Archive for the ‘2018’ 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 write, Diane and I are at a foldable table in the dining area of our new, and still empty, apartment in North Carolina. She’s sitting in a $20 chair we picked up at Wal-Mart. I’m in an armless chair lent to us by the apartment complex’s overseers. Our belongings, meanwhile, are stuck on a trailer somewhere in the swamps of Jersey.

We wanted a delivery date of the 27th or 28th. Our plan was to spend Christmas with family, then drive down on the 26th or 27th, spend a night in a hotel, and unpack over the long holiday weekend. When we met with the moving company’s rep in early December, however, he said no. He insisted that delivery be on December 24th. “That way my people can be home for Christmas,” he explained.

We ultimately agreed to his timetable.

He reinforced the 24th when he checked in with Diane later in the month. She said to him, in the presence of a friend, that the most important thing was the Monday delivery; he agreed, and promised that our stuff would be here. The contract that he then sent over, and that Diane signed, gave a window of the 24th to 31st, but his insistence on the 24th…well, we take people at their word. If I’d seen that stretch of days on the contract, I would’ve assumed it was a CYA move to cover for a snowstorm.

And, in fact, his people were indeed home for Christmas. We, on the other hand, footed an over-priced bill for a buffet-style dinner at a restaurant, returned to an empty apartment, and raged against the rep, who avoided our calls and only apologized, via email, for what he dubbed “a miscommunication.” Diane even emailed the company president, who replied to say that he talked to the rep, and we should expect to hear from him soon. Two days later and…

Yeah, you guessed it. He’s a punk. Our stuff won’t be here until the 30th.

That’s all to say: It’s been a bad week. A bad month. A bad year.  Yet, as always, hope is to be had. The development we’ve landed in seems great, thus far. Good restaurants are nearby, as are a nice (if overpriced) market, and even a coffee shop, which I stopped in this morning. We’ve had to purchase a few things we shipped to ourselves, obviously, but we’ve also bought items we would’ve needed to get, anyway. Tyler the Cat is doing exceptionally well; the wide open spaces within the apartment are, to him, reasons to frolic. And, after a test run, my commute to work seems less onerous – if more convoluted – than my old one. (I’ll know for sure next week, when I head into the office for real.) 

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: Hope, Luck & Perseverance…

1) Wings – “With a Little Luck.” 

2) Rumer – “Here Comes the Sun.” 

3) Stephen Stills – “Thoroughfare Gap.”

4) Linda Ronstadt with James Taylor – “I Think It’s Gonna Work Out Fine.”

5) Stone Foundation with Paul Weller – “Your Balloon Is Rising.”

And two bonus tracks…

6) Harriet – “You Get What You Give.”

7) Bruce Springsteen – “The Promised Land.”

’Tis the season for making lists and checking them twice, and determining which album is the Old Grey Cat’s ballyhooed Album of the Year. The honor, which is celebrating its 40th year this year, came about late in 1978 due to my dream of becoming a rock critic (yeah, I know: crazy!), and continued through the decades because…well, why not? Over that span, it’s chronicled the evolution (or lack thereof) of my musical tastes.

It is a decidedly personal affair, in other words. In years past, and on the updated tally I post early each year, I explain the process thusly: “The candidates are drawn from what I’ve purchased, so the pool is decidedly limited in comparison to, say, what the writers at Rolling Stone or Allmusic.com are exposed to. Some years I buy a lot and some years not, primarily due to my listening habits – I play albums I love over and over and over until they become one with my subconscious (obsession, not variety, is my spice of life). So the more I like certain albums, the less overall I hear.”

But in the immortal words of Ron Ziegler, “that statement is no longer operative.” In the age of Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube, no one needs to actually purchase an album to enjoy it. Just about every new release can be had for the price of one CD a month (aka the subscription fee) or the willingness to put up with commercials. (Yet, although I don’t purchase as much as I once did, I own all the albums that made their way onto my list. How could I not?)

Also, as I wrote last year, “The candidates are also winnowed by my age, race, gender and idiosyncrasies. I’m a middle-aged white guy, in other words, with catholic tastes.”

Some years, I revisit all the contenders. This year? There was no need. They are albums that I’ve turned to time and again since their releases, and have never grown tired of. That said, there were a few surprises: Although I thoroughly loved First Aid Kit’s Ruins and Courtney Marie Andrews’ May Your Kindness Remain, as the year wore on I found myself listening to them less and less often. I’m sure it had more to do with me, and the headspace I found myself in, than the music. I deem them two of my three “honorable mentions” for the year. Mikaela Davis’ Delivery is my third.

And, with that… 

Juliana Hatfield’s Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John is my Album of the Year. 

I got chills when she announced the project – as Hopelessly Devoted to Liv – during her concert with Wesley Stace at the Ardmore Music Hall in October 2017, and those chills were multiplying after she sang “Have You Never Been Mellow?” and “Physical.” (Just as an aside, Stace suggested that she call the album JH Sings ONJ, as the title conjures such cover sets from yesteryear as The Hollies Sing Dylan. It obviously stuck.) 

In my review, I noted that the set is, in some ways, an extension of the moving “Wonder Why” from her 2017 Pussycat LP, “in which she sought refuge from the madness of the present via the memories of her childhood. These songs, for her and us, are a similar escape into the past. They conjure another time and place, and also pay homage to a singer (and sometime songwriter) who, in that long-ago era, created a safe room where many of us dwelled on occasion.”

FYI: It’s the sixth time that Juliana has nabbed my year-end honors.

The first runner-up: the Stone Foundation’s Everybody, Anyone. In my review, I said that the songs “feature taut rhythms and lyrics that strive for something more than the rudimentary reflections that make up much of today’s mainstream music. They’re metaphysical musings of the highest order.”

Paul Weller co-wrote that Stone Foundation track, “Next Time Around.” His own release this year, True Meanings, is the latest classic in his own oeuvre, and is my second runner-up. Due to offline events, this blog was placed into a holding pattern around the time of the album’s release, so I never reviewed it. But make no mistake: It’s one of his best. 

The third runner-up: Shelby Lynne’s Here I Am, which features her songs (and some poetic snippets of dialogue) from her movie of the same name. Originally available only on vinyl, it’s now out on CD (via Shelby’s online store). The songs are as mesmerizing as her performance in the film.  

The fourth runner-up: Erin O’Dowd, whose debut album, Old Town, took up residence in my heart and head way back in May, and provided much-needed sustenance on a long road trip Diane and I took in September. In my First Impressions piece on it, I said that the songs sent “my spirits soaring higher than the beautiful May morn.”

The fifth and final runner-up: Becky Warren’s Undesirable, which is an album-long treatise on America’s unofficial caste system. As I wrote in this piece, it’s akin to a series of short stories set to song. It’ll draw you in, make you think, and make you tap your feet.

It’s been a whirlwind few months for me and mine – we’re preparing to leap into a new life in the Raleigh-Durham area. It’s not just packing up for the move to another house, which would be a relative breeze: We’re downsizing. We just have way too many things, and it’s time others enjoyed them. (That’s my mantra, and I’m sticking to it.) We parted with the bulk of our CD and LP collection a while back and are now sorting through the hundred-plus boxes of books that have cluttered the attic for years. Most of those tomes are being given to our local library.

It’s why my posts to this page have dwindled. What free time I have has been focused on shedding the ephemera from our lives – and there’s much, much more to shed between now and the day when the movers knock on our door.

Finding the time to listen to music (as opposed to having it play in the background) has been difficult, and will be difficult until January; and finding the time to write about it has been all but impossible. That said, my ballyhooed Album of the Year honor – which I will post at some point in the next month – was locked-in long ago, as were the the runners-up.

All of which has nothing to do with today’s post on Jade Bird. She’s not in the running for any of the Old Grey Cat’s awards save one, Concert of the Year, due to not releasing an album in 2018. (Spoiler alert: She’s in the Top 3.) But, as fans can attest, Jade has released a string of strong singles over the past 11 months. “Love Has All Been Done Before,” her latest, is absolutely killer. Here she is performing it when she played Philly in September. 

She played a stripped-down version of the song for Indie88 in the Collective Arts Black Box Sessions, which was posted to YouTube just this week:

She also performed a rockin’ “Uh Huh” during the session.

And here’s her take on Johnny Cash’s “I’ve Been Everywhere,” posted way back in January, for Indie88.

Here she wins with “Lottery,” and plays a few other tunes, in a video posted this week by 102.1 The Edge.

And, finally, two bonuses:

“Something American,” posted last month by The Bridge 909 in Studio:

And, from last year, her spellbinding rendition of Joni’s “River.”