to a parisian pal: The Wilburn Brothers and Menlo Park
by Sean
Please note: MP3s are only kept online for a short time, and if this entry is from more than a couple of weeks ago, the music probably won't be available to download any more.


Menlo Park - "Cochon Cochon". I stumbled across this CD in an Eastern European bargain bin. I didn't know what it was, only that there was substantial allure in the wood and woodsmen of the cover, the flair and the leer and the little niggling bit of threat. The liner-notes made me think they were from Belgium but subsequent Googling shows that Menlo Park are "based in the UK but with members from all over the globe". This is a relief as I had been wondering why Belgians would so mispronounce the words "cochon cochon". Now all that's left is the mystery of why an Englishman is drawlin' like a Louisiana hog-man. And that's not really much of a mystery: it sounds good.

"Cochon Cochon" is a naughty song. Don't be misled by the awkward romance of the opening, Chris Taylor's Herman Dune-like scene-setting, the sliding violin and sunshiney mandolin. Soon enough the rest of the band will jump into view, splattering mud, stamping muck for the pure fun of it. "Cochon, cochon! Tu est le garçon qui molestait mon fille!" Taylor doesn't use the french u, or the gentle European patter of syllables. No, it's clumsier farmhand enunciation: "Too est lé gar-sonnn key m'lestay mon fille".

(Come to think of it, there's a mystery here. "Mon" (my) is a male-gendered adjective. "Fille" (girl) is obviously a female noun. So is Taylor's grammar wrong? Or is he really saying "Tu est le garçon qui molestait mon fils!" (You are the boy who molested by son!")? And is "her lily-white leg" connected to all this? Is the singer goin' after the whole family? How very, uh, rural.)

What's most impressive about the song is the spontaneity of the chorus, the way everyone can decide at once to throw dirty leaves in the air, to hop and holler. That all it takes to make a riot, a hoe-down, a drinking song, a hijink, a crime - all it takes is for everyone to join in at once, to tie their fortunes to a kicker of a melody, to play the guitars, mandolin, violin, drums and Hammond, to revel in the grimy glad moment. And to try to avoid the farmer with the shotgun.

I trust, Jordan, that this is the sort of adventure you are enjoying this week in Paris.

[I am astonished to find that Menlo Park's albums seem to be out of print. You can buy some EPs, though!]


The Wilburn Brothers - "Trouble's Back in Town". One of the things that Edinburgh does best is evening. The light's diffuse, a flat grey. Everything still feels bright, but muted - pausing, taking a breath before doing something else. (That something else is, inevitably, night.) It's the streetlights that look most beautiful in this grey hush haze. The orange is so orange, the bright is so bright, the still is so still. As Robbie Burns said, "There are no stars as lovely as Edinburgh street-lamps."

One of these evenings I'm going to camp out and watch the street-lights come on. Ping ping ping, down the street, a glow coming in amongst the grey. And as they do this, I am going to listen to "Trouble's Back in Town". "Oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh" - everything lights up, kindly and beautiful. The Wilburn Brothers will remind me of the humanity in a city, and the bass and piano will remind me of the groove, the beat. Such kindly "trouble". Such happy trouble. Such longed-for and welcome trouble. Yes, we'll let this trouble come. On, lamplight! On, dusk! Let's huddle in the twilight, under one of those bright orange globes, and look out for the "girl with big brown eyes and ... smile so sweet."

This is country music in gold and velvet, vocal harmonies to come wafting in through windows. If the Inkspots were more whinsome, if Aaron Presley didn't die and he and his brother remained good little boys. But enough ifs - these fellas discovered Loretta Lynn, and that's reason enough to listen to their finest song.

(This track's taken from the comp that accompanies the current - Music - issue of The Oxford American. It's a great, varied comp, running the gamut from Elvis to Bubbly Puppy, Lightnin' Hopkins to Erykah Badu, Dale Hawkins to Buddy Holly. Moondog! Better still is the magazine. There's an article on each of the CD's artists, pieces full of verve and wit. Don McLeese's Buddy Holly profile is personal, modest, incisive; I admire the small reflections of Anthony Doerr on Howard Tate; and there's a real grace to Warren Zanes's take on The Wilburn Brothers. Best of all, however, is Roy Blount Jr's remarkable, tender take on Ray Charles -- one of the best pieces of music writing I've read this year.)

[Check out The Oxford American and buy Stars of Grand Ole Opry]



"The Sleeper", over at Tuwa's Shanty, is a humble and handsome (read: outstanding) cut by Cannonball Adderley and John Coltrane. A piece like a first date. Or a stranger handing you a piece of fruit.

I really like the messier version of Andrew Bird's "Sovay", played live with My Morning Jacket, which you can grab at the very elegant new mp3blog, Baskerville's Syndrome. Note to jez: please let us have permalinks.

Posted by Sean at August 12, 2005 3:13 AM

Excellent tracks. I very much like the vocal harmonies on the Wilburn Bros, and "Cochon Cochon" is just odd enough for me to like it immediately.

Thanks for the mention; it's too kind.

Posted by Tuwa at August 12, 2005 10:07 AM

Want to muddy the water even more? This site says that Chris Taylor is from Philly!

Yeah, i was trying to figure out whether there might be a Louisiana connection. No luck yet. Maybe he's trying to pun it with "caution?"

Posted by badger at August 12, 2005 2:15 PM

Wishing you and the family a nice trip...we wish WE were going.
Luv ya !!


Posted by Zaidie Ben at August 13, 2005 8:50 AM

Menlo Park were based in London I think, but their lead singer was an American. Their drummer is now the guy who drums for things like Acoustic Ladyland and Polar Bear. I missed out on seeing them when they were around, and now that I want to see them live they don't really exist anymore. I think they reformed briefly for a one off gig earlier this year, and there was a program on late night channel 4 about their Russian tour.

Posted by Jill at August 13, 2005 9:43 AM

Menlo Park were practically out of print the moment their record came out - I had the good fortune to get a promo copy of their album before release to review for a student rag, but it never came out properly in the UK as far as I know. I think it was just a little too risque, even though it's as obscure as they come. I do delight in slipping in the odd track into mixtapes just to get a reaction. Few bands make people double-take quite as much. 'Did he just sing what I thought he sang?'.


Posted by Yvash at August 13, 2005 7:24 PM

yo, think iam a bit late on this convo, but just to say menlo park are indeed "head f*ckingly" different and amazing, if u are luckly some people were selling copies of their brilliant album at amazon, i cant recomend it enough, i also saw the russian documentary and thats what made me try to get as much info as poss, alas i dont think they will be giging anytime soon,(try reading some of the reviews theyve got!!!!!) although i still check t'internet regulary in hope! they will probably remain the best band no one's heard of!

Posted by jim at August 18, 2005 7:51 AM

I tried to listen to that MP3 you linked to in your post, but the link is broken. Is there a new link?


Posted by Shotgun Shells Guy at November 10, 2005 9:23 PM

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