Wednesday, April 30, 2008

"She Won't Be Back" / Bill Lloyd

Usually I steer away from tribute albums -- I'd always prefer to hear the original artists perform their own songs. But I'm too curious not to bite when the tribute's to Ray Davies or Nick Lowe. After all, the first Nick Lowe song I ever heard was a cover, Elvis Costello's "What So Funny 'Bout Peace Love and Understanding." If it hadn't been for Ray Davies tribute albums, I'd never have discovered Ron Sexsmith, Fountains of Wayne, Matthew Sweet, Yo La Tengo, or Bill Lloyd. (Both Lloyd and Sexsmith covered the same relatively obscure Kinks song, "This Is Where I Belong".) You gotta figure, any artist who's eager to cover Kinks songs knows where it's at.

But it took me a while to dig deeper into Bill Lloyd's work -- somehow I got the notion he was a country artist (because of his late 80s work in the duo Foster and Lloyd) and left it at that. Then I noticed he'd collaborated with Marshall Crenshaw on MC's wonderful album #447, co-writing the mesmerizing "Ready Right Now." That jumped Lloyd right to the head of the Artists I Should Investigate queue. And when I learned that his 1999 album Standing On the Shoulders of Giants was an homage to the 60s British bands who'd formed his musical taste -- well, I was in.

Lloyd's got an amazing list of collaborators on this album, including Crenshaw, Al Kooper, and another Nashvillean who should be better known, Greg Trooper. (Trooper and Crenshaw have both also added their licks to Nick Lowe tribute albums - do I love these guys or what?) I drove myself crazy the first few times I listened to this record, trying to identify all the familiar riffs weaving in and out -- echoes of the Searchers, the Byrds, the Who, the Hollies, and Badfinger, as well as the Kinks and the Beatles (songs like "Dr. Roberts' Second Opinion" and "Turn Me On Dead Man" are only the most obvious references). Lloyd's songs may not equal their models, but they're tuneful and full of smart pop energy.

Leading off with a Kinky riff ("Set Me Free," appropriately enough), "She Won't Be Back" writhes with pre-break-up anguish -- the singer's lying bed waiting for his girlfriend to come home, with a sinking feeling that she won't. "The clock shows 5 AM / Could she be wondering where I am? / Well, I'm the one who's lying in our bed." But in this scenario, he knows he's the one to blame. "She gave me every chance," he admits in verse two, "to give her more than just a song and dance / And now it's too late to change my tune." He's riddled with middle-of-the-night doubt and agony: "And so I watch the clock / Hoping she's just circling round the block / But that's an empty wish that won't come true." It's a bitter moment of self-honesty and guilt, piled on top of a stomach-heaving sensation of loss.

So far, it's a caustic set-up Davies or Lennon might have written -- but that second bridge is distinctly modern: "She always talked about a trip out west / Now she's got the time I guess / I never listened to her dreams / But now I know how much that means." We've come a long way from Lennon songs like "Run For Your life" or "Girl", though I guess McCartney and the Zombies were ahead of their time when it came to being sensitive males (or at least pretending to be).

Lloyd's slightly reedy voice isn't your classic British Invasion blues imitation, but the song works just fine without it. The song winds up with a nifty guitar solo by Pat Buchanan, heard most recently on Ray Davies' new album Working Man's Cafe -- talking about closing the circle. This song may not be "Yesterday" or "Days," but it's a lot better than "Sexy Back." Add Bill Lloyd to my roster.

She Won't Be Back sample


Iñaki said...

Wow, considering the influences you mention I'll have to check it!

Holly A Hughes said...

Indeed. When I first listened to this album I thought to myself, "Wow, Inaki has to hear this!"

Iñaki said...

Hahahaha, thanks, I'll check him!