This Bird Has Flown

Patricia Barber

Well, another Super Bowl has come and gone, and it turns out ol’ Edgar Allan was wrong….at least for the Baltimore Ravens and Ray Lewis. Not so much with the “nevermore,” but a ton of the “once more before you go.” No matter your personal opinion of the man, he certainly went out on top, didn’t he?

It is my distinct pleasure to welcome you all back for the second “Cherry Lounge” post of 2013….hopefully the second of many more to come. In a row. Every week. Yup, that’s the plan.


You know what’s funny? Toward the end of 2012, I was still putting out regular blog entries, and my readership statistics started to plummet. I guess the holidays were approaching, and a lot of you had more important things to do than read about music and music history (although, for the life of me, I just can’t think of anything that could be more important…..). So I’d occasionally peek at my numbers, and they were going down. And, you know, whatever. I was uninspired at the time anyway, so I just figured, “I’ll take the holidays off and come back refreshed in the new year.”

Of course, none of that is what was funny.

What was funny was that the moment I stopped writing blog entries, my readership went UP. For the last couple weeks of December into the first couple weeks of January, I hadn’t posted a darn thing, but my readership rose and was steady. I blinked repeatedly when I saw the stats.

I mean, what does that say, anyway? I write, everyone runs away. I stop writing, everyone comes back. It made absolutely no sense to me, of course…..still doesn’t. But I figure now, at the very least, I can generate a bunch of new content so that the next time I go on vacation, all of those new and returning site visitors will have something to read…..


So let’s talk cover tunes today, shall we? More specifically, one of my favorite cover tunes of all time. But first, I’ll set the scene…..

Between 1997 and 2004, I lived in a lovely suburb outside of Washington, D.C., called Silver Spring. (Actually, it was more technically Aspen Hill…..but the U.S. Postal Service insisted I write Silver Spring on my envelopes, so whatever.) And for almost the first four years of that time, I worked at Borders Books & Music at the White Flint Mall.

(And here I pause in a moment of silence for not only Borders – which, of course, went out of business in spectacular, bankrupty fashion a year and a half back – but also the White Flint Mall itself, which apparently will be biting the dust soon in order to make way for a gigantic parking lot, or swell new hi-tech office buildings, or a new ark for Noah…..or whatever the hell it is they do with the space a giant mall had previously occupied once they tear it down. The real question here is what’s going to happen to the huge stone horse outside of P.F. Chang’s? That would look really swell in my living room….)

While at Borders, I worked mostly in the music department, which meant I was knee-deep in the music hoopla, so to speak….and the job came with some satisfying perks. Of course, free CDs were at the top of the list. Almost everything that was ever in a listening station at a Borders for customers to check out before they bought it was actually a free promotional copy of an album, which would be immediately be placed up for grabs in the back room the second it was removed from the sales floor. Sometimes, we even put our names on CDs while they were still in the listening stations. Competition was fierce, but the music was awesome. (Except for Andrea Bocelli’s albums……if I NEVER see his name again, it will be too soon. Serious PTSD going on from all the CDs of his we sold and all the rabid customers who clamored for them…….)

Another perk was that occasionally (actually pretty rarely) a label rep would come through to check promotional displays or store stock, and would subsequently offer up a free ticket to see an artist he or she was promoting live in concert. This only affected me once, unfortunately, but the show I lucked into provided me an earful of one of the best cover tunes I’ve ever heard.

Patricia Barber is an accomplished American pianist and singer/songwriter whose style could be described as a slick yet primal combination of jazz and blues, and the only reason I’d even remotely heard of her at the time I scored that free concert ticket was the fact that I shelved the jazz CDs at Borders. But hey, a free show is a free show, so no looky-gift-horsey-mouthy, right? (Actually, I think it was one of those “free” tickets where you had to spend a certain amount at the bar to justify your lack of payment at the door, but I wasn’t complaining….)

So off my coworker Jill and I went (we scored not just one, but two “free” tickets!), down into Georgetown and to the famed Blues Alley music club. The lights dimmed, the crowd hushed, and the show began.

Beyond that, I don’t remember much until she got to The Beatles. It’s not that the music wasn’t good, because it was. Very much so. But not knowing the artist at all, I had not heard any material by her before, so there were no “favorite songs” or memorable tunes I’d be able to identify later….just an hour or so of really good jazz. Until…..

At some point, she began to play familiar chords and mouthed those immortal words.

“I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me….”

And I was transfixed. It was a whole new arrangement, a whole new vibe. There was a simplicity and sense of intimacy in her voice that made the song resonate. Blues Alley is a small venue anyway, but each word seem to hang in the air, the reverberations of her voice washing over the crowd and seeping into, not bouncing off of, the walls. It was just one of those moments that you go to live concerts for; completely impactful, absolutely memorable.

When it was over, I told myself that I had to have a copy of that version of “Norwegian Wood,” but, as I found out (much to my dismay), there was none to be had. It was a cover they had added to the set for live performance only……she had never recorded it.

Oh-woe-woe was me.

"A Fortnight In France" CD coverIt wasn’t until nearly five years later, in 2004, that her CD “Live: A Fortnight In France” was released on Blue Note Records, and, finally, a recorded version of that song…..that glorious song. The environment could not be duplicated, and without it, a little bit of the magic had vanished. But the rest was still there: the strong yet delicate instrumentation, the breathy vocals, the slight pauses for effect. Magnificent.

So now, gentle readers, I share with you “Norwegian Wood” by Patricia Barber. (And, although I would recommend listening to the CD version first so there are no visual elements to distract you from the experience, if you want a longer, more elaborate version and something to watch, here’s a version on YouTube from a jazz festival in 2006.) I can’t guarantee you’ll enjoy it as much as I do, but I certainly hope you might.

P.S. – While you’re here and reading this, why don’t you drop me a comment below and let me know what your favorite cover tune is? See you next week!

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