Music

Rocking Chair Blues: Howlin' Wolf - "Who's Been Talkin'"

The blues is full of songs about mean mistreater women, and Howlin' Wolf recorded more than a few. But in "Who's Been Talkin'", Wolf puts the blame for failed love affair on himself.

Pat Benatar told us back in the 1980s that love is a battlefield. But blues singers were sending that message long before the spandex-loving rocker from Long Island. Blues songs often are brutally candid about the power struggles in heterosexual relations. Violent imagery is hardly uncommon, with razors, knives, pistols, “Gatling guns” (see: Robert Johnson) and fists making recurring appearances (the minor subgenre of gay-themed blues, however, tended to be more ribald and good-humored). Bluesmen--the genre is of course male-dominated--often express mistrust of women, and sometimes misogyny as harsh as anything in rap.

Although it’s usually the man who’s the aggressor, sometimes the roles are reversed. Howlin’ Wolf recorded two of the starkest, scariest songs in the blues about “mean mistreater” women. The title of one says it all: “I Asked Her for Water (And She Brought Me Gasoline)”. In “Commit a Crime”, he tells us his woman “mixed my drinks with a can of Red Devil lye / Then you sit down watch me hopin' that I might die”.

But in “Who’s Been Talkin’”, the Wolf is sorrowful, even regretful, over the behavior that caused his lover to leave him. She “caught the train, left me all alone”, he laments. He complains that “she’s doin’ me wrong”, and he wants to know who put the word out about his tomcatting ("Who's been talkin' / Everything that I do"). But he fesses up to his part in the drama: “I’m the causin’ of it all”.

One of only two songs on Rocking Chair written by Howlin’ Wolf, “Who’s Been Talkin’” also is one of the album’s oldest tracks, recorded in 1957. It is basically a superior re-make of “Going Back Home”, a tune he recorded the previous year. Wolf is backed by Hosea Lee Kennard on piano; Otis Smothers and Willie Johnson, guitars; Alfred Elkins, bass; Earl Phillips, drums, and saxophonist Adolph Duncan, who threads a sweet and sour melodica line through the song and around Wolf’s pained vocal and harmonica blasts.

“Who’s Been Talkin’” has been covered by Robert Cray, the Steve Miller Band, Tom Waits (in concert), and the Allman Brothers, who have been playing it in their recent shows, including this year’s engagement at New York’s Beacon Theatre. Warren Haynes capably handles the vocals, but the concentrated emotional force of Wolf’s indelible original is lost as the band takes off on one of their typical extended jams. With Wolf, the song’s the thing.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

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Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

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"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

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Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

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