Archive for the ‘Stone Foundation’ Category

’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.

I spent Saturday afternoon listening to Holocaust survivor Daniel Goldsmith share his story. His family lived in Antwerp, Belgium, which was invaded by Nazi Germany in May 1940, when he was 8 years old. As in all their other occupied territories, the Nazis instituted a series of anti-Jewish laws. Then, in August 1942, they sent his father and other men to a forced labor camp in northern France. (As he learned many years after the war, several months later his father was sent to Auschwitz, where he died.) 

After he, his mother and 1-year-old sister narrowly averted capture by the Nazis during a roundup of the remaining Jews, his mother placed him and his sister in a Catholic convent and joined the underground as a courier. For safety’s sake, after several months he was shuttled to a series of orphanages, but one was eventually raided. He was sent to a prison, then another, and then another, and then was placed in a box car with other boys for transport to what likely would have been a death camp. They managed to escape, however. A 16-year-old boy pried the wood planks from the car, and they jumped from the moving train when it slowed for turns. They hid in the woods for several days before a priest in Perwez arranged for local families to take them in; and, this time, they remained safe until the Allies liberated the area in September 1944.

The story is representative of an era in human history that too few have educated themselves about. It’s not that history is being forgotten, per se. It’s that it’s being ignored. Most folks know the broad-brush outline of the past, but in the mad rush of modern life it’s easy to miss the similarities between then and now, and to look the other way when and if those similarities come into view. In Europe and the U.K., for example, anti-refugee sentiments and rising antisemitism are worrisome. In the U.S., at present, the latest example is the way some talk about the migrants seeking to escape the dire poverty and violence in Central America. Rather than seek a solution to stop them from fleeing in the first place, we’re told that they’re “bad people” and “criminals.”

It’s not that dissimilar to when we turned away the MS St. Louis in 1939.

In Trump’s America, people of good conscience are not allowed to disagree on how to address the problem without being vilified. Democrats, we’re told, are in league with the “bad people” – and always have been. On the flip side, some Democrats are equally as asinine in their assertions about Republicans.

In other words, for many, the political arena is no longer a venue where political philosophies compete. Instead, it’s become a battle of “us vs. them,” with the “them” forever cast as villains. But, as I wrote here, that’s a false construct. It’s actually, always, us vs. us.

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: What the World Needs Now…

1) U2 & Mary J. Blige – “One.”

2) Paul Weller – “Can You Heal Us (Holy Man)

3) Stone Foundation – “Heavenly Father”

4) Marvin Gaye – “What’s Going On” & “What’s Happening, Brother”

5) Rumer – “What the World Needs Now Is Love”

I’ve been grooving to tunes this week by way of a new set of headphones – the Tribit XFree Tune Bluetooth Headphones, which go for all of $50 on Amazon. They’re a tad heavier than the lightweight Bose AO2 I’ve used for much of the past decade, but – sound-wise – are as good. If you’re looking for a set yourself, check them out. (CNet thinks highly of them, too.)

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5…

1) Diane Birch – “In It for the Race.” The latest offering from the Church of Birch pastor is a tasty confection that, like all she does, doubles as a communion for the soul. Lyrically speaking, it’s about a Lothario who’s “in it for the chase.” Musically speaking, it conjures Diane’s debut, the classic Bible Belt, while retaining some of the figurative wisps of smoke that emanate from the grooves of Nous, her moody 2016 E.P.

 

2) Chloé Caroline – “Gypsy Daughter.” Although released in May ’18, this tasty tune is new to me. It’s accented by a Stevie Nicks vibe, and is quite addictive.

3) Bob Seger – “East Side Story.” Years long ago, I created a CDR of all the early Seger sides, from ’66 to ’70, none of which were in print at the time. I gathered them by hook and crook, and – by and large – the sound quality sucked. It didn’t matter. Alone, each track was good-to-great. Grouped together? They showed Seger as one of the great regional artists of the ‘60s. A few, including the Them-like “East Side Story,” surfaced on the Cameo-Parkway box set of 2005, but the rest seem destined to be lost to time. Which is why Friday’s release of Heavy Music: The Complete Cameo Recordings 1966-67 is so exciting. Backed by his first band, the Last Heard, the set collects Bob’s initial burst of singles. Let’s hope it’s the first of several such collections… 

4) The Stone Foundation – “Standing on the Top.” I’ve been grooving to the Foundation’s stellar Everybody, Anyone album this week. It gets stronger with each new play, and is a definite contender for my fabled Album of the Year honors.

5) Paul Weller – “The Soul Searchers.” The teaser tracks thus far released from Paul Weller’s forthcoming True Meanings album (street date: Sept. 14th) are a tantalizing lot, and no more so than this one.

Echoes from another era reverberate through much of Everybody, Anyone, the latest offering from the Midlands-based Stone Foundation. The 11 songs conjure, at times, Traffic, Earth, Wind & Fire, Steely Dan, War and similar groove-heavy acts of yore, as well as the Chi-Lites, Marvin Gaye and Van Morrison, yet the influences never overwhelm the music, which sounds fresh and immediate.

Neil Jones (guitar/vocals) and Neil Sheasby (bass/backing vocals) cowrote the songs, with an assist from Paul Weller on “Next Time Around.” Weller also plays on several tracks. (Which makes sense, given that the set was recorded at his Black Barn Studio.) There are additional guests, too, including Weller’s former Style Council mates Mick Talbot and Steve White. Singer-songwriter Kathryn Williams provides a sweet counterbalance to Jones’ grainy timber on “Don’t Walk Away”; and Hamish Stuart, formerly of Average White Band and Paul McCartney’s Flowers in the Dirt-era band, lends his distinct vocals to “Only You Can.” 

Yet the guest spots matter not. The “stars” here are Jones’ expressive voice, the band, and – most importantly – the songs themselves. They 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.

Here’s one highlight: the aforementioned “Don’t Walk Away.”

And another: “Give the Man a Hand.”

And another: “Next Time Around.” 

And, finally: “Heavenly Father.”

In short, I’ll be playing Everybody, Anyone again and again for quite some time.

The set is available to stream and buy at all the usual outlets, as well as from the band’s website. (The package I picked up from them comes with a cool making-of documentary, as well as autographed LP and CD.)

The track list: