Archive for the ‘Rosanne Cash’ Category

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)

As I write, it’s a gray, damp May morning in the Delaware Valley. And while the Earth’s revolutions around the sun push us, ever-so-slowly, into a soggy afternoon, I’m spinning back into the past – to one of my favorite years, 1985.

On the very first day of the first post-Orwellian year, a new channel named VH1 debuted on many cable systems across the nation, including mine. Its name was short for Video Hits One, and it aired music videos. And only music videos. But unlike its sibling channel MTV, its focus was less on the hot pop and rock hits of the day, and more on adult fare. Like jazz, soul, adult contemporary and even some country.

College, work, and life kept me busy. I was 19, attending the commuter-college paradise that was Penn State Ogontz (now Penn State Abington), and working as many hours as possible as a sales associate at a department store at the Willow Grove Mall. What free time I had was mostly music-centered – LPs, stereo, headphones, music magazines. But one day that late spring or summer, and I can’t remember when, I clicked onto VH1 – and was greeted by this video:

I bought the corresponding LP, Rhythm & Romance, not long thereafter, on July 17th, and was instantly smitten with the album as a whole. It marries the SoCal rock aesthetic, updated for the ‘80s, with a country heart. The opening track, “Hold On,” features a taut guitar solo. 

The third song was a Benmont Tench-Tom Petty song, “Never Be You,” that Maria McKee first sang on the Streets of Fire soundtrack the year before…though I didn’t learn that for quite some time. (This was pre-Internet, remember. Not all factoids were a mouse click away.) 

Other highlights include “Second to No One.” I never saw the video before now, and must say that it’s quite stunning.

Also: “Halfway House,” which include these truly insightful lyrics: “We’re all in the halfway house/Or so it sometimes seems/Trying to find the truth inside/Instead of getting by on dreams.”

“Never Gonna Hurt,” another favorite, is as spiky as Rosanne’s hair on the cover – it sounds like a lost Jam classic.

Actually – see the track list below? Those are the highlights. All 10 songs. Rhythm & Romance is one of those albums best listened to from start to finish.

A few years back, Rolling Stone published an excellent salute to the album in honor of its 30th anniversary. It included this surprising bon mot from Rosanne’s memoir, Composed: “I still cannot stand to listen to Rhythm & Romance,” especially the “sophomoric, navel-gazing songs.” It just goes to show that, sometimes, the artist is wrong. To my ears, Rhythm & Romance is a classic.

In the year since it was released, of course, Rosanne has released a string of good, great and equally essential albums; and Diane and I have seen her in concert many times. But whenever I hear or think of her, I can’t help but to think of this album.

Side One:

  1. Hold On
  2. I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me
  3. Never Be You
  4. Second to No One
  5. Halfway House

Side Two:

  1. Pink Bedroom
  2. Never Alone
  3. My Old Man
  4. Never Gonna Hurt
  5. Closing Time

The year 1985 is likely best remembered for the simultaneous Live Aid concerts that occurred in London and Philadelphia on Saturday, July 13th. There were many performances that day and night – some good, some not, and many somewhere in-between – but the one that probably had the biggest impact, at least in the U.S., was U2’s. Their 18-minute set epitomized, and still epitomizes, everything good about this crazy little thing called rock ’n’ roll.

In every other respect, the year – like 1986 – was a transitional time. I wrote about it in my Top 5 for April 1985, so hopefully won’t repeat too much of myself here. In short: America was still rebounding from back-to-back recessions that occurred earlier in the decade. Unemployment stood at 7.3 percent at year’s start and fell to 6.7 by year’s end. Inflation was, thankfully, almost a non-entity, averaging 3.6 percent; and since the average wage increased by 4.26 percent from 1984, that meant most employed folks came out .66 percent ahead.

me_chevette_85As I’ve mentioned before, in ’85 I worked part-time as a department-store sales associate and, during the summer, worked full-time hours. I had no complaints. I had a car – a 1979 Chevette, dubbed the “Hankmobile” by my folks because I plastered an “I’m a Fan of Hank Jr.” bumper sticker on the back. (Yes, I was – and remain, to an extent – a fan of Hank’s, though that’s grist for another post somewhere down the road.) The Hankmobile got the job done – perhaps not in style, but so what? I bought a tape player, installed it and was good to go. (That’s me, sometime that summer, beside the car.)

Among the year’s top films: Back to the Future, The Goonies, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, St. Elmo’s Fire, The Color Purple, Witness, Rocky IV and Rambo: First Blood Part II. Back to the Future and The Breakfast Club rank among my most-watched films of all time – just as my wife can watch Remember the Titans ad infinitum, I can watch those over and over and over again.

The year’s top songs included “Careless Whisper” and “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” by Wham!; “Like a Virgin and “Crazy for You” by Madonna; “I Want to Know What Love Is” by Foreigner; “I Feel for You” by Chaka Khan; “Out of Touch” by Hall & Oates; “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears; “Money for Nothing” by Dire Straits; “We Are the World” by USA for Africa; and, yep, “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by Simple Minds.

The year’s top news stories included President Reagan’s controversial visit to a Bitburg, Germany, military cemetery; and the hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship by Palestinian terrorists. Closer to home: the Philadelphia Flyers’ phenomenal goalie, Pelle Lindbergh, died in a car accident; and Philadelphia mayor Wilson Goode dropped a bomb on the city – literally – that caused 65 homes to go up in flames.

For me, the year is noteworthy for other reasons, too: After two years of commuter-college life at Penn State’s Ogontz campus (now known as Penn State Abington), I headed to the mothership, University Park, in State College, Pa., in late August. It was, indeed, a “Happy Valley.” I had a good roommate that first year, made good friends (one of whom became my roommate my second year), and – like most everyone else I knew – partied way too much. I joined the Folk Show staff on WPSU, contributed to a quarterly student magazine, and discovered the joy of selling plasma twice a week.

That same fall, an independent record store opened in town: City Lights Records, where I often whiled away time and money. Here’s a student film from 2008 that tells its story:

img_2094Anyway, enough of the introduction; it’s time for today’s Top 5: 1985. As in, my Top 5 albums from that storied year… (all of which, small surprise, I’ve previously featured in these pages.)

1) Lone Justice – Lone Justice. Two words – and one name – as to why this tops my list: Maria McKee. The Little Diva, as she was nicknamed at some point in her career, is absolutely riveting throughout. Truth be told, to my ears, when she sings – whether with Lone Justice or on any of her stellar solo albums (and they’re all stellar), there’s no one better. Ever. That’s how I feel in the moment, at least. True, the delirium passes when the music ends, but man! I never want it to end.

2) The Long Ryders – State of Our Union. I wrote in my Top 5: Summer 1985 list that the Ryders “basically laid down the blueprint of the alt.country/Americana movement a decade before it became popular”; and this LP, to my ears, is their tour de force. As with Lone Justice’s debut, it’s an album – originally vinyl, then CD and now that CD digitalized as FLAC files – that I’ve returned to time and again through the decades. It never gets old. “State of My Union,” a Chuck Berry-infused, tongue-in-cheek tour of the South, is one of my favorite tracks, but they’re all great.

3) John Cougar Mellencamp – Scarecrow. A damn good album. “Minutes to Memories,” which I featured in my Top 5 for October 1985, is one highlight; “Small Town” is another. On this album, and the one (Lonesome Jubilee) that followed, Mellencamp tackled subjects and themes – the rural reality of the Reagan Age and small-town life, primarily – too often avoided by his rock ’n’ roll peers, no doubt because they hadn’t lived it. He had, and it shows.

4) Emmylou Harris – Ballad of Sally Rose. I’m sure I rank this higher than most would, but it’s the album that made this boy a fan. As I wrote in my remembrance of her 1985 concert at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, I bought it on vinyl on February 17th; picked up a double-album cassette of Pieces of the Sky and Elite Hotel on March 2nd; and saw her play Sally Rose from start to finish on March 29th. Perhaps it was that condensed introduction – some might say, instant obsession – with her music, but…wow. This set still packs an emotional punch. (For those not aware, it’s a fictionalized account of her relationship with Gram Parsons.)

5) Rosanne Cash – Rhythm & Romance. And, finally… Rosie! As I explained in that Summer 1985 piece, I discovered Rosie and this album via VH1.

And a few runners-up…

The Three O’Clock – Arrive Without Traveling

10,000 Maniacs – The Wishing Chair

Jane Wiedlin – Jane Wieldin

Pete Townshend – White City: A Novel

IMG_5362March 18th, 1993, is the date of this Rolling Stone. Theoretically, then, it arrived in my mailbox a few days after the Storm of the Century walloped the East Coast and just a few days before the start of spring. At the time, Diane and I lived in a quadplex at the end of a dead-end street that ran up against a thicket of trees – a perfect place for drifting snow to settle. In reality, however, it likely arrived closer to March 4th, as magazines routinely pre-dated their issues to help with newsstand sales. (Who wants to buy yesterday’s news?)

That impending snowstorm aside, life was good. We owned a computer – a 286 that ran DOS – and accessed the pre-Internet via Prodigy, which featured bulletin boards, chat rooms, email to fellow users, and the news.

10K_EdenWhen I think back on that winter, though, the first thing that comes to mind isn’t the weather or Prodigy, but an album: Our Time in Eden by 10,000 Maniacs. We saw them in September 1992, 12 days before its release, and…it just became one of “those” albums for me. I’d play it, and then I’d play it again. And again. And again, after that.

Anyway, the cover story by Kim France, a staff writer at Sassy magazine, turns out not to be as in-depth as it could have been – two pages and part of a third isn’t enough space for that – but it’s a worthwhile read, explaining the band’s rising popularity following the “critical and financial disappointment” of Blind Man’s Zoo (1989). Natalie Merchant’s face graces the cover; and the shot inside features the entire band.

IMG_5363One sentence: “An atypically optimistic hit single, ‘These Are Days,’ as performed by an exhilarated Merchant at the MTV Inaugural Ball, was a highlight of the evening – a ‘Don’t Stop’ of the MTV generation.”

A paragraph: “Our Time in Eden is indeed a departure for the Maniacs, and many fans insist it’s the band at its best. Teetering on the edge of soft rock without quite going over the precipice, Eden is brightened by some flashy touches – like James Brown’s horns section sitting in on a couple of eminently radio-friendly songs, ‘Candy Everybody Wants’ and ‘Few and Far Between.’ The issue-oriented songs, long a Maniacs mainstay, are there, too, but much of the album concerns the intricacies of personal relationships. Merchant, who could have been called remote and even moralistic in earlier forays, displays an ability to get into other people’s minds with a dexterity and empathy that was only hinted at in previous albums.”

And a quote from Natalie: “I look at my early records as term papers that maybe would’ve been better buried in a box in the attic, and taken out ten years later and chuckled about.”

Today’s Top 5:

1) 10,000 Maniacs – “Noah’s Dove.” A lush, piano-driven song with lyrics about a fallen angel from the perspective of someone still behind the gates: not a typical opening track. Yet, it sets the mood (and theme) for Our Time in Eden as a whole, and does so in a narcotic-like manner.

IMG_53642) Rosanne Cash – “If There’s a God on My Side.” The Wheel, Rosanne’s follow-up to the sparse Interiors, follows the same basic blueprint as its predecessor – love, relationships, breakups – yet isn’t a “lather, rinse, repeat” release. I.e., it may explore the same terrain, but mines new veins of angst and pain along the way, such as “Roses in the Fire” and “You Won’t Let Me In.” As former Philadelphia Inquirer music critic Tom Moon writes in this review: “The Wheel is hardly carefree, but no longer is Cash obsessed with conveying the minute details that made Interiors so daunting.” He also says that “If There’s a God on My Side” closes the album “with an elaboration on the lonesome desperation Cash has hinted at elsewhere. It’s a plea for a moment of clarity amid turmoil, and it uses the pathos of old-school country to maximum effect. The pain is palpable, and so is the doubt, and in these things lie the raw matter of Cash’s art.”

IMG_53673) Juliana Hatfield – “Everybody Loves Me but You.” In an incongruous pairing, Juliana Hatfield opened for the B-52s at Radio City Music Hall in New York City on January 15, 1993, and reviewer Elysa Gardner is both cruel and kind in her critique: “Hatfield has an impressive voice – deceptively girlish but supple and clear, with a fine raspy bottom – and she’s a surprisingly emotive guitarist. But she would do well to focus less on writing songs about how tough it is to be a girl and more on projecting the strength and directness that are a woman’s best defense against sexism, in rock & roll or in life.”

This is Juliana’s setlist from that night: Supermodel/My Sister/Lost and Saved/I See You/Tamara/Here Comes the Pain/Rider/President Garfield/Ugly/Everybody Loves Me but You/Nirvana/I Got No idols.

jhatfield_heybabeAfter seeing that, Gardner’s take comes off as questionable. Here’s what Ann Powers, in a review that appeared in the New York Times, said of the same performance: “Her trio turned its amps up loud and sped through Ms. Hatfield’s bluntly personal accounts of frustration, self-doubt and hope. She’s still discovering her own talent, but Ms. Hatfield is an artist whose hesitant steps will lead alternative rock into its next mutation.”

“Everybody Loves Me but You” hails from Juliana’s first solo album, the wonderful Hey Babe. (Incidentally, that’s not Juliana’s hair on the cover of Hey Babe – it’s a wig.)

IMG_53694) Belly – “Feed the Tree.” A great song from the short-lived, Boston-based band. Tanya Donelly, formerly of the Breeders and Throwing Muses (who I saw open for R.E.M. in 1989), founded the group with some childhood pals, wrote most of the songs, played guitar and sang lead. Star, their debut album, was more than just solid – it was a delight. In addition to this super-catchy tune, it features the rocking “Dusted,” sweet “Gepetto” and dazzling title track; and plays well from start to finish. It was a hit with the modern-rock crowd; and was one of my favorites of the year.

5) Willie Nelson – “American Tune.” In the Random Notes section, there’s this: “Legendary singer-songwriter/IRS punching bag Willie Nelson has recruited a calvacade of music-industry heavyweights – including Sinead O’Connor, Bonnie Raitt, Don Was, Paul Simon and Bob Dylan, with whom he collaborated via fax – for his upcoming album, Across the Borderline.

Willie always sounds great, of course, but he’s not always consistent, album-wise. This one, however, is top-notch. (Diane actually heard it first, knew it would be something I’d love and surprised me with it.)