Going ‘Round the Musical World

It’s 97º at around noon as I begin this post (heat index of 104º), but it’s cool indoors and I’m feeling inordinately — and probably unjustifiably — proud of having replaced our decades old sprinkler system controller with a new “smart” model without blowing anything up (as far as I know). So I’m celebrating this achievement by doing…nothing. Really. I’m sitting in front of my monitor and chasing rabbits down the YouTube music trail, and I’d like to share some of the gems I’ve stumbled onto.

Alert Gazette readers will recall that I did this back in April, when I focused primarily on country and bluegrass. This time, I’m branching out a bit. There is still some bluegrass, but from an unexpected source, but more jazz, a bit of rockabilly, and some classic rock and roll, albeit with a twist or two. The unifying theme is that the world is chock full of gifted musicians and the older I get, the more I appreciate those gifts, regardless of the genre in which they materialize. I hope at least a few of these resonate with you as well.

One caveat: I picked a couple of these performances based on the entertainment value of the video rather than the musical choices, and others in spite of the videos. See if you can guess which is which.

The Heimatdamisch is a polka band from Germany (duh) that specializes in covering music made popular by well-known musicians of the non-polka world, like, for example, Lady Gaga, AC/DC, Guns N’ Roses, and Van Halen. Now, I don’t have to go to Germany to hear polka covers like this — Off The Grid is an Austin group that does a lot of it — but The Heimatdamisch expands the genre considerably. BTW, there seems to be no consensus on the meaning of “The Heimatdamisch” so feel free to make up your own definition. I’m going with “fun in short pants.”

My first introduction to Walkin’ Blues was on the Butterfield Blues Band’s 1966 album East-West (which, incidentally, was also one of the first LPs I ever bought with my own money). I thought it was a cool song, but had no idea about its history and status as a blues standard. After all, I was a white teenaged boy in living in the West Texas desert, pre-Google (OK, pre-everything). Anyway, as cool as Paul Butterfield’s band’s performance is, it doesn’t hold a candle to this one by the Joanna Connor Band (current incarnation: the Joanna Connor Wrecking Crew — not to be confused with the original Wrecking Crew session musicians). This video will also perfectly illustrate the folly of judging a book by its cover, at least when it comes to musicians.

I don’t know about you, but I’m mesmerized by what skilled bass players can accomplish with four strings. Whether it’s an upright, an acoustic, or an electric, there’s just something elemental about that low register that appeals to me.

I know nothing about “Pink Hage Bass Player” except that he’s not a Texan but, holy cow, can he play the bass…and his enthusiasm is infectious. Exhibit 1, from Japan:

Shifting gears and geography, we now land in Canada, home to The Dead South, a group that doesn’t take anything except its music too seriously…as evidenced by the titles of two of their albums: Easy Listening for Jerks and Easy Listening for Jerks – Pt. 2. Maybe I’m a jerk — I’d like to think not, but that might be a telltale sign — but their cover of The Doors 1967 classic People Are Strange is quite soothing.

I went through a phase a few years ago where a French pop music channel on XM Radio (pre-Sirius hookup) was my go-to station. I can’t articulate why French pop appeals to me — perhaps it was the one semester of “scientific French” I took in college, about which I can recall naught but the comely female professor — but the following song stirs those feelings. I really wanted Pomplamoose to be a French group, but it’s actually a California duo — now a married couple — who met while at Stanford. At least the singer, Nataly Dawn, spent part of her early life in France and Belgium as the daughter of missionaries, so she comes by the lyrics in the following video honestly. Also, I can’t resist a good clarinet solo and there’s a terrific one in this song.

Update (6/19/23): It bothered me a bit that I couldn’t find out anything about this song using the title shown in the video. A search for “A very fast French song” turned up nothing. In desperation, I returned to the YouTube page and in a moment of brilliant inspiration, I boldly clicked on the “Show more” link which then revealed not only the lyrics in French and English, but also that this is a cover of Vesoul, which was originally recorded in 1968 by the internationally renowned and influential Belgian singer/actor Jacques Brel, a fact subtly hinted at in the video title. The preceding link to Brel’s bio on Wikipedia lists about a hundred mostly well-known musicians who have covered Brel’s music over the years. He died from complications related to lung cancer in 1978 at the young age of 49. By the way, “Vesoul” refers either to a small town in France, or to the larger French commune that’s comprised of multiple municipalities. I understand the intricacies of quantum physics better than I do the geopolitical entities of France. By the way, if you have no idea what the Musette Waltz that is mentioned in the song — you’re not alone; I didn’t either. Here’s a brief explanation. And having listened to one version of it, I can understand why the singer is not enamored with it in the least. Give me Waltz Across Texas any day.

Viewing tip for the following: turn on and pay close attention to the captions, unless, of course, you’re fluent in français de France.

In 1959, the Dave Brubeck Quartet recorded what is arguably the most recognizable jazz tune in history, Take Five, composed by Brubeck’s saxophonist, Paul Desmond. To the untrained ear (like mine), the tune is captivating yet simple, but “simplicity” couldn’t be further from the truth. The rhythm is so unorthodox that Brubeck’s crew required more than 20 takes over two recording sessions to get it right.

But enough of obscure musical history. We’re now traveling to Italy, where the North East Ska*Jazz Orchestra deftly puts a new spin on this classic tune, complete with lyrics. It’s a lengthy version, but well worth the time.

We continue our musical journey in Europe, this time with a group from England, but coming to us here via a 2009 performance on a German talk show (as far as I can tell). Kitty Daisy & Lewis are siblings, and they’re joined by their parents…mom, barefooted, on the bass and dad, practically anonymous, on the guitar. I was attracted to this performance because of the song — Going Up The Country, which of course you’ll know was originally done by Canned Heat in 1968, and equally of course, you’d be mostly wrong, just as I was. Forty years earlier, the East Texas bluesman Henry Thomas wrote and recorded Bull Doze Blues, and Canned Heat put it into a more contemporary R&R arrangement. (I’ve included Thomas’s version below for comparison to Kitty Daisy & Lewis’s rockabilly arrangement.)

I’ve edited the video link to where the actual musical performance by KD&L starts around the 2:10 minute mark, thus skipping over the German/English introduction and slightly awkward interview of the girls. The music speaks for itself; the Brits acquit themselves admirably, methinks.

Above: The British cover; Below: The original by Henry Thomas

We’re moving now to another foreign country…New Jersey! Well, at least that’s where Melody Gardot was born; the performance shown below was in 2012 at the San Sebastian Jazz Festival in Spain. I wasn’t familiar with her music until I ran across the video shown below, and that’s a shame because she’s an incredible talent with an inspirational backstory (summarized well in this Wikipedia entry).

Gardot’s voice has an impressive dynamic range, and the backup musicians shine in this video. It’s rather lengthy, and I’m probably not going to put it in frequent rotation, but I’m glad I now know about her.

And now, as the Monty Python blokes would say, for something completely different, I offer you…Abby the Spoon Lady. She’s ostensibly from the Kansas heartland, but spent a lot of time hitchhiking and jumping trains to travel around the country. I’ll give you one guess as to which musical “instrument” Abby Roach has mastered.

In the following video she teams up with Chris Rodrigues, a one-man band himself, performing a gospel song entitled I Done Died One Time (Ain’t Gonna Die No More). The song is a cultural treasure, in my opinion, originally performed by Boyd Rivers and his wife Ruth May Rivers. Out of respect for the Rivers, I’ve included their 1978 performance at the end. But first, dig the mad spoon skillz, and ponder why your eating utensils don’t inspire the same rhythms at supper time in your home. (OK, if they do…send me a video!)

Viewing tip: Watch for the photobombing hound, and then don’t click away until the very end of the video or you’ll miss a musical Easter egg.

The original version of the song