As we transition from summer to fall, I think it’s only appropriate that we kick summer’s angry ass out the door Adios Lounge style. Here’s a compilation of music that’s helped keep me sane during a summer of continuous 100+ degree weather. I think it’s a good mix of soul and rock, but those designations are a bit loose. The soul stuff rocks and the rock stuff has soul, so everyone wins. Incidentally, if someone asked you what the Adios Lounge sounds like, you could probably do worse than send them this mix.
Download playlist as zip file (16 songs, 1:01:40, 116 MB)
1. Amy Winehouse – Valerie [acoustic] (2007)
If it wasn’t for the self-loathing, drug dependency, stage fright, and Hindenburg-esque career arc, Amy Winehouse would be sitting pretty. But hey, the Adios Lounge is all about reclamation projects, so let us not give up on the Dickensian crack ho just yet. Girl has a hell of a voice, an instrument that here reminds me a bit of Dinah Washington. The guitar accompaniment is simple, but excellent, yet it’s Amy’s phrasing and interpretation that transforms a perfectly average pop song into what sounds like a Curtis Mayfield song. How she got Curtis MF’in Mayfield outta The Zutons’ original is nothing short of genius. I hear theirs and think “RIYL: Huey Lewis & The News.”
2. Curtis Mayfield – Give It Up (1970)
Only Curtis Mayfield can make a song about a husband leaving his wife and kids sound like a silky anthem of devotion. The final song on Mayfield’s solo debut, Curtis (pictured right), the album stands as one of soul music’s most essential recordings. “Give It Up” has a gorgeous arrangement, weaving together multiple instruments, lush orchestration, sophisticated rhythms, and gospel-style vocal harmonies. Just another day in the studio for Curtis Mayfield.
3. Little Feat – Join The Band (1977) > Gourds – Sweet Nutty (2003)
Lowell George leads Little Feat through doo-wop street corner harmonizing, which you may recognize as the beginning of Waiting For Columbus. The Feat are followed by The Gourds, who don’t just join the band, they turn into The Band. Claude Bernard’s organ carries the haunting melody from Big Pink to South Austin, Max Johnston’s banjo ably filling in the space around said organ. Keith Langford (drums) and Jimmy Smith (bass) lay back into a steady rhythm, while Kevin Russell, like George before him, leads the band into a “join the band” singalong. Will the circle be unbroken?
4. Cat Power – Aretha, Sing One For Me (2008)
I think this song was voted “Most Likely To Be Dressed as Exile On Main Street for Halloween.” Cat Power — aka Chan Marshall (pictured left with Johnny) and The Dirty Delta Blues Band — improve immeasurably on the George Jackson original simply by virtue of being a superior recording. Maybe it’s my vinyl pressing, but Jukebox has a dry, deep sound befitting the funky soul jams therein. Marshall’s vocals are great throughout (though I could see her being someone you basically love or hate), Judah Bauer on Keef guitar is solid, and Gregg Foreman on organ is also solid. But, the star of the show is drummer Jim White. Hot damn. He has a heavy, full sound, but plays with a light touch, pushing and pulling against the beat like a great R&B drummer. A total badass. I need to hear more of this guy’s stuff.
5. Aretha Franklin – A Change Is Gonna Come (1967)
“When Martin Luther King was killed, Rosa Parks was sitting at home with her mother, and in the midst of their tears, holding each other and rocking back and forth, they played ‘A Change Is Gonna Come.’ Sam’s smooth voice, she said, was like medicine to the soul. It was as if Dr. King was speaking directly to me.”
–Douglas Brinkley, Rosa Parks: A Life, p. 205
Here’s Aretha at her 1967 peak, covering her beloved mentor and indeed, old friend, Sam Cooke. As she is wont to do — and in opposition to the carefully orchestrated original — Aretha takes “Change” to church, turning it into the hymn it was all along. While you can’t go wrong with any of Otis Redding‘s covers, I think this recording stands alone as the greatest Sam Cooke cover of all-time.
Incidentally, “Change” features the organ-playing of Spooner Oldham, FAME-d session man who 40 years later, would guest on a track or two for Cat Power’s Jukebox album. There’s that damn circle again.
6. Sam Cooke – That’s Where It’s At (1963)
Sam’s most underrated song structurally mirrors (and I think equals) the majestic call-and-response of “Bring It On Home To Me.” However, where “Bring It” was led by the melody and forward-moving drumming, “That’s Where It’s At” is carried by Harper Cosby’s loping bass and drummer June Gardner‘s funky pocket. Meanwhile, Sam harmonizes not with Lou Rawls, but with himself. Interestingly, this song marks the one and only time Sam Cooke recorded with his own band (August 20, 1963), which included guitarist/bandleader, Cliff White, and 19-year-old second guitarist, Bobby Womack.
7. Sir Douglas Quintet – Lawd, I’m Just A Country Boy In This Great Big Freaky City (1969)
“Thought I’d stroll on up to Haight-Ashbury
There’s a whole bunch of things I wanted to see
Met little girls with strange notions
Went to the doctor he gave me funny potions
Sure did mess up my mind.”
The sound of Doug Sahm inventing the cosmic cowboy. That he invented this state of mind while repatriated in San Francisco makes sense. Doug got chased out of Texas because of the funny smoke, so where else is a long-haired freaky hippie gonna go in 1966? Right. San Francisco gave Sahm freedom, which by 1969 was just another word for “strange days and funny vibrations.” Two years later, Doug would return to Austin and in so doing recalibrate the Tex-Mex musical axis.
Musically, “Lawd” is basically a country blues, with Augie Meyers‘ western swing-style piano flourishes, and a slightly out-of-phase guitar that weirdly complements the barrelhouse piano. The guitar could be Sahm, but Doug calls out to “Charlie” and the guitar responds, so who knows? A great song that should get more love.
8. Dexateens – Some Things (2007)
It’s like the good parts of the Drive-By Truckers married to a Faces song. And while I never get tired of the pedal steel and hard twang heard here, their live show is a rawk onslaught not to be missed. Be forewarned, they’re loud. They’re not necessarily loud because they’re turning their amps up — though that is certainly true — they’re loud because they’ve spent years playing together, learning how to use their musical space correctly. But yeah, they fuckin’ rock.
9. Li’l Cap’n Travis – 3.2 Beer Of Love (2004)
I love this tune, which sounds like a refugee from Neil Young‘s On The Beach, though probably not so much lyrically, what with zero dune buggy or Agnew references. The Neil feel isn’t too surprising since I once saw the Cap’n, Grand Champeen, and Okkervil River collectively cover On The Beach, Tonight’s The Night, and Zuma, in chronological sequence from “Walk On” to “Through My Sails.” Now, THAT’S a recording worth finding.
For more Neil, check out Six Degrees: Headed For The Ditch
10. Vulture Whale – Sugar (2009)
My favorite discovery of 2009, Vulture Whale was my summer soundtrack, aka “Summer 2009: The Dehydrationing.” I wrote about these guys a couple months back, comparing elements of this song to Archers Of Loaf and Pavement, but after another 100 or so listens it really sounds like something Johnny Thunders and David Johansen oughta be singing with the New York Dolls.
11. New York Dolls – Subway Train (1973)
Nice. BTW, if you haven’t seen the documentary about original Dolls bassist, Arthur “Killer” Kane, then quit being a lame-ass. It’s called New York Doll and it pretty much rules. Insightful, heartbreaking, inspiring, oh just watch it already before you get me all choked up.
12. Neckbones – Souls On Fire (1997)
“(‘Souls On Fire’) was written in a certain spontaneous fashion that we would sometimes do live where we’d just make up a song on the spot, and Bruce (Watson – producer) said play that again, and I think what you hear on the record is that second take where it all came together into a song. It was really one of the most wholly band written songs we ever recorded, and took place in less than 10 minutes. I think Robbie (Alexander – bass) and Forrest (Hewes – drums) started it with the bastardized Elvis riff, and I threw in the change to the bastardized Ramones chorus with Forrest following right along and setting the rhythm and fills, and Tyler (Keith – guitar) of course provided the vocal. It’s one moment in the studio I’ve always remembered fairly clearly, because it so captured the emotion that the band held for me at that time.”
–Dave Boyer, Neckbones guitarist/vocalist, to Newt Rayburn, 2007
Read full Rayburn piece, and link out to Q&As with Keith and Hewes. Insightful, thoughtful, and depressing.
Visit Neckbones on MySpace: I hate the clunky interface, too, but you get 4 songs, including the excellent “Crack Whore Blues.”
13. Reigning Sound – Tennessee (2005)
An old Carl Perkins number, “Tennessee” is a twangin celebration of the Reigning Sound‘s home state. Band leader and Stax-punk homeboy, Greg Cartwright, started the Sound in his Memphis hometown, but relocated to Asheville, North Carolina, in 2004. According to the Wiki, it says their album, “Live at Maxwell’s has a unique rough around the edges feel, not to mention it’s also the only place to find the stand out track ‘I Need You Now,’ a soulful Sam Cooke cover that allows Cartwright to pay homage to one of his favorite singers.” Why am I just finding out about this???
14. Prescott Curlywolf – Starkweather (1998)
Guitarist Rob Bernard’s high water mark in Prescott, the song is pushed along by drummer Keith Langford’s badass train beat, leavened by Bernard’s train whistle-esque yodels, and beginning at the 2:28 mark, Bernard’s double-tracked Tele accompanies the song to the furious coda. While I’m not much of a lyrics guy, I do love the various meanings inherent in this song. Starkweather is obviously a reference to the infamous serial killer, Charles Starkweather, born in Lincoln, Nebraska. Brooooce Springsteen, of course, wrote about Charles on the title track to his Nebraska album and the working title was, you guessed it, “Starkweather.” Finally, stark weather made Nebraska, if by stark weather you mean the tornadoes, blood curdling summer heat, and sheets of winter ice that hitherto have limited Nebraska’s tourism trade.
FYI: Prescott Curlywolf are reuniting for the Austin City Limits Festival, Friday, October 2! Not sure which stage and at what time, but I’ll report here as soon as I find out. Also, and perhaps more importantly, they have a piggyback gig on Wednesday, September 30, inside at Stubb’s (where the picture above left was taken), with Grand Champeen opening. This is the gig you don’t wanna miss. Barring sound problems, it promises to be epic.
15. Slobberbone – Haze Of Drink (1997)
I don’t give a damn what your friends might say
I don’t care what they think
When I’m lost in the haze of drink.”
Slobberbone came up with Prescott in the mid-’90s and were briefly labelmates at Doolittle Records. However, unlike P-Wolf, Slobberbone went on to earn a measure of semi-success before breaking up in 2005. Hold the phone, though, because the ‘Bone appears to be back. They reunited for a pair of shows in February, reunited for a short tour up the I-35 corridor in August, and now there’s reports (and rumors) of future gigs in the southern and the midwest states. If you didn’t see ’em the first time around, for the love of God, don’t F it up this time. “Haze” is one of my favorites, invariably a highlight any time it’s played live, and representative of the rock, not alt.country, band they always were.
16. Grand Champeen – Cowboy Song (2006)
Great song or greatest song ever??? Here’s Champeen in their live element, tackling the Thin Lizzy classic, threatening to fly off the rails, but never doing so. For a band with about 200 “best” covers, this one can’t be any worse than #3.
17. Glossary – Blood On The Knobs [acoustic] (2007)
We began with the acoustic guitar and so we end there. Glossary are kind of an anomaly, in that their music is almost classic rock, but it doesn’t sound dated or horribly derivative. In that sense they’re a kind of successor to Blue Mountain, whose southern roots-rock was similarly timeless. For anyone like me, in their 30s or early 40s, having seen shows for around 20 years, “Blood On The Knobs” is both a statement of purpose and an elegy to a younger man’s game.
“15 years growin’ up in bars,
Sleepin’ on floors, playin’ cheap guitars, oh I’m
Still holdin’ on to rock ‘n’ roll.”
Keep holdin’ on to rock ‘n’ roll, brothers and sisters.