Welcome to a semi-regular* column here at HomeTechTell called simply: Now Playing. Think of it as a stream-of-consciousness forum to highlight the albums that are in current heavy rotation at home, at work, or in my car. Some albums might be new. Some might be old. Others might be remastered or re-released. Or not. And there might be a common thread that links the albums. Or there might not.
Our maiden voyage actually begins at the movies:
I had every intention of screening Django Unchained in the theater on Christmas Day. But as it often has a tendency to do, life got in the way. And so it was just two weeks ago that I finally crossed Quentin Tarantino’s latest flick off my list. I fell in love, first and foremost, with Christoph Waltz’ brilliant turn as Dr. King Schultz. A close second was the music — a typical Tarantino mashup of disparate styles that runs the gamut from Ennio Morricone to Rick Ross. A standout track on the Django Unchained Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is “Too Old to Die Young” by Brother Dege. Once I’d worn out the Django soundtrack, it was time to explore more of what Brother Dege had to offer. Turns out, the song I’d fallen in love with on the soundtrack was first released in 2010 on Brother Dege’s debut Folk Songs of the American Longhair.
Brother Dege is actually Dobro player Dege Legg and a small crew of supporting musicians. Legg’s Dobro is the star of the show on “Too Old to Die Young” and the Dobro is at the forefront of every track on Folk Songs of the American Longhair. The album was recorded, according to the liner notes, “in a shed in Southern Louisiana.” It’s an unnecessary inclusion, really. Each song — ”Battle of New Orleans,” in particular — serves to transport listeners to the South. This is toe-tapping, sweaty music that would serve as the perfect accompaniment for a backwoods crawfish boil on the bayou. I’ll bring the beer.
Speaking of gravely-voiced folk singers and New Orleans… Steve Earle’s latest release, The Low Highway, has also spent a lot of time at the top of my music pile. The album was recorded in Nashville, but Steve’s heart is clearly in the Crescent City. Case in point, the track I’ve been returning to most often: “After Mardi Gras.” The song was even co-written by Earle’s Treme co-star, and real-life violin player, Lucia Micarelli. “Happy people everywhere,” Earle sings, “make it hard to sing the blues until Mardi Gras is through.” You’ll find it hard not to be happy listening to the laid-back collection of songs on The Low Highway.
Steve Earle has never been afraid to dabble in different musical styles, and the same can be said for Cream drummer Ginger Baker. Baker found his way into the rotation thanks to Jay Bulger’s excellent documentary Beware of Mr. Baker. When I played the film’s trailer for Dennis Burger he said, “You know, it makes me miss Hunter.” “Hunter,” of course, is the late Hunter S. Thompson. While Ginger didn’t have much in common musically with the good doctor, I understood the reference. After watching Beware of Mr. Baker, I think anyone would agree that, like Hunter, Ginger Baker is supremely talented and also certifiably nuts. But that’s a good thing! Hunter may have moved on, but at least the world still has a guy like Ginger Baker around — busy stirring up trouble and leaving all sorts of mayhem in his wake.
Bulger’s documentary highlights Ginger Baker’s time in Africa and his association with the Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti. Even before the documentary’s credits had finished, I called up Live!, Fela Kuti and the Africa ’70’s live collaboration with Ginger. But it’s actually Ginger and Tony Allen’s drum solo from the 1978 Berlin Jazz Festival that I’ve been listening to most — the performance is available as a bonus track on the album’s Knitting Factory Records CD re-release.
And that brings us to Ginger Baker’s Cream bandmate, Eric Clapton. I was listening to Journeyman recently, as I often do, and thought in this age of re-releases, isn’t it time for a Super Deluxe, Chocolatey Center Edition of Eric’s classic 1989 album? While you’re waiting, I suggest checking out Slowhand’s latest: Old Sock. The title conveys comfort and this collection of breezy, laid-back songs is certainly comfortable. Old Sock features two original songs, but the album is largely a covers collection of some of Clapton’s favorite songs. Old Sock has a couple rockers, but songs such as “The Folks Who Live on the Hill,” and “Our Love is Here to Stay,” would provide a better soundtrack for a lazy afternoon spent lounging in the backyard hammock.
Of course, the music world is a polytheistic one, and although Clapton may be God to a certain sect of worshipers, lately I’ve been kneeling at the altar of Bruce Springsteen quite a bit, too. I realize I’m a little late to the party. I’ve always appreciated Bruce as a performer, but for an inexplicable reason I never gave The Boss full credit as a musician and songwriter. My conversion started with Thom Zimny’s documentary included in The Promise: The Darkness On The Edge Of Town Story box set. This glimpse into Bruce’s songwriting and recording process made me realize how silly I had been to cast Bruce off as nothing more than an
energetic live act. The man knows how to write a song and the man knows how to play that song, too. Bruce’s attention to detail and quest for perfection is impressive. This 2010 box set is expensive, but when one considers the remastered album, a two-disc collection of outtakes, the making-of documentary, and hours of live performances, it’s worth every penny. And the packaging, which recreates Bruce’s Darkness-era, spiral-bound notebook, is among the best I’ve seen.
I picked up the Darkness box set more out of curiosity than anything. I ended up with a full-blown Bruce Springsteen addiction. I also snapped up the 30th Anniversary Edition ofBorn To Run. That package isn’t as comprehensive or impressive as the mammoth Darkness set, but the included making-of Wings For Wheels (also by Thom Zimny) is an entertaining look at a classic album. As I’ve worked my way through Springsteen’s catalogue the last few weeks, I can only hope The River, Nebraska, and Born in the U.S.A. eventually receive the same “Super Deluxe” treatment.
I have to get back to more Springsteen, so that’s all for now. Join me next time for another installment of “Now Playing.” Until then… keep listening.
*Semi-Regular (Translation: Whenever the mood strikes.)