The Day Billy Joe Shaver Saved My Life

A few days ago, I was on a train from Rome to Genoa, after a coverage of the Rome Film Fest. It’s a long ride, about five hour long. Usually, I don’t mind. I’m actually quite fond of trains. I’ve always appreciated their romanticism. But this time it was different.

October has been the worst month for me. As many people, I have experienced hardships in the time of COVID and feeling trapped. This month, a whole bunch of worries piled on me that I won’t discuss here. All this amounted to some kind of panic attack. I could hardly breathe.

As I looked for songs to play on Spotify to calm me down, my mind went to Billy Joe Shaver. I thought about his life and how he hadn’t had it easy. I felt I could do with the voice of a man like him to come to my aid in a time of need.

I put on Old Five and Dimers Like Me, probably my favourite outlaw country album. Released in 1973, this was the record that ought to have shot shaver into superstardom. However, mismanagement and general business decisions proved insurmountable obstacles. He’d be forced to watch the star of Waylon Jennings rise while remaining in the shadows as the forever unsung hero of the genre.

In a way, the tragedy of his career makes him all the more iconic. Would Billy Joe ever truly fit in with the “in crowd”? I doubt that and in a way, I even hope no. Guys like Billy Joe are the guys whom I trust. The forever outlaws, honest and free. A little bit scary and strange but the type of guy you’d like by your side when hell comes calling.

Not one song on the album did not help me a little and by the third listen, I felt much better. The song that soothed my mind the most was “Willy the Wandering Gypsy and Me.” I really listened to it, its every word. I could hear it resonating in my soul and made me smile, looking at the reflection of my face in the filty, small toilet on that ghost train.

People hating country music have always seemed silly to me. It’s such a narrow-minded and unfounded prejudice. Why should someone who likes jazz or rock or dance and any other genre not also take an interest in country? In fact, the more music you like, the more options you will have when you’ll need music to save your life.

The next day, I sought comfort in a music completely different: Luciana Souza’s Duos II, a guitar and voice duo album revelling in the tradition of Brazilian percussive music. Today it was another and tomorrow, it will be another.

What links all music together is a fundamental spirituality. Some people label it differently. Billy Joe Shaver would have referred to it as God. Regardless of labels, it is a spirituality that even the greatest of atheist looks for and believes in when he is confronted with it. And it is a spirituality that only exists in art, from the paintings of Picasso to the films of Fellini to the music of Billy Joe Shaver and beyond.

My Albums of the Week #8: Ozzy Osbourne, Marc Ribot, Luciana Souza

I would consider myself an “albums guy” and my taste in music is very varied. In this new feature, I list the albums that I listened to most intensely during the week. The list will include albums old and new, and the number of albums listened to every week will most likely vary on a week-to-week basis.

Luciana Souza
Duos II (Sunnyside Records, 2005)

Tracklist (favourite tracks underlined): 1 – Sai Dessa / 2 – Nos Horizontes do Mundo / 3 – A Flor e o Espinho/Juízo Final / 4 – Muita Bobeira / 5 – Modinha / 6 – No Carnaval / 7 – Sambadaú / 8 – Aparacida / 9 – Trocando Em Miúdos / 10 – Chorinho Pra Ele / 11 – Atrás Da Porta / 12 – Vocé

A sublime acoustic guitar-and-voice album that traverses the wide range of Brazilian music traditions. Also a great showcase of Luciana Souza’s vocal versatility and lyrical poetry, performing this program in duos alongside four different guitarists, each bringing a distinctive style.

Ozzy Osbourne
Ordinary Man (Epic, 2020)

Tracklist (favourite tracks underlined): 1 – Straight to Hell / 2 – All My Life / 3 – Goodbye / 4 – Ordinary Man / 5 – Under the Graveyard / 6 – Eat Me / 7 – Today Is the End / 8 – Scary Little Green Men / 9 – Holy for Tonight / 10 – It’s a Raid

An amazing late-career effort by beloved rocker Ozzy Osbourne. Dare I say it even ranks among his best records, including his Black Sabbath releases. Includes some interesting collaborations and also features some of Ozzy’s most profound and personal lyrics, though never at the expense of his iconic rocker persona.

Marc Ribot
Songs of Resistance 1942-2018 (ANTI-, 2018)

Tracklist (favorite songs underlined): 1 – We Are Soldiers in the Army / 2 – Bella Ciao / 3 – Srinivas / 4 – How To Walk in Freedom / 5 – Rata de dos Patas / 6 – The Militant Ecologist / 7 – The Big Fool / 8 – Ain’t Gonna Let Them Turn Us Round / 9 – John Brown / 10 – Knock That Statue Down / 11 – We’ll Never Turn Back

An inspired, eclectic program of protest songs, whether original, rearranged or hybrid. An eclectic blend of various music genres tied together from visionary, militant musician Marc Ribot, featuring a star-studded and multicultural cast of guests. Released in 2018, it also feels like a powerful reflection on the first two years of the Trump administration.

My Albums of the Week #7: Everything but the Girl and Giorgio Gaslini

I would consider myself an “albums guy” and my taste in music is very varied. In this new feature, I list the albums that I listened to most intensely during the week. The list will include albums old and new, and the number of albums listened to every week will most likely vary on a week-to-week basis.

Everything but the Girl, Eden (1984, Blanco y Negro)

TRACKLIST (Favorite tracks underlined): 1 – Each and Every One / 2 – Bittersweet / 3 – Tender Blue / 4 – Another Bridge / 5 – The Spice of Life / 6 – The Dustbowl / 7 – Crabwalk / 8 – Even So / 9 – Frost and Fire / 10 – Fascination / 11 – I Must Confess / 12 – Soft Touch

The debut album of British duo Everything but the Girl, backed by great session musicians. A classy fusion of pop with lounge jazz, cool jazz and bossa nova. A true peak in the sophisti-pop wave of the period, as noteworthy for its arrangements as much as for its lyrics, depicting scenes of tragic romance with disarming realism.

Giorgio Gaslini, La Notte Soundtrack (1996, BNF)

TRACKLIST (Favorite tracks underlined): 1 – Lettura della Lettura / 2 – Ballo Di Lidia / 3 – Voci Dal Fiume / 4 – Quartetto Sotto le Stelle / 5 – Blues All’Alba / 6 – Valzer Lento / 7 – Notturno Blues / 8 – Finale / 9 – Jazz Interludio / 10 – Country Club / 11 – La Notte (Suite)

Released in 2016, the remastered version of symphonic jazz great Giorgio Gaslini, closer here to pop sensibilities and trends of the time, both in jazz and pop music. A beautiful earful of the glamour and sophistication linked with Italy in the ’60s, composed for Michelangelo Antonioni’s international arthouse hit movie La Notte and performed in a quartet setting.

Billy Joe Shaver, Old Five and Dimers Like Me (1973, Monument)

TRACKLIST (Favorite tracks underlined): 1 – Black Rose / 2 – Old Five and Dimers Like Me / 3 – L.A. Turnaround / 4 – Jesus Christ, What a Man / 5 – Played the Game Too Long / 6 – I Been to Georgia On a Fast Train / 7 – Willy the Wandering Gypsy and Me / 8 – Low Down Freedom / 9 – Jesus Was Our Saviour and Cotton Was Our King / 10 – Serious Souls / 11 – Bottom Dollar / 12 – Ride, Cowboy. Ride / 13 – Good Christian Soldier

A peak in the outlaw country genre, featuring some of the best-known and most-covered songs of the music. A depiction of how hard it is to be good as strong as this you’ll never hear. The record should also have launched Billy Joe Shaver into the mainstream. As it happens, personal demons and general injustice made it so that some who covered the tracks on this very program made it bigger than he did.

My Albums of the Week #5: Donna Summer, Grover Washington Jr. & More

I would consider myself an “albums guy” and my taste in music is very varied. In this new feature, I list the albums that I listened to most intensely during the week. The list will include albums old and new, and the number of albums listened to every week will most likely vary on a week-to-week basis.

Grover Washington Jr., Winelight (Elektra, 1980)

TRACKLIST (Favorite tracks underlined): 1 – Winelight / 2 – Let It Flow (For “Dr. J”) / 3 – In the Name of Love / 4 – Take Me There / 5 – Just the Two of Us / 6 – Make Me a Memory (Sad Samba)

One of the most influential records of its time and the birth of smooth jazz, which honestly doesn’t deserve the bad rep it gets. After its release, countless other artists tried to get the same laid back grooves that Washington lays down, as well as the tone of his saxophones. Most failed. Bonus points for a standout performance by Marcus Miller on bass. Hear him slap that bass on “Let It Flow.”

Donna Summer, I Remember Yesterday (Casablanca, 1977)

TRACKLIST (Favorite tracks underlined): 1 – I Remember Yesterday / 2 – Love’s Unkind / 3 – Back in Love Again / 4 – I Remember Yesterday (Reprise) / 5 – Black Lady / 6 – Take Me / 7 – Can’t We Just Sit Down (And Talk It Over) / 8 – I Feel Love

A concept album of sorts, which aims to fuses disco with influences of earlier popular musics. Scattered moments of sheen. However, at the end of the day, this Donna Summer album really only has two standout songs — the title track, repeated twice, and “I Feel Love,” respectively strategically placed at the opening and closing of the record.

Dixie Dregs, Dregs of the Earth (Arista, 1980)

TRACKLIST (Favorite tracks underlined): 1 – Road Expense / 2 – Pride o’ the Farm / 3 – Twiggs Approved / 4 – Hereafter / 5 – The Great Spectacular / 6 – Broad Street Strut / 7 – I’m Freaking Out / 8 – Old World

I wasn’t familiar with the Dixie Dregs before listening to this. They’re quite a solid instrumental band. I suppose you’d call them rock fusion. Some songs feel a bit too constricted within their structure. A bit too clean for my taste. But I appreciate the ventures into the folk, country and even jazz territory.

My Albums of the Week #4: Elton John, Ella Fitzgerald, Chick Corea

I would consider myself an “albums guy” and my taste in music is very varied. In this new feature, I list the albums that I listened to most intensely during the week. The list will include albums old and new, and the number of albums listened to every week will most likely vary on a week-to-week basis.

Chick Corea Elektric Orchestra, The Chick Corea Elektric Orchestra (GRP, 1986)

TRACKLIST (Favorite tracks underlined): 1 – Rumble / 2 – Side Walk / 3 – Cool Weasel Boogie / 4 – Got a Match? / 5 – Elektric City / 6 – No Zone / 7 – Kings Cockroach / 8 – India Town

At some point, we’re just going to have to stop thinking of ’80s FM Synth sounds as outdated cheese and begin to think about them as vintage awesome. If you are interested in taking that leap, you could do much worse than The Chick Corea Elektric Band. I can see where detractors are coming from. However, there’s so much to like about this album, including the talents of this stellar lineup. And, I’m sure, that even the most passionate detractors of this LP will appreciate “Got a Match?” as one of the most important fusion tunes of this period.

Ella Fitzgerald, The Lost Berlin Tapes (Verve, 2020)

TRACKLIST (Favourite tracks underlined): 1 – Cheek To Cheek / 2 – My Kind of Boy / 3 – Cry Me a River / 4 – I Won’t Dance / 5 – Someone to Watch Over Me / 6 – Jersey Bounce / 7 – Angel Eyes / 8 – Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie! / 9 – Taking a Chance on Love / 10 – C’est Magnifique / 11 – Good Morning Heartache / 12 – Hallelujah, I Love Him So / 13 – Hallelujah, I Love Him So – Reprise / 14 – Summertime / 15 – Mr. Paganini / 16 – Mack the Knife / 17 – Wee Baby Blues

A real joyful set, with Ella’s vocals right front and centre, backed by trio. I understand why it was not released… she makes quite a few mistakes, lyric-wise. Not that it matters because even when she forget the name of the city she is playing in, she makes a quick recovery. The First Lady of Song truly was one of a kind!

Elton John, Caribou (MCA, 1974)

TRACKLIST (Favourite tracks underlined): 1 – The Bitch Is Back / 2 – Pinky / 3 – Grimsby / 4 – Dixie Lily / 5 – Solar Prestige A Gammon / 6 – You’re So Static / 7 – I’ve Seen the Saucers / 8 – Stinker / 9 – Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me / 10 – Ticking

It probably doesn’t deserve the bad rep it gets. Caribou includes a great rocking tune like “The Bitch is Back” and a beloved ballad like “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.” Ok, the rest kind of goes right over my heard, with the exception of “Dixie Lily” and “I’ve Seen Saucers.” I see “Solar Prestige a Gammon” gets a lot of hate and I understand why. But to me, it’s positively weird and a cool tribute to The Beatles.

Pat Metheny’s Pikasso Guitar

Pat Metheny is an absoute guitar master and we love him for it. Throughout his recorded career, he has pioneered many instruments, some more unusual than others. He has also crafted a distinctive synth guitar tone. Among his more unusual instruments is a beautifull odd-looking guitar named the Pikasso guitar, which aesthetically looks as if envisioned by Pablo Picasso himself.

This unusual instrument was a collaborative effort between Metheny and master luthier Linda Manzer. Metheny requested her to build a guitar that could have as many strings as possible. The final number came to be 42. The final product also included a hexaphonic pickup to interface with Metheny’s Synclavier synthesizer, which was an early digital synthesizer.

Admittedly, the guitar never caught on. From the looks of it, it would be difficult to even hold. However, it must be said that the guitar is wedged and shaped in such a way that Metheny, looking down, can see clearly each of the 42 strings. In fact, watching Metheny play it is a spectacle in its own right and it is downright remarkable to see how easy he makes playing it look.

There are videos of Metheny playing the Pikasso Guitar and he even most motably used it on his ninth album with the Pat Metheny Group, Imaginary Day from 1997. Here, he plays it on track 3, “Into the Dream.”

I mentioned the instrument in a recent livestream for JAZZIZ Magazine, hosted by Brian Zimmerman, where we talked about unusual instrumentalists and instruments in jazz. The other instrument I mentioned in this video is the newer Harpejji, developed in 2007, which is being pioneered by music polymath Jacob Collier, among others.

THE ART MOVEMENT – Episode 23 – SONG LIST

Here’s the list of songs played on the last episode of THE ART MOVEMENT – the weekly radio show about arts and culture, where all art forms and free thoughts are allowed, hosted by Matt Micucci. (To listen to the full show, scroll to the bottom of the page.)

  • IGGY POP, I’m Bored
  • THE BEACH BOYS, Wouldn’t It Be Nice
  • TENDERLONIOUS, G Flex
  • SUDAN ARCHIVES, Come Meh Way
  • DESIRED, Wake Up
  • BARRY MANILOW, Copacabana (At the Copa)
  • BLACK FLAG, Rise Above
  • DICK DALE, Misirlou
  • PET SHOP BOYS, Being Boring
  • ELLA FITZGERALD, Mack the Knife
  • MORRISSEY, The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get
  • CHARLIE PARKER, Scrapple from the Apple

Listen to the full show via the player below.

Download the full radio show HERE.

THE ART MOVEMENT – Episode 23 (RADIO SHOW)

Welcome to THE ART MOVEMENT, a radio show about arts and culture, where all art forms and free thoughts are allowed. The show is hosted and produced by globe-trotting arts presenter Matt Micucci, and features plenty of music, interview clips and thoughts on current events.

Listen to Episode 23 via one of the players below.

Download the full show here.

In this episode:

  • The 1911 theft of the Mona Lisa;
  • Marcel Duchamp and the beginning of post-modernism;
  • What drives Henry Rollins;
  • Find your mentors in artworks;

and more, plus lots of music.

5 Clips from THE ART MOVEMENT – Episode 22 (RADIO SHOW)

Here are five clips from the latest episode of my radio show, THE ART MOVEMENT, the weekly radio show hosted/produced by arts presenter Matt Micucci. The show revolves around art and culture, and where all art forms and free thoughts are allowed.

(To listen to/download the full radio show, scroll to the bottom of the page.)

The Cinemateca Brasileira and over 100 years of Brazilian film heritage are in danger.

The Cinema Novo film movement of Brazil.

How art inspired outrage, empathy and revolution.

Why would Bolsonaro be interested in damaging cultural heritage?

Modern types of Tango music.

Lots more where that came from! You can listen to the full epsiode of THE ART MOVEMENT (including the music) via the player below.

Download the full show HERE.

Click here to buy my book of thoughts on film, Eye of the Beholder, on Amazon!

THE ART MOVEMENT – Episode 22 – SONG LIST

Here’s the list of songs played on the last episode of THE ART MOVEMENT – the weekly radio show about arts and culture, where all art forms and free thoughts are allowed, hosted by Matt Micucci. (To listen to the full show, scroll to the bottom of the page.)

  • THE CRIBS, “Running Into You”
  • MS. DYNAMITE, “Dy-Na-Mi-Tee”
  • MARIA BETHANIA, “Olhos Nos Olhos”
  • STEVIE WONDER, “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)”
  • OS MUTANTES, “Trem Fantasma”
  • LOVE, “A House Is Not a Motel”
  • THE CLASH, “Revolution Rock”
  • BASA BASA, “African Soul Power”
  • JACK WHITE, “Love Is Blindness”
  • GRACE JONES, “I’ve Seen That Face Before (Libertango)”
  • CHARLIE PARKER, “Now’s the Time”

Listen to the full show via the player below.

Download the full radio show HERE.