I have just started doing things on Medium, but I have reprinted it below. If you want to check my Medium out, here is the link:
I intended on using Medium to largely make lists of songs and albums and so forth. A big old listicle list. Perhaps to stimulate discussion. I don’t know. But I am currently engaged in promo and the logistics of releasing an album — ensuring all photos are ready for the various web pages I have and organising rehearsals. And it is on my mind.
So I present the songs and albums that influenced me the most for my second LP — Post-Apocalyptic Love Songs (I have included a Spotify list but not all of these songs are on there):
Dress Sexy At My Funeral — Smog
Smog/Bill Callahan has long been a powerful influence on my songwriting. His minimalism and his tenderness… his frilly things, like a spreadeagled dolly. I like the way he deals with complex human emotions carefully, poking around the edges of things we normally dare not think about when songwriting, and in a poetic way. I wanted to do that but with soul and blues music as my medium. This song is a perfect example.
Jungle Blues — CW Stoneking/St James Infirmary — Louis Armstrong
New Orleans is such a diverse well of vibrant music, you could draw from it and it would never run dry. Constantly inspiring. But those minor key slow songs lend themselves to eerie murder tales, as they did for my “Mary’s Daughter” song. Originally intended as a twisted country banjo as per Tom Waits’ “Gun Street Girl” but I was easily convinced to switch to NOLA, especially with much of my musicians playing in 1920s style jazz bands.
Rain Dogs/Bone Machine albums — Tom Waits
These two albums are amongst my favourites anywhere in my listicles but Waits’ blend of blues, latin, country and weird helped to form my arrangements after the initial songwriting phase. Especially my song “You Must Not Try To Know”, which was written melodically and lyrically but rhythmically remained dormant until I hit upon making it Latin in the way some of Rain Dogs’ songs such as “Jockey Full Of Bourbon”. The lyrical morbidity of his Bone Machine songs smacked me around the head, and for that I am thankful.
I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch) — The Four Tops
So much joy and sadness in less than three minutes. I tried to bring that to “I Got What I Wanted (But I Lost What I Had)”, along with much tambourine that I love in Motown. The song itself was influenced by something Little Richard said and quoted in Greil Marcus’ Mystery Train novel.
Keep A Knockin’ — Little Richard
Speaking of Little Richard, this is a killer track, especially the alternate one that I found on a compilation of Itunes. It is almost punk. Yowsers. I think the below link is the one I heard:
Exile On Main Street/Sticky Fingers albums- Rolling Stones
They have four albums that will rarely be beaten for pure rock n roll, if you include Let It Bleed and Beggar’s Banquet, which I often do. But Exile/Sticky Fingers have been constantly on the turntable for the last 10 years (okay, the CD player to start with). Filthy, dirty, greasy, but oh so nice. We performedSticky Fingers live and then I found the sheet music for Exile for Kindle and thus my songwriting ideas doubled. Also, I thought if the Rolling Stones can go from country, to blues, to soul, to rock n roll in one album, why can’t I?
Rubber Soul album — The Beatles
I have never really made music like the Beatles but every time I listen to them I become inspired. There is so much going on in their songs and so much life about them. But while we were preparing to record, something wasn’t working rhythmically with “At Least It’s Better Than Home”. Eventually someone suggested something from the Beatles and their middle period in particular. Rubber Soul was the remedy.
Brother Claude Ely/Louis Jordan’s “Beans and Cornbread”
I wanted a gospel rave-up. My friend Glen played me Brother Claude Ely and his band (congregation) of crazy fundamentalists. And I remembered this Louis Jordan song. Boom.
In The Mississippi River — Mavis Staples
I loved You Are Not Alone. I played it over and over again. Then I heard the Ry Cooder-produced We’ll Never Turn Back and it was a revelation. Those beats, from down south, NOLA way yet rooted firmly in blues and gospel but with a tinge of the styles that influences hip hop. The rhythms, Mavis’ voice and the way she overcame sadness with her exultations and Ry Cooder’s slide guitar. That is the music I wanted to make and I thought it dragged blues into the modern world.
But for an almost full list, here it is:
Many people have their definitions of “Americana”. Or they call it “roots”, “folk” or “finely crafted narratives of despair, the land and uplifting choruses”. I see it as a mix of the great music that has come out of a culture or cultures that has so impacted the world for better or worse.
I am influenced more heavily by American music than Australian. Perhaps because the United States and Canada had a few hundred years more on Australia to develop a unique culture. Perhaps this is because by the time Australia was developing its own, new media thrust music at us from all over the world in increasingly easy to access ways and in a very short time so we weren’t able to create something quite as unique . So now my music is a reflection of my environment but played through a frame of Americana: Blues, jazz, country, acoustic folk, bluegrass, funk, soul, Latin and all that brew that comes from a clash and enveloping of cultures.
So as I prepare to give you An Evening of Americana at West End’s The Bearded Lady featuring blues/rock n roll (my band), rockabilly (The Hi-Boys) and country (Bridget O’Shannessy) and on the eve of America’s Independence Day, here is in no particular order a top 10 of some of my favourite Americana albums:
The Band – The Band: A massive influence on my current songwriting and recordings. Like a novel played out in all the great ways of music.
Into The Music – Van Morrison: Sir Van mixes his trademark soul and Celtic roots, along with talk of Muddy Waters and a little gospel.
Pull Up Some Dust And Sit Down –Ry Cooder: Ry played slide on Sir Van’s album above and spent so long playing beautiful covers of blues, country, soul and being a side man or soundtrack composer, he may have been overlooked as a songwriter. Not anymore. Blimey this is good and throws in some Tex-Mex as well.
Car Wheels On A Gravel Road – Lucinda Williams: It took about six years to make this album and I am thankful for it. Every snap of the drums, every guitar line, every superlative vocal and harmony. Simple stories about normal people filtered through Lucinda’s yearning voice and her love of blues and country.
Sticky Fingers – Rolling Stones: It is hard to pick a favourite Stones album but in terms of a wide-ranging explorations of Americana, they do it so well with this album. Blues, soul, country and mixes of all. We performed it in full last year twice, but it still gets me despite all those rehearsals. Oh and Ry Cooder plays slide on Sister Morphine.
Gris Gris – Dr John The Night Tripper: The strangest addition to this list is Dr John’s first album, to my ears a bizarre amalgam of country sounds, New Orleans voodoo funk and some strong hallucinogenics.
The Hypnotiser – Cash Savage and the Last Drinks: The only Australian entry on this list, Cash’s storytelling game is strong (I hear that’s how the kids say would say it), loves her some Americana and has a powerful world-weary voice and a sensational violinist in Kat Mear.
We’ll Never Turn Back – Mavis Staples: With Ry Cooder again on production and slide, Mavis lets her unmatched gospel contralto loose on many old classics, but with The Meters’ funk meets hip hop grooves. Ouch.
Rain Dogs – Tom Waits: This is the album many recommend you try if you haven’t heard any Tom Waits, with some banjo country here, some rock n roll there, Latin inspired strangeness over there and Tom’s gravel and weirdness all around.
Coming Home – Leon Bridges: This is so new, it hasn’t really been released but I have already listened to it about four times through the internet’s first listen streams. Bit of old school Sam Cooke and Otis Redding/soul gospel but through an obvious modern filter, plus a little blues and country. Listen.