Be Thankful For What You Are Tiven

Hope you all had a Happy Fourth of July! I sure did, and the resulting recovery from said celebrations have made me once again kinda slow on the draw here in blog-land and I am once again begging you to bear with me as I catch up.

After a few blogs about the genius of soul that is Don Covay, I promised I would hip you to a series of tribute CDs to soul heroes which came out in the early-to-mid-’90’s on the Razor and Tie label and Shanachie Records.

The tributes, one each for Curtis Mayfield, Don Covay and Arthur Alexander, were spearheaded by a rocker with Memphis ties, Jon Tiven. For those who are unfamiliar with the name, Tiven has bumped around the music scene since the late ’60’s but started gaining fame in the mid-’70’s as part of the Big Star axis. Although never in that groundbreaking pop band, Tiven played in other bands with various permutations of the members and also counted among his bandmates and collaborators unsung Memphis pop geniuses (and who I will devote future blogs to) Van Duren and Tommy Hoehn.

Knocking sround Memphis and later New York City, Tiven slowly gained notice as an excellent producer and songwriter, as well as artist in his own right. Many bands and artists have covered Tiven and his bass-playing wife Sally’s songs over the years and current albums by Ellis Hooks, Shemekia Copeland and Frank Black bear evidence of his song-writing ability and producing skills.

Back in the early ’90’s, Tiven started releasing these great tribute CDs featuring a coterie of great performers like Covay, Ron Wood, members of rock band Living Colour, Dave Edmunds, Nick Lowe, Iggy Pop and on and on. Though they are hard to find today, I suggest searching them out if you can. The performances are all top notch and many feature Tiven and his band playing back-up.

I am set to interview Tiven soon and I will flesh out the story behind these tributes in a few weeks but I hope you endeavor to search them out and listen to them. They are possibly the best tribute CDs ever in a world that has way too many of them. The artists taking part are showcased well and the artists being honored couldn’t possibly have their songs lavished with more respect.

Also keep your eyes peeled for any CD with Tiven’s name in the credits. He is a throwback to the days when people cared about music and everything he produces has an authentic feel to it. Whenever I stumble across his name on a CD, I pick it up because I know I am going to like it. He has a great ear for new artists, is a great songwriter and has a cool little recording career going himself. An album on Rounder from the late ’90’s is especially good. Search that out as well.

The Music Nerd knows…..

“nothing against Christgau” (Washington City Paper)

Cashews Get Their Due: George Pelecanos is somewhat taken aback when asked to talk about his contribution to Lost in the Grooves: Scram’s Capricious Guide to the Music You Missed. “I got an e-mail from my agent a couple years ago,” says the Silver Spring–Êbased writer. Scram, a magazine “dedicated to rooting out the cashews in the bridge mix of unpopular culture,” wanted him to write a piece about underappreciated music. “I just sent it. I never talked to them or anything,” he says. “Then this book shows up.” Lost in the Grooves compiles essays—sometimes of just a few lines—about perennial critics’ darlings (the Go-Betweens’ 16 Lovers Lane), odd faves of odd people (Vivian Stanshall’s Men Opening Umbrellas Ahead), albums you weren’t supposed to like (Alvin and the Chipmunks’ The Alvin Show), and whatever else its writers—including locals Ken Barnes (USA Today, ’70s zines Flash and Fusion), and Vern Stoltz (Cannot Be Obsolete) and Memphis, Tenn.–based Washington City Paper contributor Andrew Earles—favor. Pelecanos wrote about Curtis Mayfield’s 1973 Curtom release Back to the World. “I just picked a record that I thought was really underappreciated in its category, especially coming after Superfly.” The overlooked disc “was of a time when people were making records that were sort of thematic,” says Pelecanos, and it’s easy to see why the crime novelist and story editor of HBO’s The Wire would relate to lines like these: “In these city streets—everywhere/You got to be careful/Where you move your feet, and how you part your hair.” Pelecanos’ review ends with a shot at the dean of rock critics: “Robert Christgau gave this a ‘C.’ Another reason, in my opinion, to check it out.” Pelecanos is quick to point out that he has nothing against Christgau, but, he says, “I object to that kind of criticism…. A guy, or a woman, sits in a dark room for a year and writes a book, and then someone blows it off with a D-minus or whatever.” Pelecanos’ appreciation for music is almost as well-known as his novels, which chronicle a Washington far from filibusters and presidential coronations. The “tour music” section of his Web site offers a playlist much like that in Lost in the Grooves: When he hits the road to promote his new book, Drama City, in March, his CD wallet will be stocked with Slobberbone, Lalo Schifrin, the Isley Brothers, Iron + Wine, War, and Graham Parker. And his previous novel, Hard Revolution, featured a “soundtrack” CD given away at readings. Next for Pelecanos, besides the book tour, is news on whether The Wire will be picked up for a fourth season. The future of the drama may be grim, given HBO Chair Chris Albrecht’s quip that “I have received a telegram from every viewer of The Wire—all 250 of them.” Perhaps Scram should cover unpopular TV in its next book. (Pamela Murray Winters, Washington City Paper, 2/11/05)