Archive for the ‘2016’ Category

Making music is not akin to building a model, though sometimes it may seem that way. Prefabricated pieces aren’t stamped out at a factory in some far-off foreign land. Picture-laden directions aren’t included. There’s no inserting of staccato guitar solo A into steady rhythm B, and no slathering on glue and waiting for it to dry. Otherwise, the world would be awash in indistinguishable songs.

Oh wait. We are.

But such has been the case since the dawn of the entertainment industry. Hits beget blurry copies that smell of mimeograph ink – and if you don’t appreciate that reference, don’t worry. It only serves to point out my age and say, slyly, that much of modern pop music isn’t being made for me. (Nor should it be.) As Paul Simon summarized in “The Boy in the Bubble,” “every generation sends a hero up the pop charts.”

Anyway, although my much-ballyhooed “Album of the Year” is an honorific I’ve doled out every year since 1978, when I was 13, putting forth an “Album of the Decade” never occurred to me until a month ago, when the notion was mentioned in someone’s tweet; and then, this month, magazines, newspapers and online outlets began posting their lengthy and semi-lengthy lists. The ones I’ve seen basically weigh artistry and commercial impact, and inevitably mix in a handful of niche records while ignoring select popular hits.

Most are little more than clickbait exercises designed to boost ad impressions.

You’ll find no advertisements on this page. To borrow/adapt the lyrics from Neil Young’s “This Note’s for You,” I don’t write for Pepsi/I don’t write for Coke/I don’t write for nobody/Makes me look like a joke. Also, very few of those lists achieve what I love most about reading about music: a sense of the author. From where I sit, the best music reflects the listener(s) as much as it does the artist. It intertwines with our DNA. (And “best” in that sentence construct is a subjective thing.) 

With all that said, the reality of the past decade – which saw good times, bad times, and plenty of in-betweens for me and mine – is that a handful of albums turned my ear every year, and quite a few became constants. And of those, a select some have pretty much become one with my soul; they mean as much to me as the music of my youth.

One caveat: Your mileage may vary. One more caveat: It’s too early for my favorite albums of this year to be included here, as one never knows just how long they’ll stick with you (though I can’t imagine Allison Moorer’s Blood fading away). And one last caveat: I’m a middle-aged white guy with catholic tastes. (To quote Paul Simon again, “I know what I know.”) While I enjoy many different musical avenues, I generally find myself circling the same blocks of rock, pop and Americana/country.

And with that out of the way, here are my top seven albums for the 2010s.

1) Rumer – Seasons of My Soul (2010). In my first blog post on the Hatboro-Horsham Patch (which I’ve since moved to this site) in February 2012, I called it “an atmospheric song cycle that’s teeming with soulful, knowing lyrics and melodies that wrap themselves around the heart.” It spoke to me then and speaks to me now. It’s the definition of “essential.

2) Courtney Marie Andrews – Honest Life (2016). I cannot properly put into words the many ways this album affected me, other than to say this: From the moment I first heard it, it felt like it had been with me all my life. “Honest Life” is a song I want played at my funeral, whenever that may be. “Some things take a lifetime to fully understand.” (For my initial review of it, click here.)

3) Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Psychedelic Pill (2012). This may be a controversial pick for some, as not even all Neil fans appreciate its grandeur. Such is life. But as I wrote in this “essentials” essay, “it features sprawling songs that capture the messy essence of this thing called life.”

4) First Aid Kit – Stay Gold (2014). So, long about 2012, I had pretty much given up hope for the youth of the world. And then I heard “Emmylou” by the Swedish sister act known as First Aid Kit and realized that, indeed, I was wrong. As good as The Lion’s Den album was, however, nothing prepared me for this gem. The psychedelic folk of “Cedar Lane” remains as hypnotic to me now as it did then.

5) Juliana Hatfield – Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John (2018). I can hear some guffaws echoing through the interconnected tubes that make up this thing we call the “internet.” Whatever. This album saw two of my favorite worlds collide, and made a rough last half of the decade much sweeter. To rework a line from my initial review, it captures the spirit of the originals while adding a touch of Juliana’s heart.

6) Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball (2012). From my original review (another first posted to the Patch but since relocated here): “[W]hat makes a song great isn’t that it conjures spirits from our youthful nights, but that it speaks to the present. Maybe the first blush of melody hurtles us into the past, but the bridge jerks us as fast into the here and now. And the lyrics ring true no matter the age – or our age, for that matter. The runaway American dream that drives Born to Run, for example, represents today as much as 1975, just as the bitter realities and resignation of Darkness reflect working-class life of every era. As Springsteen sings on the title track of Wrecking Ball, his new album, “hard times come and hard times go/yeah, just to come again.” Some things, for good and bad, never change.”

7) Diane Birch – Nous (2016). This EP is a true work of art anchored by what, to me, is one of the decade’s greatest songs: “Stand Under My Love.” To borrow from my review, Nous “documents dreams, disappointments, disillusionment, faith and acceptance, and an awareness not spoken that, indeed, the Last Things are the First Things.”

As I mentioned in Friday’s countdown, “This Guy’s in Love With You” may well have been lost to time if not for Herb Alpert reaching out to Burt Bacharach and asking if he had any old tunes lying around that had never been recorded. Bacharach offered him “This Guy.” Alpert liked the melody, that there was a break where he could insert a trumpet solo, and that it didn’t require vocal gymnastics on his part. He was a horn player, after all, not a singer.

That clip comes from Alpert’s TV special The Beat of the Brass, which aired on CBS on April 22, 1968. The 45 was released the same month, and flew up the charts, eventually spending four weeks at No. 1 and becoming the year’s seventh most popular single.

The song’s soothing, sweet melody can’t be denied; it lingers with you long after the song is over. Lyrically speaking, it’s the declaration of a head-over-heels guy (or gal) laying it on the line to his dream gal (or guy). It works equally well no matter the gender of the singer, or who they’re singing to. Love is love, after all.

Anyway, it quickly became one of those songs every vocalist of note wanted to sing, and I thought it might be fun to spotlight some of those other versions here. Dusty Springfield, for example, recorded it for her Dusty…Definitely LP, released on November 22, 1968 – not that folks in the U.S. heard it (except via import). Dusty was on different record labels in the U.S. and the U.K., and Atlantic – her American home – decided not to release the album. It wouldn’t become available in the States until 1972, when it was included on the A Tribute to Burt Bacharach compilation LP. (It’s since been included on a handful of best-of/rarities collections, including Dusty in London.)

Here’s the audio of her singing it on the All Kinds of Music TV special, which was broadcast in the UK on Christmas Day 1968:

That same November, the Temptations and the Supremes released their own version on Diana Ross & the Supremes Join the Temptations LP.

Before both of them, however, Petula Clark included her rendition of it on her 1968 Petula LP, which was released in the U.S. in September 1968.

Dionne Warwick, a frequent collaborator with Burt Bacharach and Hal David, also recorded it for her Promises, Promises album, which was also released in November 1968. It would become one of her greatest hits when it was released as a single the following year; it rose to No. 7 in the charts.

Also in 1969, Ella Fitzgerald covered it on her Sunshine of Your Love album. Here she is on TV performing it…

Sammy Davis Jr. also laid down a jazzy rendition of it on The Goin’s Great the same year. Here he is in Germany:

In early 1970, Aretha Franklin released her This Girl’s in Love With You album, though the song wasn’t issued as a single.

That same year, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles covered it on their whatlovehas… concept album.

Hundreds of others have covered it in the years since (and thousands more in karaoke bars). In 1982, the Reels – an Aussie pop-rock band – scored a No. 7 hit with it Down Under:

In 2009, jazz-pop singer Jane Moneheit included her dreamy take on the song on her The Lovers, the Dreamers and Me album:

Here’s She & Him (Zooey “One Day You’ll Be Cool” Deschanel & M. Ward) from their 2014 album Classics:

Finally, British singer-songwriter Rumer released her rendition of it on This Girl’s in Love: A Bacharach & David Songbook in late 2016. (That’s Burt Bacharach himself at the song’s start.) It and Dusty’s are my favorite versions, though every rendition has something going for it.

The news is brutal. Not just this morning, but most mornings. These days, it seems, someone, somewhere, is always scheming to commit terrible acts in furtherance of their aims, whatever they may be. It is not a new phenomenon. Zealotry has been with us since the dawn of time, and seems to ebb and flow according to an algorithm all its own.

Which is why, today, I smiled wide upon discovering that, at least in the U.S., the Irish singer-songwriter Karrie O’Sullivan’s 2016 album Perpetual Motion is available on Apple Music under the one-name moniker of Karrie. Music provides solace and escape from the concerns of the day like no other, of course. And wouldn’t you know it? The first line of the first song of the album opens with, “Sometimes it feels so strong that I’m going to break…”

That video features a stripped-down rendition of “This Time,” obviously, and the subject of the song isn’t about the worries of the world, but love. On album, the song’s gentleness is amplified, and grows from a trickle to a stream of flowing instruments and vocals.

In an email, Karrie noted that the album’s second track, “Trying to Be Honest,” has a Rickie Lee Jones-like vibe –

And, indeed, it does. So goes the album as a whole, with the occasional influences (Joni, Rickie Lee, Van Morrison, among others) in the grooves (or bytes) never overwhelming or distracting from the songs but, instead, acting as affectionate homages. And then a song like “Movie Show” flutters its opening reel…

…and you’re totally immersed in the flickering image being projected by the lyrics and melody. The same goes with the album’s title track:

From what I’ve read, Karrie turned to music as a second career after the 2008-09 recession caused a downturn in her horse-training business, which she’d pursued for 15-20 years. She picked up a guitar, wrote her first song and eventually released her first album, Jelly Legged, in 2011. (That debut is also on Apple Music, for what it’s worth.) But I’d wager that she’s had melodies, rhythms and rhymes bubbling in the back of her brain from a young age; she just had to tame and train them. Likewise, I’m sure, she had to do the same with her lilting and lovely voice, which has become more confident in the years since Jelly Legged.

The whys and wherefores of the wider world’s insanity – those are things that we have seen before, and unfortunately will deal with again. It is not worthy of panic. Rather, it’s best to move forward with a clear head and heart, deal with the problem straight-on – and seek occasional refuge in that which matters most to us: family, friends and, in my case, feline and song. Karrie O’Sullivan’s Perpetual Motion fills that last bill for today, and I’m sure it will tomorrow and next week. It’s a thing of aural beauty.

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Last night, with some time to kill prior to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, I found myself surfing the algorithmic waves of YouTube thanks to a hankering to hear Best Coast’s title song to their 2015 album California Nights. I’d never heard of the band until reading a review of the album in, I think, Mojo; and I was instantly smitten with that trippy song’s thick and hazy tones, which creep in like a dense fog at dusk. I ordered the CD the same day and, a few days later, featured it in this post – while mentioning its similarities to Opal and Mazzy Star.

And after listening to it yet again last night, I found myself diving head-first into Opal’s sonic undertow. Their 1987 Happy Nightmare, Baby album, as I’ve said before, is a true lost treasure. For those unaware of them, the band had its roots in L.A.’s Paisley Underground scene, and – if they’d stuck together – could’ve carved out a Sonic Youth-like career. But, while on tour promoting that LP (their one and only), lead singer Kendra Smith quit the band and, after releasing a few albums over the next few years, disappeared into the woods of Northern California, never to be heard from again. A true shame, as she was a talented artist and that version of the band was intense.

Dave Roback, Opal’s remaining musical architect, recruited Hope Sandoval to step into the void in order to finish the tour. They were already friends, having worked together on never-released recordings for Hope’s folk duo, Going Home. (In the clip above, that’s her to the right of Roback in the studio intro.) Here’s a full set of that version of Opal in 1988 Italy –

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I’m sure it was difficult to sub for Smith on such short notice, but Hope pulled it off – and then some; and, as the decade faded into the next, the group morphed into Mazzy Star. While they maintained the same languid shoe-gazing psychedelia, Hope’s vocals are far more dreamy, ethereal and inviting than Smith’s. And, too, the dark-hued dissonance was imbued with splashes of color. (Or something like that.)

Here’s “Halah,” from the 1990 Mazzy Star debut, She Hangs Brightly.

Three years later, they released the So Tonight That I Might See CD, home to a classic song that (almost) everyone of a certain vintage will remember: “Fade Into You.”

There’s far more to the story, of course; and the Wikipedia entry does a thorough job in explaining it. For the purposes of this post, though, while jumping from one video to another to another last night – such as this one, “Flowers in December,” from a 1994 appearance at Neil Young’s annual Bridge School benefit concert –

– I discovered that, last year, Hope collaborated with Massive Attack (for the second time) on the song “The Spoils.”

She also released the album Until the Hunter with her own group, the Warm Inventions – which will likely be most of what I listen to for the next few weeks. Now that I’ve listened to it not once, but twice, I can say: It follows the Opal/Mazzy Star blueprint; and is, in a word, amazing. Here are two songs from it: