Wednesday, February 07, 2007

sermons and singing fish

what's up this week...


Veteran songstress Rickie Lee Jones has managed this week to release yet another critically acclaimed record, her first in almost half a decade, entitled The Sermon On Exposition Blvd.

Out now on New West Records, her first for that label, the record explores lyrical territory inspired by Lee Cantelon's 1991 book The Words, which attempted to translate Christ's teachings into a more accessible contemporary format. Cantelon's friend , Guitarist Peter Atanasoff was instrumental in the creation of the eventual record, bringing in numerous collaboarotors after having played around LA for years, including a long running stint with Tito Larriva.

Originally conceived by Cantelon with Mike Watt in mind as narrator, eventually the idea to bring a woman's voice into the project made bringing in Rickie imperative. Cantelon who had previously shot the cover for Rickie Lee Jone's 1995 Naked Songs album got in touch with her. With droning musical beds laid out like aimless Velvet Underground laptop jams, no one expected how far they would actually veer from simple vocal narratives into songwriting improvisation and a (w)holy new musical work.

Using a wizened, sometimes weary rasp almost akin to ol' pal Tom Waits, Jones' 52 years young voice bobs & weaves amidst baleful & bluesy, and sometimes buoyant musical backdrops provided by a slew of musician pals. According to project organizer and writer Lee Cantelon , the album supposedly came together almost miraculously. Rickie originally came in to the texts & tunes sight unseen and improvised the first two tracks into a laptop mic in a cluttered makeshift studio off Exposistion Blvd in LA's semi-seedy MacArthur Park area downtown. Her initial contribution was unrehearsed & laid down within just a few lo-fi minutes...

below are some retellings & pix excerpted from Cantalon's story at

Five minutes later there was only silence. The first two songs, Nobody Knows My Name and Where I Like it Best were finished. We never did go back and change one note of these tracks, all the way through to mastering. The melody and lyrics remained exactly as they were captured that afternoon and evening, beneath the dusty skylight of the cluttered studio on Exposition Boulevard. Instead of a literal reading from the book, Rickie was guided to say what she felt in her spirit, to answer without thinking, to seek without implying that she knew, or could know, the answers.

It is recorded that Jesus once told his followers not to be "like the religious" who repeated (memorized) prayers over and over, thinking that God would hear them because of their repetition. Rickie's decision to improvise, in that moment, forced us away from stereotype or dogma.

I was reminded, during the making of the record, of something W. H. Auden once said. He was talking about the spirit of creativity and likened it to the Holy Spirit. He said he knew when the Holy Spirit was speaking to him, because the idea was always new, something he had never thought before, and it always demanded something of him. I think we would all agree that this happened to us during the months that we engaged ourselves with The Sermon on Exposition Boulevard. Each of us heard and felt something new, and, in turn, we were challenged to act on what was expressed. There is truth in these songs, lightness, and lack of artifice. May they "catch you in its rays"

Eventually some seasoned industry players got involved like Lenny's son Joey Waronker, engineer Doug Boehm and producer Rob Schnapf, who moved the mixing and tracking over to the semi-ancient but cozy Sunset Sound where the Doors, Led Zeppelin and Beach Boys had done some of their most seminal works. Mastering was done at Ocean Way in their all analog room, where so many great albums congealed ranging from contemporary stuff like Beck's Mutations to classic records by everyone from Ry Cooder to Bonnie Raitt , Madonna to Journey to Count Basie have found a magic sound.

But what one hears on Rickie's new album is as an organic expression and an unadulterated groove as the collaborators could hope to achieve. Jones herself contributes more than her voice and perspective, layering in
guitar, keyboards, dulcimer & other sonic bits & pieces.

Peter and Rickie working on a 6 and 12-string guitar track for Circle in the Sand.

What makes it all the more amazing, is that the record's religious subject matter seems so unlikely , especially from a girl known as the Duchess of Coolsville and whose been around the hard side of the wrong block a couple times. An admitted former abuser of heroin and coke in the early years of her career, Jones tempered those demons, and came to terms with herself, and her own uncetain spirituality.
A recent profile in LA's only indie weekly City Beat by Natalie Nicols told of her apprehensions of being identified as a so-called Christian:

"You know, I like the words of Christ, I like Christ OK, and I’m happy to stand up for him, but … it’s not in my skin to go there. I felt because I wasn’t a Christian I could be a fair observer, a fair interpreter.”

Which doesn’t mean she’s without belief. “I have always felt a communion with the invisible world, and that’s what I call it,” she says. “I don’t give it a name, because when you call it God – if you call it he, if you call it she – then you give it these human attributes. And it’s a mechanism, it’s a machine of life that we’re a part of. We speak to it, it speaks to us, it’s real, it’s obvious.”

An outsider’s perspective does reinforce the more counterculture leanings of The Words. The first chapter is called “The Problem of Religion,” and it warns against the various hypocrisies and failings of “false teachers” – which is pretty clearly the religious power structure of the day. This fits with Jones’s own feelings that the mainstream face of Christianity is a judgmental, fundamentalist mug that frowns upon all, as well as her interest in Cantelon’s mission to inspire people to be compassionate and do good. Because we could certainly use a more compassionate Christianity.

In 2003 upon the release of her last album, "The Evening Of My Best Day", she told the UK's Guardian newspaper that as recovering Catholic it wasn't a clear cut "born again" decision to go back to the church of her youth...

"My relationship with God was so threaded with guilt. Jesus suffered so much that it was impolite to ask for anything." She giggles. It's only recently, on her trip-hoppy 1997 album Ghostyhead, that she found the courage to use the word "prayer" again. She doesn't go to church services, but she likes to visit churches and pray in her own words. "There is no ritual. I just say, 'Hi, how ya doin'? Hope you're doin' well, I'm thinkin' of ya', thank you very much'. Ffffhgggmm."

She's devoted to her talents, beyond music, one of which is raising her teenage daughter, and lately over the past few years has even run her own political website & even made music critiquing the perplexing idiocy of the Bush administration.

Rickie Lee Jones - Ugly Man
a song supposedly inspired by an ugly man with an ugly father who lies & leads a certain country to do terribly stupid things from her previous release "The Evening Of My Best Day", on V2

Rickie Lee Jones - Have You Had Enough (throw the rascals out)
her anti wire tapping & torture campaign song w/ members of the Squirrel Nut Zippers

It appears she feels comfortable taking on the right's right to be the cross bearer's in modern society. If reaffirming religion for those that have been pushed aside by bullies in the pulpit somehow makes her relevant again... then so be it.

"Prayer in general is used as a kind of secret word for ‘Republican,’ ” she said. “Nobody is really saying, ‘Show me how I can serve and help me find my way’; they’re saying ‘Give me this.’

"People today can't even hear the name Jesus without tensing up because they don't want to be associated with the TV evangelists and that lot," Jones said. "I just wanted to level the playing field a bit."
a promo track from the new album
Rickie Lee Jones - Elvis Cadillac

She recently told NY Times writer Alan Light in an article printed on the day of the album's release
“Whatever it is Christ said doesn’t get a fair shake,” Rickie Lee Jones said. On a rainy December day, she was sniffling and coughing, fighting a bad cold and losing. “There’s not much written, it was done 150 years later, and it was used to create an empire. So can we get rid of all that and just see what the guy said?... You have these awful preachers, these creepy and terrible people, maligning and distorting the message, so who wants to be associated with that? I wanted to talk about how these people have absconded with these ideas...
"For the most part, people use God as Santa Claus.” - Rickie Lee Jones

Jones, who first appeared on the pop music scene with her 1979 hit "Chuck E's in Love," will kick off a tour with some of the same musicians this month. The jaunt, a musical pilgrimage if you will will be taking them through 17 cities on the initial run, plus a spot on NBC's Late Night w/ David Letterman coming up on Feb 12th, where she'll be playing this new track...

Rickie Lee Jones - Falling Up

If ya like that, watch for a full length appearance on PBS Soundstage on Feb 22 ( check yer local listings)...
Rickie Lee Jones tourdates are listed below...

Rickie Lee Jones tourdates ...

February 2007

10 - Easton, MD - Avalon Theatre
12 - NY, NY - Ed Sullivan Theater
13 - Washington, DC - 9:30 Club
14 - Glenside, PA - Keswick Theatre
16 - New York, NY - The Concert Hall
17 - Cambridge, MA - Sanders Theatre
18 - Northampton, MA - Calvin Theater
20 - Detroit, MI - Majestic Theatre
22 - St. Paul, MN - Fitzgerald Theatre
24 - Chicago, IL - Portage Theater
26 - Englewood, CO - Gothic Theater
27 - Salt Lake City, UT - The Depot

March 2007

1 - Los Angeles, CA - Henry Fonda Theatre
3 - San Francisco, CA - The Fillmore
5 - Portland, OR - Aladdin Theatre
6 - Seattle, WA - Showbox
8 - Vancouver, British Columbia - Commodore Ballroom


In other news relating to matters of Rock n Roll with religious import:

The Electric Prunes will have their final two Warner Bros releases issued by Collector's Choice Music in March. CD Reissues of "Release of an Oath" (1968) and "Just Good Old Rock and Roll" (1969) are certainly strange side notes in a convoluted band history.

Electric Prunes - Wah Wah Radio Ad

Essentially they are turning points in a legacy of a psychedelic garage act, known mainly for it's hit "Too Much To Dream Last Night" and who had lent an average hippie pleasing track to Dennis Hopper's Easy Rider soundtrack.

Electric Prunes - Kyrie Eleison / Mardi Gras

Eventually through a management maneuver, they were turned into a high concept Monkees, with studio replacement musicians creating funky prog fusion rock with Jewish holy themes under tutleage of legendary jazz maestro David Axelrod. I'll turn now to one "Josh" at the Hippocampus Music blog whom wrote of this LP not long ago and it's liturgical exploration of the hebraic concept of Kol Nidre.

The LP presented Kol Nidre as a modern liberation song, a lament against “the conqueror’s yoke,” a chance for all man to “break the chains that bind him to any oath made under duress and in violation of his principles.” Dick Whetstone’s drumming does most of the album’s best protesting, as you can hear on “Holy Are You,”proof that even Kol Nidre themes can be sampled by Fat Joe and Quasimoto.


Electric Prunes - Holy Are You

The David Axelrod referred to above is the producer of Lou Rawls & Cannonball Adderly, not to be confused with the David Axelrod, who is a media spin maestro out of Chicago currently guiding the career of Barack Obama.

Meanwhile ...

It appears this week that The Beatles and Apple computer are finally coming to terms over the naming & trademark rights issues that have hampered each other for almost 30 years. Essentially The Beatles' Apple trademark is being handed over to Steve Jobs company after decades of back & forth litigation. The Beatles will take a settlement in return, and now get a "license" from the powerful global computer firm to continue using the trademark they first established in 1968 when they started their label & production company.

In related news, the owner of the 4th largest music store in the world issued a statement Tuesday, and if you guessed it was Apple Inc's Steve Jobs you'd be right...In a post dated Feb 6th , Jobs expounds on the I-Tunes store and pros & cons of open source DRM-free formats.

In the posting Jobs' relates that Apple's data shows that the average I-Pod owner only buys about $20 worth of DRM protected content from I-tunes. He further explains that this means well under 3% of the music on the average iPod is DRM protected content purchased from the iTunes store.

Essentially Jobs makes the case that Apple would prefer to not have to deal with DRM at all and that

"This is clearly the best alternative for consumers, and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat"

Meanwhile on Wednesday RIAA chairman Mitch Bainwol passes the buck back at Apple claiming that making I-Tunes work with competitors music players is Jobs' responsibility.

"We have no doubt that a technology company as sophisticated and smart as Apple could work with the music community to make that happen," said Bainwol in a statement.

Jobs post complains of the absurdity that major labels insist Apple and other online stores only push DRM protected content, while the majors themselves release 20 times as much music on DRM free CDs each year!!

Then he opines that Apple's critics, particularly those overseas who have threatened legal action against his company, place blame higher on the content chain.

Much of the concern over DRM systems has arisen in European countries. Perhaps those unhappy with the current situation should redirect their energies towards persuading the music companies to sell their music DRM-free. For Europeans, two and a half of the big four music companies are located right in their backyard. The largest, Universal, is 100% owned by Vivendi, a French company. EMI is a British company, and Sony BMG is 50% owned by Bertelsmann, a German company. Convincing them to license their music to Apple and others DRM-free will create a truly interoperable music marketplace. Apple will embrace this wholeheartedly.

Doug Mitchelson, a Deutsche Bank industry analyst inserted his big money investment community minded views on the bouncing DRM issue by stating for the record:

"As easily as Mr. Jobs lectured the music industry on their DRM policies, he could have lectured the software industry (which includes Apple) for its complete unwillingness to pursue an industrywide DRM standard or make any effort to help music companies in their fight against digital piracy by working to make their media players recognize and not play pirated songs,"


Diehard geeks into digital audio encoding schemas might want to pass over that mundane layperson directed Steve Jobs rant and visit the website for the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS. These are the guys that created the original encoding technology 20 years ago that lead to the mp3 format. The institute has set up some web video & podcasts that retell the heroic but unsung technical battles that now make yer mp3 strewn harddrive possible.

Fraunhaufer are celebrating 20 years of audio coding with the highlight being the "Day of Audio Coding" on May 25, 2007. Mark yer calenders internet audio enthusiasts!

In sad news for internet audio enthusiasts...

In a bid to likely cut costs, and perhaps compete with You Tube...AOL has killed, ( at least for now) the original multimedia centric search site and replaced it with a link to AOL Video...

A fave site of mine since 1999 for hunting hard to find audio and video files... it has vanished with nary a word from AOL. The Seattle startup founded in 1999 was first sold to to Thomson Multimedia in 2000 and then to AOL in October 2003. Despite it's relatively low profile and non existent ad budget, according to Alexa, as recently as just last week it ranked in hits within the top 7,400 sites on the internet.

As of May 2006, Singingfish's index was still contractually known to be supplying content link updates to Microsoft and Real Networks and supposedly had about 16 million live audio and video files, not including dead links, which were automatically removed from the index.

Apparently you can still use AOL Audio Search , but it sucks. Unlike SingingFish, AOL search offers no choices in lengths and bitrates for files. AOL also links users first to more purchasable corporate content and your searches no longer feature the ability to search for specific file formats. SingingFish was truly great, with a proprietary spidering search process offering millions of direct links to numerous free files, whether authorized or not.

On Feb 7th 2006... the site's url began forwarding to AOL Video...
R.I.P SingingFish...


Macy Gray will have new material out on Black Eyed Peas founder Will.I.Am's new label distributed via Geffen Tues march 27. Tracks on "BIG" are produced by a number of heavy hitmkers including Ron Fair, Justin Timberlake, Will.I.Am his bad self as well as newcomers Jared and Whitey. Guests on the disc include labelmate Fergie, as swell as Natalie Cole, Nas and the afforementioned Justin Timberlake

The track listing for "BIG" is:
"Finally Made Me Happy,"
"Shoo Be Doo,"
"What I Gotta Do,"
"Glad You're Here,"
"Ghetto Love,"
"Get Out,"
"Treat Me Like Your Money",
and "Strange Behavior."

here's some older Macy in a FatBoy Slim Remix Mode

Macy Gray - Sexual Revolution

uh, anyhow, thats' all i got for ya today...

peruse the archives for more sonic snacks etc


pssst... see ya

same batty channel

same batty time

uh, i guess maybe tomorrow

or whenever I get time...

you can alway sleave a comment if ya miss me i suppose


Silent 3 said...

Thanks for the tip about RL JOnes playing the Keswick in Glenside. A number of years ago I saw her there, and when she finished the show, the audience simply wouldn't let her leave. She came back for THREE encores; the last one was acapella, as the band had left.

BTW, I saw her perform on PBS Austin City Limits, and she did an incredible version of "Ghostyhead"

When I bought the album, I was disappointed. It just wasnt nearly as good as the live version. Any Idea where I can get that video or an MP3 of that song?

m said...

Not sure on where any Ghostyhead era live mp3's might be found...

but Rickie's now recording for New West Records and they have a licensing arrangement with Austin City Limits and have reissued other classic concerts from the show. DVD & CD versions of ACL visits from Tom Waits, Dwight Yoakam and Johnny Cash come to mind. Could Rickie be on the list for possible inclusion?

I suppose they'll check the sales figures of here current release and if they figure it's worth the up front costs to produce...