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Top 10 Songs of 2016 – #10: “Ain’t No Man” by The Avett Brothers

24 Dec

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It is apropos that we begin this year’s countdown with a song off The Avett Brothers’ aptly-titled 9th studio album True Sadness. While the clamor labeling 2016 as one of the worst years in recent memory is a bit hyperbolic and overstated, The Avett Brothers’ hometown of North Carolina is no longer classified as a Democracy any longer, so perhaps there is legitimacy to those hoping 2016 let’s the door hit it on its way out in a week. That said, music in 2016 was at least halfway decent, and that means the annual Music Court’s Top 10 Songs countdown is underway. So, in a year of mostly downs, I bring you song number 10.

“Ain’t No Man” is carried by the best bass riff of the year. It is easily the best. The jaunty bass is splashed with clapping percussion and the jocular harmonic jabs of Scott and Seth Avett and Bob Crawford, the purveyor of the aforementioned bass riff. The song is the genius of the Avetts, fit with an in-studio genesis from the musically-inclined brothers (oddly enough not the only brothers on the list).  The song stomps with a confident and bold lyric, which I’d say is needed to be listened to on repeat over the next week prior to entering the new year. Here’s the chorus:

There ain’t no man that can save me
There ain’t no man that can enslave me
Ain’t no man or men that can change the shape my soul is in
There ain’t nobody here
Who can cause me pain or raise my fear ’cause I got only love to share
If you’re looking for truth I’m proof you’ll find it there

It is akin to puzzle pieces connecting when a lyric fits a song. The potent, positive message just reflects the song’s joyful instrumental revelry. It is a ditty, topping out at 3:30 soaking wet, and it feels even quicker than that, so, take it from me, the song is best listened to on repeat.

#9 soon to come …

Musical Dialect – Jock-a-Mo

13 Nov

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In Mark Twain’s renowned bildungsroman Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain begins the novel with a disclaimer that reads:

“In this book a number of dialects are used, to wit: the Missouri negro dialect; the extremest form of the backwoods Southwestern dialect; the ordinary “Pike County” dialect; and four modified varieties of this last. The shadings have not been done in a haphazard fashion, or by guesswork; but painstakingly, and with the trustworthy guidance and support of personal familiarity with these several forms of speech. I make this explanation for the reason that without it many readers would suppose that all these characters were trying to talk alike and not succeeding.”

Twain’s quest of dialectic accuracy is, as he explains, painstaking, and any biography of the man would suggest that his ear for language was only rivaled by his perfectionist intransigence, a trait that made his texts all the more wonderful. In Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Jim, an escaped slave, speaks to Huck, the book’s protagonist, in the “Missouri Negro Dialect,” a rich (and hard to understand) patois that is most similar to Creole.

Tomorrow, my students will learn about dialects and how they shape Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, so, because dialects are on my mind (and because I have already mentioned Creole), I figured a post on  “Iko Iko (Jock-A-Mo)” would be germane.

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The story of this revered Mardi Gras piece (that has since been covered by musicians from Dr. John to The Grateful Dead to Aaron Carter – I kid you not) starts with Sugar Boy and the Cane Cutters, who unsuccessfully released the song as “Jock-A-Mo” in 1953. The song was popularized more than a decade later when The Dixie Cups released it as “Iko Iko” and scored an international hit; Sugar Boy (James Crawford) sued and got songwriting credits. If you don’t think you know the song, listen. You know it, right.

The song has reached the level of musical ubiquity, as it is the classic New Orleans tune. It also features a chorus that is a completely different language. A chorus that has been sung by many karaoke listeners and mispronounced and misphrased; I do it all the time. Actually, this is the first time I have learned what in the heck is said in the chorus of this song; I have usually just relied on my flawed ear and equally errant pipes. What is the chorus?

Hey now! Hey now!
Iko iko wan dey
Jock-a-mo fi no wan an dey
Jock-a-mo fi na ney.

And, of course, because nothing is easy in the world of old dialects, there are several opinions of what this means. Well, every word after the “Hey Now”; we are confident in our translation of those welcoming words. Let’s start with where these words come from.

According to a Mental Floss article in a “2009 article in the New Orleans music magazine Offbeat,” the author showed the song to a “local linguistics professor” in Ghana who concluded that the song’s famous chorus was borne from a West African language. A linguistics professor in the U.S., however, concluded that the lyric is from a “mixture of Yoruba and French Creole.” Creole is a combination of European and African dialects, and Yoruba is spoken in Nigeria. Thus, both linguistics professors were close.

What do the lines mean? We don’t know for sure, but here is one thought from American Blues Scene:

Iko! Iko! is Akout! Akout! (Creole)
“Listen! Listen!”

Iko! Iko! An Day is Akout! Akout! An Deye (Creole)
“Listen! Listen! At the rear”

Jocomo Fee No An Dan Day is Chokma Finha an dan deye (a mixture of half Native American, half Creole)
“It’s very good, at the rear”

Jocomo Fee Nan Nay is Chokma Finha – Ane (a mixture of half Native American, half Creole)
“It’s a very good year!”

And, yet another translation from the U.S. Linguistics Professor.

Iko! Iko! is Enòn, Enòn!
“Code Language!”

Iko! Iko! An Day is Aiku, Aiku nde.
“God is watching.”

Jocomo Fee No is Jacouman Fi na
“Jacouman causes it”

An Dan Day is ida-n-de
“We will be emancipated.”

Jocomo Fee Nan Nay is Jacouman Fi na dé
“Jacouman urges it; we will wait.”

Moral of the story? We may never know for sure what the lyrics mean, but it is fine singing them, so, like Mardi Gras, just enjoy!

Using “Girl In the War” as a Teaching Tool

11 Sep

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If you have read this blog somewhat consistently over the last few years, you may know these two facts: 1.) I am a High School English teacher and 2.) I greatly appreciate all things Josh Ritter. Thus, it is always a pleasure to combine these two elements into a lesson plan, and next week I will utilize Ritter’s “Girl in the War” in a lesson reviewing figurative language. Students will not only identify the plethora of writing devices Ritter uses in his 2006 anti-war classic, but also they will assess how Ritter’s use of these devices ultimately made his song more effective. Through it all, I’ll make sure to have “Girl in the War” blast over the sound system in my room – perhaps a few times.

I’ve used Josh Ritter before in my classroom. Last year, students explored “Annabel Lee” by Edgar Allan Poe and “Another New World” by Josh Ritter. It was rewarding to see students unravel the similarities between Ritter’s tribute to Poe’s classic about a “love that was more than love.”Since Ritter’s lyrics are so cogent, intellectual, and literary, the transition from iTunes playlist to classroom is quite simple.

I’m eager to hear the 16-year-old’s take on “Girl in the War” next week. The song contains several allusions, including the biblically-inspired conversation between apostles Peter and Paul. It also utilizes such clever metaphors as “talkin’ to God is Laurel beggin’ Hardy for a gun,” which I anticipate going over the heads of my students; a little clarification will certainly need to be in order. Ritter’s plea, eloquently sang through the lens of Peter and Paul, should be evident for students, as the “girl in the war” is repeated throughout and Ritter uses words like “yell” and “hell” – a sagacious rhyme in an otherwise “holy” song – when Peter begs to the angels that are “locked inside the kingdom.”

I hope students catch that Peter has the “girl in the war.” Peter is also the individual in charge of the pearly gates, with say of who gets to enter heaven. However, Peter has no say about his “girl in the war,” whose collective fate is out of his holy hands and is left, ultimately, to tears falling on Earth as the song ends.

“Falling in Love will Kill You” is Divine

12 Aug

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Straight out of a morbid drama, “Falling In Love Will Kill You” by Wrongchilde, the solo project for Mat Devine of Kill Hannah, was released in 2014. The song, which features a duet with My Chemical Romance lead vocalist Gerard Way, was one of the principle tracks on Gold Blooded, Wrongchilde’s album also released in 2014. Devine is a bit of a jack of all trades, not only fronting Kill Hannah, but also playing the role of Grim Hunter in the original cast of Spider Man: Turn off the Dark on Broadway, writing a blog and a book, and co-creating a fashion line called Animal Royalty. His multifaceted pursuits reflect his music, as Kill Hannah was more post-punk, dark rock and “Falling In Love Will Kill You” is softer and intrinsically melancholy. Take a listen.

The song, which plays like a lachrymose lullaby, starts with an acoustic guitar, a toned-down strung-out sound with almost a Freelance Whales quality to it. The acoustic rises with the verse vocals, all while a sputtering, demonic sound oscillates under the surface. The effect is tremendous, as it depicts a mysterious presence under the surface that is almost kept hidden. The song comes together with the pleading vocal harmonies in the chorus falling in with the second verse with synth and drums. The song is carried by the trope that falling in love will kill you, and the lines are even repeated where eventually the the “falling in” is dropped and the song concludes that love will kill you. The downcast message is totally reflected by the emotional song, as the melody tugs at the listener.

Totally worth a listen, right? When do I steer you wrong? You can keep up with Devine on his Facebook or Twitter.

Stuck In My Head — Bear Hands

30 May

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I’ve had a chance to listen to a lot of Sirius XM radio lately, and in my listening binge I have found myself on the Alt Nation channel much of the time. On it, Bear Hands, an Indie Rock/Punk band formed in Brooklyn a decade ago, has found much play with a song called “2 a.m.” from the band’s 2016 studio album You’ll Pay for This. The song is just one in a vast library of excellent music Bear Hands has released since its first LP was introduced to the listening populace in 2010. Let’s explore two of Bear Hands’ most popular songs.

“Agora,” an ode to the phobia that shares the prefix, is a jaunty, paranoid song with fragmented guitar, pleading harmonies, and a spooky key motif. With the repetition of agora in the verse it almost sounds like the band is the music video’s protagonist’s deranged mind. Oh, and the song is pretty awesome too; a sub-3-minute ditty that hits the ears hard and sticks.

“2 a.m.” has marked differences that demonstrate the band’s multifarious skill. The song is more methodical in its pace, featuring slow keys and muffled drums. The vocals reflect the instrumentation; at times they even some strained and depressed. The song serves a wonderful contrast to “Agora” and other fast-paced Bear Hands songs, and the slowed down style is impressive. It also reflects the lyrics, which sings of getting older.

 

You can find out more about Bear Hands at the band’s website

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