As promised, I’m back after my second Jack Johnson acoustic cover song (posted on Saturday) to bring you my first installment for “New Bands Week.” Since I wanted to make sure that I’m pulling my weight around here (and considering that Jim is swiftly adding to a list of at least ten new artists he plans to cover!), I decided to bring not only one but two new bands in one day to the best cover song music blog in the universe!
Okay, so maybe I’m talking up my contribution here, since the song I chose — “Walt Whitman’s Niece” — was recorded as a collaboration between the two artists, songwriter Billy Bragg and alternative rock band Wilco. But, still… in the spirit of “New Bands Week,” two new bands!
There’s a really interesting story to go along with this cover song. This is the first track on Billy Bragg and Wilco’s Mermaid Avenue album, a collection of songs based on the lyrics of Woody Guthrie. Guthrie essentially ended up writing countless songs over his years as a songwriter, many of which he never put to music. He literally had boxes of them. I read that Guthrie actually offered them to a young Bob Dylan when Dylan went to visit him in the hospital. He even made the long trip out to Guthrie’s house, but there was only a babysitter at home and she did not want to let a stranger in. (Little did she know he would soon be anything BUT a stranger!) Then, decades later, Billy Bragg and Wilco got their hands on the lyrics, chose their favorites, and wrote music for the words. The result is an amazing album that I first learned about through my Journalism II teacher, who was also a big Dylan fan.
They came out with a sequel a few years later, simply called Mermaid Avenue Volume II, but it really wasn’t as strong as the first time around. This is simply one of those moments in rock music, in my opinion, that came down to initial inspiration. That first album is such a strong, enjoyable, and interesting collection of music. In fact, I initially wanted to record “Ingrid Bergman” (which I did and stored away for later), but then remembered about “Walt Whitman’s Niece.” I figured it would be a much stronger choice, as it is the first track on the album, upbeat, and of course, highlighted by a crazy harmonica solo that I could never duplicate. All in all, a really fun song to sing. As Jim and I figured out, it was a lot of fun to improv lyrics to the tune!
As a final note, Jim and I saw the latest Woody Allen movie, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, tonight. Although I’m always a big fan of seeing him in the movies, this was a really interesting film even if he didn’t play an acting role. I wasn’t sure how I felt about the voiceovers initially, but I really got into the characters and especially the situation. I think this is one of those movies that will cause viewers to think about their own ideas about love, trust, and what their lives will be like in several decades. How do you find happiness? I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll stop here.
This may be all for today’s post, but don’t forget to rush back tomorrow for another all-new band and another all-new cover song by Jeff Copperthite. If you haven’t already, you should scroll down the home page and check out Jim and Jeff’s first picks of the New Bands Week.
This is completely off the cuff, and I’m loving it!
All you Mets fans out there will be well aware that Jeff Francoeur — the topic of not a few trade rumors since the return of Carlos Beltran and the outstanding performance of Angel Pagan this season — got a spot on the starting rotation last night due to Jason Bay being out with a concussion. Well, he made the most of it…
…with a three run homer off the Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright, arguably one of the best pitchers in the game right now!
Granted, it’s only one hit in the midst of a mighty slump, but it reminded me of this great song called “Joe DiMaggio Done It Again” off Wilco and Billy Bragg’s second album of Woody Guthrie-penned (lyrics, at least) songs, Mermaid Avenue Vol. II. I slipped a “Jeff” here and a “Frenchy” there, and voila!
This is my 200th Laptop Session, and I could think of no better way to celebrate it than to make it a fun one. (And, yes, at the beginning of the music video, that IS me doing my best Jeff Francoeur impression…) I hope you enjoy listening as much as I enjoyed recording it.
For Wilco/Woody Guthrie chords & lyrics, CLICK HERE!
By Chris Moore:
This is quite the story for a session. It seems that, in order to outdo my previous “new release” Laptop Sessions, I needed to call in some outside help…
In the form of one Jim Fusco on his brand-new metallic blue lap steel guitar!
Oh, and if you’re a Wilco fan, then I hope you can appreciate how exciting it was for me to host the first Lap-(steel)-top Session. Throughout their catalog, they have incorporated country tinges with instruments such as this. Most recently, even as they continue to play around with more experimental forms, Nels Cline plays beautifully on the lap steel in several of their concert set list mainstays, from the older deep track “It’s Just That Simple” to more recent material off of Sky Blue Sky, their 2007 album.
This track, “The Jolly Banker,” was written by Woody Guthrie and originally recorded on March 22, 1940 (as reported in the Library of Congress records for these sessions with folk music expert Alan Lomax). Nearly seventy years later, Wilco has recorded their own version of this song — which is eerily relevant as of its release on April 30th, 2009 — and released it as a free download online. Technically, they suggest/request that you donate at least $2 to the Woody Guthrie Foundation — this is quite funny, as one of the three options for downloading states “I am/was a banker/hedge fund manager/credit default swap trader. I know times are tough, but I’m just fine thank you. (Suggested minimum donation $100.00).”
Tonight, I jokingly challenged Jim to not only play this song as his debut performance on his new guitar, but to actually record a Laptop Session on the spot. He must have taken me seriously or at least had the urge to give the Rogue brand lap steel an official test run, because he didn’t skip a beat when we set up downstairs. As you’ll hear — and I hope you’ll agree — this is a great, loyal rendition of Wilco’s cover version, right down to the tapping opening count and the aforementioned lap steel. I was initially thinking that this would be just another session with me recording just another version of a simple song. Instead, I am proud to say that this is one of my favorite sessions I’ve recorded in a long time.
Unfortunately, although the actual playing of the song with Jim was very fun and relaxed, the events around the recording were frustrating. As I’m sure Jim will explain in “tomorrow’s” post (don’t forget that I forgot to remember to record on “Memorial” day… there’s some irony for you), he just got his new HD video camera in the mail. We tried to record the session with the camera — and the video quality was amazing — but the audio quality was terrible. Jim finally gave up for the night, but I’m sure he’ll come up with some plan to augment and/or jury rig the setup before next week’s Jim Fusco Tuesday.
Maybe then I’ll bug him to record a saxophone solo for a Bruce Springsteen cover… (Kidding!) 🙂
On a side note, today started off sadly, as I awoke to find the news of former Wilco multi-instrumentalist Jay Bennett’s death on my iPhone AP News app. While I haven’t followed his work outside of Wilco, I was sad to hear this, especially as I read a quote from Bennett from a couple weeks ago about how excited he was for his new album and the future in general. It all came in a burst for me, as I also just learned yesterday of the lawsuit Bennett had filed against Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy calling for $50,001.00 in back royalties he felt he was owed, citing the YHF documentary I Am Trying to Break Your Heart as a film for which he did not sign a proper release form.
Some say Bennett was being unreasonable. Others say he was instrumental (no pun intended… okay, maybe a little) in Wilco’s mainstream breakthrough and that he deserved additional money. (Apparently he couldn’t even afford a hip replacement that he badly needed.)
Regardless of which side you take, the bottom line is that he has passed away, and at least for the moment, no one is exactly sure what happened.
I also learned today that our oldies/rock acquaintance, Tony Persia, also passed away recently. I was saddened to learn about this loss, as he has really set the tone at the annual Carbutti Christmas parties that both Jim and I attend. For those of you who aren’t familiar with him, he was probably best known as the piano player for the classic Danny & the Juniors single “At the Hop.” He was an incredibly kind, charming man who met many great music stars in his life and played lots and lots of music — I know I speak for Jim, Mike, and I when I say he will be sorely missed, particularly this December…
On a happy note, I just downloaded the Wilco iPhone app, and it’s great fun. You can access all the latest band news, photos, and listen in full(!) to every song from their official catalog, including both Mermaid Avenue releases and their live Kicking Television concert album. If only my other favorite bands would jump on the iPhone application train… (cough, nudge – “Dylan, Beach Boys, Barenaked Ladies, Moody Blues, Pearl Jam” – cough, nudge)
Without further ado, I will leave you to watch this collaborative session. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed recording it…