My son told me yesterday that when he hears me say I like someone's music, he automatically assumes it's someone English. Hmmm -- am I that transparent? Let's consult the shuffle and see...
1. "When It Sings" / Elvis Costello
From North (2003)
If I'd still been listening to Elvis Costello in 2003 -- which I wasn't -- I too might have been baffled by this tender album of jazz-drenched ballads. But finding it retrospectively, after Elvis' marriage to Diana Krall, it all made perfect sense. And doesn't Elvis live in Vancouver now? Does he still qualify as English?
2. "The Things We Never Said" / Thea Gilmore
From Rules for Jokers (2002)
Ha! Thea isn't English; she's from Scotland. A wonderful singer-songwriter, by the way.
3. "London Look" / Herman's Hermits
From The London Look EP (1968)
Not only a song by an English band, a song about London from an English band -- I am not doing so well here. What's worse, the Hermits did this song exclusively for a promo EP, sponsored by Yardley Cosmetics (remember the cologne Oh! De London? I wore nothing else for a year.) The basic idea is to stuff in as many London place names as possible. Who cares? It's a delightful, delicious little track.
4. "Nervous on the Road (But Could Not Stay Home)"/ Brinsley Schwarz
From Nervous on the Road (1972)
Despite the affected country drawl on this romping picaresque number about a touring musician, Nick Lowe is English, it's true.
5. "Don't Be Ashamed of Your Age" / Jerry Lee Lewis and George Jones
From Last Man Standing (2006)
Aha! Nobody's more American than that old rockbilly devil Jerry Lee and the king of country music George Jones. Normally I hate duet albums; this odds-defying LP is the exception to the rule. Listen to these two sly old dogs twiddling through this Bob Wills chestnut.
6. "Saint Beneath the Paint" / Nick Lowe
From Radio Daze (1984)
Not just one but two Englishmen -- the aforementioned Nick Lowe and his sometime colleague Paul Carrack, on particularly juicy bootleg live album. This obscure track from Nick's obscure LP The Abominable Showman (for that title alone he ought to be hung) is greatly improved with harmonies by Paul and a little boogie-woogie piano.
7. "Fool for a Lonesome Train" / Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals
From Life Line (2007)
Another American -- whew! -- singing a trumpery bit of country blues. I still haven't quite figured out the riddle that is Ben Harper, but I keep on trying -- that voice can make any song sound better than it should.
8. "Rivers of Babylon" / The Melodians
From The Harder They Come (1972)
Do Jamaicans count as English (being former colonials) or American (being in the same hemisphere)? Like most American kids my age, Jimmy Cliff's Jamaican gangster movie was my introduction to reggae, and I played it so often, it's still hard-wired in my memory. "And let the words of my mouth / and the meditations of my mind / be acceptable in your sight" -- I still sing this song under my breath whenever I hear that blessing in church.
9. "Queen of Sheba" / Nick Lowe
From Nick the Knife (1982)
Not this one again! (Like I mind.)
10. "Knapsack" / Amy Rigby
From Diary of a Mod Housewife (1994)
Well, at least we're ending with an American -- not only an American, but a country punk female (talk about defying cliches). Fantasizing about the guy who checks her bags at the bookstore -- I picture the old Shakespeare and Company on the Upper West Side -- that's enough to fuel this Mod housewife's daydreams for week.