Saturday Night at the Carter Family Fold

Posted by Kells, May 30, 2015 08:20pm | Post a Comment

Deep in the hollows of Southwestern Virginia, near the Tennessee border and about thirty miles or so from any kind of reliable cellular signal, you'll find a low wooden structure pitched into a sloping hillside that faces an unbroken wood, settled at the end of endlessly snaking mountain back-roads that, depending upon your approach, terminate in two right turns around a rusted out passenger railcar resembling a forsaken submarine (what with it's porthole-like windows) swamped by high country grasses. This is Hiltons, Virginia and the venue is the Carter Family Fold, or the Carter Fold, or the fully realized results of local efforts to preserve and present bluegrass and old time country music in honor of traditional American folk pioneers, The Carter Family (specifically A.P. Carter, his wife Sara, and her sister/his brother's wife Maybelle). You'll know you've arrived when clusters of casually parked cars come into view, for that's how I found out for myself last Saturday night, after nearly an hours' passage through pastoral outlands and more than one are we there yet? Here follows a bit of a personal narrative of that night, garnished with a few of the photos I managed to capture.

Before stetting foot into the Fold itself, the frantic meter of "Cotton Eye Joe" became more discernible with every step I took, the muffled twangs and drawls of banjo and fiddle battling for supremacy in the space between verse and chorus only just audible behind the front entrance. Once through the door, another sound altogether becomes jarringly apparent: the arrhythmic clatter of untold multitudes of tap shoes scuffing up a hard surface like lazy rain drizzling hot fryolator oil. The cacophony is hypnotizing. Inside, at the ticket booth, my father proceeds to pay the price of admission for all us kin and then some, and brooks no refusals as usual. I pay a smidge extra for a Carter Family placard fan for good measure - no telling what the weather's like all the way inside.

As it happens the atmosphere beyond is less balmy than I had imagined for the hall itself is a great deal bigger than it appears from the street. In fact, it is a covered amphitheater with ample stadium seating, cleverly designed to follow the natural incline of the hillside, featuring roller shutters that open up the sides of the structure for extra breathing and pine tree supports roughly half-shaved of their bark, running smooth up to a height reachable by the outstretched hands of only the very tallest of adults. Between the seats and the stage lies concrete dance floor ensuring maximum tappage for even the most idle shufflers, upon which a goodly number are a-shuffling. The stage itself is low but amply spacious and bedecked on all sides with a bevy of Carter Family portraits and other miscellaneous memorabilia, like proud great-grandmother's sitting room. Centered along the rear of the stage there is a long church pew and, from time to time, even during the height of the live show, an older lady and a young woman, presumably Carter family members, come to sit and enjoy the performance onstage, looking for all the world like the living likeness of the many relatives pictured in the photos and depicted in the murals around them. Also, large and lumbering straw-colored dog wanders across the stage from time to time. The mostly-barefoot bluegrass band pay no mind to the living room effects onstage, but played each their own instrument in to a single ribbon microphone, moving to and fro, distancing themselves accordingly to live-mix the fruits of their labor. Their swaying effort held my attentions fixed for a time, as I kept looking for wires for sound and, aside from the mic, found only one.

Later on in the evening I learned that no electric instruments are allowed at the Fold, unless you're Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash's husband and by far the family's most famous in-law (fun fact: he played his last live show at the Fold in July of 2003). Smoking and drinking are also prohibited, a reminder that this here is a family-friendly establishment espoused in family-founded musical tradition reinforcing the magnitude of the family funtimes that are all kinds of afoot. As the band plays on, furiously picking from barn-burner to murder ballad and back again, I clock my nine year old niece watching the dancers keenly. Without exchanging as much as a knowing glance, I realize that we are similarly entranced by the scene and both eager to join in the fun, but too shy to make a spectacle of ourselves, being outsiders without proper taps or bottlecaps. That's when Carter Fold regular, Chickie, steps in and saved the day.

I watch Chickie lead my niece from her seat to the dance floor where she proceeds to lay down an introductory lesson: Flat Footin' 101. The dance itself is deceptively simple, a slack shuffle kick forward with the right foot and then a rocking-step back and forth, right-left-right, and then repeat leading with the left foot. Chickie, in turn, teaches me the same moves while my niece continues to shuffle-step awkwardly beside us (she's totally wearing the wrong shoes for this, they kick off much too easily and soon after she gives up trying to keep her shoes on and goes bare flat footin'). I am enjoying myself, asking Chickie all kinds of questions and carrying on, but I can't help turning my gaze to the other dancers scooting around our little session. They seem to be either engaged in some kind of choreographed Appalachian pas de deux with their partners, or riffing infinitely along with or perhaps in spite of the live music, like static conveyors of transcendent kinetic restraint, bringing to mind the talents of D. Ray and Jesco White (do yourself a favor and watch both the Talking Feet and Dancing Outlaw documentaries if you haven't already). Altogether the spectacle seems a fascinating free-for-all, but there is a wrong way to flat foot, or so learned my niece when one of the best dancers there, a man in the twilight of his years, took her aside to advise, "yuh steppin' too whide, girl. Brang yuh steps tuhgethuh."

When you get hungry, there's a concession stand offering hot dogs, chili cheese fries, and square cuts of chocolate and coconut cake firmly saran-wrapped to paper plates located just to the right of the dance floor. A little farther to the right, next to the concession stand but completely unrelated to the concession stand for some reason (I was informed of this fact more than once without asking), there is an older gentleman selling popcorn made by a cool-looking old fashioned popcorn maker for a dollar a bag. The popcorn monger says nothing whatsoever to me when I approach and ask him kindly for "one please," but he magically manages to subject me to a continuous stream of dad-jokes via comedic gesture and next-level extrasensory perception which was as annoying as it was impressive. There was also another table vending snacks to the left of the stage. Those snacks being, specifically, a slew of 24oz. mason jars filled with shelled peanuts. More fuel for flat footin' I suppose.

Between sets, while the band takes a break, volunteers from the Fold open up the adjacent Carter Family Museum and the restored 1880s cabin where A. P. Carter was born, next door. The museum is housed in a building that was formerly the Carter Store, built in the 1940s by A.P. Carter and friends, now serving as an impressive showcase for Carter Family memorabilia. Upon entering the museum, a tall older man wearing overalls with the bib clear up to his chin promptly singles me out and asks me if I have a computer. Almost before I can utter an affirmative answer, he directs me to follow him to a Victrola cabinet where he has stowed a crumpled printout of a webpage which he uses to explain to me how I can access the Carter family tree and complete database of songs, pointing to the parts of the page I would click on if the paper wasn't paper. I'd include the link here, but everything that came after this initial interaction prevented me from retaining this information, for, kind of like the popcorn vendor (save of the silent treatment), he laid down humorous, quip-filled banter that, combined with the enthralling lilt of his local accent, found me living for every second of the moment. One of those moments being an episode involving another visitor who wanted to get a more detailed look at the outfits June and Johnny Cash wore to perform at the White House (pictured left and above, on the far right) and asked for permission to climb up on the display to see them closer. He didn't say no, but he advised her against it saying something like, "those clothes been to thuh White House so I reckon yuh'd not wanna get too close. Yuh don't wanna get any'uh thayt on yuh."

Moving from the Carter Store to the remarkably precious old cabin, I stumbled upon a heated conversation in progress between locals and visitors alike concerning the advent of air conditioning and the way things were taking place in the conveniently climate-controlled confines of the main room (or, the room with the fireplace and the AC unit). I poke around for a while, hoping that I look like I'm not listening too closely when in fact I am mentally bookmarking some of the things said as the topic turned toward climate change beliefs, until my niece interrupted my eavesdropping to inform me that the band has started again and that she is also concerned about the authenticity of the eggs displayed in the cabin's kitchen. We leave the mystery of the eggs unsolved and opt to head back to the clackery of the dance floor which seems to have cooled off substantially meantime. I notice that some of the rolling shutters have been closed against the unseasonably chilly night air and that a good number of the dancers have taken seats in the front row, as yet unstirred by the rapid tempos and dexterous instrumentation of bluegrass five-piece the Hillbilly Gypsies, the evening's sole act that was just then digging into their second set. My niece waited as long as she could, seemingly put off by the diminished crowd, but within the span of a song she was up and stepping again, sans footwear, all the while working the ruffles of the knee-length peasant skirt she wore especially for the occasion. I smile to think of her now, dancing so hard to every song thereafter that she blistered and bruised up her feet real good.

This was last Saturday night at the Carter Family Fold and it's happening again as I type this. It seems a world away from the "cultured" urban setting I call home, but I am pleased to have known such a corner of the country so dedicated to kith and kin and the "old time" simple pleasures that comes of making porch music of an evening and feeling your feet flow freely beneath you. I look forward to the next time I find myself in the Fold, hopefully with proper footwear.

17 Movie Soundtrack Motivationals to Facilitate your Fitness Resolutions

Posted by Kells, January 25, 2015 04:28pm | Post a Comment

It's way past mid-January, do you know where your fitness goals are? Have you found that your get-up-and-go up got up and went? Are you looking for that perfect mix to pump [clap!] you up? Whether or not the holiday pounds have still got you down, chances are you or someone you know is looking to get motivated and stay fit in '15, even if it's just for one more week. To that I say: JUST DO IT! Push those New Year's resolutions to the limit and stay physical with this list of schlocky soundtrack anthems, Scotti Bros. label classics, and movie montage motivationals! 

[note: this post is dedicated entirely to the one and only Danimal, without whom this list would not have been so inspired nor exhaustive (however incomplete) as we have, during the course of our respective overlapping Amoeba journeys, spent countless hours extolling the many wonders, peaks, and pitfalls of these storied stimu-jams!]

Frank Stallone - "Far From Over"

From the soundtrack to Staying Alive (1983), Sylvester Stallone's second ever directorial effort and follow-up to the successful Saturday Night Fever, comes this undeniable force of motivational rock courtesy of baby brother Frank Stallone. In more ways than one this track is the the leaping-point from which this film takes flight, providing a desperately high-impact canvas for the opening credits/dance-or-die audition montage. Catching up with Tony Manero's dreams of "making it" as a professional dancer in the cutthroat theater scene of the big apple has never been so sweaty, or lean.

Power lyric: "I'm diggin' in, I want it more than anything I've wanted/Save me darlin', I am down but I am far from over!"

Continue reading...

Kelly's Choice Albums (and So Fourth) of 2014

Posted by Kells, December 30, 2014 03:15pm | Post a Comment
This is it, we made it to the last Tuesday of 2014. With nothing but a new year's worth of new release days ahead, here's to looking back over the past three-hundred sixty odd days filled with sonic revelations and reverberations. With that in mind, I've complied my very own short stack of yummy black plastic pancake picks -- my favorite records released this year. Mmm, pancakes....

1. Once & Future Band - Brain EP

Listening to this sprawling progressive precipice of a rock record for the first time was like slipping backwards over a ledge built by everyday mundanities and falling. Falling but never bracing for impact, maybe never touching Earth again. Just like "looking ahead with no backwards glancing," as vocalist/keymaster Joel Robinow puts it in the nearly nine minute eponymous opening track, I was besotted and entirely overcome with feels. I mean, as much as it urks my nerve when folks misuse and overstate things as "literally" being or doing this or that, I can state without hesitation that this record literally blew me away. Well, in a figurative sense. Add to that the fact that this sweet baby is obviously a passionate labor of love, deftly crafted by a couple of local backyard Bay Area wizards, and GAH! my esteem for this band couldn't be any more swollen. These guys are pretty much the best band around right now.

2. Cold Beat - Over Me

Existing somewhere between cold Summer in San Francisco and the dark side of planet Pop, this band is more than just another notch in SF local visionary (and Grass Widow bassist) Hannah Lew's ever-prolific timeline of creative projects. Described by NPR as representing "the best of new wave — in title, metaphor and roster of influences alike", Cold Beat has made an utterly sincere record in Over Me, and it kills the competition with controlled aggression in the form of pretty vocal harmonies, tense rhythms (courtesy of Erase Errata's Bianca Sparta), and fetching melodies. Choosing a standout track among an albums-worth of two-ish minute long choice cuts is difficult, but I tend to gravitate towards the songs that bear the influential mark of Lew's affection for Science Fiction, like "Rumors", "Year 5772", and "UV" (see the dark n' strobe-y music vid for "UV" below). This band rules so hard.

3. Various Artists - Warfaring Strangers: Darkscorch Canticles

Some folks might balk at counting compilations in their year end tally of besties, but this little elemental gem of ineffable heaviness shalln't remain untold nor uncounted here. Like a wizard's spellbook drafted by NWOBHM acolytes in the smokey, basement recesses of a nearly forgotten realm (late seventies/early eighties middle America), this compilation of little known underground rockers, made by chaotic neutral antiheroes, fueled by their love of the halfling's leaf, and achieving the sort of arrested development forever associated with Dungeons & Dragons, is perhaps one of Numero Group's greatest collections to date. With stand out tracks aplenty, this record dominates its dusty niche of a bygone genre with delightfully half-baked riffs and lyrical oubliettes, some of the best of which can be found in "Warlord" by Wrath, as featured in the promo vid below. Don't sleep on this one, it's a knife in the dark.

Perhaps the prettiest of all the records I've had the pleasure of spanning time with this year, Barragán continues to lend me life in loosely measured increments and sparse, atmospheric beauty. I can't begin to understand why this record received so many tepid, if not just plain bad reviews. Such bitchy, dismissive responses to the trio's ninth studio album could've been generated by a lack of understanding, but at this point in the Blonde Redhead timeline what kind of fan would have calculated expectations? And anyway, I believe the gorgeously detailed album artwork and packaging (stickers!) are dripping with enough symbolism that any clueless hipster with an actual attention span that takes the time to sit down with it and give it a spin might run the risk of actually "getting" it. That said, this record is made possible by familiar palette of post-Melody Blonde Redhead sounds (both guitars and keys this time), and incorporates generous splashes of everyday found sounds, field recordings, experimental improvisations, and a structurally stretched out approach to composition that seems to say, "no one told us we need to worry about how these songs end so we're not gonna," hence the horse fetus. In short, this may be a slow-grower, or whatever, but it's worth the wait for its infinite listenability.

The video for "The One I Love" presents a pleasant visual companion to the quiet pleasure-of-everyday-things vibe that I found so enthralling about listening to this record repeatedly. Sometimes it's the simple, fleeting moments that makes a lazy day feel like time well spent. Check it out below:

Bonkers, off-his-rocker, Willy Wonka cruising through the psychedelic fudge tunnel, commercial breaking at Sir Saves-A-Lot and stoking grey poop-on levels of top 40 kitty litter is how I envision Ariel Pink shaking off his Haunted Graffiti short shorts and covering his bum one jegging at a time for his umteenth record thing, pom pom. Pink's pop-savant savoir-faire oozes like Tiger Beat nectar from this Pepto slab of AWATS-era Rundgren-esque romp of a party record. He can be so horrible sometimes, but his ability to consistently sow kitchen sink genre kitsch, glamorized street trash, and a can of your own ass into a bumper crop of enjoyable tunes, in this case a whole album's worth (I rank it right up there with The Doldrums and Before Today), makes loving his music in spite of the man okay for another day. My favorite track at the moment is "Dinosaur Carebears" because the insane juxtaposition of duck-quackin' barnyard samples sandwiched beneath Gregorian chanty bits ragging on the City of Industry or some such plus its randomly heavy "oriental" intro riffs and final steppin' out with a "you're no good" reggae vibration finish makes me laugh like Santa Claus on Jello jigglers. Drugs are a hell of a drug. Here's a so-crazy-it's-very-un-crazy video for the perhaps the most dangerous song of all the rides in the pom pom theme park, "Put Your Number in My Phone":

6. OOIOO - Gamel

OOIOO has achieved in Gamel two great tastes that taste great together. Specifically, the patent flavor-spectrum and singular scale that Yoshimi P-We and company have brought to each and every one of their recordings plus the equally-singular and similarly flavorful spectrum and scale of one of the world's most magical music-making devices ever, well, devised: the gamelan -- a wondrous ensemble/orchestra of Indonesian percussive instruments. An album seemingly dedicated to this musical match-up doesn't completely come as a surprise given that the ladies have performed with gamelan more than a few times since 2012, often giving beloved favorites like "Moss Trumpeter" and "Be Sure to Loop" an awesomely live gamel-ing, but digesting this new chapter in OOIOO's creative congression only makes me hungry for a second helping.

7. Grace Sings Sludge - Red Light Museum

There's a lot I could say about this little album, but I feel I've said too much already. No really, you can read my lengthy review of Red Light Museum here. But, for the benefit of anyone driving by this here Best-of post, Red Light Museum is a hauntingly haunted collection of recent solo works and private recordings made by Grace Cooper, local ghost hunter and member of beloved SF trio The Sandwitches. Like any great singer-songwriter, pinioned by an aversion to modern methods and the lusty limitations of one's mortal baggage, she can be something of an elusive creature 'round these parts. That said, you can sometimes find her swaying behind a stack of go-backs on the main floor of Amoeba Music's SF salesfloor, singing almost soundlessly to herself in witchy warbles as she shuffles about her business between the aisles. Here's hoping we see more of her, even if she's difficult to luv.

I fell for this in an instant, as soon as "Preface" rushed in with a chant to grind. In some ways, this record makes me cringe at the teenaged feelings that still live on inside me, deep down in a dark place that shines and pulses not unlike the electric sex-vibe that permeates pretty much every song on LP1. It's a sensuous, teasing sort of odd-beat laden electronica that sounds a lot like any Tujiko Noriko album, but plays more like a blanket Prince nod or a series of Betty Davis shout outs punctuating a forty minute masturbation session, in a good way. Though I find "Lights On" to be a tad disturbing, like a modern anti-incarnation of Janet Jackson's "Let's Wait A While", the record as a whole has me hyped for future audiovisual kicks from this tiny dancer formerly known as Tahliah Debrett Barnett. The vid below for "Video Girl" includes "Preface" from LP1 as well as a whole lotta Ms. twigs' sick body motion. 

Speaking of Tujiko Noiko, the very aptly named My Ghost Comes Back (or, 帰って来たゴースト) marks the return of Ms. Tujiko after quite the lengthy hiatus. Here she seems to remain grounded by her usual unusual approach to weaving sonic tapestry (what with the jagged, staggered rhythms, shimmering electric flickers and ethereal vocal whisps long beloved by vigilant fans) while stretching out to incorporate pleasing acoustic elements like guitar, mandolin, viola, koto, and musical saw, among others. This makes for a perfectly fitting gathering of apparatuses because has there ever been a more suitable instrument for expressing ghosts or the spiritual beyond in song than the musical saw? Immediate standouts include the oddly titled "Minty You" and the delightfully melancholic and world-weary banger "Under the White Sheets".

Tujiko Noriko - "Under the White Sheets"

11. Violent Change - A Celebration of Taste

In a world where music-based product continues to routinely receive golden rewards for achieving universal appeal and pop cultural "relevance", it remains a comfort to dig into a low-flying record made by some real-ass small-time punkers that key the car of commercial viability ever so lovingly. One listen to a track like "Malleable Love" or "Faster" from their 2014 Celebration of Taste is all it takes to understand Violent Change has never truly given a fuck about making, breaking, or even faking it when it comes to any kind of bottom line. For them it's clearly all about fucking your couch and submitting to loudness, which is to say it's all about the Sex Pistols, and the Bee-Gees, and a total disregard for any criticism whatever, be it pointed at their wonderfully maligned celebration of taste, or the bored, gored, and grinded appropriation of the commercial sludge their rock 'n roll forebears begrudge them.

12. Takako Minekawa and Dustin Wong - Savage Imagination

Takako Minekawa and Dustin Wong must be on a roll or really into each other or both because it had be take a special someone or something that coaxed an artist like Minekawa out of a thirteen-year hiatus to make an album, Toropical Circle, only to follow that up with another album, Savage Imagination, less than a year later. If anything, these albums are indicative of their compatibility and their collaborative imagination must be savage indeed to have produced two albums back to back like that. The latter of the two is similar to the first with it's playful electropop experiments, but Savage Imagination offers an ever more vibrant picture of their sonic marriage in that the duo have achieved a higher level of seamless stitchery in combining vocal threads, samples of Minekawa's incomparable keyboard magic and Wong's inventive guitar loops.

13. The Geneva Convention - Hundred Nights

I've only just lately gotten my ears around this fiendish piece of experimental summoning. The genesis of this record is rooted in a soundboard grab of an entire performance of recent rock-musical Hundred Days (as given to the guitarist for the production, Josh Pollack). The entirety of said recording, however, includes naught but the isolated drum mics, specifically the drumming of one Geneva Harrison, as well as some of Pollack's own lead/textural guitar and precious little else (ghostly vocals, etc.). Using this seasoned canvas, Pollack proceeded to recorded a wholly other, synth-shadowed album over it. The end result is a series of neon-lit nighttime vignettes fit for a soundtrack, or two (think Michael Mann's Manhunter or John Carpenter's They Live). I liiive!

Reissues and Compilations that ruled my world in 2014:

Ned Doheny - Separate Oceans
Malibu singer-songwriter Ned Doheny's Separate Oceans is beyond essential for any Yacht Rocker or AOR nerds and, speaking of nerds, Numero Group never fails to kill it in the pressing, packaging and presentation department when it comes to any gem in their ever-growing catalog of treasures. The 2LP collection of songs, exploring ten years of Doheny's easy, breezy SoCal marina-rock compositions, features demos, photos, and details aplenty (what with the 8,000 word essay) which is cool and all, but it's the additional limited edition Record Store Day release of Ned Doheny's “Get It Up For Love” (b/w a demo of “What Cha’ Gonna Do For Me” recorded with AWB) that really does it for me. Done up as a pretty little 45 rpm nugget housed in a  black, white, and blue Japanized sleeve, it makes for an aesthetically pleasing yet unassuming outfit for one of the hottest, slow-burnin' late night summer jams ever.

Ned Doheny - What Cha' Gonna Do For Me (demo with AWB)

Feelin' hot, hot, hot, hot...
Ahhh, comps. I love comps. Comps can make a cold day seem like it's ninety degrees in the shade and make a lonely night indoors feel like a grade-A pool party safari. All my life I've been romanced by themes and a desire, nay, a need for escape and compilations sometimes supply where books and films can fall short of the sort of sensory diversion I require. These four collections in particular have given me the fever of the flavor of a world I wish I could remove to at will. A world without overwrought American Idols and overpriced boxed sets. Just a quick flip on the turntable and I'm swaying in the arms of Carlos Molina's "Karabali" or shaking my daquiri to "Cup-E-Co" by The Journeymen.

Thus I raise my glass to toast Soul Jazz Records' first volume (of what is sure to indicate many more installments to come) of New Orleans Soul: The Original Sound of New Orleans Soul 1960-76. Here's a sampler platter mix thing:

And cheers are also due to Jazzman Record's second volume of Jukebox Mambo: Afro Latin Accents In Rhythm & Blues 1947-61. Lastly, but certainly not in the very least-ly, my sweatiest of thank yous to the fine fine folks at University of Vice for both Voodoo Party Vol. 2 and Poco Loco in the Coco Vol. 3 -- may your well never run dry.

Featured on Poco Loco in the Coco Vol. 3, here's "Cup-E-Co" by The Journeymen

Good golly, there are so many others to cover it almost feels like this could go on indefinitely. As I am starting to recount my summer-long rekindling with two of the Luaka Bop reissues that dropped back on Record Store Day, namely Los Amigos Invisibles' Arepa 3000: A Venezuelan Journey Into Space as well as their West African collection extraordinaire World Psychedelic Classics, Vol. 3: Love's a Real Thing, I also recall Numero Group's most excellent and extremely limited one-off riff on those low-rider comps, South Side Story Vol. 23 and, from there, my mind begins to slowly clog with number twos.

No, not poop, but good shit like Sheila B.'s "dream list" revisited/second helping of her wondrous Nippon Girls compilation, Nippon Girls 2: Japanese Pop, Beat & Rock 'N' Roll 1966-70, and Light in the Attic's double-down on their Country Funk thing, the aptly titled Country Funk 2 -- it's all too much! And then there's that raw n' rowdy San Francisco is Doomed cassette comp that Hannah Lew shepherded via her new Crime on the Moon label (pretty much in tandem with the stellar Cold Beat rec mentioned above), a real pisser of a number-one collective response to the great SF Tech Invasion from Bay Area bands that continually struggle to stay rooted in a town where hoards of newly minted "brogrammers" are effectively evicting the local art/music scene. Which is just a good a note as any to end this post on: 2014 - the year the music didn't die.

Bonus slice of 2014 year-end, best-of, you-made-it-to-the-bottom-of-this-list celebratory ridiculousness: this year marked the return of DJ Hennessy Youngman's CVS Bangers series Kicking down the doors of Valhalla...

Merry Christmas, Christmas Realness!

Posted by Kells, December 25, 2014 12:25pm | Post a Comment
Merry Christmas everyone! There's nothing like waking up on Christmas morning and getting all dolled up for the ultimate day of zenith-level holiday season revels! Here are a few of my favorite Christmas looks from some of my all time favorite famous people. 

Joan Rivers
' oversize sweater worn for the Pee-Wee's Playhouse Christmas Special (also starring Grace Jones, k.d. lang and Cher) is everything! Though our one and only Joan exited life's temporal stage this year, her spirit continues to entertain all us Earthbound couch potatoes. Check out those shoulder pads! It's like she's smuggling stollen in there!

Sometimes I think the Christmas Realness category as we know it was invented by, and for, Dolly Parton. With numerous Christmas specials, collaborations, albums and look after look of very merry material ensembles built on holiday cheer, Dolly has embodied the reason for the season time and time again throughout her career, her flirtationship with Mr. Kenny Rogers offering some of the best looks.

Christmas chalet realness...

Santa's workshop realness...

Christmas at the food court in the mall realness...

Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer realness...

Checking your sass in her Smokey Mountain Christmas special realness...

Dolly is the best, and I feel RuPaul would agree, though she has her very own Christmas realness to serve...
A fierce and fabulous holiday to all, and to all a very merry Rupaul's Christmas Ball -- if you can find it. That's the name of her hella rare 1993 holiday special starring Boy George, La Toya Jackson, Eartha Kitt, Nirvana, Elton John and many others. Be sure to check out Ms. Ru's holiday music too, henny. 

And Food Did I Have and Plenty: A Cornucopia of Feast Folk for your Thanksgiving Comedown

Posted by Kells, November 30, 2014 12:52pm | Post a Comment
I can't imagine everyone is pumped to jump right into all things Christmas before the Thanksgiving leftovers have cooled or even ceased to provide soup and sandwich solutions aplenty. This is especially true, for me, when it comes to accepting the inevitable aural advent of Holiday Music, a sonic offense that can sometimes begin as early as weeks prior to Black Friday. As a sentimental hoarder enthusiast of Holiday tunes, I relish the reason for the season and all the weird and wonderful music that comes with it, but I feel it's in poor taste to unleash the likes of "Last Christmas" too soon. And given that Thanksgiving music thankfully isn't a thing, the lack of any bankable November music tradition leaves the door wide open for folks like McCartney to simply have their "Wonderful Christmastime" as prematurely as they please. I feel an intervention is in order.

Thus I spent the last four weeks exploring possible playlists that might adequately satisfy the season-specific music void that exists Halloween and Christmas, something like a dignified tribute to noble November. Enter the notion of Feast Folk -- a seasonal buffet of harvest-inspired "folk rock" mainly adapted from or informed by ye olde English Roots music as exhumed by many a new age troubadour in the British Isles of the late 1960s (the likes of which is surveyed at length in Rob Young's exemplary book Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain's Visionary Music). Here is some food for thought:

Tim Hart and Maddy Prior - "Bring Us In Good Ale"

This song, appearing on Hart and Prior's on their third duo album Summer Solstice (1971), is purportedly a wassail dating from about 1460. Because it eschews all food on favor of good ale and good ale alone, it's a perfect tune for those seeking a mostly liquid repast this holiday season.

"Bring us in no brown bread, for that is made of bran,
   Nor bring us in no white bread, for therein is no grain.
Bring us in no beef, for there are many bones,
   But bring us in good ale, for that goeth down at once.
Bring us in no mutton, for that is seldom lean,
   Nor bring us in no tripes, for they are seldom clean.
Bring us in no eggs, for there are many shells,
   But bring us in good ale, and bring us nothing else."

Shelagh McDonald - "Let No Man Steal Your Thyme"

"Come all you fair and tender girls,
   That flourish in your prime, prime.
Beware, beware, keep your garden fair,
   And let no man steal your thyme, thyme,
Let no man steal your thyme."

This song, from Shelagh McDonald's first album, the aptly titled, Album, is said to date from as far back as 1689 and is included here because I'd rather not roast without it, thyme that is. Bonus fun fact: on January 16th 2013, McDonald made her first official public appearance after having "disappeared" more than forty years ago. Performing half hour set at the Green Note in Camden, London, her set consisted of previously unrecorded material as well as her marvelous version of this song, captured in the video below.

Pentangle - "The Hunting Song"

"Wearily I crossed the stream to the castle
    Where I found shelter from the cold wintry wind
And food did I have and plenty
    But the Lord and Lady seemed so sad"

Running nearly eight minutes, this groovy yarn concerning a king, a queen, a princely knight and a lady with magic horn of truth, or something, appears on Pentangle's third album Basket of Light (1969). Though a cursory search yielded little information about the song's genesis (other than it seems no one in the band penned it), the song itself sounds hundreds of years old. Indeed, during their 1970 BBC special, Pentangle guitarist Bert Jansch introduces the song saying, "it's a sort of 13th century rock n' roll song, that's the only way I can explain it."

Steeleye Span - "King Henry"

"Some meat, some meat you King Henry,
   Some meat you give to me,
Go kill your horse you King Henry
   And bring him here to me"

I owe the cover art to Steeleye Span's excellent 1972 album Below the Salt for imbuing me with the idea that British Folk Revival might be a simple solution to my seasonal rock in a hard place. That is, all I really wanna do is rock and I find that time of the year when folks play Christmas music too early to be a hard place for me, emotionally. Anyway, this song features a ton of food imagery, almost all of it brutal in the extreme, but that probably has everything to do with the origin of the ballad having been traced back to a Scottish adaptation of a 13th century Norse saga.

 Martin Carthy - " Lord Randall"

“What did she give you for your supper,
   my own dear darling boy?
What did she give you for your supper,
   my own dear comfort and joy?”
“I got fish and I got broth,
   oh make my bed mummy do,
Make my bed mummy do.”

This well known child ballad appears on Martin Carthy's 1972 album Shearwater and tells the story of a boy poisoned by a bowl seafood served to him by his (evil?) step-mother, the details of the deadly encounter revealed to his true mother in lyrical dialogue. Carthy mentions in the liner notes that the common plot of the song "must be among the more widespread story-ideas in the folk consciousness." Again, brutal.

Forest - "Famine Song"

This little dirge-y ditty, from pagan folk trio Forest's second LP, Full Circle (1970), is all about the food that isn't -- perfect subject matter for a band that routinely explores the darker aspects of traditional English folk themes. The perfect three part harmony of this song, bereft of instrumental accompaniment, seems to suggest a chorus of voices gathered at an empty table:

"Oh I wish that we were geese, night and morn
 Oh I wish that we were geese, night and morn
 Oh I wish that we were geese,
'Til the hour of our release
When we'd live and die in peace,
stuffing corn, stuffing corn"

 Paul Giovanni feat. Magnet - "Corn Rigs"

This opening tune from the film The Wicker Man is a delightful romp of an arrangement taken from Robert Burns' "Rigs O' Barley". It's so good it almost made me want to change Feast Folk to Lammas Rock.

"It was upon a Lammas night, when corn rigs are bonnie,
Beneath the moon's unclouded light, I held awhile to Annie
The time went by with careless heed,
   'til 'tween the late and early
With small persuasion she agreed,
   to see me through the barley.

Corn rigs and barley rigs and corn rigs are bonnie
I'll not forget that happy night among the rigs with Annie"

Vashti Bunyan - "Rose Hip November"

Welcoming in and celebrating November's earthy delights, this simple song written and performed by Vashti Bunyan, appearing on her 1970 gem of a debut album Just Another Diamond Day, is as elegant an ode to the eleventh month as an exquisite mid-autumn nights' dream.

"Rose hip November - Autumn I'll remember
 Gold landing at our door, catch one leaf
   and fortune will surround you evermore.
Pine tree very tall, waiting for snow to fall.
Mist hangs very still, caught by dawn
   in castle moats around the sleeping hill.
Now a pipe is heard, happy is the shepherd
Shepherdess and dog, father of the pastureland
   and mother of the flock."

Sandy Denny - "Late November"

Well, as it happens, today is the last day of November and the by-the-calendar actual advent of Christmas and, as such, here is a song with which to bid a fond adieu to this most excellent and bountiful November. Who better to take this parting to task than the incomparable Sandy Denny? And what better, more appropriately titled tune, than the opening song from her 1971 solo album The North Star Grassman and the Ravens? Winter has only just begun, and heady sugarplum distractions only hours abut the dream that was November lingers.

"The wine it was drunk, the ship it was sunk
The shot it was dead, all the sorrows were drowned
The birds they were clouds, the brides and the shrouds
And as we drew south the mist it came down..."

The Young Tradition with Shirley and Dolly Collins -  "The Boar's Head Carol"

I give up, it's Christmas. But that doesn't mean we gotta make do with modern offal when it comes to holiday music enjoyment. Why not keep it fifteenth century conventional with The Young Tradition and Shirley and Dolly Collins' rendition of "The Boar's Head Carol" -- a song that commemorates the ancient tradition of sacrificing a boar and presenting it's head at a Yuletide feast? Yes, please! Let's make this a merry medieval Christmas to remember.

"The boar's head in hand bear I
Bedecked with bay and rosemary;
So I pray you my masters be merry,
Quot estis in convivio (as many as are at the feast)."

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