Archive | October, 2011

Jane Siberry: False False Fly

12 Oct
Jane Siberry's album When I Was A Boy

Jane Siberry's 1993 album When I Was A Boy (''calling all angels, calling all angels, we're cryin' and we're hurtin', and we're not sure why'')


Birthday greetings to singer/songwriter/poet Jane Siberry, who spent three years known as Issa — not to be confused with, or in recognition of, the California congressman of the same name. Siberry celebrates No.56 today.

Siberry might be mostly anonymous south of the border, but not in her native Canada. If you didn’t know her home country, you might have guessed if you ever heard her song Hockey. Who else but a Canadian, or Canadiens’ fan we presume (she’s from Toronto, but we don’t hear any Leafs references in the song), could work the night of the riot at the Montreal Forum and Hall of Famer Jean Beliveau into the same song (“this stick was signed by Jean Beliveau, so don’t f——- tell me where to f—— go”).

Siberry’s work is hard to categorize, except as . . . varied and different. You can easily decide for yourself since Siberry’s website,, runs on the honor system. Visitors are invited to download her music from the site and pay what they can or nothing at all. According to Alexandra Gill on, less than 1 in 5 downloaders were doing so for free, and of those who paid, most paid the normal fee. Of those that didn’t, more paid more than paid less.

Whatever they paid, Siberry is a bargain, and her voice is beautiful. Don’t expect to typecast her music, or her. We know this: she resembles, to these eyes, Meryl Streep; she seems to love dogs (“if you remind me of my dog, we’ll probably git along,” she sang on Everything Reminds Me of My Dog); and she must spend a lot in business cards — the artist formerly known as Jane Siberry and formerly known as Issa is known again as Jane Siberry.

“I felt the need to make some strong changes in my life,” Siberry told Sarah Terez Rosenblum in 2009 at “It seemed important to change my name, so I did. I changed it to a name that I thought was simple, an empty cup. I had never heard the name Issa before, and it turns out to have some wonderful meanings, including a haiku poet in Japan, and the name that Jesus had in India. But . . . I officially changed my name back to Jane Siberry. I felt with the name change, I had gotten in my own way, in terms of devoting myself to my career, making my work available to people. So, Jane Siberry is my name again until further notice, but I feel richer from having been Issa for three years.”

A link and lryics to False False Fly from the 2000 album Hush below:

“Will you come along with me?”
said the False False Fly
To the lovely little child on the road
“No, I won’t come with you,”
said the lovely little child
She was only but seven years old



John Prine: Day Is Done

10 Oct
John Prine

John Prine's 1995 album Lost Dogs and Mixed Blessings; if Dylan is looking for Lake Marie, it's track No. 5

Birthday greetings to singer/songwriter John Prine, who celebrates No. 65 today.

Many years ago, my friend TC and I shared, in no particular order, a love of Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, 3 a.m. and Casey’s Tavern. Many nights when we had exhausted all three, he would inevitably request John Prine be put on the turntable (that’s how long ago it was).

The first time I told him I had no Prine, he was aghast, almost insulted. Second-class was charming in a taproom, not in a music collection. You need to listen to John Prine, he scolded, but when I learned that Prine had started out working for the postal service, like TC, I dismissed him. Postal workers stick together, I assumed.

Years later, long after TC and I had moved on to more respectable pursuits, I was in a used CD store (that’s how much later). I came across a Prine album (cover above) and because you could sample the fare before buying, I played it with TC’s words in mind. It took only a few notes to realize TC was right. Somewhere he was smirking and didn’t know why.

Irony is, Dylan, master of Blood on the Tracks, would always have agreed with TC.

Dylan on Prine, as told to the Huffington Post: “Prine’s stuff is pure Proustian existentialism. Midwestern mindtrips to the nth degree. And he writes beautiful songs. I remember when Kris Kristofferson first brought him on the scene. All that stuff about “Sam Stone” the soldier junky daddy and “Donald and Lydia,” where people make love from ten miles away. Nobody but Prine could write like that. If I had to pick one song of his, it might be “Lake Marie.” I don’t remember what album that’s on.”

Lake Marie is on Lost Dogs and Mixed Blessings, the album I sampled in the CD store. Talk about blessings. But, like a lot of Prine’s work, not many people bought it. According to wikipedia, Lost Dogs and Mixed Blessings reached 159th on the charts; no Prine album has been higher than 55th, which is far more an indictment of the audience than the performer.

It’d be even less, perhaps if not for Roger Ebert (and TC), who was one of the first to discover Prine in Chicago, where Prine delivered mail by day and sang at night (TC worked for the postal service by day and wrote sports at night).

Prine, on being discovered by Ebert, according to “I was singing at this little out-of-the-way club in Chicago and Ebert stopped in one night, got himself a beer and he had just walked out of a movie because the popcorn was too salty or something like that. He sat and listened to my songs and the next day instead of writing about the movie he wrote about me. The headline was ‘Singing Mailman Delivers The Message.’ He said my songs were like little movies and a lot more interesting than what they were showing down at the theatres.”

Prine’s next album harkens back to that long-ago headline. The Singing Mailman Delivers will be released later this month; Prine’s website says it will include live and studio recordings dating back four decades. I’ll be thinking of TC when I get my copy.

Lyrics from Day is Done (link below), also on Lost Dogs and Mixed Blessings, written by Prine and Gary Nicholson:

We’ll carve our names
On a tree
Then we’ll burn it down
So no one in the world will see

And we’ll make love
While we watch the flame
Then we’ll walk away
As if we never had no shame


Steve Miller: Your Saving Grace

5 Oct

Birthday greetings to Steve Miller, who celebrates No. 68 today.

There are few musicians for whom the before and after contrast is as stark as it is for Miller. Before Fly Like An Eagle, he was counter-culture, bluesy, cool, underground FM available; after Fly Like an Eagle he was commercial, mainstream, conformist, overplayed and uninspiring. Before Miller was the highlights, after Miller was Miller Lite.

You could hear Fly Like An Eagle songs seemingly everywhere but in elevators (every time I hear Take The Money and Run, I feel like doing so, away from the song). The metamorphosis started with The Joker in 1973 — Miller’s first No. 1 hit — which gave us the expression “pompatus of love,” but was still of a different feel than Fly Like An Eagle. We’re not sure what happened, but we can guess that it’s good to be No. 1.

If you’re familiar only with the After Miller, know that there’s an earlier and better decade of Miller to listen to. Mentored when young by jazz guitarist Les Paul, a family friend, Miller’s early band mates included Boz Scaggs,  who had his own breakout album (Silk Degrees),  Ben Sidran, author, pianist and critic, and, if you know what I mean, Lee Michaels, whose one and only hit was Do You Know What I Mean.

Miller’s early work was rebellious, enduring and worthy of appreciation: Space Cowboy, Living In The U.S.A., Going To Mexico, Don’t Let Nobody Turn You Around, Going To The Country, etc. A link to Your Saving Grace and lyrics from the same below:

 And now I spend my life
On the velvet side of hell
Aimlessly here searching
For what I cannot tell

Don McLean: Castles in the Air

2 Oct
Don McLean's album Tapestry

Don McLean's first album Tapestry

Birthday greetings to singer-songwriter Don McLean, who celebrates No. 66 today.

McLean’s American Pie was the No. 5 song of the 20th century in a poll voted on for the Recording Industry Association of America and the National Endowment for the Arts, but it’s probably No. 1 in most-interpreted songs of the century. Few artists are as connected with their songs as McLean and American Pie — McLean’s own website says it is “the official website of Don McLean and American Pie.”

McLean has largely been quiet about the specifics over the years, beyond the obvious: the song is autobiographical, the day the music died was Feb. 3, 1959 when Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper were killed in a plane crash, and it’s reflective of the changing eras in America. Beyond that, you’re free to make all the references to The Byrds, Beatles, Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan you want.

“When people ask me what ‘American Pie’ means, I tell them it means I don’t ever have to work again if I don’t want to,” is the quote most famously attributed to McLean.

Legend goes that McLean wrote the song at a bar called Tin & Lint in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. (a plaque marks the spot). He was struggling — his original album Tapestry was rejected by 34 record companies, according to wikipedia. After American Pie, no more rejection.

McLean has written many other songs deserving of acclaim: Vincent, a No. 1 hit in the UK (American Pie was No. 2 there, No. 1 in the States), Dreidel, Since I Don’t Have You, And I Love You So, Castles in the Air (link below), Wonderful Baby, etc. And he’s been the subject of No. 1 songs, too — Roberta Flack’s Killing Me Softly With His Song was written by Lori Lieberman after she watched McLean in concert in 1973 (according to McLean’s website, the two met for the first time 38 years later).

“Fifteen years ago I sang for the 3rd graders of the New Rochelle (N.Y.) schools,” wrote Pete Seeger, one of McLean’s main mentors and influences, on the 1970 liner notes to Tapestry. “One of the snot-nosed brats before me was Don McLean. Had I known he would turn into one of the most talented songwriter-singers I’d ever met, I would have Z*:X#[#}Z. Probably would have stopped in mid-song chagrined.

“Don is just that. A normal, talented, unpretentious, nervous, relaxed musician trying to use his songs to help people survive in these perilous times.”

From McLean’s Castles in the Air:

For I will not be part of the cocktail generation
Partners waltz devoid of all romance
The music plays and everyone must dance
I’m bowing out I need a second chance


Youssou N’Dour: Set

1 Oct
Youssou N'Dour's album Joko

Senegal's Youssou N'Dour and his 2000 album Joko (The Link)

Birthday greetings to Senegalese singer Youssou N’Dour, who celebrates No. 52 today.

More than acknowledgement, N’Dour would probably prefer recognition or help for his current project: helping to ease the current famine in Somalia. Because if N’Dour is little known in North America, he is, as Rolling Stone called him in 2004, “perhaps the most famous singer alive,” in Africa. Though N’Dour’s native Senegal is Africa’s westernmost country and Somalia its easternmost, fame brings responsibility.

“From Dakar to Djibouti, the new Africa must unite as one, our people across the continent, and hold each other, our leaders and the international community accountable for inaction – and bring about urgent action,” N’Dour said late last month, according to the

N’Dour’s action will include a concert early next year in Kenya, with various African artists and Ireland’s Bono. At that venue, there’s no question who the No. 1 attraction will be.

N’Dour’s music includes many cultures, in part because so many were absorbed into Senegal by its location and history; it was a French colony immediately before gaining independence in 1960.

“Youssou N’Dour is the voice of modern Africa-poet, groove merchant and symbol of a young self-aware African generation,” read the liner notes, which seem almost prophetic today, to N’Dour’s 1990 album Set. “Youssou now reaches an audience other African performers could not. With this unprecedented exposure comes a big responsibility for this most charismatic of the new World Musicians — to strike in us all, better than any politician or conventional moralist, the chords of mutual recognition so essential to the future of the planet. Youssou’s music uncannily beckons us to think globally while we dance locally.”

Below a 2002 live version to the title track of N’Dour’s album Set:


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