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Eric Bibb sings “Migration Blues” for refugees everywhere

“Migration Blues”, a new album from veteran bluesman Eric Bibb, uses the sounds of the American South to tell the tale of everyone from 1920s farmers fleeing the Dust Bowl for imgresCalifornia to refugees crossing the Mediterranean to Europe in the 2010s.

Along the way are Mexicans seeking a future in the United States, families moving from land the government has just seized for corporate expansion, and a Cajun jig reminding listeners of the expulsion of French Canadians south down the Mississippi.

“We are all linked by one migration or another. We are all connected to migrants,” Bibb told me from his home in Sweden, ahead of the album’s release by Dixiefrog Records  on March 31.

“The hysterical reaction against migrants is really hard to understand. Have we really forgotten our history?”

The album’s most contemporary subject is to be found in “Prayin’ For Shore”, a blues about the plight of millions of Syrians and others who have fled civil wars in the Middle East on sometimes fatal journeys to Europe across the Mediterranean.

“In an old leaky boat, somewhere on the sea/trying to get away from the war/Welcome or not, got to land soon/Oh lord, prayin’ for shore,” run the lyrics.

The song, Bibb writes in an accompanying booklet, is about remembering the drowned.

But the fleeing migrants of today are nothing new.

For Bibb, an African American, another key moment in history was “The Great Migration” of millions of southern blacks away from America’s segregated South. By some estimates, more than 6 million left the rural areas for industrial places like Detroit, New York and Chicago between 1910 and 1970.

“(They were) not just looking for jobs but fleeing racial terror,” Bibb said.

Such a point is made in his mellifluous rendition of “Delta Getaway” about a man fleeing a lynch mob to Chicago, with the lyrics,   “Saw a man hanging from a cypress tree/I seen the ones who done it/now they coming after me”.

The album is being released as anti-immigrant politics is on the rise across much of the world, including the United States where U.S. President Donald Trump wants to build a wall on the Mexican border to keep out immigrants.

Bibb said it was all laid down and finished before Trump’s election, but that he was nonetheless “astounded by the synchronicity of it”.

Most of the songs on the album are Bibb’s, although he offers covers of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land”, originally an angry riposte from the dispossessed, and Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War”, about the merchants of destruction.

Bibb said that apart from “Prayin’ For Shore”, his favorite composition on “Migration Blues” is “Brotherly Love”. Bibb said it reflected his personal belief.

It offers more hope for the future, one in which people can live in peace.

(This is an edited version of a story I wrote for my main employer, Reuters)

Valerie June plays Lead Belly’s ‘Goodnight Irene’ | Smithsonian Folkways

UnknownValerie June interprets ‘Irene (Goodnight, Irene),’ one of Lead Belly’s signature songs, prior to the Lead Belly at 125 all-star tribute concert at the Kennedy Center in April 2015.

Source: Valerie June plays Lead Belly’s ‘Goodnight Irene’ | Smithsonian Folkways

Chilli Willi and the Red Hot Peppers: A second chance to hear what we first missed

There are few people reading this who will be familiar with Chilli Willi and the Red Hot Peppers. They were British, lasted only between 1972 and 1975, had about 400 gigs3003a150756bf16a840967062067da26 and just two albums. Their main claim to fame is that they were linked through members with Brinsely Schwarz, itself a relatively obscure British pub rock band known mainly to Brits of a certain age.

Perhaps this album will change that. It should. The two CD, 44-song anthology will be a thrill to anyone with a soft spot for the Grateful Dead and their ilk. It is a series of rags, country boogies, American 1960s/70s country rock that sound as if they should have come from Palo Alto rather than the scruffy pubs of London’s Balham.. It may have something to do with the fact that co-founder Martin Stone spent some time in later ’60s San Francisco.

You get the feel right from the start with “Living Out Of My Suitcase”, a paen to bands without work and homes (with a Ry Cooder-ish slide). Skip forward a few tracks and you have “Fiddle Dee”, a raw banjo/fiddle affair that you might hear at the Old Fiddlers Convention in Galax, VA, but was performed in the back room of some London dive.

The U.S.-West Coast sound come through beautifully on “Desert Island Woman” (although I do have to wonder how many mangoes there were in grungy Britain at the time).

It is not clear why the band did not make it. One reason may have been that the kind of Americana being offered at the time was not a crowd-pelaser in Britain. This was the period wedged into the outgoing prog rock and the about-to hit punk rock. My own love of Americana (Little Feat aside) only began when I crossed the Atlantic for a few years. I would not have been impressed going into a pub in 1974 and hearing this.

But I would now. This anthology is great listening. A real second chance to hear something that was missed at the time.

New sounds: Torgeir Waldemar

First off a confession. I know little about Torgeir Waldemar. The press blurb says he is Norwegian and that while he has cultivated a pure, acoustic sound before we are not getting a bit more rock on his new album “No Offending Borders”,  due out on March 17.

I do know that I listened to the track “Bottom of the Wall” and liked it. Here it is:

Hark! The Herald Albions sing

61s8hj4u1ml-_ss500Just in time for the stocking-stuffer season, The Albion Christmas Band has brought forth a new album of – no surprises here – Christmas songs to go along with its annual tour of British folk venues and cosy theatres. It is an eclectic mix of poems, jigs and soaring paens to the ancient winter solstice season.

The band only shows up at this time of year, of course, but it has deep roots in British folk and folk-rock. Its bassist and main poetry reciter is Ashley Hutchings, founding member of Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and The Albion Band, of which this is one of many offshoots. On guitar and vocals is Simon Nicol, eminence grise of  the many grises that make up and have made up Fairport.  Simon Care, of reggae-folk fusion band Edward II and his own four-man trio (!), plays a dangerous melodeon and waves the odd Morris bell. The vocal queen of the ball – right up there in talent with British folk icons Maddy Pryor, Jaqui McShee and the late Sandy Denny – is Kellie While.

What they do – and have done again with the new album – is take travellers down a musical road into the folky heart of British Christmas. It is chestnuts roasting on an open pub fire .

“Magic Touch” has one immediatley recognisable song – a haunting rendition of “Silent Night” in English and the original German that features While in her finest goosebump mode. She does the same throughout, including with the traditional “Gower Wassail”.

Care, meanwhile, turns “Fairytale of New York”, the punkish Pogues hit, into a Morris dance track that loses nothing of its bite.

The readings include a half-sung “Christmas Eve, 1914”, relating the famous tale of British and German soldiers rising up from the World War I trenches to pay football and swap cigarettes duing an informal truce at Christmas that almost brought the war to an early end.

A poignant recitation on the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, it is a reminder to those of us living in peace how lucky we are. So, for that matter, is the whole album.

Honouring Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett

By my colleague, guest blogger Mark Heinrich:

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Credit: Jo Randall

The hometown of Syd Barrett has unveiled a suitably psychedelic public artwork and staged a concert of his songs to commemorate the visionary founder of the Pink Floyd rock group, but he would have laughed off the tribute, his sister says.

 
Barrett was the main songwriter and lead guitarist in early Pink Floyd, with explorations of distortion and feedback that influenced many musicians. The band went on to super-stardom but  Barrett flamed out in drug-induced madness in the late 1960s and retreating to life as a recluse.

 
A decade after his death at 60, the university city of Cambridge where Barrett and other Floyd members grew up launched an artwork named “Coda” in his memory at the Corn Exchange music venue where he re-emerged for his last, abortive, gig in 1972.

 
Mounted to a wall, “Coda” is a psychedelically patterned, mirrored aluminum box with a central circle showing a whirring bicycle wheel with moving images of Barrett materialising at irregular intervals. It is a surrealist play on Barrett’s famous silver guitar and his whimsical song “Bike” on Pink Floyd’s first album, “Piper at the Gates of Dawn”, as well as on the avid cycling culture of present-day Cambridge.

 
There was also a concert to mark the occasion, featuring Men on the Border, a Swedish rock band specialising in Barrett’s quirky post-Floyd solo oeuvre and backed up by the Sandviken Symphony Orchestra. They began with Barrett’s signature sonic Floyd freakout, “Astronomy Domine”. A spacey, dreamlike light show complemented the music courtesy of Peter Wynne Willson, who designed the spectacular stage pyrotechnics pioneered by Pink Floyd in the Barrett era.

 
But Barrett would not have been impressed by the tribute, and probably would not have attended it, said Rosemary Breen, his sister who did much to care for him during his decades of self-imposed isolation.

 

 

“He would have laughed at this, seen it as ridiculous. He never felt he did anything special, he was just having fun. He didn’t understand the idea of celebrity or the commercial side of things, it went totally over his head.”
“With his mental makeup, it stopped being fun, he got so tired and he couldn’t carry on” under the pressure of constant touring and demands for more hits. “I encouraged him to go back to painting and he did (for the rest of his life). That was probably his most natural cultural outlet in the end.”

 

 

Jack Monck, who played bass in Barrett’s last band Stars and witnessed his on-stage meltdown at his final public gig, said the man he knew bore no similarity to his Pink Floyd brilliance.

 
“The guy who had so much creativity and drive in the beginning was gone. It (tribute) was probably overdue, but it’s a bit of a cult, this thing,” Monck said after the concert.
Barrett’s breakdown lurked in some of his songs – one of his two solo albums was titled “The Madcap Laughs “- and it influenced Pink Floyd’s frequent lyrics about alienation and absence as the band evolved into a mega-successful pop phenomena.

A “conversation” with Nobel laureate Bob Dylan

“I called Bobby Z this morning and asked him what his first reaction was when he received the telephone call about winning the Nobel and he said he told the committee member “You’ve got a lot of nerve to say you are my friend!”.

Then i said ‘”C’mon Bobby, how do you really feel?'” and he said “Like a rolling stone.”

So I said, does this make you feel old? He said “Well, I do feel I’m knocking on heaven’s door.”

Asked where he wanted his prize money sent, he said it wanted it hand delivered in Swiss cash to “Desolation Row”.

How does one get there,  I asked.   He said: “You take Highway 61” then  take a left when “You’re lost in Juarez” or when you feel like you are “One too many mornings and a thousand miles behind,” whichever comes first.

Asked what he would do with the money he said : “While money doesn’t talk, it swears. Obscenity, who really cares. Popaganda, all is phony.”

So i ended the conversation telling Bob: be careful, “All the money you make will never buy back your soul.”

He said : “Hey I seem to have heard that somewhere before, long, long time ago”.

With thanks to my colleague and musical buddy Phil Pullella