Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"Futuretown" / Jon Lindsay

Every so often, some enterprising PR person plucks my little site out of the blogosphere and contacts me to suggest I listen to his or her client. (The music equivalent of what we book publishers used to call over-the-transom manuscripts.) If the request is made very very politely, I might give the music a spin.  Usually it's dreadful crap that I delete from my iTunes as fast as I can. But I keep telling myself to keep an open mind -- it could always be another Edward O'Connell.

I'll admit, I let Jon Lindsay's debut album, Escape from Plaza-Midwood, loiter in the middle of my music library for a couple of months. I kept meaning to listen, but you know, Graham Parker and Doug Sahm and Huey Lewis kept getting in the way.  I have my priorities.

And the first few snippets I played sounded -- well, bright and slick, with teen heartthrob-style vocals. If I had listened more closely, of course, I'd have known enough to snap up tickets for when he rolled through NYC earlier this month.  I have nobody to blame but myself. My bad.

But better late than whatever.  Herewith, let me introduce you to the new face of indie pop: Jon Lindsay, a 29-year-old preacher's son (make a note -- it'll be on the quiz) out of Portland, Oregon, by way of North Carolina.  Before going solo he attracted some buzz in various indie bands like The Young Sons and The Catch Fire; he also worked as the keyboardist for Benji Hughes. Of course, if you've never heard of any of those artists (I hadn't), this will mean nothing to you.  So let's can the press release and get down to the music, which is all you'll really need to know.

There are many very good songs on this album (check out "My Blue Angels" or "These Are the End Times" to get an idea of his stylistic range, and the agile intelligence of his lyrics).  But I had to pick "Futuretown" because -- well, because I can't get it out of my head.  And that's the whole point of this blog.



I'd like to believe that Lindsay wrote this song to advise his girlfriend -- or, hell, his entire generation -- to slow down and smell the roses. "Slow down on your way to Futuretown" --  why be in such a hurry to move forward with your life?  But the more I listen to this guy's stuff, the more I've learned to be on the lookout for a snarky subtext. This "Futuretown" they're heading forward to isn't one-size-fits-all, it's a whole town, with good neighborhoods and bad neighborhoods.  She's probably already got hers mapped out, and it looks like she's leaving him by the side of the road.  With a concussion.

From there on, the scenario gets steadily more surreal, almost Naked Lunch-y, with "driveby laser beams," a microchip implanted in his arm, a job "slinging oxygen and Hoverboards" (the sci-fi equivalent of working in a gas station?), even a new girlfriend who's "half a robot, half a cop."  That bright, glidey pop sound morphs into something more brittle, full of twiddly keyboards and relentless slap drums; the chirpy tempo begins to feel like a moving sidewalk you can't jump off of. Welcome to the future.

Well you know me; satirical and snarky's the way I like my music. Despite that earnest sweet voice, this guy's about as cuddly as Morrissey, with neurosis to spare.  (Motion City Soundtrack, move over.)  Studded with knowing pop culture references -- Cormac McCarthy, Eddie Haskell, Don Draper, Kato Kaelin (I told you there'd be a quiz!) -- it's clearly power pop for the cognoscenti.

Sorry I took so long, Jon.  But don't worry, you've earned yourself a place in the rotation.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

WEDNESDAY SHUFFLE

A few songs to be thankful for as you gobble your turkey tomorrow!

1. "Save Me" / Aimee Mann
From the Magnolia soundtrack (1999)
I never saw this movie -- Tom Cruise really puts me off -- but I know I should.  Any movie with Phillip Seymour Hoffman, John C. Reilly, Al Molina, AND William H. Macy has to be worth watching; all the Aimee Mann songs on the soundtrack are the icing on the cake. Talk about spiky emotions? This chick wrote the book.


2. "Kansas" / Fred Eaglesmith
From Milly's Cafe (2007)
"It's always Kansas, that's where I always break down" -- could be a touring musician, could be a trucker, could be a traveling salesman, but in the dead-center of the country, his still-raw heartbreak trips him up, every time.  For grit and twang, it's hard to beat Fred Eaglesmith; he puts the folk right back in alt.country.

3. "Warming Up to the Ice Age" / John Hiatt
From Warming Up to the Ice Age  (1985)
John Hiatt before he properly found his own grit and twang. My shuffle sure does love this song. 

4. "A Little Bit of Sunlight" / The Kinks
From Picture Book (box set compilation)
Here's a little mono gem -- an early Kinks demo for a Ray Davies composition that would be a modest hit for the Majority, way back in the Swinging 60s. "A little bit of sunlight is all that I want from you" -- I've always thought Ray was channeling the Beach Boys when he wrote this one.   

5.  "Have Another Drink" / The Kinks
From Soap Opera (1975)
Fast-forward another 10 years to the middle of the Kinks' "theatrical period." A perfect pub singalong -- "if you're feeling down and you're under the weather / Have another drink and you'll feel all right." It's the missing link between "Have a Cuppa Tea" and "Alcohol," all summed up in that gullible refrain: "Don't stop and think / Have another drink."

6. "Lola" (live) / The Kinks
From Everybody's in Showbiz (1972)
A Kinks trifecta!  But only a snippet, really, a rowdy crowd singalong of the obligatory hit song from Disc 2, the live concert half of this quixotic double album. (The first disc being all about the hell of touring.)  Everybody put your hands together! PS If I never hear Ray sing "Lola" again I won't be disappointed. 

7. "I Don't Want To Do Wrong" / Gladys Knight and the Pips
From The Ultimate Collection (compilation)
Ah, one of the Queens of Motown Soul -- the fiery, passionate Gladys Knight. Her man's been gone a while, and  . . . well, the flesh is weak. "I don't wanna do what my heart keeps telling me to / I know I'm trying with all of my might / I think I've lost this fight." Dig the Ray Charles-esque strings.

8. "I'm In Love With You" / Georgie Fame
From History of British Pop #5 (compilation)
Not Georgie's usual thing -- a pitch-perfect retro R&B number, back-up singers and horns and all. No link, as I converted this off an old vinyl compilation.  Obscure, but tasty indeed -- take my word for it.   

9. "Birdhouse in Your Soul" / They Might Be Giants
From Flood  (1990)
Hey, this song cropped up the other night on one of my favorite TV shows, HBO's Bored to Death (starring the ever-adorable Jason Schwartzman). Quirky Brooklyn comedy, quirky Brooklyn band: a perfect match. "Blue canary in the outlet by the light switch / Who watches over you / Make a little birdhouse in your soul" -- if it were any other rock band, I think this was a metaphor, but TMBG? It really IS about a bird nightlight.

10. "Never Been Done" / Ron Sexsmith
From Blue Boy (2001)
From blue canary to Blue Boy -- here's another plucky, bouncy bit of uplift from one of my favorite Canadian troubadors.  (Notice, Scott, I said "one of my favorites" -- there's still room for you).

Thursday, November 18, 2010

"Get Started.  Start a Fire." /  
Graham Parker

HAPPY 60TH BIRTHDAY TO THE GEEP!!

Sixty years old?  Graham Parker can't be sixty years old.  The guy's still too full of piss and vinegar, still rocking WAY too hard to be a senior citizen.

Why, just a couple weeks ago, on one night I could see the difference between Nick Lowe -- white-haired, courtly, a tiny paunch on his rail-thin frame -- strumming and singing for the sedate crowd at the City Winery, while across town Graham Parker was tearing up the lino at a grubby little East Village bar, where the buzz-worthy scene spilled out onto the sidewalks.  You guys know I love the Nickster, but really, ask me which event was more fun.

As you know, I went through quite a Graham Parker phase a few months ago, but that was only the beginning.  I recently splurged on all the other Parker CDs I didn't buy the first go-round, and diving into these new (to me) albums has provided me with hours of insane delight.  So here is yet another amazing song that I didn't get around to in my first Graham Parker marathon...

video

On Graham's 1988 album Mona Lisa's Sister, this is  more or less the title track, verse one being about said sister (who, in the cover art, bears an uncanny resemblance to the Parkerilla, black shades and all). Unlike her famous sibling, Mona Lisa's sister tried to pose for Leonardo but was rejected, unwilling to muster even the half-smile her sister produced. Verses two and three feature their own defiant heroines -- Marilyn Monroe in verse two, Joan of Arc in verse three -- none of whom meet a happy end.  Historical accuracy isn't the point (at one point Joan is caught smoking illegally in an airport), but in Graham's eyes they're all rebels, tragically caught in the flames of their own iconoclastic fates.

It's a good story hook all right -- though what this song is really about is that propulsive rhythm line, with the repeated chant "Get started! / Start a fire!" underlaid by a prowling bass line and darting bursts of guitar.  For this record Parker had rounded up most of his old backing band the Rumour -- Brinsley Schwarz on lead guitar, Andrew Bodnar on bass, Terry Williams on the drums -- and it's a wonderful reminder of how explosively tight this ensemble could be at its best.

Very few songs manage to hold my interest for five minutes, yet somehow these guys pull it off -- not with drawn-out solos and ever-louder repetitions of the same damn chorus, but with irresistible syncopation. The tempo's seductive, not frenetic, and just listen to how that melodic line cascades, like waves lapping the shore. I swear, this song hypnotizes me, every time.

When people ask me to describe Graham Parker's music, I'm always at a loss. It's too swinging to be punk, too soulful to be New Wave, and way too spiky for feel-good pub rock.  Graham Parker has often been lumped in with all these musical genres, and unfairly so.  We music fans seem to need a label to hang on to, but GP is a marketer's nightmare -- he doesn't really fit any label, and the problem is compounded by his own chameleon-like tendency to change styles from album to album. Even if we did have a label to sum him up, it probably wouldn't convey the sheer intelligence of Parker's music, his bone-deep sense of rhythm, and his incredible ear for hooks. 

I put this record on and I know I'll be walking to its beat for days, softly singing to myself, "Get started!  Start a fire!"  I'm telling you, if I get arrested for arson, Graham Parker better be willing to post bail. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

WEDNESDAY SHUFFLE

Another week older, and yet no wiser....

1. "Pictures in the Sand" / The Kinks
From The Great Lost Kinks Album
Ray Davies in music hall mode -- all he needs is a straw boater, striped blazer, and cane.  No wonder this catchy little bit of nonsense ended up on The Great Lost Kinks Album, a collection of odds and ends that Ray never intended to be released. (He even had to sue the record company to get them to withdraw it from the stores.) But we Kinks fans are nothing if not completists; TGLKA is a must-have in any Kinks Kultists kollection.  

2. "People Are Talking" / Alan Price
From Travellin' Man (1986)
Again, I am outed for my music geek obsessions -- yes, I did buy this obscure Alan Price vinyl LP on eBay and transfer it to digital. Wanna make something of it? It's a lovely romp, full of old rock 'n' roll covers and new songs that sound like old rock 'n' roll covers, and Alan is clearly having a blast. "People are talking / About me and you  / The things they are saying / Are making me sad and blue" -- fill in the gaps with boogie woogie piano and you've got the idea. 

3. "I Saw Her Standing There" / Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard
From Last Man Standing (2006)
Well, at least we're getting to a well-known song, though not the obvious rendition. But that's the point of this duet album, giving all these classic songs fresh life in the hands of Jerry Lee and a surprising roster of collaborators.  This track is an irresistible example -- once you've heard Little Richard's trademark yelp after the line "How could I dance with another?," it'll never again sound  right without it.

4. "Scar Tissue" / The Red Hot Chili Peppers
From Californication (1999)
Man, do I love this album. That lounging funky rhythm, the drawling vocals -- "With the birds I’ll share this-a lonely view" -- existential poetry married to a soaring rock riff. This song always gets me where I live, and I have no idea why.

5. "'Till We're Nude" / The Replacements
From All For Nothing/Nothing at All (compilation)
Existential? Soaring?  Nope, it's just the Replacements, blasting out angsty punk-ish rock and roll in their grungy basement. "Me and you, we ain't through / We ain't through until we're nude" -- sometimes that's as much of a social contract as you need.

6. "A-OK" / Motion City Soundtrack
From I Am the Movie (2003)
I refuse to call these guys an emo band. It's true that most of their songs consist of Justin Pierre parsing and probing the fine shadings of his own neuroses.  So what? With that thrashing beat and the hyperkinetic guitars, it's impossible to feel mopey. "Someday you'll understand / That everything is A-OK" -- so she insists, but he's not buying it.  

7. "Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F.)" / Monsters of Folk
From Monsters of Folk (2009)
When I first got this heady album, I pored over it, trying to pin down which song sprang from which musician in this "super-group" -- M. Ward? Yim Yames (a.k.a. My Morning Jacket's Jim James)?  Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst? But this swirly, synthy first track made it easy -- they each sing one verse!  


8.  "It's Alright" / The Kinks
From The Kinks (1964)
Jump back 45 years in time (!!) to this early Kinks track, stripped-down and primitive rock and roll. (In glorious mono!)  The Kinks never were quite convincing as a blues band, but it's fun to hear them give it a go, wheezy mouth harp and all. 

9. "Oxford Comma" / Vampire Weekend 
From Vampire Weekend (2008)
Back into the indie world, with a vengeance. Something about these guys I've loved since my first listen....

10. "American Pie" / Don McLean
From American Pie (1971)
Might as well end the evening with the entire history of rock and roll, packed into one grab-bag of pseudo-cryptic lyrics -- a fluky classic, but a classic nonetheless. Scroll down here to get the lowdown.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

"You Never Give Me Your Money" / The Beatles

Well, today the other shoe finally dropped. The war of Apple V. Apple has ended in a truce, and iTunes at last can offer the Beatles catalog for digital download.

Not that it matters to me -- I own all these tracks, in numerous formats: vinyl, cassette, CD, even bootlegs of the US tracklists and stereo and mono mixes.  Of course, I got the giant remastered Beatles boxset for Christmas the year it came out. (Yippee!!) I've even got Beatles Rock Band, fer chrissakes. It's not a question of me needing those tracks, and frankly, it's not a question of the Beatles needing me to buy them. I'm sure they'll do quite well in this new format, without me boosting those sales figures.

Still, they were the last big holdout -- I guess now we can say that the digital revolution is complete.  Just in time to start a new vinyl revolution, I say!!

video

Appropriate, then, to celebrate this event with a track from the Beatles' final album, Abbey Road.  (Let It Be may have been released last, but it was recorded earlier.)  By now, the Beatles were barely functioning as a unit, recording their parts separately and letting George Martin mix it all in the editing room.  Sounds like a rotten way to make a record album -- but the Beatles defied even that logic and turned in another masterpiece. Their solution? Create songs that were like mosaics, the various band members' contributions like sparkling tiles molded into the whole.

Oh, you youngsters who only know this from the CD.  You can only guess at the visceral excitement we feel as this commences, the first track on Side Two -- the opening movement of what turned out to be one great musical collage, all the way through to the doggerel coda of "Her Majesty." It begins simply, broodingly, a piano plinking out a repeated chord as Paul wistfully sings, "You never give me your money / You only give me your funny paper." As a kid, I thought he was referring to the Sunday comics, and in college I was told it meant rolling papers for joints. But I eventually realized that the "funny paper" was the flurry of contracts and agreements that ex-manager Allen Klein used to distract the Beatles from overseeing their complex business affairs.

Paul is singing, but this sounds like a John tune to me -- the repeated notes, the woeful rhythm, the satiric jabs -- and indeed, John joins in for the second verse, adding vocal harmonies as guitar and bass ramp up: "I never give you my number / I only give you my situation." It sounds almost classical, doesn't it, like some German lieder? When you think that only six years earlier this guys were singing "I Want To Hold Your Hand" -- well, it's amazing. Note that the third verse to this song -- "I never give you my pillow / I only send you my invitation" -- won't show up until the penultimate track on the album, "Carry That Weight." I love how those repeated motifs lace this entire album side together. 

The song downshifts swiftly into rock-and-roll boogaloo for Paul's jaunty bridge, "Out of college, money spent / See no future, pay no rent." (How many times did I sing those lines to myself in the drifting years after college?) Crooning his best Elvis imitation, Paul turns his back on the business hassles, longing to recapture the freedom and promise of their early days.  Soon it transitions into a second bridge, the dreamy "But oh that magic feeling," with its spangly chiming guitar riffs, melting into a progression of soft-focus choral ahs. "Oh that magic feeling / Nowhere to go" -- how delicious this must have sounded to the weary grown-up Beatles. 

A stairstep guitar solo from George dives in, the same solo we'll hear later in "Carry That Weight." It's followed by Paul's urgently syncopated "One sweet dream" section (dig the bass here!). "One sweet dream / Pick up the bags and get in the limousine / Soon we'll be away from here, / Step on the gas and wipe that tear away" -- maybe Paul was thinking about escaping with Linda, but what I hear is the Beatles saying goodbye to their fans. These lines sprang to my mind the one time I saw Paul McCartney on the street, a fleeting glimpse of him jumping into a black SUV. Note that the second time George plays the solo, Paul doubles it on bass. Naturally he drowns out the guitar -- the bass always does (did George never figure this out?).

And then the song morphs yet again, into the ominous chant of "One two three four five six seven, / All good children go to heaven." ("Heaven" -- surely a clue to Paul being dead. I haven't even started on the Paul-Is-Dead scenario in this song.) It's John singing, and I think of Yellow Submarine's "All Together Now," or else the eerie "voices out of nowhere put on specially by the children for a lark" on the White Album's "Cry Baby Cry." The sonic tapestry grows dense, different guitar riffs weaving through it -- makes me anticipate that bit in "The End" where the three guitarists peel off dueling solos and Ringo finally gets his own solo bash on the kit. (Nice of them to let Richie have his own moment at least once before they packed it all in!) There's only a whisper of the same thing here, though, before the track fades out gently, to whispers of wind chimes and crickets.

A hell of a lot to pack into four minutes, wouldn't you say? But then, that's why the Beatles were the Beatles. Every once in a while, it helps to hunker down with one of these tracks and remind myself all over again just how good they were.

Monday, November 15, 2010

"Respect Yourself" / Huey Lewis and the News

No, I did not download this track, guys -- after all the discussion on my last post (which was really Uncle E's post), you think I'd download it?  No, I have gone on a binge of CD-buying the past couple of weeks, ever since Texas Music Week gave me the itch to possess the complete works of Douglas Wayne Sahm.  And did I stop there?  No I did not.  So all it took was a fleeting internet mention that Huey Lewis had a new album of Stax soul music covers, and I was one-clicking like mad to get it into my collection, never mind actually sampling a single track.

My weakness for Huey Lewis has been well documented -- at least by me, here. And of course I'm fond of Stax soul as well; that's a no-brainer.  Putting the two together seems like a match made in heaven, considering how Huey's raspy voice always threw an extra shiver of soul into the bland desert of mid-80s MTV-ized pop.

I won't deny that there may be a little opportunism in this album.  Huey and the News have been in low gear for quite some time, with no new album in nine years; as late-career revivals go, a covers album is the next best thing to a duets album. But I don't doubt Huey's sincerity -- he made sure to record the thing at Ardent Studios in Memphis, to get the authentic vibe -- and I love how enthusiastically he throws himself into these songs, with arrangements that are respectful yet not slavish copies of the old classics. (The News' sax player Johnny Colla has clearly been waiting for a chance to wail away on songs like this.) Just so long as you don't go down the track list, comparing Huey's versions to the originals, you're all right.  I mean, it's pretty hard to compete with Solomon Burke on "Cry To Me," or Otis Redding on "Just One More Day," or Joe Tex on "I Want To (Do Everything For You)." But Huey does a pretty decent job on his own terms.

When it all comes down to it, these are great songs that deserve to be heard over and over.  (And hey, if Steve Cropper can snag a few more songwriting bucks, what's the harm in that?).  If these covers lead people to the originals, everyone is better off.  And I sense that Huey would not disagree. 

So here's my pick off the album -- Huey's adorably fine cover of the Staples Singers' 1971 hit record "Respect Yourself."



By the way, the woman singing with Huey here is the great gospel singer Dorothy Morrison, best known for her lead vocal on the 1968 hit "Oh Happy Day."

"Respect Yourself" was one of Stax's black pride songs -- as opposed to the love-and-sex songs -- with a great message of empowerment.  And given all the Staples' female voices, it worked just as well as a feminist anthem, leading to a fair amount of crossover success. (Already #2 on the R&B charts, it reached #12 on the general pop charts.)  Written by Stax singer Luther Ingram with house songwriter Mack Rice, this track was produced by the great Al Bell, who lined up the Muscle Shoals rhythm section to drive the deeply funky groove of this song.

Listen to the lyrics -- this song does not toe the black power party line. Maybe it's a bit of sermon (notice that the lines don't even rhyme), but there were enough angry rants around at the time -- a thoughtful sermon was refreshing.  The singer stands up for preachers ("If you don't give a heck for the man with the Bible in his hand / Just get out of the way, and let the gentleman do his thing") and swats back at male chauvinists ("Oh you cuss around women and you don't even know their names / Then you're dumb enough to think that'll make you a big ol' man"); there's even a nod to environmentalists ("keep talking 'bout the president, that won't stop air pollution").

But the basic message is of self-esteem -- "If you don't respect yourself / Ain't nobody gonna give a good cahoot, na na na na."  Nowadays that may seem like a namby-pamby pitch, but self-hatred has always been a bit of an issue in the black community, and in 1971, it needed to be said.  Hey, in 2010 it doesn't hurt to say it again, either.

Like a lot of the great Memphis soul songs, "Respect Yourself" loosely pulses along over that throbbing rhythm groove, the lyrics ticking along like a syncopated sort of rap.  The gospel backing vocals are essential, chiming in with that communal warning note. (I keep picturing neighbors sitting on a stoop, adding their "amen, sisters.")  It's a pretty irresistible song, I think, and it's been covered by lots of other artists, including B. B. King, Joe Cocker, and -- I kid you not -- Bruce Willis.  (It was even kind of a hit for him.)

It's no wonder Huey Lewis wanted to give it a try.  Personally, I think he does a fantastic version here -- but then (sigh) I'm partial to Huey. . . .

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Downloader's Manifesto

I'm not getting lazy, honestly.  But I really thought that you all would enjoy the latest rant from my fellow blogger Uncle Elvis -- raise your hands if you've been in this boat!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

WEDNESDAY SHUFFLE


Poor neglected Wednesday Shuffle.  How could I have forgotten you for three whole weeks?!  Time to get back to business, indeed.

1. Lies / J. J. Cale 
From Really (1972)
When the record company sent me this LP to review for my school paper in 1972, I knew nothing about J. J. Cale -- hadn't yet heard any of those Eric Clapton covers that paid J.J.'s rent for years -- but I immediately loved his slouchy blues-rock sound.  Dig the bounce in its step, and that finger-wagging chorus, "Lies, lies, lies --- ".

2. Hey Hey Hey Hey / Chris Farlowe
From The R & B Years (compilation)
I picture drain-pipe jeans and all the Mod accoutrements to go along with this finger-snapping, reverbed bit of Brit R & B, circa 1964.  A completely content-free exercise, but Chris Farlowe had the soulful pipes all right, and he was never afraid to emote -- so much for the cliche of the cold, reserved Englishman.

3. Long Gone / Albert Lee 
From That's All Right, Mama (1969)
Serendipity indeed!  Albert Lee (do NOT confuse him with Alvin Lee of Ten Years After) was probably the guitarist on that previous track; he played with Chris Farlowe from 1964 to 1968, before he followed his rockabilly heart into a band called Country Fever.  Though the record is uneven, flashes of guitar virtuosity make it easy to see why British pub rockers like Dave Edmunds (and Nick Lowe) idolized Lee.  I'm amused to see that this song was written by Neil Diamond -- that explains the corny yips in this classic I'm-outta-here song. 

4. Mr. Churchill Says / The Kinks
From Arthur; Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire (1969)
Hard to believe that this record came out the same year as Albert Lee's rockabilly outing. Here comes yet another unjustly neglected jewel of satire from the mind of Ray Davies.  In 1969, who wanted to follow a rock opera about a middle-aged working-class Englishman's disillusion with the dream of Empire?  A few diehard fans, that's all -- and there's the Kinks history in a nutshell.

5. Hurry Down Doomsday (The Bugs Are Taking Over) / Elvis Costello
From Mighty Like a Rose (1991)
Elvis wrote this one with Jim Keltner, long about the same time as Keltner was drumming with. . . (wait for it) -- Nick Lowe, John Hiatt, and Ry Cooder in Little Village.  It certainly sounds like a song a drummer would write, with the tom-toms going crazy, getting all tribal.  The rest of it is a dissonant polyrhythmic sonic tapestry (calling Brian Eno!), absurdist and surreal.  I just could not get this when this album first came out.  Love it now, though! 

6. Just Like Joe Meek's Blues / Graham Parker
From Burning Questions (1992)
To think that Graham Parker was turning out music this tuneful and smart in 1992 -- and I wasn't listening!  What a shame.  Here's what I wrote about it when I finally woke up...


7. Call Me The Breeze / Alan Price and Rob Hoeke
From Two of a Kind (1977)

Hey, it's another J. J. Cale number!  But sorry, no Amazon link -- I converted this one from vinyl, a decidedly obscure LP I found in a bin years ago.  Alan Price has a funny habit of doing duet projects with other keyboardists -- Georgie Fame, Zoot Money, and here Dutch pianist Rob Hoeke -- somehow they inspire each other, kicking out a set of blues covers that's fine indeed. 

8. I Should Know / The Mavericks
From Trampoline (1998)
Throw together country twang with a Latin horn section -- no one makes that combo work better than the Mavericks (who happen to hail from Florida, not Texas).  Their ace in the bag is lead singer Raul Malo, whose supple, honeyed voice could make any song sound great. 

9. Protection / Graham Parker and the Rumour
From Squeezing Out Sparks (1979)
Yippee, another GP number, from his untouchably great New Wave album Squeezing Out Sparks. Snarky lyrics, snarly guitars, nagging keyboards (hooray, Bob Andrews), and whiplash syncopation -- modern neurosis never sounded so good.

10.  Out of Touch / Daryl Hall & John Oates
From Big Bam Boom (1984)
Sheer 80s -- synths, reverbs, a whiplash beat, and soul on ice -- but hey, I never could resist these guys. C'mon, this is a freakin' great pop song, sleek and chrome-trimmed.  Daryl's voice? Like buttah.  

Sunday, November 07, 2010

"Someone Told Me" / Marshall Crenshaw

Three reasons to do a Marshall Crenshaw post:

1.  I saw him perform last Friday night at the City Winery.

2.  Earlier in the afternoon, I had an interview with him at a record store in Greenwich Village.  (Here's the link to the Blogcritics article.)

3.  It's his birthday next Friday!  (Happy birthday, Marshall!!!) 

Of course, I don't really need a reason to write about Marshall Crenshaw.  He's right up there in my Gang of Guys, the half-dozen musicians whose records mean the most to me. Like all my guys, he's had a few hits over the years, but the deeper you go into the catalog, the freaking better his stuff gets.  While most listeners identify Marshall with infectious jukebox tunes like "Some Day, Some Way" and "Something's Gonna Happen," the songs I love the most are the darker, more complex, jazzier numbers from his more recent albums.  If you haven't heard these, then you owe it to yourself (being the sort of discriminating listener I know you are) to hustle right over to wherever you buy your music and start sampling his wares. 

"Someone Told Me" is as good an example as any. On my very first listen to MC's astonishingly wonderful 2009 album Jaggedland, this track -- the third on the album -- immediately sent a shiver up my spine; when he sang this last Friday, chills went up my spine all over again. Forget the knee-jerk classification of Crenshaw as "power pop" -- here's a song with edgy syncopation, downward plunging chord progressions, and premonitory key shifts, way too moody and complex for simple pop.  And the lyrics build on that haunting melody, offering almost existential musings on the unbridgeable distance between human beings. "Musings" is too mild a word for it, though -- there's an undercurrent of frustration, impatience, and rage running through it, intensified by the eccentric melodic intervals and restless, jumpy rhythms.

This song simply smolders with suppressed anger, a thinking person's reaction to a world that is still baffling, still unfair, still wrong.  With age comes some wisdom -- you don't just flip out anymore when you encounter opposition. Could be a Tea Party loudmouth, could be your stubbornly independent spouse, could be some random driver who cut you off in traffic; could even be (ahem) a dumb-ass heckler at a concert -- alas, the world is full of people who can make you blow your top. The point is, you don't stop getting incensed by things like that, even though you're supposed to be all mature and reasonable. So you go off pondering the imponderables, about gaps in human connections -- "Will we ever meet on common ground?" -- but the rage still boils beneath the surface.  You just know it does, right?  Yet I don't think I've ever heard it expressed before in a rock song.

This is Music For Grown-Ups, folks; even better, it's Music For Thinking Grown-Ups.  And I'm here to tell you that there's just not a whole lot of that kind of stuff around -- better grab it whenever you can find it.

  

Though this is not usually something I get hung up on, perhaps I ought to add how amazing Marshall's guitar playing has become over the years -- I was completely mesmerized, watching him play the other night, even on songs I've known for nigh-on thirty years.  Okay, okay, 29 years.  But that 30th anniversary is coming up next spring, folks, and -- here's a scoop -- City Winery is planning to celebrate by giving Marshall a well-deserved couple nights' stand.  I am so there.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

The Who and “My Generation,” November 1965

The Who and “My Generation,” November 1965

I could have written about this song. But why, when Gordon Thompson says everything I would have said?