Ray's Got a Woman, Nick's got a Heart, and I feel pretty good
Hi y’all! Damn, it’s been six months since I jotted down a blog post. I could make excuses about being busy, but I’m not, really, all that damn busy. Which is a good thing, since this new lazy lifestyle seems to agree with me, greatly improving my overall health.
I am particularly relieved that the daily feelings of angina seem to be a thing of the past. Thanks for asking! I’m even back to taking stairs two at a time when I get in a hurry. What a difference a few months and several delightful vacations makes. But enough about my health. You want to hear about the songs. Don’t you? Oh, come on, humor me.
April song is another collaboration with the Engle-Pratt most likely to write a decent poem, Aurora. But we expand the filial contributions this time to include the Engle-Pratt most likely to be doing just about anything other than singing harmony with their dad, Musetta. This was great fun for me. I really like Aurora’s little poem about enjoying the beauty of the expanse, and Musetta is just a super fun person to do just about anything with. We have never really harmonized in the past, but I think Mu did a fabulous job filling in a low harmony on this song. Don’t ya think? Musetta is at once the most enigmatic, transparent, reclusive, accessible, and maybe the most photogenic of the clan, and I love watching all that play out in her performance during this video. We recorded it on my phone in two takes.
Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds, and Rockpile made some amazing music at the dawn of the eighties, and the song Heart is a nice example of their art. It’s pop. It’s rock. It’s got melody. It’s got classic forms. You can dance to it. It’s simple without being simple. It is just some sublime songcraft. I had forgotten about this song until Karl Bade posted it on his Claude Pate blog. The Rockpile version, sung in a beautiful clear high tenor by Billy Bremner, harkens back to 50’s era rockabilly, but sounds like it passed through a 60’s era blender of girl groups and walls of sound, without the wall of sound. It is a timeless diddy, that I recall assuming was a cover when I first heard it back in the day. It just sounded so spot on like something I had heard on oldies radio growing up. As I learned the song for this performance, I was struck by how well it is structured, and I realized that it would easily stand up to being crooned. It is just a lovely song. And lyrically, it expresses that awkward terror every shy nerd has ever felt about falling in love. DAMN I WISH I COULD WRITE A SONG AS GOOD AS NICK LOWE CAN. Sigh. I used the Craviola for accompaniment because it’s what I have for a nylon string guitar, and a nylon string guitar says, “HEY, Pratt’s not doing a slavish cover here! He’s being creative and reimagining this song in a way that is at once ironic, yet subtle and artistic”. Pius, I have a long-standing schtick playing eighties covers on this odd guitar because the damn thing sounds so much nicer than it has any right to, and the ridiculousness just plain amuses me.
Treat you right is another of the unfinished songs from the All the Fixin’s album, Fact or Fixin. It was written at a time when I was very much digging Keith Richard’s solo project, the X-pensive Winos, hence the open, drop D tuning, hammer on suspension’s, and general Keef like guitar work. Fun fact. You may recall Steve Jordan, the drummer and producer for the Winos, as the drummer in Paul Schaffer’s band on Letterman way back in the day. I thought Schaffer’s band was just crazy good (Hiram Bullock was insane on guitar), and there was a period of time there in the late eighties and early nineties when it seemed like Steve Jordan was the go to guy for rock beats that nailed the pocket. I certainly loved his drum playing with everyone from the Winos to Neil Young. None of this is really all that germane to my new interpretation of my own half-finished rip off of the Richards/Winos, but I played in a band that had me surrounded by drummers (Jon, Ron, and Mike were all drummers), and so I tend to notice who’s playing drums. Anyway, Treat you right is really a song that needs to be played with a drummer, and a band for that matter, but I decided I wanted to work out the lyrics (yep, never finished them back in the day), so I pared it down to play on my Vega flat top acoustic. The Vega FT-85 is a ladder braced, small body guitar that has some nice natural reverb, so I cooked up the intro acoustic noodling to show off the sound of the little guitar. In hindsight, I probably should have tuned the guitar down another whole step from my original key, in a nod to my aging voice. But I always think I can sing these old songs and hit the high notes. And sometimes I can. Almost.
In August Naomi and I loaded ourselves into the Subaru with some luggage, some snacks, and a tent, and we headed for the Hinterland music festival, just outside of the city where we had our first jobs, first house, and first child, Des Moines, Iowa. We had a wonderful, lovely, trip, stopping in Chicago, Ames and several points in between to say “Hi” to friends and family along the way. Our driving eventually took us all the way to Fort Collins, CO, some 1,665 miles later. I suspect our love of these driving vacations is a bit of a mystery to many, but Naomi and I like nothing better than to pile in a car and drive, and drive, and drive. This song is my homage to the trip. I have a deep and abiding love of the midwestern landscape, which sounds like a Telecaster played through a strong and clean amplifier, like the one I bought from Terry at Major Minor music for Naomi to play bass through back in 1987, but which I now use when I want to sound large, clean, and spare. I gave it just a hint of overdrive, and an echo or two from the little analog delay pedal I got for Christmas one year, in Sioux City, Ia, from my wife’s parents, who we visited at the end of this trip, in Fort Collins, where they now reside.
This cover of Ray Charles is one I chose because I really like to play my big archtop as if I’m Scotty Moore backing up Elvis. The problem, of course, is that the song is just a simple blues, like the songs Elvis and Scotty recorded (Elvis did a version of this song, but I don’t think it’s very good), but it’s freaking iconic. Ray’s first real hit. What makes the original so great is the vocal by Ray, the sax by Fathead Newman, and that swinging little band. I love it. Even if the lyrics are a little cringe worthy. I don’t pay much attention to the words on songs like this. A song like this ain’t about the poetry. It’s about the swing. The groove. Anyway, I am not one to shy away from a song just because the original performance is THE only performance that need be considered. I’m not looking to make this song my own. I am just aiming to have fun playing a little, familiar blues on my big old archtop.