White Denim – “Come Back”

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White Denim is an eclectic band out of Austin, TX that has managed to cross the prog/pop rock divide in a manner that’s entirely unique, yet comforting at the same time.  I first found this band through their delightful Last Day of Summer, an album they released for free after Summer 2010 had come to an end. But what’s truly delightful about this band is their marriage of pop song conventions into the otherwise obtuse prog-rock format. “New Coat”, off Last Day of Summer was-and still is- a favorite song of mine.

On their upcoming LP, Corsicana Lemonade, produced with the help of Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, “Come Back” is a relative stand-out track with a mind-whirling honky-tonk guitar riff and their relentless energy and drive on full display.  Check out the track below, and look for Corsicana Lemonade to hit stores on October 29th.

Come Back

Side Tracked: “This Song” and “Pure Smokey”, George Harrison, Thirty Three & 1/3

Even– or perhaps especially– if you’re a huge Beatle fan, you could be forgiven for believing George Harrison simply just stopped making albums after his triple LP All Things Must Pass. Some may even remember that he released Living In The Material World shortly after, but the rest of Harrison’s solo career seems to be blips, maybe a single here or there, “All Those Years Ago”, “Got My Mind Set On You” (why did that ever, ever, get made?), and of course his time with The Traveling Wilburys.  There’s a good reason that most of his 70s output gets glossed over like a sterilized re-write of history.  Most of it is terrible.

Now I don’t mean terrible in the sense that McCartney was able to craft beautiful melodies centered around what in the world lyrics like “Someone’s knocking at the door, somebody is ringin’ a bell”,  or that Lennon spent his whole mid 70s/ “Lost weekend” trying to rediscover what a good melody was. I mean Harrison tried to hard to be philosophical and inaccessible, and his music–and audience– suffered.

He also had a tremendous bout of bad luck.  His wife left him (though his own behavior certainly had a hand in that), he tried to record an album, Dark Horse, before his first solo tour and was left with a crippling case of laryngitis that made itself comfortable throughout the album.  The tour was even worse, not only was his voice gone, he decided to replace the “she” of “Something” with God, and as many rock stars of the era, had been wooed by the cocaine habit that was exploding around the world.  His last album for EMI, Extra Texture, would also be a bust, avoided on radio play except for maybe its lead single “You”.

More problems followed, Harrison was sued for plagiarizing The Chiffon’s “He’s So Fine” in his biggest hit to date, “My Sweet Lord”. When he set about recording his first album off the EMI label, he came down with hepatitis.  However, Thirty Three & 1/3 would emerge as one of the best Harrison releases in years.  

“This Song” was written as a direct response to the whole “My Sweet Lord” lawsuit, and in a way Harrison predates the MTV craze by concocting a ridiculous video for the affair (you almost can’t hear the song on it’s own and get the same effect) . It’s a meta-moment where he sings about writing the song because of the court, and saying what key the song is (E).  He also throws in a bunch of subtle tongue-in-cheek moments (like Eric Idle’s psuedo-feminine declarations before the instrumental break.  More than anything, this song proved that the usually dour Harrison was at his best when he didn’t take things too seriously.

“Pure Smokey”  on the other hand, was tucked away as the B-side to “True Love”, a Cole Porter cover that is wholly out of place, even on a usual Harrison record.  Yet “Pure Smokey” is a delight, sounding more like Steely Dan’s idea of slicked back R&B with some great horn and guitar parts.  Strange that it’s supposed to be a dedication to Smokey Robinson when the music doesn’t attempt to comply. It’s an unusual–but well crafted– unknown highlight of Harrison’s catalog.

This Song

Pure Smokey

“Mamunia”, Paul McCartney & Wings, Band on the Run

Unlike Paul Simon, Paul McCartney never had a Graceland moment.  Perhaps there’s some psycho-cultural reasoning behind it all, but perhaps the idea that McCartney always had a kaleidoscopic melange of musical influences suits it best.  Yet Band on the Run has a significant backstory as “the one McCartney recorded in Africa”.  However the location of Lagos, Nigeria, was more on the aims of escaping traditions than highlighting old ones. 

There are two further anecdotes that obscure worldliness from Band on the Run’s overall sound.  One was the oft-noted story of McCartney being mugged coming back from the ramshackle studio with all of the demo tapes in his possession. The other is even more curious; Fela Kuti, by then a well known Afrobeat prodigy, had taken it upon himself to publicly accuse the band of exploiting African music (a similar accusation would befall Paul Simon 13 years later).  In response, McCartney invited Kuti to listen to the songs being made at the studio and promised to not use any local session musicians. Still, either as an expression of gratitude, or prevailing influence, “Mamunia” would become the one McCartney foray into African music.

For a man whose lyrics have often been tossed aside as too simple or without meaning, “Mamunia” seems to disprove both.  An anglicized approximation of “Mamounia”, the Arabic term for “safe haven”, “Mamunia” is parts an ode to nature and humanity (a narrative that McCartney had approached before in “Mother Nature’s Son”).  The rain being both good for the earth, and in the metaphorical sense the harder times that everyone goes through in life. The realization of one’s place, and to be able to embrace it, is what McCartney means by safe haven.

Musically, “Mamunia” is incredibly warm with tightly constructed harmonies, a  loping punchy bass line, and a brightly compressed acoustic guitar line, the likes of which could be traced back to “I Will”.  McCartney also keeps things interesting by subtle key changes, altering between A major for the refrain and C major for the verses without sounding abrupt. 

Lost in the shuffle of McCartney’s effortless melodicism, a term surprisingly used throughout McCartney’s career as qualified detriment, is his ability with arranging harmonies.  Even with those less qualified than his former band members, his popular songs in the 70’s would reflect ambitious group harmonies (“Silly Love Songs”  is a prime example), on “Mamunia” the harmonies glide between strong unison backing and vocal rounds without skipping a beat.

 Yes, it’s an obvious choice for chronicling McCartney’s signature optimism, but “Mamunia” is a singular treat in McCartney’s catalogue, and a strong showing that the man was capable of whatever genre he put his mind to.

Mamunia