Saturday, May 5, 2018

Discography Year Two - Week 35

It's already the thirty-fifth week of the second year of our Discography, and, as the great Canadian philosopher reminds us, time fades away. By midnight tomorrow night I will have recorded my grades for another semester, and the numbers are starting to get surreal.  In the fall of 1982, as a twenty-two year old first year graduate student I gave my first lecture, fulfilling one of my duties as a TA for a professor who was out of town.  The lecture was on Sparta, a subject I knew nothing about, but I can remember the experience vividly, and only partially because I was terrified (as my friends and colleagues know, I hate public speaking - and it was a class of over a hundred students, and, well, they were my age).  I also remember it because I had this flash about half-way through where it suddenly hit me - damn, this is fun. Until that moment I was simply killing time trying to figure out what I should do with myself after graduation from college, and the University of Cincinnati had provided the best option (which you can also read as: the only option) by giving me a full-ride TA-ship. I've never been off a college campus since (truthfully, I guess you can stretch this back to the fall of 1978 when I first stepped onto the campus of Franklin College).  Anyway, I taught my first course in the summer of 1984 as I was finishing my MA, which I guess means that I'll soon be entering into my thirty-fifth year of teaching college students (which soon, soon, all too soon, if it hasn't happened already, I will have been teaching college students longer than some of my colleagues have been alive).  Damn, dude.  Anyway, I guess this is by way of saying that the end of each passing semester hits me a little harder.  As I've proposed before, in our line of work the end of December tends to mean nothing, but the beginning of May has a tremendous end of the year weight to it.  I guess each passing week of the Discography also carries a greater weight, especially since GB's passing.  Having said all that, rest assured that this won't be our last year.

Oh, and on a less somber note, the esteemed Dave Kelley has sent along his choice for a theme which, which I vouchsafe as One of Excellence.  I'm thinking that I'll release it next week, which will give us a couple weeks to reflect.

Dave Wallace

The Decemberists - Once in My Life

I think that I tend to take the Decemberists for granted, which I shouldn't do.  All of their albums have been good-to-great, with a couple of them near-classics.  They're really one of the best rock bands over the last couple of decades.   Although they're not as prolific as they use to be, every few years they put out a new album, which is always worth a listen and usually terrific.  Their recent album, I'll Be Your Girl, is no exception.  Stylistically, it's a little different from what they've done in the past, and it has a bunch of terrific songs.  For today's blog, I've selected the lead track, Once in My Life.

Kevin Andrews

This past week a few of us saw Nichole Atkins at Higher Ground. She’s a very talented veteran singer and songwriter with some unexpected influences. Her sound is kind of Brill Building meets Broadway with some Roy Orbison sprinkled on top. (Yes, the Brill Building is on Broadway. That’s not what I mean)

She reminded me of another similar artist I saw in Burlington years ago at a free Battery Park show, Tracy Bonham. This was in 2005 after the release of Blink the Brightest, her fourth release. It remains one of my favorite shows, she was great but she also opened for Glen Phillips of Big Head Todd fame. Both of them in the park with a guitar, no back up bands. 

Tracy is best known for her 1996 song Mother Mother which got a lot of Alternative Rock airplay and was nominated for a Grammy. When Mother Jones reviewed Blink they said Bonham could be Sheryl Crow’s moodier, less sociable sister. I love that. Blink is an excellent album and it’s not easy to pick a stand out track, so I’ll pick this since it recalls the theme (to me) of this blog, Something Beautiful.

While poking around the interwebs at Tracy Bonham songs, I found her latest album which has a song called, no doubt – tongue-in-cheek, One Hit Wonder. Also another song coincidentally featuring Nichole Atkins. I’d love to see them tour together.

Dave Kelley

"All of our words are written down in chalk
Out in the rain, on the sidewalk."

Buddy Miller. "Chalk"

Buddy is one of my favorite under the radar musicians.  Gary Beatrice was a big fan and turned me onto him.  Miller has released solo albums, records with his wife Julie, and played guitar for Steve Earle, Robert Plant, and Emmylou Harris.  

This has been a year that has already seen too many people I care about die.  A little melancholia and heightened sense of mortality is natural I think.  Perhaps that is what brought this song to mind.  I heartily encourage any if you not familiar with Buddy Miller to check him out.

"Water When The Well Is Dry"  Buddy Miller

I found I could not limit myself to one Buddy Miller song.  This is from my favorite album of his "Midnight and Lonesome."

Alice Neiley

It seems like this group talks about friendship a fair bit, which I so appreciate, as it's always been a huge part of my life, and too few people actually discuss or muse its particular bonds and big-love-qualities. 

All that to say, I do a lot of driving, and was thinking about friendship today while on my way home to Canada, how I'm so lucky to have wonderful friends (you all) in Vermont, as well as in Ottawa. But part of that luck, that embarrassment of riches, is the pang in my chest whenever I leave one place for the other. 

Truthfully, there's something pleasurable about such a tangible reminder of love, of why I want to be in two places at once. 

These songs reflect that pang, for both friends and home, or home with friends, or friendship that feels like home, or partners who are home and friendship -- the house with the red door, the little kids ringing our doorbell to ask if they can borrow my basketball, and daffodils sprouting up everywhere, the writing--and, of course, the teaching, and you all, so inspiring, perfect (to me, at least), and (don't take this the wrong way) ridiculous :). 

Brandi Carlile: Dying Day 

Wailin' Jennys: Driving 

Alison Krauss: Longest Highway

Gary Scudder

Neil Young, Four Strong Winds

Typically, this week's selection was not my first choice, or even my second, but, following my personal directive, it's the one I'm thinking about right now.  The other night the truly excellent Kevin Andrews, Mike Kelly and I (the truly excellent description affixes to  KA and MK) went to a really good Nicole Atkins concert at Higher Ground so rest assured you'll be hearing much more from her soon.  However, when I was writing up my post for her song Kill the Headlights I was also listening to other music, and by random chance started listening to Young's album Comes a Time.  It's not a great album (truthfully, I don't think there's a uniformly great NY album after the ditch trilogy) but it's really solid and better than I always remember, and, appropriately enough for this discussion, I tend to forget about it.  It was released in the middle of an extraordinary decade for Young featuring a lot of dark, brilliant music, so the more gentle and even sweet Comes a Time is a definite outlier. By far my favorite song on the album is Four Strong Winds, which features some lovely accompanying vocals from the late Nicolette Larson.  It may not be the ultimate Breakup Song, it may be the ultimate Inevitable Breakup Song.  What I didn't know at the time was that it's a cover (which is pretty rare in Young's long career, at least until that bizarre album he recorded in a phone booth in Jack White's studio).  The song itself was written by the Canadian songwriter Ian Tyson, which I guess further explains the very Canadian nature; apparently at times Canadians have voted it the best Canadian song (which sort of sounds like my category of Best American Band, meaning that the band had to be from America and also wrote songs about America). It first appeared in its original very folk version in the early 60s from Ian & Sylvia. It's been covered many times since, including by Bob Dylan.  And, of course, you can't find the Dylan version.  I think Dylan is much more proprietary than most artists because it's hard to find many of his songs on YouTube, which I guess I understand.  By comparison, I don't know if there's any NY songs that are not on YouTube, which either says something good or bad about him.  Johnny Cash also did a brutally brilliant cover in the years before he died (apparently Tyson's favorite cover) and it's impossible to listen to it without viewing it as a metaphor for Cash's fragile and failing tie to his own mortality. Having said all that, in the end I think the Young version will remain my favorite simply because it's so tied in with my own history.

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