Something Old, New, Borrowed and Blue
One of the staples of my teenage radio-listening days was Dave Herman’s “Old, New, Borrowed and Blue” program on WNEW in New York City. Those sets exposed me to a lot of great music from the cultural backwaters. As for the conceptual framework, for over thirty years now I've thought it was Dave Herman’s creation! I just learned the other day it's actually a centuries-old guide to what a bride should wear on her wedding day. Who knew? It certainly didn’t come up at my wedding. Anyway, here’s the first in what will be a series of posts featuring old, new, borrowed and blue tunes.
The old tune, Richard Thompson’s “1952 Vincent Black Lightning,” is not all that old, having been released in 1991, but I think of it as an old tune. Perhaps because of the title’s reference to 1952, perhaps because Richard Thompson is getting long in the tooth (his best-known work is his 1982 collaboration with ex-wife, Linda Thompson, on Shoot Out The Lights, ranked by Rolling Stone as the 332nd greatest album of all time), or perhaps because the tune’s Appalachian-style finger-picking has a timeless, banjo-like feel to it.
The lyrics revolve around a man, a woman and a motorcycle, with the motorcycle being the primary love interest of both. Hearing Thompson perform the tune live a few months ago in San Francisco was transporting. My mind filled with images of old James Dean movies, bank robbers and sultry summer days whiled away on a front porch somewhere. The guitar work amply demonstrates why Richard Thompson is considered one of rock’s greatest players. It's intensely intricate yet played with fluidity and delicacy. Acoustic guitar playing doesn’t get better than this.
The new tune is “The Whippoorwill” by the Atlanta-based band Blackberry Smoke from their 2012 album of the same name. The band’s music follows a hallowed recipe, fusing Southern rock and country. This track is a mellow groove that combines Pink Floyd’s signature organ and guitar blend from The Dark Side Of The Moon (the intro and outro read heavily like “Breathe”) with a pop hook element reminiscent of The Black Crowes. I also hear Gregg Allman’s ethereal organ on “Dreams” and a hint of Little Feat’s jazz piano. It's an interesting blend.
I received a lot of excellent feedback on my recent post listing the Top Ten Rock ‘n’ Roll Cover Songs of all time. This week’s “Borrowed” tune is at the top of a friend’s all time cover track list. It's Son Volt’s cover of Ronnie Wood’s “Mystifies Me.” The track meets my criteria for a worthwhile cover song in that the original is most assuredly obscure and the cover is well done. Below is Son Volt’s version followed by a clip of Ronnie Wood, Keith Richards and Rod Stewart performing the tune in 1974.
This set is trending mellow, so I'm going to take things up a notch with the “Blue” tune. It's “Steppin'” by Cafe R&B. I saw this band live maybe ten years ago at John Lee Hooker’s Boom Boom Room in San Francisco and to say they blew the roof off the dump would be unfair. They reduced the place to rubble. It was one of those shows where I was pushing people out of the way afterwards to score a CD. This track is taken from the band’s 1999 album “Black & White.” Below is the best clip I could find of it. Unfortunately, it starts in the middle of the second verse so you miss the set-up, but suffice it to say that the lead singer is none too pleased with her man. I couldn’t find a link to the studio version either so I'd recommend buying the record (which we should all do anyway to support the artists).