Saturday, April 28, 2018

Discography Year Two - Week 34

I've been thinking a lot about friendship lately, not that I don't normally think of friendship naturally.  As I'm wont to opine, I'm very blessed to be surrounded by an extraordinary group of friends (certainly more than I deserve or than can be explained by my few virtues).  Last night I diverted my nightly dog walk to interrupt my excellent friend Mike Kelly's evening.  In the general situation comedy of life Mike and Jamie raising the Barbarians I'm the comic relief neighbor (think of a less self-aware Kramer) who routinely drops in unannounced but always officially invited.  Mike and I sat around for a couple hours listening to Jason Isbell, discussing music, the passing of time and life, and in the process completely redesigning our fall's Concepts of the Self and Rhetoric of the Self courses (Dave Mills has either lost his mind or has some magnificent mad scheme for world domination because MK and I are cohorted in the fall semester).  Essentially, I think, we're going to use Isbell's Southeastern as our central text and teach the classes focusing on songs that express identity (expect a research-based thematic week on this theme soon).  As you know, I'm a very cautious, rules oriented person and MK, like the supportive soul he is, was encouraging me to step outside of my comfort zone (and that's the story I'm sticking to). Most importantly, however, was that it was a fun night with a great friend, and what's a better way to spend a rainy Friday night?

Dave Wallace

Elvis Presley - Mystery Train

Dave Kelley and I have been watching the recent HBO documentary on Elvis Presley, and it's well worth checking out.  A great look at the importance of Elvis and the impact of his music.  I'd forgotten how much I love his early recordings for Sun Records, which still sound amazing (at least to my ears).  Mystery Train is one of my favorites from those sessions.

Mike Kelly

Hamilton Leithauser -- The Morning Star and Alexandra

And a Portuguese girl swooned
"You're as a free as the water
But it's harder to love"

This guy has all the vocal range of Robert Plant and all of the soul of Chris Cornell without all the pretention of either.  This is an excellent series of qualities to have in a rock star. Of course, it's ironic  to proclaim a guy named "Hamilton" has the quality of not being pretentious but by Week 54 of the blog, there's room to grant each other a degree of doubt every once in awhile.  

For context, this guy and his band blew me away when I saw him at a festival in Charleston last weekend.  He had a bunch of good songs that are worth checking out, but there's a strangeness to what this would actually be classified as.  Taken together, these songs are an electrifying cross between Leonard Cohen and The National and That Dude Who Tried To Make Out With You in A Bar (not a band) who you kind of thought was hot but weren't sure about because he sang songs like this that you kind of liked but couldn't make up your mind regarding.  

Alice Neiley

Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, They All Laughed

I’m so wiped out at the moment that I don’t have a whole lot to say (shocking, I know), BUT I do have a song, one that makes me smile every time I hear it. It’s a fun cross between “general theme” song and a “story song”, particularly amusing for people who’ve been or who are in what at first glance look like unlikely relationships or friendships — leave it to George Gershwin to get that so lyrically accurate. Did he ever get ANY story wrong? 

But leave it to the all star duo, Ella and Louie, to make magic with it. Ella’s entrance on “They all laughed at Rockefeller Center...” makes my heart rocket through my body in the most wonderful way. 

Dave Kelley

John Hiatt, Walk On

Lots of family drama this week so not much time for the blog.  I fell back on one of my favorite artists of the last 30 years and one of his best songs.

Gary Scudder

Nicole Atkins, Cool Enough

OK, something has happened to my normally monomaniacally focused music taste; essentially, it's blown up.  Yesterday I realized that the last five artists I've downloaded are: Nicole Atkins, Daughter, Lanterns on the Lake, Sturgill Simpson, Matt Mays.  Obviously, I blame all of you for this odd diversion (my previous ten downloads featured nine jazz albums and one NY release from the archives).  The other night I was waiting in the lobby of Higher Ground for the esteemed KA to get through the coat check line (and in April in Vermont coat still means winter coat, #YankeeHellhole) and I was looking at the posters for upcoming acts, one of whom is Nicole Atkins.  Truthfully, I knew nothing about her, but have since downloaded a couple of her albums.  She's originally from Neptune, New Jersey (she does an appropriately odd cover of Springsteen's Dancing In The Dark) but recently relocated to Nashville.  As I opined in an email to local folks yesterday she seems like a more retro and less weird version of Neko Case, with a hint of Amy Winehouse and a smidgen of Brandi Carlile (and with that enticing description I still couldn't get any takers for the concert). I like several of her songs, although the one I'm obsessing over this week - and thus writing about - is Cool Enough from her first album, Neptune City.  The song is really an homage to that feeling we all sometimes have, some of us more than others, to just walk away and never come back.  It starts off with the reminder that "There's a million ways to leave your past," and one of them is just to meet someone and immediately take off, trusting the Fates to look after you.  As she tells us in the song: "I don't know you very well/ But you seem cool enough/ I don't care where you're going/ Take me with you." A couple of times my son has taken off hitchhiking with about twenty bucks in his pocket, once making it as far as the west coast.  As I told him later, with the exception of me being made at him for not calling his mother and grandmother, I actually envied him the courage that I never had (I wouldn't have gone, and not because I was worried about getting hurt, but instead that someone would think it wasn't the right thing to do - thankfully, I eventually got over that).  While he was gone I always assumed that I'd get an email from him saying something like: "I've settled in [some town] in [some state] with [some girl] who is a [some profession].  She reminded me of [some actress - at this point probably Ana de Armas from Blade Runner 2049] and I fell in love with the actress, she was playing a part I could understand." At that point I would have laughed over the obscure NY reference and felt very happy for him.  Of course, at the time he was in his early twenties.  When do we lose that freedom/courage?  Or do we?  I remember passing through Istanbul a few years ago and talking to this woman in a little shop.  She was simply selling me tea, but there was this strange vibe and I had this odd but overwhelming through that if I had stayed there for a few more days we would have ended up sharing an apartment together.  A couple years after that (when I still wasn't completely free of the CW) I was checking into the Zagreb, Croatia airport at the end of a visit when I struck up a conversation with the woman behind the counter.  It started off as a conversation about how much I liked Croatia, but ended up with her telling me that I really should hang around for a few more days. I told her I needed to get back to class, but that I'd definitely be coming back soon, and then she inexplicably upgraded me to first class, which I didn't know until I got on the plane.  Eventually I was kicked out of first class, but that didn't change the general weirdness/rightness of the moment.  As is our natural wont, I've often thought what would have happened if I had just decided to stay and see where life decided I needed to go. In the end I think that there is core period of a couple decades when you can't walk away, but surrounding that are years when you don't have ties yet and then later when the ties don't really mean as much.  It's a different take on Kundera's Unbearable Lightness of Being.

 Anyway, check out the song, it's sort of a less certain and erudite version of Lucinda Williams's Side of the Road where the protagonist has taken the next logical/illogical step.  Oh, and when I stopped by Higher Ground the other day to pick up tickets for the show I talked to the woman behind the counter about Atkins.  I told her I didn't know a lot about her but that I really liked her first and last albums.  The woman told me that Atkins is really cool, although she won all of her money playing dice one night.  I may be in love.

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