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October 5, 2011

Book Notes - Tom Piazza ("Devil Sent the Rain")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Devil Sent the Rain collects Tom Piazza's essays on roots music, literature, politics, and the arts in America. The book is filled with bright and insightful pieces whose topics range from Jelly Roll Morton to Norman Mailer to the BP oil spill, all skillfilly written in the crisp prose Piazza has become known for.

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify yet, request an invitation.


In his own words, here is Tom Piazza's Book Notes music playlist for his book, Devil Sent the Rain: Music and Writing in Desperate America :

Devil Sent the Rain collects journalism, criticism, and essays that I've written over the past fifteen years, on music, literature, and politics. Subjects include Jimmie Rodgers, Charley Patton, Bob Dylan, Gillian Welch, Norman Mailer, Jimmy Martin, Gustave Flaubert, the BP oil spill, Charlie Chan, and Jelly Roll Morton, among others.

The book is subtitled "Music and Writing in Desperate America." Both individually and taken together, the musicians and writers discussed in Devil Sent the Rain generate a magical current, a set of tactics and strategies for deprogramming the conditioned reflexes of the post-reality corporate world being forced upon us. I think of the book itself as a series of magic charms, an attempt to cast a spell to drive out demons and bring dead spirits back to life.

The cycle of performances listed here is arranged in a code – as a kind of rebus, to create a spell of its own. It contains minimal explanation, just a narrow trail of hints to follow. There is more behind each choice than meets the eye. If you follow the trail you will find something of value. You can find more at the Facebook page for Devil Sent the Rain.

1. "Devil Sent The Rain Blues" – Charley Patton. The father of the Delta blues.

2. "Brakeman's Blues" – Jimmie Rodgers. Patton's contemporary, sometimes thought of as the father of country music. He could also sing the blues.

3. "Blue Eyed Jane" – Bob Dylan. A singer who has never paid any attention to dividing lines between white and black traditions sings a Jimmie Rodgers song.

4. "Belshazzar" – Johnny Cash. "If the shoe fits" department. Dylan also recorded this, in the basement. Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin.

5. "If You Don't Shake" – Jelly Roll Morton raises the spirits of the New Orleans dead, for the Library of Congress.

6. "Indian Red" – Mardi Gras Indians. Taken from the soundtrack to Treme, Season 1 – the Indian hymn, sung over the body of the departed.

7. "God Moves on the Water" – Blind Willie Johnson. The sinking of the Titanic was a popular subject for singers with a mind on Divine justice.

8. "Jesus Christ" – Woody Guthrie. "He said to the rich, ‘Give your money to the poor,' so they laid Jesus Christ in his grave."

9. "The Lonesome River" – Dylan and Ralph Stanley harmonizing on a Stanley Brothers favorite.

10. "The Grand Ole Opry Song" – Jimmy Martin, from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band album Will The Circle Be Unbroken, raising the spirits of the greats of country music.

11. "Barroom Girls" – Gillian Welch, from her first record, titled Revival.

12. "B & O Blues" – Blind Willie McTell – because nobody sings the blues like him.

13. "Ham Hound Crave" – David Johansen. The New York Doll born again as a blues singer, from his disc "Shaker." On the cover he poses in a graveyard. What's he doing there?

14. "Junker Blues" – Champion Jack Dupree. "They call me a junko, cause I'm loaded all the time…" The 8-bar blues anthem of New Orleans pianists.

15. "I'm Going Upside Your Head" – Jimmy Reed. He takes no prisoners, and he never backs up. An entr'acte.

16. "Buona Sera" – Louis Prima. Another son of New Orleans. This performance is fused forever with a tragic, lyric montage of heartbreak and possible renewal in Treme.

17. "Worried Blues" – the late Mike Seeger's definitive version of the song by West Virginia coal miner Frank Hutchison. See Dylan, Chronicles, p.69.

18. "Frankie" – Mississippi John Hurt. The classic murder ballad (also recorded by Rodgers, Patton, Seeger, and Dylan).

19. "I Don't Worry About a Thing" – Mose Allison. Mississippi boy sings philosophy in an old key.

20. "I'm Alabama Bound" – Papa Charlie Jackson. Echoes of early New Orleans minstrelsy. Jelly Roll Morton liked this one too, and sang it for the microphone in Coolidge Auditorium.

21. "Pastures of Plenty" – Ramblin' Jack Elliott. Like his friend Bob Dylan, a Jewish kid incognito, laying claim to America, singing songs to and from Woody Guthrie.

22. "Alimony" – Ry Cooder's work could be a soundtrack for Devil Sent the Rain all by itself. Pull up some dust and sit down.

23. "Wreck of the Tennessee Gravy Train" – Uncle Dave Macon. A blast from a past when the banks were up to their same old tricks, and populism equated with common sense. Holler.

24. "Stations of the Cross" – Elvis Costello. Too soon to stay, and too late to leave. Proceed directly back to track one…


Tom Piazza and Devil Sent the Rain links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

A.V. Club review
Kirkus Reviews review

The Browser interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for City of Refuge
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for My Cold War
PBS NewsHour interview with the author
Times-Picayune profile of the author
Weekend Edition profile of the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)

52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists


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