Monday, April 26, 2010

Happy Positive Wonderful Yes (TOTR 83)

Riddem Nation – Positive And Free
Black Uhuru – Positive
Bob Marley – Positive Vibration
Al Jarreau – Ac-cent-tchu-ate The Positive
Earth, Wind & Fire – Happy Feelin
Edwin Hawkins – Oh Happy Day
Khrysso Heart LeFey – Rise Up Over You With Singing
Yim Yames – Wonderful (The Way I Feel)
Eric Clapton – Wonderful Tonight
Donna The Buffalo – Positive Friction
Kottonmouth Kings – Positive Vibes
The Barleyshakes – Positive Song
Bright Eyes – Happy Accident
The Turtles – Happy Together
The Rolling Stones – Happy
R.E.M – Shiny Happy People
The Buzzcocks – Everybody's Happy Nowadays
Siouxsie & The Banshees – Happy House
Never Shout Never – Happy
Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins – Happy
Mazzy Star – Happy
Melissa Etheridge – Yes I Am
Coldplay – Yes
Michael Franti – Yes I Will
Frightened Rabbit – Yes, I Would

Monday, April 19, 2010

Natalie Night (TOTR 82)

with 10,000 Maniacs

Secrets of the I Ching (1983)
National Education Week
Grey Victory

The Wishing Chair (1985)
Cant Ignore The Train
Back O The Moon
My Mother the War

In My Tribe (1987)
Hey Jack Kerouac
A Campfire Song

Our Time In Eden (1992)
Candy Everybody Wants

MTV Unplugged (1993)
Because the Night

as Natalie Merchant

Ophelia (1998)
Kind And Generous.

The House Carpenter's Daughter (2003)
Poor Wayfaring Stranger

Every Child Deserves A Lifetime (2007)
Come Take A Trip In My Airship

Leave Your Sleep (2010)
Nursery Rhyme of Innocence and Experience
Calico Pie
It Makes A Change
Bleezer's Ice-CreamThe Peppery Man
The Janitor's Boy
Adventures of Isabel
The Land of Nod
Sweet and a Lullaby
Indian Names

Maternity Marks Merchant's Bookish Comeback

As parents, we tend to embarass our children. What was perfect when they were younger seems strange when they reach the teenage years. I doubt my 16-year-old daughter relishes her baby pictures being incorporated into undergrad lectures or having me forever reviving a chant poem about her first words uttered in 1994. Imagine then, having your pop icon mama composing an expensive and expansive 26-song album in your honor. But that's just the artistic blessing of being born Natalie Merchant's daughter.

Released on April 13, Leave Your Sleep dances into our waking dreams as the kind of epic project that only a unique literary and musical genius on extended maternity leave could compose. Costing thousands and thousands to produce and involving hundreds of collaborating musicians, Leave Your Sleep enchants, educates, and enthralls. Merchant confesses to finding the songs to resuscitate poems in her mind while nursing her now six-year-old daughter.

“I was breastfeeding six hours a day, and I felt this burst of creative energy,” she explains in an interview. “In my mind I had all these visions of projects I wanted to do and things I wanted to make, but I couldn't leave my chair, and I had my hands full. So I just put a tape recorder next to the chair where I was nursing, and I would start singing into it, and that's where the first songs came from. I didn't really have time to focus on writing lyrics.”

With a tip of the bonnet to William Blake, the album opens with Charles Causley's “Nursery Rhyme of Innocence and Experience.” Immediately, listeners know that Natalie Merchant does not confine her craft to the carseat of genres called “kid's albums.” With Leave Your Sleep, our hearts swim in a deep well of serious folk music and not a single chirpy singalong to annoy parents on long drives can be found among these 26 tracks.

The more clever tracks could border on the cute but never in a cringe-worthy way. Collaborating with Medeski, Martin, and Wood on the swingy “It Makes A Change,” Merchant marvels us with Mervyn Peake's whimsical meditations on a whale “feeling high and mighty” wearing “Aunt Mabel's nighty.” The poem “lights up the breakfast table,” and I haven't felt this good about dancing while planning the morning meal since Poi Dog Pondering's jubilant take on “Toast and Jelly.”

From turning Ogden Nash's “Adventures of Isabel” into a fiddle-fired Appalachian jam or giving William Brighty Rands' “Topseyturvey-World” a worldly ska-reggae beat, Merchant confirms the musical diversity and visionary versatility that's been embedded in her creative DNA since the earliest 10,000 Maniacs records.

With a litany of flavors to make Ben and Jerry weep and a wordplay that would amaze even Dr. Seuss, Jack Prelutsky's “Bleezer's Ice Cream” funks along to a downtown ragtime vibe. A poem about a person Merchant dubs a “badass dude,” “Peppery Man” began as an Irish jig but gets a gospel-blues treatment enhanced by the voices of the great gospel group Fairfield Four. The teacherly Merchant doesn't fancy a preacher's son but joyfully serenades “The Janitor's Boy,” a Nathalia Crane poem placed in the same room with Wynton Marsalis trumpet riffs.

While some tracks get pure injections of innocent frivolity, Merchant researched the epic release with the diligence of an unemployed English major seeking a doctoral dissertation commisioned by the heavens. The haunting treatment of Lydia Huntley Sigourney's "Indian Names" shows that Merchant has hardly lost her earnest, activist edge. In an awkward moment of her amazing TED performance, Merhchant actually scolds the crowd for enthusiasm during her final song (the earlier hit "Kind and Generous"), shutting them up so she can sing her gratitude to them more reverently.

Blogging about his daylong session cutting "Topseyturvey-World," reggae session man Andy Bassford tesitfies to her generosity and work ethic. The person Bassford describes is the same incredible woman I met while following her around the midwest between 1985 and 1987. And back in 2008, he got to play on one song of what's easily the the creative capstone of Natalie Merchant's incredible career. He chronicles:

"For some reason Natalie likes to eat at four o'clock, so we took a break and had some absolutely amazing organic food, which was prepared in the kitchen below the studio. She ate with us; no diva behavior here. For those of you who are wondering, I can't tell you that much about her despite spending two days working with her. Natalie is rather small and surprisingly pale, with dark brown eyes and prominent eyebrows. She has a beautiful speaking voice that is quite close to her singing voice. I'm sure she reads lots and lots of books. Good ones. She is easygoing on the surface and very articulate and poised; I never heard her swear, raise her voice, or fumble for a word. When we were cutting the track, she sang tirelessly. Some artists won't do this, or complain about having to do so while they are doing it. But I think it's really critical to cutting a good track. It's no accident that Natalie makes really good records. She's completely invested in the process."

(reposted from

Sitting In The Wishing Chair With 10,000 Maniacs

Originally published in 1986 in Disoriented Rain Dance 3

Editor's Note: Jamestown, New York was not the first permanent British settlement in America, but it is the hometown of 10,000 Maniacs. Andy writes on about his meetings with the band that could almost be subtitled “What 10,000 Maniacs Mean To Me”…

It is quite a task for me to put a huge bag full of feelings about 10,000 Maniacs music into coherent form on paper. I will try, but if this, at one point of another, doesn’t hold together, please forgive me.

The first 10,000 Maniacs show for me was in October of last year at Rick’s American CafĂ© in Ann Arbor. A new music band called 10,000 Maniacs is not supposed to break free of all precepts and stereotypes. 10,000 Maniacs should be skinheads or industrial techno-punkers. But this six-piece live up to their name in a very different way.

Natalie Merchant is the center of this beautiful, melodic art form. She is sitting in the Wishing Chair, if you will. Bass player Steve Gustafson says it does not bother him that Natalie gets all of the attention. He says he expects it and he keeps smiling and he keeps playing.
Natalie has long, flowing hair. Her beautiful hair, dark brown, and everywhere is part of the trip taken at a 10,000 Maniacs show. She wears gorgeous clothing: long dresses full of color from some hidden thrift store at the far end of some town. Her dancing adds to a show that smiles simply on a visual level. Leaping and bounding and feeling, possessing her music through dance. We have brilliance through this grace and I haven’t even written about the music yet!

The music is soft as Nat’s voice soars high and low and deep and into my heart. She signs her words and poetry so simply―they are hers―and when I am transfixed by the front of the stage, they become mine too. Let us get one thing straight: Natalie Merchant is a genius and an artist. She is also a very kind and pleasant woman of 22 years.

The Maniacs album to know and love is called the The Wishing Chair. The 12-inch singles, the album Secrets Of The I-Ching and the EP Human Conflict #5 are out of print. Lucky is the one finds them at the groovy record store. More entirely pleasing music. During the last maniac stop in Detroit, Natalie played for me the first few songs on a demo tape for the next album. Soon the big label will deliver more vinyl ecstasy…

10,000 Maniacs hail from Jamestown, New York which is a small town in the western part of the state near Lake Chautauqua. There is a little girl in Jamestown who plays with Natalie. Natalie enjoys this little girl and her brother. The little girl’s name is Jenny of “Back O’ the Moon” fame. Jenny’s parents saw the Maniacs in Musician magazine and now their daughter wears a shirt that says “I’m Jenny.” Jenny saw 10,000 Maniacs live at their last show in Jamestown.

One day, Natalie, Jen and her brother went horseback riding. Natalie pointed to a dead bird by the side of the path and asked the little boy if would eat that bird.

“Oh no. Oh no!”
Well do you like it when your mom serves chicken?
“Yeh! Yum-Yum!”
Well, gee, chicken is a dead bird.
“No?!?! Is it really?!”
The young boy’s mother called Natalie and was very upset with her for subverting her child with the vegetarian spirit. I am actually quite glad that Natalie Merchant has that spirit, because it was during that conversation when Natalie and I made plans to eat at a truly wonderful restaurant in Royal Oak called Inn Season. When the Maniacs hit Detroit in March, Natalie and I shared sparkling conversation over Tofu salad and carrot juice.

Back on stage again, Natalie spins and twirls holding in her hand a sort of magical wand with a streamer at its tip. She dances, dressed in black across the stage, she is still full of such charming movements―reaching down and tapping my head as I stand at the front of the stage. This show was a free gig put on by the fraternities at the University of Dayton. 10,000 Maniacs played at a Twister game! Well, the man in charge of musical entertainment has enlightened tastes. Lucky me, I was a few minutes away, in Yellow Springs visiting my college-to-be, Antioch.

I remember that night there was one gentleman who stood and stared at Natalie the entire night (besides me). He could not take his eyes off of Natalie’s legs. I think he was noticing that Natalie has a European spirit about her and doesn’t shave. Well, it was the best frat party I’ve ever been to!

I was so high on the music of this show that my enthusiastic movements turned into slam dancing on “My Mother The War.” We had it all―another guy climbed on to the stage and Nat helped him into a stage dive. It turns out “My Mother The War” was originally a poem by a college professor. I asked Natalie, “Did you have him?” She replied, “In a sense; he was my boyfriend.”

It was in Detroit back in October that before one of the Maniacs' shows, Natalie was eager to talk with us about something and nothing at the same time. She told us about making a tape for her brother with Joy Division, New Order and Walt Disney themes at the tail end. He was tripping when he first listened to it and, boy, did the Disney themes freak him out. Somehow we got to talking about “Lost in Space.” The next thing you knew, Natalie was swinging her arms like the robot, going “Danger, Danger!”

10,000 Maniacs played Traxx the same night as the Cure played the State Theatre and it was a somewhat sparsely attended show. I was happy to catch both gigs. In all frankness, I must say that 10,000 Maniacs were the better show. The Cure had plenty of pomp and image, but the Maniacs had some more crucial qualities.

Caring and concern for a set of music was never more evident. That is part of the magic. I shall not soon forget the improvisation during “National Education Week.” Natalie has a special way of singing bits and pieces of a variety of tunes here and there. This one was easily the most splendid though. My heart leapt as I heard on this stage, the familiar sounds of my youth:

“This old man, he played three, he played nic-nac on my knee, with a nic-nac paddywack give your dog a gone, this old many came rolling home. This old man he played four…” Music and fun and other good feelings we could never put into words.

I have a good friend named Lisa. She is probably the biggest 10,000 Maniac fan. Her love for Natalie’s music in itself makes me smile. Unfortunately, Lisa is 17 and underage and because of some horribly unjust and unfair laws, she had not been able to see 10,000 Maniacs live. In January, I took her to Ann Arbor and at the entrance, this lost young doorman took her ID and refused her entrance.

I couldn’t find the rest of my party and was flushed with guilt and anger as Lisa had to spend the entire show in my car. I had now seen 10,000 Maniacs four times, and Lisa, this beautiful young woman with so much love for the band had to sit in the car only because of her age.

After the show, I shared this with Natalie and she was suitably disappointed in the whole system. She walked into the biting cold with me and out to the car to meet Lisa. Lisa was lifted out of the chilling winter night with a chance to meet Natalie who cared enough to trek out into the cold. Class and caring shows us once again something about this band that make them so important.

At the onset of this article, I mentioned how Steve Gustafson said he expected Natalie to get all the attention. Well, guess what? I’ve given Natalie all the attention. In fairness to five of the nicest, most fun guys I’ve ever met, I’d like to write about the Musicians who make this whole thing work so splendidly. When I first saw guitarist Robert Buck in his conservative ‘50’s garb, I thought of Mr. C from Happy Days. He really is a great man and a lot more easy going then his appearance might lead one to imagine. He also plays great guitar.

John Lombardo is the other guitarist and he also plays some fine acoustic. What many people don’t know is that John has this amazing lunchbox collection highlighted by a classic NFL Quarterback. We had a very enjoyable conversation about how much my former Planet Of The Apes and Bee Gees lunchboxes might be worth.

Dennis Drew with his sort of college-intellectual look was the first Maniac I became acquainted with by phone to confirm my meeting the band after the first Ann Arbor show. He went out of his way to get my friends into the show in January as Rick’s overflowed. One can see Natalie and Dennis exchanging knowing looks during a show. Their friendship extends more years then the band’s.

Steve on bass and Jerry Augustianiak on drums are both all smiles and enthusiasms, it seems at almost all times. Jerry seems to just go into his own thing back on the drum set, groovin’ in his own way with this fabulous boyish grin. I remember during “Daktari” the first time I saw them, that up song had the people dancing and Jerry’s smiles just kept going. I remember how excited he was after the show that people were dancing. He’s just a beautiful person making beautiful happy music.

Natalie did share dinner and Lisa was along with us. Lisa had expected to go home and once again miss out on her favorite band because she was still 17. But Natalie suggested that Lisa come to the club with her and they wouldn’t think of carding her. It worked! I can still see Nat saying to the doorman “She’s with me!” Lisa had the time of her life as far as I could tell. She finally felt, in person, the quiet strength and overwhelming musical grace and beauty that Natalie Merchant generates.

It is a dance and a song in my heart to see all of the truly terrific things that music can do for people. It has made my life! The tide flows in and the tide flows out and my 10,000 Maniacs cassette keeps playing.

Monday, April 12, 2010

In The Garden (TOTR 81)

Band of Horses – The Funeral
Eddie Vedder – Rise
The Beatles – Mother Nature's Son
Matisyahu – On Nature
Saturnalia Trio – The Planting Song
Joanne Shenandoah – Planting The Tree Of Peace
The Cave Singers – Seeds Of Night
Wilco – Side With The Seeds
Tears for Fears – Sowing The Seeds Of Love
Dredg – Planting Seeds
Rootz Underground – Farming
Cut Chemist – The Garden
Pearl Jam – Garden
REM – Gardening At Night
Raheem Devaughn – Garden Of Love
pistol pete & popgun paul – Garden of Love
John Denver – Garden Song
Tallest Man on Earth – The Gardener
The Black Crowes – Garden Gate
New Riders Of The Purple Sage – Garden Of Eden
Robin Holcomb - A Lazy Farmer Boy
Joni Mitchell – Woodstock
Van Morrison – In The Garden

Monday, April 5, 2010

April Showers (TOTR 80)

Rusted Root—Rain

Terence Trent Darby—Rain

The Cult—Rain

Shonen Knife – Rain

Uriah Heep—Rain

Cheryl B—Spring Showers

Sugarland—April Showers

The Snow Fairies—April Showers

Sting—Shadows In The Rain

Uglysuit—Happy Yellow Rainbow

Richard Hawley –Can You Hear The Rain Love

Yusuf—The Rain

Ryan Adams—Carolina Rain

The White Stripes—Red Rain

This Mortal Coil— Red Rain

Peter Gabriel—Red Rain

Prince &The Revolution—Purple Rain

Buddy Guy—Feels Like Rain

Tracy Chapman— Let It Rain

Nanci Griffith— I Wish It Would Rain

U2—Summer Rain

The Alarm—Rain In The Summertime

Creedence Clearwater Revival—Have You Ever Seen The Rain

R.E.M—So. Central Rain

The Grateful Dead—Box Of Rain

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter On The Radio

Godspell (Motion Picture Soundtrack) – Prepare Ye (The Way of the Lord)
Steeleye Span – Bright Morning Star
Sweet Honey In The Rock – Amen
U2 – Until the End of the World
Sarah Mclachlan – I Will Remember You
John Michael Talbot – Communion Song
Iron and Wine – Communion Cups and Someone's Coat
Iron and Wine – Free Until They Cut Me Down
Bob Dylan – In The Garden
Nirvana – They Hung Him On A Cross
Sam Cooke & the Soul Stirrers – Were You There
Johnny Cash – Were You There
Johnny Cash – Personal Jesus.
The Village Singers – Roll Away the Stone
Mumford & Sons – Roll Away Your Stone
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – Roll The Stone Away
Melonie Cannon – Mary Magdalene [Why You Cryin]
Peter Rowan – Mary Magdalene
Keith Green – Easter Song
Marvin Gaye – God Is Love
Michelle Shocked – Can't Take My Joy
Lone Justice – Soap, Soap & Salvation
Josh White Jr – Jesus Gonna Make Up My Dying Bed
Doobie Brothers – Jesus Is Just Alright
Guadalcanal Diary – Kum Ba Yah
Cat Power – Amazing Grace
Original Cast Recording of Jesus Christ Superstar – Superstar