Category Archives: Music

What The Folk! – the 40th Annual Vancouver Folk Festival

 

Great weekend at the Vancouver Folk Festival, highlights for me were Rhiannon Giddens, Bahamas and The Revivalists plus three young British folk singers (more about that later).

I was particularly interested this time around in hearing the response of the folk music world to the current political climate in the USA, Britain, to climate change, to the refugee crisis. This was all touched upon in a workshop I attended on the Friday afternoon which was led by Billy Bragg. The theme was “Working Class Heroes”; Rhiannon Giddens and Grace Petrie were part of the group of five singers on stage. I saw both of them give better performances later in the festival, here they seem constrained by the downbeat atmosphere. The song introductions, although heartfelt and eloquent, went on way too long;  Pete Seeger’s name was dropped more times than an egg at a drunken egg and spoon race. Later in the evening, Billy Bragg sang “There’s Power in the Union” and a song about climate change which was essentially a rewrite of “The Times they are a Changin’”. On another night, Shawn Colvin sang a beautiful version of Paul Simon’s “American Tune”. It all felt a bit nostalgic, the established singers seemed to be creatively chewing on a bone when it came to addressing today’s issues, to be looking back to former struggles for inspiration.

However, in the afternoon of day 2, I attended a workshop called “Keep Calm and Carry On” (which was a poster produced by the British government in 1939), and I found what I was looking for – folk music as a living organism. The performers – Jake Morley, Will Varley and Grace Petrie, all English – were anything but calm, “stay angry and carry on” would have been a better description. Of course it’s not enough to be angry, an artist has to make his/her anger interesting and that they did. They were all in their own way, original, talented song writers – witty, profane, poetic, self-deprecating (they are English after all). Grace Petrie is more punk in her approach, has a gift for word play and knows how to write a chorus; Will Varley manages to be Dylanesque, but be his own man at the same time – a poet with a bullhorn voice; Jake Morley writes more complex songs, has a gift for melody and is a percussive, propulsive guitar player who reminds me a little bit of Cat Stevens with his off kilter rhythm. But most of all, they were very funny and had none of that smug, preaching to the choir earnestness that sometimes plagues folk music. Check out Grace Petrie below:

 

 

And here’s a reprise of a poem, I post every year at this time.

Slim at the Vancouver Folk Festival

One hour into the folk festival

and a mellow, minor key, melancholy

is seeping into Slim’s bones,

he feels it like an arthritic ache

and he wishes that someone

would duck walk across the stage

shooting staccato bursts of distorted guitar

at the chill, Tilley clad audience

who, unlike Slim, have a default mode

other than anger.

 

 

 

Eroica

 

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Our resident poet, Slim Volume, and I sit down once a week for a classical music appreciation session. As our guide, we are using a book called “The Vintage Guide to Classical Music”, by Jan Swafford. This is an excellent reference book. It contains explanations of various musical terms, essays on the significant classical composers and a “best of” list for each composer. This led me to what Jan Swafford describes as possibly the greatest of the nine Beethoven symphonies, Symphony No.3 .

The symphony was originally dedicated to Napolean Bonaparte but Beethoven changed the name to “Sinfonia Eroica” or “Heroic Symphony” when he became disillusioned with his hero.

The first movement clocks in at seventeen minutes and is described by Swafford as an “indefatigable outpouring of dramatic intensity”. At the end of the movement, I paused the recording. Slim was staring straight ahead in what appeared to be a catatonic state.

“So, Slim”, I said, “what did you think of the first movement?”

He blinked once like a dishevelled owl and replied: “It sounds to me like there’s this man wearing big boots and he’s stamping around a large dimly lit house. In the house are rooms where violinists and flautists are playing. The man with the big boots occasionally opens the door to one of these rooms, but quickly gets bored listening to the violinists and flautists. He signals this by slamming the door repeatedly.”

We obviously have some distance to travel.

 

Rhymin’ (Neil) Diamond – the Good, the Bad and the Internal

The great Paul Simon once said: “I’d rather be a llama than a whale”. Ok, maybe he didn’t but perhaps he should have. Anyway, this is not about rhymin’ Simon, this is about rhymin’ Diamond who once said:

I am, I said

To no one there

And no one heard at all

Not even the chair

Implying that, in a room containing inanimate objects, the object most likely to reply would be a chair. But all smart ass carping aside, that chair is important, not just because it rhymes with “there”. The chair suggests that Neil is in a room, and there is only one chair (“the chair”), so Neil is most likely lying on a bed and of course he is alone, so alone that he has resorted to talking to the furniture. Without the chair, he could be anywhere, it becomes the focus of his existential crisis. This is a “pop song”,  grab the attention of the audience or they are gone and it has to look easy and that’s hard and he does it through that one detail, the chair.

It has to be said that Neil is perhaps not at the same level as Paul Simon when it comes to poetic, sophisticated lyrics, but he has his moments. Take the first verse of “ Cracklin’ Rosie”:

“Aw, Cracklin’ Rosie, get on board

   We’re gonna ride

   Till there ain’t no more to go

   Taking it slow

   And Lord, don’t you know

   We’ll have me a time with a poor man’s lady

There’s that internal rhyme happening – board, more, Lord, poor -and all those ‘O’s’, fifteen in total! And the assonance in the chorus of

“Cracklin’ Rose,

You’re a store-bought woman”

It goes a bit downhill after that – “you make me sing like a guitar hummin’” – hummin’ and woman – ouch!

But, for my money, Neil’s finest moment when it comes to writing lyrics is in “Sweet Caroline”. The song, admittedly, is not without some absolute groaners:

“Where it began,

I can’t begin to knowin’”

And that’s the first two lines.

Even the chorus, which contains that finest moment is a syntactical nightmare:

Sweet Caroline

Good times never seemed so good

I’ve been inclined,

To believe they never would

Oh, no, no

I have wrestled with this for some time and the best I can come up with is this: ”I’ve been inclined to believe that good times never would never seem so good”. Think about that too long and I guarantee that steam will come out of your ears. But it doesn’t matter, because all that matters is that rhyme between “Sweet Caroline” and “I’ve been inclined”. He could have gone for “fine”, “wine”, “mine” etc but there is something about “inclined” that is so unexpected, so colloquial, so conversational. It surprises every time you hear it. And of course, the acid test of any chorus is how well it does in a pub or bar late in the evening and everyone is a little hammered and some skinny guy on acoustic guitar hauls out “Sweet Caroline” and everyone is just waiting to belt out that chorus and I guarantee you that the volume will perceptibly increase when they reach that line and everyone takes just a little credit for recognising just how clever it is.

Where have all the Good Rhymes gone?

Another post from the past.

Where have all the Good Rhymes Gone?

 I’m not sure when rhymes all but disappeared from modern poetry, but pick up any recent collection and you would be hard put to find a single rhyme. I’m not saying that this is a bad thing, on the other hand, stop anyone in the street and ask them to recite their favourite poem and invariably, if they reply at all, it will be a rhyming poem. So people like rhyme but if poets have stopped rhyming where do people go for their rhyming fix?

The answer of course is popular song. Pop, folk, country, rock, rap, hip hop could not function without rhyme; obvious rhyme mostly, rhyme that can seen coming a mile away. If you hear ‘dance’ there will be ‘romance’; if you hear ‘night’, it’s going to be ‘alright’, if you hear “love’, there will be a ‘sky above’. This can be boring or comforting depending on your point of view. But there are rhymes in popular song, rhymes that avoid cliché, that manage to surprise. For example:

The bridge at midnight trembles

The country doctor rambles.

(Bob Dylan from “Love minus Zero, No Limits)

Or more recently, check out the “The Trapeze Swinger” from Sam Beam[i] of Iron and Wine who writes songs of such fragile beauty that it feels like they will fall apart if you touch them.

But please remember me, fondly

I heard from someone you’re still pretty

And then they went on to say that the Pearly Gates

Had some eloquent graffiti

 Or, from the White Album:

I’m so tired, I’m feeling so upset

Although I’m so tired, I’ll have another cigarette

And curse Sir Walter Raleigh

He was such a stupid get[ii].

‘Trembles, ‘rambles’, ‘poetry’, ‘graffiti’, ‘cigarette’, stupid get’, all rhymes that don’t resort to cliché, that manage to surprise and there are many more. So if there is anyone out there reading this, send me your favorites, let’s get a list going! Only two criteria: 1) the rhyme must surprise 2) no rhymes ending in ‘ution’ as in “make revolutions/ not institutions/ dilution/ is not the solution/ to pollution/ make restitution…enough already.

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[i] Why has Sam Beam not been made poet laureate of the United States of America? He could have written “Trapeze Swinger” alone, and he would be streets ahead of anyone else. Graffiti on the pearly gates -‘tell my mother not to worry’,  ‘rug-burned babies’, ‘a trapeze swinger as high as any savior’; check it out here:

[ii] Some websites write this as “stupid git”, but the album liner notes show it as “stupid get” which obviously rhymes better but also it would be more likely that Lennon being from Liverpool would use the Irish (and also Scottish) pronunciation ‘get’ rather than ‘git’ which is more common in the south of England. By the way, Wiktionary suggests that ‘get’ is related to the word ‘beget’, whereas I think it is more likely that it comes from the gaelic word ‘geit’ meaning ‘fright’ or ‘terror’. The meaning has since morphed into something close to ‘jerk’.

 

A Surfeit of Slim (“Bob Dylan’s Worst Line Ever” and “The Most Over-Rated Album of All Time” together for the first time).

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Last week there was a Simon Pegg retrospective at our local cinema and Slim invited me back to his one bedroom apartment after we watched an early showing of “Shawn of the Dead”. Slim had prepared dinner and by that I mean he had peeled back the tin foil edge of a take-out carton of butter chicken, removed the cardboard lid, and handed me a plastic fork and a can of Old Style lager. He then lapsed into one of his silences.

I found myself noticing the beads of condensation on the clear plastic lid of the steamed rice container. The rice was long past fluffy. The evening stretched before me like a Sunday in Ottawa. My only recourse was to ask Slim an irritating question.

“So, Slim”, I said, “who do you think is the better poet, Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen?”

Slim’s  face wrinkled in disgust. “Bob Dylan’s not a poet”, he snapped,“ he’s a poetic songwriter”.

“And Leonard Cohen is…..?”

“Leonard Cohen is a poet who writes songs”.

“Ok then, what’s your favorite Bob Dylan line, verse, whatever”

“I can only think of the bad ones”

“So what’s the worst Bob Dylan line ever?”

Slim blinked once like he was accessing a folder in his brain with an internal mouse.

“John Wesley Harding, ‘As I walked out One Morning’, third verse:

‘Depart from me this moment

I told her with my voice’.

It’s like saying ‘there’s going to be a jailbreak somewhere in this town”

“But that’s “Thin Lizzy”.

Slim looked like he had taken a sip of battery acid.

“My point is they are expressing the obvious just for the sake of a rhyme. It’s obvious that the jailbreak will be at the f….ing jail and how else will he tell her except with his voice, they’re in a field, for f… sake!”

“Oh”, I said, reaching for a poppadum.

After Slim’s brief outburst, he lapsed into silence again and did his impression of a lizard sitting on a rock. The not unpleasant smell from the Indian take-out mercifully masked the usual faint odour of sour sweat emanating from Slim’s bedroom. His bedroom door was closed, a yellow light leaked through the gap between bottom of the door and the threadbare carpet. The room  pulsed  in a vaguely sinister way.

I began to panic; he could pull out his blueprints of the Star Ship Enterprise at any minute. I was about to ask him why so much depends on a red wheelbarrow, but thought better of it. I reached for my phone.

“Slim”, I said, “I was looking at Rolling Stone’s list of the top 500 albums of all time, the other day, do you want to see it?”

“Not really”, he replied.

“Ok”, I tried, “what do you think is the most over-rated album of all time?”

“All right”, he sighed, ”show me the top 10 albums.”

I passed him my phone and he studied the list for a few minutes, then pounced.

“Number 7, ‘Exile on Main Street’, by the Stones”

“Really, why?”

“Because, it’s awful. It’s recycled 12 bar, refried boogie, Jagger sounds like a cat being neutered. It’s not even the seventh best Stones’ album. Creedence and The Band did this kind of thing a few years before and a lot better. This is the sound of the Stones throwing in their creative hand and saying, ‘enough, we’re tired’. It’s the artistic equivalent of taking a package holiday to Majorca. Look, it’s listed higher than ‘The White Album’ and ‘Kinda Blue’. Absolute bollocks!”

“Kind of…”

“What?”

“It’s ‘Kind of Blue’ not ‘Kinda Blue’

Slim looked at me like he was wondering why he bothered to speak to the rest of the human race at all.

“Well”, I said,”why do you think Rolling Stone rates it so high?”

“Because, it’s a Keef album and, to rock critics, Keef embodies the rock and roll spirit, the dead romantic hero, except he’s not dead. He’s the guy who would never have hung out with them at school. Plus, there’s this legend of the Stones hunkered down in a house in France recording the album, escaping from the tax man where in fact, Mick, Charlie and Bill never stayed at the house probably because they didn’t want to be around Keef’s junkie friends. Anyway, Mick didn’t think much of the album at all”.

“Really?”

“Look it up”.

So I did.

This is Mick Jagger talking about ‘Exile’ in “According to The Rolling Stones” (Chronicle Books, San Francisco):

Exile on Main Street is not one of my favourite albums”.

“…when I listen to Exile it has some of the worst mixes I’ve ever heard. I’d love to remix the record, not just because of the vocals, but because generally I think it sounds lousy. At the time Jimmy Miller was not functioning properly. I had to finish the whole record myself, because otherwise there were just these drunks and junkies.”

Exile is really a mixture of bits and pieces left over from the previous album recorded at Olympic Studios…..These were mixed up with a few slightly more grungy things done in the South of France. It’s seen as one album all recorded there and it really wasn’t.”

“So there’s a good four songs off it, but when you play the other nineteen, you can’t, or they don’t work, or nobody likes them, and you think, ’Ok, we’ll play another one instead’. We have rehearsed a lot of the tunes off Exile, but there’s not much that’s playable.”

 

Photo of detail of a Botero painting in Museo de Botero, Bogota, Colombia

2 Poems and a Song Lyric at The Basil O’Flaherty.

I have 2 poems (“Living Off the Grid”, “Railspur Alley Park”) and a song lyric (“Willie’s Oasis”) up at the tri-quarterly web magazine “The Basil O’Flaherty”.

Regular visitors to this blog will recognise the second poem as a triple slimverse. Only the second time this verse form has appeared outside this blog….is that momentum I feel?

I’m never totally sure about publishing song lyrics as they sometimes seem a bit thin on the page without melody and music, but I hope this one stands up! You can check out a sample of the recorded version here.

Rust/ The Irish Dilemma/ Radiohead

Rust

 

The Irish Dilemma (a slimverse)

we can not

decide if

we are blessed

or damaged.

 

Radiohead (a triku)

The night howls, fog curls

a thin cloud bisects the moon

at the graveyards’ edge

 

an abandoned well

from the bottom of that well

Thom Yorke cries for help.

 

The dead wake slowly

grey fists punch through mounds of earth

Thom Yorke cries for help.

 

All Washed Up (Bathos, A Whiter Shade Of Pale)

All Washed Up

 

 

Bathos

the moon hung

like a searchlight

in the sky

and we hung

out on the deck.

 

A Whiter Shade of Pale

By the time ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ was recorded in 1967, Bob Dylan had already raised the bar very high in terms of what the public expected from a song lyric; song writers were now expected  to be poets. This was a heavy load to carry as few songwriters had Bob’s poetic gift; as a result, bathos was everywhere.

Bathos: “an effect of anticlimax created by an unintentional lapse in mood from the sublime to the trivial or ridiculous”.

There are, as I said, many examples from that era, but the one that always stands out in my mind is from the last four lines of the first verse of ” A Whiter Shade of Pale”:

The room was humming harder

as the ceiling flew away

when we called out for another drink

the waiter brought a tray.

I have to admit that when I first heard this song I had no idea what it was about. Why are sixteen vestal virgins leaving for the coast? What is a vestal virgin anyway? Who is the miller? I still don’t know,  but I don’t think it really matters.  It’s best  to sit back, listen to the song and let your brain feed on the images and in no time at all the room will hum harder, the ceiling will fly away, you’ll think about maybe following the vestal virgins, you’ll skip a light fandango, turn cartwheels across the floor, all the time trying to avoid that waiter and his tray.

Notes:

The recorded version of the song has only two verses, but if you google the lyrics you will find four verses. Procol Harum sometimes included the extra verses in live performances but wisely left them out of the recording; they are not very good and diminish the song’s impact.

Well those drifters days are past me now
I’ve got so much more to think about
Deadlines and commitments
What to leave in, what to leave out

Bob Seger, ‘Against the Wind’

“What to leave in, what to leave out” – whether you are writing a song, poem, novel, short story, if you can solve that one you might be on the way  to something good!

Check out this version by Annie Lennox

 

 

Sunrise on Planet Cistern

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While you’re here, check out “The Mitchell Feeney Project, country rock with an edge!

“The sun beats down like judgement

on the armour-plated road”

From “The Road” by The Mitchell Feeney Project.  Click here to check out our album, also available on iTunes (search for “The Mitchell Feeney Project”).

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Driving Home with Leonard Cohen

Driving Home with Leonard Cohen

Despite what he says

not everybody knows,

not everybody knows

like Leonard knows.

Not everybody knows

that the best songs

are about loss,

endings,

so long,

ways to say goodbye

closing time,

and that age

can be laughed about

but not at,

if I had a hat

I would raise it to Mr.Cohen

perched up there alone

in his ancient tower.

 

I have posted this a few times before, but I think it’s worth one last reprise!

Paul McCartney and Neil Young at Desert Trip

A few quotes from Neil:

“I tell you what….naw, I won’t tell you what”.

“Roger (Waters) is going to build a wall tomorrow night to make Mexico great again”.

Neil joined Paul McCartney on stage for “A Day in the Life”, “Give Peace a Chance” and “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road”. For me, this was the highlight of the weekend. McCartney has recorded with Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Elvis Costello, Rihanna without ever getting close to the partnership he had with John Lennon and it occurred to me watching him with Neil Young that he was not only enjoying himself immensely but I got the sense that he was up there with someone who has a melodic and lyric talent in the same league as Lennon, but above all else, someone who has Lennon’s love of anarchy.

 

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The Piano Men:

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Another quote from Neil:

“We’ll play ‘Down by the River’ when we’re ready to play ‘Down by the River'”.

And he eventually did in a great set that included “Powderfinger”, “Out on the Weekend”, “Words”, “Human Highway” and of course “Rockin’ in the Free World”.

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All Photos by Marie Feeney

 

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“And the desert is an absence

the road an endless trance”

From “The Road” by The Mitchell Feeney Project.  Click here to check out our album, also available on iTunes (search for “The Mitchell Feeney Project”).

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Roger Waters at Desert Trip (a poem, photos and a shameless segue)

A Conversation Overheard at the Craft Beer Barn at Desert Trip (a triple slimverse)

I’m from New

Yawk, we were

raised to hate

Donald Trump.

 

My mother

used to say:

beware of

the man with

 

orange hair,

beware of

the man with

orange hair.

 

Roger

 

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“The Sun is the same

in a relative way

but you’re older”

Maybe so, but Roger has lost none of his anger, he managed to have a go at Donald Trump and the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestine and entertain 75,000 people at the same time. Oh yes, and that pig in the title photo carried a none too subtle message.

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This incensed the guy in front of us, who was obviously a Trump supporter, he started to swear at the pig, and give it the finger, but the pig sailed on full of truth and helium.

(All photos by Marie Feeney)

Shameless Segue

“He’s got a concealed weapon’s licence

a shot gun and a rack, 

and he has no idea 

how he’ll pay the hospital bill

he says guns never hurt nobody

only people kill”

from “Saturday Morning in Idabel” by The Mitchell Feeney Project.  Click here to check out our album, also available on iTunes (search for “The Mitchell Feeney Project”).

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The Mitchell-Feeney Project – Track 7, The Note

Earl sailed up the Belize coast

In his brand new custom built boat

With the mother of all hangovers

No water and a note

And now he’s sitting drinking

In an ocean-side tourist bar

Trying to get a jump on happiness

In the hour before happy hour

I had just landed on Caye Caulker, which is little more than a sand spit off the coast of Belize, when it started to rain heavily. There was nothing else to do but go to an ocean-side bar, in the hour before happy hour. It was as crowded as a bar gets on Caye Caulker and there was this guy bragging in a loud voice about how he had just sailed up from Placencia in his new boat with “the mother of all hangovers” and no water on board. The guy was a bit of a jerk, so I decided to write him into a poem (which turned into this song lyric) and give him a hard time. By the way I tried working “Placencia” into the lyric but the word just hissed and flopped around like a drunk snake, so I gave up on it! Take a listen, and then John Mitchell will explain how he managed to sound like a rock band all by himself!

Here’s John:

I could hear “The Note” played by a real southern rock band. That’s the attitude I took to the musical arrangement. Earl had a bad case of the regrets mixed with a helping of anger, a bad hangover and topped with a soucent of despair, all in all a pretty heavy feeling, so it needed rough and heavy music. The opening distorted guitar lick is a nod to “Susie Q” by CCR played through an overdriven Fender Deluxe amp. I tried to make the track sound like a 5 or 6 piece band playing live in a smokey, roadside bar. I added the rock and roll piano on the choruses, as if Leon Russell was playing and the greasy Hammond organ as if Greg Allman was sitting in, especially the solo played through an overdriven Leslie speaker with a tear in the cone. I think Earl would appreciate how the band interpreted how he was feeling after getting “The Note”.

Click here to preview/ buy the whole album or individual tracks! Also available on iTunes (search for “The Mitchell Feeney Project”, no hyphen)

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The Mitchell-Feeney Project – Track 6, Saturday Morning in Idabel.

There’s a dead armadillo

on the side of the road

empty beer can in his claws

that joke just never gets old.

There’s a dog on the shoulder

trying to bite his own tail

I’m in the motel parking lot

watching that dog fail.

 

This lyric started with a poem I had published in The Shop literary magazine (called Down and Out in Idabel), then took off in a different direction. When writing the lyric, I was thinking of the feel of Kris Kristofferson’s, “Sunday Morning Coming Down” and the structure of songs like John Mellencamp’s “Pink Houses” in which the verses are a series of snapshots that connect back to the chorus. Play it in your car and sing along with the chorus when no one is listening! That’s what I do!

Here’s John to tell his side!

When I saw that Idabel, Oklahoma was in this little bitty, piece of land between the states of Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma I jumped right off the front porch, because now I could REALLY do a country song. I’ve always loved the pedal steel guitar but you have to have it in the right song, and “Saturday Morning in Idabel” is just the song. 

The chord progression is pretty much true country. I found a lovely little rhythm track with some nice tight fills, added the bass and then I used my Larrivee D-50 to lay down the acoustic track.  I added some Fender strat. with heavy Duane Eddy tremolo for flavour. I called up John McArthur Ellis, a wonderful pedal steel player, and asked him to just play whatever he felt fit the song, and he was fantastic. Again the tracks were exchanged by e-mail. I think the best way to be a producer, is to let players play the way they feel, with only a soucent of direction. If you don’t trust them, don’t hire them. After I did the lead vocal, I called on the John Mitchell choir to do a little back-up singing, and there ya go. A swell little country song thanks to the inspiration of Jim Feeney.

Click here to preview/ buy the whole album or individual tracks! Also available on iTunes (search for “The Mitchell Feeney Project”, no hyphen)

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The Mitchell Feeney Project – Track 4, Willie’s Oasis

Houses hunker in the heat

out on Highway 82,

the landscape sweats and saunters

billboards block the view,

and this is not New York City

this is not Saginaw

this is a dry county, son

this is Arkansas….

 

Willie’s Oasis…a song about looking for drink in all the wrong places.

This lyric was adapted from a poem I wrote called “A Dry Country in Arkansas”. The poem was published some time ago in Cyphers,  a long -running Irish literary magazine. This is a print magazine only and one of the best around in my opinion (check it out at http://www.cyphers.ie). To write the lyric, I had to disassemble the poem; for all you poets out there, I have added a bit more discussion on the transition from poem to lyric at the end of this post. When I gave the lyric to John, I had no concept what kind of song would emerge, I couldn’t have been happier with what he did. Here’s John..

“Willie’s Oasis” turned out to be quite a challenge musically. I loved the feeling of the tune, that southern heat out on Highway 82, but no matter how I tried, I couldn’t hear the music. I tried using my electric guitars, my acoustics, I even tried my piano, but no matter what key I played in and what chords I used, I couldn’t make it work. So I decided to use technology, and I searched through some of my pre-recorded samples and found this rough sounding, bluesy guitar riff. As soon as I started to work with it and edit the sample, add a few more samples, voila, “Willie’s Oasis” appeared.The only live things I put on this tune were my handclaps and my vocals. 

I decided that it needed something else, so I called a wonderful violin player friend of mine named Ben Mink and asked if he would put some fiddle on the tune. Modern technology allows me to send him my tracks, he puts on the violin and sends it back to me via e-mail. We were never in the same room. I expected him to put some real down-home fiddle on, but he completely fooled me and played the most smoking electric violin parts that took the song over the edge. 

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Click here to preview/ buy the whole album or individual tracks! Also available on iTunes (search for “The Mitchell Feeney Project”, no hyphen)

A  bit more about the the transition from poem to lyric…below is an excerpt from the poem:

A parking lot and boat ramp

Spent cartridges

Birds improvising

Dragon flies with no apparent flight plan

Good ol’ boys chugging out

Across water the colour of iced tea

To catch a mess of catfish.

These lines have a kind of chopped up rhythm, so I had to re-jig them. This entailed killing my favourite image in the poem, the one about the dragonflies; the catfish and the cartridges had to go as well. I then re-instated a line that I had discarded when writing the poem and ended up with this:

Good ol’ boys are chugging out

storm clouds on the horizon

the water looks like iced tea

birds are improvising.

Simple is sometimes hard to do!

 

 

The Mitchell-Feeney Project – Track 2, The Road.

 

The sun beats down like judgement

on the armour-plated road

I just called out God and the Devil

and neither of them showed,

and there’s a sour smell of whiskey sweat

on the air-conditioned air

sometimes I think I care too much

and sometimes I just don’t care……

The Road….a song about a man who has run out of options.

 

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Click Here to Buy album or Individual Tracks

To buy the song, album, click on link above, the album is also available on iTunes (search for “The Mitchell Feeney Project”, no hyphen).

 Notes..

In this lyric, I wanted to imply a story through a series of images. This proved to be harder than I thought! This is one of those songs that John and I kicked back and forward a bit, tweaking the lyric. The chorus was always there, though!

Now, John will tell you how he took the words on paper and worked his magic……. (by the way one of my favourite moments in this song is when the guitar solo kicks in after the second chorus)….here’s John:

 When I read Jim’s poem, “The Road” I could see myself looking through the cracked and dusty windshield of a ’81 Pontiac Catalina, on that real, dry stretch of highway between Santa Rosa and Albuquerque, New Mexico, that seems to go on forever.  The song obviously needed a rolling tempo to match the movement of the car, and I thought that the jangle sound of my Rickenbacker electric 12 string guitar and a solid drum track would add to the constant moving effect. I use the key of G, because that open G chord with an added D on the B string really has an open ringing sound, Lots of fifths. I also felt that the song needed a bridge, but felt that it didn’t need a bridge with a lyric, so just added some different chords and put in a guitar solo using a Standard Strat. on the middle pick-up. Jim’s poems always feel like they have a country twang to them, so an all guitar background was the right thing and some nice tight 2 part harmony seemed to work, thanks to singer, Nikki MN, who just happened to be here from London.

(Photo: Sunrise 1)

 

The Mitchell-Feeney Project – Upcoming Album (Crossing the line between Poetry and Song-Writing)

I was sitting down one night over a few drinks with my good friend, John Mitchell, talking about music, poetry and soccer when the subject of song lyrics and song writing came up. At that point in the evening where the power of drink makes every idea seem like a good one, John suggested that we should write a song together.  John is a successful professional musician and I am a chemical engineer and occasionally published poet, so I have to admit I felt  a bit out of my league, but I agreed anyway!

Over the next few days, I pulled out some poems I had hanging around but none of them really fitted the bill given that they were basically non rhyming free verse. I had a phrase, though, – “sitting in this motel room/ I could be sitting anywhere”- and I started to develop a character and story around that phrase. The final lyric eventually became the song, “Emma Jean”, which you can take a listen to below. It’s a long way from words on paper to a finished song, and that’s where John’s talent as a singer, song writer, composer, musician and arranger took over (in other words, John did the heavy lifting!). Here’s the song, please, please use headphones to listen rather than just your computer’s speakers, the song is mixed with headphones in mind.

In the end John and I collaborated on 5 songs which, together with 2 songs written by John alone,  we have put together on an album.

Click here to preview the whole album, and if you like the songs, buy one, buy them all!! Also available on iTunes (search for “The Mitchell Feeney Project”, no hyphen)

A few notes about the song “Emma Jean”, it was obvious from the start that this would be a country song, it’s about divorce,  separation, there’s a child involved, and what could be more country than that? But I wanted to avoid formula, so the story took a twist, at the end, that perhaps disqualifies it as a mainstream modern country song, but hey, never pander!   Initially, the song didn’t have the middle two verses, being more accustomed to writing poetry where my rule is “say what you have to say with as few words as possible”,  I thought I had said enough. But songs need verses and John told me to flesh it out a bit, so I came up with the lines “Who know why love goes wrong/ It’s not written anywhere” and took it from there. John was right of course, the extra verses created context. Now…over to John!

Writing lyrics for me, is about as easy as giving birth, not that I have experience of both. My lyrics are either incredibly self indulgent or incredibly preachy, or a bit of both. The ability to paint pictures with words is truly an amazing gift and I appreciate that gift in others. My favourite lyricists tell stories and take us to another place and time or share experiences through someone else’s eyes. When I first read Jim’s poem, Emma Jean, I could see that motel room and I could smell the mixture of stale beer and carpet cleaner that is the telltale odour of cheap motels. I recognise it from years on the road with bands.

In the case of “Emma Jean”, the music came quickly. First, it had to be in a minor key, as the story was fairly dark and the background music needed to be sparse with minimal instruments so as not to interfere with the lyrics – just guitar, a little bass, and a touch of southern slide. The vocal tries to express how Emma Jean’s dad would feel in that hotel room – loneliness with a good helping of bitterness. I then wanted to use different instruments to accent the chorus, so I added accordion and trombone and orchestral cymbals. The acoustic guitar( a Larrivee D-50)  and vocal are all real, but all the other sounds are digital samples. I recorded it all on my laptop using the program, Logic, and mixed the tunes for headphones to hear the full spectrum of instruments.  

As Jim noted above, please use headphones to listen to the sample track above or plug into a good set of speakers.

In our next post, John and I will discuss another track on the album.

Driving Home with Leonard Cohen

Driving Home with Leonard Cohen

Despite what he says

not everybody knows,

not everybody knows

like Leonard knows.

Not everybody knows

that the best songs

are about loss,

endings,

so long,

ways to say goodbye

closing time,

and that age

can be laughed about

but not at,

if I had a hat

I would raise it to Mr.Cohen

perched up there alone

in his ancient tower.

This is a re-blog of a post from last year.

Where have all the Good Rhymes gone?

Where have all the Good Rhymes Gone?

 I’m not sure when rhymes all but disappeared from modern poetry, but pick up any recent collection and you would be hard put to find a single rhyme. I’m not saying that this is a bad thing, on the other hand, stop anyone in the street and ask them to recite their favourite poem and invariably, if they reply at all, it will be a rhyming poem. So people like rhyme but if poets have stopped rhyming where do people go for their rhyming fix?

The answer of course is popular song. Pop, folk, country, rock, rap, hip hop could not function without rhyme; obvious rhyme mostly, rhyme that can seen coming a mile away. If you hear ‘dance’ there will be ‘romance’; if you hear ‘night’, it’s going to be ‘alright’, if you hear “love’, there will be a ‘sky above’. This can be boring or comforting depending on your point of view. But there are rhymes in popular song, rhymes that avoid cliché, that manage to surprise. For example:

The bridge at midnight trembles

The country doctor rambles.

(Bob Dylan from “Love minus Zero, No Limits)

Or more recently, check out the “The Trapeze Swinger” from Sam Beam[i] of Iron and Wine who writes songs of such fragile beauty that it feels like they will fall apart if you touch them.

But please remember me, fondly

I heard from someone you’re still pretty

And then they went on to say that the Pearly Gates

Had some eloquent graffiti

 Or, from the White Album:

I’m so tired, I’m feeling so upset

Although I’m so tired, I’ll have another cigarette

And curse Sir Walter Raleigh

He was such a stupid get[ii].

‘Trembles, ‘rambles’, ‘poetry’, ‘graffiti’, ‘cigarette’, stupid get’, all rhymes that don’t resort to cliché, that manage to surprise and there are many more. So if there is anyone out there reading this, send me your favorites, let’s get a list going! Only two criteria: 1) the rhyme must surprise 2) no rhymes ending in ‘ution’ as in “make revolutions/ not institutions/ dilution/ is not the solution/ to pollution/ make restitution…enough already.

*******

[i] Why has Sam Beam not been made poet laureate of the United States of America? He could have written “Trapeze Swinger” alone, and he would be streets ahead of anyone else. Graffiti on the pearly gates -‘tell my mother not to worry’,  ‘rug-burned babies’, ‘a trapeze swinger as high as any savior’; check it out here:

[ii] Some websites write this as “stupid git”, but the album liner notes show it as “stupid get” which obviously rhymes better but also it would be more likely that Lennon being from Liverpool would use the Irish (and also Scottish) pronunciation ‘get’ rather than ‘git’ which is more common in the south of England. By the way, Wiktionary suggests that ‘get’ is related to the word ‘beget’, whereas I think it is more likely that it comes from the gaelic word ‘geit’ meaning ‘fright’ or ‘terror’. The meaning has since morphed into something close to ‘jerk’.

 

Having a Pint with Adele (and the meaning of post modern)

It is late afternoon in The Post Coital Beetle and Slim and I are starting into our first pitcher of Blue Buck Ale, nachos have been ordered. On the television screen on the wall in front of us, a baseball player is attacking a dugout water cooler with his bat. The television is on mute. Adele emotes in the background.

It’s been a while since Slim and I have got together and although nothing has been said, I sense that he has a beef of some kind. Not that this is unusual, having a beef is Slim’s default mode, but at the moment he seems relaxed. He has just finished a three hour practice with his band “Bad Complexion”. Slim plays bass and does background vocals. The armpits of his faded Clash T shirt are wet with sweat and the T shirt has been washed so many times that it no longer fits, leaving a gap of bristly pink flesh above the belt of his jeans. The image of a pig’s cheek pops into my head.

He’s smiling.

“She’s really just an old-fashioned British pop singer, isn’t she?” He says.

“Who?”

“Adele, you know…somewhere between Lulu and Shirley Bassey.”

“I guess…she also has that girl next door thing”

“Exactly,” Slim says, “like Cilla Black.”

“That name brings to mind a small black and white television set”

“You could have a pint with Adele,” Slim says, wistfully, and we both fall silent thinking about sharing a pint with Adele.

The pub door opens and closes. Cold blast of January air. Skunky whiff of over-hopped ale. Or is that Slim’s armpit? The silence lingers a little too long.

“I’ve taken up cooking, I’ve become a devotee of Wolfgang Puck.”

Slim does an owl blink, I can almost hear his brain working.

“Who the fuck

is Wolfgang

Puck? And why

should I care?”

He intones smugly.

“You’re doing that 12 syllable slimverse thing again, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” he says, “and that reminds me, I have a bone to pick with you.”

Ahh, not a beef but a bone.

“Shoot”

“This lame-ass blog of yours, I thought it was supposed to be devoted to my poems, but lately it’s all your stuff and you’ve taken stories I’ve told you and used them for your poems and created this character called Slim”

“I’m being post-modern”

“What the fuck does that mean?”

“You know, there are many ways of knowing and many truths to a fact.

“Crystal clear then, how can anything be post-modern? ‘Modern’ means ‘of the present’ – ‘now’, the only possible way a work could be post-modern would be if it was written in the future, for that we will have to wait for the invention of time travel.”

He folds his arms, discussion over.

“You have a point. Anyway, you haven’t been giving me much to publish lately.”

“Ok, how about this one, it’s called ‘Rasta’:

It’s a fact

all Rastas

are born out

of dreadlock.”

“Amusing, but a bit thin, we need flesh on the bones, Slim, flesh on the bones. Besides, I’m not so sure about this slim verse thing.”

Slim drains his half full pint glass and refills it.

“Go on.” He says.

“Well, you know, the haiku has got a headlock on internet poetry and it has seventeen syllables to work with, that’s five more than a slimverse. Now I hear that someone in the north of England has come up with a new form – the ‘anchored terset’ which is essentially a three word/four line poem, the fourth line being a punctuation mark, for example:

Sky

Field

Cow

.

It’s a race towards nothingness.”

Slim drains his pint glass and leans forward, his finger poking in my direction.

“Here’s an anchored terset for you….

You

Fuck

Off

!”

He tries to storm out but because we are in a booth he has to slide along the bench seat, his stomach rubbing against the table’s edge. His T shirt rides up. At the same time the waitress arrives with a plate of nachos shaped like a volcano, a volcano spewing molten cheese lava. The waitress stares in horror at the sinkhole that is Slim’s navel. Slim shouts at the waitress:

“I thought I said ‘hold the jalapenos’!

We watch him leave, on his back Paul Simonon slams his Fender Precision Bass into the stage at The Palladium in New York city.

“He seems upset”, the waitress says, and I’m thinking:

I can’t see

the pulled pork,

she forgot

the pulled pork.

 

After all

that bother

she forgot

the pulled pork.

 

 

Reference:

http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2016/feb/04/a-brief-guide-anchored-terset-poetry

 

 

 

Slim at the Vancouver Folk Festival (reprise)

One hour into the folkfest

and a mellow, minor key, melancholy

is seeping into Slim’s bones,

he feels it like an arthritic ache

and he wishes that someone

would duck walk across the stage

shooting staccato bursts of distorted guitar

at the chill, Tilley clad audience

who, unlike Slim, have a default mode

other than anger.

 

I thought I would reprise this one. I spent yesterday at the Vancouver Folk Festival. The photograph shows the on-site solar-powered ATM. The ATM is housed in a Volkswagen van which is indicative of the post Woodstock festival vibe, in fact some of the people looked like they may have been at Woodstock. At times they must have felt, looking at the current generation of festival-goers,  that they were looking at their former selves – long straight air, flowing dresses, tie-dyed shirts, garlands, beards, that swirling hippy dance. The solar-powered ATM is indicative of the environmental consciousness or conscience of the event ( there are attendants at each garbage bin station to ensure that people make the right recycling choice).

In recent years, local authorities have allowed a beer garden, which means that beer can be purchased and consumed behind a chain-linked fence but not carried around the festival grounds. This is good in that beer is available but having to drink in a compound dampens the free spirit vibe a little bit. It is ironic that at the Republican Convention this week, guns can be open-carried and here in Vancouver, it is forbidden to open-carry a beer. Sometimes erring on the side of safety is a good thing.

Some great acts that I hadn’t heard before = the Moulettes, San Firmin, Hayes Carll.

I,ve Got Your Back (2)

This photo was taken in the late evening, walking south on Sandymount Strand, Dublin. We had just come from Mulligan’s Pub where we watched Ireland tie with Sweden in the first round of Euro 2016. The plastic shopping bag is from Tesco’s and contains comfort food – bags of Tayto Chips (Ireland’s national potato chip) and Cadbury’s chocolate bars.

The chocolate bars in question are Cadbury’s Boost (formerly known as Moro) and Cadbury’s Flake. A Cadbury’s Flake is not really a bar, in that the word ‘bar’ implies solidity, rigidity, the flake is a fragile thing and starts to disintegrate as soon as the package is opened. When Phil Lynnot of Thin Lizzy complained of getting “chocolate stains on his pants” (Dancing in the Moonlight), he was probably eating a Cadbury’s Flake.

There is a feeling of opportunity lost captured in the resigned slope of the shoulders of the people in the photo, Ireland should have won the game against Sweden and at that point faced an uphill battle to reach the next stage of the tournament. In the next game we were thumped 3-0 by Belgium and then needed a win against Italy to make it through. It was looking like the game would end in another tie, when about five minutes from the end, Wes Hoolahan gets the ball inside the Italian half, Robbie Brady, in one of those moments of telepathy that happens between players that have played together for awhile, runs towards the narrow gap between the two Italian center backs which is exactly where Wes puts the ball. Robbie’s head meets the ball and in a flash it’s in the back of the Italian net. The whole Irish nation, scattered across continents like green confetti, jumps from its seat with a collective roar; grown men with beer bellies and heads like bowling balls blub like small children; the Irish players pile on top of Robbie Brady in a tangle of beards, tattoos and expensive haircuts; the Irish manager and assistant manager – two men who would have previously considered a handshake to be excessive intimacy – grapple tearfully like emotional Olympic wrestlers and why not, why not! We are a small country, we have never felt that winning is our birth right, so when we do win, well, catharsis doesn’t begin to describe it.

Take it away, Phil.

 

 

Glenn Frey, the New York Daily News and the Lionel Messi Problem

Following the death of Glenn Frey, an article by Gersh Kuntzman appeared in the “New York Daily News” titled “Glenn Frey’s death is sad but the Eagles were a horrific band”. The definition of “horrific “in the Oxford English Dictionary is “causing horror” and the definition of “horror” is “An intense feeling of fear, shock, or disgust”. I wondered how could a country rock band that created some great songs and were accomplished instrumentalists and singers cause an intense feeling of fear, shock or disgust. He then goes on to say in the body of the article that Eagles were “quite simply, the worst rock and roll band”. Again, like them or not, how could that be? There are a million other far worthier candidates; the three guys who practiced in the garage of my neighbor’s house when I was growing up, for a start. The Eagles aren’t even a rock band, they are a country rock band that occasionally plays rock n’roll and when they do, they play it well – “Life in the Fast lane”, for example.

Further down, Gersh lists other artists who were active in 1972 to 1976 – Lou Reed, David Bowie, The Sex Pistols – implying that the Eagles were creative dwarves in comparison. Whatever about Lou and David – The Sex Pistols? Never mind the bollocks, and there is an awful lot of bollocks written when it comes to The Sex Pistols, has anyone, even Gersh, listened to The Sex Pistols in the last 35 years. At the end of the article, he describes a scene in “The Big Lebowski” where “The Dude” asks his cab driver to turn off “Peaceful Easy Feeling”, because The Dude (“an icon of cool”) hates the “f**king Eagles”. Gersh exempts Joe Walsh from this un-coolness, in a sad attempt to pander, awarding him the distinction of being the only cool Eagle. Has North America become a giant high school where politicians resort to bullying, name-calling and macho posturing and rock journalists try to appear cool and hardcore by referencing The Big Lebowski and The Sex Pistols?

And then there’s Gersh’s Lionel Messi Problem. What is a Lionel Messi problem? Well, say you’re a sports fan and you are a dedicated follower of one team, you automatically can’t stand the team’s arch rival; if it’s the Vancouver Canucks, the Leafs suck; if you are an Everton fan, Liverpool suck; if you are a Real Madrid fan, Barcelona suck. But there’s a problem, Lionel Messi plays for Barcelona and is obviously the top player in the world. So if you are a Madrid fan the most you can do is to resort to lame criticism – he’s only good because of the system Barcelona play, he’s not the same when he plays for Argentina – then Messi, all by himself slaloms past four defenders and chips the ball over the keeper. Hotel California is Gersh’s Lionel Messi Problem. The lyrics are “mysterious”, only of interest to “nerds” (high school again), it’s a “novelty” song. Mysterious?  It’s poetry, Gersh, Don Henley is using imagery, metaphor, the whole song is a metaphor for chrissake! There isn’t a song writer out there who wouldn’t give his eyeteeth to have written that lyric. Apart from the lyric, the song has everything else – good chord structure, melody and great guitar. It is in fact a great rock song and how can the worst rock band produce a great rock song, that’s Gersh’s Lionel Messi Problem.

He has since written an article titled “I’m the Most Hated Man In America”.

Gersh, you are so bad!

 

Check it out here:

 

http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/music/glenn-frey-death-sad-eagles-lousy-band-article-1.2501461