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January 27, 2011

THE GARY PIG GOLD REPORT, Vol. 34

IN THE BEE GEES' TIME: A NEW DOCUMENTARY ON THAT BAND

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Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the Bee Gees' career as fully professional, all-singing, all-playing musicians, songwriters and performers.

This Jan. 12 marked eight years since self-styled "man in the middle" Maurice Gibb’s tragic passing. And in 2011, remaining Gibbs Barry and Robin are actually threatening to continue recording, and perhaps even tour the globe, beneath the hitherto-mighty Bee Gees moniker.

I'm far happier to report that 2011 also sees the appearance of a grand new DVD retrospective on Barry, Robin, Maurice and even Andy Gibb titled In Our Own Time. And from its very opening ultra-decibel, fire ‘n’ flashpot-festooned montage of "You Should Be Dancing" footage spanning 1976 clear through 1996 — which then cleverly cuts far back to a '56-vintage Elvis Presley and his similarly dance-crazed "Blue Suede Shoes" — it's clear this is going to be one of those far-too-rare roc docs that actually has a wise and sharpened sense of socio-musical perspective. I mean, who was Tony Manero after all than simply Vince Everett in polyester white as opposed to jailhouse black?

Our ride duly launches out of post-war Manchester, England, as Barry, Robin and Maurice describe years spent as pre-teen Everly Brothers who eventually emigrate all the way to Australia, where they form a singing act to perform for spare change at a local race car track. But such is this young trio’s charm and already obvious talent that they soon blossom into bona fide Down Under Beatles.

Returning to their homeland, a recording contract and string of (self-written and purposefully "melodramatic," it is revealed) classics appear in typically 1960s warp-speed. Colorful "New York Mining Disaster," "I Can't See Nobody," "To Love Somebody," "Massachusetts," "Idea" and "Words" clips follow, and even a glancing view toward each should erase all doubts that The Bee Gees were one of that genius-packed decade’s surely most accomplished by far.

Caution: What shoots way, way up must of course fall down. So as the '60s become the '70s, our heroes found themselves struggling beneath the weight of red velvet-ensconced rock operas, mutinous solo projects, meddling better halves and even their very own ill-fated television spectacular called Cucumber Castle. Once the audio-visual wreckage cleared however, the brothers found themselves chastened enough to not only fully reform but come up with two unashamedly allegorical gems, "Lonely Days" and "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart," which appeared to all concerned to be their career swansongs.

But! We're less than halfway through our show! And so what exactly did spare The Bee Gees at this critical point from a fate worse than Oldie Goldies?

Two words: Arif Mardin.

Luring them to Miami's Criteria Recording Studios, then cleverly steering the brothers toward their previously unexplored R&B leanings, the result was a slow but steady climb both back onto their feet and then extremely high back up the international sales charts. No further explanation is really needed by me here: At least 100 million of you out there bought the ensuing records.

The backlash, of course, was instant and fierce. "Bee Gee-Free Weekends" on radio stations the world over. The burning of Saturday Night Fever soundtracks and other Bee Gees-related product during "Disco Demolition Night" at a Chicago baseball stadium.

"The enigma with a stigma," as Barry still brands The Bee Gees to this very day.

And I'm sure he doesn’t just mean the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band movie, either.

Yet for anyone who tuned away from the tale right about here, In Our Own Time continues on through subsequent years of Gibbs stubbornly continuing to craft monster hits — only for other singers (Barbra Streisand, Celine Dion, Diana Ross, Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, for example). Unfortunately, this otherwise platinum period also saw the loss of a severely over-self-medicated Andy Gibb, and the frightful near-exit of a similarly lost "Brother Mo" to boot. Most thankfully indeed, though, Maurice eventually bounced completely back to help create what, tragically, would be his final Bee Gees masterpiece, "This Is Where I Came In," before death on Jan. 12, 2003.

Well, the story perhaps does not end there. One hour and 51 minutes into In Our Own Time finds a stoic Barry insisting, and I quote, "The legacy of the Bee Gees must go on, one way or the other." Cut to contemporary footage of he and faithful brother Robin, recently reunited before twin microphones in some faux-recording studio setting, crooning "To Love Somebody" and "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart."

Fade to black. One can only hope.

Musician/writer Gary Pig Gold is the co-founder of the To M’Lou Music label.

January 23, 2011

THE JAYHAWKS

TLA (Theater of the Living Arts) -- Philadelphia
Jan. 22, 2011

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Mark Olson and Marc Perlman

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Mark Olson

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Gary Louris

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Marc Perlman

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-- Photos by Chris M. Junior

January 19, 2011

QUICK SPINS: January 2011

Amos Lee, David Gergen and Corinne Bailey Rae

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* Amos LeeMission Bell (Blue Note)

The best acoustic soul artists (Bill Withers and Paul Weller among them) know that it is pointless to oversing in a stripped-down setting. In his brief career, Amos Lee has shown the same vocal smarts and skills as the elites, and Lee's fourth Blue Note album, Mission Bell (out Jan. 25), puts him in line for a charter membership in the executive club. Standout tracks include "Windows Are Rolled Down," "Flower" and "Hello Again."

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* David GergenThe Nearer It Was … The Farther It Became (Self-released)

In his bio, singer/guitarist David Gergen talks about the importance of restraint and keeping some air in a recording so it breathes. That's his basic approach throughout The Nearer It Was … The Farther It Became (out now), a moody set of songs incorporating Gergen's weary, sometimes wobbly voice and his atmospheric, distant guitar lines. "The Streets I'm Walkin' " and "Love Blues #11" are worth checking out.

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* Corinne Bailey RaeThe Love EP (Capitol)

Roughly a year after the release of Corinne Bailey Rae's second full-length studio album, The Sea, comes this five-song set of cover tunes. The Love EP (out Jan. 25) is an interesting and mostly rewarding mix highlighted by a fun version of Prince's "I Wanna Be Your Lover" and a sensual, sparse rendition of the Wings ballad "My Love" (during which Bailey Rae successfully channels the late Minnie Ripperton).

— By Chris M. Junior

January 13, 2011

LUCY BILLINGS: January 2011 Spotlight Artist

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The back story: Lucy Billings was raised in Arizona and wrote her first song at age 10. Open Air, her debut album, was released in 2006. Currently based in Northern California, Billings holds down an interesting day job. She’s a licensing lawyer, and writing contracts every day enables her "to be adept at getting words on the page and editing and then deciding if they capture what I want to convey.” She adds, "I think this discipline has enhanced my songwriting and having song melody as a scaffold for the lyrics makes the writing even more fun."

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Her latest: No Other Road (due Jan. 18), available on Sassy Time Records.

Notable collaborators: John Jennings, best known for his work with singer/songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter, is Billings’ right-hand man on No Other Road, serving as producer, playing a variety of instruments and adding harmony vocals as well. Also appearing on Billings’ latest is pedal-steel guitarist Lloyd Maines, father of Dixie Chicks frontwoman Natalie Maines.

Album verdict: Jennings employs the same natural, gentle touch that he’s used on Carpenter’s albums to the 12 Billings originals on No Other Road. It turned out to be a smart move because Billings, like Carpenter, sings with warmth and restraint, and she takes a similar economical approach to songwriting. “Let’s Not and Say We Did,” the album opener, was inspired by something Billings’ mother would say to her in her formative years, and Billings uses the phrase in the chorus to deal with common childhood and adult scenarios. “Rear View Mirror” tells the story of a corporate-downsizing victim, while “Daddy’s Last Drive” is about the death of Billings’ father — and to her credit, she manages to steer clear of the melodramatic in both songs.

Billings is not a Carpenter clone, though. The presence of mandolin and fiddle throughout (along with Maines’ aforementioned pedal steel) gives Billings’ music a more classic country-music sheen, and the perfect-for-dancing “Goodbye Baby” is a great example of her knowing and appreciating the finer details of the genre.

— By Chris M. Junior

January 05, 2011

TOWER OF TALENT

Jennifer O'Connor launches monthly songwriters series in Brooklyn

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It began as a discussion to play one show, then snowballed into something much bigger and different from what she had in mind.

But that's just fine with Jennifer O'Connor, who looks at her upcoming Tower of Song songwriters series as an artistic blessing of sorts.

"What is so great about this series is that it's really allowing me to stay close to home this year and work on music and play shows and work on [my new] record," she says.

Originally, O’Connor was in talks to do a gig at The Rock Shop in her home base of Brooklyn, N.Y. Then the idea developed into a show that included other artists, "like a songwriters-in-the-round kind of thing," she explains, "but with a little bit more of an indie-rock element to it."

From there, it morphed into a monthly series that she would host and curate, featuring a mix of performances and discussions about songwriting.

And so Tower of Song, which begins Jan. 11 and will feature Chris Brokaw (Come, The New Year), Amy Bezunartea (Clint Michigan) and Tim Foljahn (Two Dollar Guitar, Cat Power), was born. O'Connor says she's always been a big fan of Inside the Actors Studio and the Elvis Costello-hosted Spectacle, and her series is somewhat inspired by those TV shows.

The basic format for each edition of Tower of Song is that O'Connor might sing or play guitar on somebody else's songs, and vice versa, with some banter about the creative process intertwined.

"I think it will be fairly natural to play our songs and talk about them," she says, "and I will figure out as I go along how and what to focus on, interview-wise."

For the Jan. 11 edition, all four participants will get together ahead of time to work out some material that they can play together. And for each edition of the monthly series, there will be a songwriting assignment, O'Connor says, in which she and the others will have to write a new song for the gig based on a shared parameter that the group comes up with in advance.

O'Connor says she plans to play a few of her new tunes during the series, and those songs may end up on her upcoming album, which is still in the early stages.

"I have written a ton of songs and have recorded demos of all of them, [along with] one or two 'real' versions that will probably end up on the record," she says. "But I'm still writing. I have done some recording at Nuthouse in Hoboken [N.J.] with Tom Beaujour, and I will do more there I'm sure, as well as at a few other studios possibly. I may float around for this one; I’m not totally sure yet."

As far as a label home for the album, she says, that’s also up in the air.

"I may release it myself on Kiam, my label that has been growing pretty rapidly as of late, or I may look for another label to help out," O'Connor says.

— By Chris M. Junior