Next Shows: Thursday, May 23rd at 7 PM Dylan Birthday Bash at Rembrandt's!
Kenn Kweder and Jon Houlon host a calvacade of 40 area musicians to celebrate Bob's 72nd birthday.
Rembrandt's, 741 N. 23rd Street, Philadelphia, PA 215.763.2228
No cover. Beer Specials.
Friday, May 31st at 10:30 PM Fergie's Pub
1214 Sansom Street, Philadelphia, PA 215.928.8818
Sly Fox. The folk singer's choice. Check out the cool ad!
2 sets! Free!
For Immediate Release!
JOHN TRAIN returns without a concept! A Wig and a Wonder available on Chapter 7 Records
After releasing two concept albums, The Sugar Ditch (centered around a murder in a septic run-off ditch in Mississippi) and Mesopotamia Blues (centered around an unpopular war), John Train returns to action without a unifying theme. Jon Houlon, singer-songwriter for the band, claims that he came to the realization that songs about murder and war – arguably, the same topic, he winces – may not be commercially viable. “I’m back to gazing at my own navel!,” Houlon quips.
Still, John Train’s new Chapter 7 release, A Wig and a Wonder, contains more than your usual singer-songwriter fare. Song topics range from a visit to the Rothko Chapel in Houston (the title track), adultery informed by Houlon’s fascination with John Updike (“Lord Baltimore”), a divorcing couple who buries a religious idol in their front yard to help sell their house (“Praying to St. Joe”), and the craft of songwriting itself (“Who Needs the Muse?”). Houlon, who works in the field of child welfare, for the first time in John Train’s 18 year history, offers up a song about the death of a child (“Las Galares”). “I’ve tried to keep work and music separate,” he says, “but there was just something about this particular story that I had to tell.”
Devoted followers of John Train (known as the “Train Army”) have been asking for a new Train album for several years. Why the recording hiatus? Houlon says there are two reasons: “One, I figure that considering that between John Train and my other band, the Donuts, I’ve got 10 cds already floating around out there, if someone wanted to hear what I had to say, there was plenty to dig into. Two, in a world where many people seem satisfied listening to music recorded on a phone and posted on You-Tube, the idea of putting out another disc seemed quaint and maybe even irrelevant.”
What changed? Legendary Philadelphia engineer, John Anthony (formerly of Sigma and Maja, now of Philly Post) began recording some of John Train’s weekly gigs at Fergie’s Pub. Anthony, a great supporter of John Train, felt that “what the band is doing over there was too good not to be documented.” A couple of the songs recorded at Fergie’s are actually included on A Wig and a Wonder (“Lord Baltimore” and the title track).
Anthony was so enthused by the Fergie’s recordings that he invited the band into Philly Post to do some more work. Houlon indicates: “We basically set up the same way we do at Ferg’s and spent a couple weekends laying down my new songs that we’ve been playing for the past few years. I looked up and realized we had another album on our hands.”
As usual, Houlon’s songwriting is strongly supported by his bandmates Mike “Slo-Mo Brenner (dobro), Bill Fergusson (mandolin), Mark Tucker (steel and electric guitar), Steve Demarest (bass), and Mark Schreiber (drums). Houlon says, “I feel blessed to have worked with these guys for this long. They are all fantastic musicians who know how to listen to a song and support it. And after 18 years, we still get along and still have a great time playing together.”
R.I.P. George Jones
I first heard of George Jones when I picked up Elvis Costello's "Almost Blue" album in 1981. This album was sort of my entry point to the world of honky tonk music. Many of the artists that EC covered on "Almost Blue"ended up having a profound effect on me: Hag, Gram Parsons, The Flying
Burritto Brothers, Hank Williams, and, of course, the Possum, as George was fondly called.
I didn't, however, really get into George Jones until ten years or so later when I found myself driving around a lot in a strange triangle that
encompassed California, Texas, and Pennsylvania. Back then cassettes were still in vogue and there were no shortage of titles by George Jones in the truck stops and rest stops along my route. I remember popping in the first GJ cassette I purchased (entitled "She Thinks I Still Care") and being stunned by THE VOICE. Yes, George Jones, as many have noted since his recent passing, was the greatest country singer of all time and, perhaps,the greatest singer of all time in any genre. He had a unique ability to
sing both low smoky notes and high keening ones and invest everything he sang with real passion. The cassettes I bought had great songs but filler too. It didn't matter. When George sang corny stuff, it didn't sound corny. It sounded soulful.
When I finally landed in Pennsylvania for good, I was hooked and set about finding as many George Jones lps as I could find. There was no shortage in the bins at such late lamented record stores as Plastic Fantastic in Ardmore. I also remember Val Shively in Upper Darby letting me rout around in his basement. There were some great GJ finds down there. Thanks, Val!
George was a singles artist, really. I collected the full albums but the key to full-on Possum worship is finding the one or two masterpieces on
each record. While some of his up-tempo material is worth hearing, it's the ballads, the WEEPERS, that kill. What follows are ten of my favorite
George Jones' songs. I like all the periods of his career but am especially fond of the sides he cut with Billy Sherill in the 70s and early
80s. Some people say that Sherill ruined the Possum's hillbilly authenticity. But I think that the urbane vocal and string arrangements
that Sherill is known (and sometimes reviled) for actually serve Jones very well: it's the tension between Sherill's syrup and Jones' rural timbre that gives this period its emotional depth. If there's a deeper blues to be heard, I'm yet to encounter it.
Anyway, a few years back, Jodi and I finally caught up George at a music hall in Lancaster. The fact that they were projecting pictures of sausage (Possum links or something like that!) on a screen behind him as he sang somehow did not diminish the effect of his voice. THE VOICE. I am grateful that I got to see hear him in person. No Show Jones, he was sometimes called. But he did show and he did deliver.
Jim Lauderdale called George Jones "the king of broken hearts." He was. And still is. Goodbye, Possum.
1. I Still Sing the Old Songs (from "The Battle" lp): This Billy Sherill produced album from the 70s is one that is actually worth hearing in its
entirety. This track is the last one. David Allan Coe wrote it. The Possum wasn't nearly the outsider that DAC was and remains, but he
definitely shared a certain defiance with him that comes out in this song.
2. Bartender's Blues (from "My Very Special Guests" lp): Yep, the James Taylor song. JT even harmonizes with the Possum on this track, again
produced by Billy Sherill. The ultimate closing time song for those who pour our drinks.
3. Golden Ring (title track from duet album with Tammy Wynette): The Possum's marriage to Tammy didn't work out but they made some beautiful
music together. He did duets with Melba Montgomery as well but I prefer the ones with Tammy.
4. Why Baby Why (included in "Cup of Loneliness" 2cd set): George's first hit and one of the only non-weepers included in this list. The "Cup of
Loneliness" compilation is a good place to start if you're interested in the raw side of George i.e. before the Countrypolitan sound took over.
5. Just One More (included in "Cup of Loneliness" 2cd set): George sang for the broken hearted. But he also sang for those underneath the bottle. On this one, he croons that he'll have "just one more and then another." A lyric that neatly encapsulates addiction itself.
6. I'm Ragged but I'm Right (included in "Cup of Loneliness" 2cd set): Another non-weeper. More like a statement of purpose.
7. You Comb Her Hair (included on "Best of '55-67): This is one of the songs I heard on the truck-stop cassettes. It was included in John Train's earliest repertoire and we play it to this day.
8. A Picture of Me Without You (title track from another Billy Sherill production): the ultimate weeper. And, perhaps, my favorite song George
did with Billy at the helm.
9. A Good Year for the Roses (included on "The Great Lost Hits" 2cd set): EC tried this one but George owned it. In general, however great the
singer (Emmylou Harris, Gram Parsons, Costello etc), their version of songs associated with the Possum fail by comparison.
10. A Drunk Can't Be A Man (from "Alone Again" lp): The title of this song says it all. Until -- to borrow a line from Dave Marsh -- Jones begins to sing!
Nice pic of the band, Mark and Elizabeth Hines and Mr. Peter Case from our show on 4/6/13
Words from Jon
January 2013 Edition
Ok, folks. Another day, another dollar, another joke.
Here's my top 10 for 2012.
1. Geronimo Rex: I sort of missed out on Barry Hannah when he was alive. I remember trying to read "Airships" at Van Pelt library around 1992. It didn't register. But, man, BH is some kind of writer. In the Faulkner tradition for sure but some off-kilter whimsy in there too. "Geronimo Rex" is a book about the primacy of music. Or, as Butch Hancock might say, "life if possible, art at any cost."
2. Butch Hancock: @ Ferg's: Speaking of our West Texas pal, when Butch's gig at another venue was cancelled, I called up Fergie who was delighted to re-book our hero into his club. It turned out to be great night and I thank all of you who made it out on a Sunday. I was thrilled to hop up on stage with Butch and play a few songs (including Already Gone which I botched at the Cactus Cafe in Austin a couple years earlier when Butch
pulled me up during "No Two More Alike" to sing it with him). Special thanks to Eddie Russakoff for opening the show and to Ferg for making it happen. As Ferg said: "We'll show [the club that cancelled Butch] how it's done." And we did!
3. Philadelphia Salvage Company: The next day Butch and I wandered into this joint up on Carpenter. They've got all sorts of wild stuff in here and on Thursdays host a bourbon tasting. It's worth checking out. Butch bought an old toolbox that he intended to convert into a Merch display case. How's that working out for you, amigo?
4. David Halley at the Grey Horse Tavern: Continuing with the West Texas theme, another of my favorite Lubbock songwriters is David Halley. When I lived in Austin, he sort of ruled the roost. You may have heard John Train
play his beautiful ballad "Rain Just Falls" which was also covered by Jimmie Dale Gilmore. This song is sort of a standard around Texas. David also wrote "Hard Livin'" memorably essayed by both Joe Ely and Keith Whitley (who had a hit with it). And he put out two fine records in the early 90s: Stray Dog Talk and Broken Spell. David had not played on the East Coast for, I believe, 20 years when I noticed that he would be doing one gig at a place on Long Island called the Grey Horse (no other shows on the tour!). I had to go. It took me quite a while to get up there and it was cold (this was March 10th). I arrived around 5pm and ended up walking around 'til I found my way down to the beach around sunset. I've never had the greatest associations with Long Island (Billy Joel, anyone?) but I have
to admit this little town called Bayport got under my skin. Watching the light on the water, walking the silent streets on my way back to the club: I dunno. To paraphrase Beckett, I "almost" felt glad to be alive. David,
in the event, was tremendous. He played all of my favorites and also showcased his past twenty years of songwriting including one stunner called "Ain't Gonna Make You Mine." The highlight of the show was David (who was
Butch's guitar player for several years) telling a story to introduce "Rambling Man" (by Hancock not Williams or Betts). He talked about stopping in Clarendon, Texas one night to visit with Butch who was living
in a converted train depot and working in a pizza shop. David described hearing Butch play "Rambling Man" after he took off the pizza apron. Just as David got to the line: "I'm you're rambling man // and I'll lift your latch // I'd stay here momma // but I got me some trains to catch", a boxcar rolled by just across the street from the Grey Horse. Through the window, I watched it disappear. That moment shook me to the point that I didn't think I'd be able to drive home. But I had some strong coffee and out-of-sight bread pudding at the bar downstairs and somehow made the long trek back to Philly.
5. Elvis Costello in Clearwater: Yep. I continue to follow EC whenever I can. This year, I caught up with him in Florida for a few shows. He continues to use the Spinning Songbook to great effect. The highlight of this run came in Clearwater where he sang an exquisite version of "I'm Your Toy" dedicated to its co-author Chris Etheridge who had passed that very week. Of course, everyone remembers this song as a Gram Parsons' composition (covered by EC on "Almost Blue" where I first heard it in 1981). But Etheridge wrote the music from what I understand. He also wrote the other "Hot Burrito" song with GP. Anyway, these Spinning Songbook shows can be pretty raucous. So to hear EC slow things down with this beauty was momentous (or un-momentous as the case may be). After the show, I made my way back to Tampa where I was staying at a B & B called "Gram's Place." I kid you not. The place is a shrine to Gram Parsons. I stayed in the "Blues" suite. The proprietor (Bruce) told me that every other room was filled with folks in town for the bi-annual Methodists of America convention. I sat out at the "Burrito" bar until the wee hours drinking cans of beer with Bruce and his cronies, listening to GP and their
tall tales (I told of few of my own, to be sure). The discussion wasn't exactly, uh, religious in nature. So it was quite a contrast the next morning, when a Methodist preacher and his wife insisted on cooking me breakfast before I hit the road (on my way to see EC in Hollywood, FLA).
Turns out this preacher was a Dylan nut and had followed Bob around quite a bit. He could relate to my "journey." I could relate to the flapjacks his wife cooked up in the communal kitchen. They didn't try to convert me or anything.
6. Fallingwater: Speaking of Bob, Jodi and I caught up with him in Johnstown, Pa in August at the War Memorial Arena. We were out in that direction to visit Frank Lloyd Wright's architectural masterpiece. Neither Bob nor Frank disappointed. I did some FLW research before we went out there. I recommend TC Boyle's "The Women" if you want to get a read on FLW's emotional intelligence (is that an oxymoron?). Also Brendan Gill's "Man of Many Masks" which recounts, among many others, an anecdote wherein one of FLW's clients calls him on Thanksgiving to complain about water coming in through the sunlight window ("your" sunlight he calls it to
Frank) onto the dining room table just as they sit down for their meal. He asks what to do? FLW's reply: MOVE THE TABLE!
7. John Updike Society Meeting in Boston: I made it to Beantown for the second annual JU Society meeting (the first was in reading). Unlike FLW (who had three wives and one mistress, the latter of whom was murdered by his Bahamian groundskeeper!), JU only had two wives (and no one died). I
found myself in Ipswich outside the first Updike family home (JU moved his family up to the North Shore after leaving NYC) which was part of our tour on day three of the conference. I was standing next to Michael Updike, John's oldest son, who explained to me that Updike ended up meeting his second wife as a result of her and her then husband purchasing the house we were looking at (JU had a fair amount of success by then and moved his family out to a beautiful house further away from town). Well, JU ended up leaving his family and marrying this woman. Michael's trenchant comment to me: "It was a real estate deal gone bad." Hah! Anyway, this conference and all the folks I met made for a fantastic experience. We head back to Reading in 2014.
8. Kerouac's Grave: After the Updike Conference, I popped up to Lowell to check out JK's grave. Lowell is a lonesome little town (not as lonesome as Johnstown, tho!). I stopped at the Owl Diner. I had no map, no GPS, etc (I travel, uh, light) and asked the cashier how to find the Edson cemetery where Jack lies. She says to me: "Are you from around here, hon?" I say, "no." She then asks where I paaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhked my caaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhh?" "Uh, right out front." "Well, in that case, you go down this road past the pawnshop, make a right, then you'll see a dry
cleaner on the left" etc. I found the resting place somehow and laid down on the ground with Visions of Gerard. Read for a while and felt a holy warmth coming up from the ground. I usually don't get into this kind of thing. But it happened, I swear.
9. Springsteen exhibit at the Constitution Center: Did any of you see this? I went twice, pouring over Bruce's lyrics. In his hand. Re-writing, revising, over and over. No Kerouac inspired automatic writing for the Boss. More like Updike, I guess. There were songwriting secrets contained in those lyric sheets and I hope I can remember some of 'em. I saw Bruce play Citizen's Bank Park a couple nights after my second visit to the Exhibit. He opened the show with a solo acoustic version of "Factory" (it was Labor Day). Who else could still a stadium crowd with a folk song about the working life? Only Bruce and those revisions, I think, had something to do with it. Refining to get to what is essential.
10. November 6th: Thank you Bruce and Bill for getting out there and helping make it happen.