Archive for the ‘First Impressions’ Category

Courtney Marie Andrews’ recent May Your Kindness Remain (Acoustic) EP features acoustic renditions of four songs from last year’s May Your Kindness Remain album. That LP showcased an expansive sound that conjured the Band and Little Feat, among others, and was a dramatic – though not unwelcome – departure from the country-folk flavorings that accented her 2016 set, Honest Life.

Stripped to their essence, the songs – the title track, “Took You Up,” “Rough Around the Edges” and “Border” – lose none of their power. They aren’t revelatory performances, per se, but are revelations all the same. Minus the wheezing organ and gospel flourishes, for example, “May Your Kindness Remain” crests and recedes on Courtney’s crystalline vocal alone.

It’s a close approximation to how she sounded when I first saw her live, in May 2017, backed only by guitarist/consigliere Dillon Warnek. Her voice was clear and strong that night, a thing of true aural beauty – and yet her vocals were no match for the songs themselves. To my ears, they were imbued with the past, present and future of American music.

That’s still the case. “Is it the journey or the destination?” opens “Took You Up,” conjuring a line from a long-ago Stephen Stills song, “Thoroughfare Gap”: “It’s no matter. No distance. It’s the ride.” On album, Dillon’s electric guitar amplifies the emotional underpinning of the lyrics to perfection. Sans those accents and umlauts, however, Courtney’s acoustic delivery is no less wondrous. Likewise “Rough Around the Edges.” On album, piano buttresses the self-aware confessional; on EP, it’s not missed (though, in a sense, it is). “Border,” about measuring those who’ve been down the deepest well, swaps its sinewy rhythm for a “Hollis Brown”-like guitar motif.

Up top, I said these aren’t revelatory performances, per se, but are revelations all the same. That’s because, to slightly tweak that Stephen Stills line, “It’s no matter. No distance. It’s the song.” With songs this strong, delivery matters not; they simply resonate.

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:

 

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.]

It’s been a wild, whacky and – dare I say it? – weird few weeks due to the Big Move, and the weirdness will likely stretch into the next few months. There’s a lot to unpack. Among the items on our to-do list: clear the boxes from the dining room, living room and den, set up the stereos, and hang the pictures we want on the walls.

One thing that has almost made the daunting task bearable: Juliana Hatfield’s Weird album. The official release date is January 18th, but those of us who ordered one of the bundles from American Laundromat received it early – in my case, on New Year’s Eve. I haven’t had much time for critical listening, but I have listened. And listened.

In short, the set is uniquely Juliana, exploring such themes as introversion, sugar, selling out, and escapism, plus politics, atop a sonic soundscape that shimmers. She handles all the guitars, bass, keyboards and vocals, plus adds supplemental drums to four tracks accented by the ZOOM MRT-38 Micro RhythmTrak. Old partners-in-crime Freda Love Smith and Todd Philips keep the beat on the others.

The music is moody, mercurial and mesmerizing, and the melodies disarming. Maybe it’s just me, but echoes of the Buffalo Springfield’s guitar interplay and the Velvet Underground staccato rhythms waft through some songs, and even a little ONJ & ELO bubbles to the fore on the album closer, the deceptively upbeat “Do It to Music.”

Check out the lead single, “Lost Ship”:

There’s also a bonus 7-inch single available that features two songs (“On Your Feet” and “The Family Stain”) not on the album – well worth the purchase. (And for folks without a turntable, it comes with a download card, so you can still hear the songs.) The couplet that stays with me comes from the b-side: “History is like a stain/you cannot wash away.” So true.

If you haven’t already, head over to the American Laundromat site and order the album and single.