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2010 listening

September 7th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Last year I wrote a series of my ten favourite albums in each year of the past decade. When the ’10s end, I’ll be stuck to produce a list for 2010. I’ve fallen off Planet Latest Releases, encountering the occasional new release by accident or recommendation. I am looking forward to getting my hands on the new album by the lovely Weepies (out 31 August), and I’m intrigued to hear Ben Folds’ collaboration with the writer Nick Hornby, which is scheduled for release later this month. Some albums I looked forward to have disappointed me (Josh Rouse, where are you going?). Here then are a couple of albums from 2010 that made me prick up my ears.

*     *     *

Willie Nelson – Country Music

Willie Nelson lost me before he could have had me when he did that duet with Julio Iglesias, who was as uncool as uncool would ever get (and collaborator of promiscuous character, Willie has duetted indiscriminately with some pretty dodgy characters). I never liked On The Road Again much, nor his version of Always On My Mind.  It was only when I became familiar with his 1960s output that I began to appreciate Willie Nelson — and how much I missed by writing him off for crooning with greasy grannies’ favourites.

Country Music, his T-Bone Burnett-produced tribute to the country songs that reside in the juke box of his memory may be my favourite Nelson collection. Cover albums are a precarious beast. Some artists feel they need to re-interpret, re-invent and update the songs they profess to love. Others will give us the very best in karaoke. Nelson just damn well sings the songs, straight and without bullshit. He knows these songs and their context, and preserves them there. The sound is timeless. And some of the song choices are inspired, including that of one of my all-time favourites, Al Dexter’s Pistol-Packing Mama (which we’ll revisit in the history of country series, as well as the Delmore Brothers’ Freight Train Boogie). I love Nelson’s version of Merle Travis’ Dark As The Dungeons, which is probably better known in  Johnny Cash’s version on the Folsom Prison album. (Buy it here)
Willie Nelson – Dark As The Dungeons.mp3
Willie Nelson – Pistol-Packing Mama.mp3

Johnny Cash – American VI – Ain’t No Grave

How much is enough? Seven years after Johnny Cash died, we get another collection of his Rick Rubin-produced American series. Did Cash really die, or is he speaking to us from the beyond, the way Tupac Shakur did with such punctual regularity? Apparently this is the final release in the series, and it is a fine way of going out. There’s nothing new here but the special poignancy of knowing that Cash recorded these ten songs in the four months between the death of his beloved June Carter’s in May 2003 and his own in September, with Cash acutely aware of his mortality without descending into morbidity, and to the end insusting on communicating his deep religious faith. Some songs I can live without (Aloha Oe!), and some cannot compete with the previous versions (Kristofferson’s For The Good Times). But the minimalist arrangements and intimacy of Cash’s fragile yet forceful and soulful voice wrap the songs in a warmth and appealing sense of yearning. Like Pistol-Packing Mama, the original of Cool Water will feature in the history of country very soon.
Johnny Cash – Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream.mp3
Johnny Cash – Cool Water.mp3

….

Walt Cronin – California I Gotta Run

One of my favourite songs of the last decade was 2005’s A Desperate Cry for Help by the sadly rather obscure and now disbanded alt-country group The Beauty Shop. Walt Cronin’s third album reminds me a lot of the Beauty Shop, right down to his gravelly baritone and lovely Americana arrangements. Already in his 50s — this post so far seems to specialise in grey follicles — Cronin’s voice and sound reflect the experience of life, wistfully and defiantly. “I would never count the days of my life, but I’ll always let the dawn greet my eyes,” the former medic in the Vietnam war sings in Shinin’ Through, one of several sweet love songs on this most appealing set. (Walt Cronin’s homepage)
Walt Cronin – If My Words.mp3
Walt Cronin – Shining Through.mp3

Berry Jones – Tonight

And moving away from silver foxes with guitars, here’s Philadelphia band Berry Jones who wanted to see if “we can try to make Thriller in a basement; like, can we get Quincy Jones-era production techniques on a shoe string budget” (the band’s name pays tribute to Quincy and Berry Gordy). Of course, with modern digital technology it is much easier to produce effects which a Quincy Jones would have to apply his genius to achieve. One need only listen to Sweden’s Loney, Dear to hear what wonderful sounds can be produced by one man in his bedroom (in terms of music, I mean). Indeed, Berry Jones’ opening track, Work It Out, starts a bit like a Loney, Dear song. But quickly it becomes a pop number that recalls the 1980s. It’s all an upbeat stew of different ‘80s influences, from Culture Club and Shalamar to two-tone to indie – and, yeah, Michael Jackson (especially on Philly Nights) — and a dash of Gordy’s Motown.  The vocals call to mind The Cure’s Robert Smith. The album might not quite evoke the genius of Quincy Jones, but the first half of it is a fine set of numbers to play while dressing for a party or on the way to the beach, and the soul-infused second half when coming home from the party or from the beach. (Berry Jones’s homepage)
Berry Jones – Philly Nights.mp3
Berry Jones – Your Old Ways.mp3

Dana Wells – The Evergreen EP

Here I’m cheating a bit: The Evergreen EP came out in 2009. But singer-songwriter Dana Wells is so talented, I want to include her in this selection. Dana may be young — just out of her teens — but this is no Taylor Swift. The Washington Post’s reviewer might need a better sub-editor, but suggested rightly that “there’s a settled maturity to the lyrics and tempered voice of this strummy smartie that’s usually reserved for older artists”. Let’s not be put off by the language of “strummy smartie” (who writes that kind of rubbish, and what editor passes it?). Wells is an engaging singer; one wants to get to know her. Her voice and delivery are very appealing, reminiscent of the lovely Mindy Smith. And, somehow, I really like Dana’s diction. It’s not easy for singer-songwriters to break through, but with her talent and beauty, Dana Wells might just be one who will make it big. (Dana Wells on MySpace)
Dana Wells -Watching Winter Melt Away.mp3
Dana Wells – Leave Me.mp3

Last year I wrote a series of my ten favourite albums in each year of the past decade. When the ’10s end, I’ll be stuck to produce a list for 2010. I’ve fallen off Planet Latest Releases, encountering the occasional new release by accident or recommendation. I am looking forward to getting my hands on the new album by the lovely Weepies (out 31 August), and I’m intrigued to hear Ben Folds’ collaboration with the writer Nick Hornby, which is scheduled for release later this month. Some albums disappointed me (Josh Rouse, where are you going?). Here then are a couple of albums from 2010 that made me prick up my ears, and a couple of songs by a singer-songwriter of whom I will want to hear more.

Willie Nelson – Country Music
Willie Nelson lost me before he could have had me when he did that duet with Julio Iglesias, who was as uncool as uncool would ever get (and collaborator of promiscuous character, he has duetted with some pretty dodgy character). I never liked On The Road Again or his version of Always On My Mind.  It was only when I became familiar with his 1960s output that I began to appreciate Willie Nelson — and how much I missed by writing him off for crooning with greasy grannies’ favourite Iglesias.

Country Music, his T-Bone Burnett-produced tribute to the country songs that reside in the juke box of his memory may be my favourite Nelson collection. Cover albums are a precarious beast. Some artists feel they need to re-interpret, re-invent and update the songs they profess to love. Others will give us the very best in karaoke. Nelson just damn well sings the songs, straight and without bullshit. He knows these songs and their context, and preserves them there. The sound is timeless. And some of the song choices are inspired, including that of one of my all-time favourites, Al Dexter’s Pistol-Packing Mama (which we’ll revisit in the history of country series, as well as the Delmore Brothers’ Freight Train Boogie). I love Nelson’s version of Merle Travis’ Dark As The Dungeons, which is probably better known in  Johnny Cash’s version on the Folsom Prison album. (Buy it here)
Willie Nelson – Pistol-Packing Mama.mp3
Willie Nelson – Dark As The Dungeons.mp3

Johnny Cash – American VI – Ain’t No Grave
How much is enough? Seven years after Johnny Cash died, we get another collection of his Rick Rubin-produced American series. Did Cash really die, or is he ending us messages from the beyond, the way Tupac Shakur did? Apparently this is the final release in the series, and it is a fine way of going out. There’s nothing new here except the special poignancy of knowing that Cash recorded these ten songs in the four months between the death of his beloved June Carter’s and his own, with Cash acutely aware of his mortality without descending into morbidity, and to the end insusting on communicating his deep religious faith. Some songs I can live without (Aloha Oe!), and some cannot compete with the previous versions (Kristofferson’s For The Good Times). But the minimalist arrangements and intimacy of Cash’s fragile yet forceful and soulful voice wrap the songs in a warmth and appealing sense of yearning.
Johnny Cash – Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream.mp3
Johnny Cash – Cool Water.mp3

….

Walt Cronin – California I Gotta Run
One of my favourite songs of the last decade was 2005’s A Desperate Cry for Help by the sadly rather obscure and now disbanded alt-country group The Beauty Shop. Walter Cronin’s third album reminds me a lot of the Beauty Shop, right down to his gravelly baritone and lovely Americana arrangements. Already in his 50s — this post so far seems to specialise in grey follicles — Cronin’s voice and sound reflect the experience of life, wistfully and defiantly. “I would never count the days of my life, but I’ll always let the dawn greet my eyes,” the former medic in the Vietnam war sings in Shinin’ Through, one of several sweet love songs on this most appealing set. (Walt Cronin’s homepage)
Walt Cronin – If My Words.mp3
Walt Cronin – Shining Through.mp3

Berry Jones – Tonight
And moving away from silver fixes with guitars, here’s Philadelphia’s Berry Jones who wanted to see if “we can try to make Thriller in a basement; like, can we get Quincy Jones-era production techniques on a shoe string budget” (the band’s name pays tribute to Quincy and Berry Gordy). Of course, with modern digital technology it is much easier to produce effects which a Quincy Jones would have to apply his genius to achieve. One need only listen to Sweden’s Loney, Dear to hear what wonderful sounds can be produced by one man in his bedroom (in terms of music, I mean). Indeed, Berry Jones’ opening track, Work It Out, starts a bit like a Loney, Dear song. But quickly it becomes a pop number that recalls the 1980s. It’s all an upbeat stew of different ‘80s influences, from Culture Club and Shalamar to two-tone to indie – and, yeah, Michael Jackson (especially on Philly Nights).  The vocals call to mind The Cure’s Robert Smith. The album might not quite evoke the genius of Quincy Jones, but the first half of it is a fine set of numbers to play while dressing for a party or on the way to the beach, and the soul-infused second half when coming home from the party or from the beach. (Berry Jones’s homepage)
Berry Jones – Philly Nights.mp3
Berry Jones – Your Old Ways.mp3

Dana Wells – The Evergreen EP
Here I’m cheating a bit: The Evergreen EP came out in 2009. But singer-songwriter Dana Wells is so talented, I want to include her in this selection. Dana may be young — just out of her teens — but this is no Taylor Swift. The Washington Post’s reviewer might need a better sub-editor, but suggested rightly that “there’s a settled maturity to the lyrics and tempered voice of this strummy smartie that’s usually reserved for older artists”. Let’s not be put off by the language of “strummy smartie” (who writes that kind of rubbish?). Wells is an engaging singer; one wants to get to know her. Her voice and delivery are very appealing, reminiscent of the lovely Mindy Smith. And, somehow, I really like Dana’s diction. It’s not easy for singer-songwriters to break through, but with her talent and beauty, Dana Wells might just be one who will make it big. (Dana Wells on MySpace)
Dana Wells -Watching Winter Melt Away.mp3
Dana Wells – Leave Me.mp3

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  1. Professor Jockitch
    October 3rd, 2010 at 14:40 | #1

    Thanks for the tip on Dana Wells. I just got the EP and it’s sounding very good.

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