Devo — “Worried Mind”
I first came across Devo’s version of the traditional folk song “Worried Man Blues” in Neil Young’s recently re-released slapstick PSA about the threat of nuclear annihilation, the truly idiosyncratic Human Highway . Like all of Devo’s oddball covers, there’s something perfectly disjointed and frenetic about their style that fits the song just so. (For those Devo devotees, dig the Booji Boy cameo.)
I recently had the pleasure of attending the Mariachi Extravaganza of Santa Fe’s 303rd Fiesta celebration. It was a beautiful evening of music, history, and community at Fort Marcy Magers Park.
While all the performers were wonderful, Al Hurricane is deserving of special note. Since the 1950s, he’s been the driving force shaping the Land of enchantment’s sonic landscape; to whit, he’s known as the “The Godfather of New Mexico music.” As a vocalist, guitarist, and performer, he helped blend Spanish-influenced styles and forms like norteño, mariachi, ranchera, and cumbia with the energy and sound of country and early rock & roll. (His first hit single, 1965's “Sentimiento” was recorded on equipment — purchased from Norman Petty’s Clovis, NM studio — that had also been used by Buddy Holly.) Meanwhile, his Albuquerque-based activities with Hurricane Recordings Studios, The Far West venue, and Hurricane Records (still extant)established the city as the center for music-making in New Mexico and a destination for traveling country-western, Chicano, and Tejano performers.
Now 79, Al Hurricane is on his farewell tour. Making his entrance to a light rain and double-rainbow, Hurricane and his son, Al Hurricane Jr., backed by Mariachi Aguilas, delivered a powerful performance. Age has not weathered Hurricane’s voice and he ran through a set of crowd favorites, including “Sentimiento.” For its part, the crowd, brimming with enthusiasm for it’s local hero, only intensified the celebratory feeling rippling through the park. Even as a visitor, the energy was infectious and the people were welcoming.
But this was more than Saturday night entertainment, tied as it was to place, to community, and to New Mexico. Here was the Mayor of Santa Fe. There was the Fiesta royal court. And scatted amongst was the older generation — perhaps Hurricane’s peers — mouthing the words from their seats; a substantial group of middle-aged women pressed up against the barricades in front of the stage furiously snapping camera phone photos; and, of course, kids bouncing all around.
This was simply American music at its best— vibrant, unique, and community-driven. Viva la Hurricane!
Pete Brown — “Moppin’ the Blues”
I don’t know why I find this particular Pete Brown performance so miraculous. Maybe it’s because I just never imagined an alto saxophone could sound so muscular. Perhaps it’s the sound of wild abandon, of just getting out of the gates and going for it. It could also be the impeccable sense of swing and the evident, overwhelming joy of playing pervading the ensemble. Whatever it is, this is great music. (If you dig this, also check out the great altoist Earl Bostic, who was a big influence on John Coltrane.)
It’s not always easy to find the work of alto saxophonist Pete Brown, but it’s well worth the search. If you need a place to start, look for the co-leader recordings with the also unheralded trumpet maestro Frankie Newton and Brown’s spot on Big Joe Turner’s Atlantic album, Boss of the Blues.
Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham — “I’m Your Puppet”
One of the best things about living in New York City is the free summer concert and Lincoln Center Out Of Doors is a prime example of the amazing programming the city provides annually. This year’s Muscle Shoals All-Stars featured several performers that were on my bucket list: Donnie Fritts (who wrote “We Had It All”), Jimmy Johnson and David Hood (of The Swampers), and soul man Sam Moore (of Sam and Dave).
Yet it was Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham who really captured my attention. As songwriters, these men very well might be responsible for some of your favorite songs, certainly some of mine. But damn if their own interpretations aren’t just as good.