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Posts Tagged ‘Dave Harding

Chosen One: Stiv Cantarelli

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Interview with Stiv Cantarelli.

Richmond Fontaine’s Dave Harding talks to Stiv Cantarelli about his latest album with The Silent Strangers entitled “Black Music/White Music”, a fiercely personal album made with the combination of blues, folk and punk traditions. Stiv talks to Dave about songwriting, performing live and finding his own voice in music. 

Words: Dave Harding, Illustration: Craig Carry


Stiv Cantarelli has been making music since 1999. In that time, Cantarelli has fronted the bands Satellite Inn, Gold Rust, The Jimmy Cooper Club, The Saint Four, as well as releasing records under his own name.

Cantarelli, who lives in Florence, Italy, has a deep love for American and British rock music. Throughout his career, he has forged these musical elements with his tightly wound, novelesque lyrics. Each release by Cantarelli finds him exploring another avenue of his artistic vision.

I spoke with Cantarelli (via email) on the eve of the release of his latest record, the stunning Black Music/White Music. You can read my review of the record below.

Cantarelli and his band, The Silent Strangers, were preparing to embark on a tour of the UK and Holland.

In full disclosure, I have known Cantarelli for a number of years, played in one of his bands, toured with him, and maybe even shared a pint or two of Guinness with him.


‘Black Music/White Music’ Review:

Stiv Cantarelli’s new record Black Music/White Music is his most forceful and fully realized record to date. With strong support from his band The Silent Strangers, Cantarelli melds blues, punk and folk music to create an intensely personal journey through the dark night of his soul.

Black Music/White Music starts with the gently strummed, lilting ballad “The Boy Draws on the Steamed Window”. In a dreamy voice we are told by the singer: “I’m a King, I’m a liar, I’m a kid that’s lost inside, I’m everything I want along this ride.” This song starts the record off like a hazy dream one has when just waking up.

The following track ‘Captain’s Blues” comes barreling in and jolts the listener out of their slumber, a reminder that the force of the real world is always just around the corner. Over an urgent rhythm, Cantarelli sets the scene of a soldier who is starting to question what he is fighting for: “Oh my Dear Captain/In the red, white and green/Oh my Dear Captain/Would you stop the machine/I know it’s for duty/Not fortune or fame/I know it’s our duty/To be the ones they will blame.”

“Deconstruction” starts off sounding like a long lost outtake from The Stooges’ Fun House, before arriving at the anguished cry of “I Don’t Know Where I’ve Lost You”. Cantarelli screams this line over and over, like a man clinging to a life raft, exorcising all the demons of his soul. It is a very powerful performance.

The heart of the album, for me, is “Cornerstone Blues”. Over an insistent, hypnotic riff, Cantarelli offers a retelling of the classic story of a man selling his soul to the Devil at the crossroads. The song burrows itself into the listener’s brain: “The Devil was blowing on a black trombone, I know I was headed to the Cornerstone/To the Cornerstone, I walked with the Devil to the Cornerstone”.

“Under The Red Star” slows down the pace a bit, telling the tragic story of a friend who has lost his way. This song and “Hundred Thousand Stones”, a hauntingly beautiful song about the plight of a restless factory worker, highlight the more melodic, folk-based side of Cantarelli’s songwriting.

The playing on this record is amazing. The rhythm section of Antonio Perugini on drums and Fabrizio Gramellini on bass swings and undulates in, under and around these songs.There is a real live feel to all of the songs. The lead guitar playing by Petrushka Morsink throughout the record is incredible, with a tortured, howling feel punctuating the desperation of the lyrics.

While not a blues record per se, the spirit of blues music is the undercurrent of this record. Themes commonly found in blues music populate these songs, and we can hear Cantarelli using the confessional nature of blues music to unload some demons from his soul.

This is Stiv Cantarelli’s best record to date. It’s good to see an artist who continually pushes himself and his craft. Black Music/White Music deserves to be heard by music lovers everywhere.


‘Black Music/White Music’ by Stiv Cantarelli & The Silent Strangers is available now from:



Interview with Stiv Cantarelli.

Dave Harding: The new record, Black Music/White Music, has a great live feel to it. How was it recorded? 

Stiv Cantarelli: Well, actually the best part of it was recorded live. I always liked the feeling of live-in-studio albums, but this time I just wanted the songs to grow up in a different environment.

We spent a long weekend in this old church house on the hill near Forli, Italy, my hometown. We locked ourselves in for 4 days. I had the songs in my head, but I let them develop in a live situation. It was a great experience; no pressure, no distractions (except for some Jagermeister!). Just us (Stiv, bassist Fabizio Gramellini and drummer Antonio Perugini)and our music.

After that long weekend, I added the other instruments where I could do it, with the help of my good friend Robert Villa. With him I was able to record overdubs at a few different places.

Then I sent everything up to Petrushka Morsink, who has a studio in Enschede, Holland. She has played with Willard Grant Conspiracy and Transmissionary Six. She’s a real genius. She played all the beautiful guitar parts throughout the record. She can hear notes that no one else can.

She did everything else: adding her guitar parts, mixing, mastering, searching for the dark soul of the record. There’s no doubt that the record would be a lot less inspired without her contribution in terms of playing and arrangements.


DH: You mentioned to me that you had been listening to a lot of blues music while writing this record. Who are some of the musicians who influenced or inspired you for this record? 

SC: It’s been part of a trail that I started a couple of years ago. I wanted to change my approach to composition and to do that I had to change the way I played guitar. I started learning fingerpicking. This lead me to a lot of new music, especially pre-war folk and other popular genres like spirituals, or popular songs. It was at that point that I became interested in delta blues and country blues, listening to the music and learning about the musicians who created it.

I don’t know if that really inspired me when I started to write the new record, but I guess I learned a lot from the feeling of isolation and oppression that you could easily breathe just listening to some of Mississippi John Hurt’s or Sonny Boy Williamson’s records. I listened to Robert Johnson and John Lee Hooker, but I became really addicted to Son House’s guitar style. He and Mance Lipscombe are probably my favorite artists. It’s probably their stories that impressed me more than the fact that I could include some of their style in my music.


DH: The songs on the new record have a very personal feel to them. Some of the songs (for example “Deconstruction”) sound as if you are exorcising some evil thoughts. Care to talk about some of the lyrical concerns on the record? 

SC: I guess I never wrote a song that’s not really personal to me. Most of the time I write about fictional subjects, but they’re all based on something personal.

On Black Music/White Music I tried to write about some things that really hurt me as a human being. Like “The Boy’s Drawing on the Steamed Mirror”. That kid really exists, it’s a school boy who I see on the bus sometimes, early in the morning when I go to work. Usually he’s alone and I really saw him drawing figures on the bus’ steamed windows. In the song, I imagined him left alone by his mother, waiting for her return, as a result of a divorce or abandonment.

“Captain Blues” is more of an anti-military song about soldiers who don’t believe anymore in what their officers were trying to sell them when they got in the Army.

Some of the lyrics, unfortunately, are based on strict actuality: “Mahogany Jones” is about losing your lifetime job, and being sacked just because somebody wants to make some money over your life, and the story ends in blood.

The only song I wrote for this record which is something different from all the others and that I have never tried before is “Cornerstone Blues”. It’s a classic blues theme about hanging out with the Devil in a fiction scenery populated by strange persons and serial sinners.


DH: Would you mind enlightening me on what the ‘Red Star’ in the song “Under The Red Star” refers to? 

SC: This is a tough one. I’m not sure people really want to know about this, as it’s really easy to misunderstand. The Red Star has been the symbol of an Italian terrorist group called Brigate Rosse (Red Brigade), a Communist-inspired bunch that in the 1970’s ruled Italy under terror, with many people killed in terrorist acts against the Establishment.

I didn’t intend to make an elegy to a terrorist group that killed innocent people, but just to recreate the same feeling of believing in something so hard to be ready to do everything it takes, including horrible acts. And also to write about the feeling of isolation that comes from living in hiding. It’s a pretty tough and claustrophobic song.

When we play the song live, I introduce it by saying: “Something that talks about fighting for things you believe in, even if you know they’re wrong”.


DH: You’ve been known in the past to move from style to style from album to album. From punk to ‘classic rock’ to folk to more experimental stuff. All of these styles suit you, and your personal vision always shines through. Your new record is more blues-inspired. Is this a direction you see yourself pursuing for a while, or do you think your next record will see you turn to another style? 

SC: Well, I don’t know. For sure, I believe that the inspiration I got from listening to old blues won’t go away for awhile. I found this state of mind really interesting, being able to write my own page of what’s called “blues”, with my rules and my feelings about it.

I’ve always been concerned about finding my own voice in music, you know, of course without denying the obvious inspirations I took from the people around me. In that sense, I believe that this “research” I did on blues music is kind of an added power in order to help my ability to write more music. Blues music allows me to go deeper on my sensations, or try to find an even darker, or harder, or cynical side of my music.


DH: Who are the musicians you are taking out with you on your upcoming tour? 

SC: Even though I put my name on this project, Black Music/White Music is a band thing, we are The Silent Strangers. Even more, it’s a family thing. After all of these years, we are just like brothers, with both the good and the bad. We take it all, we don’t really care.

Fabrizio Gramellini has been playing with me since day one of my career with Satellite Inn, and he’s a hell of a bass player. Antonio Perugini stepped in on drums for Satellite Inn when we played SXSW a few years back, and he’s been with me ever since. He’s a great friend and a great drummer.

As a three-piece we have played together for over a decade now, so we know each other well as musicians and even better as persons.

For our Holland gigs, I believe we’ll add Petrushka Morsink as a second guitarist. We’ve done that before and it’s been magic.

I’ve played with many great musicians during my career, most of them better than me, and I thank my lucky star for that. I’ve always wanted to create a gang feeling more than just establishing a musical connection. Being in a band and being on the road together is more than just that hour and a half you’re on stage.


‘Black Music/White Music’ by Stiv Cantarelli & The Silent Strangers is available now from:


Dave Harding is bass player in Portland Oregon’s Richmond Fontaine; who have released ten studio albums to worldwide critical acclaim, their latest LP is ‘The High Country.’ Dave is also a singer-songwriter in his own right, and has released two albums to date; his debut ‘Across The Road’ (2007) and ‘You Came Through’ (2012). (To read Dave’s other contributions for us, please see: here, here and here.)

Dave Harding’s bandcamp site:


Step Right Up: Sink Ships

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Sink Ships’ debut release ‘Half The Boy’ reviewed by Richmond Fontaine’s Dave Harding; blissful Americana from this wonderful Copenhagen-based band. 

Words: Dave Harding, Illustration: Craig Carry


Half The Boy, the debut record from Sink Ships, does what a good record should: it creates a world for the listener to lose oneself in. Half The Boy’s world is located somewhere on the edge of a desolate town, with the narrator ambling through the scenes, in search of something that is just out of reach.

It may surprise people that the band Sink Ships is based out of Copenhagen. Judging by their sound, they could hail from the valleys of Montana. They hit a classic Western American sound with a blend of drums, acoustic guitars, bass, fiddle and lap steel guitar.

Two of the members, drummer Matthew Moller and lead singer and main songwriter Carl Coleman, hail from Australia. Coleman has a yearning vocal style, and the way he adds emotion to his sometimes sparse lyrics helps the listener read between the lines of the taut stories he creates. And I swear I hear a hint of J Mascis in a couple of his phrasings.

Coleman cites Jeff Tweedy, Mark Everett, Jim James, Tim Rogers, Mark Kozlelek and Jason Molina as songwriting influences.

Though the six songs on the ep clock in at a little over 20 minutes, there is enough musical detail and lyrical lyrics to keep it fresh for repeated listening.

The first song, “On My Way”, with it’s upfront acoustic guitar, fiddle, ‘country’ drums and harmonica, sets the musical tone for the album with a feel that sounds like it could have come off of Neil Young’s Harvest. Throughout the album Emilia Olson’s violin playing and Tobias Bendixen’s lap steel provide the instrumental interplay, and they compliment each other very nicely. Olson’s violin is sometimes reminiscent of Scarlet Rivera’s playing on Bob Dylan’s Desire. The touch of piano on the mournful “Woke Up Laughing” and the banjo that helps propel “Heard the Door Shut” are nice musical touches that add character to the record. The playing by all the musicians is sympathetic to the songs, and creates a nice world for them to live in. The group is rounded out by the bass playing of Brian Della Valle.

The songs are concise and to the point. There is nothing played or said which doesn’t need to be there. Everything on Half The Boy is done for the sake of the song.

My favorite song is “Love Song”, which starts off sounding like an early Bob Dylan song, just guitar and harmonica. It tells the tale of the singer’s love for his ‘small town girl’ in a convincing, loving way.

Coleman’s lyrics on the record portray a man at odds with the world, roaming to find some kind of spiritual or carnal release. The title track “Half The Boy” details a person finding his place in a new land:

Now I’m back from the warm land

Now I’m walking through the snow

And the flat feels like a mansion

Quiet and cold

Just sit and listen to Nebraska

Waiting to get old

Half The Boy is a very fine debut record which bodes well for the band’s future.

The group is about to start work on a new, full-length record. It will be exciting to follow Sink Ships and see what kind of trip they take us on with their music.

Half The Boy is out now on Slow Records. Outside of Denmark, the record can be purchased at iTunes, and also streamed at Bandcamp at:


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January 3, 2013 at 1:22 pm

Younger Than Yesterday: Hejira

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Words: Dave Harding, Illustration: Craig Carry

There is the scene in The Last Waltz, Martin Scorsese’s 1978 movie about The Band’s farewell concert at Winterland Arena in San Francisco on Thanksgiving Day 1976, where the members of The Band are asked to talk about women on the road. Richard Manuel is all too eager to talk about the subject, proclaiming “I love them…I just want to break even”, which brings the room down in laughter. Levon Helm is somewhat more subdued, telling Scorsese “I thought we were supposed to pan away from that sort of stuff” as he literally pans himself out of the picture frame.

Scorsese shows his cinematic genius by juxtaposing this scene with the following one, which is of Joni Mitchell walking onto the stage to perform a song with The Band. In a story-book night which saw The Band back up some of the biggest names from the magical days when Rock Music was at the forefront of youth culture, it is somewhat amazing that Mitchell is the only female to set foot on the stage. *1

Mitchell exchanges a quick kiss with guitarist Robbie Robertson, who had played on her Court and Spark record a few years earlier, then somewhat tentatively launches into ‘Coyote’, a song from her just released album Hejira. It is an extraordinary performance of the song.

Several members of The Band appear initially hesitant and somewhat unsure of where the song is going. On a night where The Band lived up to their legend and added to it with powerful performances of the blues and rock-oriented music with which they excelled, it takes them a little adjusting to get into the groove with this fairly straightforward country-folk song.

But there were a lot of factors at play. Except for their shared Canadian heritage (Mitchell grew up in the western province of Saskatchewan, while 4/5 of The Band hailed from Ontario in eastern Canada), Joni Mitchell and The Band had made names for themselves in vastly different ways.

The Band (then known as The Hawks) had come up playing the rough and tough rockabilly and blues circuit of Canada and the Eastern and Southern U.S., backing up singer and wild man Ronnie “The Hawk” Hawkins. The Hawks got their big break in 1965 when Bob Dylan called them up to back him on his legendary tours of 1965-66. They would go on to make a name for themselves as The Band, recording a string of classic rock albums on their own, while continuing to record and tour with Dylan on and off throughout the 60’s and 70’s.

Mitchell got her start on the folk circuits of Canada and the Northern U.S., writing folk classics that were made into hits by Judy Collins and others. She then established herself with the Laurel Canyon, California scene centered around Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. She recorded a number of classic folk-oriented records in the late 60’s and early 70’s, before slowly moving toward a jazzier, slicker sound. By the 1976 ‘Last Waltz’ concert with The Band, she had decidedly moved away from her folk music past, and had created a jazz-folk genre unto her own.

I have seen Mitchell’s performance in ‘The Last Waltz’ many times, and I am always intrigued by bassist Rick Danko’s playing on the song. On a night where he seems ultra-confident and suave, on this song he seems unsure of himself and super-attentive to the chords that Mitchell is playing on her guitar. This is probably due to the fact that The Band had to learn many new songs by a variety of performers for just this one show, and I am sure that some songs slipped through the cracks. It probably didn’t help that ‘Coyote’ bounces along quite differently from the majority of the songs played that night. And the fact that Mitchell uses open tunings on her guitar probably did not help the situation either. Unlike the majority of rock-based songs that are written in standard guitar tuning, Mitchell is known for her use of a number of different guitar tunings.

I don’t know if Danko had heard the studio recording of ‘Coyote’, which features a stunning performance from legendary jazz-rock bassist Jaco Pastorious, but I somehow doubt it. *2

With all this going against them, the performers manage to pull off a classic rendition of the song. It takes a little while to get cooking, but Robertson plays some stunning atmospheric leads on his guitar, while Garth Hudson adds some beautiful keyboard work. On top of it all, Mitchell drives the song with her distinctive acoustic guitar and passionate reading of her lyrics. As the song takes shape, the viewer can see Mitchell’s composure and bravery grow, until by the end of the song she seems well in charge of this wild bunch of rock and roll hooligans.

The fact that the song seems to tell of an on-the-road, one night stand romance between two renegades only adds to the charisma and tension of the song. It seems to circle back to the earlier comments made by the members of The Band about women on the road. But ‘Coyote’ tells it from the woman’s point of view.

The lyrics and story of ‘Coyote’ are amazing. The first verse is more poetic and evocative than most songwriters can hope to achieve in their entire careers:

No regrets Coyote

We just come from such different sets of circumstance

I’m up all night in the studios

And you’re up early on your ranch

You’ll be brushing out a brood mare’s tail

While the sun is ascending

And I’ll just be getting home with my reel to reel

There’s no comprehending

Just how close to the bone and the skin and the eyes

And the lips you can get

And still feel so alone

And still feel related

Like stations in some relay

You’re not a hit and run driver no no

Racing away

You just picked up a hitcher

A prisoner of the while lines of the freeway

Then follows three more verses of the same intensity, as Mitchell chronicles in detail the romantic ramblings of her ‘coyote’. No straight interpretation of the lyrics would do the song justice. It needs to be heard to be believed. The lyrics rise and tumble along in a whitewater rush of exuberance and regret, dancing in Mitchell’s playful delivery and peeking around the corners of the loping, prancing, prairie-jazz music. It’s hard to tell if the words are driving the music or vice versa, but the coyote spirit is everywhere in this song. It has an inward motion which seems alive, and is probably kicking up a cloud of dust somewhere on a backwoods trail at this very moment.

‘Coyote’  is the first song of Mitchell’s 1976 album Hejira. The title of the album comes from the Arabic word ‘hijra’, which refers to the migration that Muhammad and his followers took from Mecca to Medina. Hejira definitely has a migratory feel to it, as most of the songs seem to be written from the point of view of someone in motion. Every song details some form of movement, most often chronicling a soul heading away from relationships or commitments, intent to live with the visions inside their head.

Mitchell wrote most of the record while on a long solo road trip across the U.S. There are also shades in some of the lyrics of the Rolling Thunder Revue, Bob Dylan’s legendary tour of 1975-76, in which Mitchell performed at a couple of concerts.

There are many references to travel and migration throughout Hejira. Here are a couple of examples:

In ‘Amelia’, Mitchell compares herself to the legendary aviator and explorer Amelia Earhart: ‘A ghost of aviation/She was swallowed by the sky/Or by the sea, like me she had a dream to fly’. The song also includes a couplet that any traveler can relate to: ‘People will tell you where they’ve gone/ They’ll tell you where to go/ But till you get there yourself you never really know’.

In ‘Furry Sings the Blues’ Mitchell takes a trip in her shiny limo to the decaying storefronts of Beale Street in Memphis, where she sits at the feet of the old blues singer Furry Lewis. In the song, the wail of W.C. Handy’s trumpet is evoked by the lonely cry of Neil Young’s harmonica. *3

The title track of the record, ‘Hejira’, begins with the lines: ‘I’m traveling in some vehicle/ I’m sitting in some cafe/ A defector from the petty wars/ That shell shock love away/ There’s comfort in melancholy/ When there’s no need to explain’. She then proceeds to tell of leaving a relationship and how she needs to be free and self-contained, before admitting in the final two lines of the song: ‘A defector from the petty wars/ Until love sucks me back that way’.

The Hejira album continues with more songs of travel and heartache, before concluding with ‘Refuge of the Roads’ where Mitchell sits at the feet of Tibetan Buddhist master Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. He tells her that ‘Heart and humor and humility will lighten up your heavy load’, before she continues on her journey.

I assume that Mitchell got a kick out of finding a way for an inventive use of the standard rhyme ‘moon’ and ‘June’ during the last verse of ‘Refuge of the Road’. On an album full of poetic insight from a master at the top of her game, this couplet comes across like a little inside joke: ‘In a highway service station/Over the month of June/Was a photograph of the earth/Taken coming back from the moon’.

Hejira is a beautiful album. The sound and production is amazing; every instrument stands out and makes a statement. The instrumental sound is very sparse, as if Mitchell wanted to pull back from the more layered sound of her previous couple of albums. There are no keyboards on the record, a distinct change from other Joni Mitchell records.

Sonically, the album breathes between the interplay of Mitchell’s hollow body electric guitar strumming and the fretless glissando and harmonic-laden electric bass work of Jaco Pastorious. It often sounds as if the two of them are carrying on a musical conversation, creating little romantic musical asides that seem to remark on what is taking place in the songs. Pastorious’ bass is the main melodic instrument on Hejira. He rarely has to serve as part of a rhythm section, as there is not much straight drumming on the record. It seems fitting that he gets the last word on the album, as he plays a short filigree and then detunes his bass during the fadeout of the final track, ‘Refuge of the Roads’.

Other musical touches on the record include: when Mitchell compares the six white vapor trails of six jet planes to the ‘strings of my guitar’ in ‘Amelia’, there is a strumming ‘whoosh’ of an electric guitar which sounds heavenly. Larry Carlton’s guitar playing on this song has an icy, high-altitude pedal steel-like guitar sound to it.

‘Song For Sharon’ includes what sounds like a Greek Chorus commenting on the story, while ‘Black Crow’ has an angular folk-jazz feel and features Larry Carlton channeling Robert Fripp through his guitar.

The album is also nice to listen to as like an instrumental record. If you tune out the words that Mitchell is saying, and listen to her voice as another instrument, the record flows along like a dreamy, jazzy tone-poem.

Hejira is an album that slowly draws the listener in and then grabs hold of you, filling your dreams and thoughts with it’s music and words. I see it as akin to the landscape portraits that Mitchell is so fond of painting; an expanse of canvas that soothes you in it’s grandness, but over time small details of the painting come to life and become apparent. On the album, new melodic textures jump out at you, a lyric makes sense for the first time. This is impressionistic magic music of the highest order. Listen to it on headphones late at night, or on an early morning trip through fields and plains, and your life just might be changed a little bit.

Joni Mitchell has continued on to follow her art and her muse, releasing records and focusing on her art work. But for me, she was at the peak of her powers at the time she stepped onstage with The Band in 1976, singing the song of her ‘Coyote’.


1. Several days after the concert, Martin Scorsese filmed The Band in a movie studio performing songs with Emmylou Harris and also The Staple Singers. The intent of this extra filming was to touch upon some musical styles that weren’t performed during the concert: country (‘Evangeline’ performed with Harris) and gospel (‘The Weight’ performed with The Staple Singers). Maybe subconsciously the makers of the film also felt that they needed to add some more performances by women in the movie. Whatever the motives, the performance of ‘The Weight’ with The Staple Singers is one of the highlights of The Last Waltz, if not of all of modern popular music.

2. I am pretty sure that Danko overdubbed some or all of his bass part in post-production. If you look closely at what he plays on his bass and what you hear, they do not always match up.

3. Mitchell performed ‘Furry Sings The Blues’ during The Last Waltz concert as a trio, with Young adding harmonica and Robertson on guitar. This song was not used in the movie, but later appeared on The Last Waltz soundtrack. Two other songs that Mitchell performed on at the concert, ‘Four Strong Winds’ and ‘Acadian Driftwood’ were not used in the movie. Mitchell did appear (as a somewhat ghostly apparition) performing on Neil Young’s ‘Helpless’ adding a yearning falsetto harmony part.

All lyrics by Joni Mitchell, © 1976 Crazy Crow Music

Check out for the complete lyrics to all her songs, as well as videos from her performances at ‘The Last Waltz’, and just about anything else Joni-related you would hope to find.

© 2012 Dave Harding

Dave Harding is bass player in Portland, Oregon’s Richmond Fontaine. Their current album, ‘The High Country’ is the band’s tenth studio album and is yet another masterpiece from one of the most essential music acts today. Previous albums include ‘Post to Wire’ (2004), ‘The Fitzgerald’ (2005), and ‘Thirteen Cities’ (2007). Dave Harding has recorded two solo albums, ‘Across The Road’ (2007) and ‘You Came Through’ (2012).

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September 13, 2012 at 6:38 pm

Younger Than Yesterday: Fulfillingness’ First Finale

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Words: Dave Harding, Illustration: Craig Carry

Growing up in a small Michigan town in the 1970’s and early 80’s, one could feel a million miles away from the Real World. You know, the world of Johnny Carson, CHiPS, and Donny and Marie. This was before MTV and then the internet made the world a whole lot smaller.

The only real local star we had back then was Terrible Ted Nugent. It seemed like everybody I met while growing up had a Nuge story: an uncle who had played in the Amboy Dukes, a friend’s dad who had hunted endangered caribou with Ted, or a young female cousin who had been inappropriately ‘squggled’ by ol’ Uncle Ted.

But Nugent’s music never appealed much to me. I could try to sound hip and say that we were cranking out Motown, Stooges and MC5 tunes at high school keggers. But in reality it was Van Halen, Rush, Judas Priest and AC/DC, with the occasional appearance of another local boy done good, Bob Seger, aka The Seeg.

Of course, during my high school years a local girl was making it real big. Very local, as one Louise Ciccone was born some 30 miles away from me in Bay City. But sadly, Louise and I never crossed paths. By the time Louise, or as you know her, Madge, was singing “Like a Virgin” I was desperately seeking to become unlike a virgin, without much success.

Madonna made a great impression on Ciccone Youth, who in 1988 released the Madonna-inspired record The Whitey Album. You may know Ciccone Youth by their other name, Sonic Youth. Their drummer Steve Shelley is from the same town as me. To my knowledge, Shelley is the most famous musician ever to emerge from Midland.

Several years ago I ran into Shelley at the small airport outside of Midland. It was a Sunday afternoon and the airport was nearly empty as I stood in the car rental line. I turned around and immediately recognized Shelley. He was easy to pick out: he looked way too cool to be in the Midland airport. We had a pleasant talk. He was a real nice guy, as you might expect.

But the biggest musical force, by far, to emerge from my neck of the woods is one Steveland Hardaway Judkins, born in 1950 in Saginaw, some 35 miles from my hometown.

By the time I came into this world, Steveland was making hit records for Motown and touring the country on Motown Package Tours, thrilling audiences as Little Stevie Wonder.

Saturday mornings at my house in the 1970’s revolved around the Four C’s: Cap’n Crunch Cereal and Cartoons. Bugs Bunny, Hong Kong Phooey, Land of the Lost and a hundred other cartoons filled our sugar-drenched television screen.

But my favorite Saturday morning show by far was Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. Bill Cosby brought Fat Albert, Mushmouth, Weird Harold and his version of inner city life into my suburban home. I loved the characters, the visuals, the music and the stories. There was always a great moral message as well, a lesson about how we could live our lives better and treat others better as well. And the gang always played a song at the end of the show.

I will always associate The Fat Albert Show with my first exposure to Stevie Wonder.

Maybe it was a sunny summer Saturday morning in June. After my sister and I turned off the t.v. when Fat Albert  was over, a radio was playing somewhere. Maybe in our house, or maybe at a neighbor’s house. All I know is, I heard a song that caught my ear and captured a moment of time in my life that I will never forget.

I heard a song that started with a catchy horn introduction and took off from there, with a funky, jazzy beat and the singer proclaiming “You can feel it all over!”. I knew what he meant: I felt the music of this song all over my body, from my toes all the way up to the top of my head. It was like drinking a large cherry and coke Slurpee and eating two Snickers bars. I didn’t know what exactly “Sir Duke” meant, but I knew it made me feel good all over.

Shortly afterward I bought the 45 single at Woolworth’s for 79 cents. I went home and listened to “Sir Duke” and the masterful B-Side “He’s Misstra Know It All” over and over.

But there were a lot of other things to keep a 10 year old’s interest: baseball, football, playing army, Star Wars. Music was just background stuff at this point. But over the next couple of years music would slowly gain more and more importance in my life.

I passed through Bee Gees disco 45s, then lps by Foreigner, Aerosmith, ELO, etc. before I became obsessed with Paul McCartney and then The Beatles in 7th grade. Back then I thought that McCartney was the main guy in The Beatles, as I knew only of Wings and his solo work. But that would change soon enough. John Lennon would release Double Fantasy later that year, and that record and the events that followed it would lead me to a love of Lennon as well.

But that summer my favorite record was McCartney’s new one, McCartney II. Then I heard that the local radio station was going to be playing Abbey Road in it’s entirety that night. I did not have that record, but had heard it was a good one. So I stayed up until 11 pm and set up my little hand held Realistic tape recorder in front of the speakers on our Realistic stereo.

I taped all of Abbey Road and was blown away by the music. Then the dj said that he was going to play Stevie Wonders Fullfillingness’ First Finale next. I was excited. The only Stevie Wonder record I owned was still that “Sir Duke” 45, which had become kind of forgotten about in my love for everything Beatles. So I figured I would stay up (past Midnight!) and record the Stevie Wonder record as well.

The record started and I was immediately captivated by it. It seemed to be a continuation of Abbey Road, and to share a common world with McCartney II as well. Probably because of the time of night, but it seemed like it was made for late night listening, with hushed vocals and mellow vibes.

The only problem was that I only had a 60 minute tape, and I had used most of it to tape Abbey Road. So while I listened to the whole record that night on the radio, I was only able to tape Side 1 of the record.

The next morning I played golf with my friend Tim Rice. I gushed to him about the great music I had heard and taped the night before. None of my other friends would likely have cared about hearing about The Beatles and Stevie Wonder, but Tim had a love for good music.

I listened to that tape quite a lot. I loved Abbey Road, and I always let the tape play out side 1 of Fullfillingness’ First Finale. It seemed that Wonder’s record was linked to the playful songs of the ‘pop opera’ suite of side 2 of Abbey Road.

The record opens with the sly, teasing, somewhat downbeat “Smile Please”, promising that ‘there’s brighter days ahead’. A mix of congas, jazzy guitar and a multitude of voices undulate under the song, capped by Wonder’s catchy, child-like ‘bum de ti bum bum’ which always puts me in a good mood.

Next up is one of my favorites, “Heaven is 10 Zillion Light Years Away”. A yearning, almost classical sounding keyboard sets up  Wonder’s impassioned plea for salvation. This song has always seemed to me to be a mix of space age music and gospel. A keyboard that sounds like a processed harpsichord, clavinet, handclaps,  gospel-styled backup singing, and a burbling Moog bassline drive the song.

“Too Shy To Say” is a quiet, thoughtful ballad featuring Wonder’s piano, James Jamerson’s upright bass and “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow’s shimmering pedal steel guitar. A somewhat understated song, it is reminiscent of some of McCartney’s ballads.

It is hard to believe that Wonder plays all the instruments (save for Rocky Dzidzornu on congas) on the ultra-funky “Boogie On Reggae Woman”. Wonder was well known for his instrumental prowess, and often played many of the instruments on his recordings. Wonder caps off the song with a sizzling harmonica solo.

Side one of the record ends with the jazzy and smoky “Creepin’”. The song delivers on it’s title, as it quietly creeps into the listener’s consciousness. Minnie Riperton adds a sultry harmony vocal to the song.

And sadly, that’s where my original tape of the album ended. But it is a tantalizing mix of songs, each one very different from the other. The late night vibe seemed to perfectly compliment the goodnight lullabies of Side 2 of Abbey Road.

It would be another year or two before I heard Side 2 of Fullfillingness’ First Finale, when I bought the album on vinyl. In the meantime I made a tape recording of Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through The Secret Life of Plants, which I found at my local library. Though some of this record sailed right over my head, I found some of the songs on it very beautiful, and I am always puzzled that this record hasn’t received more attention. I also picked up a copy of Stevie’s two record ‘best-of’ Original Musiquarium.

By the time I purchased Fullfillingness’ First Finale, my musical tastes were elsewhere, and I didn’t really absorb Side 2 of the record like I had Side 1. Unfortunately, this has made me think of the second half of the album as not as high caliber as the first half. Whether this is true or not is up to each listener to decide.

That said, Side 2 gets off to a killer start with the stomping, vitriolic “You Haven’t Done Nothin’”, featuring the Jackson 5 on backup vocals. The song always seemed to me a slighter version of “Higher Ground”, but even a second-level “Higher Ground” is still pretty damn good!

“It Ain’t No Use” is a nice mid-tempo song about breaking up with your lover. The “Bye Bye Bye Bye Bye” chorus makes it’s intentions fairly obvious.

“They Won’t Go When I Go” is a gorgeous ballad, featuring primarily just Wonder’s vocal and piano. The song seems to call out Wonder’s fellow man, who are not following as clear a path as he is. Wonder performed this song 36 years later at Michael Jackson’s Memorial Service.

The bossa nova groove of “Bird of Beauty” sets up a really catchy mid-tempo number, again calling on others to lead a more pure, drug-free life: “There is so much in life for you to feel, Unfound in white, red, or yellow pills.” Wonder sings one of the verses in Portuguese, perhaps a tip of the hat to Brazil, the birthplace of the bossa nova.

The record ends with the groovin’ “Please Don’t Go”. This song sounds like it could have been written earlier in his career. Though it is a catchy number, it never really goes anywhere or hits a peak. I’ve always thought that Fullfillingness’ First Finale needed one more strong song to really push it to the next level. All of his other ‘classic’ albums from the 70’s all ended with very strong numbers. “Please Don’t Go”, to my ears, sends the listener off with a feeling of ‘ho hum’ instead of ‘Holy Shit’!

That said, there is enough good stuff on this record to keep a listener coming back time and time again. Listening on headphones really brings out all the magical touches that Wonder brings to his music. The instrumental interplay and the arrangements are truly breathtaking. I am always hearing new things, especially in the background vocals. Wonder has a way of talking in the background of his songs. Humorous little asides and comments on the music. It really adds to the overall good feeling in the music.

The record has a mellower vibe than his other records created around this time. Save for “Boogie On Reggae Woman” and “You Haven’t Done Nothin’”, the record could almost be considered easy listening. Like I have mentioned, it has a great late night, relaxed feeling to it.

Fullfillingness’ First Finale was originally released on July 22, 1974. The album peaked at number 1 in the U.S., and both “You Haven’t Done Nothin’” and “Boogie On Reggae Woman” were top 5 singles. Wonder won 3 Grammy awards for the album, including Album of the Year.

Fullfillingness’ First Finale oftentimes gets overlooked when people talk about Stevie Wonder’s classic albums. I would admit that it is a notch below the genius of Talking Book, Innervisions and Songs in the Key of Life. But any other musician would give their hind teeth to make a record as good, and any music listener should have the record in his collection.

The next six or seven years of my life were primarily devoted to listening to rock music, from Elvis Presley to the Velvet Underground to Husker Du. Except for time spent grooving to Bob Marley or Thelonious Monk, I pretty much kept soul music out of my life.

But in my early 20’s the groove crept back in, through George Clinton and P-Funk, Sly Stone, The Neville Brothers and others. And then there was Stevie, with all of his great music waiting to be listened to for the first time or rediscovered. His music has been close by ever since, and has continued to inspire and enrich me. I never tire of it. And whenever I hear “Sir Duke” I still get shivers down my spine like I did that Saturday afternoon in Michigan when I first heard it back in 1977.







Dave Harding is bass player in Portland, Oregon’s Richmond Fontaine. Their current album, ‘The High Country’ is the band’s tenth studio album and is yet another masterpiece from one of the most essential music acts today. Previous albums include ‘Post to Wire’ (2004), ‘The Fitzgerald’ (2005), and ‘Thirteen Cities’ (2007). Dave Harding has recorded two solo albums, ‘Across The Road’ (2007) and ‘You Came Through’ (2012).

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August 6, 2012 at 7:13 pm

Step Right Up: Dave Harding

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Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry

“Most of the songs on this record are about travelling. I feel most at ease when watching the world pass by outside my window, feeling the rumble of the road beneath me”. Dave Harding on making his new album, ‘You Came Through’.

Dave Harding’s second solo album ‘You Came Through’ is the follow-up to the wonderful debut ‘Across The Road’ from 2007. You may already know Mr. Dave Harding from his integral role in Portland Oregon’s finest Richmond Fontaine. Over the past two decades, frontman Willy Vlautin’s songwriting prowess combined with the unrivalled, core musicianship of Harding (bass), Oldham (drums) and Eccles (guitar), have created a unique blend of country, folk and rock grandeur. Harding’s bass has always been an integral part to Richmond Fontaine’s aesthetics in capturing the feel of a song distilled through time. ‘You Came Through’ was recorded in the Fall of 2011, during the time when Richmond Fontaine finished their latest masterpiece, ‘The High Country’ and were beginning rehearsals for the subsequent tour. ‘The High Country’, one of the band’s best albums, is a song-novel: a fully realized novel-sized story set to music. Dave Harding recorded ‘You Came Through’ with producer Mike Coykendall (M. Ward, She and Him among many others) in Portland’s Blue Room Studios. Mike Coykendall has produced Richmond Fontaine’s classic albums ‘Post To Wire’ and ‘The Fitzgerald’ in addition to his role as multi-instrumentalist in the ‘You Came Through’ sessions. Regular Richmond Fontaine members (Sean Oldham, Dan Eccles, Paul Brainard) and stalwart musicians from the Portland music scene (Mike Coykendall, Ralph Huntley, Scott Hampton) provided the sonic backdrop to the great songs found on ‘You Came Through’.

The album opener ‘Wayfarin’ Blues’ is a delightful uptempo folk blues opus guided by Oldham’s rock ‘n’ roll drum beat. Harding sings ‘Here’s to the way we feel/This is the way we heal/Tearing down some dusty road/Blood in our eyes and our hearts full of gold’ on the song’s chorus. ‘Wayfarin’ Stranger’ is the album’s prologue. Furthermore, the essence of music making is distilled in Harding’s lyrics. The ‘feel’ of the songs and their ultimately healing power fills the listener’s heart with gold. The musicianship is awe-inspiring throughout. Brainard’s pedal steel, Eccles’ lap-steel and guitar licks, Oldham’s drumming, Huntley’s piano accompaniment to Harding’s heartfelt vocals is simply sublime. ‘Own Kind Of Love’ is a beautiful duet with Michael Jodell that could be taken straight from Richmond Fontaine’s ‘Post To Wire’. The blissful ‘Judgement Day’ packs a punch with a killer funk guitar line.

‘Grasshopper Blues’ is a slow tempo J.J Cale-esque blues that hits you straight to the core. In fact, the song is reminiscent of ‘Automatic For The People’ era R.E.M such is its sheer power. Eccles’ atmospheric lap steel soars beneath Harding’s strummed acoustic guitar. Harding sings on the opening verse ‘I’m crawling the horizon/Got scrambling on my mind’ with a majestic vocal delivery. ‘Goin’ to find me a grasshopper/Goin’ to ride him to the stars’ are the lyrics of the chorus. An odyssey of someone lost, drifting along the horizon in search of direction is painted by Harding. The closing refrain of ‘A mighty strange time’ recalls the world of David Lynch and the lyric phrasing could be that of Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner. Sensational. ‘Scholls Ferry’ is a piano led instrumental performed by Ralph Huntley. Oldham’s tender drums and Eccles’ Beatles-esque lap steel creates a feeling of nostalgia filled with hope. The piece is reminiscent of the great composer Jon Brion’s otherworldly dreamy creations.

My highlight is the album’s closer ‘Shores Of Cornwall’. Interestingly Mike Coykendall is on lead vocals and nailed it on the second take! The song is a true masterpiece and is ‘You Came Through’s centerpiece. Harding wrote ‘Shores of Cornwall’ about his grandfather who left Cornwall and sailed to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula when he was a young boy. The opening verse recalls Richard Manuel’s heart wrenching ‘Tears Of Rage’. Coykendall’s vocals exudes sheer raw emotion over Huntley’s Band-esque gospel piano; ‘For all the tears I cried/For all the times I’d write to myself in vein’. The chorus is uplifting and joyous shades of Dylan’s ‘I Shall Be Released’ can be heard. Coykendall sings ‘And every time I reach the bottom/There’s something there that holds me through/Feeling ravished and forgotten/When the wind picks up and I can see/The shore of Cornwall coming into view’ on the song’s chorus. This is the climax of ‘You Came Through’ and the outro of glorious backing harmonies and clarinet brings the musical voyage to a fitting close.

‘You Came Through’ is available now from Dave Harding’s bandcamp site:

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August 5, 2012 at 1:26 pm