Saturday, October 28, 2017

Discography Year Two - Week 8

Happy Halloween!!!  This is my favorite holiday, which only says good things about me.  I feel I should celebrate the esteemed Dave Mills for, unbidden and thus heroically, taking on the Halloween challenge by providing ghost-themed songs.  Clearly, I missed a great theme week: songs that, if not completely supernatural, take us to a very dark place; it reminds me of Kathleen Edwards's Alicia Ross, which is based on an actual murder case and Edwards sings from the perspective of the young woman during the last few moments of her life. Oh well, that will be a thematic week in Year 3.

On a happier note, this is Week 8 of the second year of our Discography music discussion.  I think this may actually be the most eclectic week we've ever had, and with this group that is saying a hell of a lot.

Gary Beatrice

Lenny Kravitz, Let Love Rule

There are two reason why I love "Let Love Rule"

First I love it because it is a great song.

Second I love it because it has such a great story that I can relate to.

Look, I've said it many times before that my musical tastes have become old and decrepit. I was cool for as long as Nirvana was, but as soon as their singer took himself down he took my cool quotient immediately down with him. Still today when my kids ask me to play something new I reach for the Dixie Chicks. Musically I believe that the year after 1992 was 2017.

So I still treasure an AC/DC interview in Musician Magazine in the early '90s. No apologies given, I thought AC/DC was a fine rock band and I read this article with enthusiasm. I found it amusing, and cool in a Beatrice kind of way, that Bon Scott believed that the last good rock band was the Beatles. The article's author pressed the point and Scott admitted that he really enjoyed "Let Love Rule". But after thinking about it further he admitted that he really only loved the song Let Love Rule" to be all that good.

When it comes down to it my musical tastes are more current than Bon Scott's.

Dave Wallace

Samantha Fish - You Can't Go

A friend recently dragged me to see Samantha Fish, and I'm really glad that he did.  Fish has released a few blues albums, but her most recent album goes more in the direction of R&B/soul.  She's amazing in concert, and I highly recommend seeing her live if you get a chance.  I've been describing her as "she sings like Amy Winehouse, and plays guitar like Eric Clapton."  Both of those statements are hyperbole, but not as much as you might expect.  You Can't Go is off her new album and was a concert highlight.  I've also linked to a live version of the song which is pretty fantastic.

Alice Neilery

Patty Griffin, Long Ride Home 

After a brief but interesting (as always) conversation with the Esteemed Mike Kelly today during which he played Ryan Adams’ absolutely gorgeous version of “Oh My Sweet Carolina”, I’ve been thinking about sad songs. You see, I had commented that hearing that song was going to put me in a good mood the rest of the day, after which he commented on its sorrow. I then mentioned that the choked up sensation resulting from such songs makes me more happy than sad. Or perhaps “happy” isn’t the right word. In love? Being still in what Rilke refers to as “the questions”? And when we’re most aware, isn’t the energy of every meaningful feeling the same? An aliveness? Alive as opposed to programmed by the mad shuffle of the day, I mean. Alive as in listening. On repeat.

Which brings me to Patty Griffin. If there’s one musician, one singer I’ve listened to most on repeat, at most times in my life, whenever I want to drop into my truest self, into a connection to life that is even more evident in moments of profound sadness, and therefore “puts me in a good mood the rest of the day”, it’s Patty. I have every one of her albums, and I have never, not even once, gotten tired of her. It’s not enough that her favorite author is, like mine, James Baldwin, she’s a musician of the highest caliber. More than that, especially in the case of her ballads, she’s a singer. She once said in an interview that her songs are born from what her voice “needs to do”, whether it’s a twangy moan, a rock/roll grit, a whisper.

“Long Ride Home” embodies the least extreme manifestation of her voice, which, typical of Griffin, exactly matches with the song’s somewhat regretful, somewhat hopeful lyrics. The literal and metaphorical use of “long ride home” doesn’t hurt either. When we’re driving from one place to another, we are literally unmoored, in between leaving and arriving. Metaphorically, sometimes it’s that undecided place-- no clear path, with many contradictory things true at once--that pulls at the cry in us. That pull is inherent in Patty Griffin songs. Especially this one. Especially once the chorus arrives: “I’ve had some time to think about it/as the sun sinks like a stone…”. No wait, the verses: Forty years go by with someone laying in your bed/forty years of things you wish you’d never said/how hard would it have been to say some kinder words instead…”. Or no, wait…that bridge: “Headlights searching down the driveway…” And oh my WORD that tune…and Emmy Lou Harris singing harmony!??! Let’s be honest. The whole song (most of her songs) pull at the insides of anyone with even half a soul, if for no other reason than relief: yes, that’s the groan, the whisper, the conversation, the minor chord, the perfect voice; that’s my feeling exactly. And relief, even when ferried in on the back of melodic sadness, can put one in a good mood. 

Kathy Seiler

Hip Hop is Dead and I CanNas

I can’t hold back anymore, I’ve got to add some rap into the blog again. I’ll wait until later in the year to include some of what I would consider the “nastier” rap that I can be found listening to regularly (I am a nasty woman, after all). Instead I’ll focus on a couple of songs by Nas (Nasir Jones). Nas is a very well-known hip hop and rap artist who has had a lot of success since his debut in the 90s. My favorite song of his is Hip Hop is Dead. The rapping is so good in that song, and In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida is the backbeat. Yes. Seriously. But I’m not reflecting on that song because it has a repeated line in it about murdering a DJ with an AK-47 and quite frankly, I’m just not okay with that right now. That said, you can still find me trying to hit every word on it on my drive into work or while working out, because I appreciate it musically.

My second favorite Nas song is I Can, which has a very positive message and features the voices of children on the track (I’m a sucker for kids singing). Throughout the song, Nas samples Beethoven’s Fur Elise. He also drops some historical knowledge on the listener. I’m a huge proponent, as an educator, of the power of music in education. It could be used for enrichment and knowledge of the arts, or used as a tool for learning. Music is also heavily mathematical, which most people don’t realize or appreciate. So, don’t anyone here tell me that you are bad at math, ‘cuz I ain’t hearin’ it. I'm well known for forcing my students to listen to jazz, blues, or classical during my science labs, and I've never gotten a complaint about it, only thanks from students for incorporating it into my teaching practice.

Nas is no saint and acknowledges that pretty freely. Some of his raps are gangster and some are positive. I particularly appreciate the message in the I Can song because in the current political climate, it almost feels like a protest song. We can all use some words of hope and comfort no matter what our situation, but I think it's particularly important for young people. The two simple words, “I can” are a great place to start.

Phillip Seiler


Needing to atone for last week's post, I offer this little gem from a band that should have gotten more notice than they did.

Sometimes you just need an unsubtle, punk pop rock song that starts fast, stays fast, and ends with an exclamation point. And given the near constant news of sexual harassment by powerful men these days, the song's message could not be more topical. The musicianship is tight and Elizabeth Elmore's vocals give this fierce little number exactly the punch it needs. There are no layers here, just good music.

"I think she'd had enough of trying to keep quiet"


Kevin Andrews

Before we start, go to Hulu or iTunes or wherever you go for such things and purchase or rent Soundbreaking. It’s 8 one-hour shows plus extra footage produced by Sir George Martin and shown by PBS last year. This isn’t a suggestion, it’s an order. Seriously, it’s freaking awesome, it’s better than potato chips. Have I ever lied to you?

Getting back to the theme of breakup songs, I was reminded last week by 500 Miles to Memphis (whom I had never heard before – thank you) that there’s nothing better than the American “He/She Left Me So I’m Drinking My Ass Off” song. Not the crap that passes for country music these days but the Hank Sr. kind of crying in my beer song. I’ve never actually had this experience myself so I can only imagine. I’ve never had a beer either.

Here are two of my favorite bluegrass songs in that vein. Both bands have incredible tenors and harmonies, and lightning fast pickers.

The Seldom Scene was a Washington DC area band formed in the 1970’s. The album that this song appears on, Old Train 1974, features a very young Ricky Scaggs and young and adorable Linda Ronstadt who sings on Through The Bottom Of The Glass

Hot Rise took their name from the leavening agent in a biscuit product that advertised in Nashville in the early 1950’s, kind of like Powder Milk Busicuits. This Here Bottle appeared on their first album in 1978.

Get yourself a cheap beer and a shot first. It’s OK to drink with breakfast, Hank would approve.

Dave Mills

For this week-of-Halloween discography, I give you a small sample of musical ghost stories from bands/singers I enjoy:
Band of Horses: Is There a Ghost

Lord Huron: Love Like Ghosts

José González: With the Ink of a Ghost

Dave Kelley

"Blues Hand Me Down"  Vintage Trouble

Vintage Trouble is one of my favorite bands to emerge in the last few years and at the top of my list of groups that I want to be able to catch live.  At their best, the band combines fifties soul and R&B influences like James Brown and Sam and Dave with raunchy down and dirty Stones style blues from the early seventies.  Any bastard that is produced by that biologically impossible musical mating is the Christ child of music that I enjoy.  Everything about that song is amazing, from the nasty guitar work, to the vocals, to the backbeat laid down by the rhythm section.  This should be listened to at the highest volume possible.  I am sending along links to two versions of the song.  The first is the version released on their album.  The second is a stripped down version that I like almost as much. 

Gary Scudder

Fats Domino, Ain't That a Shame

Not surprisingly, many songs have already held this week's slot before being moved back.  From the beginning I've always taken the approach of talking about whatever song was dominating my internal playlist that week, although it never stops me from thinking ahead and choosing songs and writing up commentaries, which then get bumped.  Obviously, I need to reconcile the two urges, but, again, I'm not that smart.  This week's song is, on the one hand, not that surprising, given that Fats Domino died this week.  On the other hand, however, it's a head-scratcher because I've never been much of a fan of 1950s music (and I would propose, upon mature reflection, unwisely).  My formative years were the 1970s and by then the music of the 50s had, unfortunately, passed on to the kitschy nostalgia stage, not helped by what Elvis had evolved into by then.  Plus, I think I had convinced myself that all 1950s songs were just gimmick songs like Clarence "Frogman" Henry's Ain't Got No Home (although, to be fair, it was used brilliantly in the film Diner). Or maybe I had already reached my pretentious prime (which, clearly, I've never left) where I didn't take music seriously unless he had some deeper meaning (as if many songs in the 1970s, or any decade, had a deeper meaning).  To be fair, my perception of this issue over the last dozen years or so has been colored by my fascination with jazz, and if you think about what jazz artists were doing in the 1950s it's difficult to take any US popular music pre-Dylan very seriously.  I know I'm cherry-picking, but, for instance, in 1959 the top 5 songs in the US were Johnny Horton's The Battle of New Orleans, Bobby Darin's Mack the Knife, Lloyd Price's Personality, Frankie Avalon's Venus and Paul Anka's Lonely Boy - oh, and Miles Davis released Kind of Blue.  Nevertheless, I've always had a soft spot for Domino's Ain't That a Shame, which, naturally, I gave another listen to this week.  What a killer song.

No comments: