Nov 252015

joyTo all reports, Ewan MacColl was a difficult man. It’s perhaps hard to believe that a man who could write as sensitive a song as “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” (for Peggy Seeger, Pete’s half-sister and MacColl’s third wife), the song made into a cross-genre standard by Roberta Flack in 1972, could be so uniformly feared and vilified, yet still admired. I guess it’s the usual case of ignoring the man and embracing the music, and this man, who arguably invented the UK folk boom of the late 1950s and early ’60s, had little interest in embracing any of the young acolytes drawn to his flame – he called Bob Dylan’s work “tenth-rate drivel.”

Born James Miller in Manchester, his life was a series of reinventions, as he became a communist rabble-rouser in his teens, then a George Bernard Shaw-admired  playwright and, in his mid-30’s, self-acclaimed champion of a fiercely curated folk idiom, wherein such modern anachronisms as make-up for women (and possibly women in general) were decried and denied, while Dylan, Paul Simon, and others of those young acolytes were freely liberating the repertoire into their own.
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Mar 232013

They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with other people singing his or her songs. Let others do the work for a while. Happy birthday!

Ric Ocasek, who turns 64 today, may be best remembered for buzzing around in the “You Might Think” video, but between 1978 and 1988 he led the Cars to FM radio immortality with a string of successful singles and albums (and two quality solo albums to boot). After the Cars folded, Ocasek’s skills as a producer became much in demand, and he stood behind the glass for bands such as Bad Brains, No Doubt, Nada Surf, and Weezer’s multi-platinum Blue and Green Albums. In both musician and producer roles, Ocasek’s influence has proven huge and lasting; bands such as The Strokes, Weezer, Fountains of Wayne, and even Nirvana owe Ocasek debts of gratitude for his style and sound, melding ‘50s rockabilly to ‘70s new wave with ‘80s rock and pop sensibilities. Continue reading »

Aug 292011

Saturday night’s Reading Festival featured an enviable pair of headliners: a reunited Pulp and a reinvigorated Strokes. Pulp finished their set, but frontman Jarvis Cocker didn’t stray far; he joined the Strokes soon after for a cover of (speaking of reunited) the Cars on “Just What I Needed.” Continue reading »

Jul 292011

In its original incarnation, “Avalanche” represents everything we’ve grown to expect from Leonard Cohen. It’s got the whole package – his trademark morose baritone, undulating acoustic guitar picking, and a healthy dose of strings in the background. However, in the hands of this international team of musicians, led by German electronic producer Boys Noize and British producer Erol Alkin, the Canadian folkie’s work takes on an entirely different form. They even give the track a new subtitle, “Terminal Velocity.” The pair of dance heavyweights enlist British rocker Jarvis Cocker, frontman of the Britpop act Pulp, for vocal duties, having him basically narrate Cohen’s lyrics a few lines at a time like a book on tape. Continue reading »