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Albums of the Year: 2006

December 9th, 2009 4 comments

And here are my top 10 albums of 2006. I’m sad to omit albums by Jenny Lewis & the Watson Twins, Mindy Smith, Josh Ritter, Donavon Frankenreiter, Ben Kweller, Roddy Frame, Dévics, Belle & Sebastian, Josh Rouse, Phoenix, Harris Tweed, Counting Crows, Regina Spektor, I’m From Barcelona, Snow Patrol… As always, I emphasise that these are my personal favourites, albums I still dig out; it certainly is not a list of the year’s “best” albums, never mind the critics’ favourites.

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Crowded House – Farewell To The World

This is a strange choice for the top album of 2006, because it was recorded ten years earlier, at Crowded House’s final concert in Sydney in 1996. I may be drawing the wrath of all serious Crowded House fans when I declare that the version of almost every song here is superior to the studio recording. One highlight, of course, is Don’t Dream It’s Over, the sheer brilliance of which is not diminished by its ubiquity. It is the final song of the set, and Neil Finn graciously allows the crowd to sing the final line. On the DVD, there is a touching shot of a tearful drummer Paul Hester, all the more poignant now, since his suicide in 2005. The live versions of When You Come, Distant Sun, World Where You Live, Something So Strong, Private Universe and even Better be Home Soon in particular eclipse their original recordings.
Crowded House – Better Be Home Soon.mp3
Crowded House – Don’t Dream It’s Over.mp3

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Alexi Murdoch – Time Without Consequence

In the review of 2003, I included Murdoch’s debut EP, Four Songs. It took the London-born singer a while to finish his full debut. It was worth the wait. Murdoch is often compared to Nick Drake — the default measure to which all acoustic musicians with a soft voice are liable to be held. The comparison does stick on at least one point: the music of both Drake and Murdoch sounds much simpler than it really is. Love You More, for example, mesmerises on strength of minimalist lyrics and the absence of a chorus that might relieve the ardency of Murdoch’s declaration. Murdoch’s gentle intensity is quite compelling throughout. Musical scouts for TV series certainly seem to think so: Murdoch’s music has featured in several hit shows, including Grey’s Anatomy, House, Ugly Betty, The O.C. and Dirty Sexy Money (and that’s just the shows that featured the majestic Orange Sky). The song Home was used to great effect in the second season of Prison Break, when Mahone persuades Haywire to commit suicide.
Alexi Murdoch – Home.mp3

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The Weepies – Say I Am You

Do not be misled by the frankly unappealing name which Deb Talan and Steve Tannen adopted, for The Weepies’ folk-pop is not mawkish. And don’t be deceived by the cute cover, for The Weepies are not unrelentingly cute. Of course, Gotta Have You is cute, in the best possible way, as is Take It From Me. But there are poignant moments, such as World Spins Madly On, Riga Girls, Love Doesn’t Last Too Long, and Suicide Blonde (all Tannen songs). Talan is the counterweight to Tannen’s melancholy, especially with the lovely Not Your Year, which argues the case for optimism in adversity.
The Weepies – Take It From Me.mp3

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James Hunter – People Are Gonna Talk

James Hunter, a white soulboy from Colchester, England, sounds a lot like Sam Cooke. On People Are Gonna Talk, that provides us with the benefit of imaging what Cooke might have sounded like had he dabbled in ska occasionally. That’s the sound here: ’60s soul with a generous hint of ’60s reggae. Hunter made his influences apparent from the start: in the 1980s he fronted a group called Howlin’ Wilf and the Vee-Jays, at which point fellow soul afficionado Van Morrison discovered Hunter (apparently at the prompting of his local newsagent), and even appeared on his debut album, 1996’s Believe What I Say. A decade and another album later, People Are Gonna Talk was a breakthrough for Hunter, who earned a Grammy nomination — in the Blues category, just where an album entirely lacking in Blues belongs. The sound of People Are Gonna Talk may be solidly ’60s, but it is not in any way a derivative pastiche, never mind a tribute. Hunter lives in the genre, and doesn’t need to try hard to persuade us of his authenticity. It’s not even “blue eyed soul”; Hunter is a true soul singer. Cooke, Wilson and Redding would have approved.
James Hunter – I’ll Walk Away.mp3

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Bob Evans – Suburban Songbook

Kevin Mitchell left Aussie indie rockers Jebediah, changed his name to Bob Evans and became a country rocker. Recorded in Nashville and produced by Brad Jones (who has also produced Josh Rouse, Jill Sobule and Yo La Tengo), Suburban Songbook’s cheerful sound deflects the melancholy of many of Evans’ lyrics. Which is just as well, because Evans is an uneven lyricist, writing a brilliant line one minute, and a trite song the next. Suburban Songbook won the Australian equivalent of the Grammys (the ARIA Music Award), but, alas, that hasn’t helped break him big internationally.
Bob Evans – Sadness & Whiskey.mp3

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Joshua Radin – We Were Here

Alexi Murdoch gets the Drake comparisons, and Joshua Radin even more so, even though a nod to Elliot Smith seems more pertinent. On his full debut, Radin whispers more than he sings. Apparently the hushed voice, which works so well with his affecting lyrics and gentle melodies, was imposed by the circumstance of Radin recording his songs in a New York apartment. A considerate man, he obviously didn’t want to annoy the neighours. And like Murdoch, Radin has had several of his songs featured on the TV series circuit. Indeed, that’s how he made his breakthrough. The story goes that Radin gave a copy of his song Winter (which appeared on the enjoyable First Between 3rd And 4th EP, released in 2004) to Zach Braff of the show Scrubs, who included it on the show. Radin re-recorded Winter for the full debut.
Joshua Radin – Someone Else’s Life.mp3

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Eels – With Strings (Live At Town Hall)

As my list of omissions in the instalment for 2005 shows, one of my favourite albums of that year was Blinking Lights and Other Revelations, a double album that almost justified its length. With Strings incorporates much of Blinking Lights. As the title promises, on this live set E’s vocals are backed with strings. Setting rock to clsassical arrangement is an overused gimmick, and can create utter disasters (Meat Loaf’s philharmonic re-recording of Bat Out Of Hell!), though this is a rather unexpected combination. Happily, strings aren’t intrusive; the idea here clearly was not to go symphonic but to introduce something different into the live versions while maintaining the integrity of the studio versions. It works well, though not necessarily so well that these new versions eclipse the originals. The strings do add to the creepiness of Novocaine For The Soul, however, and emphasise the lonely sadness in It’s A Motherfucker.
Eels – It’s A Motherfucker.mp3

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Farryl Purkiss – Farryl Purkiss

I’ve bigged up the South African singer-songwriter before, most recently HERE. Purkiss’ mellow, melodic sound, filled with memorable hooks, invites misleading comparisons with Jack Johnson, with whom he has collaborated. This is an introspective album, telling of relationships (with a woman, himself, the world) breaking down and then healing, of despair, and of having hope. South African artists rarely break big internationally. Purkiss deserves to reach a wide audience far beyond South Africa. Maybe he’ll get some attention after one of the songs from this set, Sticks And Stones, featured in an episode of Private Practice (a rather horrible TV show, populated by constantly smirking, deeply disagreeable characters).

I’ve mentioned the inclusion of artist’s music on TV shows a few times, so obviously I welcome it when artists I like are featured on soundtracks, or even commercials. Music blogs are one means by which the music researchers for TV shows and trendy soundtracks dig up artists who aren’t very well known. The licensing fees the artists receive for being featured on TV serials and commercials helps keep their heads above water, and having their music score a scene in a TV show or movie gives them the publicity they need to attract audiences to their concerts (who then, hopefully, buy CDs and merchandise at the gigs). It’s a new business model which allows performers maintain greater artistic control than they’d enjoy in the service of Corporate Music. So, researcher for Grey’s Anatomy, check out this song:
Farryl Purkiss – Escalator.mp3

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Catherine Feeny – Hurricane Glass

This was a folk-pop album I discovered quite by chance, on strength of its appealing cover, I think. Born in Philadelphia, Feeny lived in rural England when she recorded Hurricane Glass, an intimate album with intelligent lyrics telling of struggles with regret, disillusionment, insecurity, and melancholy. Frequently these struggles are mitigated by a sense of hope. Mr Blue, with its cute flugelhorn interlude, is probably the album’s best known song. It has featured on a few soundtracks, notably in Running With Scissors (the song featured in the Songbirds mix I posted last year).

On the song Unsteady Grounds, Feeny takes issue with the people who swallowed the barefaced lies propagated by Bush and Blair before the invasion of Iraq. Feeny does well to cast the net of blame for the unprovoked invasion of Iraq wider than the warmongers. Bush and Blair are representatives of a profession whose practitioners we are conditioned not to trust. The large and articulate opposition to the proposed war set out a compelling case that Bush and Blair were predicating their invasion on an audacious lie. Yet people believed them. More astonishingly, so many people swallowed their even more audacious lie: that they were “misinformed” by “faulty” “intelligence” (and then some). So many people believed patent bullshit that Bush and Cheney —and indeed Tony Blair — were re-elected.
Catherine Feeny – Touch Back Down.mp3

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Foo Fighters – Skin And Bones

Watching the DVD of this live set, I am always struck by the irony that former Nirvana drummer Grohl is the Foo Fighters’ frontman and the Foo’s drummer, Taylor Hawkins, is a spitting image of Kurt Cobain. Did Grohl plan it that way? Here Grohl and pals strip the old alt.rock songs down to something approaching acoustic (hence the album’s title, which is also a fairly rare Foo Fighters song). For the most part, it works well. Most of these songs have substance even when they are not amplified by loud guitars. On the closing track, a superb version of Everlong, the band shows that they can make a hell of a noise even acoustic style.
Foo Fighters – Everlong.mp3

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More Albums of the Year

Foo Fighters – Everlong.mp3

Any Major Love Mix 2009

February 10th, 2009 11 comments

Amid all the heartbreak and unrequited love (with lovelessness and death still to come) we are looking at this month, we need a respite from the gloomy tears and instead frolic in the calm waters of true love reciprocated — which in itself, as some of the lyrics here suggest, is a source of anxiety and uncertainty. And, well, perhaps some lucky person might need a decent mix for Valentine’s Day which does not include the unlovely horrors perpetrated by Chris DeBurgh, Jennifer Rush, Peabo Bryson, Céline Dion, Engelbert Humperdinck, Stevie Wonder and, of course, Michael Bublé – and who prefer to do without “edgy” comps featuring the love musings of Coldplay, U2, Avril Lavigne and James Blunt. As always, the mix is timed to fit on a CD-R. It might be a good alternative to an overpriced VD card (and if anybody tries that, please let me know if it was a good idea).

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1. Donny Hathaway – A Song For You (1971)
You taught me precious secrets of the truth withholding nothing, you came out in front and I was hiding. But now I’m so much better and if my words don’t come together, listen to the melody, ’cause my love is in there hiding.

2. Carpenters – I Won’t Last A Day Without You (1972)
When there’s no gettin’ over that rainbow, when my smallest of dreams won’t come true, I can take all the madness the world has to give, but I won’t last a day without you.

3. Ben Kweller – Sundress (2006)
I don’t need a smile from a mannequin, I just want to hold you in my hands. I do everything you want me to…for you.

4. The Weepies – Happiness (2004)
Friday 13, lights go red, green, in a coffee shop. I’m giving you the look while someone else is fingering your wallet in my pocketbook. It’s a mean town, but I don’t care. Try and steal this! Can’t steal happiness.

5. Mindy Smith – Falling (2004)
When I’ve almost had enough, something about you draws me back again. When I’ve almost given up, something about you pulls me in. And we’re falling…

6. John Prine with Iris Dement – In Spite Of Ourselves (1999)
She thinks all my jokes are corny, convict movies make her horny. She likes ketchup on her scrambled eggs, swears like a sailor when shaves her legs. She takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’. I’m never gonna let her go.

7. Moldy Peaches – Anyone Else But You (2001)
Here is the church and here is the steeple, we sure are cute for two ugly people, I don’t see what anyone can see in anyone else but you.

8. Simone White – The Beep Beep Song (2007)
(Yeah, the one from the Audi commercial) Despite all the warnings I landed like a fallen star in your arms.

9. Curtis Mayfield – So In Love (1975)
This love affair is bigger than we two. Lose our faith and it will swallow you. Loving you is what I’ll always feel, never ever doing things against our will. Loving means, never require any kind of test … Ya got me so in love.

10. Aretha Franklin – Baby I Love You (1967)
If you want my lovin’, if you really do, don’t be afraid, baby. Just ask me, you know I’m gonna give it to you. Oh, and I do declare: I want to see you with it. Stretch out your arms, little boy, you’re gonna get it – ’cause I love you.

11. Ron Sexsmith – Never Give Up On You (2006)
I’d never give up on you because I know you’d do the same for me. Never give up on you because you take me as I am, how I’ll always be.

12. Mary Chapin Carpenter – Grow Old With Me (1999)
Grow old along with me. Two branches of one tree face the setting sun when the day is done. God bless our love. (Beautifully sung by Carpenter, the real poignancy of this song derives from its authorship: written and demoed by John Lennon shortly before his murder in December 1980, it first appeared on his posthumous Milk And Honey album)

13. Tom Waits – Falling Down (1988)
For she loves you for all that you are not …You forget all the roses, don’t come around on Sunday. She’s not gonna choose you for standing so tall; go on and take a swig of that poison and like it.

14. Alexi Murdoch – Love You More (2006)
Love you more than anyone. Love you more than anyone. Love you more in time to come. Love you more. (That’s the complete lyric…)

15. Finley Quaye – Dice (2003)
I was crying over you. I am smiling, I think of you. Misty morning and water falls, breathe in the air if you care, you compare, don’t say farewell. Nothing can compare to when you roll the dice and swear your love’s for me.

16. Dexys Midnight Runners – This Is What She’s Like (1985)
“Well how did all this happen?” “Just all at once really. The Italians have a word for it.” “What word what is it?” “A thunderbolt or something.” “What, you mean the Italian word for thunderbolt?” “Yeah, something like that. I don’t speak Italian myself you understand?” “No.” “But I knew a man who did. Well, that’s my story. The strongest thing I’ve ever seen.” (Single version)

17. The Cure – Lovesong (1989)
Whenever I’m alone with you, you make me feel like I am home again. Whenever I’m alone with you , you make me feel like I am whole again. Whenever I’m alone with you, you make me feel like I am young again. Whenever I’m alone with you, you make me feel like I am fun again.

18. Jens Lekman – I Saw Her In The Anti-War Demonstration (2004)
And the skies were clear blue skies, and her eyes were clear blue eyes, and her thighs were about the same size as mine, and we were walking in the anti-war demonstration; it was a sweet sensation of love.

19. Kacy Crowley – Kind Of Perfect (2004)
The last few years have been much harder than we ever thought they’d be. I know you hate it when I say I’m sorry, but I’m sorry. There was never a point in our love that I didn’t love you; not a point in our love. I always did, I always will, I always do, love you still, I always would, how could I not? Just look at us baby, we’re kind of perfect.

20. Joshua Radin – The Fear You Won’t Fall (2007)
I know you’re scared that I’ll soon be over it. That’s part of it all, part of the beauty of falling in love with you is the fear you won’t fall.

21. Nina Kinert – Through Your Eyes (2004)
All the time I stood here holding dandylions and chocolate for you. Tumbleweeds and fireworks go by. It’s hard to keep them still for you to see, nut you know that I try. I want to see you watching what I see, now that you’re mine, through your eyes.

22. Sarah Bettens – Grey (2005)
Will you be my everything? Maybe just this time we can really think that I am yours and you are mine; I am yours and you are mine…

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More songs about love

Top 20 albums of 2008

December 12th, 2008 8 comments

Everybody’s doing it, so I might as well dabble in the conceit that anybody is really interested to know which releases of the year I liked best. I don’t think it has been a vintage year for music, or perhaps I have not paid much attention. I’ve also found myself falling off Planet Indie, so the “singer-songwriters” boss the list. I’ve put sample tracks into one file, in case somebody is interested. The featured titles appear below my brief comments. Full tracklisting in the Comments section. Read more…

Have Song, Will Sing Vol. 1

July 27th, 2008 6 comments

Last year I did a series of Songbirds which seems to have been quite popular, showcasing female artists who fall within the singer-songwriter genre which unaccountably has acquired something of a bad name among the critics. In my view, the genre has not been in a more fertile state since the 1970s. Indeed, it is probably more varied now than it was then.

I’ve thought of doing a similar series on male singer-songwriters (which I might call “Singers with names like schoolteachers”, borrowing a great dig from the Welsh music writer Simon Price). In the meantime, here is a collection of some of the male singer-songwriters I hold in high esteem. What they have in common is that they write the songs they sing, and are broadly, if not invariably, acoustic performers. But the mix transcends such narrow characterisations. Their sensibilities range from folk (such as Mason Jennings) to pop (Bob Evans, Benji Cossa) to indie (Jens Lekman, Josh Ritter) to soul (Amos Lee) to country (Joe Purdy) to rock (Charlie Sexton, Scott Matthews). Most are American, but other nations are also represented, such as Australia (Evans), England (David Ford), Sweden (Lekman) and South Africa (the excellent Farryl Purkiss).

Some are well-known (such as Damien Jurado or, again, Ritter and Lekman), others are without a record contract. Josh Woodward, whose previous album I enjoyed very much, has made his new, very good double set titled The Simple Life available for free download on his website. If you like the sample track on this mix, download it and share it widely. TV viewers will recognise the Steve Poltz song from the Jeep ad, while Landon Pigg’s voice is used to advertise diamonds (albeit with a different, very beautiful, song).

My shortlist is not exhausted. If this mix proves popular, I intend to compile a volume of Songbirds and then a co-ed one. Let me know what you think.

As always, the mix should fit on a standard CD-R.

1. Steve Poltz – You Remind Me (from Chinese Vacation, 2003)
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Bob Evans – Friend (from Suburban Songbook, 2006)
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Farryl Purkiss – Ducking And Diving (from Farryl Purkiss, 2006)
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Mason Jennings – Which Way Your Heart Will Go (from Boneclouds, 2006)
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Landon Pigg – Can’t Let Go (from Coffee Shop EP, 2008)
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Joshua Radin – The Fear You Won’t Fall (from Unclear Sky EP, 2008)
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Jay Brannan – Can’t Have It All (from Chinese Vacation, 2003)
8.
David Ford – Cheer Up (You Miserable Fuck) (from I Sincerely Apologise For All The Trouble I’ve Caused, 2005)
9.
Josh Ritter – Wait For Love (You Know You Will) (from The Historical Conquests Of, 2007)
10.
Damien Jurado – Simple Hello (from On My Way To Absence, 2005)
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Charlie Sexton – Cruel And Gentle Things (from Cruel And Gentle Things, 2005)
12.
Griffin House – Just A Dream (from Lost And Found, 2004)
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Josh Woodward – History Repeats (from The Simple Life, 2008)
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Jens Lekman – I Saw Her in the Anti War Demonstration (from Oh You’re So Silent Jens, 2005)
15.
Kevin Devine – Probably (from … travelling the EU EP, 2003)
16.
Joe Purdy – Why You (from Only Four Seasons, 2006)
17.
Amos Lee – Long Line Of Pain (live) (from Supply And Demand, 2006)
18.
Elvis Perkins – Ash Wednesday (from Ash Wednesday, 2007)
19.
Scott Matthews – Passing Stranger (from Passing Stranger, 2007)
20.
Benji Cossa – The Show Is Over Everywhere (from Between The Blue And The Green, 2007)

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On current rotation

March 22nd, 2008 4 comments

When I started this blog, my idea was to flag new releases I enjoy while occasionally dipping into the archives of pop. As it has turned out, I’ve had greater fun doing nostalgia. But that means I’ve sometimes neglected the original purpose of this blog: to promote new music which I like. So, here are some songs from new releases (and one that is a year old) which I am listening to at the moment.

Tift Merritt – Keep You Happy.mp3
Tift Merritt – Morning Is My Destination.mp3
I can’t claim to know much about Tift Merritt. The new album, Another Country, is her third. I have not heard the previous albums, but the buzz has been good. Another Country may become Merritt’s breakthrough album. Merritt swings between country, alt.country and folk-pop, which places her alongside the adorable Mindy Smith, another singer who is receiving attention only in her 30s. Another Country is a gentle but engaging exercise, one for Sunday mornings. Keep You Happy, with its Wilcoesque guitar, has a depth which may at first not be apparent, while Morning Is My Destination fuses alt.country sounds (even more Wilco guitar here) with classic country rock.
Tift Merritt on MySpace

Landon Pigg – Falling In Love At A Coffee Shop.mp3
Another singer-songwriter with shaggy hair and a funny name… His 2006 solo album, titled LP, was a pleasant folk-pop effort, but lacked a killer track. Pigg delivers such a track with Falling In Love At A Coffee Shop, an entirely sweet acoustic song which will doubtless end up on the soundtrack of a quirky independent movie (think Garden State). This is a song that should have featured in the Love Songs for Every Situation series (guess in which part). I hope the coffee shop in question an independent joint, not bloody Starbucks. And I hope that Pigg won’t sell his soul by letting Starbucks use this song for an advertising campaign; the song is far too lovely to be tainted by the stink of capitalist globalisation.

Tristan Prettyman – Madly.mp3
I loved Tristan’s 2005 debut album, Twentythree, a slice of California Dreaming which was trumped last year by Colbie Caillat’s entirely lovable album. I had sort of hoped that Tristan would in turn trump Colbie with more of the same. Instead, on her second album, Hello, Tristan suggests musical growth, and a welcome country influence. The beach vibe is still evident (see Madly), but many tracks are darker and more complex than those on the debut (California Girl sounds nothing like the title suggests). At first I was thrown by this; my expectations thrown, I was disappointed after the first listen. Having put the thing on rotation for a bit, I’m falling for it. (More Tristan Prettyman here)

Joshua Radin & Ingrid Michaelson – Sky.mp3
Joshua Radin’s We Were Here album was my album of 2006. I love the man’s gentle voice, his Drake-channelling acoustic sound, and I really enjoy his lyrics. I’ve read that Radin’s soft sound was forced by their production in a NYC flat. Sky, his new duet with the wonderful Ingrid Michaelson is upbeat and poppier than previous material. The rest of the four-song Unclear Sky EP (an iTunes special described by the singer as a teaser for the upcoming album) is more like the Radin we know, understated and intimate. Lovely Tonight, which should be on the CD later this year, is a gorgeous duet with Catherine Feeny, one of my favourite songbirds (whom I featured here), featuring guitar work by Ryan Adams. (More Joshua Radin here and here)

Counting Crows – When I Dream Of Michelangelo.mp3
Adam Duritz and pals are releasing their first studio album in five years, following the critical failure Hard Candy. Actually, there was much that is good on Hard Candy, though the true quality of some of the tracks revealed themselves only when performed live, as the fine New Amsterdam live album showed. Listening to Counting Crows albums requires patience; not unlike hearing an album by their spiritual godfathers, The Band. On my first listen, I didn’t much like the new album, Saturday Nights And Sunday Mornings. After the second listen, I liked it better. A few listens further, and I’m sold on much of the album. Apparently the first, rockier half is a band effort, while the second, more reflective half is something of a Duritz solo project (as if anyone ever remembers any of the other Crows). The tracks I’m posting are the immediate stand-outs; the former a rock tune in the manner of The Band, the latter a slow-burner in the manner of, er, The Band.
Counting Crows homepage

Laura Veirs – Saltbreakers.mp3
Laura Veirs – Pink Light.mp3
Laura Veirs on MySpace


Love Songs For Every Situation: Unrequited Love

February 19th, 2008 7 comments

Unrequited love is a real bastard. The rejection can scar a person for life, depending on its nature. My chapter of unrequited love was set in the seasons 1988/89 and 1989/90, and was cruelly soundtracked by the disgusting cheering of the fans of Arsenal and FC Liverpool, as if to taunt me further in my indescribable pain. There was no comfort, other than Manchester Utd’s FA Cup victory just days before the object of my desire left South Africa. I cannot say whether it was a good thing or not that she and I were very close friends. There was much affection, indeed a certain kind of love. But from her side obviously not that kind of love. So there was always hope, which again and again and again would be gently but brutally crushed. Would it have been easier to let unrequited love turn to festering hate?

Morrissey – There Is A Light That Never Goes Out (live).mp3
I presume everybody has this Smiths track already, so here is a live performance by Morrissey from 2004 in Manchester, ripped from DVD. That line about the doubledecker bus crashing into us is justly regarded as a classic lyric, but the one that really gets me is this one: “And in the darkened underpass I thought, ‘Oh God, my chance has come at last’, but then a strange fear gripped me, and I just couldn’t ask.” Don’t I know the feeling! For days, weeks, months one prepares for the perfect moment. The words are ready and practiced, the mood is set in one’s mind. And then, when the perfect opportunity presents itself, one chokes. And what setting could be better than a darkened underpass, where the object of ones desire cannot see the blushes. Ah, but she’d see the potentially crushed face, the dazed look, when they emerge into the light. At which point the 10-ton truck killing the both of us would appear to be an inviting proposition. So one waits for a really long, dark tunnel…

Freshlyground – I’d Like.mp3
South Africa’s most popular band, probably, engaged in a spot of self pity in this tender anthem to unrequited love and the self-loathing which often accompanies it. To the casual observer, the reactions she anticipates from her putative displays of affection seem exaggerated, even silly. Would her object of desire really say the singer deserved to die or humiliate her otherwise for showing affection or making a phone call? I suppose any vaguely negative response, or even a lack of response, would feel like an extreme reprimand or punishment to the one who is in unrequited love. The song might be dealing with a further complication: the lyrics make sense also in a context where the protagonist has same-sex feelings for somebody who is heterosexual (which could also explain the fear of being rejected harshly). Either way, the singer asks questions that make sense to anyone who has experienced unrequited love: “What do I do with all these feelings tearing me up inside? What do I do with all these wasted hours dreaming of you at night?”

Weezer – Pink Triangle.mp3
Weezer provided the flip-side to the theory posited in the entry for “I’d Like”. Here the protagonist is falling for a lesbian. “I’m dumb, she’s a lesbian. I thought I had found the one. We were good as married in my mind, but married in my mind’s no good. Oh, pink triangle on her sleeve.” Which raises the question if there is any comfort to be had if the woman a man desires is at least not with another man. Is Rivers holding out some hope when he asks: “If everyone’s a little queer, can’t she be a little straight?”

Nick Drake – Man In A Shed.mp3
This apparently is based on Drake’s own experience of living in somebody’s backyard, admiring the girl of the house from afar, but she doesn’t acknowledge his existence, presumably thinking she’s above his station in life. Drake clearly doesn’t buy into the class hierarchy (and Amen to that). Employing what might be termed Byronic Marxism, he declares: “So leave your house, come into my shed. Please stop my world from raining through my head. Please don’t think I’m not your sort. You’ll find that sheds are nicer than you thought.” Observe also Drake’s exquisite guitar work on this track.

Mazzy Star – Give You My Lovin’.mp3
You have to love Hope Sandoval. So it is difficult to believe that Hope should have any unhappy experience of unrequited love. And yet she sings: “When I see you I want to kiss you, but I know that ain’t right. So I ask if I can hold you. Oh babe, I need you so bad. Oh babe, I only want to make you glad.” What crazy fuck would say no to these words from the wonderful Ms Sandoval? She believes such crazy fucks do exist: “Discomfort arouses when I speak of you, as if you’ve been saying something bad about me.”

The Band – It Makes No Difference.mp3
You may thank one of the commenters in this series for this song from The Last Waltz, which would otherwise slipped below my radar. And what a fortuitous alert: this is a most beautiful and heartbreaking song. It makes no difference, Rick Danko sings, “where I turn, I can’t get over you when the flame still burns… the shadow never seems to fade away… like a scar, the hurt will always show… who I meet, they’re just a face in the crowd on a dead-end street.” The Counting Crows are drawing their influence from The Band (even framing a song around the news of Richard Manuel’s death), but their lyrics are usually unpenetrable. Here Danko is writing poetry you can actually make sense of, hitting the listener in the guts. “Well, I love you so much, and it’s all I can do just to keep myself from telling you that I never felt so alone before.”

The Temptations – Just My Imagination.mp3
The sweetest song about unrequited love. Our guy plays a trick on us as he begins: “Each day through my window I watch her as she passes by. I say to myself, ‘You’re such a lucky guy. To have a girl like her is truly a dream come true.’ Out of all of the guys in the world, she belongs to me…” Ah, but the alert reader will have spotted that in this post nothing is as well as that. So in verse two, the punchline pokes you in the eye: “But it was just my imagination running away with me.” Our friend even pleads with God to play cupid (and here we briefly call to mind Sam Cooke’s hymn to unrequited love), but how can God fix him up when “in reality, she doesn’t even know me”.

Joe Jackson – Is She Really Going Out With Him.mp3
And from the sweetest song to the most acerbic. Observing from indoors, Joe sees Jeannie, and every other pretty woman, walking with gorillas down his street. This makes him angry. Knowing that he is puny, and they are gorillas, he employs his imaginary superpowers: “But if looks could kill, there’s a man there who’s more down as dead.” Zapp! He is possibly better served engaging his wit: “They say that looks don’t count for much, if so, there goes your proof”, he sings about Jeannie’s boyfriend (would that be the same Jeannie whose diary Eels wish to be a page in?).

The Buzzcocks – Ever Fallen In Love.mp3
It seems that our boy is having some sort of relationship with the woman who nonetheless is rejecting his love. She doesn’t treat him well. “You spurn my natural emotions, you make me feel like dirt.” He won’t cause a scene though, because then he might just lose her. So while she keeps rejecting him, he’s getting increasingly frustrated and, the clue here is not in the lyrics but in the intensity of music, obsessed with the one-sidedness of it all. Unrequited love happens in established relationships as well. Think of the stunning Odyssey song I posted in the Love Ends post.

Johnny Mathis – Misty.mp3
The person in unrequited love often is like a pathetic puppy. Mathis certainly is in this definitive reading of Erroll Garner’s standard, better even than Sarah Vaughn’s. And the key is that Mathis actually does sound like a lovestruck puppy. The girl sounds like a bit of a tease (she lets him hold her hand), “you can say that you’re leading me on”, and Johnny likes it, “but it’s just what I want you to do”, because as long she takes notice of him, he has hope that his total love will find reciprocation.

Jens Lekman – Maple Leaves.mp3
This song puts an unusual spin on unrequited love. Jens can’t find a way into her heart — “if you don’t take my hand I lose my mind completely” — but the problem seems to be twofold. For one, the girl has such low self-esteem, she perhaps cannot accept that somebody could love her (“You said you hated your body, that it was just a piece of meat. I disagreed”). The second problem may be that incredibly unjust curse suffered by millions of nice men: the girl sees you as a friend! A bloody friend! “So we talked for hours and you cried into my sheets”. Of course, it may be that Jens just couldn’t understand her accent. “She says the dreamer just make-believe, but I thought she said maple leaves… and when she talked about about the fall I thought she talked about Mark E Smith.” No wonder he “never understood at all”.

Joshua Radin – Do You Wanna.mp3
I might be way off the mark here, but this is how I read the song: Joshua is in love with his friend (Ducky Dales everywhere!). She is in a destructive relationship. He brings comfort, but doesn’t want to be seen doing so with the ulterior motive of preparing the ground for his romantic relationship with her. And, you know, he cares firstly for her well-being. Which makes him a star among men — and sets him up for friendship standing in the way of romance and sex. “No one believes you smile alone. You wanna retrieve your high on the phone, but when you hang up all I wanna do is help you to pick up the pieces from your past. But there’s nothing more to gather, holding on to moments that won’t last. Or would you rather end it all; do you wanna?” Well, even if I’m totally wrong, I’d be pleased if this song, from Radin’s excellent First Between 3rd And 4th EP in 2004, is going to turn one or the other reader on to this wonderful singer-songwriter, whose new album will feature Ingrid Michaelson and Catherine Feeny, plus some production by Rick Rubin.

Barenaked Ladies – If I Had $1000000.mp3
Beneath the jocular mirth of this song there is a slightly pathetic subtext. Here our boy wants, Dr Evil style, a million dollars (Canadian, presumably) to buy the object of his desire everything, from a “nice reliant automobile” to a green dress (“but not a real green dress, that’s cruel”). All that sounds very nice, even amusing, until the pathos of the final line of the third verse: “If I had one million dollars, I’d buy your love.” Poor bastard.

Richard Cheese – Creep.mp3
I presume that everybody who needs it already owns Radiohead’s “Creep”. So here, to introduce some levity into the proceedings, is the lounge-jazzy version by the great spoofologist Richard Cheese. In the original, our boy is so intoxicated with self-loathing that he places himself several leagues below hers. He might have a good reason for doing so, but for every “creep” and “weirdo” there is a beacon of hope: Pete Doherty pulled Kate Moss. That must give hope to anyone who believes the unattainable to be just that.

The iPod Random 5-track Experiment Vol.5

January 7th, 2008 4 comments

When the mood grabs me, I scroll down to the Shuffle function on the iPod and see where it takes me. Here’s the first 5 that came up today:

Joshua Radin – Someone Else’s Life.mp3
A song from my album of 2006. I really like Radin’s calming voice, on this track almost a whisper. Comparisons to Nick Drake are easy when a dude sings quietly, accompanied only by his guitar, but Radin certainly is channelling Drake, with a hint of Simon & Garfunkel. This song was apparently written for his girlfriend, Schuyler Fisk, at a time when he was pursuing her. It must have been an intense pursuit: “Somehow, I’ll make tonight our own, show you every way I’ve grown since I’ve met you.” Some time ago I gave the We Were Here album to my 15-year-old nephew. He is now a massive fan. What better influence can an uncle have but to educate his nephews in the ways of good music? More Joshua Radin here.

Alan Price – Groovy Times.mp3
A beautiful song I don’t hear often enough. Released in 1978, when people weren’t saying “groovy” a lot anymore, it sounds like it was written at a time when people still were saying “groovy”. The arrangement is interesting: it is a mid-tempo ballad in the style of the groovy times of about 1972, but it features restrained Philly-soul strings and a funky disco guitarline. And Price is giving us a great keyboard solo at the end. An insanely happy song. More Alan Price here.

Dusty Springfield – Just A Little Lovin’.mp3
In the late 1960s, British songstress Dusty Springfield went to Memphis and, produced by the great Jerry Wexler, recorded the greatest ever soul album by a white singer. Including the efforts of overrated old Amy Winehouse. Having said that, Dusty in Memphis is a bit overrated itself. It’s a very, very good album and I like it a lot, but it is not quite the masterpiece the critics would have us believe it to be. “Just A Little Lovin” kicks off the album, and if ever there was a song Diana Ross should have sung to show that she was more than the radio-friendly soul-pop princess of Motown, this would have been it. Instead, Dusty nails it perfectly, with a restrained vocal performance and an arrangement that plays entirely to the singer’s strength. More Dusty Springfield here.

Dean Martin – Ain’t That A Kick In The Head.mp3
I cannot claim to be a big fan of the various incarnations of the Idols shows. I do, however, make it a point of watching the local auditions, because there will always be a few laughs to be had. Like the dude who turned up somewhere in South Africa, and announced that he’ll sing a song which he found on a Westlife album, but was originally recorded by Michael Bublé: “Ain’t That A Kick In The Head”. He won in the end. The award for worst audition.

Ben Kweller – Until I Die.mp3
Another fine song from 2006, from Kweller’s self-titled album. A lovely but sad song, and the dude is a bit pathetic (in the proper sense of the word) in his fear that the relationship he is in won’t last. Newsflash, Ben: it probably won’t. If you have to beg her to phone you (“I’m in for the night. You’ve got a phone; keep me in mind”) and then ask her to give you a try, then either she’s not that into you, or your self-confessed paranoia and lack of confidence will drive her away. In other words (to quote another Kweller songtitle), this song tells a story many people know all to well from their own bitter experience.

Introducing…

July 13th, 2007 No comments

Introducing the softer side of the Killers. “Smile Like You Mean It” is a great song. I love the Killers’ original; I love Tally Hall’s superior cover; and I love the acoustic version (but I’m a sucker for acoustic versions).
The Killers – Smile Like You Mean It (acoustic).mp3

Sounding a lot like the Killers is Cape Town band The Dirty Skirts, who made an impression at this year’s SXSW showcase. Their full debut came out in March, but this is their SA #1 hit from last year. Dudes will make it big.
Dirty Skirts – Set Me Alight.mp3

My England-based informant has told me that the very great Joshua Radin is supporting the ghastly Tori Amos on her tour there. FFS! It should be the other way around. Radin’s Nick Drake-channelling full debut We Were Here was my album of 2006. This track, from the First Between 3rd & 4th EP, remains my favourite Radin song.
Joshua Radin – Do You Wanna.mp3

One of the best alt.country songs of the last year was the Beauty Shop’s “A Desperate Cry For Help” (I love that line: “and all the friends I used to know have gone and formed a hate club…” video here). Use the Hype Machine to find it, but first check out the great opener from Crisis Helpline.
Beauty Shop – Paper Hearts For Josie.mp3

Props to the Bolachas Grátis blog for alerting us to the Antlers’ In The Attic Of The Universe, a quite excellent Indie album (according to Bolachas Grátis even an Album of the Year contender). OK, I confess, first time I listened to it I thought it was indifferent (that usually happens when I first listen to Indie albums; I thought the Arcade Fire were crap first up). After the second listen I was intrigued; after the third I was hooked. And the band wants people to download their album for free, for which we should love them!
The Antlers – Stairs To The Attic.mp3

More Pandora discoveries

June 7th, 2007 2 comments

More artists I discovered through pandora.com. Being on a deadline, I’ll have to add to this post in drips and drabs. Check this blog periodically to get more MP3 downloads. There should be six download links by the end of the afternoon.

Kevin Devine – Haircut.mp3
One of my favourite Pandora discoveries. Devine is hard to classify: Indie, alt.country, singer-songwriter. He is just fantastic. This is the superior acoustic version of the album version, which appeared on the rare Travelling Through The EU… EP

The Gabe Dixon Band – All Will Be Well.mp3
This is a bit like Billy Joel, before he turned to shit. I must confess that I really, really like only two Gabe Dixon songs, but those two are fantastic. This one has a great chorus and a nice piano hook.

The Weepies- Gotta Have You.mp3
An early Pandora discovery, and the best of the lot. I love the Weepies, despite their silly name. This is one of the cutest songs I’ve ever heard.

Kacy Crowley – Kind Of Perfect.mp3
A lovely song. Crowley’s music is exceedingly difficult to find, which I find mystifying.

Joshua Radin – These Photographs
From my pick for Album of 2006. Radin’s music is gentle, melodic and intimate, recalling the great Nick Drake. You have to admire a love song that namechecks Sylvia Plath, Mary Cassat, Simone de Beauvoir, and Nina Simone (“You’re Nina Simone, when you talk on the phone. You sing to me, and I’m truly no longer alone”. Lovely),

Brandi Carlile – Throw It All Away.mp3
Beautiful, catchy and touching song from Brandi Carlile’s self-titled 2005 debut. Her name suggests an airhead pop princess, but she is actually a hugely talented singer-songwriter with a hell of a voice.