Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Flowers: Wild Irish Rose

St. Louis punk-blues five piece Kentucky Knife Fight recorded "Wild Irish Rose"—now a crowd favorite at shows—for their 2008 album The Wolf Crept, the Children Slept. A vague tale from the perspective of a writer intimidated by the task of writing and companionless—save for his Richards Wild Irish Rose, an infamous, bottom-shelf "wine" of similar notoriety as Thunderbird and MD 20/20.

I've had the pleasure of seeing Kentucky Knife Fight four or five times in the past several years, which I have to place on my list of perks to living in the St. Louis area. They're a local favorite, and we try not to take them for granted, because we understand just how mainstream their talent could take them. I have to recount how my favorite bartender put it when an out-of-towner friend I was treating to a drink saw "FRIDAY 6/2: KENTUCKY KNIFE FIGHT" scrawled on the chalkboard and asked what that meant. Without missing a beat (or a step, as he cooly walked by without making eye contact), he let her know, "That's just something we do around here."

KKF shouldn't be relegated to the realms of a local band, though. They tour incessantly, playing shows and festivals coast to coast, and have shared stages with the likes of Reverend Horton Heat, Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit, and Pokey LaFarge.

Whole reviews could be written about the immense sound the band fills albums and venues with, about the raspy howl of vocalist Jason Holler, the smooth yet massive basslines Jason Koenig subtly mixes in, the adrenaline-injecting, snappy snare pops James Baker throws around, or the jangly twang and searing solos Curt Brewer and Nathan Jones trade off on guitars. But what good does it do to read about that, when listening to it is so easy?

Monday, May 20, 2013

Flowers: Pretty Pink Rose

Adrian Belew (w/ David Bowie): Pretty Pink Rose

Adrian Belew is an incredible, inventive guitarist, and deserves all of the critical and commercial success that he has achieved. The story of his career is amazing—where other talented musicians toil in obscurity their whole lives, once he got his big break, Belew has consistently been able to obtain work with some of the biggest and best. To be clear—I’m not saying he isn’t worthy, because he assuredly is—I’m a big fan and really respect his music. But still, it is pretty incredible.

In short, Belew was 27 and playing with cover bands in the Nashville area, when Frank Zappa heard him play, apparently tipped off by his chauffeur. This led to an audition for Zappa, and a spot in his touring band. Brian Eno saw one of the Zappa shows and recommended Belew to his buddy David Bowie, and when Zappa went on hiatus, Belew joined Bowie’s band.

After that, while visiting New York, he became friendly with the emerging Talking Heads, and even sat in with them occasionally. During this period, he met Robert Fripp. Eventually, he joined the Talking Heads for their Remain in Light album and tours and contributed to a number of Talking Heads side projects, including the Tom Tom Club. In fact, he was supposedly asked by Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz to replace David Byrne as front man for the Talking Heads.

Belew was then asked by Fripp to join a new band that ultimately became the rejuvenated King Crimson, and played with that band while also putting out a number of solo albums that careened among pop, rock, world music, experimental arty music, and acoustic songs. Yours truly, while working at Atlantic Records during the summer of 1982, attempted to convince the dance music person to remix a song from Belew’s first solo record, Lone Rhino, to see if it could cross over into that market. The guy actually considered it briefly before realizing that it was a pretty bad idea. Nevertheless, Belew has had a few hit songs (although not dance hits), including “Pretty Pink Rose.”

In 1990, Bowie attempted to hire Belew to tour with him to support a career retrospective box set, Sound + Vision. To help convince Belew, who had some reluctance to put his solo career on hold, Bowie offered to provide some songs to Belew, and sing on his next album. He sent over some demos, including one for “Pretty Pink Rose” which Bowie had cut with, Bryan Adams’ (!) backing band. Belew hated it. But instead of throwing up his hands, he went into the studio and reworked the song. Bowie loved the new version, and they recorded it and it hit #2 on the Billboard “Modern Rock” chart.

The performances are exuberant. The lyrics seem to be about the Cold War and include a bunch of very inventive lines—even if they are somewhat cryptic—for example:

She's the poor man's gold, she's the anarchist crucible
Flyin' in the face of the despot cannibal

You rarely hear a pop song with the words “anarchist” or “cannibal,” much less “crucible.” And Belew’s guitar screams and squiggles wildly (and I mean that in the best possible sense). I suspect that had this been released by Bowie, it would be considered a classic, but instead, it is now just a hidden treasure.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Flowers: Snow Flower

Ananda Shankar--nephew of the more famous Ravi Shankar--visited San Francisco in 1968 and jammed with Jimi Hendrix. That eye--and ear--opening experience led to experimentations with more instruments: the moog synthesizer, guitar, bass and drums. For his self titled 1970 album--now a cult classic-- Ananda covered "Jumpin Jack Flash" as well as The Doors' "Light My Fire". The entire album is a great groovy mood enhancing gem.

 Shankar returned to India in the mid-70's and recorded more classics as well as soundtracks. According to Alan James's liner notes for a much later album, Ananda used to say: "My dream is to break barriers, any kind of barrier - through music, love, affection and compassion. I have this dream of musicians from all over the world playing for an audience all over the world. When we are all here we are one, and when we go out I am sure we will all be one."