Archive for the ‘The Old Grey Cat’ Category

Here’s something from my digital attic: A review from the original Old Grey Cat website, circa 1999, that focused on an out-of-print CD few had heard then and even fewer have heard now. A few months prior, I stumbled across it in the same overly bright CD store I mentioned in my take on Juliana Hatfield’s Bed. I likely payed a dollar for it.

One note: My CD went the way as most of our other CDs at the end of 2018, when we sold them prior to our move to North Carolina, but I still have and listen to the MP3s on occasion. Because of that, and the fact that there is no evidence of the CD online, the graphics are remnants of the late ‘90s, when the standard display for computer monitors was 800 x 600 pixels (and many monitors could only display the previous standard, 640 x 480). Which is to say, what looks small now looked normal-sized then.

One other note: I’ve lightly edited the piece. I had a propensity for using expletives in print back then, but – aside from an occasional “damn” or “hell” – find doing so rather gauche now. (Call it a curse of growing older.)

And another note: I discovered an article (written by one John Morgan) about the band in the Sept. 12th, 1997, edition of VMI’s student-run newspaper, The Cadet. I’ve included that after my review, as it fills in several blanks, including the band’s history.

A final note: Four or five years after I uploaded the review to my site, one of the band members emailed me to thank me for it. He had stumbled upon it and was surprised that anyone beyond their circle had heard and liked the album.  

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“R.I.P.: Rock ‘n’ Roll.”

That was going to be my title for this review. Why? Bands come. Bands go. It’s the cardinal rule of rock ‘n’ roll: For every group that makes it, tens of thousands fail to get any farther than the garage. And even those that manage to make it to the driveway…there’s no guarantee. They’re just as likely to end up flipping burgers at the local fast-food joint as they are to make money from an independently financed and released CD, if they choose that route. In a very real sense, talent means nothing. How many great bands never get beyond the local dive?

From all accounts, the Whethermen were a happenin’ band in and around William & Mary, that fine institution of higher education in Virginia. Notice that I used the past tense there. They were a happenin’ band. They broke up earlier this summer – I don’t know the specifics, but I’d wager the parting had less to do with music and more to do with graduation.

Fare thee well, Whethermen.

This CD, then, recorded and released in 1997, serves as a lasting testament to their talents. I know, I know. I can hear it now: Why spotlight a two-year-old CD by an obscure band that’s kaput? I’ve asked myself that time and again since And Let Me Tell You Something… came into my life a few months back. I’d put it on, groove to it and think: Should I write about this? There are so many – too many – CDs that come my way. Why take my time with this? And especially when I look around the site. There are too many sections that I’ve started and stopped, intending to return but…I get pulled away. Distracted.

By CDs like this.

To the point: And Let Me Tell You Something…ain’t no over-produced hunk of aluminum. It’s alt.country minus the twang, similar in that the music has a pulse. You can feel it thump-thump-thumping as clearly as the heart in your chest.

Consisting of Knox Hubard (vocals, guitars), Jesse Chappell (bass, fretless bass, harmonica, penny whistle) and Dave Murawski (drums, percussion), their sound is relatively straightforward, with the focus where it should be: the songs. They remind me somewhat of Velvet Crush, circa Teenage Symphonies to God. This is a bit more acoustic, though. “Hey You,” the opener, jumps right in: “What she give you for the number? What she give you for the time?” Fact is, it’s a great kickoff to what proves to be an excellent album “Shari,” the disc’s third track, is another memorable tune. “Hold your breath and just reach out your hand/Shari…how’d you get so alone?” It’s a call to a friend, one suspects, but really it doesn’t matter. It’s as much about me as it is you, a personal message expanding to become a metaphor. And, as David Crosby says, metaphors are the driving force behind great songs. Here, the songs blend together – always a good sign – and become inseparable, one leading into the next, linked together by texture but differentiated by themes and tempo. The album is best heard in one sitting, standing, party, etc., with each song building upon the previous. It’s an “album” in the grandest sense of the word. One of the best moments, “Execution,” starts softly, Hubard offering a plaintive vocal. “To crawl away from justice/was to succumb to fate…” The pieces fit together here, a gradual layering effect that adds to the mood the song creates. “You still got a heart,” Hubard pleads and exclaims at once.

It’s a shame that the Whethermen have broken up. That’s about all I can say. God knows where you can find the CD, now. But, if by chance you happen across it – don’t think twice; it’s alright. Plunk down your hard-earned change and enjoy…

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Every year about this time, we look back at the past 12 months – in the parlance of The Old Grey Cat, that’s called “Remember December.” But as the New Year nears, the past begins to fade from the rearview mirror and we focus on what matters most: the road ahead. We often vow to do this or that to improve ourselves in some fashion. In my case, for example, one goal is to shed the 10 pounds I’ve put on since the work-from-home life began in March. (Sad to say, but playing with my cat doesn’t burn as many calories as I thought.)

I also have a few resolutions as it pertains to this blog:

  1. More First Impressions. 
  2. More Essentials.
  3. More Other Stuff – aka free-standing essays about matters du-jour and long ago, generally music-related but occasionally not. In years past, I generally coupled these with my Top 5s, but… 
  4. No more Top 5s – unless they’re focused on a single artist or band, that is. The scattershot entries, while fun to create, are – historically speaking – the least popular thing I do. (In other words, sayonara to my oblique homage to High Fidelity!)
  5. Better organization. I’ve already made progress on this: Over the past few days, I’ve streamlined my many categories into ones that make sense. Now, if someone wants to use the categories to look up a specific artist or band, they’ll find relevant entries and not cursory mentions in any of my 234 (yes, you read right) Top 5 posts. (One exception: My much-ballyhooed Album of the Year Awards.) I contemplated doing the same with the individual years and just relying on decades, but…they remain for now.

I also have a few other cards up my sleeve for the New Year. Until then…

I listened to Jackson Browne’s Hold Out yesterday and again today. It’s an album I rediscovered earlier this year after a four-decade break and, in the months since, have played a fair bit. It takes me back to the summer I turned 15, when life’s complications seemed simpler than the simplicities of life today. Granted, the Iranian hostage crisis was ongoing, the economy was anemic and NHL linesman Leon Stickle’s non-call on an obvious offsides had just cost the Philadelphia Flyers their Stanley Cup dream for the season, but I was a teenager. The promise of tomorrow loomed large.

Back then, I often slipped headphones over my ears, laid on my bedroom floor and escaped into in the music emanating from my Realistic stereo system’s turntable. (The advertisement below is for the model I had, which was a Christmas gift from my parents in 1976.) The diamond/sapphire stylus danced along the record’s grooves and discerned my mood as if by magic, never failing to lift me up when sad and/or making good times better.

In 2020, however, the promise of tomorrow often seemed non-existent. Matters of life and death, and tinpot despots, turned the year into a series of vile vignettes that played on a never-ending loop. The incessant drone made writing a challenge, especially in the early going. Many posts read not as the insightful essays I intended but wordy YouTube adverts. C’est la vie. (I’m reminded of the Wallace Stevens poem “Bouquet of Roses in Sunlight,” essentially about the limits of language: “It is like a flow of meanings with no speech/And of as many meanings as of men.”) Yet, even in the bleakest of times, I delved into matters tempo, timbre and the heart with regularity: This has been the first year in which I didn’t take a weekend off.

All of which leads to this: My favorite posts of the year not about Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young. (Those are always among my best.) They’re arranged chronologically, not by preference.

1) The Essentials: Indigo Girls – Self-Titled (1/5/20). Extrapolating insights about life writ large, especially as it relates to a generational sea change, is near impossible, but this piece about the Indigo Girls does it well. As I joke in the lede, “for those of us who came of age during them, the 1980s were akin to the 1960s with the 6 closed off.” (I.e., a lot of freedom had been lost.)

2) The Essentials: Jackson Browne’s Hold Out (3/28/20). Although it suffers from a few too many embedded videos, this is a good example of what I aim for with my Essentials entries, but don’t always achieve. (Plus, it features an oblique allusion to one of my favorite works of fiction, Truman Capote’s Other Voices, Other Rooms.)

3) Roberta Flack’s First Take: The 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition – The Review (8/8/20). The much-delayed reissue, which was pushed back from its original April release date due to the pandemic, is a listening experience well worth undertaking; and I delve deep not just into the music, but its backstory.

4) First Impressions: The Wine of Youth by Zach Phillips (8/29/2020). It’s easy to lose one’s self in despair, especially during this pandemic, but Zach’s album helped me rise like a phoenix from the embers of a deep depression. Perhaps because of that, this review was – hands down – the best thing I wrote all year. 

5) Today’s Top 5: Albums AWOL from Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Albums (9/27/2020). As Paul Simon sings in “The Boy in the Bubble,” “…every generation sends a hero up the pop charts.” Every generation also recasts the past, but rarely without controversy. One example: Rolling Stone’s 2020 all-time album countdown. It ruffled some feathers, especially amongst older music fans, but – as I write in my post – “These lists are not of ‘all time,’ but of their time; they reflect the zeitgeist of the moment, and that moment is generally set by those younger than me.”

And, with that, the annual “Remember December” navel-gazing exercise, circa 2020, has come to a close. On Wednesday, I’ll share my blog-related resolutions for the coming year and then begin implementing them on January 1st.

The Old Grey Cat is wrapping up a banner year – it’s had more visitors and page views over the past 12 months than all of 2014, ’15, ’16 and ’17 combined. (Truly, that stat staggers my mind.) One reason, of course, is the pandemic – with everyone stuck at home, the more time we’ve spent online. Another reason: the wealth of archival posts I’ve accrued since launching this blog in July 2014Unlike new posts, which thrive due to Facebook (and occasionally Twitter), older entries subsist from search engines – Google, especially.

Like most weekend bloggers, I’m sure, I share new posts to my personal Facebook page – where friends generally ignore or miss them – as well as to corresponding Facebook groups. (I don’t join groups to post links, however; that would be rude. Most are fan communities I’ve been a part of for years.) Then, after the figurative FB fire goes out, search engines occasionally reignite the flame. Such has always been the case for this blog, at any rate.

And, with that, here are my overall Top 20 posts of the year (along with the dates that I posted them).

  1. Neil Young: The Best of the Unofficial Canon (9/27/2015)
  2. First Impressions: Neil Young’s Archives II (12/13/2020)
  3. Of Concerts Past: Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band in Philadelphia, 9/24/1999 (7/6/2019)
  4. First Impressions: Bruce Springsteen – The Live Series: Stripped Down (7/25/2020)
  5. The Natalie Merchant Collection – The Review (7/4/2017)
  6. Melody Gardot: Live in Europe – The Review (2/11/2018)
  7. The Essentials: Maria McKee’s Life Is Sweet (6/23/2018)
  8. Shelby Lynne: Here I Am (Movie & Soundtrack) – The Review (8/12/2018)
  9. First Impressions: “Letter to You” by Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band (9/12/2020)
  10. The Essentials: Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Broken Arrow (12/22/2017)
  11. The Essentials: Juliana Hatfield – God’s Foot demos (7/26/2020)
  12. The Essentials: Neil Young – Time Fades Away (5/5/2018)
  13. About (7/12/2014)
  14. Today’s Top 5: Linda Ronstadt’s Rare TV Appearances (1/21/2019)
  15. First Impressions: Neil Young’s Homegrown (6/20/2020)
  16. First Impressions: Melody Gardot’s “From Paris With Love” (6/21/2020)
  17. Neil Young & the Santa Monica Flyers: ROXY – Tonight’s the Night Live -The Review (4/28/2018)
  18. Neil Young’s 1973, Part I: Lonely Weekend, Last Dance, the Tonight’s the Night Acetate (& More) (4/24/2018)
  19. The Essentials: Jackson Browne’s Late for the Sky (2/16/2020)
  20. Today’s Top 5: Linda Ronstadt – Duets (2/12/2017)

(For my Top 20 New Posts of 2020, click here.)