Archive for the ‘1995’ Category

Life. It’s sweet. Every day is a gift, every moment a treasure, despite the pain and misery we sometimes endure. Those are cliches, I know, but I believe them – especially while listening to The Natalie Merchant Collection, which I’m doing as I write. The set, for the uninitiated, features her seven studio albums alongside one disc of new and old songs performed with a string quartet, and another disc of, as the press release states, “rare and previously unreleased tracks recorded between 1998 and 2017.” It’s due out on July 14th, but those of us who preordered received it early.

Much has and will be written about the collection, I’m sure, and I plan to write about it myself this weekend, after I’ve had time to digest the new material and contemplate what the set, writ large, means in the scheme of things. I will say, however, that if you had told me back in 1986, when I first heard Natalie with the 10,000 Maniacs, that I’d still be listening to her all these years later…well, I’m not sure how I would have responded. But I’m glad she’s still making music, and glad to still be a fan.

Anyway, for now, here’s today’s Top 5: Natalie Merchant. Not necessarily her greatest songs (though some are), but great songs and performances, nonetheless.

1) “Carnival.” (From Tigerlily.)

2) “Life Is Sweet.” (From Ophelia.)

3) “Break Your Heart.” (From Ophelia.)

4) “I’m Not Gonna Beg.” (From Motherland.)

5) “Space Oddity.” (From 1999’s Live in Concert, which isn’t included in the collection.)

And three bonus tracks:

6) “Maggie and Milly and Molly and May.” (From Leave Your Sleep,)

7) “Ladybird.” (From Natalie Merchant.)

8) “Frozen Charlotte.” (From Butterfly, the collection’s disc of new and old material recorded with a string quartet.)

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The lights dimmed, curtains parted and a spellbinding “My Songbird” wafted through billowy, bluish clouds as if an ethereal creature in flight. Strumming an acoustic guitar, Emmylou Harris stood center stage at the Keswick Theatre in Glenside, Pa., a near-silhouette, surrounded by what seemed to be three shadows – Daniel Lanois on guitar, Darryl Johnson on bass and Brady Blade on drums.

First, though a little context: On September 26th, Emmylou released the Lanois-produced Wrecking Ball, an atmospheric album that departed from the country-folk terrain she’d mined for the previous quarter century. That’s a bit of an over-simplification, I know, but prior to Wrecking Ball she mixed and matched songs and genres within the construct of the traditional country-folk sound. At a show we saw in 1991, for instance, she was joined on stage by Chet Atkins, performed a bluegrass breakdown, and also sang Steve Earle’s “Guitar Town” and Dion’s “Abraham, Martin & John.” Wrecking Ball, however, and the tour(s) that followed swapped the country overtones for a thick and rich gumbo that was equal parts noir, impressionistic and heartfelt.

Here’s “Deeper Well” from a few weeks later:

And “Where Will I Be” –

Two decades on and my memories of the show are not so good, unfortunately. “Prayer in Open D,” my favorite song of hers, came early and was stunning.

And her take on Steve Earle’s “Goodbye” was even more masterful on stage than on album.

At the show’s end, Diane and I both walking out of the theatre open-jawed, blown away by what we’d witnessed.

One additional, non-music memory: Although we had excellent seats, as the picture of my ticket stub shows, we were not front row, but fourth. (It goes to the wacky way the Keswick names its rows.) In the row before us: a guy cradling a green knapsack in his lap that had two super-large microphones sticking out from either side. The result: a bootleg of the show is out there, somewhere, making the rounds…

The setlist: My Songbird; Prayer in Open D; Waterfall; Where Will I Be; Orphan Girl; Wrecking Ball; Pancho & Lefty; Goin’ Back to Harlan; Deeper Well; Calling My Children Home; Green Pastures; One of These Days; Every Grain of Sand; Sweet Old World; Blackhawk; Big Chief/Indian Red; Goodbye; Making Believe; The Maker; All My Tears; How Far Am I From Canaan; You Don’t Miss Your Water

 

Watching the most recent promo video for Natalie Merchant’s upcoming 20-year-anniversary edition of Tigerlily… only to see me at 1:11!

Did you know that my hometown of Hatboro, Pa.,  was serviced by two phone companies in 1908? Bell Telephone oversaw everything east of York Road while the Keystone Telephone and Telegraph handled everything to the west. And interoperability between the services was non-existent – for folks with Bell to call folks with Keystone they needed a Keystone phone (and vice versa). As a result, many businesses kept phones from both companies on the premises.

That’s one of many neat factoids I discovered in the Images of America book Hatboro, a terrific stroll down history lane that I received for Christmas.

The times have changed, and are ever-changing: This week my niece Paige turns 18. If my math is right, that means she was born in 1995, the same year that ordinary folks began logging onto the Internet en masse. Prior to that, proprietary services like AOLCompuServe and Prodigy existed and, similar to 1908 Hatboro, to send an e-mail to a pal meant that he or she needed to be on the same service. There could be limits on top of that, too. In 1991, for example, Prodigy began charging users 25 cents an e-mail after 30 missives a month.

Granted, my history of the Internet is nowhere near complete – see this Wikipedia entry for something more thorough. But the growth and use of the ‘Net was the first thing I thought of when contemplating how day-to-day life has changed since Paige’s birth. This past week I was felled by a virulent flu, for instance, but was still able to go to work – as I’ve done on other occasions, I telecommuted into the office. For me, that means sitting at my computer in my den beside a window that overlooks a squirrel-populated tree. On Friday I noticed two squirrels grooming each other – something I’d never seen before. Curious if it was a new phenomenon, I performed a quick Internet search that led to a rather voluminous page on all things gray squirrel. The little critters do indeed groom one another, it turns out, especially during winter. In mere minutes I confirmed something that 18 years ago would have entailed a library trip.

Here’s another change: when I left for Happy Valley in 1985 to complete my college education, I brought along a small boombox and maybe 10 percent of my music collection – a few dozen pre-recorded and homemade cassettes. The cream of the crop, if you will, of a collection that I painstakingly curated through trips to the Hatboro Music Shop, Memory Lane Records in Horsham and Third Street Jazz in Philadelphia. Contrast that to today, when I’d be able to cart all of the 4,441 albums that make up my and Diane’s current collection on an external hard drive (I encoded everything we had a few years back, and now routinely rip everything we buy) – or simply rely on Spotify. Anyone can amass an instantly incredible and deep music collection, these days, without leaving one’s home or spending much money. (As Irv Homer used to say, it boggles the mind.)

Cell phones were around in 1995, of course. Mulder on The X-Files had one. But all they were good for were making and receiving calls. How quaint, huh? Now, they’re used for everything but calls – texting came into vogue in the late ‘90s, and the advent of 3G a few years later made surfing the ‘net while on the go commonplace. Hand-in-hand with that: Facebook. I access it more often than not on my desktop computer, but now our friends and family know about our weekend getaways to B&N, concerts and dinners out due to the “check-in” feature.