Archive for the ‘Versions’ Category

A curious coincidence:

This morning I posted on my Design Observer blog about the waveform as a visual symbol of music (and sound), noting the role of SoundCloud in the spread of this stealth iconography. An hour or so later, I happened upon the below: User Gizmo has uploaded the intro to a rendition of “SJI” to SoundCloud. You can hear it — and see it — below.

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Doug Schulkind, who in addition to being the proprietor of the astonishing Give The Drummer Some WFMU show & 24-7 online steaming station is a consistently invaluable source of SJI-ness, passed along another fascinating variation not long ago. Actually it probably was fairly long ago now. But never mind.

The tune at hand is “Full Time Lover,” by Frankie Lee. I don’t know much about Lee, but here’s a site with a bio-sketch and something of a discography. It notes in passing that “Full Time Lover” got some regional attention (Lee is from Texas), I gather in the 1960s. It’s a bluesy soul scorcher, entertaining enough on its own — the opening organ riff and slow-drip drumming are kinda hot — but maybe not the sort of thing I’d spend much time on normally. The lyric starts out “Oh, well I got me a full time lover,” and so on, repeated per the standards of the form. “She used to be my part time girl, but she’s my full time lover now.” So yeah.

But then Lee wails: “There’s one thing I want to say right now!” And:

I went down to St. James Infirmary
Asked was my baby there.
He said “No sir.”
I said, “Well, she must be somewhere.”

There’s a horn riff under this, which repeats while he zags off onto two more verses about finding his baby, who decides to come home. Later he declares that he’s happy about that.

This obviously has very little to do with “SJI,” but it’s pretty fascinating nonetheless — a real cut-and-paste moment, just tossing in the line about going down to St. James Infirmary, and proceeding to move things in an amusing different direction. He went down to St. James Infirmary — and his baby wasn’t there! Of all the variations I’ve come upon, that one somehow strikes me as the most hilariously subversive bait-and-switch version yet!

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Some weeks back, friend of no notes Marc “Disquiet” Weidenbaum alerted me to a forthcoming version of “SJI,” from Hugh Laurie — a name, I must admit, that meant nothing to me. But as you may know, it’s a name that plenty of people do recognize, even if they don’t associate it with music: Laurie is an actor, probably best known (in the U.S.) as the star of the popular TV show House. His record, Let Them Talk, is billed as a blues collection, with an emphasis on New Orleans influences. Aside from “SJI,” he sings “Tipitina” and “Buddy Bolden’s Blues,” among others; guests on the record include Irma Thomas and Dr. John. (The best overview of the album I’ve seen is this Mail Online piece.) Albums recorded by actors-not-previously-known-for-singing frequently get knocked around in the press, or ignored. That does not appear to be the case with this one, at least in the UK. (It doesn’t seem to have been released in the U.S. yet, as I type this.)  The Yorker: “The first track, ‘St James Infirmary’, immediately shows the adeptness of Laurie’s musical nature. He makes the piano sing, life flowing out into the stillness of the moment, and a pleasure to listen to.” The Independent: “Usually, actors’ albums should be avoided as carefully as pop stars’ movies; but Hugh Laurie’s New Orleans tribute Let Them Talk may be the exception that proves the rule. “Apparently the public is going along with these views, putting Laurie, not long ago, into a UK chart battle with Adele! You can hear Laurie’s take on “SJI” here. It’s billed as being “in two parts,” lasting a total of nearly six and a half minutes. The first part is instrumental, largely focused on Laurie’s own piano playing, gradually joined by other instruments and working its way to a fairly bombastic (to my ears) crescendo; frankly the restrained guitar sounds better to me than the hammering piano. Then it pivots to the second part: a swingy approach, designed to highlight Laurie’s singing. The lyrics follow the most common pattern, no trickiness there — very straight. I like the arrangement in the second part better; Laurie’s voice is interesting, if not exactly charismatic (again, to my ears). Taken together it’s a very respectable version, but nothing I’d call special. By way of HughLaurieBlues.com, I also found this video in which Laurie and producer Joe Henry talk about their approach to “SJI,” apparently the first thing they recorded. It’s pretty standard “behind the scenes” fare, but Laurie is so serious, it’s really rather sweet:

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Via this recent comment on an earlier post: Here is a version I don’t remember having heard, evidently from 1969, by Jerry Reed. While it starts out with a pretty familiar arrangement, he really funks it up as he goes along. Super. Check it out.

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Via friend of no notes Alex Rawls and his colleagues at Offbeat:

“St James Infirmary” by Jeremy “Mojo” Phipps and the Outsiders feat. Maddie Ruthless on the latest CD Looters 2011.

Billed as “St James Infirmary (Dub) by Jeremy Phipps and the Outsiders feat. Maddie Ruthless,” it sounds more ska/reggae than dub to me, but I’m not exactly an expert. (Feel free to set me straight in the comments.) Anyway, Ruthless has a nice voice and the vibe, whatever its proper label, is excellent. Worth a listen!

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Here’s an entertaining, if incomplete, snippet of video from Voodoo Fest, via Brooklyn Vegan. It’s a double version of “SJI” performed by Preservation Hall, with assists from My Morning Jacket members. The clip starts fairly deep into version one, with guest vocals by Jim James, who as noted here previously does a turn on the most recent Preservation Hall record. “James sang it straight, as a bluesy dirge,” writes Alison Fensterstock. “Once he concluded, [My Morning Jacket drummer Patrick] Hallahan grabbed a pair of sticks and joined drummer Joe Lastie for a hot, swung-out version.” That happens at about the two-minute mark on this video. The transition is really fun.

Fensterstock again:

Hall vocalist Clint Maedgen scorched the mic; plenty of cowbell and tambourine gave the number a street-parade, Mardi Gras Indian feel (sort of like Wardell Quezergue’s famous production of the Dixie Cups’ “Iko Iko,” which, legend has it, utilized ashtrays and water glasses for its unforgettably clanky percussion.)

After the song, the band second-lined out and into the crowd, then returned to the stage for a closing version of Leadbelly’s “Goodnight Irene.”
Unfortunately, the clip ends well before the song does — but she’s right, this second version is superhot. And while we don’t get to see the band head into the crowd, there are some very amusing shots of fully Halloweened-out audience members dancing.

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I was listening to Sound Opinions’ recent episode of “scary” songs (Halloween-connected and otherwise), and was interested to hear a Willie Dixon/Koko Taylor tune, “Insane Asylum.” Check the opening lyrics:

I went out to the insane asylum
And I found my baby out there
I said please come back to me darlin’
What in the world are you doin’ here?

Then the little girl raised up her head
Tears was streamin’ down from her eyes
And these are the things
That the little girl said ….

Full lyrics after the jump, or you can hear it here:

The hosts made no mention of “SJI,” and of course it isn’t really a cover, but I think the reference point is pretty clear.

The Detroit Cobras also covered it:

Those lyrics in full: (more…)

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A MetaFilter link to a Fred Astaire/Jonah Jones “SJI” rendition on YouTube (mentioned on this site in 2007), sparks some chatter about the tune, with various MeFi-ers naming their favorite versions and so on. Some unusual picks in there, for sure.

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I get a Google News Alert once a week, designed to ferret out any developments in the world of “St. James Infirmary.” This week it turned up something on what I guess is a music-sharing site called Acid Planet, where it appears music-makers are able to post their creations. One such creator, identified as The Incomplete Orchestra, has up a really great remix of “SJI,” using the famous 1928 Louis Armstrong version as a starting point for a long, mesmerizing, soulful re-imagining of the tune, with quiet hip-hop flourishes and a slow-trance beat. I really like it.

You can listen to it here.

To my great annoyance, you cannot download it, however. What a drag! I’d love to have this in my iTunes library, so I didn’t have to go to one specific site every time I wanted to hear it again. Oh well.

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A note came across the transom the other day from Noah Adams, leader of the band Dirty Bourbon River Show, with a link to its take on “SJI,” and an invitation to give a listen to some “young punks tackling an OG masterpiece.”

How could I resist? You can listen yourself as well, via this thingy:

It’s a sweet but gritty version, with vocals that start smooth and quiet but pick up on the snarl and growl as they move along. The instrumentation is spare, but the players are effective. A nice arrangement, heartfelt. The song is here; the album, Volume 1, is here. Learn more about the band — described as “a gypsy folk circus rock band from New Orleans” — here.

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