Posts Tagged ‘Billie Holiday’

5. Queens of the Stone Age – Mosquito Song

The Queens of the Stone Age can make spectacular rock music when they put their minds to it. Most of the time, they take the easy route by sticking meaty hooks over a few desert grooves, giving us tracks like No One Knows and Make It Witchu that sound too convenient, with their stuttering rhythms and pansy percussion lacking the proper venom that their brand of rock and roll truly deserves. Some of their other tracks, (Hanging Tree, Burn The Witch, In The Fade) make me want to believe that the Palm Beach rock scene didn’t die a horrid death when the almighty Kyuss disbanded. Mosquito Song is a tranquil moment for Josh Homme and the boys; a mellow acoustic trip that couldn’t have gotten lovelier if Mark Lanegan had joined him for the final chorus. Thankfully, the searing violins did.

4. Natalie Imbruglia & Sneaker Pimps – Cold Air (Download)

The music industry hated everything about Natalie Imbruglia except her Torn video and pre-emo emo haircut so that we, the quasi badass nerds and fantasy music critics with our beady eyes, could enjoy her music without feeling brainwashed by MTV. Naaaah they probably didn’t like her because she was too far away from what they perceived as the future template of mainstream pop music – Lady ‘mother loving’ Gaga. Not that the poor thing was either a very good singer or a talented songwriter. In fact I wish Cold Air, a B-side remix from her White Lilies Island album, was originally written by someone else, let’s say, Isobel Campbell or Shara Worden. I can’t though. So here goes, a scrumptious pop tart from someone the collective consciousness previously rejected as a flash-in-the-pan. Surely that gives her some sort of reverse pop psychology credibility. Yay for Sneaker Pimps too.

3. Pantera & Kerry King – Goddamn Electric

Heavy metal is like that stepdad who beats the living daylights out of little Johnny. Yet Johnny keeps coming back for more; not because he likes it, but rather out of the flimsy hope that someday his stepdad just might show him some love. See, Johnny is a lot like us, haggard metal fans. Tired of the abuse handed down to us; and just not enough love going around. I say, enough with the shrieking drama kings and queens clad in black designer wear, posing as the prima donnas of popular heavy metal. Whenever I listen to Bad Brains, Pantera or Zakk Wylde, I can understand why little Johnny still gets excited whenever the drunken oaf puts the belt away and makes him a paper airplane to play with. “Goddamit man, you’re not the best daddy that little Johnny could hope for, but screw it, paper planes are awesome and so was this moment…for little Johnny”. So Pantera jams with Slayer’s guitarist and pays a fearsome ode to Black Sabbath and whiskey? How could this not be inspiring? Solos like this are meant to be used as a case against civil decency.

2. Saul Williams – Twice Upon A Time (Download)

Saul Stacey Williams is to alternative hip hop what Lou Reed once was to punk music. We can’t always see the connection, but we can only be sure that they somehow revolutionized it. Saul’s not just an incredible rhyme slayer; he’s an open mic beat poet, a very competent writer and a decent enough actor. That’s already 3,456 things that Ice Cube is not. Over the years his albums have sonically pushed all sides of spectrum and much like his enviably retro afro have grown more captivating. So much so that his 2007 album NiggyTardust was sometimes unlistenable from a pop perspective, but was intensely captivating in its own right, as dense collages of sound that challenge listeners to break down barriers. Twice Upon A Time is an amazing track that can be found on Disc 3 of Xen Cuts – a Ninja Tune compilation. This track is so poorly misrepresented on the Web that this blog shows up when you Google it. It starts off with a chilly broken blues lament that leads to Saul Williams coercing poetry and hip hop to writhe in imperfect harmony, the kind that sounds really good. “As if a heartbeat wasn’t enough…” Also read the Scholar wax lyrical about this track, as always.

  1. John Martyn – Glory Box

These lists that bloggers make are so absurd. Top 25 this, top 3 that.  Someone should make a top 100 list of things to do that are more worthwhile than sitting in front of the laptop, hoping that strange (and possibly lonelier) people think we’re cool because we assume that great and obscure music is drawn to us.  Aren’t we just precious? Let’s all approach Gollum and just bend over. More importantly, let’s just pretend that I’m above such judgment and move along. Singer-songwriter John Martyn sounds like the child that Frank Sinatra and Tom Waits could have never had.  Give him a Vogon poem and he’ll make that sound mesmerizing. Arundhati Roy’s articles too. His 1998 album – The Church With One Bell – has one of the most jaw-dropping covers ever made. His raspy tone segues with the seductively lounge-y instrumentation to turn Portishead’s Glory Box into a gorgeous jazz number that you can kick back and smell the nicotine stains to. Get the entire album, minions…there are promises of Billie Holiday and Dead Can Dance too. (PS: Yes I’m aware that the list says 1999-2009).

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250px-rezso_seressWhen it comes to appreciating art, I have the attention span of a twitchy goldfish. Sometimes it’s a good thing…especially when it imbibes in me a glorious urge to explore all genres of music. But sometimes it prevents me from discovering the roots of all the sounds and noises that have so far shaped my aural tastes. For instance, about a year ago when I stumbled upon the legend of “Gloomy Sunday”, I posted an entry and promptly forgot about it. For those who don’t know, Hungarian composer Rezső Seress recorded Szomorú Vasárnap – the original version. Pretty soon rumours started circulating about how hordes of ill-fated lovers were committing suicide after listening to the song. Years later, of course Billie Holiday covered it in 1991 and gave it a soul twist like only she can.

456px-ladydayHowever, after reading about its dubious origins, I downloaded the original version of the song and…well, I would have given my left arm to know what inspired the composer to delve so far into his messed-up psyche. While Billie Holiday’s version remains the most easily accessible renditions of one of history’s darkest symphonies, it certainly wasn’t the most potent. Even Rezső Seress’s original composition wasn’t the most chilling version.

At least it was until yesterday.

Last night, as I was searching for Big Maybelle on Youtube, I came across a heap of versions of “Gloomy Sunday”. Included in the list of musicians who have been inspired enough to cover the song were Elvis Costello, Diamanda Galás, The Smithereens and others. After spending a good hour listening to as many versions as I possibly could, I have decided that renditions put forth by Bjork, Cathy Davey and Marie-Louise Damien were the finest of the lot.

bjork2Bjork has a way with music that lends her to toy with its permutations, without ever having to cultivate the annoying habit of being different just to be different. There is something so attractive about her craziness that you almost want to stuff her into your shirt pocket and show her off at jazz festivals. This version – released as a live cut in the year 2000 – is a stunning yet scary hypothesis of what might have happened if Bjork was born in Chicago during the 1920s when jazz was hot as the burning sweat that trickled down the foreheads of those playing it in blues bars and soul kitchens. It was more than just haunting; it was the stuff that angels with fractured jaws and salty tears were made of.

3700368441022I was really surprised to find French singer Marie Damien’s 1936 version of it on YouTube considering how bloody rare it is. Renamed as “Sombre Dimanche”, it was an operatic tribute to the original version with a couple of tenors on background vocals. While not as good as the ones that followed it, this song was probably the first cover of the tune to remain faithful to the 19 Century gothic vibes of the original.

Very little is known about Irish singer Cathey Davey;cathy-davey-blog I, for one, had never even heard of her existence until last night when her live version of “Gloomy Sunday” put me to sleep with it’s gorgeous melody. The song starts off with twinkling sounds reminiscent of tiny baby toes gently stepping on a xylophone. She sings the lyrics with a sort of a depraved innocence that wouldn’t have looked out of place on Oliver Twist. I am definitely sure that we all need to nurture a healthy obsession with Cathey Davey.

If that’s too much to ask for, I at least hope that you obsess about music…period. While doing so, dig deeper into the roots of what you love…I’m telling you, you’d be surprised.


Marie-Louise Damien – Sombre Dimanche (Gloomy Sunday)

Bjork – Gloomy Sunday

Cathey Davis – Gloomy Sunday


Cathy Davey’s Something Ilk

Bjork’s Vespertine

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Strange times

Southern trees bear strange fruit,

blood on the leaves and blood at the root,

Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,

strange fruit hanging from the trees

Pastoral scene of the gallant south,

the bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,

Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,

then the sudden smell of burning flesh 

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,

for the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,

For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,

Here is a strange and bitter crop 

– Billie Holiday

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