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Albums of the Year: 2010

December 16th, 2010 8 comments

A few months ago I complained that few albums released this year had grabbed me; suddenly there came an avalanche of quality albums that compensated for my disappointment in sets by some favourite artists that I had looked forward to.

I have not been able to get on with the Ben Folds and Nick Hornby collaboration, much as I am a Folds fan and as I like Hornby’s books. Joshua Radin’s album is decent enough, but it did not attract the affection I had for his debut album. Jenny Lewis’ collaboration with Jonathan Rice bored me. Even the Weepies’ album, which does make it into my top 20, will not become my favourite of theirs.

I am quite sad to leave out of my Top 20 a few albums that could have been contenders in previous years: Shelby Lynne, Josh Ritter, Patty Griffin, Plants & Animals, Krista Detor, Audrey Assad, Belle & Sebastian, Leif Vollebekk, Merle Haggard, She & Him (which I took a while to like) and Bruno Mars.

So, on to my top 20, which is rather dominated by the Americana and country thing. It comprises albums I enjoy playing; it’s not intended to be a list of the year’s best albums, nor are they the most groundbreaking or experimental releases. These albums simply just gave me joy (which is why I listen to music). The songs listed with the album appear in the compilation linked to at the end of this post.

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Lloyd Cole – Broken Record
The music mags’ reviews were respectfully lukewarm to what is a hugely appealing set. This warm and intelligent album is Lloyd’s county record, with slide guitars, banjos and harmonicas. Funny enough, it’s a song called Rhinestone that sounds least like country and most like Cole’s stuff with the Commotions (one of whom turns up in this album). Lyrically, the album is standard Cole with clever turns of phrase and endearing self-deprecations. The vocals of Joan Wasser (Joan As Policewoman) are much welcome. Homepage
Lloyd Cole – Like A Broken Record
Lloyd Cole – Oh Geneviève

Brian Wilson – Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin
Brian Wilson reports his earliest musical memory as hearing Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue (which bookends this set). It makes sense that the great American songwriter of the ’60s should record an album of music by the great American songwriter of the ’30s. The standards – They Can’t Take That Away from Me, Someone to Watch Over Me, I Got Rhythm, It Ain’t Necessarily So etc – are engagingly recreated, and even the overdone Summertime, so often violated by mannered interpretations, is bearable here. Of particular interest are the previously unrecorded Gershwin songs, completed by Wilson at the invitation of Gershwin’s estate. Wilson’s style is so distinctive that it is difficult to imagine how they might have sounded in interpretations by, say, Ella Fitzgerald or Frank Sinatra. They are nonetheless quite lovely. One of these originals, The Like In I Love You, sounds a lot like a song from Billy Joel’s An Innocent Man. Homepage
Brian Wilson – I’ve Got A Crush On You

Caitlin Rose – On The Town
Caitlin Rose is receiving massive buzz, deservedly so. The Nashville native’s debut album recalls Tift Merritt at her country-folkiest: mellow melodies and vulnerable vocals. It’s a mature album that belies Rose’s 23 years – even if some of these songs were written when Caitlin was a teenager. Homepage
Caitlin Rose – Own Side

Mavis Staples – You Are Not Alone
Mavis and her family are probably best known for soul hits such as Respect Yourself and I’ll Take You There, but their primary genre was gospel. Now 71 years old, Mavis continues to work the gospel beat, using the genre’s traditional sounds as well as new approaches. Produced by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy — who on tracks such as In Christ There Is No East Or West marries the Wilco sound with the gospel sensibilities which Pop Staples would have approved of with— You Are Not Alone will rightly feature high on many end-of-year lists. Homepage
Mavis Staples – In Christ There Is No East Or West

Ryan Bingham & The Dead Horses – Junky Star
I know a music journalist who has stated his objection to musicians going by their civilian names if these sound like those of school teachers. My pal might not review Ryan Bingham’s album because of his name, though his interest might be peaked that it also serves as George Clooney’s character’s name in Up In The Air. Or he might listen up because Bingham has won an Oscar and Golden Globe for his song The Weary Kind, the theme song of the film Crazy Heart. Don’t expect Junky Star to be a pure country album; this is Steve Earle and  Tom Waits territory, before Waits’ voice became excruciating. One almost expects Bingham, blessed with a gruff, expressive voice himself, to likewise lose his voice by the end of this powerful album. Homepage
Ryan Bingham – Depression

Dylan LeBlanc – Paupers Fields
If the critics are right, 20-year-old Dylan LeBlanc is the new saviour of the country music heritage. The happy news is that, despite his age and name, this is no male version of Taylor Swift, whose primary relationship with country resides in marketing, nor is he likely to don a black Stetson, wifebeater and sing masculine tunes about the good ole U S of A. LeBlanc is a serious country musician, of the Gram Parsons or Townes van Zandt school (true enough, Emmylou Harris turns up to lend harmonies on one track, which also invites comparison to another much-hyped prodigy, Conner Oberst). His young age is no issue: he sounds much more mature than a lad just out of his teens. Even if he doesn’t sing from experience – if he does, then he has lived the life of a man twice his age – his delivery is credible. Homepage
Dylan LeBlanc – If Time Was For Wasting

Bill Kirchen – Word To The Wise
A veteran musician and guitar maestro who released his first solo record in 1972 and not much else before 2007’s brilliantly titled Hammer Of The Honky Tonk Gods, Kirchen has issued a fun rock & roll album with the likes of Nick Lowe, Chris O’Connell, Maria Muldaur and Elvis Costello collaborating. It’s unfair, actually, to reduce the album to rock & roll: it draws from the traditions in the melting pot that produced the genre: blues, rockabilly, boogie woogie, honky tonk. It’s an eclectic album: opener Bump Wood sounds like Jerry Lee Lewis, it is followed by a Merle Haggard ballad, which in turn is followed by a blues-rock number with Elvis Costello, and so on. His duet with Asleep At The Wheel’s O’Connell, Roger Miller’s Husbands and Wives, is particularly well executed. Homepage
Bill Kirchen (with Nick Lowe and Paul Carrack) – Shelly’s Winter Love

Ray Lamontagne and the Pariah Dogs – God Willin’ And The Creek Don’t Rise
The reviewers’ meme with this album refers to Neil Young, Harvest era. If so, then I’m grateful that Lamontagne has a raspier voice than whiney Neil. Lamontagne’s fourth album is folk-rock, but heavily country influenced. Maybe a reference to the Byrds would be more apt. And when Lamontagne slows things down (even more), one might recall Joni Mitchell. A most captivating album. Homepage
Ray Lamontagne and the Pariah Dogs – Devil’s In The Jukebox

Cee Lo Green – The Lady Killer
Regular readers will be in no doubt about my abiding love for the rich repository of soul music, but I have little patience for the current crop of high-pitched auto-tuned R&B gubbins, nor for stylised retro singers like Amy Whitehouse or the frog-voiced Duffy. Even John Legend, who does understand his soul heritage, doesn’t excite me. I am, however, hugely excited by the Gnarls Barkley singer’s album, which draws from different eras of soul. On It’s OK he sounds like namesake Al on Motown steroids, Old Fashioned draws from the 1960s, Bodies recalls Bobby Womack, Cry Baby and Satisfied a nods to ’80s soul-pop. Green has a couple guests on his album, but none are likely to blind him with dental bling, brag about their wealth or threaten to bust caps in his ass. Paradiso Girls’ Lauren Bennett turns up; it’s a delicious irony that the author of the ubiquitous Don’t Cha gets a member of a Pussycat Dolls knock-off band to guest. The other guest is Earth, Wind & Fire’s Philip Bailey, on a song that sounds more contemporary  than most of the material here. It’s also a funny album: when Cee Lo subtitles the title track “Licence To Kill” it seems to be a tongue-in-cheek finger at his cliché-mongering R&B contemporaries, and the Gold Digger reference in the fantastic Fuck You is inspired. Homepage
Cee Lo Green – It’s OK

Raul Malo – Sinners and Saints
The former Mavericks frontman’s sixth solo album is eclectic, to say the least. Opener Living For Today sounds like Little Feat jamming with Lynyrd Skynyrd; that’s followed by the mariachi horns and telecaster guitar dominated title track, followed by a Tex-Mex rocker, then a country song performed as if by Springsteen (Rodney Crowell’s Til I Gain Control Again),  later a Spanish ballad, and so on. Raul Malo, a multi-instrumentalist whose powerful voice is full of character, clearly enjoyed making this album. And the result is hugely agreeable. Homepage
Raul Malo – Living For Today

The Watson Twins – Talking To You Talking To Me
Chandra and Leigh Watson (who actually are twins) harmonise the hell out of catchy tracks with shots of experimentation that takes them over the alt.county boundaries of their reputation, at times sounding like Sade if she was an Indie musicians (Savin’ Me, Harpeth River). And, yes, there are songs where they sound like Rilo Kiley, whose frontwoman Jenny Lewis they backed on their fine 2006 collaboration (Savin’ You). Homepage
The Watson Twins – Devil In You

Johnny Cash – American VI:  Ain’t No Grave
Seven years after Johnny Cash died, we get another collection of his Rick Rubin-produced American series, apparently the final release. It is a fine way of going out. There’s nothing new here, but the special poignancy of knowing that Cash recorded these ten songs in the four months between the death of his beloved June in May 2003 and his own in September, with Cash acutely aware of his mortality without descending into morbidity, and to the end insisting on communicating his deep religious faith. Some songs I can live without (Aloha Oe!), and some cannot compete with the previous versions (Kristofferson’s For The Good Times). But the minimalist arrangements and intimacy of Cash’s fragile yet forceful and soulful voice wrap the songs in a warmth and appealing sense of yearning. Buy
Johnny Cash – Redemption Day

Lissie – Catch A Tiger
Lissie Mauros reminds me a lot of Neko Case, with a heavy dose of ’80s pop influence. Or maybe Stevie Nicks, in attitude and voice – In Sleep sounds like Fleetwood Mac ripping off Blondie (Atomic-era). And, seeing as I’m grappling to find comparison to female singers, there’s a hint of Nicole Atkins, if the wonderful Atkins was a folk-rock singer. Almost every song here is utterly catchy, some even exhilaratingly poppy  (Loosen The Knot, Stranger). Homepage
Lissie – Stranger

Carl Broemel – All The Birds Say
As guitarist and some-time saxophonist of My Morning Jacket, Carl Broemel was not an obvious candidate for the release of a solo album, much less such a sweet one. This, his second solo effort after 2004’s Lose What’s Left, is a perfect Sunday morning record; played while one sips the morning coffee, bites into the croissant and opens the newspaper. Think of it as a lighter version of Ron Sexsmith, an artist influenced (and highly rated) by Paul McCartney, as clearly is Broemel. Homepage
Carl Broemel – Enough

Willie Nelson – Country Music
This is a T-Bone Burnett-produced tribute to the country songs that reside in the juke box of Willie Nelson’s memory. Cover albums are a precarious beast. Some artists feel they need to re-interpret, re-invent and update the songs they profess to love. Others will give us the very best in karaoke. Nelson just damn well sings the songs, straight and without bullshit. He knows these songs and their context, and preserves them there. The sound is timeless. And some of the song choices are inspired. Homepage
Willie Nelson – Satisfied Mind

Crowded House – Intriguer
The trouble with Crowded House is that their songs are really made to be heard live. The second post-reunion album is something of a grower. The hooks that at first seem to be absent reveal themselves over time. The album was produced by Jim Scott, who also produced Wilco’s last album. It shows, even as the album is very recognisably a Crowded House effort. Homepage
Crowded House – Twice If You’re Lucky

Walt Cronin – California I Gotta Run
Already in his 50s Walt Cronin’s gravelly baritone and sound reflect the experience of life, wistfully and defiantly. “I would never count the days of my life, but I’ll always let the dawn greet my eyes,” the former medic in the Vietnam war sings in Shinin’ Through, one of several sweet love songs on this most appealing set. Homepage
Walt Cronin – Road I’m Takin’

Tift Merritt – See You On The Moon
I am bound to love an album that kicks off with a song about making a mix-tape (“with home-made covers”). Of Merritt’s three preceding studio albums, two were filled with slow-burning ballads, one was a rootsy affair. See You On The Moon has a bit of both; she is both plugging into the templates of both Harris and Ronstadt (even if she has evidently departed the world of county). I expected that her cover of Loggins & Messina’s Danny’s Song would make me wince; happily it is tender and amiable. Homepage
Tift Merritt – The Things That Everybody Does

The Weepies – Be My Thrill
In this post’s introduction I declared myself vaguely disappointed by Be My Thrill, but this is only in relation to the album’s three predecessors. Like them, Be My Thrill is very likeable. Deb Talan and Steve Tannen are happily married, have a happy family and are (no surprise twist coming up) very obviously happy (“I was made for sunny days,” Talan sings, “and I was mad for you”). The streaks of darkness from the debut have been usurped by all the colours of the rainbow. The album is relentlessly happy (with the jarring exception of Tannen’s “How Do You Get High?”) and unless one’s demeanour is governed by inexorable melancholy, the occasional burst of happiness can be richly welcome. So Be My Thrill is a bit like a double strawberry milkshake.  Homepage
The Weepies – Please Speak Well Of Me

Sahara Smith – Myth Of The Heart
T-Bone Burnett is on a golden streak. Among his protégés is Texan Sahara Smith, a former child prodigy who has been writing songs since she was 14. Blessed with a beautiful and expressive voice, Smith writes smart lyrics set to appealing melodies, some of them very memorable. Train Man sounds much like Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game. Smith might have a name that conjures images of pop muppetry, but she is a very talented artist who has created an impressive debut. MySpace
Sahara Smith – Are You Lonely

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Previous Albums of the Year

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

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

Any Major Love Mix 2009 Vol.2

March 31st, 2009 3 comments

I posted a mix of songs about being in love last year, for Valentine’s Day, with a view to facilitating loads of romantic seductions (or something). That mix got deleted by ZShare. Responding to a request, I have revised the tracklisting, dropping a few songs, adding a few new, changing the track order. The Jonatha Brooke song I owe to Barely Awake In Frog Pajamas blog. So here is Any Major Love Mix Vol. 2.

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1. Jets To Brazil – Sweet Avenue (1998)
‘ Now all these tastes improve through the view that comes with you. Like they handed me my life, for the first time it felt worth it, like I deserved it.’

2. Michelle Featherstone – Rest Of My Life (2007)
‘ How ’bout that? Waking up every morning with me. Spend our time drinking coffee, speaking softly as the days go by.’

3. Mindy Smith – It’s Amazing (2004)
‘ It’s amazing what you do to me: took my heart and made me feel things I never felt before. It’s changing me, Which direction so certainly; shook me up and threw me around. When we learn to breathe it all in.’

4. The Weepies – Gotta Have You (2006)
‘No amount of coffee, no amount of crying, no amount of whiskey, no amount of wine — no, nothing else will do. I’ve gotta have you.’

5. Richard Hawley – Baby, You’re My Light (2001)
‘But I believe in you and now I’ll show it. And as life goes on you know you don’t have to hate all you find. Baby, you’re my light.’

6. Ron Sexsmith – Whatever It Takes (2004)
‘The sun alone will never do, without your love to shine on through’

7. Ben Kweller – Falling (2002)
‘We could talk if days weren’t so fast, and mistakes just leave it so unsure. Wanna hold you like never before ’cause we’re falling and I love you more and more.’

8. Hello Saferide – Get Sick Soon (2006)
‘ Oh, I love you! I wish you got the flu, you’re the cutest thing I’ve ever seen — like a teddy bear on heroin … You can lay your weight on me and I’ll be your backbone. Lay your weight on me, you won’t have to worry.’

9. Ben Folds – The Luckiest (2001)
‘And where was I before the day that I first saw your lovely face? Now I see it everyday, and I know: I’m the luckiest.’

10. Bright Eyes – The First Day Of My Life (2005)
‘ Yours was the first face that I saw, I think I was blind before I met you. I don’t know where I am, I don’t know where I’ve been, but I know where I want to go.’

11. Iron & Wine – Such Great Heights (2004)
‘I am thinking it’s a sign that the freckles in our eyes are mirror images, and when we kiss they are perfectly alligned.’

12. Mason Jennings – Ballad For My One True Love (2000)
‘And all the while I ‘m dreaming of the ballad for my one true love, searching for the perfect way to say: I love you sweetheart, this is my dream come true.’

13. Joseph Arthur – Echo Park (2004)
‘ The fire never understands the spark, the way it is with you and me.’

14. Kate Walsh – Your Song (2007)
‘I knew I was wrong to jump straight on into this picture so pretty, but he is so pretty to me.’

15. Colbie Caillat – Realize (2007)
‘If you just realized what I just realized, then we’d be perfect for each other, then we’d never find another. Just realized what I just realized, we’d never have to wonder if we missed out on each other now.’

16. Jackie Greene – Love Song; 2.00 am (2006)
‘ Should your mind forget me, regret me, or even do me wrong, you’ll always live here in my heart, ’cause, baby, that’s where you belong.’

17. Jonatha Brooke – Because I Told You So (1997)
‘Could you see it like me and believe what I see? Could you listen, and remember that i love you, only because I told you?’

18. Peter Mayer – Now Touch The Air Softly (1999)
‘And I’ll love you as long as the furrow the plow, as However is Ever, and Ever is Now.’

19. Bob Schneider – The World Exploded Into Love (2001)
‘The world exploded into love all around me, and every time I take a look around me, I have to smile.’

20. Jens Lekman – You Are The Light (2003)
‘Yeah I got busted, so I used my one phone call to dedicate a song to you on the radio.’

21. Liz Phair – Good Love Never Dies (2003)
‘ Tell me what can I say to keep you in my life, all the words slip away when I look in your eyes, because I can never relax.’


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Any Major Love Mix 2009 Vol. 1
More Mixes

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…

Music for Bloggers Vol. 9

November 12th, 2008 4 comments
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Sometimes I visit a favourite blog and, David Byrne echoing in my mind, I wonder: how did I get here? Totally Fuzzy is an obvious source of discovering favourite blogs. Links on blogs I like are another pretty reliable source (shared tastes, and all that). Some I might have stumbled upon while searching for a particular song, using a variety of search engines and aggregators. And many I’ve discovered when their owners left a comment. Occasionally I encounter members of my circle of blogging pals – people whose blogs I read and who read mine – in comments sections of other blogs. Did they get there through my links, or did I find them through theirs, or what other permutations might have led to our congregation at a third blog?

And how did people find my blog? No doubt, Totally Fuzzy, Elbows and good old-fashioned googling are a major source of exposure, as are Retro Music Snob and All Music, All Blogs. Some blogs clearly are so popular and trusted that their readers click on links to mine (Echoes In The Wind, DeaconBlues1103 and Dr Forrest’s Cheese Factory are the most prolific sources of traffic in that respect). And if you’re reading this having read The Guardian’s blogroll last weekend, welcome (also featured was the excellent Ghost of Electricity).

Not so welcome is whoever DMCAs me to Blogger. Another post was zapped yesterday; Blogger again won’t say who complained. As you’ve probably noticed, I’ve not capitulated. Nor have many of the bloggers I particularly enjoy. Anyway, all this to introduce or highlight six more blogs I particularly enjoy. There were more on my shortlist, so if yours has not yet featured, it may well do so in the future.

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Modern Acoustic
Rich K puts out a PDF-based magazine featuring some of my favourite contemporary artists: Kathleen Edwards, Sarah Borges, Josh Ritter, Patty Griffin etc. To go with the mag (which can be downloaded at modernacoustic.com), he runs a blog with copious links to the official sites of the acts he is writing about. Rich is DMCA-safe because he posts no music, but he has taken an interest in the War on Bloggers situation . He wrote to me saying that he is researching an article on the subject. If fellow victims of the terror campaign, or other interested observers, would like to share their views or experiences with Rich, he can be e-mailed: rich [at] modernacoustics [dot] com. One act Modern Acoustics has not featured yet are The Weepies, whose cause I promote with undiluted enthusiasm. From a perfectly legal and band-approved top-notch bootleg:
The Weepies – Gotta To Have You (live).mp3

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The Gentlebear
To illustrate a point I made in the introduction, I found this blog just a few weeks ago and have no idea how I came by it. Whichever route it took, I am delighted to have arrived there. Gentlebear is one of those bloggers who educates and entertains with some fine writing and great song selection. I was particularly impressed with her recent post on The Temptations’ song “I Wish It Would Rain” – possibly my favourite by the Temps next to “Since I Lost My Baby” – featuring a couple of great covers. When I discover a new blog I really like, I trawl through back posts until I have no more energy or time. I read all of the ursine’s blog in one sitting (well, it goes back to only June, but the point stands: this is a very fine blog). The song dedication comes from a 2005 charity compilation, War Child – Help: A Day In The Life. War Child is going to release a new comp in February 2009. Check it out.
Damien Rice – Cross-Eyed Bear.mp3

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The beauty of la musique
A bilingual blog from Canada which takes as its theme appealing or otherwise remarkable graphic artistry from yore. The blog pictures old LP or magazine covers, photos, posters, record labels and so on with a succinct illumination to explain its presence. Sometimes the narrative is very funny. I enjoyed this one for an early ’60s record cover depicting a rather predatory sleazedouche doing the twist: “Here’s a stupid and ugly one, for a change. Richard Anthony was a popular French singer of the 1960’s. On the cover art of this single, he seems to have other projects than twisting. Look at the way he’s watching this girl… Help ! Police !”
Status Quo – Pictures Of Matchstick Men.mp3

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Silence Is A Rhythm Too
Here’s a blog that has been running since I was a little boy in Lederhosen (which reminds me of a boy at school in Germany who once pissed into his Lederhosen. As visitors to München’s Oktoberfest may know, not only is piss in Lederhosen eminently conspicuous, but it also produces a nasty aroma). Funk-loving Michael of SIART describes his blog as “an on-going mix-tape”, which seems to me quite an accurate description, though songs are mostly posted individually. Including a bootleg version of the song this blog is named after (though you’ll have to go back a couple of months to find that). Those still on an Obama-high can get an Obama Mix at SIART. It’s all stimulatingly eclectic stuff.
Gene Kelly – I Got Rhythm.mp3

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Jay Brannan: The Morning After
Jay’s debut album, Goddamned, might well turn out to be my most-played of 2008. The long-standing reader will recall that I interviewed Jay back in July. What came across was an appealing personality with some strong opinions and a healthy dose of wit. This is reflected in his apparently very popular blog (featuring a number of video clips from his gigs around Europe), which we can take for granted is written by the artist himself, not an intern at the management company. Jay is certainly building up a strong following around the world, and – this is particularly pleasing – across the sexual spectrum. As he said in the interview, why should his sexuality matter when he sings about stuff in his life? I imagine that Jay’s blog is named after this, the theme from The Poseidon Adventure:
Maureen McGovern – The Morning After.mp3

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The Music Blog of the Infonistacrat!
I feel a little guilty about not having featured the Infonistacrat before. I have found some great music there, especially from the ’90s, which is a bit of a blind spot for me (fatherhood and lack of access to sources of decent music – DMCA fans might note that had there been blogs then, I’d have bought plenty more CDs then). The Infonistacrat also calls back into action songs from the ’80s, including a lot of half-forgotten material. A great and frequently updated source of alt.rock, punk, indie, new wave and so on. The Infonistacrat will have this song already, probably. It’s that sort of song.
The Ramones – Sheena Is A Punk Rocker.mp3

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Previously featured:
Music For Bloggers Vol. 1: Totally Fuzzy, Not Rock On, Serenity Now (RIP), Stay At Home Indie Pop, The Late Greats, Tsururadio, 200percent, Jefitoblog (RIP), Television Without Pity, Michael’s World
Music For Bloggers Vol. 2: Fullundie, Mr Agreeable, Greatest Films, Peanut’s Playground, Just Good Tunes, Csíkszereda Musings, Mulberry Panda, The Black Hole, Secret Love, Hot Chicks With Douchebags
Music For Bloggers Vol. 3: Girl On A Train, Maybe We Ain’t That Young Anymore, Earbleedingcountry, Spangly Princess, Ill Folks, Deacon Blues, One-Man Publisher, CD Rated
Music For Bloggers Vol. 4: Pop Dose, Todger Talk, Holy Goof (RIP), Echoes In The Wind, Sunset Over Slawit, The Hits Just Keep Coming, The Ghost of Electricity, Guitariotabs
Music For Bloggers Vol. 5: The Quietus, Barely Awake In Frog Pyamas, The Great Vinyl Meltdown, Fusion 45, Inveresk Street Ingrate, The Songs That People Sing
Music For Bloggers Vol. 6: my hmphs, Visions of Wrong Terrence, Don’t Burn The Day Away, Mine For Life, 3 Minutes 49 Seconds
Music For Bloggers Vol. 7: Uncle E’s Musical Nightmare, Jens Lekman, Ain’t Superstitious, AM Then FM, Psd Photoshop Disasters, SIBlingshot on the Bleachers, Dr Forrest’s Cheese Factory, NME & Melody Maker
Music For Bloggers Vol. 8: dustysevens, All Eyes And Ears, Bob Evans, Retro Kino, Retro Music Snob

On current rotation – June

June 24th, 2008 1 comment

I’m not sure if 2008 is turning out to be a good year for music or not. A year ago, new releases by Wilco, Rosie Thomas, Bright Eyes and Brandi Carlile had me very excited. Sky Blue Sky turned out to be my album of the year, and I will be listening to it for many years to come. I’m not sure I’ve yet discovered my album of 2008, even though there are some albums I really like. But, none as much as Wilco’s last year. Here are tracks from some of 2008’s albums I’m enjoying very much, to go with the previous rotation, which featured Tift Merrit, whose effort may well be my album of the year so far, with Kathleen Edwards and the Weepies in the mix.

Jay Brennan – At First Sight.mp3
Jay Brennan – Half-Boyfriend.mp3
Jay Brennan – Housewife.mp3 (all three direct download links)
To start off, three tracks from an exciting new artist in the genre of “guys with guitars named like schoolteachers”. The alternative title for the genre would be singer-songwriter, but that has become a bit of a dirty word (unjustly so). I am sharing the above tracks at the invitation of Jay Brannan’s record company, where he is stablemates with the absolutely wonderful Rosie Thomas. And Brannan does channel the Thomas/Damien Jurado/Sufjan Stevens vibe, right down to the engaging lyrics which ask you to pay attention (just listen to Housewife – video here). His debut album, goddamned, will be released on July 1. I’m looking forward to hear more of Brannan’s songs; on evidence of these three songs, it could well be contender for my year-end list.

The Weepies – All Good Things.mp3
The Weepies – Can’t Go Back Now.mp3
I have bigged up the Weepies since I started this blog. The new album, Hideaway, came out in April, and has been on regular rotation ever since I got hold of it. It’s one of those albums I play when I survey my music, and have no idea what I fancy; the default go-to album de jour. The Weepies – Deb Talan and Steve Tannen – have produced a richer sound than previously without straying too far from their acoustic roots. This is a very warm album; I sort of imagine it like having good coffee and freshly baked waffles on a sunny Saturday morning.

Kathleen Edwards – I Make The Dough, You Get The Glory.mp3
I featured Kathleen Edwards (and Deb Talan) in the Songbirds series. So I was really looking forward to her new album, Asking For Flowers. At the first listen, I was a little disappointed. Second, third listen…same. I was about to write off the album when Indie Pop Ian virtually instructed me to give it a few more chances. Seeing as he is a man of refined taste who shares my love for the Songbirds, I did. And, boy, was he right, and I wrong. This is a mesmerising album with fantastic lyrics and a great alt.country bent. Forgive me, Kathleen, for doubting you. Come December, this may well be in the top 3 of my albums of the year.

Weezer – Heart Songs.mp3
Some say Weezer are living off the greatness of two albums they made in the ’90s. I think that’s a little harsh. The last set was, in my view, pretty good (Perfect Situation is a top notch song). So I approached the new album with hope, and some trepidation. Because Weezer albums can be quite poor, too. The new album, nicknamed the Red Album, falls in between the two extremes. There are a few tracks that beg to be skipped, and others that are a joy. I particularly like Heart Songs, in which Rivers Cuomo tabulates all the artists who influenced him, from childhood to stardom: Gordon Lightfoot, Eddie Rabbitt, Springsteen, Grover Washington, Abba, Devo, Quiet Riot, Judas Priest and so on – though I think he might be confusing Debbie Gibson with Tiffany…

Death Cab For Cutie – Talking Bird.mp3
And yet another album I had been looking forward to. I was gratified to read The Quietus giving it a positive review (more surprisingly, The Quietus didn’t rip the new Coldplay album to shreds, as I had expected and, indeed, hoped). Death Cabs’ Narrow Stairs is a fine, richly textured album which rewards repeated listens. It satisfies my occasional desire for a Death Cab fix – for now. The rub is this: Narrow Stairs does not have the stand-out tracks of 2005’s Plans (I’ll Follow You Into The Dark, Soul Meets Body), and as an Indie symphony does not quite reach 2002’s Transatlanticism‘s lofty level. So I wonder if in, say, three years time, I will listen to Narrow Stairs instead of these two albums (or, indeed, some of the earlier ones, such as We Have the Facts And We’re Voting Yes from 2000). Maybe it’s too early to say: I will continue to play Narrow Stairs in the hope that it will lodge itself permanently in my head. It just might.

Neil Diamond – Act Like A Man.mp3
Micah P. Hinson – Throw The Stone.mp3
I played this album with Any Minor Dude sitting next to me (playing a football manager game). He looked up from guiding Manchester United to greater glories and pointed out that he liked what he was hearing: Micah P. Hinson and the Red Empire Orchestra (Any Minor Dude also endorsed Jay Brannan, by the way). Sounds like Johnny Cash, he said. And he is quite right, of course. In fact, throw in Nick Cave and Steve Earle, and you have Hinson’s sound. The album is coming out in mid-July, so I trust that the buzz is going to build. This album deserves it.

iPod Random 5-track Experiment Vol. 6

March 31st, 2008 3 comments

To end off the month, here the five random tracks my iPod threw out for your pleasure. Actually, I’m cheating, because it listed a couple of tracks I recently posted…

The Band with Neil Diamond – Dry Your Eyes.mp3
From The Last Waltz. Neil Diamond must have retained some of the cool he had rightfully acquired before going all lamé on us (cf. Pissing off the Thought Police with Neil Diamond), else surely Messrs Danko, Robertson, Manuel et al would not have invited the man to jam with them. And the crowd seems happy enough to welcome him on stage. It’s all good. I like pre-lamé Neil, I like The Band, and I like this song. Thank you, iPod Shuffle Function.

Moldy Peaches – Anyone Else But You.mp3
Originally from the Moldy Peaches eponymous 2001 debut — and so far only — album, this is everybody’s favourite song from the quite wonderful Juno soundtrack (lovely film too). The one Ellen Page and Michael Cera sing at the end. Kimya Dawson, the female component of the Moldy Peaches, features very prominently on the soundtrack. Her solo albums are well worth seeking out as well.

John Barrowman & Kevin Kline – Night And Day.mp3
iPod loves soundtracks. First The Last Waltz, then Juno, now DeLovely. I was hoping it would give me chance to post something from Cabaret, actually. I may be committing some sort of credibility suicide here, but this is my favourite version (of those I know, which must be a dozen at least) of Night And Day, in terms of tempo, arrangement and vocals. A great though pretty difficult song to croon along to.

4 Non Blondes – What’s Up (Piano Version).mp3
Sometimes iPod surprises me. I didn’t know that this slowed-down acoustic version of the 1993 hit by Linda Perry and chums was residing on it, and I certainly can’t see why I might have thought it necessary to copy it over. Still, having listened to it again for purposes of this post, I think it’s quite a nice version, and a pretty good song, too.

Lloyd Cole & the Commotions – Rattlesnakes.mp3
To me, this is the sound of 1984. The lines “She looks live Eve Marie Saint in On The Waterfront; she reads Simone de Beauvoir in her American circumstance” (hey presto, and another movie reference) are among my favourites from the ’80s.

And for our listening pleasure, a song which iPod didn’t random shuffle: the original version of the Sesame Street/Muppets classic Mah-na Mah-na, by Italian film score composer Piero Umiliani, from 1969. Of the two muppetised versions, I prefer that of Sesame Street, also made in 1969, with the two female backing singers who communicate bemusement better than many a movie actress, and the singer who looks like heroin addict (video). The Muppets’ version (video) has a stoned hippie and some pink animals. Good, but not as good. By the way, links open in the same window, so click new tab/window, or you’ll lose this page.
Piero Umiliani – Mah-ná-mah-ná.mp3

And an added bonus for my fellow Weepies fans: the title track from their new album, due for release on April 22:
The Weepies – Hideaway.mp3

Love Songs For Every Situation: Heartbreak

February 23rd, 2008 4 comments

When unrequited love girl communicated to me gently that she didn’t like me that way, I experienced validation for the term heartbreak. It did feel as though my actually heart was broken right down the middle. Of course it didn’t, because else I would be dead, but the instant pain manifested itself in the location where the blood-pumping organ resides. It then moved to my chest and stomach, but lungache or gutbreak don’t sound terrible romantic.

The genre of love songs is rich in lyrics about broken hearts, from Sinatra learning the blues to Alicia Keys bemoaning that she can’t have you and any number of country singers picking up the shards of their broken hearts. Somehow this hugely intense emotion has given rise to some astoundingly banal lyrics — take a bow Bonnie Tyler and Mariah Carey. Here then, in the penultimate installment of this series, we deal with heartbreak in a non-banal manner.

Smokey Robinson & The Miracles – The Tracks Of My Tears.mp3
This may well be the best song ever about a broken heart, by Motown’s poet laureate. Smokey is stoic, like the stiff-lipped Englishman of cliché, and won’t publicly exhibit his inner turmoil. He jokes around, has a cute girlfriend, but it’s an act. “The Tracks Of My Tears” also contains one of the most wonderfully delivered lines in pop ever: “My smile is my make-up I wear since my break-up with you”. There is joy in sadness.

Colin Hay – Lifeline.mp3
Part-time genius Colin Hay (who used to be Men At Work’s frontman) has a great way of expressing inner discontent with philosophical easy-goingness (take “Beautiful World” as an example of that). Here our man is a bit more forthright. She “broke my heart, I saw it coming from the start”, and now he is drowning in a sea of depression, hence the request for a lifeline in the chorus. He acknowledges that he needs to learn how to swim, throwing away the prozac (“You’ll never forget her, so why do you even try?”) and try to get over the depression by drinking water from appears to be a lake with magical healing properties. A really powerful song.

The Weepies – World Spins Madly On.mp3
When your heart is broken, inertia and feelings of alienation are normal reactions. The Weepies’ Steve Tannen outlines just that: “Woke up and wished that I was dead, with an aching in my head I lay motionless in bed. I thought of you and where you’d gone, and let the world spin madly on.” Perfect.

April Sixth – Dear Angel.mp3
I don’t usually do stuff with emo tendencies, but I’ll make an exception for this song (by a group named after my birthday, bless them), which I like a lot. Girl has dumped dude, and dude is feeling very bad about it. He thinks about her all the time, as you do, and naturally this causes him grief (“If only my love could be with you, if only this pain, this pain died too”). So he has decided that the best thing to do is to cut her out of his life entirely, for both their sakes (“So I’ll break you away”). Will he succeed?

Aqualung – Breaking My Heart Again.mp3
Heartbreak need not be a consequence of a break-up, but can kick in while a relationship still exists. And so it is here. “Need to know, don’t want to know, already know: I’ve seen the signs;
I watch you as you pull yourself away from.” And so our man out-Coldplays Apple Sr as he anticipates having his heart broken, apparently not for the first time, and observes: “I’m losing all strength” and, finally, “I’m losing you”.

Mozella – Light Years Away.mp3
Here’s a woman, in the singer-songwriter mode, who has her heart broken so badly that she is entirely embittered while saying she isn’t. “It’s almost like you had it planned, it’s like you smiled and shook my hand and said: ‘Hey, I’m about to screw you over big time’.” Clearly, the break-up was not easy (“I think I cried for days”), nor was the recovery. She has found a way of dealing with it: “But I don’t blame you anymore; that’s too much pain to store”, but takes care to inform him that the whole experience has changed her irrevocably. It’s all a rather clever fuck-off letter.

Damien Rice – Cannonball.mp3
I really wanted to use this song somewhere in this series, because it is one of the most powerful  songs about love I can think of. But in which part of the series? It is a song that captures perfectly the pain and confusion of imperfect love, the kind of emotion that ties your stomach in a knot, which is a manifestation of what we call heartache. The first two stanzas speak of confusion: “There’s still a little bit of your taste in my mouth. There’s still a little bit of you laced with my doubt. It’s still a little hard to say what’s going on.” Not exactly heartbreak, but a good dose of confusion here. The kick in the stomach comes later when our boy seeks distance, perhaps because he is scared of getting hurt in this relationship, or perhaps because it can’t be. “So come on courage, teach me to be shy. ‘Cause it’s not hard to fall, and I don’t want to scare her; it’s not hard to fall and I don’t want to lose…” Whatever the case, he is frightened of crashing (“It’s not hard to fall when you float like a cannonball”), and that inhibits his quest for letting love find full expression. And that is heartbreaking in itself.

Hall & Oates – She’s Gone.mp3
Well, it had to feature at some point in this series. Apparently the lads who’d become ’80s icons for their hairstyles (the serious mullet and bubble perm combo) were both dealing with heartbreaks at the time this song was written. The lyrics are fantastic. I love this: “Think I’ll spend eternity in the city [cue disapproving sound effect]. Let the carbon and monoxide choke my thoughts away. And pretty bodies help dissolve the memories. [However:] There can never be what she once was to me.” And the vocal performance, especially on the last line of the quoted verse and the drawn out “she’s gone” at 3:08, is wonderful.

Brandi Carlile – My Song.mp3
This might be about a failed romance or a friendship gone sour. Either way, Brandi (and don’t let her name put you off this wonderful songbird) harbours some anger as she sings: “If you only knew my mind was full of razors to cut you like a word” and “I’m way too old to hate you” (if you have to point out a lack of hatred, then there must be residual resentment). She holds out an olive branch, but won’t any longer run after the addressee of the song: “I’m too proud to beg for your attention and your friendship and your time. So you can come and get it from now on.”

PP Arnold – The First Cut Is The Deepest.mp3
This is, in my view, the best version of Cat Stevens’ great song (though I rather like Rod Stewart’s version too). Here our protagonist finds it difficult to be in love because of a previous episode of heartbreak. “I would have given you all of my heart, but there’s someone who’s torn it apart, and he’s taken just all that I had.” As he Bee Gees would ask a couple of years later: “How can you mend a broken heart?”

Roy Orbison – Crying.mp3
Rebekah Del Rio – Llorando.mp3

I was torn between using the original version, or the one Orbison recorded with k.d. Lang, or Rebekah del Rio’s breathtaking a cappela interpretation from Mulholland Drive. Much as I love the duet, I’ll go with the 1961 original and del Rio’s Spanish cover. Apparently Orbison wrote this after meeting an ex-girlfriend and realising in the process how much he had lost when she became an ex. “I thought that I was over you. But it’s true, so true: I love you even more than I did before.” So, as you will have guessed, Roy will be crying over her. It seems to surprise him: “It’s hard to understand, but the touch of your hand can start me crying.”

Sandie Shaw – Always Something There To Remind Me.mp3
Doesn’t Sandie Shaw sound incredibly sexy on this song? Burt Bacharach and Hal David built a great repository of love songs (and a few terribly sexist ones as well), and heartbreak featured prominently, hence two inclusions of their songs in this post. The set up here is explained in the songtitle: girl loves boy who doesn’t love girl anymore and she can’t forget him. Common stuff that is no less relevant for it: “How can I forget you when there is always something there to remind me? I was born to love you, and I will never be free; you’ll always be a part of me.”

Isaac Hayes – Walk On By (full version).mp3
The other Bacharach/David song. Everybody should know the lyrics well. “If you see me, do me a favour and just fuck off because talking with you will mess with me.” Or words to that effect. The song found its perfect expression in Dionne Warwick’s version. There have been many covers since, and it is quite difficult to do a bad cover of it, though not for lack of trying. Some have put their own spin on it. The Stranglers did, but I don’t like their cover much. Isaac Hayes, on the other hand, appropriated the song without taking it from Dionne, which is a mark of his genius. He took “Walk On By” and resculptured it into a psychedelic soul symphony going on for 12 minutes – and not a single second is wasted. As he did on other Bacharach songs — “The Look Of Love”, “Close To You” – he invested into the straightforward lyrics and melody whole new dynamics and drama. Where Warwick sweetly attracts your sympathy, Hayes involves you in the inner drama of the heartbreak to the point that it leaves you feeling the torment yourself. But by then you’re so exhausted, the heartbreak feels almost sweet.