Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Nick Drake Covers

My post the other week on Nick Drake got me listening to a whole bunch of Nick Drake, but also got me listening to a whole bunch of Nick Drake covers. I had no idea that I owned so many, but I guess that is a downside of a culture where everything is available at the click of a button, you take and take and take and it becomes easy lose track of what you actually have.

I have gathered together some of my favorite Drake covers below. If you enjoy the Damien Jurado song, may I recommend you seek out the full five track 'EP' of Nick Drake songs that he made which is floating around out there. Not posted below, but also worth mentioning are Swans' cover of 'Black Eyed Dog', Elton John's Joe Boyd produced demos from 1968 and Christopher O'Riley's classical piano take on the work of Nick Drake, 'Second Grace'.

MP3: Damien Jurado - Rider On The Wheel (Nick Drake Cover)
MP3: Beck - Pink Moon (Nick Drake Cover)
MP3: Iron & Wine - Place To Be (Nick Drake Cover)
MP3: Lucinda Williams - Which Will (Nick Drake Cover)

Previously on SOTR: Nick Drake

People In A Position To Know

With the music industry in free fall and the demand for physical recorded music product declining at unprecedented speed, I have often caught myself pondering solutions that may reverse or at least slow down this trend. One idea that is hardly rocket science, but raises it's head time and again is for labels or artists to actually create a desirable product, not just musically but physically, something that can be fetishized and make you feel like you own something of some substance, something special.

A fine example of this in action is happening at PIAPTK, otherwise known as People In A Position To Know Recordings, Inc. a limited edition vinyl only record label run out of the bedroom, garage and living room of a high school teacher in Olympia, WA called Mike Dixon.

PIAPTK offer two types of records. Full press "traditional" records made in a pressing plant and lathe cut records , which are the more exciting proposition. The lathe cut records are one-off, ultra low run records, made one at a time in New Zealand by a man named Peter King. Via this process each record cut is completely unique. The desirability does not stop at the records themselves, as many of the records that PIAPTK release come in unique, painstakingly handmade packaging which has in the past ranged from individually silk-screened covers and records issued in burlap sacks to hand knitted covers. It is as though the process of manufacturing the releases becomes an extension of the artistic process of making the music, not just a function in the release cycle.

With records already released on the label from Wooden Wand, Karl Blau, Norfolk & Western and Viking Moses, amongst others, it really feels as though this kind of approach from the past holds some kind of key to the future.

People In A Position To Know Recordings on Myspace
People In A Position To Know Recordings Website

Monday, March 30, 2009

Melody Nelson

The brilliant Light In The Attic Records has just reissued Serge Gainsbourg's masterwork 'Histoire De Melody Nelson', a release which doubles as the records first ever official US release. As is usual for a Light In The Attic release, a lot of care and attention appears to have been put into the release: the CD comes with a 40 page deluxe booklet including extensive liner notes including the full lyrics (with English translations), plus a 1971 Q&A interview with Gainsbourg. The limited edition LP (2,000 copies) features notes on the album and comes in a gatefold "old school tip-on" jacket. Also available is a limited screen print (edition of 100) by Drew Christie. An image of which is at the top of this post.

MP3: Serge Gainsbourg - Valse De Melody

Serge Gainsbourg on Myspace
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Previously on SOTR: Serge Gainsbourg - Histoire de Melody Nelson

Dylan: For One Day Only

(Image credit: Bruce Davidson)

Over at bobdylan.com they are giving away a free download of a new song "Boyond Here Lies Nothin'", taken from the forthcoming album 'Together Through Life'. Be quick because the download will only be on the site until midnight on 31st March.

Bob Dylan on Myspace
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Previously on SOTR: Bob Dylan

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Family Jams

I am really excited about the forthcoming feature length documentary film 'The Family Jams'. Made by Curritick Co. mainman and part-time Vetiver member Kevin Barker the film follows Devendra Banhart, Joanna Newsom and Vetiver on their 2004 North American summer tour.

'The Family Jams' features performances by Devendra Banhart, Joanna Newsom, Vetiver, Anthony & The Johnsons, Espers, Meg Baird and Noah Georgeson's old band The Pleased.

The film will have its first public screening at the Sarasota Film Festival next month.

The Family Jams - Trailer

MP3: Kevin Barker - Amber
MP3: Vetiver - Los Pajaros Del Rio
MP3: Devendra Banhart - Canela

Kevin Barker on Myspace
Vetiver on Myspace
Devendra Banhart on Myspace
Joanna Newsom on Myspace

Previously on SOTR: Lauren Dukoff's Family
Previously on SOTR: I Must Be In A Good Place Now

Friday, March 20, 2009

Six Organs Of Admittance

I came across an interesting piece this week with Ben Chasny from Six Organs Of Admittance with some of his opinions on file sharing and what he sees as an "addiction to information" devaluing music.

In the piece Chasny tells The Quietus: "I do believe we are becoming addicted to information. You only need to look at those people who have hard drives filled with songs that they have never even listened to. They are not even collecting music. They are collecting information. And the more people become addicted to information and the faster they can obtain that information, the less they will be able to contemplate that information, and it is the contemplation of the information which makes it art".

If you have a spare few minutes, I highly recommend reading the whole piece, Chasny makes some valid points that are really of relevance for artist such as Six Organs Of Admittance, who make music that benefits from, and grows with dedication from the listener. Music that requires a degree of attention that goes beyond the transience of the current file sharing era or the blog sphere.

That said, this is the medium that we are working in and it is via this medium that Six Organs Of Admittance music has perhaps reached a wider audience than it may have previously. Some will have "collected" files of SOOA music and paid it no mind, but others will have been exposed to the music and will have paid full attention to it going on to explore their fine and rich catalog in more depth. Hopefully you will be one of the latter.

MP3: Six Organs Of Admittance - Home
MP3: Six Organs Of Admittance - Sun Has Set

Video: Six Organs Of Admittance - All You've Left

Six Organs Of Admittance on Myspace
Support The Artist. Buy.Buy.Buy.

Previously on SOTR: Wild Tigers I Have Known

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Nick Drake

Artists can become so onmi-present in our lives and psyche that it is impossible to imagine the world without their music. When this happens for me, it is difficult to get perspective on reality - for instance, in my head Damien Jurado is as famous as Tom Cruise and Bert Jansch as popular as Michael Jackson. I get surprised if I receive blank stares when I talk to people about Little Wings or Bill Fay. Most surprising however, was a conversation I had last week which elicited the response "who is Nick Drake?". Ok, my grip on reality might not be completely solid, but I thought Nick Drake was someone who most 'music fans' had at least a passing knowledge of. Well... on the off chance that my recent conversation was not a one off, I figured i'd do a post on Nick Drake.

Largely under appreciated during his lifetime (none of his three studio albums sold more than 5,000 copies upon release), Nick Drake is one of the most influential singer-songwriters of the last 50 years.

Encourage by his mother, Drake took up music at a young age, initially learning to play the piano before getting his first acoustic guitar in 1965. It was around this time that Drake discovered the burgeoning British and American folk music scenes and was influences by musicians such as Bob Dylan, Jackson C. Frank and Bert Jansch.

He began performing in coffee houses and folk clubs around London, and in early 1968, while supporting Country Joe and the Fish in London, he came to the attention of Fairport Convention bass player Ashley Hutchings who was so impressed by Drake he introduced him to American producer Joe Boyd, owner of the production and management company Witchseason Productions, the man who had discovered Fairport Convention and the man responsible for introducing artists such as John Martyn and The Incredible String Band to a wider audience.

Drake and Boyd formed an immediate bond, and a four track demo, recorded in Drake's college room in early 1968, led Boyd to offer a management, publishing and production contract to the 20-year old Drake and to initiate work on a debut album. So with Boyd taking the role of producer, Nick Drake began recording his debut album 'Five Leaves Left'. Inspired by John Simon's production of Leonard Cohen's first album, Boyd was keen to record Drake's voice in a similar, intimate style, as well as to incorporate the kind of understated, complimentary string arrangements that had been executed so successfully by Simon. Frustrating and irregular recording sessions followed by post-production difficulties led to the release of the album being delayed by several months and the album was poorly marketed and supported when it finally came out. Although, Drake was reportedly unhappy with the final versions and felt the album to be somewhat unfinished, 'Five Leaves Left' is a stunning debut and possibly Drake's most positive sounding record.

Although the publicity and attention generated by 'Five Leaves Left' was minor, Boyd was keen to build on what momentum there was and work began on a follow up. 'Bryter Layter' (1970) saw Drake move away from the pastoral sound of his debut with the inclusion of bass and drum tracks on the recordings, along with more up-tempo, jazzy arrangements. The album featured musicians from Fairport Convention, as well as contributions from John Cale on two songs: "Northern Sky" and "Fly". Despite high expectations, 'Bryter Layter', like it predecessor, failed to have much commercial impact upon release. The disappointment of the lack of success with his records, couple with his mentor and friend Joe Boyd selling Witchseason to Island Records and moving to Los Angeles led Drake to retreat into depression and isolation. He was unhappy living alone, and had become visibly nervous and uncomfortable performing live.

Island Records were keen that Drake promote 'Bryter Layter' through press interviews, radio sessions and live appearances, however Drake, who was by this time smoking large amounts of cannabis and spiraling rapidly deeper into depression, flatly refused. By winter 1970, Drake is said to have completely isolated himself in London, rarely leaving his flat and withdrawing from both family and friends.

Although Island Records neither expected, nor particularly wanted a third album from the artist, Drake began work in October 1971 on what would be the last album he would finish in his lifetime. The sessions took place over two nights, with only Drake and his engineer present in the studio, the resultant album, 'Pink Moon' is a stark and bare record, but contains some of Drake's finest recordings, including the quite amazing title track and woozy "Place To Be".

Upon finishing the album, Drake delivered the master tapes to the front desk of the Island Records offices, placing them on the receptionist's desk and leaving without speaking to anyone. The tapes apparently lay there over the weekend, and remained unnoticed until later in the next week. Pink Moon went on to sell fewer copies than either of its predecessors, partly down to the artist's continued unwillingness to undertake any promotional activity and inability to play live in support of the record.

In the months following the release of 'Pink Moon', Drake returned to live with his parents. Friends have recalled the extent to which his appearance had changed, particularly during bleak periods of his illness, where he would refuse to wash his hair or cut his nails. In early 1972, Drake suffered a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized for five weeks.

At some time during the night of 24/25 November 1974, Nick Drake died at his parents home from an overdose of antidepressants. At the inquest that December, the coroner stated that the cause of death was as a result of "Acute amitriptyline poisoning—self administered when suffering from a depressive illness", and concluded a verdict of suicide.

For newcomers to the work of Nick Drake, I strongly recommend starting with the three studio albums made during his life; 'Five Leaves Left', 'Bryter Layter' and 'Pink Moon'. For those who want to dig a bit deeper, seek out the sadly deleted 'Time Of No Reply', which contains outtakes from the 'Five Leaves Left' sessions, home demos and Drakes final recordings. A couple of recent collections also do justice to Drake's legacy, most notably 'Made To Love Magic' which included some of the same outtakes and demos as 'Time Of No Reply', but adds a previously unreleased solo acoustic version of "River Man" and the song "Tow The Line", a previously unheard song from his final session in July 1974. The most recent addition to the list is 2007's 'Family Tree', which contains a number of home demos made by Drake prior to his first album.

MP3: Nick Drake - Saturday Sun
MP3: Nick Drake - Pink Moon
MP3: Nick Drake - Time Of No Reply

Nick Drake on Myspace
Support The Artist. Buy.Buy.Buy.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Bob Dylan

Thanks to the world wide web all the Dylan bootlegs that I read about as a young man are available at the click of a button, and even though I exhaustively obsess over sessions for 'Desire' or 'Blood On The Tracks', comparing the outtakes to the finally chosen takes, there is always another entry point that feels fresh, un-exhausted, new. I don't think I'll ever get tired of Dylan, certain periods may interest me more, or less at one time or another, but as an over all body of work there is always going to be something to draw me in.

After reading David Fricke's piece in Rolling Stone earlier this month, announcing that Dylan's follow up to 'Modern Times' was due in April, I was interested to discover the album title 'Together Through Life' and see the album cover for the first time today. The jury is still out on the cover for me. Although it features one of my favorite photographs by one of my favorite photographers, Bruce Davidson, I still think I like it more when I see Dylan on the cover of a Dylan album, that said, I do prefer this to the cover for 'Modern Times'.

For anyone interested, the Dylan phase that I am currently in, primarily focuses around the album 'Oh Mercy'. The production of the album may not be as 'organic' as much of his best work, however there are songs on this record that sit shoulder to shoulder with some of Dylan's finest compositions.

MP3: Bob Dylan - Most Of The Time

Bob Dylan on Myspace
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Strange Parallel

Head on over to the newly spruced up Pitchfork where, for one week only, they are showing the Elliott Smith documentary/short film 'Strange Parallel'.

I had this film a long time ago on a video bootleg, but watching it again reminded me of how much Elliott Smith's music meant, and indeed still means, to me.

'Strange Parallel' was made in 1998 as a promo around the time that Smith signed to Dreamworks and released the album 'XO'. By no means a straight up promotional film, the short begins with a film crew looking for a reclusive Smith, who we find in a wood, digging up a guitar and playing a lovely version of "Waltz #2 (XO)" cross legged in the dirt.

The film follows Elliott Smith from a recording session in Portland to New York where it splits off on a surreal tangent about a robot hand, which was based on a dream that Smith had discussed with director Steve Hanft. Amongst many highlights, 'Strange Parallel' features a beautiful, but brief, rendition of the George Harrison song "Isn't It A Pity?" played by Smith alone at the piano.

Ghosts In The Snow has some fantastic stills from 'Strange Parallel' here.

If you don't have the appetite or inclination to watch the whole 30 minutes plus of 'Strange Parallel', or even if you do, I highly recommend seeking out and watching the 1996 Jem Cohen short 'Lucky Three', which is a stunning 11 minute short film that features Elliott Smith playing "Between The Bars" and "Angeles" from the album 'Either/Or', as well as a cover of Big Star's "Thirteen".

Watch: Strange Parallel

MP3: Elliott Smith - Miss Misery
MP3: Elliott Smith - I Don't Think I'm Ever Gonna Figure It Out

Elliott Smith on Myspace
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Previously on SOTR: Elliott Smith

Friday, March 06, 2009


This year is already shaping up to be a belter with brilliant new albums already out from Alela Diane and Phosphorescent and records from Bonnie 'Prince Billy, Smog, Wilco, Akron/Family, Bob Dylan and Neil Young, amongst others, to look forward to. One album that I am really looking forward to is 'You Can Have What You Want' by Papercuts.

Papercuts is a band led by and centered around Jason Quever who makes dreamy, old fashioned, Velvets inspired pop music. I discovered Papercuts via Quever's work with Skygreen Leopards, Donovan Quinn and Vetiver.

Papercuts released two albums in the early 2000s: 'Rejoicing Songs' and 'Mockingbird' before signing to the Devendra Banhart and Andy Cabic label Gnomonsong and releasing 'Can’t Go Back' in early 2007. Quever's use of vintage sounds and arrangements gives his songs a feel which makes you believe you have known them forever.'You Can Have What You Want' is released in April and continues Quever's exploration of the possibilities of happy-sad analogue pop.

MP3: Papercuts - Unavailable
MP3: Papercuts - Dear Employee
MP3: Papercuts - Future Primitive (Courtesy of Gnomonsong)

Papercuts on Myspace
Support The Arist. Buy.Buy.Buy.

Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - 'I Am Goodbye' video

The artist that I am consistently listening to most so far this year is Bonnie 'Prince' Billy. So it was with delight that I came across the video for 'I Am Goodbye', a track taken from the forthcoming long player 'Beware'. Check it out below, this is a simple video that proves in these hard financial times for the music industry that it is possible to make a charming visual accompaniment to a song on virtually zero budget.

Video: Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - I Am Goodbye

MP3: Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - I Am Goodbye

Bonnie 'Prince' Billy on Myspace
Support The Artist. Buy.Buy.Buy.

Previously on SOTR: Will Oldham

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Donovan Quinn

Donovan Quinn is a singer-songwriter from San Francisco, possibly better known to readers of this blog as one half of The Skygreen Leopards (along with Glenn Donaldson). Quinn has released a couple of enchanting 'solo' albums, 2007's 'October Lanterns' and 2008's 'Donovan Quinn & the 13th Month'.

The son of Dave Carter, from the legendary 60's psychedelic rock group Country Weather and named after Donovan Leitch, Quinn began writing songs at a young age. 2001 saw the release of the first Skygreen Leopards CD-R, with whom he has since released several records.

'October Lanterns' , Quinn's first album on his own (not counting various bits and bobs released under the Verdure moniker), is an enchanting, melancholic record that showcases it's authors singular vision and goes someway to shedding an intriguing light on Quinn's input and role in the Skygreen Leopards.

'Donovan Quinn & the 13th Month', released on the fantastic Soft Abuse label, expands on the template set by 'October Lanterns' both sonically and structurally . Aided by a small group of friends & collaborators known as 13th Month (including Jason Quever of Papercuts), Quinn explores his own dark fascinations and influences, including Skip Spence, Basement Tapes-era Bob Dylan and The Jacobites.

MP3: Donovan Quinn & the 13th Month - Quarantine
MP3: Donovan Quinn & the 13th Month - Halloween Candle

Video: Donovan Quinn & the 13th Month - Sister Alchemy

Donovan Quinn & the 13th Month on MySpace
Support The Artist. Buy.Buy.Buy.

Previously on SOTR: The Skygreen Leopards

Privacy - 'Goodnight Canyon' video

I came across this video for 'Goodnight Canyon' by Privacy. If you missed my previous post on the band, their album 'Without Mercy' is really worth seeking out.

MP3: Privacy - Goodnight Canyon

Marriage Records on Myspace
Support The Artist. Buy. Buy. Buy.

Previously on SOTR: Privacy

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Arthur Russell

Occasionally.. well, more like semi-frequently, a song comes along and I obsess over it, play it on a constant rotation, analyze its structure, dissect its lyrics etc etc. Most recently this has happened to me with the Arthur Russell song 'A Little Lost'.

Subject of the recent documentary film 'Wild Combination', Russell was an avant-garde cellist and composer who was relatively unknown during his lifetime, but thanks to a series of reissues in recent years, his vast and varied catalog of work has found many fans.

After moving to San Fransisco at the age of 18, Russell met Allen Ginsberg, with whom he began to accompany at poetry readings, playing cello while Ginsberg read. In the early seventies Russell moved to New York where he became heavily involved in the avant-garde scene. As the decade progressed Russell became heavily involved in New York's nascent underground disco scene, he would go on to write and produce a number of influential and experimental disco (and later dance) records.

During the eighties Russell worked with a number of music's more esoteric luminaries, including Phillip Glass, Robert Wilson and Gavin Bryars. Russell died of AIDS on April 4, 1992, at the age of 40.

After a string of releases taken from Russell's vast archive of previously unreleased music, Rough Trade last year released 'Love Is Overtaking Me', a record that showcases the artists singer-songwriter side, collecting the best of his previously unreleased folk, pop, and country influenced work. This is the place I would recommend readers of this blog to start.

MP3: Arthur Russell - A Little Lost
MP3: Arthur Russell - Nobody Wants A Lonely Heart

Arthur Russell on Myspace
Support The Artist. Buy.Buy.Buy.