Archive for the ‘2010s’ Category

Anyone conscious of pop culture in the mid ‘80s likely remembers that, at the start of the 1986-87 TV season, the primetime suds fest Dallas dismissed its previous season, its ninth, as nothing more than a a bad dream. 

The backstory: At the end of Season 8, with his contract up, Patrick Duffy – who played the show’s white knight, Bobby Ewing – left in pursuit of other projects and, rather than have his character embark on a never-ending world cruise, or some such thing, the show’s creative team simply killed him off. 

One result: The show’s ratings dipped in Season 9, sliding from No. 2 to No. 6, the first time it hadn’t been No. 1 or No. 2 in five years. (Some accounts point to increasingly outlandish storylines as a contributing factor.) Duffy, meanwhile, failed to attract the offers he hoped for. So when the Dallas masterminds reached out with a plan for Bobby’s return, Duffy agreed. Thus, at the start of Season 10, Pamela Ewing (Victoria Principal) woke to the sound of the shower echoing through her room…

… and, in one fell swoop, everything that happened during Season 9 was written off as a dream – well, less a dream and more a nightmare. 

In a sense, then, Dallas unwittingly demonstrated the quantum model of the multiverse, which posits “parallel universes” are, at root, alternate timelines. The road not taken in this reality is the road taken in another; and the next fork in the road in this or that one generates yet another timeline. If spacetime is truly infinite, it stands to reason that there are also an infinite number of presents, pasts and futures.

Or so the theory goes.

Adding to the complexity: A dimple in the fabric of spacetime enhances the possibility of time travel, as the curvature causes the distance between some present and past points to decrease; one could argue that’s essentially what the Dallas creative team did, jumping into the past in order to save the future. Of course, we’re then thrust into Back to the Future territory: Even the smallest alteration to the past can cause the present to become unrecognizable; and, in the case of Dallas, that meant dropping from No. 6 to No. 11 in the ratings.

On an alternate timeline, however, the show could well have returned to No. 1.

That infinite possibilities lead to infinite outcomes matters not to the specific reality we find ourselves in, however. That reality is, sadly, that Lyndon LaRouche Mach 2 occupies the Oval Office and has surrounded himself with henchmen who pay fealty to him, not the Constitution. Unlike Season 9 of Dallas, it can’t be undone with a few flicks of a pen in the writer’s room; the new season, scheduled to begin on Jan. 20th, 2021, unless Congress intervenes before then, will pick up where this one leaves off. Between now and then, aside from messaging our representatives, there’s not much we, the people, can do… except distract ourselves through music.

And, on that cheery note, here’s today’s Top 5: Americana, Season 9…

1) Bruce Springsteen – “Sundown (From the Film Western Stars).” Diane and I already have our tickets for the film, which features Bruce, band and a 30-piece orchestra performing the Western Stars album – one of the year’s best, if not the best – in full. I didn’t think he could top the album version of any of the songs, as they’re all intricate hymns of the heart; I was wrong. 

2) Beth Bombara – “I Only Cry When I’m Alone/Upside Down.” As luck would have it, I stumbled across Beth’s recent album, Evergreen, early this afternoon, just before a 75-minute road trip. I cranked it up on the drive – and, damn, it’s sounds better than good. The St. Louis-based singer-songwriter delves into matters of the heart and soul while connecting with the intellect, and does so accompanied by a crack band. 

3) Michaela Anne – “By Our Design.” Michaela’s album, Desert Dove, is earning acclaim even from folks who aren’t keen on the idea of “Americana” as the (makeshift) genre it is. I haven’t yet had the chance to listen to it unencumbered from conversation, unfortunately, but what I have heard tells me that the acclaim is merited. She reminds me a lot of Emmylou Harris. 

4) Leslie Stevens – “On the Levee.” When we saw Leslie two weeks back, I was only familiar with her most recent album, Sinner. After the show, I picked up her 2016 album The Donkey and the Rose at the merchandise table, and listened to it and the rest of her oeuvre – by way of Apple Music – for the much of the following week. This song is a stunner.

5) Kelsey Waldon – “Anyhow.” Here’s a live rendition of the first single from Kelsey’s recent album, White Noise/White Lines (which I always read as White Light/White Heat – but that’s me). We have tickets to see her in the weeks ahead – can’t wait!

I saw the light on Friday night when, a little past 9pm, country singer Leslie Stevens took to the stage at the Cat’s Cradle Back Room. Before a sparse audience, she laid down an hour-long set that swayed from salvation (sans soup and soap) to silliness and back again, earning rapturous applause and, without question, winning over a few converts.

She opened with “Sinner,” the title cut to her recent LP in which she admits, “I’m not the saint you’ve been hoping for/I’m not the blessing at your door.” On album, it’s an atmospheric tour de force that conjures, to my ears, both Emmylou Harris circa Wrecking Ball and Jessie Baylin circa Little Spark. Live, with just her electric guitar and the always great Eric Heywood on steel guitar, it was as sublime. (We last saw Eric in 2017 with Tift Merritt.) “My Tears Are Wasted on You,” a lament that dates to her days with the Badgers (the band, not the squat omnivores), followed. It’s everything a great country song should be, and more.

Tom Petty’s “Southern Accents” was up next – an unlikely pick, perhaps, but most welcome. “12 Feet High,” another Sinner tune, picked up the pace. On the surface, it’s an ode to certain intoxicants, but its sly humor (“Spent all night staring up at shooting stars/Didn’t even notice they were only cars”) sets up something more somber (“Oh, and darling, I’ve been frowning/Oh, and darling, I’ve been drowning/Drowning all of my sorrows/In our lost tomorrows.”) Another of the album’s highlights, “Fallin’,” lost none of its luster. Although I dislike the metaphor, her vocals are indeed like honey – they flow from light to dark, often within the same song, and more often than not set up shop somewhere in the gradients in between.

One of the sillier moments came on the kazoo-accented sing-along of “It’s Okay to Trip,” a song from the Leslie Stevens & the Badgers’ 2010 album, Roomful of Smoke. (And, yes, I said “kazoo.”) She cajoled everyone to sing, and everyone did, “it’s okay to trip, but don’t fall/it’s okay to fall, but don’t hurt yourself/it’s alright to hurt yourself, but don’t hurt nobody else/it’s okay to hurt somebody else/just say you’re sorry…” It was funny and charming – much like Leslie herself.

“Everybody Drinks and Drives in Heaven,” from her 2012 Donkey and the Rose album, was similarly amusing. (She noted before hand that heaven is the only place where that’s permissible because everyone’s already dead.) As someone who, going into the show, was only familiar with Sinner, the non-Sinner songs were a revelation – as was her humor. For example, also from Roomful of Smoke, “Old-Timers” is a deft portrait of love felled by a tree – literally. 

On a serious note, she prefaced “Depression, Descent” with a discussion of suicide, as she explained the song was spurred by a friend who took his life, and noted that it’s okay to not be okay. It’s a powerful, powerful song. And while the quality of my video isn’t the best, it ably captures the emotion of the performance:

The night ended with Leslie’s stirring cover of Buffy St. Marie’s version of Neil Young’s “Helpless.” (She went out of her way to explain it that way.)

In short, she provided salvation through song, allowing us to momentarily escape the madness that is life in the Trump Age. The only downside to the night was the set’s brevity; it would have been nice to hear a few additional Sinner tunes, such as “Storybook,” “Sylvie” and “Teen Bride.” Here’s the non-set setlist, which veered off course somewhere along the way…

Afterwards, we had a chance to briefly meet Leslie, who was as effervescent off-stage as she is on. If you have the opportunity to see her live, do. And if you don’t, check her out on Apple Music, Spotify or YouTube – and then go buy something from her website.

For those scoring at home, over the past few weeks I’ve deemed not one, not two, but three Neil Young albums as “essential.” As I noted a while back, at a certain point over the summer my listening habits retrenched to the tried-and-true, aka the music of my youth and college years. It’s not a new phenomenon – this blog is a testament to that. Some days, weeks and months I reconnect with past masters to the detriment of today’s pet sounds.

Much of music is what the listener makes of it, after all, and the connections I have with that old music were forged long ago. The Beatles together and apart, Neil, Linda, Springsteen, Seger, Weller, Maria McKee, and the Paisley Underground, among other acts and scenes, are just part of my musical DNA. In the decades since, of course, a slew of newer acts have attached themselves to my nucleotides, too, but – youth is youth. Certain sounds stick with us.

Which leads to this: A new song by an act I “liked” on Facebook (and featured in a Top 5) a few years back, and then promptly forgot about, leapt out and struck a chord with me yesterday when it appeared in my newsfeed. The group in question: The Sundowners. According to their FB page, the Liverpool-based band’s influences include, among others, the Velvet Underground, Byrds and Bangles. I gave the song a listen and – as I’m apt to say – “wow, just wow.”

They sound like they stepped out of a time capsule from 1966 or 1985, when the Paisley Underground was in full swing. Echoes of the Beatles (circa Revolver), Byrds (circa “Eight Miles High”) and Bangles (circa All Over the Place) are discernible in the grooves, yet the music sounds fresh and new.

Whether you’re young or old, or somewhere in-between, give them a listen. You won’t be disappointed.

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)

Last night, as is often the case, I worked late, not leaving the office until the sun was a mere hint on the horizon. Cars and trucks lumbered along the road, some with their headlamps on, others only illuminated by their running lights. The official end of summer has yet to come, but it’s done. Kids are back in school. Family vacations are done. Days are growing short.

On the ride home, I thought of days that used to be. I thought of tomorrow, and what the new day might bring. I also powered down the windows and cranked up one of my favorite albums to listen to when driving: the last thoroughly great Neil Young album, Psychedelic Pill, which I also deem to be one of the decade’s best albums. Recorded from January to March 2012, and released on October 30th of that year, it finds Neil backed by Crazy Horse, and features sprawling songs that capture the messy essence of this thing called life.

In short, it’s nine-songs strong. (Eight, really.) Eighty-plus minutes. It burns, yearns, questions, looks back and ahead, and does so with an eye that’s at once cynical and naive.

“Driftin’ Back,” the lead-off track, clocks in at 27 minutes and change, and finds him musing about the sound quality of MP3s, meditation, religion, art, and the corrupting nature of Big Tech, among other things. (“I used to dig Picasso/Then a big tech company came along/and turned him into wallpaper.”) The stream-of-conscious nature of the lyrics is echoed by Neil’s swirling and twirling guitar, which slithers one way and then the next, all while rising and falling like the star we call the sun. It’s epic.

The concise title track follows, and echoes “Cinnamon Girl.” Lyrically, it’s about nothing less than looking for a good time – and, in a foreshadow of a song to come – getting lost in music. It’s followed by the near-17-minute “Ramada Inn,” a slice-of-life portrait of a longtime marriage in stasis. He drinks too much. She wants him to talk to old friends who gave it up. Yet they love each other. They do what they have to. Neil’s solos are both mournful and majestic, with his guitar flying out of the thick rhythms laid down by Crazy Horse only to return to the groove in time for the next verse. Rolling Stone hailed it as one of the year’s Top 5 songs.

“Born in Ontario” and “Twisted Road” both look back at the days that used to be. The former explores how one’s hometown stays with you wherever you may roam (“you don’t learn much/when you start to get old”); and the other digs into the joy that the music of Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead and Roy Orbison gave him. 

“She’s Always Dancing” is the deliverance that “Psychedelic Pill” hinted at, painting a picture of a woman losing herself in the sweet cacophony of rock ’n’ roll: “She wants to dance with her body left unbound/She wants to spin, and she lives in her own world/She wants to dream like she was a little girl.” Although her age is never given, we know she’s no longer young – and yet the music, as it does for all of us, rejuvenates her. (That’s my take on it, at any rate.)

The gently haunting “For the Love of Man” hones in on a difficult question that has, no doubt, circled through the minds of many parents of differently abled children: “For the love of man/Who could understand what goes on/What is right and what is wrong/Why the angels cry, and the heavens sigh/When a child is born to live/But not like you or I.”

“Walk Like a Giant” is a thunderous, 16 1/2-minute summary of one of life’s cruelest lessons: The hopes, dreams and beliefs of youth are slowly crushed with every tick of the clock: “I used to walk like a giant on the land/Now I feel like a leaf floating in a stream.” That doesn’t stop us from attempting to color-correct our faded idealism, mind you. Giants lumber on. Sometimes they falter. Sometimes they don’t. But they don’t give up.

An alternate mix of the title tune closes things out in fine fashion. Who isn’t looking for a good time? Who doesn’t get lost in music?

The track list: