Archive for the ‘Rickie Lee Jones’ Category

IMG_0993November 1984: Have I covered this month before? No, apparently not. Oh, I have a Top 5 that covers the previous month and also penned a remembrance of a Walter Mondale rally I attended (though not for the politics) that same October. It feels like I have, though, and I likely would’ve pivoted to an Of Concerts Past piece this week except for this:

On Friday, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band canceled tonight’s concert in Greensboro, N.C., to protest the state’s recently enacted anti-LGBT law.

As happenstance would have it, earlier in the week, while contemplating what this post should be about, I came across this exchange in a Chet Flippo-penned article in the November 1984 Musician magazine:

Musician: Are you going to vote this year?

Springsteen: I’m not registered yet. I think I am gonna register and vote my conscience. I don’t know much about politics. I guess my politics are in my songs, whatever they may be. My basic attitude is people-oriented, you know. Kind of like human politics. I feel that I can do my best by making songs. Make some difference that way.

I’m not sure whether that means Bruce never voted before ’84 or just that he hadn’t in a long time, given that one’s voter registration doesn’t lapse overnight. That aside, it shows how he has grown from not knowing much about politics (or, perhaps, not wishing to discuss them) in 1984 to become a reliable liberal champion in the present. He campaigned for John Kerry in ’04 and barnstormed the country as part of the Vote for Change tour in ’08, after all. Anyone shocked or surprised or outraged that he decided to take a stand on this issue hasn’t been paying attention through the years; they’re likely the same folks who (still) mistake “Born in the U.S.A.” for a jingoistic paean.

Anyway, enough about the political and onto the music. Here’s today’s Top 5, as drawn from the November 1984 edition of Musician:

IMG_09941) Lindsey Buckingham – “Go Insane.” There’s a solid piece by one Sam Graham about Buckingham: “For the moment, [he] has canceled his reservations for insanity. The events of the past couple of years – in particular the torturous breakup of a six-year relationship – took him perilously close to the brink of personal and professional madness, but Buckingham has reeled himself back in. And the reel he used, the album appropriately titled Go Insane, not only loosely chronicles those events but serves as a cathartic release from them.”

The piece concludes with: “‘My life is so simple now. I’m living more or less alone, and all my focus is on this record. [Fleetwood Mac’s plans are uncertain at best.] That’s fine for the time being, although it can get lonely. I mean, I can’t handle going down to Le Dome to meet people.’ What he can handle is regaining some control over his life. ‘I lost my power in this world,’ [he] sings in ‘Go Insane,’ ‘cause I did not use it.’ That power, he observes, is ‘the power of discipline, the power to progress. There was a time when I really did think I’d lost it. But in the end, making this album was a reaffirming experience. I think I’m gaining some of that power back.’”

IMG_09962) Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band – “Street Fighting Man.” Chet Flippo’s interview with the Boss is basically about the Born in the U.S.A. album and tour. Of the album, Springsteen says “I wanted the record to feel like what life felt like. You know, not romantic and not some sort of big heroic thing. I just wanted it to feel like an everyday, Darlington County kind of thing. Like ‘Glory Days,’ it sounds like you’re just talking to somebody; that’s what I wanted to do.”

He expounds on that a few questions later: “Born to Run and Nebraska were kind of at opposite poles. I think Born in the U.S.A. kind of casts a suspicious eye on a lot of things. That’s the idea…. These are not the same people anymore and it’s not the same situation. These are survivors and I guess that’s the bottom line. That’s what a lot of those characters are saying in ‘Glory Days’ or ‘Darlington County’ or ‘Working on a Highway.’“

And, finally, regarding the tour:

Musician: You’re doing the Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man” as an encore. Is that a political statement?

Springsteen: I don’t know. I like that one line in the song, “What can a poor boy do but play for a rock ’n’ roll band?” It’s one of the greatest rock ’n’ roll lines of all time. It just seemed right for me to do it. It’s just fun. In that spot of the night it just fits in there. After “Born to Run,” we got to go up. That’s the trick. ‘Cause it’s hard to find songs for our encore. You gotta go up and then you gotta go up again. It has tremendous chord changes, that song. 

IMG_10013) U2 – “Pride (In the Name of Love).” J.D. Considine reviews U2’s The Unforgettable Fire, a good-but-not great album that includes, in my opinion, one of the greatest singles of the ‘80s, “Pride (In the Name of Love).” Considine says that it “sidetracks its tribute to the Reverend Martin Luther King’s non-violent struggle for civil rights through brash sloganeering. In a way, it’s almost a slap at their earlier songs, in which the desire to say something subsumed the message itself, until it sinks in that King died for ideas as basic as these slogans, a realization that’s as invigorating as it is frightening.”

IMG_10024) Rickie Lee Jones – “It Must Be Love.” Anthony DeCurtis opens his review of The Magazine with: “Blending early 60s R&B crack, beat-poet lyricism and cabaret jazz ease, Rickie Lee Jones’ best tracks turn the tough trick of using entirely familiar elements to disorient listeners’ expectations. Her infinitely elastic voice is the main instrument of this aural upset, wrapping itself around everyday words and feelings in ways that restore their meaning and wonder.”

As a whole, though, he thinks Rickie Lee overreaches, and offers something of a confused conclusion: “[It] falls short of its greatest artistic goals, but its many achievements wouldn’t have meant so much within the context of any less full-hearted effort.”

IMG_10035) The Everly Brothers – “On the Wings of a Nightingale.” So, after a decade apart, Don and Phil came together for a much-praised reunion concert in London in 1983 and then recorded EB ’84, their first studio album in 11 years, with producer Dave Edmunds. This Paul McCartney-penned tune is (rightfully) called “charming,” but the uncredited reviewer isn’t thrilled with the rest. Frankie Miller’s “Danger Danger” is “stompy and undistinguished”; Jeff Lynne’s “The Story of Me” is “mawkish”; and Bob Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay” is called “an oddball choice.” Dave Edmunds, too, is taken to task for his heavy-handed production, which – according to the writer – is laden with reverb, echo and compression.

 

Humans have lived, longed, loved, lost and loved again, forged wars and fought peace, and argued about politics familial, social and cultural, since the dawn of time. Such is the grist of poetry and song, of course, and while many lyrical laments litter the byways of history, forgotten, much has stuck around – thanks to the advent of, first, paper; second, recordings; and, last, the resonance of the works themselves. Whether they come from the pen of Wallace Stevens or piano of Carole King, or the hills of Appalachia, expressions of the heart, soul and psyche have remained constant through the ages. It’s why music, like all art, doesn’t come with an expiration date. We, as a people, live, long, love, lose and love again, and argue amongst ourselves, forever and ever. Amen.

I mentioned in my last post that I sent my niece CDs for her 21st birthday. (A few more than I intended, actually, but the prices on two were obscenely low.) Three harken back to the 1970s and the others hail from the past few years. The lines that lead from those of yore to the present are right there, to be heard.

One thing that I did, and I have no idea if it worked as intended, was to turn Amazon’s free gift cards into short notes about each album. So, for today’s Top 5: Classics, Old & New, here are the picks with my notes (and a bit extra) included.

1) Carole King – “So Far Away” from Tapestry, 1971. King, of course, is one of the all-time greats; and this album is, too. I wrote in the note, “Blue, Rickie Lee’s debut and Tapestry are stone-cold classics that have influenced many, including Diane Birch, FAK & the Staves.“ In retrospect, I should have singled out Tapestry specifically, as it was the top-selling album for 15 weeks in a row during the winter and spring of ’71. Rolling Stone rates it the No. 35 Album of All Time.

2) Joni Mitchell – “River” from Blue, 1971. I wrote: “This is rightfully considered one of the greatest singer-songwriter albums of all time, and has influenced generations of artists. ‘River’ is amazing.” Rolling Stone rates it the No. 30 Album of All Time.

3) Rickie Lee Jones – “Chuck E.’s in Love” from Rickie Lee Jones, 1979. I wrote: “Rickie Lee’s debut was and remains a stunner, building upon the blueprints laid down by Joni Mitchell, Laura Nyro and Patti Smith, among others.” I’d add: Rickie Lee radiates utter coolness on everything she does, which is why she’s the Duchess of Coolsville. (Her most recent album was one of my favorites from last year, too, for what that’s worth.)

4) Diane Birch – “Nothing but a Miracle” from Bible Belt, 2009. I wrote, borrowing an observation from my Diane: “This album, in many ways, is a modern-day Tapestry.” That’s a tad over-the-top, granted, but there’s no denying the charm of this modern-day wonder. I remember reading the review of it in Rolling Stone a month or so before its street date; it sounded like something I’d like, so I looked her up on Facebook, where she’d posted four of the songs from the album. Within a few minutes, Diane called in: “Who is that? I really like her!” We’ve been fans ever since.

5) First Aid Kit – “Cedar Lane” from Stay Gold, 2014. I wrote: “This was my favorite album of 2014 – FAK are two sisters from Sweden who mine an Americana sound.” Notes, of course, can’t include hyperlinks, so I’ll include one here instead: my Albums of the Year, 2014 post.

6) The Staves – “Make It Holy” from If I Was. 2015. I wrote: “This album is a gem – my favorite from last year.” (Here’s that post.)

My niece turns 21 this week. Hard to believe. A few years back, I wrote about how times had changed since her birth. In the three years since, change continues unabated – Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, Spotify and Apple Music, among other services, are upending the long-accepted order of how we listen to and enjoy TV, movies and music. Think about it: Where once we had to own the DVDs to binge on a show, now one just has to sign into the service that has what we’re in the mood to absorb. And for music – is there even a need, anymore, for CDs? Everyone seems to use a streaming service of some kind. Even me. I’m listening to the Bangles’ classic Different Light via Apple Music as I type.

Well, I certainly hope that CDs are still in demand; I still buy them, at any rate, and hopefully one newly minted 21 year old still listens to them. The titles I sent her include yesteryear classics that have influenced just about every generation since their long-ago releases; and a few newer albums by relatively new artists that are, to my ears, modern-day classics.

Today’s Top 5: Classic Trax, however, isn’t drawn from the CDs I picked for her. They’re more of an addendum – tracks that hail from classic albums that, if there was justice in this universe, would be in everyone’s collection or playlist.

1) Rickie Lee Jones – “We Belong Together.” Rickie Lee Jones’ 1979 self-titled debut was a stone-cold classic. Pirates, her 1981 follow-up, actually improved upon it – a hard feat. This song, the lead track, is a riveting, romantic street opera.

2) Gladys Knight & the Pips – “Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me.” Imagination, released in the fall of ’73, is a five-star set that features such songs as “Midnight Train to Georgia” and this one, which hit No. 3 on the singles chart in April ’74.

3) Neil Young & Crazy Horse – “Down by the River.” This song hails from Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (1969), one of my Top 5 Albums of All Time – a list that, now that I think about it, I need to put together and share. One of my joys in 2015: taking my nephew, who was 19 at the time, to see Neil & Promise of the Real in concert. (He was already a fan, I should mention.) It was, as I wrote here, an incredible show; and this epic performance blew us both away.

4) Lone Justice – “Shelter.” The title track to the second Lone Justice album, released in 1986, is one of those songs – as I used to write (too often) on my old website, “it takes you there, wherever there is.”

5) The Bangles – “September Gurls.” Different Light, the Bangles’ 1986 album, is as perfect a pop record ever released, I think. It featured two Top 5 singles (“Manic Monday,” which hit No. 2, and “Walk Like an Egyptian,” which hit No. 1) and a wealth of classic songs, including this cover of the Big Star tune. (This performance, by the way, is from the World Cafe Live in 2014, which I wrote about here.)

staves_ifIwas

What a long, strange year it’s been – a wealth of music released and unheard by me, primarily due to the greying demographic I find myself in and the continued cloistering of my catholic tastes. Variety is the spice of life, it’s said, and I enjoy a wide range of styles and genres – everything from adult contemporary, pop, rock, R&B and soul to Americana, old-school country, folk and jazz. Yet, I find myself feasting less often on a sonic stew sautéed by up-and-coming chefs and, instead, savoring the sounds of the tried-and-true, with the chief stewards including such stalwarts as (small surprise) Paul McCartney, Linda Ronstadt and Neil Young.

That’s what I told myself going into this annual exercise, at any rate, but the results – as you’ll soon read – tell a slightly different story.

The British singer-songwriter Rumer, for instance, is still relatively new, given that her debut album, the classic Seasons of My Soul, dates to 2010. Theoretically, Into Colour, her third long-player, could be among this year’s picks, given that it was released in the U.S. in February. It’s not, though, because it was initially released in the U.K. in October 2014, made my Top 5 for that year, and I don’t go for double-dipping. She also put out – on her own label – the odds-and-sods B Sides & Rarities collection in late 2014, which was given wider release (and received many nice reviews) this year. It, too, is worth tracking down – as is my first Honorable Mention “album” of the year, her (very) recent Love Is the Answer.

IMG_0072“Album” is in quotes because Love Is the Answer is an extended play that features the Todd Rundgren/Utopia title tune and re-recordings of three songs that didn’t make the B Sides set due to (I believe) licensing issues – the Hall & Oates classic “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do),” which she first sang with Hall on Live from Daryl’s House; Carole King’s “Being at War With Each Other,” which she first covered with the Brit R&B singer Lemar at a BBC Radio 2 event in 2011; and a silky-smooth spin of William DeVaughan’s “Be Thankful for What You Got,” which she also sang with Daryl Hall on his TV show.

My second Honorable Mention is another E.P. – Greta Isaac’s Oh Babe. My only criticism: its brevity. I reviewed it (and her 2014 E.P., Down by the Water) earlier this year, so won’t repeat myself other than to say: They’re magical songs that resonate long after the final note fades to silence.

liannelahavasI discovered my No. 5 album during one of our regular B&N jaunts. While sitting in the cafe flipping through a Mojo or Uncut magazine, and sipping a vente white chocolate mocha with an extra shot of espresso and a dash of raspberry (a delicious confection, I hasten to add), an uptempo melody whirled and swirled around us like an age-old friend, yet it was one I’d never before heard. Diane liked the music, too, and before you know it I was headed to the music department to learn who, exactly, was singing. Lianne La Havas, an up-and-coming Brit jazz-R&B singer, was her name.

Blood, the album in question, is an intoxicating ride of melodies that move and groove like the soul classics of yesteryear, with Prince and Janet Jackson influences, too – most notably on “What You Don’t Do.”

rickielee_desireMy pick for No. 4: Rickie Lee Jones’ The Other Side of Desire. As I wrote in my Nothing to Do But Today: Top 5 post in July, the album “possesses a vibe that radiates instant familiarity.” Part of that, I’m sure, is due to me being a longtime fan of the hipster songstress, but I’d like to think the larger reason is because of the music itself. “Feet on the Ground,” which I highlighted then, remains one favorite (and my overall favorite track from the set). “Jimmy Choos” is another –

– and “Christmas in New Orleans” yet another. Here’s a stripped-down version of it:

neil_monsantoMy pick for No. 3: The Monsanto Years by Neil Young & Promise of the Real. Oh, I can hear the groans from some folks, most of whom either haven’t heard it or, if they have, didn’t actually listen to it. (That’s a distinction not everyone will get, I’m sure.) It’s an anti-GMO, anti-corporate, anti-greed broadside with much heart and (black) humor strewn throughout – which explains why the songs resonated with audiences when he played them live with Promise of the Real over the summer. They possess a glorious Ragged Glory vibe, with thick chords, even thicker rhythms, and melodies that linger long after the morning fog has burned off. “Big Box,” which conjures “Crime in the City” and “Ordinary People,” is one highlight; and the opening “A New Day for Love” is another.

Melody Gardot’s Currency of ManIMG_4459, my No. 2 for the year, is a riveting, R&B-infused collection of songs, possessing fat chords, sinewy melodies and incisive lyrics that delve deep into the state of the world. Homelessness and racism are among the themes  – as are matters of the psyche and soul. In concert, as is often the case, the music took off into a deeper dimension, but the recorded effort is just plain great. “Bad News,” as I wrote here, sounds like an out-take from Peggy Lee’s Black Coffee. Above all, though, there’s that voice…

…and “Preacherman,” the lead single, is a haunting, powerful and propulsive ode.

In fact, in almost any other year, that likely would’ve been my No. 1 (and, for a time, it was). This year, however, the honor goes to… (drumroll, please!)… If I Was by the Staves, three sisters (Emily, Jessica and Camilla Staveley-Taylor) from England whose harmony-rich folk-rock songs echo those of Crosby, Stills & Nash. In my initial take on the Greta Isaac E.P.s, I opined that when she and her sisters blend their voices together it’s akin to listening in on heaven. The same is true here. Whether one is singing alone, their voices are joining together or their vocals are swooping in and out like doves from above, it’s a sonic marvel.

The martial drums in “Make It Holy,” for instance, are a perfect touch, as is the addition of Justin Vernon’s voice to the mix. (Vernon, who’s the force behind Bon Iver, produced the album.)

As is common when creating my year-end lists, I listen to all the contenders, some of which have been collecting digital dust for months. I didn’t have to with this, which was released in March, simply because I’ve never stopped playing it for too long. (About the only time I did: in the initial weeks after the Currency of Man‘s release.) Many nights, after climbing into my car for my commute home from work, I plug my Pono Player into the aux jack, select If I Was and crank it up. (Listening to it loud is a requirement.) That it’s grown stronger with repeated listens speaks volumes.

One song that strikes me is “Sadness Don’t Own Me.”

Another: “Let Me Down.”

And another:

And that’s that.