Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Swenson win Press Club of New Orleans Awards

Last Saturday John Swenson was awarded first place in the Critical Review category at the 51st Annual Press Club of New Orleans Awards banquet. He won for the review of Dr. John's album City That Care Forgot. The event took place at Harrah's Hotel in downtown New Orleans.

Swenson also won the third place award in the Entertainment Feature category for his article on brass bands in OffBeat magazine, "Off the Record."

Hosted by WDSU alum and current CNN anchor Kyra Phillips, the sold out event honored lifetime achievement winners Walt Philbin and Dan Milham.

Here's a reprint of the review:

Dr. John
City That Care Forgot
By John Swenson

Dr. John has always been a superior songwriter. A master conceptualist, he envisions lyrics and music as part of an overall vision. He is one of the very few denizens of the fertile New Orleans R&B scene of the 1950s to translate the miniaturist art of the three-minute hit into the longplayer ethos of funk and rock. His conceptual power travels further into his interpretations of other writers’ songs. Unlike most New Orleans groups who use cover material as simple fodder for jamming grooves with little regard for the original song structure, Mac Rebennack translates everything he touches into Dr. John material.

Aside from his apocalyptic glimpse at the chaos of late-1960s American culture on his second album, Babylon, Rebennack has rarely ventured into topical material. In fact, many of his lyrics make up a kind of secret language corresponding to the sound of his music. But he has been politicized by what he views as a wholesale governmental betrayal of New Orleans before and after Katrina, beginning with the shoddy construction of the levees that failed in the storm surge and continuing through the corruption and deceit of the recovery effort. He’s written about this for the Voices of the Wetlands, but now he’s devoted nearly an entire album to the subject, City That Care Forgot.

This subject matter is so important to Dr. John that he has enlisted several writers to help him put his point across, including a trusted old friend, Bobby Charles, the author of “Walking to New Orleans.” The trademark Dr. John delivery, relaxed and offhanded, still comes across in large part, but it’s spiked with the unmistakable catch-in-the-throat sound of an angry man. It’s a startling transition for those who’ve followed him over the years, and it gets your attention.

There are several cameo pieces here—the inspirational “You Might Be Surprised,” the environmental anthem “Save Our Wetlands,” and a great song about the city’s controversial campaign to stamp out second line celebrations, “My People Need a Second Line” with a terrific guest shot from Trombone Shorty.

Over the course of the rest of the record, Rebennack outlines the framework of an epic American tragedy in point-by-point observations, drawing on what some might call urban myths to paint a powerful picture of systemic betrayal and genocide.

In “Keep on Going,” he references the Hansel and Gretel story of being lost in a forest to describe those driven from their homes by the storm. They left that trail of bread crumbs, but it was washed away, and now “the only home you got is your own self.” He mythologizes himself as “a samurai of the Holy Lost Cause,” and asserts that the levees were blown “with intention.” He attributes motivation to that intention in “Land Grab,” accusing the politicians and their corporate backers of trying to run the people of the Lower Ninth Ward and St. Bernard off their homes in “the biggest land grab since Columbus.”

Everywhere he turns, he sees evil in the world—trigger-happy Blackwater private security forces who used deadly force without legal restraint in the chaotic days after the storm, much needed resources wasted in Iraq, and behind it all Bush, Cheney and Halliburton. But alongside the anger is a deep wellspring of sorrow. In “We’re Getting’ There,” he writes of people he knows losing the battle to rebuild their homes and giving up. “Ask anybody if they knew a friend that died from suicide,” he notes coldly.

That sorrow reaches its apotheosis as a motivating factor in Rebennack’s world on “Stripped Away,” a loving remembrance of New Orleans before the storm.

Few people have done a better job of codifying the spirit of New Orleans over the years, offering tributes to its musical forefathers and participating directly in nearly a half century of its most important music. On City That Care Forgot he may have fashioned its most elegant obituary.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Birdsongs of the Mesozoic

A victory for music on its own terms, well worth a mention, although I will be in New Orleans. I wish I could hear this.

From July 24 - 30, Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, featuring founding member Roger Miller (of Mission of Burma), will be playing five East Coast shows in support of the recent 2-CD release Dawn of the Cycads on Cuneiform Records. This package contains their complete recordings plus unreleased material for the Boston-based Ace of Hearts Records (Mission of Burma, Lyres, etc). The original lineup, with current Birdsongs guitarist Michael Bierylo filling in for Martin Swope, will perform music exclusively from their new retrospective and will play on vintage equipment.

Triassic Tour 2009 performances:

Providence, RI Thursday, July 23rd
9:30 pm, $6 AS220
115 Empire St.
Providence, RI 02903

also performing:
Alec K. Redfearn and Barnacle

New York , NY Friday, July 24th
8:30 pm, $10.00, 21+ Mercury Lounge
217 E. Houston St.
New York , NY

also performing: Ergo

Philadelphia, PA Saturday, July 25th
7:00 pm, $10, 21+ Kung Fu Necktie
1250 North Front St.
Philadelphia, PA

Baltimore, MD Sunday, July 26th
7:00 pm, $10, All-Ages Talking Head Club
407 East Saratoga St.
Baltimore, MD 21202

also performing:
Lo Moda

Somerville, MA Thursday, July 30th
9:00 pm, 21+ Johnny D's
17 Holland St.
Somerville, MA 02144

For more information on this tour, contact Birdsongs at info@birdsongsofthemesozoic.org

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Ornette Coleman receives Miles Davis award

Ornette Coleman was presented with the Miles Davis award this afternoon at The Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. Alain Simard, founder and president of the Festival, presented the 79 year old musician with the award, noting that this year marked the 50th anniversary of Coleman's landmark album The Shape of Jazz to Come.
Coleman was asked about this anniversary, about the history of jazz, his influences and ambitions. He responded in long, softspoken philosophical observations about humanity, about the meaning of life, and about his relationship with his parents, who he said knew more about him than he knew about them. He said that he discovered his destiny was involved with sound, and he expressed wonder at the nature of being alive.
In closing he offered this observation:
I would like everyone to be happy and never die.

Ornette Coleman is the latest in a series of Miles Davis prizewinners. He follows McCoy Tyner (2008), Mike Stern (2007), Brad Mehldau (2006), Dave Holland (2005), Keith Jarrett (2004), Joe Zawinul (2003), Chick Corea (2002), Michael Brecker (2001), Charlie Haden (2000), Cassandra Wilson (1999), John Scofield (1998), Herbie Hancock (1997), Wayne Shorter (1996), Pat Metheny (1995) and John McLaughlin (1994).