Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy / Robin Pecknold, Simple Man/Be Yourself split 7”, 2010

simple man frontThese songs were recorded by a small label called Grass Roots for a tribute album to Graham Nash released in 2010 called Be Yourself: Tribute to Graham Nash’s ‘Songs For Beginners’, thus both songs can be found on that Nash album from 1971. Nash was a member of the Hollies before he left for the US, unhappy with the direction the Hollies were taking, and formed Crosby, Stills & Nash. It seems that different versions of the tribute album came with different bonus 7”s, but the songs on both 7” records also appear on the LP proper. Thus this item is not properly available as a standalone item, unless you do what I did, which was to haggle with a seller on Discogs.

simple man labelSimple Man (Hombre Sencillo)… was originally a pensive piano ballad, in English, but for some reason Oldham, in his inimitable way, chooses to sing the song in Spanish. For what it’s worth, I’ll quickly give a synopsis: the narrator is “a simple man” who sings “a simple song.” He’s in love with a girl who he’s seen across the room. Being in love hurts, and so he plays a simple tune. Only it gets a bit creepy: “The ending of the tale / Is the singing of the song,” which means he wants her to hear this song and fall in love with him. “I just want to hold you / I don’t want to hold you down,” he promises. Standard male desire to possess a woman-type stuff, which we’re supposed to sanction because of his stance of humility – “I’m a simple man … / … I can’t make it alone.” A bit lame. Oldham uses a wobbly tockerblock percussive section, with tropical guitar, a warm watery feel, with unusual sound effects, Mexican instruments I guess, with violin, all Caribbean hula and um, other South American tropes. Musically, it’s lovely, and not knowing any Spanish, I can’t vouch for Oldham’s accent or pronunciation. He plays the part nicely. Turned up loud this sounds a whole lot better. His voice seems to be double tracked on the chorus, unless maybe there’s another singer here, but there’s scant information in the credits. Fade out. Short and sweet.

simple man labelBe Yourself… sung here by Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes fame. Not as clearly recorded as the A-side for some reason. We get a murky acoustic guitar sound, with a tinny tambourine. The original is much nicer than this gloomy effort. The first line, “How does it feel?” seems ripped straight from Dylan. That said, the song is a force for freeing yourself from the constructs of power that would have us subjugated and voiceless and anesthetized in the post-modern project of late capitalism. There’s a reference to a “savior” at one point, but he’s “gone,” so Nash’s advice is to “look in your eyes” and there you’ll find a key to free yourself from your inner nanobot. I like this verse, given that it’s coming from 1971; it seems kind of prescient: “We needed a tutor / So built a computer / And programmed ourselves not to see / The truth and the lying / The dead and the dying / A silent majority.” The melody is an easily memorable thing, though Pecknold’s got such a distinctive voice it’s hard not to hear this as a Fleet Foxes song. The true irony of this song is that the chorus, “Be yourself” repeated four times does not seem intended as irony, when in fact, the exhortation to ‘be yourself’, ie – to be an individual, is the very thing capitalism needs. A very American ideal, and a fraught one at that, if you’re into rhizomatics. The chorus section includes some high male harmonizing, as per the Foxes’s style. But the sound quality lacks the crispness that this needs to make it sound as good as it could have. It’s got quite a lot of lyrics, but this version seems to end quickly.

simple man backYup, so while I don’t bother generally to include various artist or compilation albums where Oldham’s contributed his voice or one track to someone else’s song, I made an exception for this, seeing as I was able to get my hands on the 7″ exclusively. There’s nothing particularly special about it, and you can hear these songs on the full LP, though I daresay you’d be better off with a copy of Nash’s original album instead.

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About Alan Bumstead Vinyl Reviews

Alan Bumstead is a music fanatic who humbly adds confusion to the world with a string of album reviews written during real-time-listening in a stream-of-consciousness style, then edited for spelling, punctuation, flow and grammar. Apart from an additional introductory paragraph, the writing is improvised in time with the music. There is no re-writing. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- In his book Moving To Higher Ground Wynton Marsalis says, "Because jazz musicians improvise under the pressure of time, what's inside comes out pure. It's like being pressed to answer a question before you have a chance to get your lie straight. The first thought is usually the truth." I like to think that's what Alan Bumstead's all about.
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