Each Friday I pick a song–new, old, borrowed, blue–that’s been on my mind and in my ears, and write a short post about it.

This is “Dink’s Song” by Andrea Van Kampen:

“Dink’s Song” is a folk song that I first came across in The Penguin Book of American Folk Songs by Alan Lomax. In his notes, Lomax writes that a woman at a levee camp on the Brazos River sang the song for his mother in the early 1900s, and he describes it as “part blues, part British lyric, and all perfection.” There’s a hotel tapes Bob Dylan version of it, and at the end of that version, Dylan claims to have heard it from a woman named Dink, which strikes me as some classic Dylan mythmaking/bullshit (I don’t mean that unkindly). Dave Van Ronk sings it, too, and there’s a Jeff Buckley version.

The thing about all those versions by dudes, is they’re all pretty fast and, for lack of a better term, aggressive. They’re all shouting their “fare thee wells,” like if they don’t yell it down the line or valley or whatever, she won’t hear, and, to my ear anyway, it flattens the emotion of the words and tune. I learned to play this song from the book, long before I’d ever heard a version of it, and so always followed the instruction, “slow, with pathos,” which is more in line with the way Andrea Van Kampen plays it, and which is partly why I like her version so much. She emphasizes the longing, the pathos, and she places the ache of the song somewhere deeper than just I’m sad because my lover is up and gone. I also think the song is much more interesting positioned from the point of view of a woman than just another man lamenting a lady that’s left.

Although there’s quite a bit of overlap, the lyrics of all of these versions also depart pretty widely from the one in the book, which is neither here nor there, really, but suggests a certain amount of (self-?) censorship in the Lomax version.

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Song of the Week: “Suzanne” by Aretha Franklin

by Douglas Cowie on 12 April 2019

Each Friday I pick a song–new, old, borrowed, blue–that’s been on my mind and in my ears, and write a short post about it.

This is “Suzanne” by Aretha Franklin:

I’d never heard this Aretha Franklin interpretation of one of Leonard Cohen’s most famous songs until Monday night when I was listening to my friend Kara’s radio show. At first, that tack piano opening sounds kind of weird and harpsichordy*, and I almost wonder whether that’s why the song wasn’t originally released back in 1973 on Hey Now Hey (The Other Side of the Sky), the album for which it was recorded. I mean, you forget about it almost entirely when Aretha starts singing, and the spare accompaniment is actually spare and beautiful, but maybe they just chose the wrong instrument to do it on. It falls back in the mix a bit more at 1:09 when the bass joins, and the song starts the groove that Aretha rides until her voice starts absolutely driving the song at the halfway mark, when she hits “Jesus was a sailor…” The arrangement has a super shape, from that opening, to the groove, to the peak of that groove, to its gentle fade into silence, “with his mind, with his mind, with his mind…” This recording is astonishing, even when you already know that Aretha Franklin is the greatest singer to have graced the planet (and I mean, everybody already knows that). You’re not going to spend any five minutes of your week any better than listening to this, so you might as well listen to it a few times in a row and extend that pleasure. My word.

*except actually, you can imagine it being the piano in a small church, when you listen to those chords tumble through the introduction, and you can almost hear the congregation shuffling from their butts on the pews onto their feet to start singing the hymn, and that is almost certainly the point, after all.

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Each Friday I pick a song–new, old, borrowed, blue–that’s been on my mind and in my ears, and write a short post about it.

This is “Kiko and the Lavender Moon” by Los Lobos:

Los Lobos is the American rock ‘n’ roll band of the last forty years. They anchor themselves in their Chicano tradition and then radiate outwards from it, infusing everything that comes across their ears and making it theirs. They are serious, ear-stretching musicians who put fun at the center of their musicianship. Here they are on Sesame Street. Here they are burning up an awards ceremony with a high school mariachi band. Here they are just straight ahead rocking better than anybody straight ahead rocks. They’ve been doing this nonstop for longer than I’ve been alive. Los Lobos are bigger than themselves, and they’re basically everything I want music to be, and they’re not make believe, they’re real. Amazing.

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Each Friday I pick a song–new, old, borrowed, blue–that’s been on my mind and in my ears, and write a short post about it.

This is “Viva la Quinte Brigada” by Christy Moore:

What I find really moving about this version of “Vive la Quinte Brigada” is the roll call of individual volunteers, which work almost like little flash fiction stories, reminding us that fighting fascism is an obligation that crosses borders and costs lives.

This Spanish version by Los Angeles Chicano band Quetzal has a different flavor and is worth a listen, too.

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