Arlo Guthrie: Alice’s Restaurant – Video

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Chances are that Arlo Guthrie’s royalty checks for the month of November are always significantly higher that than they are for the other months each year. For while there is a seemingly infinite number of Christmas songs in the pop music idiom, Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant” is one of the few songs set during Thanksgiving.

Not that the holiday has all that much to do with the song. “Alice’s Restaurant” is living proof that truth is stranger than fiction. The first part of the story, a tale of small-town law enforcement run amok against the 60’s counterculture, actually happened to Guthrie, even though he added some exaggerated comic touches for effect. He was indeed arrested in Massachusetts for illegally dumping garbage for friends who lived in a former church, was brought before a blind judge, and had to pay a small fine.

Guthrie pretty much made up the second half of the song, a surreal visit to a U.S. Draft inspection station in New York, but the spirit of the story, that he was ineligible to serve in Vietnam because of his littering offense, was true. That bit of topicality meant that this shaggy-dog story hit home for a lot of folks even as Guthrie’s dry humor had them in hysterics.

In a 2005 interview with NPR to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the incident behind the song (which wasn’t released until 1967), Guthrie was asked why he thought “Alice’s Restaurant” was so resonant. “Well, you know, I wasn’t sure at first, but I thought it’s probably just a story of a little guy against a big world,” he said. “It’s just a funny tale, and I had–I still have–and I cherish the letters and the postcards and the pictures I got from the guys over in Vietnam, you know, who had little Alice’s Restaurant signs outside these tents in the mud and who would be quoting the song, you know, to their superiors or to each other when their superiors had no idea what they were talking about.”

Guthrie also benefited from the fact that the late ’60s were a time when the rules for pop music had loosened to the point that “Alice’s Restaurant”, essentially an 18-minute monologue bookended by refrains that turn out to be non sequiturs, could gain great popularity. “I was adding to it, and if it was funny and it was true, I kept it,” Guthrie said of the song’s evolution. “And if it wasn’t funny and people didn’t respond to it, I dropped it. And so it was really–you know, it was performance art that I just memorized the best parts of.”

Here we are nearly 50 years after Arlo Guthrie found himself an unlikely prisoner, and “Alice’s Restaurant” is still enthralling. Sing along to that deceptively inviting chorus this Thanksgiving and you’ll get to enjoy a little vicarious defiance with your turkey.

Live a healthier life, become a vegetarian!

View the lyrics below.

Various Artists: Released! — The Human Rights Concerts 1986-1998 [American Songwriter]

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American Songwriter

Various Artists Released! — The Human Rights Concerts 1986-1998
(CD/DVD)
(Shout!Factory)
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Plowing through over 16 hours of music, documentary footage, interviews, home movies, videos and background information in this mammoth 6 DVD set (also available as a slimmed down double CD) of Amnesty International concerts from the titular years, it becomes difficult to separate the box’s substantial historical importance from its artistic qualities. Anything that brings more attention to this long standing human rights organization, that serves in part to release political prisoners, is a worthwhile endeavor. This lavish, sprawling long awaited release with its 14 hours of previously unreleased material will certainly accomplish that.

But on a purely visceral level, how often you’ll actually play the thing, even to cherry pick some of its best moments, is another question. The six discs adequately cover highlights of the 1986, 1988 and 1990 concerts held in various parts of the world, with some later clips to carry us through to 1998 and beyond. Many of the usual suspects such as Jackson Browne, Peter Gabriel, Sting, Tracy Chapman and Bruce Springsteen are here multiple times and their sets range from pretty good to pretty great.

The opening 1986 show from Giant’s Stadium in New Jersey—which accounts for 5 ½ hours of playing time– is symptomatic of some of the problematic issues. The show was originally recorded on videotape and even with current technological enhancements, both video and audio still sound like you’re watching VHS quality reproduction. The performances and some of the bands are not surprisingly dated (the Hooters, anyone?) which will tax even the most patient viewer.

Thankfully the recording quality improves as the years wear on, as do the hairstyles, clothing and camera work. Also, when playing to crowds this large, the performers tend to reach for the back row which, unless you are U2 or Springsteen, often doesn’t do justice to music that loses nuance in this setting. Some tunes are extended way past their breaking point, which might have made for an intense show, but can get tiresome in your living room. The producers obviously strove for diversity when choosing who made the cut, which means New Kids on the Block get sandwiched between Wynton Marsalis and Sinead O’Connor in the 1990 recap. The ’98 show programs world/hip-hoppers Asian Dub Foundation next to the country pop of Shania Twain and Alanis Morissette often heated musings. And while the hours of documentary footage are never less than enlightening, how often are you going to watch them?

Still, there are many inspired moments dotted across the discs such as Radiohead’s riveting 1998 set, Springsteen and Sting paring up for “The River” and almost everything by the always dependable Gabriel. If you are a fan of these acts, are looking to grab a previously missing piece of musical history, or simply want to support the worthy Amnesty International cause, this is something worth exploring more thoroughly. But for the casual listener, these artists have often done better live work elsewhere and sifting through hours of video to find the gems within, just may not be worth the effort.

Jake Bugg’s sophomore album Shangri La is a remarkable album

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Jake Bugg: Shangri La album – Island Records

Jake Bugg’s second album takes its title from the studio in which it was made with  the most famous producer in the world, Rick Rubin. This along with his success and global travels felt so far removed from his past and threatened to detach him from the basic essence that successfully connected with the British public.

But our 19 year-old troubadour’s down-to-earth authenticity has ensured the survival of his pragmatism, and while ‘Shangri La’ is worlds away from the Clifton estate of his childhood (literally – it’s named after producer Rick Rubin’s Malibu studio in which it was recorded), it’s an impressive and suitably exciting reflection of his current lifestyle. And here he’s with his sophomore album already and, on the back of the acclaim he achieved on his first album, the speedy release of ‘Shangri-La’ is a promising sign that Bugg is bursting with ideas and has no plans of sitting back on top of his one Mercury nomination.

Shangri La is an album that connects emotionally. These are slices of real life beyond the hometown borders. It’s the next logical step in the Jake Bugg journey: seeing the world and singing about his experiences.

That folk-rockabilly approach noticed in his first album sure got Bugg noticed on his self-titled debut. This one, recorded under the guidance of  Rubin, is a big step forward even better than his debut album.  One can notice elements of folk, rock ‘n’ roll, country, and punk. All the songs include his creative lyrical phrasing, with more confidence. He’s an artist who knows what he wants out of his music.

Rick Rubin oversees an expanding sonic palette and a tougher sound; the punk-fired “What Doesn’t Kill You” and grungy country rock of “All Your Reasons” push up against MacDougal Street serenades like “Pine Trees,” an alienated epistle that could’ve been cut in a winter cabin.

There’s A Beast And We All Feed It’ immediately kicks things into gear. A scathing rant at “finger pointers” and Twitter rumor mongers, it’s backed by a frantic rockabilly rhythm that continues breathlessly across ‘Slumville Sunrise’ and ‘What Doesn’t Kill You’.

It’s in the more sensitive moments, however, that Bugg’s expressive qualities truly shine. The sweet, star-crossed ‘Me And You’ is lovely, while the haunting sustained note held in the chorus of ‘A Song About Love’ is the album’s first goosebumps moment.

The acoustic ‘Pine Trees’ and pastoral closer ‘Storm Passes Away’ are testimony to Jake’s writing sessions in Nashville, and his slight country vocal twangs are genuinely affective.

Rubin knows all about emotional intensity and, just as with Johnny Cash’s seminal ‘American Recordings’, on ‘Shangri La’ he has captured everything cleanly and sparsely to really let Jake’s storytelling shine. The resulting exposure makes for a mature and remarkable album, and the continued development of Jake Bugg something especially worth watching.

‘Shangri La’ out now:
iTunes – http://po.st/ShangriLaYT
Official Store – http://po.st/JakeBuggStore
Google Play – http://po.st/GoogleSL
Amazon – http://po.st/ShangriAmazon

Tour Dates