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New (360 degree) Steve Martin

As many of you know, there is more to Steve Martin than just a funny man — although he is that. He is also a banjo wizzard.

Here is his latest video. Really interesting that he is using 360, but unfortunately I cannot do justice with it technically.


Gregg Allman: Last blast from the Southern man

IMG_7964 2So close to death was blues rocker Gregg Allman when he was making his final album, the cover photographer did not get to his Savannah, Georgia, house in time.

Instead, “Southern Blood”, Allman’s posthumous paean to his life and music to be released in September, is adorned with a sepia shot of the grounds, a wooden boardwalk heading away under the shade of Spanish Moss.

There probably could not be a more appropriate symbol for Allman, who died from cancer in May, aged 69. From the early days with his late brother Duane onwards, Tennessee-born Allman was the epitome of Southern rock and blues.

“Southern Blood” is not about the South per se for that, skip back an album to the 2011 Grammy-nominated “Low Country Blues”. This one is about Allman.

“(Gregg) was acutely aware that his time was limited,” Allman’s manager and friend Michael Lehman told me when asked about the recording session.

“These compositions, they are all poignant and meaningful and talk about his life’s journey. Everyone of them had meaning (for him).”

For his last hurrah, Allman chose a number of songs written by friends and favorite artists including Jackson Browne, Willie Dixon, Jerry Garcia and Lowell George.

Each song, including those written by Allman himself, touch on something of the man — who led a difficult life with the early death of his brother, six divorces including from his celebrity marriage to Cher, drug addiction, hepatitis C, a liver transplant and, ultimately, cancer.

George’s “Willin'”, for example, is the tale of a hard-times Southwestern truck driver who keeps on the road against all the odds, a hint at Allman’s near continual touring.

Another song — written by Mississippi bluesman Wilie Dixon — needs no explanation:

I Love The Life I Live/ I Live The Life I Love

In a similar vein a lot of the songs are basically goodbyes. One such is Allman’s sweet rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Going, Going, Gone” with it’s starting lyrics:

I’ve just reached a place/Where the willow don’t bend/There’s not much more to be said/It’s the top of the end

Perhaps most poignant of all is the opening track, Allman’s own “My Only True Friend” in which he calls on the people who have followed his music since before 1969, the year the Allman Brothers hit the road, to remember him.

You and I both know this river must surely flow to an end/Keep me in your heart, keep your soul on the mend/I hope you’re haunted by the music of my soul, when I’m gone/Please don’t fly away to find a new love

(This is an edited version of a story I wrote for my main employer, Reuters. The photo is mine from when I met him in 2011)

Mr Jagger gets it on Brexit

The Rock Machine (Still) Turns You On


There is a fascinating column in the pages of R2 magazine (the former Rock ‘n’ Reel) called “It started with a disc”. The idea is that the magazine’s contributors write about the record or CD that started their love affair with music. For me it would probably have been Pat Boone’s “Speedy Gonzalez“. But that is another story. This is about an album I had many years later when I was in my teens which helped cement my fanaticism for music. The Rock Machine Turns You On was originally released in 1968 but probably bought by me a year or two later.

The album was remarkable on three levels. First, it only cost 75 pence (around $1) which at the time made it one of the cheapest LPs (long player for the young among you) available. Second. it was arguably the first rock compliation ever made, bringing together…

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Gourd banjo and hambone – great stuff

Markus James (r) and Calvin Jackson (l)

Missa Luba: An old friend rediscovered

Record Store Day 2017 and what should I come across in my local Oxfam bin but a copy of an album I have not heard since the early 1970s — “Missa Luba”, sung by Les Troubadours du Roi Baudouin.

7630659The singers’ name should give you a hint about this one. Baudouin was king of Belgium in 1958 when this music was first produced and when what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo was a Belgian colony. The music is a Christian mass sung in Congolese style.

The “hit” from this piece of musical joy was “Sanctus”, a Bantu-inspired farewell song that was used in Lindsey Anderson’s magnificent 1968 movie of youth rebellion “If…”. That alone made it cool for my generation. But Wikipedia reminds me of other claims to fame:

The Gloria featured in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964)….  The Clash refer to the recording in the lyrics of “Car Jamming” on their 1982 album Combat Rock… The cover of the Troubadours’ album appears briefly in the Stanley Kubrick film A Clockwork Orange (1971) as Malcolm McDowell’s character, Alex, strolls through a record shop.

Pasolini, If, The Clash,  Kubrick, A Clockwork Orange — say no more.

Listening to it today, I suppose there are some issues for the politically correct. It was put together by a colonial priest, Father Guido Haazen, whose job was presumably to preach Christianity to Africans under European rule. But it is a celebration, nonetheless, of Congolese culture and in an age when World Music is embraced in every bit of its seemingly infinite glory, why not?

The music itself — and this album was produced in 1963 after Congolese independence – is uplifting. It is a series of African folk styles, including rhythmic dance music, accompanied by log drums but following the general course of the Catholic mass.  Have  a taste:

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)