52 albums – week 24

And a great crowd came together and people from town after town came to him, he said in parable:”A sower went out to sow his seed and as he sowed some fell along the path, and was trodden under foot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock; as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorn grew with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew, and yielded a hundred fold.”
As he said this, he called out “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

– Luke 8: 4 – 8

You  could be forgiven for viewing this album as a cynical marketing exercise. An opportunity for the record companies to leverage off Nick Caves popularity and shoehorn some of their back catalog out into the public gaze once more.
But you would be  wrong.
It was compiled by Kim Beissel who as well as being right in the thick of things when Punk first exploded in Australia (he was in a band called Crime and the City Solution) is also something of a Cultural Anthropologist.
God knows what possessed him to put this collection together but I’m sure glad he did.

I usually avoid including the liner notes in these reviews. For one it generally shows me up but Kim’s accompanying text is required reading. He takes each track and gives you a potted history of the key players, traces the links between writers, performers, producers etc. Spells out the influences where they are pertinent and most importantly ties it all back to Nick and the songs relevance in the Cave cannon.
About a third of this compilation is immediately obvious to the Nick Cave fan, which i most assuredly am (I’ll be bludgeoning you with more of his music down the track). Caves third Album album with the Bad Seeds was called Kicking Against the Pricks and on it he recorded his own versions of;

Sleeping Annaleah
The Long Black Veil
The Singer
By the Time I Get to Phoenix
The Hammer Song

Unfortunately it’s one of the few Nick Cave albums i don’t own.
It’s probably easier just to let the Curator, explain his Raison d’être for this compilation:

“The songs gathered here, in all their wide-ranging glory, have served as inspiration for the work of Nick Cave and his cohorts. Listen closely and you will hear the echo of, or precursors to, Caves personal themes: the trial of the criminal fugitive, the despairing romantic, and the seeker of salvation. The beauty of these” original” performances is evident: from the hypnotic Avalanche to the ecstatic Oh Happy Day, they are all-powerful fuel. Five of the tracks included here serves as models for new compositions. Original Seeds focuses primarily on Cave’s “mature” years from 1983 when the more subtle aesthetic of Deep In the Woods came to the fore.This narrative and deeply literate approach has been the basis for nearly all his work since. My interest in Cave is long-standing, suffice to say i regard him as an original writer and a commanding performer with a deep commitment to the expression of his own imagination, and the benefit of a superb supporting cast. He is an artist with an abiding love of language who draws from many currents. Of the numerous biblical or literary references on Cave’s work (including Faulkner, Milton, Peter Straub, Louis Labe) none are covered here in detail, if at all. By way of explanation: my own background is musical, and my research is based primarily on having the “ears to hear”, aided by a few good friends. Other inspirational songs excluded from the Original Seeds, by either choice or circumstance, may perhaps appear on future volumes. Now listen! and may these potent seeds find rich new soil.”

Many of the artists included on this disk are new to me or i knew of by name only.
Starting things off we have Tim Ross’s Long Time Man. It’s a powerful opening statement, full of impotent rage. The singers in-sightless preoccupation with his own plight and stoney lack of remorse, tapping into the same cold vein as Truman Capotes  In Cold Blood or Charles Starkweather & Caril Ann Fugate (Martin Sheene & Sissy Spacek) in Terrence Malick’s 1973 movie Badlands (which as an aside was not only a true story but the inspiration for the Bruce Springsteen song, Nebraska);
… I can’t say that I’m sorry for the things that we done.
At least for a little while, sir, me & her we had us some fun … ”
Karen Dalton’s version of an old folk standard Katie Cruel is equally compelling. The Banjo picks out the melody with deliberate stokes, the shrill violin grates on the nerves and Karen’s ‘scratchy’ vocals relay the tale with a world-weary resignation.
The Sensational Alex Harvey Band is one of those bands that i mentioned knowing only by name. After hearing The Hammer, I’m a fan.
The Tom Jones track was written by Mickey Newbury who I’ve only just discovered through I Just Dropped In (To Check What Condition My Condition Was In). I was already a Tom Jones fan, but I’m a Mickey Newbury fan now as well..
I love John Lee Hookers meandering guitar work as he wanders around the 12 bar blues on Tupelo Blues. But his singing on this version lacks the tension of others renditions I’ve heard. There are better versions out there, in fact better recordings by John Lee Hooker himself.
Traditional country music isn’t my bag but the tracks from Lefty Frizzell & Johnny Cash gave me pause to reconsider. How Johnny Cash gets away with painting himself  in the same light as Christ is one of the great sleight of hands. I guess that deep sonorous voice gives you a lot of elbow room. He has Frank Sinatra’s phrasing has Mr Cash, every word is perfectly weighted.
Odetta was another unfamiliar name, Ain’t her classically trained voice something.
As is Blind Willie Johnson’s voice though we are now sitting at the other end of the bus. It’s not just his lived in, hollering, street preacher delivery but his finger picking accompaniment that stands out. It just surges through the song, carrying both voices along on the wave.
Oh! Happy Day
is unadulterated joy. You just can’t deny a big gospel choir.
The Serge Gainsbourg track is just sensual, carnal, licentious. You find yourself turning the volume down a little, afraid someone will over hear you playing it.
You might want to stretch your legs or make yourself a cup of tea before the final track, Isaac Hayes By The Time I Get To Phoenix; It’s a marathon, clocking in at almost 19 minutes.

Apparently there is a Volume Two as well, which contains amongst others my favorite Elvis Presley song, In The Ghetto.
But there is also a second part to this review which I’ll post up in a week or so.
There’s a life time of listening in this collection if you follow the crumbs off each fork in the trail and thanks to the bountiful nature of the internet I can do just that.

Stay Tuned.

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