All posts tagged: Saturday Music

Saturday Soundtrack: Songs for social distancing

I was listening to Oscar Peterson recently when he began the familiar Duke Ellington tune Don’t Get Around Much Anymore. I quipped, “Well, that could be my theme song for sheltering-in-place.” Here we are, still pretty much stuck in our own bubbles for the foreseeable future, and not getting around much at all. While musing on our situation, the thought came to me that it could be fun — or at least distracting — to have a look here on Saturday Music at this testimonial to social distancing. We’ll begin our exploration of this beautiful “I miss you” song with the version that put me on this quest — the Oscar Peterson arrangement, which I believe features Peterson on piano, the incomparable Ray Brown on bass, and Ed Thigpen on drums.* Then we’ll turn to Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald — jazz royalty — for their take on the standard. This out-of-focus clip is from the NBC telecast the Ella Fitzgerald Show, from April 1968. According to some online commentators, in the same show they …

Saturday Soundtrack: Billy Strings

Billy Strings was born William Apostol on October 3, 1992, and grew up listening to his stepfather’s bluegrass music as well as the more broadly popular rock and metal genres. As he started playing music, all those influences come tumbling out of his guitar in ways surprising and often refreshing. His aunt gave him the moniker Billy Strings after recognizing his talent as a multi-instrumentalist. I’d say she hit the nail on the head. In 2016’s Meet Me At the Creek, Strings and his band head off on an extended jam that sounds like bluegrass meeting indie rock. One of the funniest online comments (apropos of nothing) makes the observation: “Forest Gump 3 months into his run on the upright bass…” but the music is great. With this 2017 version of Turmoil and Tinfoil, Strings and his band head off down a path of bluegrass metal music. Two of the best next generation bluegrass guitar players — Strings and Molly Tuttle — play the old chestnut Sittin’ On Top of the World at the 2019 …

Saturday Soundtrack: This Land is Your Land

Happy July 4th! In the spirit of the day, let’s celebrate the Woody Guthrie 1940 classic This Land is Your Land. Many of us believe, for a variety of reasons, that it should be the national anthem. No less an authority than Bruce Springsteen has said, it is “one of the most beautiful songs ever written about America.” Guthrie wrote This Land is Your Land during the Great Depression in response to Irving Berlin’s God Bless America. There’s a wonderful book by John Shaw entitled This Land That I Love: Irving Berlin, Woody Guthrie, and the Story of Two American Anthems. As Shaw describes it, Guthrie was hitchhiking his way to New York City when he became upset over hearing the Kate Smith version of Berlin’s song over and over again during the trip. Guthrie sat down and wrote a song in anger, but his revisions over time turned it into one of the most shared and beloved songs in our nation’s history. Here’s the unvarnished recording from Woody, with the bonus of a picture …

Saturday Soundtrack: Muriel Anderson

Composer, fingerstyle guitarist, and harp guitarist extraordinarie Muriel Anderson celebrated a major birthday earlier this month with a live birthday party / concert…and it was a blast! Along with hundreds of other fans listening to the event, I heard wonderful music, had a tour of Muriel and partner Bryan Allen’s Long Island summer home, and watched the guest of honor open presents. Muriel is one of my guitar heroes, and I’ve written about her work several times in the past. Like here. And here, when I tell the world that I’m in love. And here, when I tell the story of sitting in the baggage claim area at BWI airport so I could here her play a brief concert. And one of my posts with the most views — Be Present When Serendipity Strikes — was about finally waking up on a flight home from Nashville one summer evening, only to realize that I was sitting next to Muriel and Bryan. From that point on, it was a magical flight. I had hopes of hearing …

Saturday Soundtrack: Lift Every Voice and Sing

In honor of Juneteenth (+ 1), I want to use my Saturday Music post to celebrate the song known as the “Black National Anthem” — none other than the soul-stirring Lift Every Voice and Sing. With words by James Weldon Johnson and music by his brother John, Lift Every Voice and Sing was written at the turn of the 20th century, a time when Jim Crow laws were beginning to take hold across the South and Blacks were looking for an identity. In a way that was both gloriously uplifting and starkly realistic, it spoke to the history of the dark journey of African Americans. “It allows us to acknowledge all of the brutalities and inhumanities and dispossession that came with enslavement, that came with Jim Crow, that comes still today with disenfranchisement, police brutality, dispossession of education and resources,” Shana Redmond — author of Anthem: Social Movements and the Sound of Solidarity in the African Diaspora — says. “It continues to announce that we see this brighter future, that we believe that something will …

Saturday Soundtrack: Sturgill Simpson

Sturgill Simpson is the hard-to-classify, but always intriguing singer and songwriter who sounds like Waylon Jennings or Merle Haggard (take your choice, as both were great singers); writes about topics not often heard on contemporary country radio; has outspoken progressive politics sure to rub many country music fans the wrong way; and who has a gift for surprise…as you’ll find at the end of this post. (Bluegrass fans who can’t wait should just jump there first!) A native of Kentucky, the son of a secretary and a Kentucky State Trooper, Simpson is the first male on his mother’s side of the family to not work in a strip mine or deep mine. Nonetheless, that blue collar, hard working sensibility comes through with every song he writes and every note he sings. He is a Navy veteran who speaks up in his songs and in interviews about the dangers of the military industrial complex. In a famous Facebook Live post outside the 2017 Country Music Association awards show, Simpson said, “Nobody needs a machine gun. Coming …

Saturday Soundtrack: The Old Songs

I’ve found myself drawn to several musical performances online this week during our troubled times. Most are covers — where musicians perform works by other musicians — and while the date of the originals range across centuries, most of the versions that have touched me were recently recorded. While some are instrumentals, knowing the lyrics to the songs has given me a context to hear the music in new ways. I want to share with you a few of my favorites from this music for troubled times. “We’re not doing my original songs,” Rhiannon Giddens says in her recent NPR Tiny Desk (Home) Concert, before she and her partner, Francesco Turrisi, launch into an old spiritual, “’cause with these kinds of emotions, the old songs say it best.” The set list for the 20 minute mini-concert, filmed at Turrisi’s home in Ireland in late May, goes back to “the origins” as Giddens says, and includes Black As Crow, Spiritual, and the tune set Carolina Gals / Last Chance. While all are wonderful, the haunting vocals and …

Saturday Soundtrack: Brooks Williams

Singer and guitarist Brooks Williams hails from Statesboro, Georgia, the town made famous by country-blues legend Blind Willie McTell. Williams’ backstory provides a bit of context as to why this Cambridge, England resident has a love for country blues — evident throughout his three decades of work — that comes so naturally. “Ranked in the Top 100 Acoustic Guitarists, he’s a mean finger-picker and a stunning slide guitarist. Plus, ‘he has a beautiful voice,’ says Americana UK, ‘that you just melt into.’ Not one easy to pigeon-hole, Brooks’ music is the love-child of country-blues and soulful Americana.” Williams has been playing live and releasing albums since 1990. To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the release of his first record, Williams recently recorded an album of 12 of his favorite songs from his back catalogue. Called Work My Claim, the recording features musicians John McCusker (Mark Knopfler), Christine Collister (Richard Thompson), and Aaron Catlow (Sheelanagig) in addition to Williams. We’ll begin our tour with a soulful and bluesy version of You Don’t Know My Mind from Work …

Saturday Soundtrack: Tyler Childers

I’ve always loved the old Utah Phillips tune Rock, Salt, and Nails. It has such a lonesome sound that connects on so many levels. And surprisingly, for a song that sounds so ancient, no one sings it with greater feeling than the young country singer Tyler Childers. “By the banks of the river, where the willows hang down, Where the wild birds they warble with a low moaning sound, Way down in the hollow where the water runs cold, It was there I first listened to the lies that you told. Now I lie on my back and I see your sweet face. The past I remember, time can’t erase. The letters you wrote me, they were written in shame, And I know that your conscience still echoes my name.” Childers is from Kentucky, having grown up in Lawrence County where his father worked in the coal industry and his mother worked as a nurse. Like many a country musician, he began singing in church—in his case the local Free Will Baptist congregation. His grandfather gave him …