Gloucester Cathedral Choir – In the Bleak Midwinter

December 1, 2012

Many years ago I lived in England in the Forest of Dean on the Welsh border for six months. I visited the Gloucester Cathedral many times and befriended a couple of students of the Cathedral school. I don’t believe either of them are members of this choir, but I don’t think it beyond the realm of possibility that they were witness to this beautiful performance by the local choir:

Here are the lyrics:

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan, earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone; snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow, in the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold him, nor earth sustain; heaven and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign. In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed the Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there, Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air; but his mother only, in her maiden bliss, worshiped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; if I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; yet what I can I give him: give my heart.

- – -

Merry Christmas to you and yours.


Music Review: Round Three: The Beatles Complete on Ukulele, February 2012

February 20, 2012


The Beatles have been a part of my world as far back as I can remember. I love to share my enthusiasm for them, and –as I’ve mentioned several times before– it is a weekly pleasure of mine to visit  The Beatles Complete on Ukulele, an ongoing art project that plans to publish an original cover of the entire Beatles discography, reworked in any number of genres by artists from around the world (as long as there’s a ukulele in there somewhere).

There have been some changes along the way from their first heady days following Obama’s inauguration: One of the project’s founders left; the site has gone through a number of evolutions resulting in dead links and lost essays, and there have been oscillations in the amount of background material, context, and analysis presented with each song. None of that has taken anything away from the quality of the music. The site’s organizers have given artists a framework to build wonders, and I cannot say enough good things about what this project has done on a weekly basis for the last several years.

To date I have thrice given short reviews of each cover (Songs 1 to 48, Songs 49 to 71, Songs 72 to 115), and I’m long overdue for a fourth installment. If you would like to listen to any of these songs without following my links to the individual pages, this page can stream all of them for your enjoyment. I really must start off these reviews –as I have before– with a few words of caution. I am not any kind of critic. I’m just a Beatles fan. I have no training in music, and if my two cents strike you unkindly, please consider them not worth the hypothetical copper and zinc they are minted out of.

Without further preamble, here’s my take on songs 116 through 161:

116. –It’s Only Love covered by Erin Bowman
released on the week of April 5, 2011

I picked a lousy place to break my reviews. Misery –number 115– is one of my least favourite Beatles songs, although The Big V did a fine job with their rendition. Now I find myself starting this new series of short opinions with another Beatles tune that never really fired up my blood, and it’s being covered in the genre of Tween Pop by the woman who apparently sang the opening theme to the latest Pokémon movie. No part of that speaks to me. I turned to the article in search of something I could hang my hat on, but I’m afraid the guest essayist spent the bulk of his time talking about Hitler’s Nuremberg rallies for some reason. For me, this entire entry was a rare miss in the collection, but I encourage you all to give it a listen and a read to form your own opinions.

117. –Taxman covered by Matt Gibson
released on the week of April 12, 2011

Now this is more in line with what I love about the project. Taxman is famous for being George Harrison’s railing against having to pay so much of his Beatles fortune to the British Government. Matt Gibson took that premise and kicked it up several notches by infusing it with an American Libertarian bent, all country and western with sawing fiddles and Bon Jovi-esque pedal steel, and a couple of very ‘Big Government is out to get you’ voice overs. The cover even came out the week United States citizens need to file their income taxes, which is a cute bit of timing right up there with Revolution #9 coming out September 9, 2009 (09/09/09).  The essay is excellent as well. I don’t know that I would listen to this regularly –it’s not my genre, and I’m generally okay with paying income tax– but as an example of what The Beatles Complete on Ukulele is capable of, this one is a shining example.

118. –I’m Happy Just To Dance With You covered by John Conte
released on the week of April 12, 2011

This is one of those songs even The Beatles didn’t like (as the fine essay points out). They needed this as a point A to B transition in the movie Hard Day’s Night, and it was banged out with little thought and less art. John Conte took that lack of enthusiasm and slowed the song down dramatically. There isn’t anything happy or bubbly in it. If you were actually dancing with someone while this covered played, you wouldn’t even have to move your feet: Just sway a little bit. It’s sleepy but not sappy, which takes some doing considering the lyrics. I neither love nor hate it, which I suspect is the point.

119. –Penny Lane covered by Gerald Ross
released on the week of April 19, 2011

I was more than a little surprised that this cover is strictly a ukulele instrumental piece, but after several listenings I’ve really warmed to the idea. Penny Lane can be considered the quintessential Beatles melody: You can hear more of their flavour in it than anything else that springs to mind. This project too often says, “And there’s a ukulele in there somewhere.” Why not let a virtuoso show us why this instrument is so suited to John, Paul, George, and Ringo’s work? Is anyone really going to be terribly upset that just this once we aren’t asked to puzzle through the double entendres about the fireman and the nurse? The essay is a lovely piece comparing Paul’s Penny Lane to John’s Strawberry Fields: It’s well worth a read, and I’d suggest playing this lovely cover in the background while you do so.

120. –I’m Looking Through You covered by Dandelion Wine
released on the week of May 3, 2011

Most of you have probably never asked yourself in a quiet moment, “What would I’m Looking Through You sound like as an 80s Hair Metal Power Ballad?” and that’s a shame, because here we have the answer. I’d like to say the cellos make this piece, but the lead singer’s voice is the real instrument here. The essay uses that rasp to link this song to Rod Stewart’s Maggie May in a way I never thought of before, but will always add to my enjoyment of the song moving forward. It’s a solid, solid entry to the collection. No doubt about it.

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I Yust Go Nuts At Christmas by Yogi Yorgesson (Harry Stewart)

December 5, 2011

Hello everyone!

I’ve written a great deal about my mother’s father, Murray Anderson, on this blog, but very little about my father’s father, Philip Micks. Philip passed away before I got a chance to know him, and I can probably count the number of two-minute anecdotes I have about him on one hand. That said, every Christmas I get a reminder of the man I never knew, and it never fails to paint a picture.

My unknown grandfather’s favourite piece of Christmas music was a 1949 recording by Harry Stewart. Stewart was a radio and night club comedian whose shtick was built around well-meaning stereotypes; he found a lot of success with the character Yogi Yorgesson, a Swedish Hindu mystic who eventually devolved into an excuse to mispronounce words in a thick Scandinavian accent and tell ‘aw shucks’ stories about life as a suburban paterfamilias in late-40s, early-50s America.

Stewart sold a million records of Yogi Yorgesson’s attempts at Christmas Carols, and I’m told one particular song was my late grandfather’s personal favourite. It always bring a smile to my face, and as it is little-known Christmas song today I thought I would share it with you:

Oh, I yust go nuts at Christmas,
On that yolly holiday,
I’ll go in the red –like a knucklehead–
Cause I squander all my pay!

Oh, I yust go nuts at Christmas,
Shopping sure drives me berserk.
On the day before I rush in a store
Like a poor bewildered jerk.

I look at nightgowns for my wife,
Dose black ones trimmed in red.
But, I won’t know her size, and so,
She’ll get a carpet sweeper instead!

Oh, I yust go nuts at Christmas,
Ven each kid hangs up his sock.
It’s a time for kids to flip der lids,

While der papa goes in hock.

On da night before Christmas,
It’s still in the house.
My family is sleeping,
So I’m quiet like a mouse.
I look at my vatch, and midnight is near:
I tink I’ll sneak out for a cold glass of beer.
Down at the corner the crowd is so merry,
I end up by drinking about twelve Tom & Yerry…

I get to bed late, and yee whiz how I’m sleeping,
Ven on to my bed dose darn kids dey come leaping!

Dey sit on my face, and day yump on my belly,
And I’m quivering all over, like a bowl full of yelly.
Dey scream Merry Christmas, and my poor vife and me,
Ve stumble downstairs, and she lights up da tree…

My head is exploding. My mouth tastes like a pickle.
I step on a skate, and fall on a tricycle.

Yust befor Christmas dinner, I relax to a point,
Den relatives start svarming all over da yoint!
On Christmas I hug and I kiss my vife’s mother…
Da rest of da year, err… ve don’t speak to each other.

After dinner, my aunt, and my vife’s Uncle Louie,
Get into a argument; dere both awful screwy.
Den all of my vife’s family say Louie is right,
And my goofy relations, dey yoin in da fight.

Back in da corner, da radio is playing,
And over da racket Gabriel Heatter is saying,
“Peace on Earth everybody, and good vill toward men…”
And yust at dat moment, someone slugs Uncle Ben.
Dey all run outside vhooping for da neighbours will hear,
Oh, I’m so glad Merry Christmas comes just once a year…

Oh, I yust go nuts at Christmas,
but I still have lots of fun!
Yust the same as you,
I enyoy it too…
Merry Christmas everyone one!

- – -

Merry Christmas, everyone. My very best to you and yours this Holiday Season.


The Tallest Man on Earth: Walk The Line

September 6, 2011

I came across this song three or four weeks back, and I can’t get it out of my head. I find myself listening to it on repeat for hours at a time, and so I thought I’d share it. I know nothing about the artist. I know nothing about the message. There’s just something about it that I can’t ignore. It’s like a landslide, relentless, inevitable, that holds my rapt attention. Here are the lyrics:

The Tallest Man On Earth

Walk The Line

Well it’s the season of thunder,
And the season of rain.
All the little angels are growing wings of pain.

And I see no point in asking.
There’s no point of return.
When I steal those rings, well I know I’ll have to burn.

He said you bring me down, oh child.
He said you bring me down, oh child.

And I will fly through the lightning.
When the thunder will strike.
All tomorrow’s parties will dance before my eyes.

And I will scream like an eagle,
When i fly above your house,
Just to bring salvation to peasants and their wives.

He said you bring me down, oh child.
He said you bring me down, oh child.
I ain’t gonna walk the line!

Well I see Jesus and Judas,
Making love now of course,
And all the Roman emperors hanging up their whores.

And I see no point in landing.
I see no need to learn.
From the day we’re lifted we know we’ll have to burn.

He said you bring me down, oh child.
He said you bring me down, oh child.
I ain’t gonna walk the line!

I said, “Please, don’t shoot me down.”
I said, “Please, don’t shoot me down.” Oh!
I said, “Please, don’t shoot me down.”
I said, “Please, don’t shoot me down.” Oh!
I ain’t gonna walk the line!

I feel the arrows and bullets,
They are combing my hair,
And all my feathers falling so slowly from the air.

And from the speed of my body,
Earth will pile up my bones,
From my little skull –Oh!– just a little whisper comes

He said, Oh! Bring me down, oh child.
He said you bring me down oh child…
I ain’t gonna walk the line… Oh… Oooh…

- – -

Again, I have no analysis, no frame of reference. I’m mesmerized by the thought of sitting around a campfire with this fellow with his acoustic guitar. I smell pine trees, and there’s a lake somewhere nearby, with the gentle murmur of waves lapping against canoes grounded in the sand. I can’t explain why, but it’s just a gorgeous mental image that I can’t quite shake. I hope you enjoy it.


Music Review: Update, The Beatles Complete on Ukulele, March 2011

March 31, 2011


Within days of starting this blog I was already putting the good word in for one of my favourite things I have ever discovered online, The Beatles Complete on Ukulele. If someone mentions The Beatles or ukuleles within my earshot, they leave my presence with at least a passing understanding of what this website aims to accomplish.

The mission of this site –which started publishing during President Obama’s inauguration in 2009 and intends to complete its project during the opening ceremonies for the London Olympics in 2012– is to publish an original cover of a Beatles song every week  until the entire discography has been reworked in any number of genres by artists from around the globe. The only rule is that at some point the cover must include at least one ukulele. This is about giving creative people a task and letting them go to it. The results have been remarkable. I stand in awe of what artists can do with their medium. The Beatles produced an incredible body of work, and that body can be stretched in ways that continue to amaze me.

I have twice reviewed the entries to date, here and here. It’s been too long since I’ve revisited that subject, and I apologize for that. I’m also sorry to admit that while the site has grown and thrived, it has migrated to a new dedicated domain that rendered all of my earlier links invalid. Further, many of the excellent essays I praised have not made the journey to their new home. I have now revised the links on my earlier reviews, but I beg your forgiveness if the content I referenced may no longer synch up with what appears there now.

Anyway, I’ve been asked by one of the site’s founders to resume my brief synopses, and I’m delighted to do so. If you would like to listen to any of these songs without going to the individual pages, this page can stream all of them for your enjoyment. I feel compelled to include the following disclaimer: I have no formal musical training, nor am I any kind of critic. The following opinions are mine alone and informed only by my background as a Beatles fan who almost certainly first heard the Fab Four in utero. I am absolutely willing to concede my ignorance on any technical points of musical theory. With that in mind, enjoy!

Once again, songs 1 through 48 have been reviewed here, and songs 49 through 71 have been reviewed here.

72. — This Boy covered by Andy Burri
released on the week of June 1, 2010

Sadly, the essay for this entry is now lost. I can only speak to the music. Fortunately the cover is lovely and true to the original. It’s a gentle ukulele-drive homage that does justice to the original without any of the flamboyant departures some of the earlier covers attempted. It’s a great addition to the project, but I wouldn’t call it a stand out success.

73. — I’ve Just Seen a Face covered by Mumtaz Jafri
released on the week of June 8, 2010

I’ll confess I’ve tried to do this justice in karaoke, and I have failed miserably. My vision of this song is much closer to the cover Mumtaz Jafri offers: Slow, dreamy, melodic rather than frantic. The original –as so often happens during the high-water mark of Beatles fever– is a headlong rush into the microphone. It’s an avalanche of sound, of enthusiasm, of optimism. Who hasn’t met an individual and within ten seconds known you will never forget that special someone? That’s a difficult thing to reproduce, and Mumtaz prefers the slower and more deliberate approach. My only criticism to his take is the replacement of the introduction with drums rather than the ukulele that might have offered an interesting contrast. All the same, this slower tempo is a pleasant departure from the original.

74. — Sexie Sadie covered by Julian Velard
released on the week of June 15, 2010

This is another one where the essay has disappeared, although I remember it being interesting. The cover has a greater emphasis on the bass line and drum beat than the original, but in a good way. Julian Velard leans into the lyrics in a way that is absolutely satisfying. He lends a worldliness to a song that I know and love well. Some of the harmonies remind me of the Beach Boys, which I enjoy because of The Beatles’ own fascination with the California boy band who also became artists after their early 60s teenie-bopper fame.

75. — Michelle covered by Floanne
released on the week of June 22, 2010

I have, in the past, bemoaned covers done in another language. I can’t do that here. If ever there was a song that should be done in a different tongue, it’s Michelle. It almost cries out for a full-French rendition, and here Floanne does it with the welcome addition of the clinking of glasses, accordion, and the casual conversation of a Parisian cafe. Only the electric backing percussion pulls us away from the mental image of a 1960s francophone coffee house. The essay is interesting, but I somehow remember it being of greater depth. Perhaps it was edited during the transition to the new site?

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Christmas Carols in Latin

December 23, 2010

Hello everyone!

Sorry not to have written sooner. It’s been a busy, busy month. I’ve just finished moving into a new apartment, and my netbook is currently in the shop. Still, I couldn’t let Christmas go by without marking the season in some way. I do have my BlackBerry, so I am writing this post on it via the WordPress app.

I recently came across an old email that had a number of famous Christmas carols translated into Latin. I’m sorry to say I don’t know who did the translating, so I can’t give the credit where it is due. Thanks to three years of high school Latin, I can tell everyone that all Cs are hard (as in, pronounced as Ks) and all Vs are pronounced as Ws. Everything else is pronounced and enunciated exactly as written.

Enjoy!
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Best of the Web: Professor Elemental’s “Fighting Trousers”

November 12, 2010

From time to time, I come across something on the internet that just compels me to share it here on Faceintheblue.

Today’s discovery is about as unlikely a scenario as I could imagine. There’s a British hip hop comedian whose stage name is Professor Elemental. His approach to music –which he calls ‘chap hop’– is to envision hip hop artists as Victorian-era British aristocrats.

Another British comedian, Mr. B the Gentleman Rhymer, also works in chap hop, and so Professor Elemental has decided to write a diss song in the grand tradition of Tupac’s Hit’Em Up, which was directed at Biggie Smalls and the East Coast rap movement of the early 90s. The result is surprisingly toe-tapping.

I’ve put the lyrics after the video, if anyone is interested.

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