Gloucester Cathedral Choir – In the Bleak Midwinter

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

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.

Continue reading “Music Review: Round Three: The Beatles Complete on Ukulele, February 2012”

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

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

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

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?

Continue reading “Music Review: Update, The Beatles Complete on Ukulele, March 2011”

Christmas Carols in Latin

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.

Continue reading “Christmas Carols in Latin”

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

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.

Continue reading “Best of the Web: Professor Elemental’s “Fighting Trousers””

Music Review: Update, The Beatles on Ukulele, May 2010

One of the first things I did when I started this blog was promote one of my favourite sites on the internet, The Beatles Complete on Ukulele. This site, starting from Obama’s inauguration in 2009 and going to the opening ceremonies for the London Olympics in 2012, plans to release an original cover of a Beatles song –in every genre of music under the sun by artists from around the world– until the entire discography has been so honoured.

Of course, one of the drawbacks of a blog is that hardly anyone ever goes traipsing through your backlist. Posting so early in my blogging experience drove almost no traffic to their site, and that struck me as a tragedy. More people need to know about this site. I talk it up at parties. I mention it to co-workers. I can’t recommend it enough: If you like anything in the Beatles’ body of work, this site is worth your time.

In December of last year I did a rather extensive review of their covers up to that point, and that blog post was rather well received: The site organizers got in touch with me, as well as several of the musicians, thanking me for my efforts. I also succeeded in convincing some of you to take a look. My blog gets an order of magnitude more traffic now than then, and a good body of new material has built up in the meantime, so the timing seems right for me to revisit my reviewing and bring you up to date.

I’m happy to say that the site continues to produce musical treasures, as well as brilliantly written essays detailing where the song fits into the Beatles experience. They have also recently revamped their free downloading set up, making it even easier to access the music.

Anyway, I promised reviews, so without further ado:

49. — Honey Pie covered by Sarah Mitchell
released on the week of December 22, 2009

Honey Pie is one of Paul McCartney’s salutes to the bygone music his parents listened to, in this case Vaudeville. Sarah Mitchell stays true to the old timey spirit of the original, while tastefully updating it to the 21st Century with just the same deft touch McCartney gave to his 1960s take on a 1920s jingle. I honestly cannot think of a better way to approach a cover of this song. Mitchell’s voice even seems honey-coated. Her tone sweeps and swoons. You can picture her singing into one of those giant steel cage microphones, dressed as a flapper, in some retro-themed bar. The essay, as usual, is excellent: Esoteric, thoughtful, playful. This is a solid, solid entry into their blog, well worth a listen and a read.

50. — We Can Work It Out covered by Like Trains and Taxis
released on the week of December 29, 2009

There aren’t too many times I claim this, but if the Beatles had never written this song, and this cover was the only version in existence, it would still be a hit. Like Trains and Taxis could build an album around this, and I would see their show because of it. It’s smooth, sexy, calm, composed. Where the Beatles seemed in a hurry over this one, Like Trains and Taxis lead singer seems almost philosophical about the situation he finds himself in, and when the rest of the band joins in on the chorus you really feel like they’re trying the soft sell approach on whether or not the relationship in question should continue. The essay was a real eye opener too, as I hadn’t really considered who Paul was addressing the song towards. This is worth a look, good readers. Click the link. I’ll wait.

51. — Back in the USSR covered by A.L.X.
released on the week of January 5, 2010

As much as I love this site and appreciate all its efforts, I’m not universally slavish in my praise. This song, to me, is a rare miss. It’s too… Calculated? Self-aware? This is where I admit I’m not a musician. I don’t know the thought process that goes into putting a cover together, but as a listener I can sense that a lot of planning went into this one. That’s like reading a novel and knowing the author had the whole plot written out in bullet points in a notebook just from how the prose flows. It takes you out of the moment to sense the framework behind the art. The essay, as usual, is very interesting. On the whole it’s not a terrible contribution to the site, by any stretch, but something just doesn’t sit right with me on this one.

Continue reading “Music Review: Update, The Beatles on Ukulele, May 2010”

The Weakerthans: Sun in an Empty Room

I have already spoken at length about my admiration for The Weakerthans, but I left out a song that has really grown on me with repeated listening. Sun in an Empty Room from their Reunion Tour album is a classic example of the band’s ability to approach a story obliquely, leaving it up to the listern to decide what’s actually happening.

I can only speak to my interpretation, and it is not supported by the official music video. I hear this song, and I see a couple –once a happy couple– who took a chance and lived together, only to see their relationship fall apart. They decide to go their separate ways, and when their happy home has returned to its empty shell, this song follows, both philosphical and flippant, understanding and stubborn. The Weakerthans are a band that asks you to understand them on their own terms, and I listen to this song and beg the fates I never have to deal with this situation. Continue reading “The Weakerthans: Sun in an Empty Room”

Music Review: The Beatles on Ukulele, 2009

When I first started this blog I made a plug for what I consider one of the best sites on the Internet: The Beatles Complete on Ukulele. This site plans to cover the complete Beatles Discography on ukulele at the rate of one song a week by different artists in different genres.

It’s a brilliant idea, brilliantly executed, and it’s a shame that my earlier recommendation is now buried in my back log. To date, less than ten people have gone from my site to take a good look at what they have to offer. I’ve decided that needs to be remedied, and so I’ve decided I’ll periodically review their collection in the hopes that more of my readers will become their listeners.

1. — While My Guitar Gently Weeps covered by Dandelion Wine
released on the week of January 20, 2009

This is the perfect song to start off a ukulele-themed cover site. While My Guitar Gently Weeps is one of the best Beatles guitar tunes (putting to one side that George Harrison got Eric Clapton to do the heavy lifting on the track), and it translates very naturally into a ukulele ballad. A cello on the verses and an electric guitar on the bridge fills in some of the depth that the ukulele can’t produce, and the singer himself does a wonderful job of selling the lyrics. The essay that goes along with the song also sets the bar pretty high for what is to come: It’s funny, informative, eye-opening, and shows the site’s founders Roger and Dave have their ducks in a row musically, historically, and analytically. Despite being the first, this song is one of my firm favourites.

EDIT: I’ve just spotted this song has been recovered as of April 15, 2011 by John James. I’m afraid I don’t have a working link to the Dandelion Wine cover anymore. At a guess, I would say that Dandelion Wine’s later cover of I’m Looking Through You had the site organizers redo this entry.


2. — Oh Darling covered by Kathena Bryant
released on the week of January 27, 2009

This second cover is the first to introduce the idea of giving the song a setting independent of the original. In this case, Oh Darling is the story of a woman whose boyfriend is a mugger in New York. Upon her beau’s arrest, he begs her to stick by him through the lyrics of the song. It’s an interesting idea, and here it is done well. This song is also the first to drift from its original genre: It’s clearly an old-timey country crooning tune in Kathena Bryant’s hands, and she does a lovely, respectful job of it.

3. — You Never Give Me Your Money covered by Peter Buffett
released on the week of February 3, 2009

This one struck me as a challenge to cover, because it’s really a few half-finished songs mashed together (as often happened on the later half of the Abbey Road album). Peter Buffett does well with it. His version is, above all else, as easy to listen to as the original. It’s a wonderful translation of a wonderful song. The essay is pretty good too.
Continue reading “Music Review: The Beatles on Ukulele, 2009”