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Albums of the Year: 2007

December 15th, 2009 No comments

This is the final part of the series of my favourite top ten albums of every year through the ’00s. And to celebrate it, I accidentally wrote 11 reviews. So these are a top 11 then. There is still a link up to my top 20 albums of 2008, which covers that year, and I’ll post a similar mix of my top 20 for 2009 once I have decided which they are. As before, I’m sad to leave out some fine albums from ’07, including efforts by Josh Ritter, Kate Walsh, Laura Gibson, Rilo Kiley, Jens Lekman, Maria Taylor, Rickie Lee Jones, Feist, Billie the Vision & the Dancers, A Fine Frenzy, The National, Brooke Fraser, Foo Fighters, Over The Rhine, Andrew Bird, Josh Rouse, Iron & Wine, Miranda Lambert, Sarah Borges & the Broken Singles, Common, Tim McGraw, The Shins, Abra Moore…

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Wilco – Sky Blue Sky

The Wilco cognoscenti are rather too ready to dismiss the unpretentious Sky Blue Sky, measuring it against the experimentations of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost Is Born. This is an uncomplicated album, and does what its creators set out to do admirably. Here, Jeff Tweedy and chums eschew cacophonic innovations for a straight-forward, mellow rock album that channels the ’60s (Dylan, Grateful Dead, Abbey Road-era Beatles) and ’70s (Van Morrison, Pink Floyd, the Eagles, Thin Lizzy) without losing its identity as a Wilco album. Sky Blue Sky is immediate and intimate. Nels Cline’s guitar work is an utter joy. The highlight here is Impossible Germany, with Jeff Tweedy and Nels Cline duelling on a magnificent guitar solo, an integral part of the song’s lyrics, that borrows from Gary Moore (check out Thin Lizzy’s Sarah) and Carlos Santana.
Wilco – Either Way.mp3
Wilco – Impossible Germany.mp3

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Brandi Carlile – The Story

The name Brandi Carlile suggests a fake-breasted airhead straight outta the Playboy Mansion. As the reader may have guessed by dint of her inclusion on this list, that notion is way of the mark. Carlile is a hugely talented writer and singer of solid rock and country-rock songs. I liked her eponymous 2005 debut, which was rather more rootsy than this set. Here Carlile straddles genres, veering from rock (My Song) to folk-pop (Turpentine) to country (“Have You Ever”). Her distinctive voice can whisper softly and soar ferociously (hear the climactic Joplinesque roar on the title track). The lyrics booklet reveals that Carlile wrote some of the songs as a teenager in 2000 or earlier, hinting at a precocious talent.
Brandi Carlile – The Story.mp3

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Loney, Dear – Loney Noir

The bizzarely named Loney, Dear (real name Emil Svanängen) is something of a genius working in his Stockholm bedroom studio, in which he conducts an orchestra consisting of himself. Operating mostly under the cover of earphones so as not to wake the rest of the household, his songs tend to start softly before building up to a multi-layered, orgasmic crescendo. The melodies are pretty — even twee, in the way Belle & Sebastian are twee — and Svanängen’s high and slight voice is appealing enough, within the context of his music. But I have no idea whether the lyrics are any good; I’ve never really listened to them; I rather have the bedroom symphonies wash over me.
Loney, Dear – Saturday Waits.mp3
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Nicole Atkins – Neptune City

Neptune City came out at a time when Amy Winehouse, another artists borrowing from pop’s rich legacy, was absolutely everywhere. I prefer Atkins’ eclectic references over Winehouse’s mannered soul pastiche. Neptune City is, in places, like Petula Clark covering Blondie through an ABBA filter — glorious pop. On other tracks, Atkins does torchsong soul (“The Way It Is”), or goes into ’80s throwback mode, sounding like the B-52s as sung by Sandie Shaw on Broadway (“Love Surreal” or the rousing “Brooklyn On Fire”, which featured here). Elsewhere there are hints of Phil Spector’s production and Edith Piaf and Joni Mitchell. It should be a total retro mess, but it isn’t. It sounds entirely modern. Neptune City may not be an entirely cohesive album, but it is rather fabulous.
Nicole Atkins – Love Surreal.mp3

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Holmes Brothers – State Of Grace

Some time ago I posted the Holmes’ Brothers gospel-blues style cover of Cheap Trick’s I Want You To Want Me (HERE) from this album. That track was my introduction to the Holmes Brothers, who had released nine albums before this one, starting in 1991 — more than three decades after the two Holmes brothers, Sherman and Wendell, started in the music business. The third member, drummer Popsy Dixon, hooked up with them in the mid-’60s. But they did not become the Holmes Brothers until 1979, having spent the interim as a covers bar-band. Covering blues, soul, gospel, country and even a spot of bluegrass, State Of Grace is warm and often surprising, especially in the Virginian group’s interpretation of other people’s songs, which include tracks by Lyle Lovett (twice), Credence Clearwater Revival, Nick Lowe, Hank Williams Sr and Johnny Mathis. Guesting here with the three brothers are Joan Osborne (who championed the Holmes Brothers in the 1990s), The Band’s Levon Helms and Rosanne Cash. Featured here is the Hank Williams song, featuring Cash.
The Holmes Brothers (with Rosanne Cash) – I Can’t Help It If I’m Still In Love With You.mp3

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Panda Bear – Person Pitch

I can’t claim to be much of an Animal Collective fan. I’m sure I would be if I had the patience to get into them. I was not going to have patience either with this solo album by Collective’s drummer Noah Lennox. But I was attracted to it by the cover art and a glowing Pitchfork review. For some reason I ended up playing Person Pitch on loop, and was entranced by it. The critics in their reviews invariably referenced Brian Wilson, and coming a couple of years after SmiLE (another album I got into by playing it on loop) was released, that is neither surprising nor inaccurate. Person Pitch is a glorious psychedelic trip, especially the epic Bros, that owes a tip of the hat also to the Beatles.

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Richard Hawley – Lady’s Bridge

It is this album’s misfortune to be chronologically sandwiched between Hawley’s two masterpieces, 2005’s Coles Corner and this year’s Truelove’s Gutter, two of the decades finest albums. Lady’s Bridge may not quite reach the heights of those masterpieces, but it gets damn close. It is a very, very good album, with no weak point. It is mostly a sad collection. The gorgeous opener, Valentine, will move the vulnerable listener to tears, or close to it, especially when the strings swell and the drums emphasise the anguish. A couple of rockabilly songs and the upbeat Tonight The Streets Are Ours lighten the mood before suitably gloomy (and very lovely) songs called Our Darkness and The Sun Refused To Shine close the set.

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Missy Higgins – On A Clear Night

Where Missy Higgins full debut album The Sound Of White (with its astonishing title track) was mostly plaintive in sound; On A Clear Night is more accessible and upbeat. Higgins invests her intelligent lyrics with evocative vocals. The Sound Of White dealt much with trauma and depression; On A Clear Night is frequently life affirming, talking of escape, healing and self-assertion. Thankfully Higgins’ toned down her distinctive Australian accent which previously came perilously close to making her sound like an Aussie wicketkeeper. This is the kind of album that may at first seem slight, but its depth reveals itself after repeated listens. Crowded House’s Neil Finn makes an appearance on the album, contributing guitar to Peachy and backing vocals to the lovely Going North. That’s what it says on the booklet; I can barely hear the guy.
Missy Higgins – Going North.mp3

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Bright Eyes – Cassadaga

In 2005, Bright Eyes’ I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning was by far my album of the year. It was an immediately accessible album in ways its predecessors were not. Cassadaga is not as easy to fall in love with as I’m Wide Awake. It is a grower which requires a few spins before its full beauty reveals itself. Songs that at first do not seem much creep into the ear slowly, and then take root. It is a richly textured, and cohesive album. Connor Oberst’s poetic lyrics are delivered here with greater self-assurance and less of a quiver than on preceding albums. At times, the album overreaches in its ambitions, and another spoken intro on the first track is simply pretentious. For this album Oberst roped in guests such as the marvellous Maria Taylor, Gillian Welch and Rilo Kiley’s Jason Boesel (whose backing vocals on the excellent “If The Brakeman Turns My Way” provide an album highlight).
Bright Eyes – If The Brakeman Turns My Way.mp3

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Rosie Thomas – These Friends Of Mine

Rosie Thomas’ fourth album is her most consistent. It’s for albums like these that the hackneyed phrase “achingly beautiful” was invented for. On These Friends Of Mine, she is supported by her friends Damien Jurado, Denison Witmer and Sufjan Stevens. The lyrical thread running through the album is love and New York, sometimes both together. Recorded as live, the album is engagingly intimate. The sparse, moving “Why Waste More Time?” is preceded by an appealingly giggly count-in. The cover version of R.E.M.’s “The One I Love”, nice though it is, seems redundant, but Tomas’ interpretation of Fleetwood Mac’s “Songbird” captures the intense delicacy of the original. The highlight, however, is “Much Farther To Go”, a love song in which the arrangement, harmonies and lyrics coalesce to create an evocative hymn to deep yearning (like Nicole Atkins’ Brooklyn’s On Fire, it featured here).
Rosie Thomas – If This City Never Sleeps.mp3

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Colbie Caillat – Coco

Like Lily Allen and Kate Nash before her, Colbie Caillat launched herself into the pop charts on the strength of Internet buzz. Releasing her music first on MySpace, she was soon picked up by the music blog community. Her debut album, titled rather cornily after her childhood nickname, is breezy folk-pop of the sort usually associated, by way of deceptive shorthand, with the rather more boring Jack Johnson. In sound Caillat is much closer to Tristan Prettyman, her fellow Californian who burst on to the scene equally unexpectedly in 2005. This is summer music, agreeably laid-back yet effervescent, and, crucially, not banal.
Colbie Caillat – Battle.mp3

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My top 10 albums for 2008 (not a vintage year) were:
Jay Brannan – Goddamned
Ron Sexsmith – Exit Strategy Of The Soul
Tift Merritt – Another Country
The Weepies – Hideaway
Jenny Lewis – Acid Tongue
Kathleen Edwards – Asking For Flowers
Conor Oberst – Conor Oberst
Ben Folds – Way To Normal
Hello Saferide – More Modern Short Stories…
Neil Diamond – Home Before Dark

Full post here

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More Albums of the Year

Albums of the Year: 2004

November 17th, 2009 6 comments

My ten favourite albums of 2004 exclude — and here I fully expect to be shouted at — the rather overrated Arcade Fire debut (it will not feature in 2005 either, seeing as that’s when it came out in many regions). But, Canadians take heart, Ron Sexsmith does feature. As always, this is not intended to represent the ten best albums of the year, only those I have and like best, with some not making the cut much to my regret (Patty Griffin, Anna Ternheim, Sufjan Stevens, A.C. Newman, Joseph Arthur, Kings Of Leon, Laura Veirs). Looking at some contemporary “best of 2004” lists, I feel hopelessly out of touch. Have some of these people ever been heard of again? Did they ever exist, or were their inclusion some kind of critics’ practical joke (Dungen!)?

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Rilo Kiley – More Adventurous

rilo_kileyWhat is it about Rilo Kiley that puts the critics in such ambivalent mood? More Adventurous lives up to its title: it’s an eclectic album, even if there is not much that’s particularly experimental. The variety seems to have puzzled the critics; I like it. There’s the alt.country, folk-rock stuff with which the group has been mostly associated (such as on the lovely title track and The Absence Of God), power indie-pop (the fantastic Portions For Foxes and It’s A Hit), a 1920s throwback (Ripchord), a torchsong country number (I Never), and what might be described as electronica country (the dyslexic Accidntel Deth). Apart from Portions For Foxes, the dramatic Does He Love You (discussed HERE) is the stand-out track. Throughout the lyrics are sharp, and on this album Jenny Lewis found her sexy, expressive voice.
Rilo Kiley – I Never.mp3
Rilo Kiley – It’s A Hit.mp3

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Brian Wilson – SMiLE

brian_wilsonWhen I first got SMiLE , I did not get it. In fact, I was so disappointed by Brian Wilson’s long-awaited and much-hyped collaboration with Van Dyke Parkes that I didn’t expect to ever play it again, just to file it away in a spot where the handsome packaging, with the rather good booklet, would look nice. Then circumstances conspired, making me play the thing four times over on loop. The penny dropped and I got it. There are moments I can live without, yet these moments are a part of the trip: a post-psychedelic trip, a melancholy yet buoyant trip, a trip to a place that doesn’t exist anymore, and probably never did. It’s an album as removed from reality as Brian Wilson is said to be today. The timing of its release, in the middle of the corporate, synthetic ’00s was fortuitous. Coinciding with an era when commercial realism tends to trump enterprising creativity, SMiLE appeared as a connection to a time when innovation was not scorned but rewarded — ironically by putting together the one ’60s masterpiece that never was.

Mike Love apparently described SMiLE as an insult to the Beach Boys’ legacy. To prove his point, Mike Love in 2006 recorded that instant classic Santa’s Going To Kokomo, thereby mercifully redeeming the Beach Boys’ reputation.
Brian Wilson – Roll Plymouth Rock.mp3
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Mindy Smith – One More Moment

mindy_smithMindy Smith’s name evokes the image of plastic blondes in skimpy beachwear living it up at the Playboy Mansion, not the reality of a writer and singer of beautiful country-folk music. Smith was in her early 30s before she finally released this, her debut album. Occasional visitor to this parish Stay-At-Home Indie-Pop (whose periodically updated blog is always very readable) last week commented about One Moment More that it packs an “emotional punch”, referring to Smith’s “supreme songwriting”. Indie-Pop, a man of discerning musical judgment, got it right. Add to that Mindy Smith’s superb, clear voice and ability to invest the right amount of emotion into her songs. Her version of Dolly Parton’s Jolene is probably the best of the many I’ve heard.
Mindy Smith – Fighting For It All.mp3

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Jens Lekman – When I Said I Wanted To Be Your Dog

Jens LekmanTime was when Sweden burdened us with the regrettable likes of Roxette and Ace Of Base who were hauling in the glorious slipstream of ABBA. This decade, Sweden is a hotbed of wonderful Indie-pop created by artists who can create a catchy hook and an incisive lyric, even a cappela style. The Cardigans set the scene, but the godfather may well be Jens Lekman. Indeed, he gets namechecked, alongside Townes van Zandt, in what may be the best Swedish song of the genre, Hello Saferide’s The Quiz. Lekman turns out some rather good melodies, but the charm of his songs exist in the idiosyncratic lyrics. Take the upbeat You Are The Light: the protagonist gets arrested for defacing his girlfriend’s father’s Mercedes Benz at her prompting, and uses his one phone call to ask the local radio station to dedicate a song to her. There are startling surprises in many of his wry lyrics, but they aren’t contrived, and at times they are casually profound. That is an art in an age when so many people discern depth in Coldplay’s lyrics. And unlike Coldplay and their fellow worthies, Lekman is frequently very funny indeed.
Jens Lekman – The Cold Swedish Winter.mp3

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The Weepies – Happiness

weepiesDeb Talan and Steve Tannen were solo performers on the folk circuit when they met. They decided to collaborate, chose a stupid name for their duo, fell in love, married, moved to Topanga, California, and had a child, and in the interim have released three albums. It’s a happy story, with the title of their debut album an opportune portent. The harmonies are, as one would expect, lovely (especially on closing track Keep It There); none of the songs are likely to jolt the listener out of their comfort zone. But it’s not all predictable introspective coffeehouse folk stuff, and when it is (such as on the lovely Somebody Loved or Simple Life), it’s of superior quality. On other tracks, there are jangly guitars on the suitably upbeat title track, snowbells on the Christmas-flavoured All That I Want, bluegrass guitar on Vegas Baby. Perhaps the most affecting song is Tannen’s Dating A Porn Star, as good a country a song as one might find in this decade.
The Weepies – Dating A Porn Star.mp3

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Dave Alvin – Ashgrove

dave_alvinDave Alvin is a flexible musician, at home in country, folk, blues, rock and punk. He has been a member of rockabilly band The Blasters (with his brother Phil) and the influential punk band The Flesheaters, and he wrote Dwight Yoakam’s country classic Long White Cadillac. Ashgrove is a departure from his previous albums, which covered either country and folk or bluesy roots rock (a genre title I despise). Personally, I prefer the country stuff. I’m not a great roots rock fan, but I do like it when Alvin does it — his guitar work is terrific. As always with Dave Alvin, the lyrics are worth following; some of them are compelling. Two stand out: Out Of Control tells a hell of a story, and The Man In The Bed Isn’t Me is truly touching. The sequencing is a bit jarring, though, with the bluesy rock alternating with the country songs, preventing the set from settling into a coherent mood.
Dave Alvin – Sinful Daughter.mp3

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Ron Sexsmith – Retriever

Ron SexsmithEvery male singer-songwriter who enjoys any amount of critical esteem is likely to be compared to the tragic Elliot Smith, the genre’s eternal poet laureate (whose posthumously assembled collection of demos was released in 2004). Flattering though such comparisons are, often they are inappropriate and lazy. Ron Sexsmith’s sound has little in common with Smith’s, and his lyrics are more hopeful. Sexsmith also gets compared to Paul McCartney (and Happiness from Retriever sounds much like a Macca song), who has championed him. I suppose that the comparisons to Smith do not relate to sound or mood, but to songwriting chops. Retriever, like almost all of Sexsmith’s works, is a beautifully written. It’s a warm, gorgeous album, it embraces the listener in a comforting auditory blanket, aided by Sexsmith’s engaging voice and thoughtful lyrics. It’s not the kind of album, and Sexsmith not the kind of artist, that one turns to for a fix of challenging music; there is enough depth here to remove it from vacant pop, but it will not test the listener. It’s more of an old friend, instantly familiar and great company one is happy to seek out again.
Ron Sexsmith – Not About To Lose.mp3

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Nouvelle Vague – Nouvelle Vague

Nouvelle_VagueThis is one of those unexpected albums: loungey covers of Punk and New Wave classics, such as Love Will Tear Us Apart (here set on a beach), Teenage Kicks, Making Plans For Nigel, Too Drunk To Fuck, and Guns Of Brixton (the latter two of which sound like Gainsbourg songs here). It’s all very sincere and quite fabulous, rendered mostly in a bossa new wave nova groove. Nouvelle Vague, a project by Frenchmen Marc Collin and Olivier Libaux using a roster of female vocalists, does not aim for camp comedy or winks and nods. The exercise requires that the listener simultaneously forgets the originals, the better to understand them on Nouvelle Vague’s terms, and to remember them, so as to appreciate their imaginative reinventions. Some don’t quite work (such as The Undertone’s Teenage Kicks), others compare very well to the original, especially The Cure’s A Forest, The Specials’ Friday Night Saturday Morning And PiL’s This Is Not A Love Song.
Nouvelle Vague – Friday Night Saturday Morning.mp3

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Missy Higgins – The Sound Of White

Missy HigginsI can’t profess to be a great fan of the Australian accent, mate. And yet, it is always satisfying when non-American singers resist the temptation of adapting their accent for the international market. Melissa Higgins retains her strong Aussie enunciation, which can be grating but also helps to invest in her lyrics unblemished authenticity. Much of the lyrics are, or seem, intensely personal. Some of them are standard singer-songwriter fare, but there is much here that moves the listener, particularly the title track, about her sister’s death in an accident (featured HERE) and the child-murder song The River. The hit on the album was the upbeat Scar, which was rather unrepresentative of this pensive, though appealingly arranged album which has few weak tracks. If the disagreeable This Is How It Goes is the price one has to pay to have Ten Days or Nightminds, than that’s not a bad deal.
Missy Higgins – Nightminds.mp3

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Wilco – A Ghost Is Born

wilcoThank goodness for the technology of digital playlists. With this album, I’ll never need to hear the pointless noisy distortions on the 12-minute long Less Than You Think again, even as I applaud Tweedy and pals for their willingness to do something different (though that something almost rivals Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music album for unlistenability). And, depending on my mood, I may skip the 10min-plus Spiders Kidsmoke as well, because the guitar solo really annoys me, by which I am doing the song an injustice. But the rest of the album is very enjoyable. It includes some of Tweedy’s best songs, such as The Late Greats and Hell Is Chrome. But the absolute highlight is — and Wilco fans will have guessed it — the opener, At Least That’s What You Said, which plods along with Tweedy in pensive mood until it explodes in gloriously angry guitars.
Wilco – At Least That’s What You Said.mp3

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More Albums of the Year

Songs of love and death

March 20th, 2009 8 comments

Let’s bring everybody down a bit with love songs about death (though the final song should resurrect some mirth). To me the song of death will always be Julie Covington’s Don’t Cry For Me Argentina, the last record my mother and father listened to together before his sudden death in 1977. My mother would play the record at high volume for months after. This selection is about the kind of loss my mother felt. Some can, or even do, apply to the loss of somebody other than a lover. And, no, the notorious Honey does not feature.
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Missy Higgins – The Sound Of White.mp3
missy-higginsThis entirely gorgeous song is not about the death of a love interest, but about that of Melissa’s sister in a car crash. The sisterly love must have been profound — as deep as that of romantic lovers (which is why this song works for them too). “My silence solidifies, until that hollow void erases you so I can’t feel at all. But if I never feel again, at least that nothingness will end the painful dream, of you and me…”

Although not religious, Missy goes to a church, presumably Catholic, to pray before a statue of the Virgin Mary. “I knelt before some strangers face, I’d never have the courage or belief to trust this place. But I dropped my head, ’cause it felt like lead, and I’m sure I felt your fingers through my hair.” That physical contact is, of course, just an illusion. All that’s left are the memories: “And if I listen to the sound of white [presumably meaning a state of blankness or meditation] sometimes I hear your smile and breathe your light.”

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Death Cab For Cutie – I’ll Follow You Into The Dark.mp3
death-cabBen Fold in his song The Luckiest – possibly the greatest love song ever written – tells the story about his neighbour, an “old man who lived to his 90s” and one day dies in his sleep. His wife lives on for a couple of days and then follows him. The notion of not being able to live without a loved one is the point of this song, performed by a singer much younger than 90. He sets out his stall early: “Love of mine, some day you will die. But I’ll be close behind, I’ll follow you into the dark.” There are hints of suicide should the tragic moment come, and that point may be imminent, suggesting the presence of a terminal illness. “You and me have seen everything to see from Bangkok to Calgary, and the soles of your shoes are all worn down. The time for sleep is now. It’s nothing to cry about, ’cause we’ll hold each other soon – the blackest of rooms.”

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Iron & Wine – Naked As We Came.mp3
ironandwineMusically and lyrically a companion piece to I’ll Follow You Into The Dark, Sam Beam is pondering the death of a lover: “One of us will die inside these arms. Eyes wide open, naked as we came, one will spread our ashes ’round the yard.” The instructions have been given: cremation, no burial, just scatter the ashes. “She says, ‘If I leave before you, darling, don’t you waste me in the ground.”

That notion corresponds with my postmortal plan: bury my ashes into a hole in the garden, and plant a fruit tree over me. The idea comes from a German poem by Theodor Fontane, apparently based on a true story, I learnt as a child, about a Herr von Ribbeck in the Havelland (near Berlin), who’d give passing schoolchildren a pear from his tree. As his death approaches, in 1759, he gives instruction that a pear tree be planted over his grave, because his miserly son would not continue the distribution of fruit. His final wish is honoured, and generations of passing children will now help themselves to a pear (at least until the tree’s destruction in 1911), thanks to Herr von Ribbeck. (English translation of the poem)

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Anna Ternheim – Lovers Dream.mp3
ternheimSwedish songbird Ternheim rounds off the trilogy of not wanting to live when the other has died. The twist here seems to be that she wants to be in death with someone whom she could not be with in life. “Maybe I could be yours, maybe you could be mine. God, I waited so long, maybe my time has come to walk by your side. Please put me at ease, now my soul is ready for peace.” Which is a twist on the saying, “See you in the next life.”

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Bobbie Gentry – Ode To Billie Joe.mp3
bobbie-gentryThis song can be interpreted in several ways. We know that Billy Joe MacAllister committed suicide by jumping off the Tallahatchie Bridge on Choctaw Ridge. For Bobbie’s family it seems to be the stuff of casual dinner conversation: “Well, Billy Joe never had a lick of sense. Pass the biscuits, please”. And so the conversation goes, except Bobbie seems to have lost her appetite entirely when mother mentions something uncanny: “”That nice young preacher, Brother Taylor, dropped by today. Said he’d be pleased to have dinner on Sunday. Oh, by the way, he said he saw a girl that looked a lot like you up on Choctaw Ridge, and she and Billy Joe was throwing somethin’ off the Tallahatchie Bridge.”

Shortly we leave the dining table and fast forward a year as Bobbie updates us. “A year has come ‘n’ gone since we heard the news ’bout Billy Joe. And brother married Becky Thompson, they bought a store in Tupelo. There was a virus going ’round, Papa caught it and he died last spring, and now Mama doesn’t seem to wanna do much of anything. And me, I spend a lot of time pickin’ flowers up on Choctaw Ridge – and drop them into the muddy water off the Tallahatchie Bridge.” We can only guess what Billie Joe was to Bobbie, and why Billie Joe committed suicide. A popular theory has it that what the preacher saw them throwing off the bridge was their baby (though how blind must the parents have been to fail noticing their daughter’s pregnancy?) or a premature, self-administered abortion. Whatever it is, Bobbie’s grief – for Billie Joe or her putative child – runs deep.

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Ari Hest – Didn’t Want To Say Goodbye.mp3
ari-hestApparently written about a 9/11 victim, singer-songwriter Ari Hest does what most grieving people do when confronted with a sudden, unnatural death – asking why. And for those with religious faith, it can be shaken by such an event, as seems to be the case here. “I can ask all I please, I can beg down on my knees, for a reason, for a sign. But these answers I won’t find.” So instead, “I’ll go on without you, and what’s left for me to do but to stay where I am in my world of pretend.”
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Loudon Wainwright III – Sometimes I Forget.mp3
loudon-historyThe song starts off unpromisingly as Loudon sets the scene: “Sometimes I forget that you’ve gone. You’ve gone, and you’re not coming back.” But we quickly learn that he has not been dumped as he surveys the scene: “And your bookcase still holds all your books; it’s as if all you’ve done is go out of town…” The addressee could be returning any minute now, but the person — my guess it’s his father, so let’s identify him as such —never went on a journey. “But your suitcase is empty, it’s right here in the hall. That’s not even the strangest thing. Why would you leave your wallet behind. Your glasses, your wristwatch and ring.” He has unresolved issues with his father, having failed to say what needed to be said. Death creates a distance, but Loudon feels his father’s proximity. “You’re not far away, you’re near. Sometimes I forget that you’ve gone. Sometimes it feels like you’re right here. Right now it feels like you’re right here.” Wainwright does not specify the nature of his relationship to the deceased, so it can be applied, at least in spirit, to a separation by death of any loved one.
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Richard Thompson – Vincent Black Lightning 1952.mp3
rthompsonTurning the teen death genre (which we’ll turn to in the next item) on its head a little, Thompson tells the story of an outlaw in love. James Adie, a criminal, and Red Molly fell in love over the eponymous motorbike. Then the day comes that James robs a bank and is shot by the police. Red Molly is called to his deathbed. James declares his love for Molly and the bike, then “he reached for her hand and he slipped her the keys, saying: ‘I’ve got no further use for these. I see angels on Ariels in leather and chrome swooping down from heaven to carry me home’. And he gave her one last kiss and died, and he gave her his Vincent to ride.”

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Jimmy Cross – I Want My Baby Back.mp3
jimmy-crossI promised that we’d end off with a much-needed laugh. The early ’60s were a fertile period for teen death songs such as The Leader Of The Pack, Tell Laura I Love Her, Teen Angel, Dead Man’s Curve, Run Joey Run, and Ebony Eyes. Jimmy Cross’ 1964 song is a parody that moves swiftly from the ridiculous to the bizarre.

Jimmy fills us in on that fateful night, putting on his best Ferlin Husky accent: “I don’t hardly know where to begin. I remember, we were cruisin’ home from the Beatles concert. I’d had such a wonderful evenin’ sittin’ there watchin’ my baby screamin’ and tearin’ her hair out and carryin’ on. She was sooo full of life. Then…” disaster strikes. “I see this stalled car right smack in front of me! Well, I wa’nt about to slam on the brakes ’cause I didn’t have none to start to with. So I swerved to the left, and what do I see? Some mush-head, on a motorsickle, headin’ right at us! And I knew at last, me and my baby were about to meet the leader of the…” CRASH! “Well, when I come to I looked around, and there was the leader, and there was the pack, and over there was my baby.” Time flies, and he still misses his baby. So, punning unsubtly, he takes a spade and digs up her grave and, lo, he has his baby back. Oh blessed joy – a happy, necrophiliac ending!

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In this series so far:
Love hurts
Unrequited love
Being in love
Longing for love
Heartbreak
Adultery

More Songs About Love

Have Song, Will Sing Vol. 2 – Songbirds

August 1st, 2008 1 comment

The term singer-songwriter has acquired a bad reputation, unjustly so. As I’ve said before, the genre is in its best state since the days of Joni Mitchell and her contemporaries. The critics, it seems, seem to conflate the rich diversity of artists thus categorised with a glut of performers who have found mainstream success, but who are not actually representatives of the genre. They are not representative because, as this collection (and the first one I posted earlier this week) may show. So in these collections do not expect a legion of Jack Johnson and Norah Jones clones.

Sure, some may be influenced by these, but the current crop of singer-songwriters draw their influences widely: Rosie Thomas, Kate Walsh and the Weepies’ Deb Talan from folk or “Americana”, Brandi Carlile from rock; Ingrid Michaelson, Laura Veirs, Kimya Dawson and Hello Saferide from different strands of indie; Mindy Smith and Charlotte Kendrick from (alt.)country, Missy Higgins from pop; Maria Taylor from everything. And so on.

The women on this mix may be called “Songirds” (a term I had not seen used when I called my series that last year, but which seems to have currency; it is a good and obvious description). These Songbirds come mostly from the US, but other countries are represented: England (Kate Walsh), Sweden (Hello Saferide), Belgium (Sarah Bettens; the female part of K’s Choice), South Africa (the gorgeous Josie Field), Iceland (Emiliana Torrini), Australia (Missy Higgins). Catherine Feeny was born in the US and moved to England; Michelle Featherstone (who, scandalously, has no record contract) went the other way.

TRACKLISTING
1. Laura Veirs - Pink Light (from Saltbreaker, 2007)
2. Ingrid Michaelson - Breakable (from Girls And Boys, 2006)
3. Brandi Carlile – Late Morning Lullaby (from The Story, 2007)
4. Dar Williams – Farewell To The Old Me (from The Beauty Of The Rain, 2003)
5. Catherine Feeny – Mr. Blue (from Hurricane Glass, 2006)
6. Charlotte Kendrick – Thank You (from North Of New York, 2007)
7. Mindy Smith – Falling (from One More Moment, 2004)
8. Rosie Thomas – Since You’ve Been Around (from If Songs Could Be Held, 2005)
9. Kim Richey – The Absence Of Your Company (from Chinese Boxes, 2007)
10. Missy Higgins – Warm Whispers (from On A Clear Night, 2007)
11. Hello Saferide – The Quiz (from Would You Let Me Play This EP 10 Times A Day?, 2006)
12. Deb Talan - Cherry Trees (from Live at WERS Studio, 2001)
13. Maria Taylor – Two of Those Two (from 11:11, 2005)
14. Kate Walsh – Don’t Break My Heart (from Tim’s House, 2007)
15. Michelle Featherstone – Coffee & Cigarettes (from Fallen Down, 2006)
16. A Fine Frenzy – Come On Come Out (from One Cell In The Sea, 2007)
17. Laura Gibson – Hands In Pockets (from If You Come To Greet Me, 2006)
18. Sarah Bettens – Follow Me (from Scream, 2006)
19. Josie Field - Every Now And Then (from Mercury, 2006)
20. Kathleen Edwards – Scared At Night (from Asking For Flowers, 2008)
21. Emiliana Torrini - Next Time Around (from Fisherman’s Woman, 2004)
22. Gemma Hayes – Evening Sun (from 4.35 AM EP, 2001)
23. Kimya Dawson - Loose Lips (from Remember That I Love You, 2006)

DOWNLOAD

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Love Songs For Every Situation: Love ends

February 13th, 2008 3 comments

And after love comes the break-up. We’ll deal with the long-term effects of that later. For now, let’s get caught in the moment of the break-up.

Kris Kristofferson – For The Good Times.mp3
Few songs are as much in the moment as this: Kris is proposing break-up sex to celebrate what must have been a great relationship, and to signify that the split is amicable (“There’s no need to watch the bridges that we’re burning”). There is still some love there (it is unclear who actually wants to leave). There is much tenderness in the chorus: “Lay your head upon my pillow.Hold your warm and tender body close to mine. Hear the whisper of the raindrops, blowin’ soft against the window,and make believe you love me one more time…for the good times.”

Crowded House – Better Be Home Soon (live).mp3
Interpreting Crowded House lyrics can be a precarious past-time. I read those for “Better Be Home Soon” (here a live version from the Farewell To The World album) as a desperate plea to save a relationship. Perhaps the couple has already separated, or one partner is playing away, or (as I read it) the couple is experiencing a great personal distance, but the protagonist is asking to fix a relationship that is dying. The effort must come from both sides: “So don’t say no, don’t say nothing’s wrong, cause when you get back home, maybe I’ll be gone.” This is a great song to play on guitar. For the tabs check out the Guitariotabs blog whence I borrowed this file from.

Missy Higgins – Ten Days.mp3
A relationship is certainly dying in this song, by another Australian artist, but not so much because the love has been extinguished, but as the effect of long-distance (“so tell me, did you really think…I had gone when you couldn’t see me anymore?”). Missy is “cutting the ropes”, even though “you’re still the only one that feels like home”.

Powderfinger – Wishing On The Same Moon.mp3
More Aussie heartbreak in this slow-rock song from last year’s Dream Days at the Hotel Existence album. The dude is still totally in love, but has been left. He’s not bitter yet (that’ll be dealt with in later posts); in fact “whenever you set free your devil smile on me, I melt”. The poor guy knows it’s over, and is now reduced to begging: “I’m calling out for you, pleading for your love. You’re falling from my view and there’s nothing I can do.” So, what does one do when one cannot be with one’s love? Why, look up at the stars and the moon, of course. That’s what they are there for, it’s what he and she can share: “I’m waiting in the afternoon for the sun to sink and let the night back in. It’s when I feel close to you, when the stars they swoon and bring their night time bloom.”

Prefab Sprout – When Love Breaks Down.mp3
An obvious break-up song from the great 1985 Steve McQueen album. There isn’t much drama in this split; the relationship is fizzling out, the inevitable being delayed to avoid the pain. They don’t see each other much, so “absence makes the heart lose weight, till love breaks down, love breaks down.” So, what will it be like when he’s single again? Paddy’ take: “When love breaks down, you join the wrecks who leave their hearts for easy sex.”

Carole King – It’s Too Late.mp3
Another song about love fading undramatically. “It used to be so easy living here with you. You were light and breezy and I knew just what to do. Now you look so unhappy and I feel like a fool” — that is such a brutal realisation. It’s over, but it is reciprocal: “There’ll be good times again for me and you, but we just can’t stay together, can’t you feel it too? Still I’m glad for what we had and how I once loved you.” They’ll have their memories, and they’ll be good.

Fleetwood Mac – Go Your Own Way.mp3
A classic in the genre, this track, from the 1977 Rumous album, was Lindsay Buckingham’s “fuck off” letter to Stevie Nicks. He wants to give her his world, but “how can I when you won’t take it from me”. Much has been made of the line: “Packing up, shacking up is all you wanna do”. Either Stevie was cheating (which she denies), or it refers to the rejected wedding proposal. Mick Fleetwood’s furious drumming and Buckingham’s angry guitar solo help to underscore the acidity of the lyrics.

Abba – The Winner Takes It All.mp3
Another song about band members splitting. Everything that has been said in praise of this song is true. Agnetha’s vocals are drenched in the pain of her own separation from Bjorn, who said he wrote it with a bottle of whisky as a companion. “I was in your arms, thinking I belonged there. I figured it made sense, building me a fence. Building me a home, thinking I’d be strong there, but I was a fool, playing by the rules.” The disillusionment of love, and trust, broken. The dude goes on to somebody else, (“but tell me, does she kiss like I used to kiss you?”). In this split someone is going on with life, the other feels foolish, desperate, frustrated and lonely.

Earth, Wind & Fire – After The Love Has Gone.mp3*
A marriage is blowing up after several good years, and our man can’t understand why. “We knew love would last. Every night, something right would invite us to begin the day.” Then things went awry. “Something happened along the way, what used to be happy was sad…” Words and melody combine to express an inner drama in the singer’s bid to make sense of it all (seeing as it’s Maurice White singing here, maybe a clue is in his sexual selfishness as revealed in yesterday’s post).

Odyssey – If You’re Looking For A Way Out.mp3
This is the saddest song among all these sad songs. A ballad from the funkster’s 1980 Hang Together album, the singer knows her man’s love has died, and puts the ball into his court. “Tell me I’m wrong”, but if she isn’t, “if you’re looking for a way out, I won’t stand here in your way”. Dude needs telling. She knows he cares: “Ain’t that just like you to worry about me. But we promised to be honest with each other for all eternity.” But she also knows that his love is gone: “Your kisses taste the same, but it’s just a sweet disguise.” Are you feeling tears coming on yet? Try this for size then: “Don’t look at the tears that I’m crying, they’ll only make you wanna stay. Don’t kiss me again, ’cause I’m dying to keep you from running away.” So what does the guy do when he is told: “Better tell me what’s in you heart. Oh baby now stop pretending, stop pretending, stop pretending”? He might be ready to tell her what’s in his heart, but then she adds: “Don’t you know I’ll always love you.” Checkmate.

The iPod Random 5-track Experiment Vol.2

December 1st, 2007 1 comment

Another five random songs from my iPod’s Shuffle function. Like before, Any Major iPod was in a mellow mood. That is perhaps because a high percentage of the music on it is mellow…

Alexi Murdoch – All Of My Days.mp3
Murdoch’s “Orange Sky”, from the astonishing Four Songs EP, received a lot of coverage on several TV shows. Off-hand, I remember it featuring in The O.C. and Prison Break, as well as on that wonderful film Garden State. Alexi Murdoch remains a staple on TV drama series, and yet he is not very well known at all. That is a pity, because his Nick Drake-channeling music has greater depth than inclusion on the soundtrack of Brothers & Sisters, or whatever, might suggest. Indeed, his full debut, last year’s Time Without Consequence recalled Drake even in requiring a few listens before it really clicks. “All Of My Days”, which kicks off the album, manages to sound at once laid back and intense, gentle and urgent. Good choice, iPod.
More Alexi Murdoch here and here.

Missy Higgins – Nightminds.mp3
Apparently Missy Higgins is absolutely massive in Australia. Now that the Aussies have turned that objectionable shit Howard out of office, made fools of themselves at the rugby world cup and have given us the adorable, wonderful Melissa Higgins (and Bob Evans and Auggie March), I can now object only to their cricket team, with the spit-rubbing captain. “Nightminds” comes from Higgins’ excellent 2004 debut, The Sound Of White. It’s one of those rather intense ballads on the album. I take it that the song addresses somebody with either depression or an addiction, with Higgins offering support and understanding. In the initial verses, the solitary piano and Higgins’ delivery communicate a sense of emotional pain. With the chorus, a cello (or something with strings, I can never really tell) and drums come in, and the melody and lyrics become more hopeful. A beautifully constructed song.
More Missy Higgins music here.

Gram Parsons – She.mp3
Not to be confused with the Charles Aznavour hit covered by Elvis Costello. Here, Gram Parsons (one who is too easily overlooked in the “gone too soon” stakes) infuses his country/rock with soul, perhaps having just listened to Donny Hathaway (another one often easily overlooked in the “gone too soon” department). Of course, a song about a slave girl who could sing requires a soul influence. But what Parsons — formerly a Flying Burrito Brother and a Byrd — accomplishes on this track from 1973′s G.P., his full debut solo album, is to show just how close country and soul used to be. Parson’s lifestory can make you weep: his father committed suicide on a Christmas Eve when Gram was 13; his mother died on the eve of his graduation; and Gram was dead of a heart attack by the time he was not yet 27, leaving behind a rich musical legacy (without Parsons, no Wilco) and our regret at how much more he might have accomplished in shaping modern music. Read about Parsons’ death soon after the release of G.P. here.

Jam – Eton Rifles.mp3
This is the joy and the trouble with the iPod Shuffle function. You get into a particular mood during a sequence of certain kinds of songs, and then something completely different comes on. And so it is here: Alexi, Missy and Gram create a kicked-back mood, and then the sharply dressed threesome go all The Who on us, with ripping guitar chords and incendiary singing, punctuated by the menacing backing heys. “Eton Rifles” is an air-guitar anthem for those who would feel stupid playing imaginary instruments to “Freebird” or ’80s hair rock. Play it loud and don’t forget to time your triumphant leap in the air at the smack-in-the-gob end.

Dobie Gray – Drift Away.mp3
The soul song even soul-hating rock fans could love, sort of an inverse to Parsons’ “She”. The Rolling Stones covered it, Uncle Kracker (newsmaking sidekick to the revolting Kid Rock) covered it with Dobie Gray, even Michael fucking Bolton covered it before he decided he wasn’t Otis Redding after all, but Luciano Pavarotten. I don’t recall Bolton’s version, but surely even he couldn’t mess this song up. Or could he? The excellent Echoes in the Wind blog has a vinyl rip of the Dobie Gray album on which “Drift Away” originally appeared.

The iPod Random 5-track Experiment Vol. 1

The Songbirds Vol. 1

August 4th, 2007 No comments

I love the current crop of songbirds (a term which might invoke notions of Eva Cassidy, who has been posthumously overrated) better than any of the old crops — including the class of the 1970s. In fact, I can’t even describe myself as a fan of Joni Mitchell; it’s her voice, rather than material, that renders her music unlistenable to me. So here is the first installment of a (possibly fairly extensive) series of contemporary songbirds I love.

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Rickie Lee Jones

It seems right to kick off with an old songbird. Jones has released one of the most fascinating albums of the year, The Sermon On Exposition Boulevard. Candidly, I didn’t enjoy it at first, but was nevertheless intrigued. The sound is very raw (presumably the album was recorded as live), some songs are objectively mediocre, and Jones sounds like she had a case of severe hayfever. The lyrical matter — religious faith — might put some off as well, although it shouldn’t, for Jones explores rather than preaches. The sound might be described as rootsy folk-rock; some tracks seem like inversions of “Sympathy For The Evil”. This is the sort of album one needs to become intimate with — best on an iPod without distraction — to discern moments of excellence, eureka moments.
Rickie Lee Jones – Circle In The Sand.mp3
Rickie Lee Jones – Gethsemane.mp3

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Mindy Smith

Recently I read a review of Mindy Smith in which the clown-with-internet-acess made an unforgivable statement along the lines of: “Mindy Smith could be to the singer-songwriter genre what Norah Jones has been to lounge jazz”. No she can’t, Bozo! Where Norah Jones provides a new definition for coma-inducing blandness, Mindy Smith engages the listener. Bozo presumably meant that Mindy could become the superstar in her genre, attributing to her an accessibility that could be commercially exploited. Mindy’s music certainly is accessible, but not at such a level as to grab the musically disinterested masses who buy their Norah Jones, Travis and Dido CDs at the supermarket, and feel like riding on the syrated edge of the knife when they put on their Coldplay disc. Mindy Smith will not become Norah Jones’ equivalent because there is a depth, a spirit of independence to her lyrics and the music that score these. And thank goodness for that.
Mindy Smith – Out Loud.mp3
Mindy Smith – Long Island Shores.mp3
Mindy Smith – Falling.mp3
Mindy Smith – Angel Dove.mp3

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Michelle Featherstone

Michelle Featherstone’s music has been featured on several TV shows, from Grey’s Anatomy to One Tree Hill, yet I could not find her on amazon.com, and information on Featherstone is sketchy beyond her website. It seems the album is available only on iTunes. I find that puzzling, for here is somebody with immense talent. The haunting “Falling” from a couple of years ago is what Dido could sound like if she had the ambition to actually be interesting: a bit like the wonderful Mazzy Star (death threats for mentioning the great Hope Sandoval in the same thought as boring old Dido to the usual address, please).

I fully expect “Rest Of My Life” (on Featherstone’s new album, “Fallen Down”) to play when McDreamy eventually settles down with an uncertain Meredith, at which point it will be a hugely sought-after track. It deserves to be hugely sought-after now.
Michelle Featherstone – Rest of My Life.mp3
Michelle Featherstone – Falling.mp3

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Missy Higgins

Huge in her native Australia, Missy Higgins is just delightful with her Aussie wicketkeeper’s twang. Higgins (Missy is a diminutive of her first name, Melissa) has a great line in outstanding lyrics and appealing melodies. The debut album, The Sound Of White, was lyrically a bit downbeat, with themes of death (on the stunning title track she sings to her sister, who died in a car crash), depression and what appears to be a story about child murder. The new set, On A Clear Night (two tracks of which below), has its morose moments, but is a more affirming album. Lead single “Steer” could become an anthem for every newly divorced woman who feels she is taking charge of her life.
Missy Higgins – Where I Stood.mp3
Missy Higgins – Steer.mp3
Missy Higgins – The Wrong Girl.mp3
Missy Higgins – The Sound Of White.mp3

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A Fine Frenzy

Currently supporting Rufus Wainwright on his US tour, and previously the wonderful Brandi Carlile (to be featured soon), A Fine Frenzy is 21-year-old Alison Sudol. Her debut album, One Cell In The Sea, marks her out as a massive talent. Just a couple of fewer songs shorter, and One Cell… could be a strong contender for the songbird album of the year (which right now seems like a mammoth battle between Rosie Thomas and Brandi Carlile). Visit The Late Greats blog for two more songs, including the excellent and very sad lead single “Almost Lover” (video here).
A Fine Frenzy – Whisper.mp3
A Fine Frenzy – Liar Liar.mp3

Albums of 2007, so far

June 8th, 2007 1 comment

It is a scientific fact that 78,4% of all MP3 bloggers are busy compiling their top 10 albums of the 2007 so far as we speak. So, before it becomes a bore, I’ll get in early. I might be on safe ground doing so before the first half of the year is up, because I’ve seen no releases for June that would be obvious contenders, other than the new Joseph Arthur album (and I can live without the White Stripes, I’m afraid). So…

1. Wilco – Sky Blue Sky
Some Wilco fans have expressed their disappointment with the unpretentious Sky Blue Sky, measuring it against the experimentations of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost Is Born. These fans are mistaken to measure Sky Blue Sky not on its own merits. Here, Jeff Tweedy eschews the cacophonic innovations for a straight-forward, mellow rock album that channels the ’60s (Dylan, Grateful Dead, Abbey Road-era Beatles) and ’70s (Van Morrison, Pink Floyd, the Eagles, Thin Lizzy) without losing its identity as a Wilco album.

Sky Blue Sky is immediate and intimate. Nels Cline’s guitar work is an utter joy. The cadenced dual guitar solo on “Impossible Germany”, the album’s stand-out track, is perhaps the best of this decade.
Wilco – Either Way.mp3
Wilco – Hate It Here.mp3

2. Bright Eyes – Cassadaga
In 2005, I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning was by far my album of the year, and it remains one of my all-time favourites. It was an immediately accessible album in ways its predecessors, or the simultaneously released (and quite awful) Digital Ash in a Digital Urn, were not. Cassadaga is not as easy to fall in love with as I’m Wide Awake, but once it hits you, it hits you hard. This is a beautiful, richly textured, and cohesive album. I cannot say whether Cassadaga will equal my affection for I’m Wide Awake (which provided the soundtrack for a particularly intense period in my life), but I do know that I will return to it for a very long time.
Bright Eyes – If The Brakeman Turns My Way.mp3
Bright Eyes – Make a Plan To Love Me.mp3

3. Loney, Dear – Loney Noir
The bizzarely named Loney, Dear (real name Emil Svanängen) is a genius working in his Stockholm bedroom studio, in which he conducts an orchestra consisting of himself. Operating mostly under earphones so as not to wake the rest of the household, his songs often start softly before building up to an orgasmic crescendo. For once the critics got it right when they proclaimed Loney Noir a work of genius.

Too often artists who don’t conform to the corporate expectations of the mainstream music industry fall between the cracks, especially when they come “foreign” countries. All the more my pleasant surprise when I caught the video the the utterly stunning “I Am John” on VH-1 a few weeks ago (see the video here).
Loney, Dear – I Am John.mp3
Loney, Dear – No One Can Win.mp3

4. Rosie Thomas – These Friends of Mine
Music at the moment is blessed with a crop of women with guitars, singer-songwriters who take their inspiration from Joni Mitchell and Carol King, not the corporate skanks that populate the Top40. Rosie Thomas is one of the finest artists in that crop. “Heartachingly beautiful” has become a cliché. With These Friends Of Mine it provides an accurate description. On her fourth album Rosie fulfills all the promise she hinted at in her previous efforts: There is now a consistency of quality in her exquisite melody to complement the sheer poetry of her lyrics. The album’s stand-out song, “Much Farther To Go”, features the brilliant Sufjan Stevens on vocals and, yeah, the banjo.
Rosie Thomas – Much Farther To Go.mp3

5. Missy Higgins – On A Clear Night
On her new album, Missy (real name Melissa Higgins, which sounds rather better) cheers up a bit, at least musically, from the quite wonderful The Sound Of White. Where The Sound… was beautiful in its melancholy, On A Clear Night is a little more relaxed in sound, if not lyrically. The excellent lead single “Steer” is a pop-hit-with-intelligence along the lines of The Sound’s hit “Scars”. Higgins’ does not sound as pained as she used to and she has thankfully tuned down her distinctive Aussie wicketkeeper’s accent.
Missy Higgins – The Wrong Girl.mp3

6. Maria Taylor – Lynn Teeter Flower
Not quite as wonderful or eclectic as 2005′s 11:11, but there is still a lot to like here.
Maria Taylor – No Stars

7. Brooke Fraser – Albertine
Released in Fraser’s native New Zealand in December, but elsewhere in 2007. I’ll confess, Sarah McLachlan is one of my guilty pleasures (give a woman a guitar, let her record her own songs, and I’m a fan, really). Fraser has some of the McLachlan thing going on. Bonus points for including the names, activities and contact details of several human rights and relief organisations in the liner notes.
Brooke Fraser – Deciphering Me

9. Fountains Of Wayne – Traffic And Weather
Not a Fountains Of Wayne classic, but there’s much to like here. If it disappoints some, then only by the group’s own high standards. FOW are furiously channelling the ’80s. But where those idiots Maroon 5 fail doing the same, our friends from NY pull it off most of the time. And then there is this wonderful alt.country song below…
Fountains Of Wayne – Fire In The Canyon />
9. Andrew Bird – Armchair Apocrypha
This will rate highly on the top 10s of most of the 78,4%, and possibly higher on those not compiled by the remaining 21,6%. I rate this album highly, and the ubiquitous “Heretic” is one of this year’s stand-out tracks. But, truth be told, I prefer the predecessor, The Mysterious Production of Eggs.
Andrew Bird – Cataracts

10. Crowded House – Time on Earth
Not yet released, and the track sequence of the album we CH fans have been downloading reportedly might yet change, which would be welcome. It’s really a Neil Finn solo album with chums, and it is not entirely convincing, a clutch of very good tracks apart (such as the one below). Still, it is Crowded House and therefore will always be in contention.
Crowded House – Nobody Wants To

Last year at the halfway mark, my interim Top 10 consisted of albums by Joshua Radin (number 1 then and at year-end), The Weepies, Eels, Belle & Sebastian, Josh Rouse, Collective Soul, Counting Crows, Devics, Ron Sexsmith, James Hunter. By the end of the year, only three other albums (Crowded House, Ben Kweller and Snow Patrol) managed to get into my final Top 10. Let’s hope for a better second half of the year.

Just some music: Bright Eyes, Wilco,etc

March 30th, 2007 No comments

I have nothing much to say today, other than that the weather is glorious today. Instead, here are some of my favourite songs at the moment, a former favourite, and possibly a future favourite.

Wilco
The new album comes out only in May, but it has been leaked on the Internet. It is easily the Album of 2007 so far (towering over the Shins), and it will take something quite extraordinary to knock Tweedy and chums of that perch. The best track on Sky Blue Sky is “Impossible Germany”, which seems to sample the guitar riff from Thin Lizzy’s “Sarah”. “Shake It Off” is another stand-out track, sounding like the Beatles White Album era going a tad alt.country. Fantastic. Get the album from the brilliant Serenity Now blog, listen to it, fall in love with it, and buy it in May
Download: Wilco – Shake It Off

Bright Eyes
I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning was my album of 2005, and I liked the sampler EP that preceded the April 10 release of Cassadaga. To be honest, I only just got it myself (again from Serenity Now Download-listen-like-buy). So without knowing the album intimately, I have selected the track with the best title.
Download: Bright Eyes – Soul Singer In A Session Band

Deb Talan
I’m going through my chicks-with-guitars (or whatever instrument) phase at the moment. I am in love with all off them. But while my heart belongs to Deb Talan of The Weepies, my ears belong to Mindy Smith, Rosie Thomas and Missy Higgins.
Download: Deb Talan concert and Weepies concert

Mindy Smith
Mindy Smith’s One Moment More album of 2004 is one of the most moving, beautiful sets I’ve heard yet. Mindy has a great expressive and clear voice. Last year’s Long Island Shore was good, but not nearly as good as the debut. Her version of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”, from One Moment More (and originally recorded for a Dolly Parton tribute album the previous year) is the best I have heard yet.
Download: Mindy Smith – Jolene

Rosie Thomas
Rosie Thomas is not unlike Mindy Smith, but younger. As Mindy, Rosie has a lovely folk-pop sensibility that occasionally veers into country. And, as Mindy, Rosie’s debut was better than the just released sophomore effort (from which this excellent track comes), which nonetheless is very good indeed.
Download: Rosie Thomas – All The Way To New York City

Missy Higgins
Missy Higgins has a strong Australian accent and not a voice one would conventionally describe as beautiful. But the voice packs an emotional punch to her well-written songs, many of them dealing with the darker side of life. “Nightminds”, from 2005’s The Sound Of White album, is about standing by somebody with either deep depression or drug addiction. It is a powerful song.
Download: Missy Higgins – Nightminds

Crowded House
The Farewell To The World live album might have been my pick of 2006, had it not been recorded ten years earlier. The DVD certainly has been on regular rotation chez Any Major Dude’s. To me the live versions almost invariably eclipse, and few more so than the astonishing version of “When You Come”. Crowded House have reformed (minus Paul Hester, obviously) and the new album should be out soon. Brilliant.
Download: Crowded House – When You Come (live)

Ben Kweller
Ben Kweller is infuriating. One minute he’s a bona fide genius, the next he fucks around with lazy riffs and stupid lyrics. Last year’s album, Ben Kweller (how do they come up with these titles?), was very good. “Until I Die” and “Sundress” deserve to be instant classics. But the top Kweller track precedes his album career. “In Other Words” was recorded on a four-track EP before he re-recorded it for his debut album. I wish he hadn’t: this tremendous version is superior. It starts slowly, picks up a bit, relaxes, and then works up to a piano-driven climax that features, of all things, banjos! It’s all quite breathtaking.
Download: Ben Kweller – In Other Words (original version)

Fountains Of Wayne
At first listen, I was only mildly impressed by the new album. After a few more, I love most of it — when I’m not distracted playing “Guess where they stole this riff from”. The ’60s and ’80s are, as ever, richly milked. “Yolanda Hayes” is one of the outstanding tracks on the album (along with a country number I really enjoyed!) — but what the hell does it sound like?
Download: Fountains Of Wayne – Yolanda Hayes

Tim McGraw
Tim McFuckingwhat? Oh yes. I listened to his new album, Let It Go, only for purposes of a CD review, and much of it is the usual cowboy-hatted twaddle. But “Suspicions” struck me. Eddie bloody Rabbit ’70s AOR on a Tim McGraw album? Oh yes. And, tell you what, McGraw does it better than old Eddie. Oh yes indeed. One to file in the Guilty Pleasures folder. The album also features a track called “Kristofferson”, which quite rightly sounds like the eponymous hero.
Download: Tim McGraw – Suspicions

April Sixth
An “alternative rock” band I checked out a couple of years ago only on strength of their name, which also is my birthday. Most of their stuff wasn’t very good, but “Dear Angel” I thought was excellent. And the lyrics resonated with me at the time.
Download: April Sixth – Dear Angel

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