October 14, 2007

Music Review: Covering Songs

While everyone else is drunkenly commenting on the new Radiohead album - (which, for anyone not paying attention, is being sold for "what you want to pay", which includes nothing, an economic principle called "tipping", & so far has made a ton of money, because people don't mind giving on average eight dollars to a filthy rich rock band for a mediocre later album) - I was thinking about covering John Denver songs & John Lennon songs.

Several thoughts: First, Julie Taymor gets a bad rap, & her Beatles movie is a lot of fun & looks beautiful. I think of her still as an opera director, & after she's gone mainstream, she's still doing what opera directors do: play us music we've heard ten thousand times, with new singers, & dazzle us with expensive set pieces. Stringing overplayed Beatles songs together into a plot, like she's done with a Disney movie, Kahlo's paintings, Shakespeare, & Stravinsky, allows us to enjoy as fresh, & relive some greatness in what we're otherwise sick of. I also think of her as like Terry Gilliam, managing to push thru the system huge imaginative bizarre projects with large puppets & dense colors, which the critics love to hate. So the movie has some cheezy singing, & is maybe best appreciated by stoned sixteen-year-olds, let's just enjoy what's good about it.

Another thought: I just bought Mary Alice Amidon's beautiful new solo album, Keys to the Kingdom. The title track, Keys to the Kingdom, is a song I have on a 1929 recording by Washington Phillips, the elusive zither-playing preacher. His flash-in-the-pan field-recording career is supposed to be the earliest example of gospel text set to blues chords & structure, then he disappeared entirely from recorded history. I was thrilled to hear Gillian Welch play an extremely powerful version of this song (it got humongous) at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in Golden Gate Park last weekend; then, we went home & listened to the old recording; then, two days later, Mary Alice sent me her new album in the mail - one of those coincidences where different versions of a song can suddenly appear on different fronts. Washington & Gillian both sing about Daniel & the lion, & "the devil can't do me no harm", but Mary Alice sings about John & Gabriel & "the world can't do me no harm." I guess maybe they don't believe in the devil in Vermont. She says she first heard the version by Lillie Knox from the Alan Lomax Collection. I don't have much of a point, except I'd like to know more about the history of this song, & that both Gillian & Mary Alice know how to sing it. This YouTube Video says it's from The Dame in Lexington:

Also, relatedly, here's David Rawlings singing "Girls just want to have fun", which I'm told he sung two years ago at the Hardly Strictly:

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