It's time again for the "Battle of the Bands (BOTB)," the blogging event originally started by Stephen T. McCarthy and FarAwayEyes back in August of 2013. It occurs twice every month -- on the 1st and the 15th -- and is a fun way to share and discuss music. Each of the bloggers taking part offers their readers a choice of two (or occasionally more) versions of the same song, performed by different recording artists. And the readers get to vote for their favorite rendition.
Catch-up from Last BOTB
As has happened before, things have been hectic lately and I didn't get a summary post up from my last BOTB battle, so let me close that one out before starting a new one. In that last BOTB, I went for the tune, "Concrete Jungle," where I was expecting a one-sided battle, and it did end up being pretty heavily weighted towards Bob Marley (with Wayne Perkins playing guitar). My vote also goes towards that original version. I definitely like Ceu's, and think the overall vibe is pretty cool, but Bob (and Wayne with Chris Blackwell's production) easily gets my vote -- and I doubt anyone is going to be surprised. So in summary, that gives Bob Marley a pretty solid win at 8 to 3.
I expected Bob to win, although I must admit that a few people surprised me when they voted for Ceu. But really, that's OK -- musical taste is entirely subjective. No matter how much sophisticated justification any person, even a professional "critic," tries to wrap their review in, every critique ultimately boils down to, "well, this is just what I like."
A big reason I went with "Concrete Jungle" was to highlight the uncredited playing of relatively-unknown guitarist Wayne Perkins, and I hope everyone enjoyed learning a little bit about him. This time I'm again offering a battle featuring a guitarist who is not widely known, but unlike Wayne (whose playing most people seem to appreciate), this guitarist himself is often a topic of radically opposed opinions.
And frankly, I have no idea how this battle will turn out.
Let the New Battle Begin!
In 1967, singer-songwriter Bobbie Gentry released a song from her debut album that reached #1 on the pop charts, as did the album itself -- both entitled "Ode to Billie Joe". A simple, casually-sung song with deeper lyrics about indifference in the face of suicide and hidden family drama, it resonated well with the listeners of that era. Originally intended as an eleven-verse 7-minute song, verses were removed and it was redone as a potential single. The shortened version heightened the mystery by not revealing why Bill Joe jumped off the bridge, or what he and the narrator were seen throwing of it earlier. Here's the 1967 version done by Bobbie Gentry:
This is one of those songs that has been covered a gazillion times (and many of them are great covers -- I may revisit this song again for some future BOTB). The song even inspired a book and a 1976 movie starring Robbie Benson and Glynnis O'Connor which was directed by Max Baer, Jr. ("Jethro Bodine" from the old Beverly Hillbillies TV show). In the book and movie, author Herman Raucher took Bobbie Gentry's song and added his own "repressed-homosexuality" rationale for Billy Joe's suicide -- Bobbie Gentry specifically never gave a reason, nor did she ever say what Billy Joe and his girlfriend threw off the bridge. The ambiguity allowed each person to think of their own reason, and she stressed that it really wasn't even important -- the "point" of the song was the family's indifference, as they sit there nonchalantly discussing the boy's suicide while not even recognizing their daughter was his girlfriend. HERE and HERE are some additional articles about her and the song.
I find it interesting how many ways this song touches on the topics of personal opinions -- in the song, the family casually voices theirs about Billy Joe without realizing the girlfriend is right there; the ambiguity Bobbie Gentry left in the song allows each listener to form their own opinions as to why Billy Joe committed suicide; the rationale imagined by Herman Raucher evokes strong opinions; and the movie itself is both panned or loved, depending on who's review you read (most critics leaned towards the "panned" side).
Henry Kaiser is a guitarist who also evokes strong opinions -- or at least he does among the people who know about him. He has appeared on over 250 albums, and yet most people have never heard of him. But when they do hear him play, they tend to form opinions pretty quickly. Kaiser leans towards experimentation, "outside" playing, effects-laden sounds, and has typically been branded an "avant-garde" guitarist. People I've introduced Kaiser to have usually either loved him or hated him.
Frankly, I go back and forth myself -- some of his stuff I really like, and some just strikes me as jarring and discordant. But he's covered so much ground, played with so many highly-talented people, and experimented in so many ways, I have to respect him for continually trying to stretch both himself and the ears of his listeners. HERE and HERE are some positive introductions to the world of Henry Kaiser. But if you look on YouTube, you can also find video of him where he is declared to be the "Worst Guitarist Ever."
In 1988, Henry Kaiser released an album with his band at the time called "Those Who Know History are Doomed to Repeat It". It was essentially a "cover album" and remains my favorite Kaiser album (although his "Yo Miles" tribute to Miles Davis with Wadada Leo Smith is also interesting, as are his multiple albums with David Lindley). 'History' has an awesome long cover of the Grateful Dead's "Dark Star" melding into "The Other One," but that's much too long of a piece for any BOTB battle (many of the other covers are Captain Beefheart songs, so that pretty much tells you where Henry's coming from).
Also on "History," Henry Kaiser and the band also do a cover of Bobbie Gentry's "Ode to Billy Joe," and I think it is one of the better things I've heard from Henry Kaiser. The interplay between his crazy-vibrato-bar guitar and the violins is great, that wild second solo beginning at the 5:20 point gives me goosebumps, and the ending jam is excellent. Unfortunately, the album is out of print, and I couldn't find the track on You Tube, so I had to make my own video. So below is the video I made from the song, with images of Kaiser, various shots of bridges over the Tallahatchie River, and one of Bobbie Gentry. Take a listen and see what you think:
So there you go -- now it's your turn to express your opinion: Which appeals to you more? The sparse, simply, evocative original by Bobbie Gentry, or the updated, edgy version by Henry Kaiser with the outlandish guitar?
I invite you to listen to each version and give them a chance. And try not to focus on the video images too much (close your eyes if you must) -- the battle is about the music, not the video production.
After listening, please vote in the comments as to which version you think is best, or which speaks to you the deepest. Feel free to also share as much as you would like about how any of the above recordings strike you, even if it's less than positive.
Then -- be sure to check out the other BOTB bloggers to vote on their battles:
- Far Away Series (FarAwayEyes)
- Stephen T. McCarthy's Battle of the Bands Blog
- Tossing it Out (Arlee Bird)
- Your Daily Dose (Robin)
- DiscConnected (DiscConnected)
- A Writer's Life in Progress (Donna Hole)
- Mike's Ramblings (Mike Pain)
- Curious as a Cathy (Cathy Kennedy)
- John Hilton (The Sound of One Hand Typing)
- Alex J. Cavanaugh
Thank you very much for listening and for voting -- come back and visit again the end of next week to find out how the voting has gone. I'll make a post then with my own vote and also announce the winner.
And in the meantime -- stay off the Tallahatchie Bridge! Ain't nothin' worth jumpin' off it! Call someone -- anyone. Heck, call me and I'll help talk you off it!