Shot Of Rhythm

[ Wednesday, May 09, 2007 ]


Charming eccentricities

The world looks very differently when viewed from the perspective of idiosyncratic songwriters, whose poignant pen and wandering eyes/ears provide us with such interesting observations and stylistic alchemies. I've been digging on four such songwriters lately, distinguished gentlemen all...

-Jim Ford's biography is too wondrous and complicated to regurgitate here, but here are a few salient details: he managed to survive thirty years of being close friends with both Sly Stone and Bobby Womack...he wrote songs with Bobby Womack, for the Temptations and - he claims - "Ode To Billie Joe"...he raised Marlon Brando's children from a previous marriage...he once decided that both Joe Cocker's Grease Band and Brinsley Schwarz (featuring a young Nick Lowe, who now considers Ford his greatest musical inspiration) weren't good enough to use as his backing band...

There are a bunch more of those kinda revelations, but what really matters is how truly remarkable his limited body of released work is, country-soul material that sounds a bit like David Allan Coe backed by the Funk Brothers. Ford's precise songcraft, intense performances, and penchant for 100-proof honesty comes through in bright, brilliant colors on the new compilation THE SOUNDS OF OUR TIME, which features Ford's classic debut album in its entirety, plus a whole bunch of fascinating demos, unreleased singles and various other odds-and-sods. All of this is worth hearing, and - for my money - establishes Ford as a talent on the level of Joe South. (And, as somebody who considers South one of the central figures in this whole "country-soul" thang that I keep talking about, that's pretty high praise.)

Here's "Changing Colors," from the debut album, and a wonderful unreleased tune (co-written with Womack) called "Sounds Of Our Time," that manages to be politically passionate without sounding preachy or polemical. This one, like most of Ford's tunes, deserves several thousand cover versions. (I'm thinking Mavis Staples might be the first person to call...)

Jim Ford - "Changing Colors"

Jim Ford - "Sounds Of Our Time"

On top of several dozen hit country copyrights, John D. Loudermilk wrote a couple tunes that have become American pop standards: one, "Tobacco Road," deserves all its classic reputation, and the other - "Indian Reservation (Cherokee People" - is at least a noble, if slightly awkward, effort. Loudermilk's own recordings, however, deserve extended attention as well. Loudermilk prided himself on his blend of country, pop, folk and psychedelia, and - as I think you can here on both "Nassau Town" and "To Hell With Love" - Loudermilk's gift for intricate songwriting combined with his free-spiritedness into many little gems, which are compiled on a reissue from a couple years ago called THE OPEN MIND OF JOHN D. LOUDERMILK. Highly recommended stuff, which is - in its own way - just as gonzo as that of Jim Ford's.

John D. Loudermilk - "Nassau Town"

John D. Loudermilk - "To Hell With Love"

The late, great Warren Zevon is having a (relatively) good year: the reissues of EXCITABLE BOY, THE ENVOY and the monumental live album STAND IN THE FIRE are well worth picking up, as is the astounding biography I'LL SLEEP WHEN I'M DEAD, which I'm a hundred pages into and absolutely cannot put down. The finest feather in the cap, though, is a startling disc called PRELUDES, composed of Zevon demos from his early years. While there are fascinating in-progress glimpses of some of Warren's most famous stuff (like a reggae take on "Werewolves Of London" that has Joe Tex "walking with the Queen" in that famous verse), the best revelations are the songs that, for whatever reason, slipped through the cracks in Zevon's catalog. One of these - "Tule's Blues" - he actually did record, but only on his semi-obscure debut album. Not only is that version not well known, but I think this intimate piano take trumps it on every level. Then there are cuts like "The Rosarita Beach Cafe," which are brand-spankin'-new to the public's ears, and - with their soulful, graceful fragility - serve as a noteworthy addition to the great man's esteemed musical legacy. At their best, songwriter demos really do sound like a window into the most personal dimension of musical creation, and the PRELUDES disc is absolutely in that category.

Warren Zevon - "Tule's Blues"

Warren Zevon - "The Rosarita Beach Cafe"

-Robbie Fulks is a frustrating case: I really love a lot of his material, particularly his great last album GEORGIA HARD, and I think he's one of the most entertaining live acts in the world. Still, I've found his recorded work both inconsistent and inaccessible to the uninitiated: I've made many more Fulks converts through taking people to his gigs. Luckily, perhaps even he understands this, since he decided to put out a double live-album, REVENGE, a few weeks ago. Of course, in typically inscrutable (but refreshing) Fulks fashion, he loaded this collection with a bunch of new songs, which - for the most part - stand up perfectly well with his previous material. In fact, the examples below - the simmering pop of "You Don't Mean It" and the broken-hearted "On A Real Good Day" - are probably gonna end up among my favorite Fulks tunes. Well done, sir...I'll see you next time you come through town.

Robbie Fulks - "You Don't Mean It"

Robbie Fulks - "On A Real Good Day"

On the box right now: Paris Bennett, PRINCESS P. Oh my god, was last season of AMERICAN IDOL better than this year.


Dove With Claws [9:34 PM]