Sunday, April 5, 2009
New CD release - Passion & Faith (Transparency)
1. A Pagina Do Relampago Electrico (Beto Guedes/Ronaldo Bastos)
2. What Do I Do With The Rest Of My Life? (Lane Steinberg/R. Stevie Moore)
3. Clube Da Esquina (Milton Nascimento/Lo Borges/Marciao Borges)
4. Happy Holidaze (Lane Steinberg/Zoltan Kodaly)
5. Two Bananas (And They're Both Brown) (Steinberg)
6. Equatorial (Beto Guedes/Lo Borges/Marcio Borges)
7. How Insensitive (Insensatez) (Antonio Carlos Jobim/Vinicius DeMoraes/Norman Gimbel)
8. Christmas In Peru (Steinberg - additional lyrics by David Fuller)
9. Why Can't People Just Talk About The Weather? (Steinberg)
10. Paixao E Fe (Tavinho Moura/Fernando Brant)
11. What Are Be Whys? (Steinberg)
12. Dark Star (Garcia/Hunter)
13. Fuck On! (Steinberg)
I suppose most people's eyes will simply glaze over at the eclecticism contained within this new CD. I can't blame them, really. I have long made a career out of shooting myself in the foot, so why make things easier now? This CD simply represents a year and a half's worth of recordings when Michael Sheppard at Transparency contacted me and said, "Let's do an album!" When I saw that his roster consisted of Sun Ra rarities, an Italian classical pianist, Alessandra Cellletti, performing the forgotten but brilliant piano sonatas of Galuppi, and a live recording of Rufus Harley, a jazz bagpipe player from Philadelphia, I felt right at home. I told Michael, "I guess I'm the commercial act here". Ten years had elapsed between my first solo album, "Peyote Marching Songs, Vol. 1", which appeared under the name Noel Coward's Ghost and my last one, "The Return Of Noel Coward's Ghost" under my proper name, when I started to feel the foot of time pressing against my neck and resolved to work a little faster, so this CD comes out a mere 22 months after its predecessor. I simply gave Michael what I thought was the best of what I had recorded in the intervening time period.
Originally, I intended to do an entire record in Portuguese after having a near-religious experience when I heard the 'Clube Da Esquina' record by Milton Nascimento and Lo Borges.
I had been in Tower records in downtown Madhattan a little while before it closed, and I was looking at some CD's in the world music section when a tall guy with long dreads handed me the 'Clube Da Esquina' CD and said, "You need this". I laughed and asked why, and he said, "Trust me". It felt like heavy moment, so I took a chance. When I took it home and played it, I was instantly floored by the combination of the grittiness of the recording and the complexity and depth of the songwriting. I couldn't understand a word, but on a visceral level the meaning seeped into my soul.
From a musical standpoint, what was most mind-blowing was how it was so obviously influenced by the Beatles without having a thing to do with them musically. Having trafficked in the world of Big Star, the Byrds, Badfinger, etc., I was used to Beatles-influenced bands and played in one myself, The Wind, back in the eighties. But this was entirely different. What Nascimento, Borges, and their circle of friends conjured was nothing less than the ultimate tribute, as it possessed the unmistakable spirit of discovery without cribbing a single note from the Fabs; a pretty neat trick. I immediately tracked down all the early records by Nascimento and Borges, as well as the brilliant records by Tavinho Moura and Beto Guedes and had the idea that I'd record some of my favorite songs by them and put some of the overt Beatles touchstones which came so naturally to me, like psychedelic guitars and harmonies, back into them. This all started well and good, but being a restless sort, I soon started bouncing off in other musical directions.
Oddly enough, two of the songs, "Equatorial" and "Paixao E Fe"(which translates to 'Passion and Faith') , sort of came out sounding a bit like the Grateful Dead, my favorite group after the Beatles and the Beach Boys, but one I had completely stopped listening to for a number of years. Yes, I can admit now: I was a teenage Deadhead. Back in the eighties, this was akin to admitting that you had leprosy, but now, as the years have past, the Dead's unique sensibility is regarded as acceptable, if not exactly revered in all circles. What I always loved most about them were their exploratory jams that were usually modal in nature. 'Dark Star' from Live/Dead had the same atom bomb effect on my musical sensibilities that 'Clube Da Esquina' had on me years later and the Beatles had years before. I always wanted to take a swipe at my own version, and getting the box set of their legendary run at the Fillmore West from 2/28/69 to 3/2/69 inspired me to finally try, and the version recorded herein was done between those exact dates, 38 years later.
"What Do I Do With The Rest Of My Life?" was cannibalized from a record called 'Manuscriptions' that I'd recorded in an e-mail collaboration with the legendary R. Stevie Moore.
We send each other parts and, when the mood is right, a song pops out. This is the very first piece we did together. My contribution is the opening 30 second snippet which appears throughout the song with various accouterments. The music and arrangement is otherwise Stevie's.
"Happy Holidaze" is a gavotte written for cello and three violins by Hungarian composer Zoltan Kodaly. When I first heard it, I immediately started to sing lyrics over it. I got the sheet music, and recorded a version on the cheap with four of my wife's old music school buddies when we were on holiday in her hometown of Odessa. Too bad ol' Zoltan's not around to hear it. He was a fun sort of character and I encourage anyone interested to read the essays of Bela Bartok where he recounts the crazy excursions the two of them had collecting folk songs throughout the Balkans and beyond.
Besides doing an album in Portuguese, I was thinking of doing a calypso album as well, as I am a huge fan of the genre. "Two Bananas" was an early attempt at this. I was once a guest host on Irwin Chusid's great and much-missed WFMU calypso show, 'Muriel's Treasure', where we focused for three hours on the great music of the Mighty Sparrow and did an extensive on-air interview with another calypso aficionado, Van Dyke Parks. There was nary a mention of Brian Wilson, which took quite a bit of restraint, I can assure you!
"Christmas In Peru" started as a dream I had in which I was writing the song with a friend of mine, Drew Farmer, and he said the line, "And all the natives say, 'Inca Dinca Do'", and I was awakened from a deep sleep by my own laughter! I always keep a recorder and a notepad nearby for such infrequent occurrences, and I lept out of bed and sang it into the microphone before going back to sleep. This stayed in my head for quite awhile before it was finished, as I kept waiting for Drew to come up from Tampa and actually finish it with him for real. When I thought it was done, I played it over the phone for my lifelong friend, David Fuller, who suggested a one-bar extension on the bridge, adding the words, "with you in my arms", which really opened up the song, and we spent the next hour haggling over how much credit he deserved for such a tiny, but undeniable stroke of genius!
"How Insensitive" is a famous song by the towering giant of Brazilian song, Antonio Carlos Jobim. Because I was so attached to the Sinatra version on the first of the two records those two greats did together, I sung this one in English. The psychedelic treatment lent itself very nicely to the languid melody, and I kept hearing Syd Barrett in my head when I cut the lead vocal.
"Why Can't People Just Talk About The Weather?" was something I overheard someone say,
and the song popped into my head, fully formed. It's an obvious homage to one of my idols, Noel Coward. I could hear him saying, "Dear boy, first you steal my name and now you're stealing my style!"
"What Are Be Whys?" is a little surrealistic trifle that was written as it was recorded, and really functions as a palette cleanser before the 21 minute version of 'Dark Star'. I figured what could be the most jarring juxtaposition after the atmospheric wanderings of this piece, and came up with "Fuck On", which is also a bit more of Noel Coward, the kind of thing that he'd play to amuse Cole Porter at a late night party, and not for public consumption. But those were different times! Yes, it's juvenile, but I just couldn't resist.
Well, that's it then. There more goodies coming up - the wild debut CD from Cracked Latin and a new one from Tan Sleeve. Stay posted...
Soundclips from this and some of my other albums are up here.
The CD will soon be at the usual internet outlets, but is currently available direct from Transparency for $12 here: