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Posts Tagged ‘Polyphonic Spree’

 (Above: It may have been the holiday season, but John Lennon wasn’t pulling any punches when he put this video together. This extended cut also includes edited interviews with Lennon.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

Before it was a song, “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” was a billboard. In 1969, two years before the song was written and recorded, John Lennon and Yoko Ono proclaimed “War is Over! (If You Want It)” on signage in New York, Rome, Berlin, Tokyo and several other major cities around the world. The signs were an outgrowth of Lennon and Ono’s bed-in for peace, but the phrase stuck in Lennon’s head.

When the couple relocated to New York City in 1971, Lennon quickly feel in the company of radical ‘60s activists Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman. Lennon had already gone on record against the Vietnam War at a Beatles press conference in 1966. The conflict was also a frequent topic of conversation during the bed-in. Instead of giving peace a chance, though, the United States had become even more entrenched in combat.

Inspired by his social circle and frustrated by another holiday season marked by fighting, Lennon turned his billboard slogan into a song. Lennon wrote the song over two nights in a New York City hotel room and recorded it almost immediately. Despite being released less than three weeks before Christmas, the single still managed to reach the Top 40. The feat was replicated each time the single was re-released. In Lennon’s native England, the single did not appear until 1972, when it went in the Top 5.

After a whispered shout-out (whisper-out?) to the pair’s children, Phil Spector’s wall of sound kicks in. The opening line – “And so this is Christmas/and what have you done?” – is both a nostalgic look back and the previous year and question of accountability. Despite having hope for the upcoming year, Lennon admits “the world is so wrong.” A chorus of children from the Harlem Community Choir echoes the words that started it all: War is over/If you want it.”

The melody is based on the folk ballad “Stewball,” a song about a British race horse. The first versions of “Stewball” date to the 18th century, but Woody Guthrie and Lead Belly put their stamp on the song in the 1940s. During the folk revival of the early ‘60s, both Peter, Paul and Mary and Joan Baez included the song in their repertoire.

Many artists, including skiffle singer Lonnie Donegan, a big influence on Lennon and most British musicians of his generation, have cover “Stewball,” but their numbers pale in comparison to the roster of those who have recorded “Happy Xmas (War Is Over).” From Andy Williams and Celine Dion to Maroon 5 and American Idol David Cook to the Moody Blues and the Polyphonic Spree, the song has been covered by nearly every conceivable artist in nearly every conceivable genre.

Keep reading:

Review: “December 8, 1980″

Classic Christmas Carol: “Fairytale of New York”

George Harrison – “Ding Dong, Ding Dong”

Classic Christmas Carol: “Greensleeves”

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(Above: Mount Righteous play in the street back in 2008 when they had a guitarist in the lineup.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

There must be something in the water down in Dallas/Fort Worth. After spawning the uber-upbeat indie rock choir the Polyphonic Spree and singer-songwriter St. Vincent the town presents yet another indie band from the fringes: Mount Righteous.

The exuberant nine-piece collective sounds like a cross between John Phillips Sousa and the Shins. The unique sound is intentional, said founder and drummer Joey Kendall.

“We knew since we were such a big band, we wanted to be able to play without a PA,” Kendall said. “Since we weren’t going to be using mics and amps, we got a hold of brass instruments.”

The normal lineup of bass/guitar/drum was thrown overboard for brass, woodwinds, accordion, melodica and bells. Adding further distinction to their sound, everyone in the band sings in unison.

“We do that so we don’t have to use mics, but everyone can still hear us,” Kendall said. “That said, we just wrapped up recording our second album and there are some solo vocals on there. In concert we’ll use megaphones for that part.”

Mount Righteous’ off-the-grid approach means the band can literally play at the drop of a hat. Since forming in 2007, they’ve crashed SXSW by parading in the street, played in a D/FW metroplex, and marched just outside of Mexico at Borderfest.

“We want to be prepared to rely only on ourselves,” Kendall said. “There’s a feeling of freedom that comes with knowing we can play whenever and wherever.”

On Saturday, Mount Righteous will bring their show to The Brick in Kansas City.

“This is our second visit to Kansa City,” Kendall said recalling the band’s May, 2008, performance. “There’s a good vibe to the Brick. Since we book our own tours, we look to places that have already booked us. We met some cool people there last time and are looking forward to seeing them again and hopefully make some more friends.”

When Kendall started corralling members for his new project several years ago everyone had standing obligations to their own bands. Eventually, though, Mount Righteous started taking priority.

“I’ve always viewed this as my main focus,” Kendall said. “But it took several years of work for the band to be worth doing full-time for everyone anyway. You need a lot of shows and a couple records under your belt before you know what you’ve got.”

Unlike the Polyphonic Spree, Mount Righteous is a true collective, with everyone in the band contributing lyric and song ideas. Although some musicians might feel constrained with such an unusual array of instruments, Kendall feels relieved.

“I think if we used the standard, traditional guitar lineup it would be overwhelming. There are so many ways you can write a song on guitar,” Kendall said. “Whereas there are hardly any pop songs written with these instruments.”

Kendall concedes that its unusual that so many unconventional bands have come from his neck of the woods, but doesn’t think Mount Righteous isn’t doing anything others aren’t.

“I’ve talked to a lot of people in community collective bands,” Kendall said. “There were bands like that in Grapevine (Texas, the band’s hometown) even before Polyphonic Spree. What we’re doing isn’t that new of an idea. We just might be better at getting things organized and going on tour.”

The show: Mount Righteous go onstage at 10 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 21 at The Brick, 1727 McGee. Visit http://www.thebrickkcmo.com/ for ticket prices and further information.

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