Willie Nelson, Beck, Lisa Loeb, Swing
Separated at Beck: Some of you may have caught Willie Nelson’s appearance last week on “The Tonight Show” where he held the stage with one of LA’s most original artists, Beck. There’s an interesting story behind that collaboration and behind that whole night in general. Put into perspective by Mark Rothbaum, Willie’s manager, the two stars performance comprised but one segment of a night in which Willie had all the musical generations covered. For some background, Willie’s and Beck’s first collaboration was Willie’s appearance in the video to Beck’s song “Jack-ass.” The two found a link in the figure of country music pioneer Jimmie Rodgers. Beck, it turns out, is a huge Jimmie Rodgers fan and a fan of all traditional country music. Well, Willie had recorded the Rodgers song “Peach Pickin’ Time Down in Georgia” on the recent Jimmie Rodgers tribute album. And so when Willie booked them on the Tonight Show to promote their appearances at the upcoming Farm Aid, it was only natural that they play the very same, “Peach Pickin’ Time.” Immediately after playing “The Tonight Show,” where they were backed by an eclectic group of musicians including producer Don Was on bass, Willie had to go off and play a Gene Autry 90th birthday tribute. The circle is completed in that perhaps Autry’s most profound musical influence was Jimmie Rodgers. So Willie, whom you could call “The Singing Central-Texas-Country-Hippie,” in the course of a night went from covering “The Singing Brakeman” with “The Half-singing, Half-rapping, Half-sampling L.A. Guy” to play at a benefit for “The Singing Cowboy.” Sources tell me that Nelson thinks “very, very highly” of Beck. The two evidently enjoyed playing together a hell of a lot so don’t be too shocked if at some time you again hear the two names in the same breath. Of course, Jimmie Rodgers’ specialty was yodeling, which Rothbaum said made the Beck/Willie collaboration especially poignant because “of the two of them, Willie won’t yodel.”
Eyeful, earful, and hopefully not awful: On a recent tour of Europe with the Counting Crows, bespectacled indie rocker Lisa Loeb met television’s “The Nanny,” Fran Drescher. Evidently the two hit it off in a New Yo-wahk minute and next thing you know, Loeb’s guest starring on that singularly terrible CBS show this season. She plays the assistant to Bobbi Flekman, Drescher’s character from Spinal Tap, who is making a return. The show’s set to run on October 15. Furthermore, Loeb just finished filming Serial Killing for Dummies which will co-star Texan Thomas Haden Church of TV’s “Wings” and “Ned and Stacy” fame. A dark comedy, the film is expected to hit festivals next year. And for your earful of Loeb, she has a new album coming out November 11. It’s called Firecracker and its first single, “I Do,” will start getting airplay just about … now.
On the Record: Swing music’s revival is no secret. In fact it’s a bludgeoning shout in every club in every city in Texas. That said, a couple of new swing albums recently crossed my desk: The Merchants of Venus’ Who Knew (self-produced) and Asleep at the Wheel’s Merry Texas Christmas Y’all (High Street Records). The loungy sound of Austin’s Merchants is actually pretty fun to listen to. Singer George Brainard’s voice is deep and cheeky and has the right sound for the music. His emotive crooning on “Sweet Charade” managed to persevere through what unfortunately comes through the speakers as a stiff-sounding production. I’ve seen these guys live and much of the warmth of their sound was subtracted in the studio process. Even so, the tunes can remain catchy, like the poppy “Dastardly Scheme” and the homage to cooking for a date, “Eggplant Parmesan.” Asleep at the Wheel’s holiday album brought a smile to my face. Maybe because I was listening to it at eight in the morning in October or maybe because it has some of the more original Christmas music I’ve heard in a while. Christmas albums are tough because you only want to listen to them once or twice a year, if that. But if you have to hear one, this is a good choice. They do a few original-ish takes like “Swingin’ Drummer Boy” with a jungle-drum beat and “Christmas in Jail,” as well as jazzy classics like (fill in Christmas carol of choice). Guest-musicians appear from time to time, like Tish Hinojosa singing “Feliz Navidad” with Ray Benson, and (once again) Willie Nelson doing “Pretty Paper.” For me, the best song was “Silent Night,” with its tranquil steel guitar leading into Don Walser’s occasionally off-pitch rendering of the lyrics.
—Jordan Mackay 15-10-97
Nanci Griffith, The Crickets. Texas Radio, Reckless Kelly
Chirps Ahoy: They’re saying that this is Nanci Griffith’s last tour as we know her. It’s not the last time she’ll hit the road, but it may be the last time she hits it with her group, the Blue Moon Orchestra. From all reports, her ‘97 tour which started last summer in Europe and continues through the end of the year, has been pleasing audiences across the globe.
Of course, she’s also been touring with the Crickets, Buddy Holly’s old band, which her people say has been a great experience for both parties. The average show goes like this: Griffith plays for a while with the orchestra, then the Crickets will come out and join her, and then just the Crickets, and then just Griffith, and … you get the idea. Evidently, the Lubbock group has been receiving standing o’s every night for renditions of old hits like “That’ll Be the Day.” And Griffith has been teaming up with Crickets front man, Sonny Curtis, on the theme song to The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which Curtis wrote.
Griffith’s future remains undetermined as rumors fly: maybe a move to more rock-and-roll styled music, maybe a stint with broadway show tunes, or maybe she’ll venture out on a solo acoustic tour with John Prine.
Airwave to heaven: A new