Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Ronnie Spector Last Of The Rock Stars

Ronnie Spector's album Last Of The Rock Stars is a conscious effort to make art out of her life. Released 2 years ago, but a decade in the making, it uses songs and guest artists that reflect Ronnie Spector's life and it's influence.

Ronnie Spector is a proper icon with a look and a sound. Madonna has said she wanted to look how Ronnie Spector sounded. But Spector was also the sound of an era and the sound of New York. Stick a beehive on the Statue of Liberty and call it Ronnie Spector.

Veronica Bennett started singing with her sister and cousin and had huge hits with Baby I love You and Be My Baby. Their producer Phil Spector turned into a recluse in 66, hurt, astounded (and probably driven insane) by the idea that his production of Ike and Tina Turners River Deep Mountain High hadn't been a bigger hit. Unfortunately Ronnie married him and got the benefits of a controlling and abusive relationship to rival Ike and Tina's. A paranoid and jealous Phil Spector made Ronnie keep a life size model of himself in her car and tried to make sure that everything was delivered to the house so that she wouldn't need to go out. Deliveries also included their adopted children. She says he pointed out 2 children playing in the park and asked if she liked them. Next day he brought them round saying the adoption had gone through.

When she finally did escape after 5 years, she was barefoot. He'd taken all her shoes to stop her leaving.

But whilst Tina Turner escaped Ike and then went on to make a string of appalling records, Ronnie Spector spent her time in court battles over custody and royalties. Now Phil Spector is on trial for murder

Last of the Rock Stars opens with Never Gonna Be Your Baby. The titles a nod to her past, but the guitars are spikier. The lyrics have grown up from teen romance. "It smells of crime it smacks of sin I give a little more each I give in"…. and you just wait for the first trademark "Wo oagh oagh"

All I Want is a terrific song about a poisonous, desperate relationship. It manages to blend Girl Group lines like "I don't want flowers or fancy things, I gave up on a diamond ring" with the adult sexual complexities of "You turn to me at night, like you think everything's alright, and it is, til we turn on the lights and real life returns." It's a great line and her phrasing is fantastic. That song in particular (written by Amy Rigby who is married to Wreckless Eric…who wrote a song called Veronica) just feels like it was written with her voice and history in mind.

Keith Richards plays guitar on All I Want but also does a great knock about fun duet on Ike and Tina Turner's Everything's Gonna Work Out Fine. It's a battle of the sexes, song , very much of it's time.(like Otis Redding and Carla Thomas duets) She's making wedding plans and he's stalling. I particularly enjoy hearing her sing "Darling" and him sing talking in reply "Yes Ronnie" On the fade out she says "You're the best…Give it to me" and the wrinkly old man replies "You do the work Baby", amidst cackles of laughter

Here Today Gone Tomorrow is a Ramones song, and of course, under the leather jackets and the songs about glue the Ramones were really a Girl Group. Which is why they were so good.

She does a really good version of Johnny Thunders You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory, with Joey Ramone. Patti Smith also crops up on the album and Ode To LA features The Raveonettes, whose debt to Ronnie Spector is almost as great as their debt to The Jesus And Mary Chain.

Girl From The Ghetto is Spector's defiant vindication. Jenny may be from the block, but Ronnie reminds you exactly where she's from with the repeated line "Spanish Harlem". It's lyrics about triumph over adversity and Phil Spector include the lines "I hope your cell is full of magazines and everyone has a picture of me."

The Ronettes singles are Pop jewels. Instantly recognisable (Just think of that opening drum beat on Be My Baby…it's a Pop Quiz safe bet, you'll name it in seconds). The wall of sound and the discipline of having all your songs about boys and girls not only defined a view of American Teenage but made Pop Music that New York Punks could still love 20 years later.

Steve Van Zandt (bald under a bandana in the E Street band and bald under a quiff wig in the Sopranos) sums it up best. "Everybody loves Ronnie Spector…it's one of the byelaws of Rock 'n' Roll

Hot Club Of CowTown Glee Club Birmingham 23rd Sept

The Hot Club Of Cowtown promise "Hot jazz and Western Swing". It's an offer I can't refuse.

The original trio of guitar, stand up bass and violin started in New York in 96 before moving to Austin. Classically trained violinist Elana James and classically shit hot guitarist Whit Smith were aiming for the feel of the songs of the 30's, as played by the likes of Bob Wills, Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt and a dollop of Country. I didn't know whether to wear a hat or spats. After 5 albums the band split up for 2 years. Now they're back, refreshed and swinging with a drummer in tow.

The opening song Ida Redd is a traditional; song featuring a girl who'll take a shovel to your head and it pretty much encapsulates the Hot Club approach. The vocals of James and Smith bounce off each other and there's a whopping and a hollering from bassist Jake Erwin. Smith plays fluid and scuttling guitar lines on a coffee table sized semi acoustic, James violin swoops and skips through a range of different sounds and the bass rattles like a train.

They covers include Long Way Home by Tom Waites, Duke Ellington's I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good) and Georgia On My Mind. The songs themselves are often a stepping off point for utterly joyful, utterly skilful musicianship. It's like a particularly well run orgy…Everyone gets a turn and everyone's part is appreciated.

I Can't Give You Anything But Love is the kind of breathy playful sultriness. Part Marilyn Munroe Happy Birthday Mr President, part Jessica Rabbit. What's The Matter With The Mill ploughs a filthy furrow. Apparently there's lots of corn but they can't get no grinding done.

Their own song Forget Me Nots with it's lines about going to the mountains "Forget me nots and mountain columbine… I'm leaving you behind" would have sat happily on a Gram Parsons album. Which makes sense really as both bands were trying to draw in the folkier, traditional roots of Country rather than the rhinestones.

The actual Hot Club name throws up some interesting references. There's the original Hot Club of France with Reinhardt and Grapelli, Emmylou Harris and The Hot Band and the Hot Teens who are currently sending me 200 e mails a day. The latter must have a keen manager and an enthusiastic plugger.

They play 2 sets with a half hour break spent lurking round the merchandising stall. I like the idea of bands being directly involved in selling. It keeps the money closer to them, but rather than just cds and posters I'd like to see bands branching out into car valeting, dry cleaning or crystal therapy between sets. Actually I'd have pretty much signed up for anything with fit as a fiddler Elana James and her spotty dress.

The personal problems behind the original split are referred to when James announces this series of 22 consecutive gigs is the longest they've ever done, but they're still all getting along. Smith just sighs and says "Aww don't say that."

What makes the band special though is the feeling of spontaneity. You really do get the feeling that they're reading each other musically and are ready to take a song into a different direction. They have a great trick of building up and snapping into each others solos. It's subtly done, an extra drum beat here or a fuller chord there, but it did feel that the band were stepping up to something rather than having a rest from singing!

Jake Erwin's upright bass playing was a joy to watch, moving between a rockabilly train slap and a jazz club chug. I waited all night to see him use the bow. It was there hanging off his bass, swinging like Iggy Pop's cock. And just like an Iggy gig, the audience knew, the bow was there and knew that it probably did come out at some gigs. But that night the bow stayed in. Wonder what it would have sounded like.

Last song of the night was Orange Blossom Special was astonishingly powerful. It's a song you've probably heard many times before but Hot Club really stoked it, building up the power for the first couple of minutes, before letting it go. Like a fiddle frenzied Metallica.

There's a best of album which draws together material from the previous 5 albums which is a good place to start and you can see a version of Orange Blossom Special from Jools Holland's Later at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jr8My5Uo0gE