Saturday, January 31, 2009

Cruel and Unusual film-makers

Entertainment Weekly has an item on The Watchmen movie's director/producer team of Zack Snyder, Deborah Snyder, and Wesley Coller launching a website for their own Hollywood production company.

In the Lounge of Cruel and Unusual Films, the creative trio list their pop culture delights - movies, books and music. Sound-wise, they're digging the Jimi Hendrix version of "All Along the Watchtower" and Allison Crowe's Hallelujah cover.

Much as seeing a mountain of haggis in my local supermarket triggers memories, so, too, does this musical connection.

A few years back, a national Canadian news magazine, Macleans, interviewed Allison, asking her favourite, classic, jazz and rock recordings.

Her top classic rock picks included Janis Joplin's "Me and Bobby McGee" and the Hendrix version of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" - both tracks will be heard in the upcoming Watchmen movie.

Add to these, Cohen's song that's currently sweeping the world, recordings from some of my all-time fave singers, Billie Holiday and Nina Simone, songwriters, and composers, and, the soundtrack alone appears worth the admission:

Desolation Row
- My Chemical Romance
Unforgettable - Nat King Cole
The Times They Are A-Changin' - Bob Dylan
The Sound Of Silence - Simon & Garfunkel
Me & Bobby McGee - Janis Joplin
I'm Your Boogie Man - KC & The Sunshine Band
You're My Thrill - Billie Holiday
Pruit Igoe & Prophecies - The Philip Glass Ensemble
Hallelujah - Leonard Cohen
All Along The Watchtower - Jimi Hendrix
Ride of the Valkyries - Budapest Symphony Orchestra
Pirate Jenny - Nina Simone* (*end credits of the "Tales From The Black Freighter" DVD).

The studio promises these iconic recordings "once heard in the context of the film, will never be thought of the same way again."

Here's wishing the Cruel and Unusual crew great success, and, sending big thanks, as well, for listening to, and sharing, Allison's music.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Hail to the Haggis! - two videos to celebrate!!

On my two most recent visits to the village super-market, I noticed there was a pile of haggis in the meat cooler. This seemed unusual, but, considering how much touring Allison does, I am pretty accustomed to hearing multiple languages, and facing music, food and drink of any number of countries.

Still, I wondered, how and when did haggis become so popular here - on my little island in the Canadian Pacific Ocean?

Returning home, without any "meaty pudding" in my grocery bags, I tune into the CBC Radio program, "In the Key of Charles", and the show's marvellous host, Gregory Charles is devoting the entire two hours this Sunday night to Robbie Burns' poetry and song.

Och, aye!!

Happy Robbie Burns Day!!

Haggis, it's speculated, has its origins in the Scottish Highlands - as a ration for the drovers journeying down through the glens.

Allison has roots in that bonnie land, and, more recently, enjoys a mutual love with Scotland. It's fitting, then, I've made a couple of videos, while drinking Highland Park single malt, a scotch introduced to me by Allison and Billie Woods, who picked up a bottle in Kirkwall, when they adventured in the Orkney Islands last Fall.

Me and Bobby McGee - 't'is a fine start, especially as the vid contains images of the Scottish Highlands - alongside scenes from Germany:

And, here's Wedding Song:

Billie Woods took all the pics - on tour with Allison across Europe in 2008. Allison performs all the music. Larry Anschell recorded "Me and Bobby McGee" live, in Victoria, B.C., Canada. "Wedding Song", Allison recorded - from Newfoundland to Vancouver Island, Canada.

So, raise a glass, of whatever you choose.

Sláinte mhaith!!

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hallelujah: let the good times roll

As this new year launches on a range of calendars, Canada's Allison Crowe finds herself one of the most popular performers in the world of what is one of the world's most popular songs.

It's a good start.

Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah", with a final push from the giant 'Pop Idol' franchise, has been delivered into a maelstrom that swirls together the song's mainstream resonance with its cabaret and cult appeal. No longer a secret, it's struck a global chord.

Crowe, who recorded "Hallelujah" in a single-first-take late in 2003, for release on her Tidings CD, is, both, witness and contributor to this phenomenon. A truly independent artist who's steered clear of the corporate marketing machine, Allison Crowe's been able to reach audiences by continual touring, and, in this digital age, through forums online that, as yet, remove the barriers for artist and audience to connect.

On YouTube, Rufus Wainright, whose Shrek-soundtrack recording, (alongside John Cale's version in the movie itself), launched "Hallelujah" well into the mainstream, trades-off the most-viewed cover spot with the late, iconic, Jeff Buckley. Also with over eight million views, and third in popularity, is the Norwegian quartet known "The New Guitar Buddies" - Askil Holm, Espen Lind, Alejandro Fuentes, and "World Idol" Kurt Nilsen.

The "Idol" television franchise, a vehicle for SonyBMG acts and licensed songs, has, for years, included Cohen's "Hallelujah" in its songbook. Swelling acceptance of the song on the show reached full-blown top-of-the-pops status recently, with the latest "X Factor" winner, Alexandra Burke, landing the UK's Christmas #1 single with her version. Burke's "Hallelujah" holds fourth spot, with 3.25 million views.

Allison Crowe's video version, made for under $100.00, marches fifth on YouTube, with an audience now nearing three million people.

Crowe's performance of Hallelujah is followed by: Amanda Jenssen, (the Swedish "Idol" runner-up has 2.6 million viewers); America's Kate Voegele (and an audience of 2.3 million), John Cale (who selected the Cohen lyrics most often used by performers, attracts 1.8 million); Jason Castro (an "American Idol" contestant, has his devotees numbering 1.4 million); and Diana Vickers, (a contestant on the UK's "X Factor") rounds out the top ten "Hallelujah"s with 1.28 million folks tuning her in via YouTube. A pair of well-known music industry veterans, kd lang and Sheryl Crow, each top one million viewers to follow closely behind ingénue Vickers.

Leonard Cohen, the original, whose 1980s German television version has 6.4 million views, has rarely sounded better performing "Hallelujah" than in 2008 - and, this newest version from the song's creator is anticipated on DVD this Spring.

On a different stage, but, also fun and bringing together an array of musicians this season is the inaugural 'Lyrics for Life' auction organized by multi-platinum recording artist Jewel to raise funds for Project Clean Water

Jewel's handwritten and signed lyrics for her huge hit song "You Were Meant for Me" drew a top bid of US $1,505.00 and dozens more lyric items from some of Nashville's finest, alongside some well-known folks from pop and rock music, helped fill the well.

Allison Crowe's delighted she could contribute with lyrics to her song, "Silence" which sold at auction for US $205.00. Others helping raise the banner for better water include: Katy Perry, whose "I Kissed A Girl" lyrics - written on an Obama O's cereal box - brought in $175.00; Pussycat Dolls "I Don't Need a Man" ($155.00); heartland-rocker John Mellencamp's "Longest Days" ($425.00); new country's Carrie Underwood's "So Small" ($795.00); Gretchen Wilson's "Redneck Woman" ($120.00); Jason Mraz's "I'm Yours" ($400.00); Josh Groban's "Remember When It Rained" ($100.00); and, fellow Canadian, David Foster's handwritten and signed music for "St. Elmo's Fire" ($60.00).

Collectively, over US $10,000 was raised for the cause in this unique way.

And the year's just begun.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Janis Ian - really real

Now and again the successfully high-profile efforts of those in the mainstream record industry to package and manufacture the next "real deal" catches my attention. Invariably, often thanks to YouTube, my looking to understand the mechanics of the "game", and to consider how, in contrast, real music has run the gauntlet to reach its audience, this process rewards with some discovery, or rediscovery, of great music.

I'm not even going to bother talking about the latest product tooled by the "machine" (the new country/pop "prodigy" about whom a profile in the New Yorker set me on this trail). More precious is the time given to enjoying some wonderful music, and these performances, from Janis Ian.

First, Society's Child, a hit song Ian penned at age 13. Here she is, all of 16, on The Smothers Brothers tv show:

And, here's more of Janis Ian - performing what's likely her best-known song, "At Seventeen" - on The Old Grey Whistle Test:

Janis Ian remains a vital musician, performer, social commentator and all 'round person of integrity, humour and compassion. She's an inspiration - really, the real deal.

I cannot recommend highly enough checking out her music and writings (lyrics, essays, magazine pieces +) - much of which can be found on her own website today.

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