Thursday, March 08, 2012

King of Anything / Sara Bareilles

You want to see a pissed-off woman, you should have seen me two weeks ago when my replacement hard drive also decided to crash, putting me off-line again. But I'm back -- and wrapping up Hell Hath No Fury Week, just a feee-eee-ew days late.

I'll admit, I had very little interest in Sara Bareilles until she showed up as one of the judges of The Sing-Off, alongside the perenially adorable Ben Folds. Sara replaced that girl from the Pussycat Dolls -- you know the one -- whose name I refuse to learn, and yeah, yeah, the third judge is sweater-boy Shawn Stockman from Boyz 2 Men, who has been slowly growing on me. But let's face it, I watch the show for Ben Folds.

Turns out Sara was a natural addition to the show, since she herself started out in a capella groups. And while her notes to the contestants are never as detailed as Ben's ("I heard your second soprano lose pitch," he consults his notes, "about a half-tone in measure 48, which really threw off your key change..."), she still impressed me with her musical knowledge. So I did what any music fan does these days -- I went to iTunes and listened to snippets of various songs -- her big hit, "Love Song," is the one you'll recognize -- to cherry-pick one or two that I liked. I'll let those swap around in the stewpot of my Shuffle for awhile and then see if I feel like splurging on a whole Sara Bareilles album someday.

 But this one jumped right to the top of my playlist, and for obvious reasons.  Don't be misled by the perky opening -- Sara Bareilles is not about perky. This girl is so sassy, so sure of herself, you can tell she's not even going to waste her time, not with this guy.  This is better than a break-up song; it's a pre-break-up song.

Dig the specificity of that coffee shop setting, the cars crawling past the window, the awkward pauses in their conversation -- awkward at least for her, who's given up trying to get a word in edgewise. We can only guess what kind of superior advice he's dispensing, judging from her (unspoken) side of the conversation:  "I hate to break it to you, babe, but I'm not drowning," "I'm not the one who's lost, with no direction," and in the refrain, with its syncopated hoots of scorn, "You dare tell me who to be?" He's cast himself in the role of the hero who'll save her, but she sees that for the hoary old-movie cliche it is: "But you expect me to jump up on board with you / and ride off into your delusional sunset."

I can just picture this guy -- a beard, probably, an artfully ratty sweater, maybe an esoteric tattoo or two.  I can imagine how confidently he lounges on the banquette, occupying more than his share of the booth. Sitting across the table from him, fighting for oxygen, she takes refuge in silent snarky observations: "You've got opinions, well, we're all entitled to 'em," "You're so busy making maps / With my name on them in all caps," and, my personal favorite, "You got the talking down, just not the listening."  For the refrain, she twists a snide cliche into her own mantra of empowerment: "Who died and made you king of anything?"  
But in the bridge, as the melody turns dreamy and the arrangement lush, she admits that this self-possession of hers is only a recent discovery. "All my life / I've tried / To make everybody happy while I / Just hurt / And hide / Waiting for someone to tell me its my turn / To decide." How many of us were raised like that, to be good little girls and please everybody in our lives?  How hard it is to un-learn those lessons -- and how essential. 

Then those triumphant staggered intervals break in again, Bah bah, bah bah / Bah bah. bah bah (I hear echoes of Jackie DeShannon and Burt Bacharach, those quintessential interpreters of SoCal culture) as, gathering up her new courage, she launches back into taunting the King of Anything.  "Lemme hold your crown, babe," she purrs, but the way I see the scene, she's already on her feet and walking out of that coffee shop. C'mon, boots, start walking! 


Anonymous said...

The main reason I don't listen much to current music is that I hate the production values - and, sorry Holly, I know this is just me, but I could never stick this one on my ipod, either. Still enjoy reading your take though! Marie

wwolfe said...

I like the hand claps - a nice throwback touch. You're right, this could be a Jackie DeShannon tune - good call on that.

Hope the computer cooperates more in the future.

Merv said...

Found Sara via my kid's radio station....this one hooked my because the drums are more like percussion than a heavy laid groove, leaving lots of space for Sara's vox and keys. Her lyrics are worth hearing and the instruments don't get in the way of them. One of the few "current" artists I like...

NickS said...

Off Topic: It's going to be very hard for anything to top This One's For Him: A Tribute To Guy Clark as the top album of 2012. I hope to write more about it if/when I ever have time, but I wanted to give you a head's up. It not only has an all-star line-up and an amazing collection of material (of course), it's also the first time I've heard a tribute album which uses the same backing band for each performer, and it's helps immensely to make the whole thing sound like an album (and like a concert, really) rather than disconnected set of covers.

Holly A Hughes said...

Off-topic but completely relevant! I adore this album too. In one or two cases the tribute cover even manages to top Guy's original recording and become my go-to version of the song -- Ramblin' Jack Elliott's rendition of "The Guitar" being a fine case in point. Plus, this album achieves the important secondary function of tribute albums: it introduces me to a handful of less well-known artists whose work is definitely worth exploring. Various tribute albums introduced me, for example, to Ron Sexsmith, Bill Lloyd, and Yo La Tengo, just to name three examples.

NickS said...

There are a lot of good tracks. For example, I think "The Guitar" is a great song, but the performance didn't jump out at me particularly (yet) My favorites so far:
"Baby Took A Limo To Memphis" (Rosie Flores)
"Desperadoes Waiting For A Train"(Willie Nelson)
"Cold Dog Soup" (James McMurtry)
"Anyhow I Love You" (Lyle Lovett) -- this one took a couple listens to grow on my, but has become one of my favorites
"Instant Coffee Blues" (Suzy Bogguss)
"Hemingway's Whiskey" (Kris Kristofferson)
"Let Him Roll" (J.T. Van Zandt II)

NickS said...

Also, "Old Friends" (Terry Allen), I'm not sure how I left that one off the list.

NickS said...

One more comment (sorry for rambling on here . . .)

I think I've said before that over the last couple of years I've been starting to really appreciate some sub-sets of country music. I've come to it via exceptional songwriters like Guy Clark/Townes Van Zandt/Willie Nelson/ etc . . . and I've realized that there's a strong tradition of great songwriting in country music.

Listing to This one's for him made me think about that again and I started to wonder who the female singer/songwriters would be that should go on that list. I have listened to a couple (Nanci Griffith, some Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris) none of which I liked quite as much as the people named above. But I decided I should make an active effort to go looking a bit.

In that search, I was listening to a couple of Loretta Lynn songs today and am open to the idea that she is fantastic. For example (and relevant to "Hell Hath No Fury Week": "Fist City" (as one comment on that video notes, "I love the way she sings this song, feisty lyrics with a big country smile on her face. ")

Holly A Hughes said...

Those are all great tracks -- but I happen to love Guy's gruff, simple delivery. It isn't often I'd prefer someone else's take. I should mention Kevin Welch's "Magdalene," and I do love Rosie Flores's "Baby Take a Limo" -- so sultry!

I've also been mighty impressed by Loretta's songwriting, though I can't claim to have made a study of it. Dolly I do think deserves a lot of credit for going back to a more folky sound late in her career, when she was already established and didn't have to take that risk. Among more recent artists, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Shelby Lynn are worth checking out, as well as Amy Rigby of course (though I don't consider her 100% country).

NickS said...

If you like gruff and simple I can see why you would like the Rambling Jack Elliot track.

I'm glad to hear you mention Shelby Lynne, she is somebody that I had dismissed because I had her classified, in the back of mind, as "mainstream pop-county" but I think that may have been mistake. I was reading reviews of various singers, last week, and she was one of the people that I was thinking I should listen to (and, obviously, she has a great voice).

I have a couple of Amy Rigby albums, thanks to your recommendation. I don't really think of her as country but if I do put together a "county songwriting" compilation[2], which I've been thinking about doing, I could put, "Summer Of My Wasted Youth" on there (partially because of the reference in the Lyrics to "country harmony."

[By the way, if you haven't listened to this video of Rosanne Cash singing "500 Miles" it's amazing.]

[1] I say again, it would be fun to give you a copy of this compilation that I did recently. I think it would be stuff that you would like, so let me know if that's tempting.

Anonymous said...

Hi Holly, I'm leaving a comment because you no longer have your email listed in your profile (and my entire account was deleted so I lost my address book.) I've started a countdown of my 365 '60s songs. Would you be interested in taking a look? As I'm a lazy so-and-so, they're only accompanied by blurbs when I'm in the mood (and those, I regret to say, leave much to be desired.) Anyway, if you like lists, you may get a few minutes' entertainment out of it:


NickS said...

If you're interested I did end up putting together a country songwriting Mix which I think turned out well and is interesting.

As a side note, I definitely considered a couple of Amy Rigby songs but they ended up not fitting the mood/flow of the mix. But some names you will recognize and some you will not.

Anonymous said...

Sara's album, Kaleidoscope Heart, is excellent beginning to end. There's a song on there called "The Light" that gets to me every time I listen to it.