Archive for the ‘2019’ Category

At some point in the late ‘70s, when I was 14 or thereabouts, I began twisting the FM dial away from WIFI 92 – by then Philly’s lone Top 40 radio station – and to the region’s twin pillars of rock ’n’ roll, 93.3 WMMR and 94.1 WYSP. Both featured a sonic palette that was at once wider and narrower than WIFI’s all-the-hits hue. Like other AOR stations, in other words, they pushed the illusion that their scope was limitless by programming album tracks and yesteryear favorites, “double shots” and blocks of songs from a single act, while actually reining in diversity of genre, color and gender.

I didn’t understand it at the time, mind you, and I’m sure many of my contemporaries – many of whom probably listen to the AOR offspring known as “classic rock” – still don’t. Instead, as someone who read the music magazines of the day (Rolling Stone, Creem, Trouser Press and Record, among others), the stations frustrated me due their reliance on the same-old, same-old. (There was a new wave coming, I tell ya.)

It’s why, in time, I began buying albums based solely on reviews and articles, and picked up album guides to better understand what was released when, and which catalog items I should pick up first. Eventually, too, I found my way even further up the FM dial, to 102.1 WIOQ, a home to a more progressive and adult brand of rock. It was there, I think, that I first heard Joni Mitchell, who by then wasn’t exactly hip with the teen/young adult set the rock stations targeted.

That’s a lot of background for what’s ostensibly my “first impressions” of Lucy Rose’s No Words Left album, which was released on March 22nd, but that’s where my mind goes while listening to its 11 tracks. When I was 14, I would have paid it no mind. By 18? It wouldn’t have left my turntable for weeks. Its songs are a hypnotic mix of stark confessionals (“conversation don’t come easy/but I’ve got a lot to say”) spiced by a few ethereal interludes that conjure no less than Clare H. Torry’s vocals on Pink Floyd’s “Great Gig in the Sky.” The end of the opening “The Conversation,” for example, morphs into “No Words Left, Part 1,” in which Lucy uses her expressive vocal range to convey emotions that words alone can’t. By “Pt. 2,” the cries are more akin to David Crosby’s “I’d Swear There Was Somebody There,” which closes his If I Can Only Remember My Name… album. They’re a powerful catharsis.

As Lucy observes in “Song After Song,” the closing track: “Song after song after song/all about me and my misery.” The album is melancholic, in other words, and accented by bitter truths and insights. At the same time, she synthesizes a range of influences and makes them her own. Joni’s an obvious point of reference, but so is Neil Young – and Bonnie Raitt, whose “I Can’t Make You Love Me” my wife hears in the opening of “Nobody Comes Round Here.”

I’ll leave it to others to go through a song-by-song analysis. Instead, I’ll observe that “You can’t know where you’re going without knowing where you’ve been” is an age-old cliche that’s born from truth. You also can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you are. No Words Left is a brilliant exploration of the latter. You’ll hear yourself – or those you know – in its words. It’s a future “essentials” pick, guaranteed.

Here’s the album in full:

 

I’ve been tripping the past fantastic since the release of 3×4 a few weeks back. The compelling Paisley Underground collection from the Bangles, Three O’Clock, Rain Parade and Dream Syndicate engulfs the soul like the ocean does the beach at high tide. The water is warm, in this metaphor, and free from the debris that sometimes washes ashore during the twice-daily deluge. 

Yes, for those unaware, there are two high tides each day, just as there are two low tides. They’re caused by the gravitational pull of the moon and sun in concert with Earth’s rotation, which is one spin per every 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4.09053 seconds. A similar phenomenon is found on 3×4, though its power is linked to the gravitational pull of the melodies and rhythms in concert with the rotational rate of the record – 33 1/3 rpm, in this case.

To lift a passage from a poem I wrote, “33 1/3 r.p.m.,” in September ’85: 

Revolutions spin and spin.
They never last,
but they never end.
Revolutions begin again.

Anyway, the Bangles broke through to popular acclaim in 1986 thanks to the shimmering psychedelia of “Manic Monday” and addictive goofiness of “Walk Like an Egyptian,” but the others never attracted as wide an audience as they should have. It’s a fact that was and remains a shame, and I’d blame the transitional nature of the times, but the reality is that’s the nature of the music business – quality bands and artists from every era fail to break through. 

And, with that said, here’s today’s Top 5: The Paisley Underground.

1) Rain Parade – “You Are My Friend.” At some point in late ’85 or early ’86, I picked up Rain Parade’s 1983 debut, Emergency Third Rail Power Trip, at City Lights records in State College, Pa. (aka the home of Penn State). I’d love to say that I played it to death, but the reality is I played it, enjoyed it from time to time, and moved on. On 3×4, the Dream Syndicate’s rendition of this song is one of the album’s highlights.

Here’s some trivia: Rain Parade was founded by Matt Piucci and David Roeback. David had previously been in a band – alongside his brother (and fellow Rain Parade bandmate) Steven – with Susanna Hoffs. Roeback left Rain Parade and formed one of the greatest of the unheralded ‘80s bands, Opal, with former Dream Syndicate moll Kendra Smith (whose 1995 Five Ways of Disappearing album is a lost treasure of the ‘90s).  

2) The Dream Syndicate – “Tell Me When It’s Over.” As with the other three bands, by 1985 I was aware of the Dream Syndicate – but even with my at-times expansive music budget, I didn’t take the plunge and buy anything by them until the decade’s end, when I oversaw the CD departments in a couple of video stores. The Three O’Clock’s rendition of this tune may well be my favorite track on 3×4

3) Rain Parade – “Talking in My Sleep.” Another 3×4 highlight is the Bangles’ rendition of this track, also from Rain Parade’s debut. And like the remake, the original version is far from a drowsy affair.

4) The Three O’Clock – “Jet Fighter.” The Bangles scorch the stratosphere with their turbo-charged cover of the Three O’Clock song; Debbi Peterson, who sings lead, even sounds like Michael Quercio. The initial rendition, found on the Three O’Clock’s classic Sixteen Tambourines album, rides the sky at a slightly slower Mach speed, but soars at a higher altitude.

5) The Bangles – “The Real World.” Rain Parade turns in a revelatory rendition of this track on 3×4, which the band formerly known as the Bangs first released on a five-song EP way back in 1982 (reviews for it can be found in the April 1983 editions of Musician and Record). Those early tunes appeared here and there in the following years, but it wasn’t until 2014 and the Ladies and Gentlemen…the Bangles! compilation that they became widely available. (That set is well worth seeking out, by the way.)

In a life long ago, aka 1985, the Three O’Clock’s Arrive Without Traveling – a smorgasbord of potent pop and bubbly rock – became one of my favorite platters. It features Day-Glo audio, just about, in that it’s fluorescent, effervescent, and just plain great. The Dream Syndicate and Rain Parade also became known entities to me that year, though I never played them quite as often. The Bangles, on the other hand, were already aural staples in my life.

For those unaware of the first three bands, they – along with the Bangles and dozens of others – were part of an early-’80s L.A. scene dubbed the Paisley Underground. This Wikipedia article digs up its roots, but all one really needs to know is that, as a collective, they channeled the sounds of the mid-‘60s. (Think the Beach Boys, Beatles, Byrds, Dylan, Love and the Velvet Underground, among others.) Yet, despite those influences, the music was utterly of its time – and, I’d argue, timeless.

The 3×4 compilation, in which each band covers three songs by their compatriots, confirms that assessment. In some ways, it’s a Nuggets-like compilation of ‘80s garage rock – if, that is, the groups on that Lenny Kaye-assembled anthology had sung each other’s songs. It reminds me, too, of the delightful Rainy Day endeavor of ’84 (which I picked up on CD in ’89), which featured many of the same players, except they’re now paying homage to one another instead of their influences.

Here are the Bangles providing a contact high with their rendition of Rain Parade’s “Talking in My Sleep”:

The Three O’Clock trip the (strobe) light fantastic with the Dream Syndicate’s “Tell Me When It’s Over.” (The fan-created video itself, on the other hand… eh.)

And the Dream Syndicate serves up a great take on the Bangles’ “Hero Takes a Fall”:

Whether one was familiar with the Paisley Underground at the time or came to it late (or not at all), the album is well worth seeking out. It’s available on Apple Music, Spotify and via the Yep Roc label. Here’s hoping that they hit the road together…

Here’s the track list; I’ve added the original band in parentheses.

  1. The Three O’Clock – “Getting Out of Hand” (Bangles)
  2. The Bangles – “That’s What You Always Say” (Dream Syndicate)
  3. The Dream Syndicate – “You Are My Friend” (Rain Parade)
  4. Rain Parade – “As Real as Real” (Three O’Clock)
  5. The Three O’Clock – “Tell Me When It’s Over” (Dream Syndicate)
  6. Rain Parade – “When You Smile” (Dream Syndicate)
  7. The Bangles – “Talking in My Sleep” (Rain Parade)
  8. The Dream Syndicate – “Hero Takes a Fall” (Bangles)
  9. The Bangles – “Jet Fighter” (Three O’Clock)
  10. Rain Parade – “Real World” (Bangles)
  11. The Three O’Clock – “What She’s Done to Your Mind” (Rain Parade)
  12. The Dream Syndicate – “She Turns to Flowers” (Salvation Army**)

[**The Three O’Clock started as the Salvation Army, but had to change their name when the other Salvation Army threatened legal action.]

If I could turn back time, one thing I’d do – aside from noting the digits of a Powerball drawing – would be to expand my music-discovery process. Among other things, I’m still vexed that Lucy Rose’s tuneful musings escaped my notice until early 2017, when the Staves shared one of her songs on social media. 

Given that I routinely scour the music magazines and blogs for new artists and releases, the oversight leaves me apoplectic. How could I have missed someone so good for so long?

For those unfamiliar with the British singer-songwriter, she’s released three studio albums, a live set and a remix disc since 2012. Wikipedia fills in more of the blanks, but her best-known song is probably one of her first: “Shiver,” from her debut, Like I Used To, which broke semi-big a few years later when it was used as the theme during Season 2 of the popular Mushishi anime series. Here she is, pre-debut in 2011, singing it on The Crypt Sessions. 

As you can hear, she’s essentially a diamond cutter who crafts precise, heartfelt gems from the vagaries of her life. In 2015, she told The 405, “Lyrics really are my hardest thing. I find them so hard, and a real challenge sometimes. To find something to write about and know what I want to say. You know, I don’t just want to write about anything, and write something for the point of writing a song. If I don’t have anything to say, then I feel like there really isn’t any point.”

That approach, of writing about what means the most to her, still echoes in her work. Check out the hypnotic “Solo(w)” from her No Words Left album, which is due out on March 22nd:

Also from No Words Left: the equally powerful “Conversation.”

Echoes of other artists, though not other songs, can be heard in those tunes, of course. As she explained to Arcadia Online in 2015, “I went through that whole stage when I was first starting out where I went into the back catalogues and listened to every Joni Mitchell album and every Neil Young album, and they’re those things that I’ll always go back to consistently.” She shared more influences in 2017 with The Pool, when she also incorporated Nico, Nick Drake, Carole King and Tom Waits into a playlist of influences. She also included all of them, plus others, in this Music Radar countdown of her top albums of all time. It makes me yearn to hear her sing something from Neil’s Harvest… but Harvest Moon works. This is delightfully sweet:

I wouldn’t be surprised if, somewhere along the way, she also cited Jackson Browne as an influence. Like him, she has an eye for incorporating details that add depth and weight to her songs. Here, she covers “These Days” – which was first sung by Nico in 1967 – on the BBC in 2013:

Speaking of cover tunes (and possible influences), here she is singing Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” on Fearne Cotton’s last Radio 1 show in 2015.

But enough covers. Here she serves up a haunting rendition of “Is This Called Home,” from her 2017 album Something’s Changing, for 7 Layers:

And, finally… I’ve featured this song many times on the blog since its 2017 release. How it didn’t become a massive hit escapes me, still.