Madeleine Peyroux sings Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen & Hank Williams

Charisma is hard to define but easy to recognise.

It’s nothing to do with how loud you shout or how sharp you dress.

No. If present it surrounds the possessor like a solar corona that exerts invisible influence on distant objects.

Madeleine Peyroux has a charisma that is insistently present in her recordings and in performance.

When Madeleine sings she doesn’t come at you like a full force gale. Rather, standing still and singing softly she invites you to still yourself, lean in and listen closely.

She selects songs that have emotional depth; songs that resonate with our lived experience and our dreamscapes, songs that never let us go, songs that no matter how many times heard always retain a core of unfathomable mystery.

Songs a true singer can sing over and over again because they continue to engage the person and the performer.

Madeleine had a peripatetic bohemian childhood and adolescence taking in Canada, France, England and the USA.

Her parents were radical academics who had a record collection which exposed her to Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller, Hank Williams, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen.

As she was beginningto play guitar she was struck by the self possessed quiet authority of Tracy Chapman.

While living and busking in Paris as a teenager she encountered the Chanson tradition through the works of Josephine Baker and Edith Piaf.

All very good preparation for taking on songs by the greatest songwriters of the 20th  century!

Embed from Getty Images

 

Let’s start with her languorously hypnotic take on Leonard Cohen’s, ‘Dance Me To The End of Love’.

 

Now, it’s immediately obvious that Madeleine swings.

She feels where the beat is and chooses when and how to engage with it.

She’s both above and within the song slyly pausing and eliding notes to emphasise the ritual cadences of Leonard’s lyric.

She’s barefoot dancing through the song, her voice burning incandescently as like the homeward dove she leads us safely through the suppressed panic till we’re safely gathered in.

Safely gathered in.

In a sense every song Madeleine sings becomes a tent of shelter against the cruelties of the world both for herself and through her singing for her audience.

For the duration of the spell cast no matter how threadbare our spiritual and emotional raiment we are given glimpses of wholeness and redemptive hope.

You can bet that Leonard laboured long and hard to write, ‘Dance Me To The End of Love’ juts as you can safely assume that Bob Dylan received, ‘You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go’ as a more or less direct transmission from his extravagant Muses.

The miraculous flow of the song is Bob at his Olympian best entrancing us with his sensuous mastery of language.

The song is a tapestry of images strartling in their freshness, beauty and tenderness.

It would be idle to pick out individual lines in a song which has such imaginative, lyrical and musical unity.

Madeleine gives the song  a highly attentive reading so that time seems to meander and eddy as we listen.

 

Perhaps the gretest Songwriting Forefather for both Bob and Leonard was the one and only Hank WIlliams.

Hank is dead for 60 years now.

But, of course though Hank is dead he will never be gone.

For Hank wrote songs that speak with shocking intimacy to the bare forked animal inside every one of us.

The snow falls round the window and dream worlds fall apart.

Fall apart.

Oh God forgive us if we cry.

Forgive us if we cry.

Madeleine knows that with a Hank Williams song only minimal ornamentation is required. Hank has put so much feeling in the song that to sing it truly is to become a Medium channeling his spirit.

 

 

I’m going to leave you with a grand cadeu for the New Year.

Madeleine paying homage to Josephine Baker and the Chanson tradition with a song from 1930 written by Vincent Scotto, Henri Varna and Geo Koger.

Now wasn’t that pure pleasure!

Madeleine has had an erratic recording career. It’s clear from my choices above that I have  a particular fondness for her, ‘Careless Love’ album.

Yet, every record she has made will surely repay your interest as she illuminates a treasury of great songs within Jazz, Blues, Country, Folk and Chanson.

Load up your Jukeboxes!

Smiley Lewis, Dave Edmunds & The Strypes : I Hear You Knocking

A Commander of an intergalactic Starship looking at the map of our Solar System would probable observe that there was one major Planet – Jupiter – accompanied by 7 minor ones.

Jupiter is immense.

The Earth would fit into Jupiter some three hundred times.

And, while we delight in a single Moon to light our nights Jupiter holds over 60 Moons in thrall.

Now some of the Moons of Jupiter, though small in comparison to their parent Planet, are fascinating  worlds in their own right.

Galileo discovered the four major Moons of Jupiter in 1610 and ever since we have yearned to know more about Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.

The satellites of a Planet as important as Jupiter merit close attention and analysis.

As in Astronomy so in Musicology!

In New Orleans in the 1950s there was one giant presence dominating the musical universe – Antoine Fats Domino!

Fats was universally loved.

While he was the Pharoah of his Hometown scene he was also musical royalty from Alaska to Albuquerque from Lima to Liverpool.

In his 1950s heyday he sold records not just in the millions but in the tens of millions.

While Fats’ sound conquered the known world back home in New Orleans a series of lesser lights, satellite talents, made their own distinctive and impressive contributions to the history of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Preeminent, to my mind, amongst these Moons to Fats’ Jupiter, was Overton Amos Lemons known to the wide world as Smiley Lewis.

Smiley, who got his monicker due to two missing front teeth, was born near Lake Charles Louisina in 1913.

As a teenager he hopped a freight train and made his way to the Crescent City where he knew all the action was for someone ambitious to make a career in Music.

Smiley knew he could really play the guitar and he just knew that put before a microphone he had  a voice that could seduce, serenade and stir an audience until they screamed for more!

Serving an apprenticeship with Tuts Washington he honed his performing skills in the clubs of the French Quarter.

With Tuts he played in the House Band at the Boogie Woogie Club for WW2 troops stationed at Fort Polk.

When the War ended Smiley, Tuts and drummer Herman Seals formed a trio that went down a storm in New Orleans.

Starting out with Deluxe records Smiley found his recording stride when he hooked up in 1950 with the multi talented Kingpin of New Orleans music – Dave Bartholomew at Imperial Records.

From then on throughout the decade Smiley Smiley produced a series of influential, superbly sung and played Rhythm and Blues and Rock ‘n Roll records.

While he never sold more than 100,00 copies on any any of these fine records he was listened to closely by Fats himself as well as Elvis Presley and the sharp eared Rock ‘n’ Roll fanatics in Britain like Paul McCartney and Dave Edmunds.

Smiley made a lot of records everyone should know.

At a minimum everyone should know his, ‘Tee-Nah-Nah’, ‘Bells Are Ringing’, ‘One Night (Of Sin)’ and ‘Shame, Shame, Shame’.

But, he made only one record that Everyone Knows.

From 1955 The Immortal, ‘I Hear You Knocking’.

File:Smiley Lewis.jpg

The terrific triplet piano comes courtesy of another Fats Domino satellite – Huey Smith.

Dave Bartholomew claimed the writing credit and supplied production smarts and the studio band.

Get ready to sing a long … ‘You went away and left me long time ago ..’

The one and only Smiley Lewis!

 

 

Confession – I’ve been known to pump fistfuls of coins into a Jukebox to ensure this plays 10 times in a row so everybody, everybody, knows how great Smiley Lewis was!

I love the stately tempo here and the supreme relaxed authority of Smiley’s vocal which seems to draw us after him like tugboats in the wake of a mighty steamer.

The Rhythm Section and the Horns mesh perfectly with Huey’s stellar piano and provide the perfect platform for Smiley to glide over.

This record sounded glorious in 1955 and it will always do so.

Fifteen years after Smiley recorded it another true Rocker, Dave Edmunds, was casting about for a classic from the 50s that he could turbo charge with his blistering guitar and scintillating production skills.

His first thought was Wilbert Harrison’s ‘Let’s Work Together but he found himself beaten to the shellac by Canned Heat.

Then a bell rang – surely, ‘I Hear You Knocking’ had the same rhythm and making guitar the featured instrument instead of piano might make for an incendiary sound!

Once the idea hit home it was ‘just’ a matter of Dave putting in the hours playing all the instruments, piping his vocal down a telephone line and compressing the sound at his home from home Welsh studio – Rockfield –  and Voila you have an unstoppable hit.

Let’s Do It!

 

Its very common for musicians to cover the classic works of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Forefathers like Smiley Lewis but the electric soul thrilling wonder of those records is very rarely captured decades later.

Dave Edmunds take on ‘I Hear You Knocking’ is the exception that proves the rule.

Having made such a record with evident love and devotion Dave had every right to namecheck Fats Domino, Huey Smith, Chuck Berry and Smiley Lewis and consider himself part of their lineage.

Don’t just take my word for it.

John Lennon was a Rocker to the tips of his Bootheels.

When he heard  Dave Edmunds version he said, ‘I always liked simple Rock. There’s a great one in England now, ‘I Hear You Knocking’.

John Knew.

And, Praise Be! such a great song still finds a ready audience in musicians who have had that epiphany experience of truly encountering the treasures laid down by the 50s Pioneers.

I’m closing out with Jukebox favourites, The Strypes, who seem to have a direct line to the spirit of those Pioneers.

I hear you knocking … I hear you knocking ….

 

 

Notes :

There are numerous compilations of Smiley Lewis’ hits.

As usual the best set for deep divers like myself is provided by Bear Family. Their superb, 4CD ‘Shame, Shame, Shame’ is pure treasure.

Jeff Hannusch is a deeply knowledgeable writer on Smiley and the New Orleans scene. His book, ‘I Hear You Knocking’ is highly recommended.

As is John Broven’s ‘Rhythm & Blues In New Orleans’.

Immortal Jukebox on the Radio!

Just before Christmas I was contacted, out of the blue, by Nessy Mon (Vanessa Monaghan) who hosts a radio show for the Irish National Broadcaster RTE.

Nessy’s show is on RTE2XM and is called, ‘The London Ear’.

It’s core audience is the large London Irish community.

Nessy told me that she was a long time fan of The Immortal Jukebox and generously invited me onto her show to talk about my background and the history of The Immortal Jukebox.

I was delighted to accept her invitation and was very pleased that I was given so much time on the show.

In addition to our discussion the show also features Jukebox favourites Van Morrison singing, ‘Brand New Day’ and Roy Orbison crooning, ‘Pretty Paper’

I thought my core audience would like to listen in!

The link below should take you to the show – my section starts from 24 minutes and runs for about 25 minutes.

 

http://rte.ie/r.html?rii=18_10814122_7879_16-12-2017

 

Should the link not work for you try this alternative method :

Download the free RTE Player App from your App Store

From the Home Page select change Station

Then select RTE2XM

Then select listen back and scroll to 16 December

Then scroll down and select The London Ear at 13.00

Then scroll to 24 Minutes in and Voila! My dulcet tones should soon appear.

Thanks again to Nessy for hosting The Jukebox.

Please feel free to comment and share!

 

Notes:

Nessy Mon on Twitter :

@nessymon

@TheLondonEar

Website :

nessymon.com

RTE2XM on Twitter @RTE2XM

Website : 2XM.rte.ie

Sandy Denny : Who Knows Where The Time Goes

 

Darkness.  Darkness.  Darkness.

Silence.  Stillness.  Stasis.

BANG!

Light.  Space.  Time.

Travelling towards Darkness again.

Love the Light.

Love the Light.

Treasure the Time.

Treasure the Time.

Who knows where the Time goes.

It’s not dark yet. But it’s getting there.

Across the evening sky all the birds are leaving.

Who knows where the time goes

Who knows where the time goes.

If I ventured in the slipstream.

The bloom hung along the bough.

Each Spring a miracle.

How many more?

How many more?

Love the Light.

Love the Light.

Treasure the Time.

Treasure the Time.

It’s not dark yet – but it’s getting there.

Who knows where the time goes.

Kids out in the street collecting bottle tops.

Dry your eye. Say Goodbye. Wonder why.

Nothing but a stranger in this World.

At my back I hear …

Sad deserted Shore.

Who knows where the Time goes.

Who knows where the Time goes.

 

Soft sift in an Hourglass.

Soft sift.

Come the storms of Winter.

The days are hastening on.

Hastening on.

Love the Light.

Love the Light.

Treasure the Time.

Treasure the Time.

Who knows where the Time goes.

 

In the beginning was the Word.

Through a glass darkly.

Now and at the hour of our death.

Now and at the hour of our death.

Is now and ever shall be.

Is now and ever shall be.

Love the Light.

Love the Light.

Treasure the Time.

Treasure the Time.

It’s not dark yet – but it’s getting there.

Before the Winter fire.

The swift flight of the Sparrow.

The swift flight of the Sparrow.

Ye know not when the Time Is.

Who knows where the Time goes.

Who knows where the Time goes.

 

Notes :

Who Knows Where The Time Goes was the second song Sandy Denny ever wrote.

It will outlast The Pyramids.

The first version featured here is the classic version to be found on the Fairport Convention     Album, ‘Unhalfbricking’ from 1969.

This is one of those recordings that has a magic which cannot be analysed only surrendered to.

Sandy’s vocal and Richard Thompson’s Guitar outshine the stars.

The second version is a searching solo version for the John Peel radio show.

The third version was recorded during Sandy’s brief tenure with The Strawbs.

It has a tremulous charm that will never leave you once heard.

In writing this Post I found myself crafting a patchwork quilt of poems, prayers and songs that called out to me as I listened to, ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’.

So proper acknowledgement should be offered to:

The King James Bible, The Venerable Bede, A E Houseman, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Andrew Marvell, Bob Dylan and Van Morrison.

The first image that appeared was that of ‘The Flight of The Sparrow’ from Bede’s  great work, History of The English People’ – a Book that is one of the glories of Civilisation.

I recently completed a once every 40 years ‘thinning out’ of my bookshelves with some 800 volumes sent to my favourite Charity.

I still kept 3 editions of Bede.

Through the wonders of the Internet I found this reading in Old English which now echoes in my mind.

Across the Centuries there is a telling here about the mysteries of  life and time that still calls out to us today.

Contemplative Christmas 1

And breathe!

To initiate the contemplative mood I turn to the contemporary Estonian Composer, Arvo Part with his luminous, liminal setting of Mary’s eternal prayer, ‘The Magnificat’.

Part has been labelled a Minimalist and a retro Medievalist.

I prefer to think of him as having the gift to make time past, time present and time future bloom before us through his music.

When Kathleen Ferrier recorded, ‘Das Lied von der Erde’ the shadow of death was looming over her.

This is music making of the very highest order.

Here Kathleen Ferrier does not so much perform a song as become the song.

The rare emotional reach of her extraordinary voice bringing flesh and spirit to Mahler’s masterwork touches something very deep and unnameable within humanity.

Bill Evans was the supreme lyric poet of the piano.

Listening to Bill’s unique sense of musical time and weight I find my spirit awakened, refreshed and released.

‘Blue in Green’ showcases the amazing precision and delicacy of his touch as a musician.

He is always instantly recognisable – the hallmark of true greatness.

This version of what has become a Jazz standard is from the Christmas 1959 session issued as, ‘Portrait in Jazz’.

You have to believe in telepathy when you hear Bill Evans play with Scott LaFaro (bass) and Paul Motion (drums)

This trio remains the benchmark for all piano trios.

 

From the Hebrides.

The Christ Child’s Lullaby or Taladh Chriosda in Scots Gaelic is full to the brim with maternal feeling for the vulnerable new born.

Mother and child, once one, now two, create together a sacred space where love and mutual regard dwells.

The standing stone vocals of Mae McKenna and Mairi Macinnes, switching fluently between languages, supported by the pellucid instrumental playing of William Jackson and Tony McManus casts a timeless spell.

 

 

 

Now Heart stilling music composed by one of the most extraordinary figures of the Middle Ages (indeed of all Ages!).

Hildegard of Bingen was a Benedictine Abbess whose haunting compositions refelect her mystical experiences and her philosophical beliefs.

I vividly recall the first time I heard this music in Tower Records at Piccadilly Circus in London. As the gorgeous vocal lines enchanted me I knew, at once, that this record would be a life time companion. And so it has proved.

The majestic soprano Emma Kirkby wonderfully complemented by The Gothic Voices under the direction of Christopher Page takes us into mystical terrain where every hair is numbered like every grain of sand.

Terrain where Hildegard’s vision of herself as a feather on the breath of God makes perfect sense.

We are all feathers on the breath of God.

Christmas Alphabet : M for Joni Mitchell – River

It’s coming on Christmas.

They’re playing, ‘Jingle Bells’ and, ‘White Christmas’ in the shopping malls.

A marching Salvation Army brass band wrings the heart with, ‘In The Bleak Winter’.

There’s a tree dressed in tinsel and flickering lights in the Town Square.

Someone said the Reindeer are arriving soon.

Words like Holy, Saviour, Joy and Peace fill the Winter air.

Yet, yet, for some Christmas is not a time of unalloyed Joy.

It’s a time when, whether you want to or not, you’re reminded of Christmases past and the past that haunts your present and is sure to haunt your future.

What happened to the dreams of the 6 year old who believed in the magic of Christmas with all their heart?

The child who whooped with delight as they left crazy spiralling tracks all across the freshly fallen snow?

What became of all those promises the 16 year old made about the world they were going to make – once they were in charge.

It takes time to learn how easy it was to make promises and how hard they are to keep.

How hard to keep.

When you look in the mirror it’s not hard to see someone sad and selfish.

Someone who has made themselves hard to handle.

Someone who is responsible for tears beyond their own.

Tears beyond their own.

The snow when it falls from the sky covers a multitude of sins.

A multitude.

No snow now.

Hard wet ground.

Oh, oh, I wish I had a River I could skate away on.

A river so long my feet would fly, fly, fly.

A river to skate away from all the burdens of the years.

A river to skate away from all the flowing tears.

A river to skate away on.

Away, away, away.

Joni Mitchell from her career peak Record, ‘Blue’.

River is a song that speaks to the grief and loneliness many people experience at Christmas.

Grief for the loss of loved ones to death.

Grief for the loss of a secure self.

Grief for the casualties of this crazy scene.

Grief for the loss of a place that was your Home.

Loneliness remembering severed Love.

Loneliness remembering severed Friendship.

Grief and loneliness and longing to escape miraculously captured in the heart clutching beauty of Joni Mitchell’s voice each time she sings the word, ‘fly’.

Oh to skate away into the cauterising cold air over the frozen river.

To skate away.

To skate away.

To skate away.

Christmas Alphabet : T for Tom Waits – Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis

Last month I went, for the fourth time, to see Conor Macpherson’s modern masterpiece Play ‘The Weir’.

It’s a comic tragedy or a tragic comedy depending on your point of view.

The whole action of the Play takes place on a single evening in an Irish rural bar.

As the drinks flow the four characters tell, in sequential monologue form, riveting stories imbued with puzzled pain, aching regret and unending longing.

Strings break in Heaven.

As each story unfolds more is revealed by the tale than the teller had ever expected.

By the end of the play though they are raw from the experience there is a shared sense of catharsis and, almost miraculously, a feeling that the surrounding darkness is pierced by rays of light and fragile hope.

The search for that fragile hope is one of the main reasons we tell stories – both to others and to ourselves.

As I drove home a song began to play in my head.

A song that is a comic tragedy or a tragic comedy depending on your point of view.

A song of puzzled pain that tells more about the teller than ever anticipated.

A song filled with aching regret and unending longing.

A song that breaks strings in Heaven.

A song that has achieved a sense of catharsis by its conclusion.

A song that, almost miraculously, ends on a note of fragile hope.

A song that takes place at Christmas Time when even the most cynical like to believe in Hope – however faintly it glimmers.

A song by a supreme storyteller.

Tom Waits.

‘Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis’.

Now, aint that just Grand!

Tom Waits, in this freewheeling pre Swordfish Trombones period, wore a baggy coat with pockets stuffed with the works of John Fante, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Charles Bukowski and Alan Ginsberg.

Playing in his head were the recordings of Lenny Bruce, Lord Buckley, Howling Wolf, Bob Dylan and Hank Williams.

He had pretty much taken up residence on the Lost Highway.

Because, of course, it’s the best way to see the Moon and Stars clearly and to find out what kind of storyteller you might become.

Tom Waits became the kind of storyteller who could make you gasp, make you laugh out loud and then cry hot tears as his crazy lyrical stories unfolded.

A Tom Waits song makes you relish the details.

I love the way while the piano rolls meanderingly along the lyric seems to spontaneously emerge out of thin air.

The use of ‘And’ and, ‘Hey’ to kick off each exhalation of thought and invention gives the song a tremendous immediacy.

Hey Charley I’m pregnant
and living on 9-th street
right above a dirty bookstore
off Euclid avenue

It’s important that the song is addressed to a specific person.

It’s thinking of that person, that one person, who might, just might, make it all right again, that makes a person put pen to paper.

And you should always kick off with the news that’ll make the reader sit bolt upright and want to read on.

Read on.

And I stopped taking dope
and I quit drinking whiskey
and my old man plays the trombone
and works out at the track

You want to convince Charley and yourself that things have changed.

They really have changed.

You’ve changed.

Those vices you shared are memories now.

And, you found a guy.

A guy who plays the trombone and brings the dollar bills home.

And he says that he loves me
even though its not his baby
and he says that he’ll raise him up
like he would his own son

And, hey .. a guy who won’t let you down.

Not like all the other Guys.

A guy who will raise up your unborn son – even though he’s not his own son.

And, he gave me a ring
that was worn by his mother
and he takes me out dancin
every saturday nite.

Now, Charley knows somewhere in his heart that there’s no woman who ever lived who doesn’t want their Darling to give them a ring that was worn by his Mother.

And, Hey, whatever anyone tells you there ain’t no feeling better than goin’ out dancin’ on a Saturday Night – just the two of you.

Just the two of you.

And, I still have that record
of Little Anthony & The Imperials
but someone stole my record player
how do you like that?

When you’re lost and you think you’re going out of your head and your heart’s about to jump right out of your chest you can’t help but remember those old songs.

There are some songs you’ll never get out of your head.

Little Anthony with the soaring voice.

Tears on my pillow, pain in my heart, caused by you, you

If we could start anew, I wouldn’t hesitate
I’d gladly take you back, and tempt the hand of fate
Tears on my pillow, pain in my heart, caused by you

Wo oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh

Wo oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh

Wo oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh

hey Charley … I went back to Omaha to
live with my folks

Charley knows, like you do, that you can never really go back to the home you grew up in.

If you ever had a reason to leave you’re never going to be happy back in Omaha.

And, hey, you had so many reasons to leave.

Reasons to leave.

and I wish I had all the money
that we used to spend on dope
I’d buy me a used car lot
and I wouldn’t sell any of em

I’d just drive a different car
every day dependin on how
I feel.

You and Charley, his hair all slicked back with grease used to drive with the top down at ninety miles an hour on the two lane blacktop.

And, hey, wouldn’t it be great if you had all that wasted cash and could roll down the highway every day in a different car.

Just the two of you.

You can almost feel the warm air caressing you both.

Dreams are like that.

Dreams are like that.

Sometimes dreams are all that can keep you going.

All that can keep you going.

hey Charley
for chrissakes
do you want to know
the truth of it?

I don’t have a husband
he don’t play the trombone

and I need money to pay this lawyer

But. But. It takes a lot of energy to dream.

And, hey, sometimes you just don’t have the strength anymore.

Just don’t have the strength.

So, you breathe deep and let it out.

Let it out.

All of it.

The blood and the guts and the tears.

And, hey, you find yourself saying the thing you promised yourself you’d never say.

The thing you promised yourself you’d never say.

and Charley, hey
I’ll be eligible for parole
come valentines day.