My friend Mark Casale and I were talking about Captain Beefheart last night (as we are often want to do) and were yucking it up over the surreal late-night TV commercial for the Beef's 1970 record, Lick My Decals Off, Baby (which I posted about last month).
This prompted Mark to ask me if I'd ever seen the bizarre promo video for Cat Steven's 1976 song, Banapple Gas. I'd never even heard of the song. It was a track on Steven's ninth studio record, Numbers. Numbers was composed as a concept album, subtitled "A Pythagorean Theory Tale."
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[Numbers] was based on a fictional planet in a far-off galaxy named Polygor. The album included a booklet with excerpts from a planned book of the same name written by Chris Bryant and Allan Scott. The booklet features pen-and-ink illustrations drawn by Stevens.
The concept of the album is a fantastic spiritual musical which is set on the planet Polygor. In the story there is a castle with a number machine. This machine exists to fulfill the sole purpose of the planet – to disperse numbers to the rest of the universe: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 (but notably not 0). The nine inhabitants of Polygor, the Polygons, are Monad, Dupey, Trezlar, Cubis, Qizlo, Hexidor, Septo, Octav, and Novim. As the last lines of the book say, they "followed a life of routine that had existed for as long as any could remember. ... It was, therefore, all the more shocking when on an ordinary day things first started to go wrong."
"Overlooked" is a series of belated obituaries in New York Times for people of note who were overlooked at the time of their passing. Their most recent "overlooked no more" subject is Judee Sill.
Judee Sill was a 70s singer-songwriter, the first artist signed to David Geffen's Asylum Records. During her short-lived career in the early-to-mid 70s, Sill received little attention or airplay. While other singer-songwriters of the time sang about personal relationships and political protest, Sill's ethereal music explored themes of rapture, redemption, spiritual love, occult themes, and the deeper meanings of it all.
Sill's life was as troubled as her work was complex and under the radar. She was a juvenile delinquent, a junkie, and a prostitute for a time. Judee Sill died in 1979 of a drug overdose which was likely a suicide.
While she was not widely recognized during her lifetime, her music has had a significant impact on many modern artists and that influence only continues to grow. Liz Phair, Shawn Colvin, Greta Gerwig, XTC's Andy Partridge, and Warren Zevon have all cited her as an inspiration.
Read the rest of the obit here.
[H/t Jenny Hart]
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I loved last year's All Tree from former Black Metalist Kvohst (aka Mat McNerney) and his folkier project, Hexvessel. The band has been described as "dark folk," "psychedelic forest folk," and "occult folk." Think of them as a somewhat more melodic and accessible Current 93.
On "Demian," the first single and video from their forthcoming record, Kindred (coming in April), they build the video around clips from Jean Cocteau's groundbreaking 1930 surrealist film, Blood of a Poet.
Bonus track: The hauntingly beautiful "Old Tree" from the band's 2019 release, All Tree.
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Martin Hayes is arguably one of the greatest fiddlers to come out of Ireland in the past 100 years. His soulful, moody interpretation of well-known Irish traditional music is unlike anything else out there. It's slow moving, slow to build, and beautiful in a way all its own.
I've mentioned his primary band, The Gloaming, here in the past. But he's also got another group going on the side: The Martin Hayes Quartet. At first listen, their music sounds like more of the same (which is a wonderful thing!). But take the time to plumb its depths and the personality of the musicians playing, the voice of the instruments, and the choice of tunes will make you understand that, while it may seem like you're trekking familiar country, the ground beneath your feet is a very different territory than where you've walked before.
This video of the making of the quartet's first album, The Blue Room, is as beautiful as the band's music is calming. I've watched and listened to it many times since I first found it.
I hope you dig it as much as I do. Read the rest
I was lucky enough to see Oysterband on this tour, back in 2009. With the shitstorm of lies, greed and hate that we've been enduring these past few years, Here Comes the Flood, from Oysterband's 2007 album Meet You There, has been on constant rotation in my home. Read the rest
The Imagine Village is what you'd call a super group.
Over the years, its lineup has included members of the United Kingdom folk music royalty such as Billy Bragg, Eliza & Martin Carthy, Simon Emmerson, The Trans Global Underground, Chris Wood and dhol drum master Johnny Kalsi. Each of the musicians comes to the collective with decades of musical excellence under their belts and an extensive catalog of tunes of their own. The re-imagination of English folk standards is the Imagined Village's game: they color well-worn chestnuts with musical traditions from around the former British Empire, occasionally updating the lyrics to reflect the current conditions and mood of the United Kingdom's citizens.
If it sounds like a familiar formula, it's because you've maybe seen it done before by the Afro Celtic Soundsystem. Both bands share guitar/cittern player Simon Emmerson as a driving force behind their music. This isn't appropriated music. It's multicultural music that draws together players from a myriad of traditions to honor the music of the past in a manner that's both exciting and new.
While "Cold, Hailey, Rainy Night" comes from a long tradition of "Night Visit" songs – music that features some dude whinging to a young lady that everything is terrible outside so she should let him in to warm up and uh, have sex. You'll hear it being kicked about the folk world, under various regional titles, around the world. This version, recorded in 1971 by by Steeleye Span, is likely one of the most recognized versions of it. Read the rest
This is really sweet. A young Irish girl, Grace Lehane of Cork, played "Britches full of Stitches" on her concertina by the side of a green pasture full of cattle. Watch in this video that her dad Denis uploaded in 2017 as the animals come running over to hear the "moosic." The beaming smile on Grace's face is precious!
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A valiha is a special zither traditionally made in Madagascar from a local type of giant bamboo. It has a lovely sound, and there's a clear throughline from traditional songs played on a valiha to music of the Caribbean. Read the rest
The Marxophone is a 1912 toy instrument that combines a zither with a keyboard linked to flexible hammers that repeatedly strike the strings. The resulting sound, over the years, has earned a strange place in folk music. It's often used to evoke a mysterious carnie atmosphere, but Katherine Rhoda shows here how beautiful it can be.
Named for its inventor, Henry Charles Marx, they were sold new until the 1950s and can be found on eBay for about $300. You've heard it in many popular songs, such as The Doors' cover of Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar) and Portishead's Sour Times.
Marx also created the Celestaphone, a similar instrument with a more refined sound.
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