The Mountain Goats : Woke Up New

Well, I’m probably stating the obvious to quite a lot of people, as they/him have been around for ages, but I, perhaps foolishly, never really engaged with John Darnielle’s work before. Then I discovered this little gem of a Folk-Pop song. Bittersweet and lovely. ‘Nuff said.

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R.I.P. Pete Seeger

I don’t profess to know as much about him and be as familiar with his work as I probably should, but nevertheless I was touched by his death. Without knowing too many of the details of his life I guess it’s fair to say that he lead a long and fulfilled life. Look at this performance of his classic Turn Turn Turn (one of my all-time favorite songs), sung when he was 93 years old.

Danny Schmidt : Parables & Primes

DS_Parables

Danny Schmidt : Parables & Primes

(2005 Live Once Records)

 

Danny Schmidt is a singer/songwriter based in Austin, TX. He’s received tons of  good press – and rightly so! I don’t want to drop the D-comparison (that has been done too many times before in the last 40 years or so), but I see him more in line of songwriters such as John Prine and Greg Brown, as he’s considerably younger than either of them it wouldn’t be wrong to call him the next generation.

The earliest of his 7 albums I bought to date, this beauty of an album enticed me because of the haunting and delicate violin part in album opener This Too Shall Pass that I knew from YouTube. This Too Shall Pass is quite dark in theme, and the violin does complement it to very fine effect indeed.

But as very soon became obvious, this track isn’t the only highlight on the album, far from it! Neil Young sounds a lot like, well, prime Neil Young (of the Harvest era, his finest period if you ask me), complete with a relaxed and somewhat sleepy acoustic guitar as well as a lovely steel guitar.

Dark Eyed Prince is prime Danny Schmidt, mainly him, his (as mostly is the case) fingerpicked acoustic guitar and a captivating, memorable story, in this case about a prince that has got it all in a material sense, but behind all that wealth he’s hiding his deeply hurt soul, by a princess long gone – as Danny Schmidt is quite often speaking in metaphors and allegories this probably has a universal meaning, but being able to package a thought and idea like this in a story so imaginative and memorable, is what makes a (song)writer as good as he clearly is (which is evident in most of his work).

Other fine examples of this ability are Stained Glass and A Circus Of Clowns. Stained Glass is only accompanied (like This Too Shall Pass) by violin and his acoustic guitar and the story does concern a stained glass church window being damaged by a storm and being only rudimentarily restored by the 90 year-old dad by the master glazier – upon seeing the finished product the church congregation is sceptical at first, but quickly recognizes that perfection isn’t what counts most, but being able to pour your heart and soul into something is much more meaningful and, in this case, beautiful than doing something perfectly – that’s my interpretation of the story at least. Plus that violin between the verses is amazing – it’s mixed somewhat into the background, but it kind of floats around in your room (provided you listen to the record on a proper stereo, not on your computer or those cheap in-ear headphones) – hard to explain that effect adequately, but it sounds simply wonderful.

Riddles And Lies and Esmee By The River are both simple, straightforward Folk song and only accompanied by lovely mandolin and accordion parts respectively (and acoustic guitar, naturally), which is actually all they need to be from a first-rate songwriter of his ilk.

Ghost became something of my favorite on the album (as far as it is possible to name one from an album with so many excellent tracks on it), maybe for the Wild West imagery (‘…swing swing, gallows swing…’) but most probably for the somber mood and stripped-down arrangement with only an acoustic and an electric lead guitar.

In contrast to this are the next two songs Beggars And Mules and A Circus Of Clowns, which are both, for his standards I should add, lavishly arranged. The first one with a nice, relaxed 70’s Country-Rock beat and arrangement with a soft lead guitar and female backing vocals (some of Arlo Guthrie’s work springing to mind) and A Circus Of Clowns, suited perfectly to the circus theme of the song with trumpets and marching drums, which I am quite fond of, when it’s done in moderate doses (it’s probably all the church visits in my childhood that did that). Lyrically it’s a political allegory and a slightly madcap story about a circus coming to town and the townspeople, after much fanfare in the beginning, slowly coming to realize that maybe the clowns aren’t really up to any good, but by then it’s too late and they aren’t really able to get rid of them all that easily.

The title track and album closer is quite unfinished intimate acoustic guitar only track and more of an afterthought than a fully finished song, which isn’t to say it’s not worth listening to at all – more reminiscent of a live recording.

If you don’t know his work yet and are into Folk-based singer/songwriter fare telling and imaginative storytelling you could do much, much, worse than checking Parables & Primes out. This is top stuff (as are all of his other records I know to date – keep checking back here for more reviews of his other albums). His website is http://www.dannyschmidt.com

 

Stanton, Iowa

Stanton is a small town in Montgomery County, about 65 miles east of Omaha/Council Bluffs with a population of around 700 people. It was known as the ‘Little White City’ when all houses were painted white. That apparently isn’t the case nowadays, but most of the houses I saw on my brief visit to Stanton were. It was settled mainly by Swedish immigrants in the 19th century. It’s also ‘famous’ for being the one-time home of a family that was killed onboard the Titanic, and one of them, whose body was recovered, is buried in Stanton.

Former gas station, Stanton, Iowa

Church, Stanton, iowa

The Emigrants statue, Stanton, Iowa

Historic Route 66 Tourist Information Center, Staunton, Illinois

Quite possible the best, but certainly the most unexpected, find on last March’s Illinois/Missouri/Iowa trip, I completely stumbled upon this by (lucky) accident. Staunton, about 40 miles north of St. Louis wasn’t on my schedule at all, but I decided to check the town out on my way from Lincoln, IL to Belleville, IL. After driving and walking around the town for a bit, I saw that Route 66 led through here once and of course I had to check it out and drive on it for a short way.

Then I found this. Clearly a labor of love and a decidedly low-key affair, which is all the more reason for me to love it, plus the weather was nice, cold and sunny after a harsh blizzard the day before , so I was very happy to have found it. Unfortunately it wasn’t open the morning I went, as a handwritten note informed me the owner was at the local library on a computer course. Otherwise I probably would have kissed him (well, most probably not that, but I would have loved to congratulate him on the good work he’s doing, and would have bought a few souvenirs). He (or she perhaps?) made my day.

Historic Route 66 Tourist Information Center, Staunton, Illinois

Historic Route 66 Tourist Information Center, Staunton, Illinois

Historic Route 66 Tourist Infomation Center, Staunton, Illinois

Historic Route 66 Tourist Infomation Center, Staunton, Illinois

Historic Route 66 Tourist Infomation Center, Staunton, Illinois

Historic Route 66 Tourist Infomation Center, Staunton, Illinois

Historic Route 66 Tourist Infomation Center, Staunton, Illinois

 

Patagonia, Arizona

Patagonia is a small town of under 1000 people in southern Arizona, about 20 miles from Nogales (and Mexico). I read about it in my trusted Rough Guide and didn’t regret going there. Unfortunately, I went on Thanksgiving Day, as a European I wasn’t aware of how much of a big thing it is in the US, I knew it was a holiday, but there was absolutely nothing open in Patagonia I could get a bite to eat (but I have learned from that experience and am always taking something other than just mineral water with me now). I wanted to take the road all through the mountains back to Tucson originally, but had to abandon that idea as I was absolutely starving, so I had to get back onto the Interstate at Nogales. But the extremely beautiful setting in the mountains and the frontier town feel of Patagonia made me like it a lot and wishing I could have stayed longer.

Patagonia, Arizona

Patagonia, Arizona

Stage Stop Motel, Patagonia, Arizona

Patagonia, Arizona

R.I.P. Phil Everly

I am not professing to be a big fan of theirs or anything like this and the last time I really listened to their music was a long time ago, but they were important in their time period, so here’s my tribute to them at the time of Phil Everly’s passing. What else to post on here then Wake Up Little Susie from 1957.

I  stumbled upon one of their childhood hometowns in which they lived for a number of years and in which their dad had a radio show on a local station, Shenadoah, Iowa on a recent trip to Iowa. That house is tiny!

Everly Brothers childhood home, Shenandoah, iowa

Shenadoah, Iowa