|The Elvis Costello
Elvis talks about some of his favourite albums
ME Album Rack "Hats off to these names"
Musik-Express (Germany) € July 2002
Without removing his trendy hat or leather coat, the well-informed collector and songwriter gets cracking when entering the room. It went on till fairly late last night, he reveals. Elvis, who lives a few kilometers outside of Dublin, had to make some important changes on his latest oeuvre, "and suddenly it was three in the morning!" Said work is a ballet, Shakespeare's "Midsummer Night's Dream", commissioned by an Italian troupe - and this although Elvis couldn't read music ten years ago. "That's incredible fun to do" he enthuses, "all with pen and paper. With a computer you're only cheating! You play a piano melody, and the computer fills in the chords for the other instruments like they were all pianos. No, you have to learn to think like an orchestra." In a few months the score will be released on CD. Already out is WHEN I WAS CRUEL, Elvis' first rock album since ALL THIS USELESS BEAUTY from 1996, which proves: The man with the sharpest tongue in the British rock business takes pleasure in fairly broad musical tastes. So he inevitably can only present a small part of his record collection for our readers. "I just grabbed everything lying round the CD player." he smiles and still doesn't remove his hat or coat.
Ethiopiques: Alèmayèhu Eshèté 1969-1974
What a groove - like Bobby Bland! I love this guy. Incredibly hip, he looks like David Ruffin. This series of Ethiopian music is generally great. It's from a golden era from 1969 to 1974, beginning with the fall of Haile Selassie and ending with the Marxist regime's seizure of power when they put a stop to all connections to the West and pop music as well. Some day my wife and me discovered an Ethiopian bar on the outskirts of Vancouver/Canada, where they played this incredible music. It sounded like they were playing two Van Morrison albums simultaneously, but with half a beat apart. Last year we went to Ethiopia. It was really nice.
Lucinda Williams: Essence
A brillant album! Recently I had the chance to work with Lu in "Crossroads", a show on CMT, the country version of MTV. We put together a set in two days. Only through working with her I realised how great this woman really is - a fine lyricist and a brillant singer. She's a rock'n'roller at heart, but first of all a blues singer. In her voice I hear Memphis Minnie and all those women from the twenties. While my lyrics are often crammed with words, she's really economical with words, like Raymond Carver. For example, the song "Lonely Girls". The only thing happening in this song is her singing "Lonely Girls" four times every verse. And then she adds a single characteristic to every verse describing these lonely girls: heavy blanket, nice hair, sparkling rhinestones. Short and precise like a Haiku.
Houndog: Houndog Day
Houndog are David Hidalgo, guitarrist and songwriter of Los Lobos, and a certain Mike Halby, whom I don't know (Ed.: Abelardo Eugenio de la Dobro Halby, born on 1st April 1927 in Arizona, was raised in Arizona according to Internet sources, but this could be fake). This CD sounds incredible. Listen to this! This is the slowest blues groove I ever heard. Lightning Hopkins would have liked that! Although I'm not especially fond of the blues. I just like certain voices: Muddy Waters, Otis Rush (the recordings he did in the fifties for Cobra Records), Howlin' Wolf, Skip James. I like Robert Johnson, he's great in my opinion, but I like Skip James more - he's really scary.
Bob Dylan: Love And Theft
I once said "Time Out Of Mind" could be Dylan's best album. So what's to say about this CD? The man simply gets better and better. On "Time Out Of Mind" his lyrics were really slender, without superfluous detail. Now this record is crammed with tiny details, that keep kicking your imagination. It's not necessarily profound, but this playfulness somehow applies to the listener. I was aware of Bob Dylan as a child, but only when I was living in Liverpool in the early seventies did I buy my first Dylan album - that was "Blonde On Blonde".
Cannibal Ox: The Cold Vein
Fantastic Hip-Hop; I got this from my son. The music's really exciting, they take a groove, cut it up and turn it into something abstract. The lyrics are interesting, too. They like to take some stereotype and turn it upside down. This is certainly no commercial album, but it's got a message for me. And I like that.
The Mississippi Sheiks: Stop And Listen
This is almost minstrel music. It's from the same era as the delta blues. If you listen to someone like Charlie Patton, Skip James or Robert Johnson, it sounds like a man alone with the microphone making a confession. But these guys sound like entertainers. This includes the original versions of "Sitting On Top Of The World" or "World Gone Wrong", which Dylan covered, too. You almost get the picture of a family somewhere in Eastern Europe, making music in their front room a hundred years ago.
The Band: Music From Big Pink
I also love the second album by The Band. But the first somehow seems more mysterious and still sounds like it was recorded this morning - modern and really old at the same time. This CD with additional tracks is really great. Richard Manuel's vocals on the outtake of "Tears Of Rage" is absolutely devastating; this version is even better than the one that ended up on the album.
Deidre Rodman: Sun Is Us
I met Deidre Rodman through sax player Roy Nathanson. She played on the live version of "The Fire At Keaton's Bar And Grill", a kind of a jazz oratorio which I sang in. Deidre is from New York, she's a wonderful pianist and a delicate composer with a truly unique voice.
Joni Mitchell: The Hissing Of Summer Lawns
I return to this album every two years. It's the most underrated record she ever made. Incredible lyrics, picturesque and romantic at the same time. And still they sound like songs. Together with Dylan, Joni Mitchell is one of the really great songwriters of the 20th century. Most people are not even talented enough to make use of the opportunities she uncovers in her songs. It's easier to make a bad imitation of Bob Dylan than of Joni Mitchell. It's ridiculous that she's not up there just because there's a prejudice against "Girl Singers".
Interview: Hanspeter Kuenzler
Musik-Express (Germany) € July 2002
Ohne sich der schicken Kopfbedeckung oider des ledernen Mantels zu entledigen, legt der kundige Sammler und Songwriter gleich beim Betreten des Raumes los. Es sei sehr spaet geworden in der Nacht vor dem Date mit dem ME, verrraet Elvis, der einige Kilometer entfernt von Dublin wohnt. Unbedingt habe er noch ein paar Aenderungen an seinem Oevre anbringen muessen, "und dann war's ploetzlich drei Uhr frueh!" Beim besagten Werk handelt es sich um ein Ballett, Shakespeares "Midsummer Night's Dream", von einer italienischen Truppe bei Elvis in Auftrag gegeben, und das, obwohl dieser vor zehn Jahren noch gar keine Noten lesen konnte. "Sowas macht unglaublichen Spass" schwaermt er, "alles mit Bleistift und Papier. Mit dem Computer mogelt man doch nur! Man spielt eine Pianomelodie, und der Computer fuellt die Akkorde der anderen Instrumente aus, als waeren es lauter Klaviere. Nein, man muss denken lernen wie ein Orchester." In einigen Monaten wird das Stueck auf CD erscheinen. Bereits veroeffentlicht hingegen ist WHEN I WAS CRUEL, Elvis' erstes Rockalbum seit ALL THIS USELESS BEAUTY aus dem Jahr 1996, das beweist: Der Mann mit der schaerfsten Zunge im britischen Popgeschehen erfreut sich eines ausgesprochen geraeumigen Musikgeschmacks. Zwangslaeufig nur einen Bruchteil seiner Plattensammlung kann er den ME-Lesern hier vorstellen. "Ich habe in der Eile einfach gepackt, was am naechsten beim CD-Player lag." grinst er und legt Hut oder Mantel immer noch nicht ab.
Ethiopiques: Alèmayèhu Eshèté 1969-1974
Welch ein Groove - wie Bobby Bland! Ich liebe diesen Typ. Unglaublich hip, sieht aus wie David Ruffin. Diese Serie von aethiopischer Musik ist ueberhaupt grossartig. Sie stammt aus einer goldenen Periode von 1969 bis 1974, faengt mit dem Sturz von Haile Selassie an und hoert auf mit der Machtergreifung durch das marxistische Regime, das jegliche Verbindung mit dem Westen und damit auch Pop unterband. Meine Frau und ich entdeckten eines Tages in einem Aussenquartier von Vancouver/Kanada ein aethiopisches Lokal, wo sie diese unglaubliche Musik spielten. Sie klang, als ob zwei Van Morrison-Alben gleichzeitig abgespielt wuerden, aber um einen halben Takt zeitverschoben. Letztes Jahr sind wir dann hingereist nach Aethiopien. Es war sehr schoen.
Lucinda Williams: Essence
Ein brillantes Album! Kuerzlich durfte ich mit Lu in "Crossroads" auftreten, einer Show auf CMT, der Country-Version von MTV. Wir stellten innerhalb von zwei Tagen ein Programm zusammen. Erst bei der Arbeit erkannte ich, wie grossartig diese Frau wirklich ist - eine tolle Texterin und eine brillante Saengerin. Sie ist von Herzen eine Rock'n'Rollerin, aber ganz zuerst eine Blues-Saengerin. Ich hoere in ihrer Stimme Memphis Minnie und all jene Frauen aus den zwanziger Jahren. Waehrend meine Texte oft sehr wortreich sind, geht sie mit Worten aeusserst sparsam um, aehnlich wie Raymond Carver. Beispiel: Der Song "Lonely Girls". Das einzige, was in dem Lied passiert, ist, dass sie pro Strophe viermal "Lonely Girls" singt. Und dann fuegt sie in jeder Strophe noch ein einziges Attribut hinzu, das zu diesen einsamen Maedchen gehoert: Schwere Bettdecken, huebsche Frisuren, funkelnde Rhinestones. Knapp und praezise wie ein Haiku.
Houndog: Houndog Day
Houndog bestehen aus David Hidalgo, dem Gitarristen und Songschreiber von Los Lobos, sowie einem gewissen Mike Halby, den ich nicht kenne (Anm.d.Red.: Abelardo Eugenio de la Dobro Halby, geboren am 1. April 1927 in Arizona, soll laut Internet in Arizona aufgewachsen sein, aber das koennte auch Camouflage sein). Die CD klingt unheimlich gut. Hoer dir mal das an! Das ist der langsamste Blues-Groove, den ich je gehoert habe. Den haette auch Lightning Hopkins geschaetzt! Dabei bin ich dem Blues nicht besonders verbunden. Ich mag einfach nur gewisse Stimmen: Muddy Waters, Otis Rush (die Aufnahmen, die er in den fuenfziger Jahren fuer Cobra Records machte), Howlin' Wolf, Skip James. Ich mag Robert Johnson, der ist meines Erachtens toll, aber Skip James mag ich mehr - der macht einem regelrecht Angst.
Bob Dylan: Love And Theft
Ich sagte einmal, "Time Out Of Mind" koennte Dalans beste Platte sein. Was muss man dann ueber diese CD sagen? Der Mann wird schlicht besser und besser. Auf "Time Out Of Mind" waren seine Texte ganz schlank, ohne jedes ueberfluessige Detail. Dieses Album nun ist voll gepackt mit winzigen Details, die deine Phantasie immer wieder neu ankicken. Das ist garnicht unbedingt tiefsinnig, aber diese Verspieltheit uebertraegt sich irgendwie auf den Zuhoerer. Ich kannte Bob Dylan schon als Kind, aber erst als ich in den fruehen siebziger Jahren in Liverpool wohnte, kaufte ich mein erstes Dylan-Album - das war damals "Blonde On Blonde".
Cannibal Ox: The Cold Vein
Fantastischer Hip-Hop; darauf gebracht hat mich mein Sohn. Die Musik ist aeusserst spannend, die nehmen einen Groove, schnipseln ihn auseinander und machen was ganz Abstraktes draus. Die Texte sind auch interessant. Gern bedienen Sie sich irgendwelcher Stereotypen und stellen diese dann auf den Kopf. Das ist bestimmt kein kommerzielles Album, aber es versucht, mir etwas zu sagen. Und so etwas schaetze ich.
The Mississippi Sheiks: Stop And Listen
Das ist schon fast Minnesaenger-Musik. Sie entstand zur selben Zeit wie der Delta-Blues. Wenn man einem Charlie Patton, einem Skip James oder einem Robert Johnson zuhoert, dann klingt es so, als ob ein Mann ganz allein vor dem Mikrofon ein Gestaendnis ablegt. Diese Typen aber klingen wie Entertainer. Hier sind die Originalversionen von "Sitting On Top Of The World" oder von "World Gone Wrong" drauf, was Dylan ja auch gecovert hat. Man sieht fast das Bild einer Familie irgendwo in Osteuropa vor sich, wie sie vor hundert Jahren in der guten Stube musiziert.
The Band: Music From Big Pink
Ich liebe auch das zweite Album von The Band. Aber das erste wirkt irgendwie mysterioeser und klingt noch immer so, als waere es heute morgen eingespielt worden - modern und uralt zur gleichen Zeit. Diese CD mit Zusatz-Tracks ist besonders gut. Richard Manuels Gesang auf dem Outtake von "Tears Of Rage" ist absolut erschuetternd; diese Version ist besser als die, die schließlich auf dem Album landete.
Deidre Rodman: Sun Is Us
Ich lernte Deidre Rodman ueber den Saxophonisten Roy Nathanson kennen. Sie spielte in der Live-Version von "The Fire At Keaton's Bar And Grill" mit, einer Art Jazz-Oratorium, in dem auch ich mitsang. Deidre stammt aus New York, ist eine wunderbare Pianistin und eine delikate Komponistin mit einer ganz eigenen Stimme.
Joni Mitchell: The Hissing Of Summer Lawns
Alle zwei Jahre kehre ich zu diesem Album zurueck. Es ist die unterbewertetste Platte, die sie je machte. Unglaubliche Texte, gemaeldehaft und romantisch zugleich. Trotzdem klingen sie nie, als ob sie nicht Songs sein sollten. Joni Mitchell gehoert neben Dylan zu den ganz grossen Songschreibern des 20. Jahrhunderts. Die meisten Leute sind nicht annaehernd talentiert genug, den Moeglichkeiten zu folgen, die sie in ihren Songs aufdeckt. Es ist viel einfacher, Bob Dylan schlecht zu imitieren als Joni Mitchell. Idiotisch, dass sie nur deswegen nicht auf einem Podest steht, weil ein Vorurteil gegen "Girl Singers" besteht.
Interview: Hanspeter Kuenzler
Q: In 10 years time you've gone from learning to read and write music to composing orchestral pieces.
E: Yeah, it was fun, I did it with a pencil. No computer technology. Cause with that you can cheat. You can play like piano chords. You've got to think like an orchestra. And you've got to learn stuff. A lot of it is intuitive. But some of it you have to read in a book. Obviously have to know the registers of the instruments. And I was really pleased, music came out approximately how I'd imagined. Some of the timbres came out different, combination of certain instruments created a different feel. Now, in recorded version I've edited it down quite a bit, cause there's repetitions when it's on stage. Made it more concise, cause it's just pure music now. Michael Tilson-Thomas is gonna conduct it with London Symphony Orchestra. We also have Peter Erskine, jazz drummer, playing on recording. 'Cause there's several cues where there's time, actual drum time, which orchestral drummers are notoriously bad at, as I found to my cost in Bologna. The one thing they couldn't do was play time. Cause never have to do that. Obviously sense of rhythm coming from the interlocking parts of the orchestra. They never have a backbeat. Or anything like that. And I had written some swing section.
Q: Really intriguing. Only heard new album once, waiting here. What struck me first that rhythmically there seems to be a lot more complex things going on than what you did before.
Q: And you were talking about the dance, and I was wondering whether that has given you a new awareness of rhythm.
E: I don't think it came into it. Really I had idea for this record for a while. Just a question of when the time was right to deliver it. There's one thing to have the idea in your head and to know that you want to make a record that sounds a certain way. It's quite another thing to actually make a record that's a thing that goes on sale. And the record company has to be awake and focused on it. That's not always easy to do these days, cause every time you turn round there's a new purchase of one corporation by another, and inevitably there's repercussions. And whilst that's really tedious to talk to people - music listeners aren't that interested hearing the people who make music complaining about record company politics. It's just a fact that it's actually difficult to release records when those things are happening. At one point it looked as if this was going to be my 4th record in succession I was attempting to release while my company was turning somersaults. "Brutal Youth", "This Useless Beauty" and "Painted From Memory" were all released - and of course none of those records were huge commercial success, you can speculate whether those records would have done slightly better. They weren't the most commercial records I made, but they might have actually done slightly better if everyone had been doing their job instead of trying not to get fired. So, erm, that is a small consideration when you're timing something.
And quite honestly, I was gonna make this record in the beginning of 2000. When Vivendi purchased Universal, or merged with Universal, I just stopped dead in my tracks. I stopped preparing - I had some of the songs, performed some of them in 1999, on last tour with Steve Nieve. "Alibi" and "45". And I had a number of the other songs. Not all. When they said that was happening, I said, to hell with it, and concentrated on the other things I had happening. One was the ballet score. And the other was the Anne Sophie von Otter record. So I sort of put all my energy into that. And probably I ended up doing a better job of both things, cause I wasn't putting my energy into three projects in one year, only two. Then the first part of last year was involved in delivery and presentation of "For the Stars", and then there was time to make this record. So, really, I think for once the record company upheavals did me a favour. I didn't try to cram too many things into too little time. And probably the extra few months meant I wrote some more songs, and I had a richer group of songs to choose from. So in the end I think it worked out for the best.
I really don't know how much - one thing leads to another. But the discipline of one thing tends to make the liberty of another very attractive. The very precise notation of an orchestral piece makes playing a song like "15 Petals" seem tremendously exciting when you're actually doing it. I had had this idea that the next record I'd make would be much more rhythmically interesting. Predominantly in 4/4, but they wouldn't be stiff square 4/4, and inside the 4 there would be a lot of things happening, and there would be a ferocious amount of bass happening. Wanted it to sound as close as could to the sonics of reggae record or R&B record. Which I think we've achieved. "Dust" - sounds like a dub record. Not a reggae record but has same volume as bass on it.
Q: Funny, "15 Petals" with its mad brass reminds me of Defunkt.
E: Hmm! The people playing it are from downtown. But they're my lines. I've been listening to a lot of music last few years, and I suppose I've absorbed a lot of things, like Jazz things. And I like Arab music. Kletzmer. I like particularly Ethiopian music. Ethiopian records made me thing of wanting to make a record that had same sort of rudeness you had on Skatalites records. But didn't wanted to do it with Ska-rhythm, but this 6/8. In fact, 6/8 and 3/8. Know what I mean. Half-bars, to make it a little bit unsettling.
Q: Ethiopian, are you thinking of Aster Aweke?
E: No, actually. Older. Aster Aweke obviously recorded at that period. Stumbled into it really. Was on the road in 1996. In Vancouver, of all places. And we just - there's only so much salmon a human can eat. And that's all you can eat in Canada, and we were there for a few days cause rehearsing there. So my wife and I just went into one of the suburban neighbourhoods, looked in the local yellow pages. Saw Ethiopian. Never had that before, let's go there! So went to this restaurant, family place, just for local Ethiopian people, nothing fancy, but they were really friendly, place was nice, and they were playing this wonderful music, it sounded like two Van Morrison records playing two bars out of each other. The beat was all odd. And I asked the guy who was singing. The guy wrote down the name. Went into every record store on that tour, asking for this guy's music. Nobody ever heard of him. Obviously a guy whose records never issued in the West. Eventually, at very end of tour was in Washington DC. There's an Ethiopian neighbourhood in Washington DC. Went there, and they have clothing stores and restaurants. Also had a record store, and when went in there and asked for record by Ketama Mekkonen the guy just went "how do you know him"? You should be asking for Aster Aweke or Mahmoud Ahmed, cause they're the international face of Ethiopian music, and they're great. This guy was surprised. Reached up on his shelf and brought down 3 bootleg cassettes. Were the original albums, but copies, with photocopies of sleeves. Fantastic piece of luck. And from there on, of course discovered that the story of that music is really unusual.
There's folk music and church music that's very integral to the culture. There's roles for musicians in life in the culture there, roles that have disappeared in Europe in Middle Ages, idea of almost like a jester type musician who's allowed to disrespectful songs. Exists in Ethiopia to this day, play a thing like a lyre, or a synko, a one-stringed fiddle also, the church music, very formal. When Selassie was dethroned there was like a 60s period which started in 69 and ended in 76, which was when pop music happened. The man who did this series Francis Falcetto, he lives in France, he tracked down all these records. This man Amha Eshèté, he made nearly all the pop records Ethiopia ever produced, during this golden period between end of monarchy and beginning of Marxist regime which of course suppressed all connections to the West, and pop music. What you hear here is like people getting excited, we've discovered R&B. It's James Brown with East African scales. Melodies straight out of their own culture. Odd pentatonic, odd modal themes sung or played over the top of them trying to play James Brown.
Q: Reminds me of Nigerians discovering C&W and Hawaiian Guitar in the 60s, and then Sunny Ade.
E: Yeah, yeah! It's the same sort of thing. Usually related to politics. There's usually a reason why it didn't happen before in a more assimilated way. There's a reason that it happened in a big burst. That's why those records were so vivid, probably. And when Durgh came in he banned all pop music and pop radios.
Q: Been to Africa?
E: Yeah, I went last year, Ethiopia. Just became interested in all
the aspects of their culture. My wife found a trip we could go on for
2 weeks. It was an organised trip, we weren't backpacking or anything.
When to Axha near the Eritrean border, the place was full of soldiers.
Almost a war zone. Only just safe to go there from about 6 months previously.
But every other shop there is a bar or a music shop. Like a dream place.
Very beautiful. Of course, lot of people want to know what you're doing
there, madly curious
I came back with a stack of 35 cassettes,
most just written on in Amharaian, no idea who the musicians are, just
booming out of everywhere. And church music, and I heard people singing
and playing. Beautiful. Just beautiful in a very unselfconscious way.
It's got an unusual history for Africa, never had very strong colonial
period, unlike countries to the south like Kenya. Italians invaded in
1880s, and it's the only occasion where an African nation defeated the
European nation. The second time round in the 1920s of course it was
mechanised and they failed that time when Mussolini attacked. So haven't
the same relationship to the West. Didn't have same experiences to the
other countries in Africa where had colonial nation from 1780s onwards.
And had continuous monarchy, consistent with European monarchies. Plus
they're the oldest Christian nation on earth.
Q: What book would you recommend to go along with the CDs?
E: Any historical book would be interesting. The notes in this series, obviously this man's done his research. He had to go to the record plants in India and in Greece where these records were created, cause there were no pressing plants in Ethiopia. This guy Ahma, it's an incredible story. He's like the Berry Gordy and the Sam Phillips and the George Martin of this one country's music and the guy Fancetto deserves a lot of credit for telling such a beautiful tale about a country. Cause in the West you get a lot of musicians whining about the record company doesn't do the right thing. Really compared with being able to make music at all, it's a rather small thing.
First record: Alemayehu Eshèté
What a groove. It's like Bobby Bland. I love this guy hip guys, they look like David Ruffin (buy: if only get 3 - 10, 9, and 4. Maybe 7.)
Second record: Lucinda Williams, latest one
Brilliant, brilliant record. Did a show with her recently for CMT, a country version of MTV. They have a new show, the idea is of two people from different musical worlds meeting. It's called "Crossroads". Combinations like Hank Williams Jnr. with Kid Rock, or Jewel plays with Merle Haggard. And I did one with Lu. I've known her to say hello to since mid 80s, and I got up and sung a song with her at a couple of shows. But we've never done anything together. So we just put together a programme in two days. Working with her I got an understanding just how great she is. Great lyricist. Brilliant singer. So rock'n'roll - she's a rock'n'roller, and most of all she's a blues singer. I hear in her voice Memphis Minnie and those people of the 20s.
Q: I'm surprised they put you two together, if the idea was to have people from two worlds - you seem quite close in some ways.
E: Yeah. I think it was more just looking for something that would work as well. I think we're quite contrasting as lyricist, I write predominantly with lot of words, whereas she is extremely economical with words. She doesn't fill her songs with many images.
Q: She's more Raymond Carver.
E: Yeah, she really is. That song "Lonely Girls" on this record. All that happens on this song is that she says "lonely girls" 4 times, and then she adds one attribute of the lonely girls in every verse. Heavy blankets. Pretty hairdos. Sparkly rhinestones. And in the end she says, I oughta know about lonely girls. That's about - it's a haiku, not literally, but it's so economical, very brilliant writing She's made a lot of different records with different labels, but I think this is the most focused. The last one which won a Grammy is great, but this one is even greater. There's two songs I love above all, "Blue", which is a beautiful ballad, and "Are You Down", which is a great blues-rocker. Tremendous record.
Q: Thing about lyrics - when you say, you write lots of words
E: Well, I do sometimes, and I don't others. But I guess when people were putting together the show, they would have been thinking that she was very reticent, she doesn't speak, is very shy, I speak readily, and I'm a lot more confident on the face of it. But that doesn't mean her performance can't be more powerful.
Q: What I mean about C&W and you, C&W does tend to be more sparing with words, whereas you have taken the form and still put a lot of words in it.
E: Yeah. When we performed on that show I did mainly - we duetted on some of her songs, and the songs I chose were "Stranger In the House", which I wrote for George Jones, and "Motel Matches" (?) also in that style. But most other things I chose weren't new songs, were songs from "King of America" record. And it's true they probably have more words, but still quite economical compared to some other songs I've written. But obviously there's no point if you write a pastiche, you obviously have to put your own spin on it. Some harmony in "Indoor Fireworks", which we sang together, which would never find in Nashville song. And images. BUT in other senses it's a straight ballad, country.
Q: Is that a similar thing to what you said before, working in a different discipline makes coming back to what you did originally gives it a different spin, did you turn to C&W
E: Cause I was getting something from it at the time when I recorded album of other people's songs, "Almost Blue".
Q: So you didn't try to curb your own wordiness.
E: No, I just felt I could speak of my feelings at that moment, in the place I was in, better through other people's words than through my own, just at that one time. And in that idiom. That's how I felt. Not necessarily a timeless record, but a sincere record. I like a lot of things on it. I think I was probably too young to sing most of those songs. Still have feel for that kind of song. I've been using that sort of song structure recently. I was on that "Landmine-free World" tour with - have you heard about it? Money goes to campaign against landmines as well as towards rehabilitation of victims. Series of concerts a number of artists involved, prime movers are Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Nanci Griffith and John Prine. Joined them on 6 days over here. Sat on stage together and took turns to sing. Really nice. I did some duets with Emmylou, and she asked if we could do "Sleepless Nights" with her, which was absolutely thrilling to do. And we also sang "Indoor Fireworks" from "King of America", which was quite a different experience than singing it with Lucinda, cause her voice has more edge. Emma's voice just lands on yours - it's a most sensual kind of experience. We also did a new song which is from a set of songs I'm composing, "The Delivery Man", and that may be the next record I'll make of songs, I don't know, which uses that country ballad mode to tell a story. But every story has its own integrity, has to work as song as well. A series of songs which accumulates and tells a story, but equally, you could listen to the songs individually and enjoy them as they are. Did a song called "Heartshaped Bruise". That might be something for the future.
Q: I saw John Prine the first time I came to Britain, Cambridge Folk Festival. Another great
E: Incredible. He is great. And the affection the audience had for him was perhaps my favourite thing musically to do with the tour. In some ways you get the impression he may be under-appreciated, but had a fantastic reception from the audience every night. Fantastic. (Fishes through his CDs, comes across his own 3 re-released albums).
Q: How do you feel listening to those now?
E: Well, I like them. Got a chance to do them better. We did put them out in early 90s. But we couldn't find a lot of things cause I was in transition with my business. But now we've found a lot of the missing tracks, and I've been able to tell - the notes are better written, less gloomy. And now we know that CDs are not expensive, all the extra tracks which are obviously not as good as main album, but of interest if you like the main album, are on a second disc. It's a world you can enter or not enter.
THIS is a great record. Third record: Houndog Mike Halby, who I don't know, and David Hidalgo, guitar player and composer of Los Lobos. It's just the greatest sounding record. You gotta hear this track. It sounds for all the world as if it's been slowed down. It's the slowest Blues groove I've ever heard. It's mighty, isn't it! No sense of - nothing apologetic. A groove Lightning Hopkins would have appreciated it, but it's modern as well. A hell of a groove to maintain.
Q: Are you grounded in the Blues anyway?
E: Not really. I like particular people. I like Muddy Waters. Otis Rush - the Cobra recordings of him, the 50s ones. And I like really particular records of Howling Wolf, Skip James. I like Skip James more than Robert Johnson. I think Robert Johnson is great, but Skip James is actually scary. I think Johnson is also pretty scary, but there's something unearthly about Skip James's voice that puts you somewhere else. Like a counter tenor.
Q: And his songs are odd, aren't they.
E: Yeah, his songs are really really odd. And, you know - something that nobody ever says when they're talking about great pop songs writers, it's always George Gershwin, or Lennon/McCartney, or Neil Diamond. Never say Willie Dixon. They assume there's no craft, cause it's the Blues. But if you compare Willie Dixon's compositions to a ton of other Blues compositions you can hear how much he gets out of 2, 3 chords. Every song is identifiable. There's no ambiguity about the fact that you're hearing the song Willie Dixon wrote. He was one of the great song writers. He just wrote in the Blues form. Just like Hank Williams wrote 3 chord songs in the country form. He's one of the greatest And I love Lightning Hopkins, he's my current favourite. I like the drummer Spider Kilpatrick. Love the name. Love that whole vibe he's got
Fourth Record: new Dylan: I said "Time Out of Mind" might be his best record. But then, what do you say about this one? He's just getting better. Which is not really what you expect from people. His live show's tremendous. And it's just the things he's doing with words. You can just take things, elements out of his words at will, which is something most people can't dream about. "Time Out of Mind" was stripped of almost all unnecessary details. And this album is totally filled with tiny details which set your imagination rolling. What the hell does that mean. Not in a profound sense, just - I love the lyrics, and the freedom of it, the panache of playing, and the execution of the record.
Q: I was struck by the way they sound sloppy, and yet totally precise in their sloppiness.
E: Yeah, yeah! And then they use those - there's so many ways to play a blues song. Nearly all the songs could in some way be categorised as blues songs. There's those 20s sounding structures, like "Floater". And I think it relates to this music a little bit.
Fifth Record: The Mississippi Sheiks. Almost like a minstrel form of music. I guess 'cause the people lived in the South, where a lot of this music came out of, if you were a working person, the working people they might have been separated, and there might have been antagonism, but the experience of life I think would have been quite close between white and black among the poor people in the South. At least in the sense the role music had in their lives was quite similar. The role. Consequently you quite often hear - for instance there's a fiddle on this record, just like on Hounddog's record, and the fiddle is the main instrument, guitar plays rhythm, and fiddle plays all the fills, and then there's the singing. And this record has "Sitting on top of the World", the original version of it. And "World Gone Wrong", which Dylan recorded on one of his folk records. And it's just beautiful. It comes out of same time as the Delta Blues thing, but it has a completely different, almost more - there's something very solitary about the great blues records. If you listen to Charly Patton or Skip James or Robert Johnson or any of those people, it sounds like a private testimony between them and a microphone. Whereas these guys sound like entertainers. There's something more outgoing about their music. Seems to embrace a lot more different elements of music.
Q: Did you arrive at that through Dylan?
E: No. I'd forgotten he had recorded "World Gone Wrong".
I was talking with someone about the Mississippi Sheiks, didn't know
their songs were available, didn't know you could get them. Yazoo label.
The greatest. They put the greatest stuff out.
Q: It's funny, it's like a blues version of European families playing Tyrolean music at home in the 20s.
E: Yeah! There is that thing, "Gloomy Sunday", the song Billie Holiday recorded, was written by Hungarians, but it's thought of as a Blues ballad. And "Thrill has Gone", which is one of my favourite songs, that was written by Russians. A lot of songwriters who went to America, and to Tinpan Alley, were of Eastern European extraction. And a lot of them Jewish. So somewhere in their culture they had that music, that melancholic music, even when it came from synagogues. The oddest thing - in Ethiopia, we went to church on Easter Saturday, they sang songs, we stayed for hours, and some of the songs were like the Blues, question and answer, but some of the others sounded like the solo singers from Western Ireland. That's when my head started to fall off. But you know, people traded all along the rim of the Mediterranean, and of course the kingdom of Ethiopia was connected to Yemen, only have to go up to the Red Sea and you can connect and trade to people of modern Middle East. And the Venetians, we know they came to Ireland. And you hear music in Spain that plugs into Africa.
Q: You clearly see music as a way of learning about the world as a whole. Historical thing.
E: The most important thing about it is that when it comes down to it people mostly are singing some sort of human testimony. And it can have the flowering of poetry, and it can be as cold and bare as an obituary notice. But it's usually about human stuff. No money, crops failed - that's usually somewhere in there. And even people in the city, they usually have the city experience of the same stuff. We either sing in joy, or sorrow. Makes us all different and the same in one breath. I think it takes away a lot of dread that people have of other cultures. It's not like a tourism thing where you go there: isn't it quaint! Whereas I go all the time: oh, it's the same as ours! Our version of it is this. You can recognise the human thing. As alien as all the harmonies and melodies and rhythms might be to you, there's very few things - there's no - even in contemporary music which uses hard electronic devices, it's still doing something that's ostensibly an influence of that - the bulletin board, the jester, and the testimony, they're the three functions of music.
Sixth Record: Cannibal Ox:
E: It's a hip hop record, it's unbelievable. Very hard sounding. Fantastic, erm
Q: How did you come across this? Interesting. Very different.
E: It is interesting. Sort of cut up. I'm trying to get to this one track. It's got a very fragmented feel. Nothing to do with dance music, except they use the tools of it. And it's very extreme sounds. And the words are just fantastic, but we haven't got time to go into. They're just using some things you can alight on, and then they cut up the rhythm and deliberately jar you. And a lot of time they're taking the stereotype image and twisting it, talking about the vanities of their own idiom. I just like this.
Q: How did you discover this?
E: My son told me about this. The words are just unbelievable. He just said - have you heard this record. We go out and go to record shops, we did that just the other day. And he said he'd heard this one track of Cannibal Ox - can't work out whether it's a team or a person - and there was a track on a compilation, and then we found out there was an album. I think I got it first. Looking out for it. It's not a very commercial album. I like it better for that, it's trying to tell me something. It's got beauty in the cut-up nature, in the extremity of the sound and the extremity of the language. It's dazzling, the way the words are used.
Q: I'm quite sad about this hip hop thing - the invention of this fantastic idiom, and then a lot of it is used
E: A lot of it is tremendously lazy.
Q: totally stereotypical.
E: That's always what happens. Happened to rock'n'roll. But then you've just got to seek out the people who try and put - it's poetry, but it's not flowery poetry. I mean - back to Dylan. Dylan's last album was full of dread. And this one's full of playful images. "I left my hopes and dreams on the tobacco leaves" beautiful sounding phrases.
Q: Were you a teenage Dylan fan?
E: No, not particularly. He was pop star when I was kid. My dad sang in a dance band (The Joe Loss Orchestra), and he brought back songs the band had to learn. And I had Dylan singles. So they must have done some sort of arrangement of these things. It's hard to imagine, "Like a Rolling Stone" done like a dance band. But I have singles. And the only reason I have those singles is 'cause dad brought them home because he had to learn them. He brought a stack of singles home every week to learn for a radio broadcast or something, so "Like a Rolling Stone", "Subterranean Homesick Blues" they were hit records. I didn't really catch on until when I lived in Liverpool in early 70s, when I first owned a Dylan album, "Blonde on Blonde". And from there went back to "Highway 69". And then I didn't buy another Dylan record for years. Now I know them really well. I was really taken with that period of time. I think most people are, they believe it to be a great period, between "Bring it all Back Home" or maybe "Another Side of Bob Dylan", to "Blood on the Tracks". Nearly every record is part of a story. There are some that you don't get drawn back to often, like "Self Portrait" - but I love "Planet Waves", tremendous record.
Q: You've got The Band there as well.
Seventh Record: The Band, "Music From Big Pink"
E: This is a great record. I love the second album - but this one, this one sounds more mysterious. And it still sounds as if someone made it today. And there's plenty of bands that try and sound like this now, which is kind of strange. I love this particular edition, cause it's got extra tracks on it. Unusually, one of them is actually better than the version on the original album, "Tears of Rage", a better song on the outtake. I can understand why they used the sound they used on the album, cause the band sounds better. But Manuel's vocal is absolutely harrowing on the outtake version.
Q: They came out of the blue totally.
E: There was nothing like it. Just beautiful music. Will always sound great. Never will sound dated. Modern and old at the same time. Like certain forms of painting are. It reminds me of painting. A lot of things Dylan was involved in, and by extension that band, The Band, is more like painting than music. It's more like a movement of painting. Other people who're attempting to do something like it only end up sounding as if they were imitating it. You can't actually get inside it. It was just those people and that particular time. A lot of things they did didn't have that same clarity.
Q: I love that song "When I Paint My Masterpiece".
E: Incredible. Great song. There's two or three songs Dylan kind of gave away. There's that. He co-wrote "Tears of Rage" and "I Shall Be Released", and "I Shall be Released" has become much more famous because it obviously has resonances relating to events. But I think "Tears of Rage" is a more complex song, one of his truly great lyrics. The idea of when it was written, the weariness of the parents speaking of their ungrateful children, is unprecedented in those days. He wrote that song in 69. Unbelievable. 'Cause that was the time when everyone else was writing the opposite, you have to be young, and the old straights don't understand us. He wrote exactly the opposite of that, exactly at the height of the optimism and delusions of the Woodstock days. That alone makes him great. If he only wrote that song. 'Cause nobody else did that. No other song writer sang that. Tremendous thing to have done, when the prevailing winds are blowing the opposite direction. Courage - not courage, confidence in your own thinking!
Q: One could say you did the same thing with "My Aim is True".
E: I don't think so. I think it was certainly the antithesis of the
stereotypical rock'n'roll image. But I don't even think it's that good
a record. I mean it has good songs on it, but it sounds puny to my ears.
I think "This Year's Model" is a better record. I think the
first record I made that was any good was "Watching The Detectives".
I think that's the first original record I made. I wrote some good songs
before that, but I didn't have my performance together. I was still
finding my voice. And then I got it. But that's just my opinion. A lot
of people love it, and it's not up to me to tell them it's not any good.
It's not that it isn't any good, it's just that I hear the not fulfilled
E: This is another beautiful record (on Sunnyside Communications label). I like talking about records you can't get. Deirdre Rodman is a musician I met through Roy Nathanson who's one of the saxophonists on my record, and he's a great composer, and he's one of the leading lights of the Jazz Passengers. He wrote a piece called "The Fire At Keaton's Bar and Grill" which he had me sing a roll in it. It sounds grand saying it, but it's a kind of oratorio. It's a Jazz oratorio. But it's done with a lot of wit and humour. It's about - I meant to bring that, but couldn't find my copy of it. She played the piano on the live performances. And then this record, "Sun is Us", on a small label. She's got a really individual and beautiful voice. I'll just put a few bars on. She's got a delicacy as a composer. She's a really wonderful piano player, but she's composing from the piano outwards. She's a New Yorker.
Q: You have links with New York, Marc Ribot as well.
E: Yeah, Marc is part of Jazz Passengers collective. She's a lovely musician. I just think cause it's such a small label, people need to go and seek out these records. There's so many good writers working in different forms of music in New York. Amy Allison, and Laura Cantrell who writes sort of - they could be writing in any form of music I think. They're writing in a country style but nothing to do with Nashville. Both based in New York. Brooklyn.
Ninth record: Joni Mitchell
E: I go back to this record every couple of years. Joni Mitchell. I think she's as great a songwriter as the 20th century
Q: This one in particular?
E: This one in particular is my favourite now, I think. "Blue" - I think, this one and "Heijra" are the ones I go back to most. Really used to like "Court and Spark", has great songs on it, but I don't play it as many times as this one. This is the most underrated record she ever made. I think a lot of people came to "Heijra" cause of Jaco Pastorius on it, and they weren't aware of Joni - but this album was where her reputation came under attack from the critics at the time. I think it's completely unjustified, cause I think the ambition in these songs is really remarkable
I think if you go back through the lyrics of this album, "Don't Interrupt The Sorrow", "Edith and the Kingpin", and --- are just incredible lyrics. They're both painterly and novelistic. But neither of these things make it sound as if they shouldn't have been songs. 'Cause the music is very well judged and beautifully supported. This is a really truly great record. I believe it'll be the equal with her own discipline with Dylan. And if you're asking who are the great songwriters of the late 20th century, have to include Dylan. And she's like the next most important. The possibilities she finds in songs - most people aren't talented enough to follow on from her. It's a lot easier to do a bad imitation of Bob Dylan than of Joni Mitchell.
Also the fact that she's a woman - that's the really chilling thing about it. People don't elevate her in the same way as other much less talented people simply cause there's a prejudice. She's a girl singer. Which is idiotic in this day and age. She's tough, her lyrics are rigorous, when you hear her speak she's an intimidating personality.
Q: Met her?
E: Never met her. Spoke on the phone once, for a long while about some show I was supposed to do. She called, we had a fascinating long conversation. Never met.
Q: I'm a little surprise that you didn't bring any June Tabor or Linda Thompson.
E: I love June. But I suppose these things are supposed to represent not your all time favourites, but those that are in your mind at the moment. So I've chosen predominantly new records - just things I've been carrying around with me cause I've been travelling. Things like this "Ghost World" soundtrack 'cause it's a great movie. And it all sorts of oddball songs on it, like a Skip James song, and has this amazing Indian rock'n'roll song on it. Indian rock'n'roll from the 60s. Really - I love the movie. So I have that soundtrack.
(back to Deirdre Rodman). Strangely enough, some of the harmonies on this remind me of Joni Mitchell songs. And she works sometimes in a jazz idiom. (compares Joni and Rodman)
(this is why I love re-releasing those old CDs, get a chance to look at old pictures again - isn't this funny?)
Q: Going through your files - you've taken on so many guises over the years. You obviously take great pleasure in doing your image.
E: It's life. Isn't it. I supposed we better tell them that we're - but you've gotta hear this one. This is a mix we did of one of track so the record
(End of interview proper - but Elvis runs after me in the corridor.)
Tenth record: James Carr
E: I've forgotten one! This one. James Carr, he's just got to be there. THE great deep soul singer, in my opinion. He did the original "Dark End of the Street". It's just amazing. Really amazing singer. Percy Sledge did his songs. Same period as Otis. But in my mind by far the greatest. Dan Penn wrote a lot of his songs. One of the great great great songwriters.
Q: How old were you when you discovered him?
E: Heard some of the songs Dan Penn wrote through Aretha. But I think James Carr is the male counterpart to Aretha. There's lots of great male soul singers. Talk about William Bell and incomparable people like Al Green and Marvin Gaye. But this guy's got some sort of feeling that nobody else has. I recorded one of his songs in a kind of tribute to him, "Pouring Water on a Drowning Man". But this is a great record.