Even though I'm off in New Orleans for the week -- bring on the po' boys and jambalaya! -- I'm still listening to my iPod. Here's a little Shuffle to tide us all over...
1. "I Gotta Go Now" / The Kinks
From The Kinks (1964)
A slight, obscure, and absolutely delicious early Kinks track. Most of the lyrics consist of "I gotta go now" over and over, with a few "whatcha gonna do about it nows" and "hey little girls" thrown in. A strange and wonderful concoction of blues lingo, jazz syncopation, and folk harmonies, served up with effervescent pop charm.
2. "Warming Up to the Ice Age" / John Hiatt
From Warming Up to the Ice Age (1985)
And now some early Hiatt, prowling through relationship angst with stuttering tempos, lashing drums, and a barrage of pun-larded lyrics. Amazingly, this was the album whose failure killed Hiatt's contract with Geffen Records, but the seeds are here -- next he would make Bring the Family for A&M, and the rest is history. All told, I think I like grown-up happy John Hiatt better than young angry John Hiatt, but man, he was already gooooood.
3. "Boring Enormous" / Paul Westerberg
From Stereo (2002)
Post-Replacements Paul Westerberg, strumming his guitar in his basement and singing about his contented home life. I can see why Replacements fans must have been baffled by this development. I came late to the party, though; this is the Westerberg I first knew and adored. Hey, Bob Dylan was from Minnesota, too -- why shouldn't Paul Westerberg find his inner folkie?
4. "Who Can I Turn To?" / Van Morrison and Georgie Fame
From How Long Has This Been Going On? (1995)
Van Morrison in full jazz crooner mode, scatting along to the keyboard stylings of Mr. Clive Powell, a.k.a. Georgie Fame, who lends a layer of honeyed elegance to Morrison's whiskey-and-soda vocals. An entire album of songbook standards, big-band arrangements and all -- and I'd pit Van against Tony Bennett or Frank Sinatra any day.
5. "Queen of Sheba" / Nick Lowe
From Nick the Knife (1982)
The romantic philosophy of Nick Lowe -- she's not Queen of Sheba, or Mona Lisa, but he still adores her, and there's a place that they can go where that thing will grow. The bass line's springy as a rubber band, and Nick cheekily lounges his way through this generic love song with considerable aplomb. (Always wanted to use that word in a review...)
6. "Jungle Song" / Chilli Willi and the Red Peppers
From Bongos Over Balham (1974)
A congenial little soul jam, with some killer harmonica, by these talented pub rockers, erstwhile colleagues of Mr. Lowe in his plaid-shirt days. A notable incubator of New Wave talent -- bassist Paul Riley went on to play in the Rumour behind Graham Parker, and drummer Pete Thomas ended up in Elvis Costello's Attractions.
7. "Dead End Street" / The Kinks
From Face to Face (1966)
Any shuffle that has two Kinks songs is a good shuffle. And this endearing soft-shoe is one of my favorites -- a perfect song for these recessionary times, about a middle-class couple just scraping by. "What are we living for? / Two rooms apartment on the second floor / No money coming in / The rent collector's knock is trying to get in." Even better: "We both want to work so hard / And we can't get the chance." I love that dramatic French horn fanfare; even better is the boozy Dixieland trombone in the fade-out...
8. "I Must Be the Devil" / The Box Tops
From Best of the Box Tops: Soul Deep (compilation)
Throw the irony out the window -- Alex Chilton groans and moans his way through a pitch-perfect blues number, complete with slouchy guitar. "I can't stop, I can't stop, I ca-a-a-n't stop!" Who knows what he's apologizing for -- "I can't bear to see my face, / Wrongs done I can't erase, / It's all wrong, it's all wrong, it's aa-ll-ll wrong!" But I bet you anything she forgives him.
9. "Youth Culture Killed My Dog" / They Might Be Giants
From They Might Be Giants (1986)
Oops, irony's back! A bit of sublime silliness from the Johns, our leading purveyors of comic catchiness. Don't let that Peter-Gunn-like bass riff deceive you -- it's really about his dog committing suicide because of trashy modern music. Or something like that. "But the hip hop / And the white funk / Drove away my puppy's mind." Who else could deliver such goofiness with so much zest?
10. "Try Not To Cry" / Greg Trooper & the Flatliners
From Everywhere (1992)
Back to earnestness -- a passionate alt-country anthem, injected with an R&B howl, about the sorrow that lies deep down things (or lachrymae rerum, for you Latin scholars). This is what the world looks like from the other shore of heartbreak -- pair this with "Don't Think About Her When You're Trying to Drive" and we'd have the whole territory covered. Of course, you HAVE to cry when you hear this song. This guy is just so damn good...