Playing for Change – Where Have I Been?

Fifteen years ago Mark Johnson and Whitney Kroenke began filming and recording musicians around the world, mixing down their performances into what has become a decade’s worth of joyous covers.  Several zillion YouTube views, a few compilation albums and several live concerts later, I’ve finally caught on to Playing for Change.  Though clearly not conceived as an exercise in collaborating while social distancing, find some inspiration!

First up is a recent production of “The Weight”, featuring The Band’s own Robbie Robertson, Ringo Starr, and a bunch of artists I’ll be researching for weeks.

Next is the exquisite Bob Marley track, “Redemption Song”.  PfC even edited in some original Bob Marley footage.

I’ll close out with “What’s Goin’ On”, one of those songs we just need at this time. But if you’re totally digging these videos, check out what might be the first in the series, the sunny “Chanda Mama”, and a song that surprisingly always makes for great covers “Gimme Shelter“.

He’s BAAACK!

Dear friends,

After a few years with only a few posts, I’m going to take a run at getting Music Now & Then back up and running.  I know all three of my followers out there are jumping for joy!

March 2020 will unfortunately be remembered as the month so many of us around the world shut ourselves in to protect not only ourselves, but our families, our friends and our fellow citizens of this incredibly small planet from the ravages of the alien COVID 19. With new and old forms of entertainment and diversion part of the formula for keeping sane, I humbly offer my small contributions.

With so much rapid fire information – none of it good – assaulting us at this time, let’s burrow into a vein of tranquil sound to transport us to somewhere soothing and calm.   Morcheeba was formed 25 years ago by vocalist Skye Edwards and brothers Paul and Ross Godfrey.   During a seven year run they released four studio albums.  The third, Fragments of Freedom, included “The Sea”.  Relax, maybe sip a drink, and let this one wash over you.

Now go one notch mellower with “Sao Paolo” from their fourth album, Charango.

After a decade of breakups and reunions, Skye Edwards and Ross Godfrey are once agin releasing music and touring as Morcheeba.  Here is the first track from their latest album, 2018’s Blaze Away.

Thanks, Walter Becker

Those of us who have been around awhile have seen many musical heroes pass away over the last couple of years, but today’s news of Walter Becker’s death is especially personal to me.  Steely Dan was, is, and always will be my number one.

In part that’s because their coming of age between 1972’s Can’t Buy a Thrill and 1980’s Gaucho corresponded to mine, in part that the jazz filling my parent’s home when I was a child set my ear for Becker and Fagen’s complex work, and in part that my guitar hero worship was locked on the incredible solos Steely Dan teased out of guitar icons on every album.  Mostly, though, it’s because Becker and Fagen’s perfectly crafted pieces of recorded music never grow old for me no matter how many times I listen to them.

What Walter Becker and Donald Fagen each contributed to Steely Dan’s complex musical compositions, poetic and snarky lyrics, and marathon studio efforts is unknown and likely has no answer.  Like Lennon and McCartney, the fusion of Becker’s and Fagen’s talents was complete and their work permanently joins their two names.   Condolences, Donald, for losing your longtime friend and collaborator.

Walter, thanks for a soundtrack that’s brought me so much joy for many decades.   While I can call to mind pretty much every note of every track you created, I’ll send you off with the Dan’s official greatest hit.  No more pristine, perfectly crafted track was ever put on vinyl.

An A Cappella Sampler

Though I’d considered it to be the exclusive province of college students lurking under stone archways, it seems that a cappella singing is engaging the talents of a much broader range of performers these days.

Pentatonix, the Texas based quintet leading the art form’s revival, has delivered a string of hits and interesting performances since winning “The Sing-Off” on NBC in 2011. Their recent Christmas album topped the Billboard charts, and this performance with Dolly Parton of her 1973 hit is up for Best Country Duo/Group Performance at this year’s Grammy’s.

In 2013, around the same time the movie “Inside Llewyn Davis” went into wide release, an all star cast put on a concert to celebrate the film’s music. One of the songs from the movie performed at the concert was “The Auld Triangle”. The performance includes most of those on the movie soundtrack, including Chris Thile, other members of his Punch Brothers outfit, and Marcus Mumford – minus Justin Timberlake.

Professional musicians are contributing only a small fraction, it seems, of a cappella performances – as a cursory trip around YouTube suggests.  Indy Dang, an film student at the Rhode Island School of Design, has a YouTube channel with 15,000 subscribers checking out his expanding set of arrangements.   He’s not the only one making these covers of pop songs, but it’s hard to find anyone better.  Here’s his version of “Heathens” by Twenty One Pilots, a song from the soundtrack of the summer hit movie “Suicide Squad”.

No talk of a cappella singing is complete without mentioning The Persuasions. The group made it big after Frank Zappa heard them perform and booked them to open for the Mothers of Invention at Carnegie Hall in 1971. Here is their excellent version of “People Get Ready” written by Curtis Mayfield.

New Tracks from Van Morrison and Sting – and a String of Firsts

A bit more to clean up from late 2016: Sting and Van Morrison delivering new music and sounding as good as ever.

Sting released his 12th solo album “57th and 9th” in early November, and it features more rock and roll than we’ve heard from the legend in a long time.  The album title reportedly refers to an intersection he crossed daily on the way to the recording studio.  The first track released from the album was “I Can’t Stop Thinking About You”.    To recall his early rocking, listen to the first track from the first Police album.

Van Morrison released “Keep Me Singing” in September, 50 years after the release of his first album “Blowin’ Your Mind”.  That blows my mind.  Sir George Ivan Morrison has released a total of 36 studio albums in that span. That also blows my mind.  The first track released from the new album is “Every Time I See A River”.

And here is fun extra. Before going solo Van Morrison fronted the band Them. Perhaps their most memorable song was Van’s composition “Gloria”. Check out their live performance of that song, and then Patti Smith’s cover which was the first track on her first album.  The poetic lead in was Smith’s poem “Oath” and the lyrics owe a lot to the earlier cover by the Doors.