Monday, November 23, 2009

TOTR 66: Grub & Gratitude

In anticipation of the Thanksgiving holiday, I've adopted the theme “Grub & Gratitude” for this program. As always, holidays can be stressful or controversial, but for this musical journey, I've decided to avoid some of the social, historical, or political aspects associated with the problematic relationship between the so-named pilgrims & Indians. Still, even food & friendship can be examined with a cultural lens, & any light we shine honestly on pop culture reveals thematic insight—which might sometimes be challenging but will hopefully, always be accompanied by auditory delight.

Hank Williams – Hey, Good Lookin'

Hank Williams – Jambalaya (On The Bayou)

Doc Watson – Keep My Skillet Good And Greasy

With “Hey, Good Lookin'” and “Jambalaya (On The Bayou),” Hank Williams offers up the invocation of number one songs from the early 1950s, immediately followed by Doc Watson's “Keep My Skillet Good And Greasy.” Immediately, we're reminded that the verb “cookin” has carnal as well as culinary implications. In classic folk, country, or blues, the poetics of the kitchen inevitably invite romantic antics in the bedroom.

With the Watson number, the allusions resist the subtle, & the adjectives approach the amorous or scandalous suggestions of the song; surely, some would read this to be as sexist as any modern day hip hop misogyny. At the same time, these tracks set a regional mood rooted in the south where food & family connect to community, where the physicality of blues/folk/rock/country/pop are forever in tension with the spirituality of gospel music. Watson hailed from North Carolina and Williams from Alabama, with the latter dying before he turned 30—on the road from Knoxville, Tennessee, with the requisite mystery & morphine to add to the myth.

The B-52s – Cake

As we enter the season of “Dessert First,” this party of a song was suggested for this playlist by my friend & colleague Tony Baker. Take what we learned about baking innuendo from Doc Watson & put it in the able vocalization of singers Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson, & we’re sure to have some icing on the pineapple upside-down cake, chocolate devil's food cake, an angel cake.

Louis Jordan – Beans and Cornbread

When I first moved to the south in the middle of the last decade of the last century, one of the first skills I learned was how to make cornbread. A few secrets I’ve learned over the last decade of my cornbread career include making it in a cast-iron pan, preheating the pan in the oven & melting real butter in the pan while I prepare the batter, & being generous with baking powder & organic sugar in the recipe. The preheated butter helps form the perfect golden crust on the cornbread & the extra pinches of sugar & baking powder keep the cornbread fluffy. Hailing from Arkansas, known as “King of the Jukebox,” & having once played in a band called Rabbit Foot Minstrels, Louis Jordan was one of the most popular African-American musicians of the twentieth century. “Beans and Cornbread” was recorded in 1949.

Don Cherry – Brown Rice

Avant-garde jazz musician Don Cherry was a contemporary of John Coltrane’s, & this track comes from 1975. It’s about as “out there” as this mix gets.

Booker T & The MG's – Burnt Biscuits

Booker T & The MG's – Red Beans And Rice

Keeping us fueled with funk, Booker T & the MG’s make it magic with the infectious sound of Memphis soul. On the culinary tip, they keep it to the basic staples, just as their music was the staple at Stax Records in the 1960s.

Otis Grand – Cheese & Crackers

Carole King – Chicken Soup With Rice

This singable ditty about an always sippable delicacy was born as part of a made-for-TV special called Really Rosie from 1975—with ideas & lyrics by none other than Maurice Sendak.

Lyle Lovett – Church

My colleague, friend, & mentor Kurt Eisen added this to the playlist when I sought suggestions & requests on Facebook. My friend Justina seconded the nomination. After listening, I knew that this song had a lot of “something” for me—my kind of hymn to dance-in-the-aisles, wave-my-arms-in –a-testifyin’-of-way. To match the night’s lyrical theme, just check the lyrics:

To the Lord let praises be

It's time for dinner now let's go eat

We've got some beans and some good cornbread

And I listened to what the preacher said

Arlo Guthrie – Alice's Restaurant Massacre

I am not sure when I first heard Arlo Guthrie’s Thanksgiving classic or why its legendary blend of stand-up commentary has forever secured its place in pop-rock-cultural mythology. I did hear that when some radio stations play the song around this time of year, it’s not uncommon to cut the mix from its full 18-minute-form, leaving out some of the anti-war commentary.

Ryan Adams – Thank You Louise

My good musical friends & regular listeners to this program know how I feel about Ryan Adams. These lyrics nail the mood I’ve sought for this show:

Mother of three

Waiting in the check-out line

The supermarket, Christmas time

She eyes someone who doesn't have the change

Takes a dollar from her purse

She pays and doesn't say a word

She winks and grins and ‘Merry Christmas, friend!'

Thank you Louise

Dan Fogelberg – Illinois

While I remember listening to the light rock of Dan Fogelberg in middle school, I don’t think I ever heard this song. My friend Cerulean from Chattanooga suggested it for the lyrics: “I may miss the harvest, but I won't miss the feast.”

Natalie Merchant – Kind And Generous

In the 1980s, I was mad for 10,000 Maniacs, logging “Almost Famous” fanboy memories about Natalie Merchant as I did with Maria McKee, even more memorable, personal, & vivid than when I followed REM & U2. While not as familiar with her later solo work, this song embodies the mood of gratitude with so much sweetness, intimacy, & grace. I am looking forward to a new solo record by Natalie in 2010!

Foscoe Jones – Thanksgiving

I’d never heard of Foscoe Jones of Austin, Texas before compiling this mix, but this song grabbed me among many with the title “Thanksgiving” as perfect for tonight’s mix—perhaps because of what I perceive as its sundry, ironic, bittersweet emotions about family, about America, about everything.

John Mellencamp – Thank You

Of all the populist, rust-belt anthemic Americana singers to emerge from the Reagan & Bush years, to endure through the Clinton & Bush years, to still be with us with choruses as wide & cheap & believable as biblical metaphors ready-made for American car commercials, John Mellencamp can still make the hair on your arms tingle. Mellencamp can be the man, never as revered by the rock intelligentsia as Springsteen but still kicking it anyways.

My Morning Jacket – Thank You Too!

While not my favorite song from last year’s Evil Urges, the tender & heartfelt “Thank You Too!” is one Jim James’ best ventures into softer rock balladry.

Sly & The Family Stone – Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)

Who doesn’t want a little Sly Stone? This song says it all!

Sarah Vaughan – If Not For You

Led Zeppelin – Thank You

We all have many, many things to give thanks for in the world—just this life, just food to eat, just shelter over our heads, just something meaningful to do with our time. But love itself is perhaps the greatest thing we give thanks for, & these songs, one by Dylan interpreted by Sarah Vaughan, & the other by Led Zeppelin, really do this & do it well.

“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”

(Meister Eckhart, 1260–1328, a German theologian, philosopher and mystic)

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