was sharply divided over whether we needed to win or leave. And it has been this way, in varying degrees, for every war the US has been involved in in my lifetime.

So just as does the public at large, songwriters feel a mix of emotions when their country goes to war. The emotions are always running high, and often drive the creation of some of their finest work.

The songs I am presenting do not present a balanced survey of songwriters’ responses to war. There are songwriters whose work on the subject suggests that they believe that the country is always right in wartime. But the examples of songs that I have heard from them seem to me lacking in nuance. Or perhaps, it’s just a question of my personal biases. In any case, I stand by my selections as showcase of the variety of ways songwriters deal with what is for many people a difficult subject to discuss.

Norman Blake: Graycoat Soldiers


Norman Blake wrote Graycoat Soldiers in the shadow of the Vietnam War. But Blake evidently wanted some distance from his subject. So the song, about the homefront, takes place during the Civil War. The song is an eloquent depiction of those who get left behind in war.

Gray coat Soldiers is a first for me, and something you won’t see very often. I posted the song some time ago on Star Maker Machine. I won’t normally repeat myself this way, but I couldn’t see addressing this theme, and leaving this one out.

Tom Waits: Soldier‘s Things


Tom Waits writes about the effect of war on people in a unique way. He imagines a war widow holding a yard sale, and selling all of her soldier husband’s decorations from the war. “Everything’s a dollar in this box”, she croons. By not specifying which war this was, Waits crafts a song which describes the pain of losing a loved one in a war in a universal way.

Peter Gabriel: Games Without Frontiers


Peter Gabriel takes a mix of characters who represent current and historical figures, and makes them children on a beach. Their fight for territory is just a game to them, but Gabriel reminds us that the consequences are all too real. Gabriel is not writing about a specific war, but the attitude of the song is reflective of British attitudes about World War I. It would seem that this is a war that has cast a long shadow on the Brittish psyche. Some of the character names Gabriel uses also suggest World War II, but I think Gabriel did this to make the song more universal.

XTC: Generals and Majors


XTC’s Generals and Majors appeared the album Black Sea. Much of this album was XTC’s response to the Falklands war. But Generals and Majors is about war in general. The band is criticizing the elements of society that seem to always want to lead us into war.

Richard Thompson: Dad‘s Gonna Kill Me


Richard Thompson is not interested here in universality. Dad’s Gonna Kill Me is about the Iraq war. “Dad” is what the soldiers over there call Baghdad. Thompson takes the role of a soldier stationed there, and depicts him as believing that he will never return home alive.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Danny Schmidt - instead the forest rose to sing



A while back, I made up a mix CD by that name. These were songs about things, places, and people who were fondly remembered, but irretrievably gone. Many of Danny Schmidt’s songs here have that quality. It’s hard to do this kind of song well, and all too easy to create something that is cliched and maudlin. Danny Schmidt does very well indeed.

Schmidt’s best bittersweet song here is Grampa Built Bridges. Here is a man whose dignity has deserted him with the coming of old age. But, in his youth, he constructed these structural marvels, like some thing out of a fairytale. Schmidt eloquently expresses both the wonderment and the sense of loss.

Southland Street talks about the pride of an auto worker, from before the factory first moved to Mexico, and then to Asia. The Serpentine Cycle of Money is about a fortune found and lost. Both are fine examples of this kind of song.

But, there is more to Schmidt’s writing than that. His method is to leave out details, and let the listener fill them in; in Two Timing Bank Robber’s Lament this leads to an amusing surprise. You may need to listen twice to see what happened here; do it. The payoff on this one is great. I found myself filling in details for Swing Me Down. In a dance like the Virginia Reel, or a contradance, a row of men faces a row of women; in the course of the dance, each man will take each woman in the line into his arms for a swing. But, the first verse makes reference to driving, and the “women” in the song have names of states. So I take this to be a metaphor for a touring musician who greets each new destination with joy.

In only one place does Schmidt’s writing fail me. Firestorm tells the tale of a man who has learned to control his aggressive tendencies for the sake of the woman he loves; in the end, something horrible happens to her, (exactly what is not spelled out), and he releases all of that aggression either to save her or for revenge. This one leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Musically, most of these songs could be performed by Schmidt alone, with just his singing and acoustic guitar. His voice is musical, but has a conversational quality. And his guitar playing is fine, folkish with a touch of blues here and there. Voice and guitar together do fine job of conveying the emotional range of these songs. But, in the studio, the songs are embellished with a light touch. There are wonderful backing vocals by Carrie Elkin or Joia Wood. Drums and bass are subtle, helping the songs along without ever drawing attention to themselves. Sometimes there is a fiddle, or an accordion, or a harmonica, each serving the song, and making a welcomed contribution.
The Serpentine Cycle of Money gets the closest thing here to a full rock arrangement, and is probably the most different from what it would sound like live. It doesn’t sound bad by any means, but it does stand out from the rest of the album. And I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not.

Overall, though, this is fine album that I can heartily recommend. And it makes want to see Schmidt live.

Danny Schmidt: Swing Me Down

Danny Schmidt: Two Timing Bank Robber‘s Lament


My friend Susan was the first to introduce me to the music of Danny Schmidt. She is currently going through a rough time. I would like to dedicate this post to her.


Progress report: I am still in the process of putting files for my older album review posts onto my new file host. So, if something you wanted to hear wasn’t working, please try again.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

For a Song: There Goes a Tenner

Kate Bush: There Goes a Tenner


Kate Bush burst onto the Brittish pop scene as a teenager, singing lush romantic ballads. She certainly had the voice for it. But, without knowing what it was, she wanted to do more musically. So. it wasn’t until Peter Gabriel asked her to sing the background vocals on Games Without Frontiers that her musical world opened up.

By the time Bush released The Dreaming, she was exploring the many different modes of expression she could get from her voice. On There Goes a Tenner, Bush’s vocals are subdued and nuanced; here she sings, where earlier in her career she might have belted. And the lyrics also reflect her expanding horizons. Not a love story by any means, There Goes a Tenner tells the tale of a bank job gone wrong. The small time robbers planning the job are full of themselves. The imagine themselves as stars of the old-time gangster movies, Humphrey Bogart and so on. But only Bush’s character is grounded enough to wonder whether something might go wrong. So, it’s an unusual subject for a song.

But what I love most about this song is the final image. Here is Bush’s character, having been knocked out, coming to lying in the street. And the first thing she notices are the small bills floating in the air. Later, she will have time to realize that she is being arrested, and is on her way to prison. But now, in that in-between state of neither unconsciousness and consciousness, those air born bills are just fascinating. And this is the moment Bush wanted to get to.

Monday, June 15, 2009


Sly and the Family Stone: Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)


Z Z Top: I Thank You


Bonnie Raitt: Thank You


So this is it. Oliver di Place is now back in business. I have my new file host. You can see the new look. The gadget to display recent comments is not working yet, but I decided that I have waited long enough. So will fix that on the fly as we go forward. After all, my readers and listeners have also waited long enough. Thank you for your patience.

The blog you now see is my baby, and I take full responsibility for the content you see and hear. But were it not for the help of many people, Oliver di Place would not exist. Or, I might have packed it in instead of fixing what I needed to, and making my return. So I would like to take a moment to thank those many helpers.

I first became a blogger because of the kindness of the folks at Star Maker Machine. They took me in, first as a guest poster, and then they taught me how to do it myself. Three fine gentlemen in particular aided me back then. Thanks goes out to Boyhowdy, Paul, and Dean. These same gentlemen, as well as Nelson, Brendan, Payton, and BWR, provided invaluable assistance when I launched Oliver di Place. Thank you again. Folks on Star Maker who I have not mentioned have provided friendship, as well as teaching me about music I would never have heard otherwise.

When I decided to redo Oliver di Place, I received additional help from unexpected sources. My friend Dave I from work led me to the site where I got the new template for the blog. Dave, your help has been, and continues to be, invaluable. Thank you so much. George, also from work, overheard a conversation one day, and the next day, I had valuable links in my e-mail. Thank you. And Klodian, from the Google help groups, held my hand through acouple of panics, and is a big reason that almost everything is now working. Thank you.

So, for most of you, this is probably the most boring post you’ve ever read here. I apologize, but I needed to say it before going forward. I hope the songs make up for it. Normal posting will now resume, with a For a Song post later this week. And the next album review is one that I am very excited about. I hope you all enjoy it too.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Call For Help

I was hoping to have everything up and running for you, my faithful audience, before I put anything new here. But, I am almost at the finish line, and I am stuck. So I am asking for help. I need someone out there who knows HTML, who can tell me how to either: a) get the recent comments widget to work, or b) replace it with one that does. If you think you can help, please send me an E-mail, and I will provide you what ever you need to proceed. Thank you so much. As soon as this is done, there will be one special comeback post, and then normal posting will resume. Thank you all for your patience and continued support.

- Darius