My last post was about Elton John’s Jewel Box collection due out in two weeks, but this past Friday Joni Mitchell beat him to the market with a 5-disk box set of her own. Joni Mitchell Archives Vol. 1: The Early Years (1963-1967) features her very earliest recordings and wraps up before the release of her first album, 1968’s Song to a Seagull.
Rolling Stone has a nice article on the box set that links to an August 1965 recording of Joni’s first original composition, “Day After Day”. Joni had been singing folk songs in cafes in her native Calgary, and this song, her vocals and guitar playing sound very much born out of that background.
Less than two years later, in March 1967, Joni recorded this performance of “Both Sides Now”. It was not long after Mitchell had written the song and about the same time Judy Collins released her Grammy Award winning version. Witness Mitchell’s rapid evolution as a writer, lyricist, singer, and musician with a unique style as you compare this performance to “Day After Day”.
Apologies to Joni for bringing up Elton John twice in her post, but since announcing his Jewel Box collection, Sir Elton put out a really special recording not included in that set. “Come Down in Time” from Tumbleweed Connection, an album celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, is a personal favorite. This jazz version apparently was recorded before the album version, and it features an extended jazz improvisation.
Last week’s post included a video from the movie “Another Day, Another Time”. Also performing in that movie was a group that somehow I’d overlooked all this time, the indie-folk duo The Milk Carton Kids.
Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan formed the group in 2011 and have released four albums, the third of which “The Ash & Clay” was nominated for a Grammy. Here they are rehearsing for the movie, playing their song “Snake Eyes” from that Grammy-nominated album. Chris Thile, Marcus Mumford (who wrote a song of the same name) and T Bone Burnett look on appreciatively. Ethan Coen tears up at the end. They’ve been compared to Simon and Garfunkel by some, and they have some deadpan fun with that.
For you Pink Floyd fans, here is a cover of a classic – Kids-style.
You may have picked up that Pattengale is a crazy good guitar picker, and this track from their Austin City Limits concert puts any doubt to rest.
If you’d like to see and hear a bit more, check out their NPR Tiny Desk Concert performance; a perfect setting for The Kids.
Before we start, a couple of notes on last night’s Grammy Awards. Happy to see Roseanne Cash take home three in the American Roots categories for “The River & The Thread” (see our earlier post), Beck take home two for “Morning Phase” (see our earlier post), and Jack White score one for “Lazaretto”.
But that’s old musical news.
Björk (she of the infamous swan dress) is a unique and esoteric vocalist with an international following, putting out top selling solo albums since 1993. Her latest, “Vulnicura” (meaning “Cure for Wounds”), was to be released in March to coincide with an exhibit on her career opening at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. But the album leaked on the internet in January, so the album dropped early. Lush with string arrangements, the album is a meditation on her breakup with American artist Matthew Barney. Spend a few minutes getting into the hypnotic feel of the album’s first track “Stonemilker”.
In a completely different vein, Rhiannon Giddens has been working with uber-producer T Bone Burnett on a few projects, including her first solo album “Tomorrow is My Turn”. The album includes covers of a number of great artists, features great backing musicians, and most of all introduces us to a great new singer. Listen to these covers of Patsy Kline and Joan Baez.
And in another completely different vein, Kandace Springs is a singer and pianist bringing a soul look and style that’s a little bit retro and a whole lot of fun. Check out “Love Got in the Way” from her eponymous debut EP. Then, to tie back to last night’s Grammy’s, listen to her cover of Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” which won him Record of the Year and Song of the Year.
Two critically acclaimed rock music documentaries hit the screen in 2012, raising the profile of important musicians of years gone by – both with ties to South Africa.
Jay Bulger won the 2012 South by Southwest Film Festival Grand Prize for “Beware of Mr. Baker” about the life of rock drum innovator and legend Ginger Baker. Bulger lived at Baker’s ranch in South Africa for months, interviewing him for the movie. Check out the trailer and then watch Baker play with Nigerian musicians, a phase of Baker’s life chronicled in the movie.
Malik Bendjelloul’s “Searching for Sugar Man” won numerous awards in 2012 and is nominated for a 2013 Oscar. The documentary follows two South Africans who set out to investigate what became of Sixto Rodriguez, an obscure American folk singer from Detroit whose songs became anthemic among whites involved in South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement.
See the film trailer (you have to click through to YouTube?) then listen to the tune that inspired the movie title from Rodriguez’s first album.
The opening track on John Mayer’s folk-tinged 2012 album “Born and Raised” is titled “Queen of California”. The lyrics reference “Looking for the sun that Neil Young hung / After the gold rush of 1971”. And hoping “there’s another color waiting for me” he recalls that “Joni wrote ‘Blue’ in a house by the sea”. Let John set it up for you, then catch a 1970 performance of “California” from Joni Mitchell’s 4th album “Blue”.
Neil Young certainly has plenty in his catalog since “After the Gold Rush”, but his next album “Harvest” contained his only #1 song “Heart of Gold”. Hang in there while he fiddles around with his harmonicas.