Archive for the ‘Top 5’ Category

Typically, ‘round here, this time of year becomes a bacchanal of music and memories I’ve come to dub “Remember December.” There’s rhyme, reason, Christmas music and good cheer, plus best-of lists, recaps, frankincense and myrrh, not to mention a countdown of my most popular posts of the past 12 months. I jumpstarted the best-of fun in late November, of course, so there’ll be a little less of that – and no Concerts of the Year countdown – but there are plenty of other knick-knacks to stuff in the stocking. That fun begins next week. Today, however, it’s my stream-of-conscious musings about matters large and small, while tomorrow I plan to share my thoughts on the Neil Young Archives website and Neil’s mammoth Archives II set.

Anyway, this morning – as most Saturdays – I found myself in a line of cars waiting for curbside pickup at a grocery store while soaking my soul in the music of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. No, not his Letter to You album, though it could well have been, but an archival delight I downloaded from his Live Downloads store last year: Their 1988 concert at New York’s Madison Square Garden. I began listening to it again a few weeks back – and, wow. Just wow. It’s an excellent show that features many songs from the Tunnel of Love LP, though only a handful of pre-River classics. There’s no “Badlands,” no “Promised Land,” no “Thunder Road.” “Backstreets” is present. “Born to Run” is, too, though in a slowed-down acoustic arrangement. There’s also this:

Depending upon one’s age and musical inclinations, you may or may not enjoy it. Me? I can’t get enough. Which leads to this: When the history of these times are written, what will be said? That I momentarily unfollowed someone on Twitter because she described Springsteen’s songs as “either boring or bellowing” and followed that with “I don’t care for his music”? Of course not. But, no doubt, scholars will note an uptick in such petty reactions (as mine was) to what, pre-pandemic, were minor annoyances generally ignored. Daily stresses cause that.

Joss Stone’s new single, “Walk With Me,” is a good way to relieve that tension. It’s quickly become one of my favorite songs of the year.

Of course, one reason for the overreaction to little things is that the big things, by and large, are beyond our control – the pandemic and politics. On the latter front, despite his Supreme Court loss, the tinpot despot’s nefarious plot to upend the U.S. election isn’t over yet. Now he’ll be pushing a slew of congressional prostitutes to screw the U.S. Constitution on January 6th, when Congress is scheduled to accept the Electoral College results. Their fealty to democracy is less than their fealty to cash – or, in this case, most likely the promise of cash from his new Save America PAC. (FYI: As the contractors who helped build his Atlantic City casinos discovered, he rarely pays out.)

Breath deep. Exhale. That’s what I tell myself, at any rate. And lose yourself in such cool performances as this one from Jillette Johnson. It builds and builds, but never explodes – a Mazzy Star-like rendition, if that makes sense. It’s hypnotic.

Friday night, while scrolling through my iPhone’s Photo Library, I came across ancient family photos that I imported via the Photomyne app while packing for our Big Move in late 2018. When used, taking a picture of a page in a photo album results in auto-cropped files for each photo thereon. The big plus: It’s faster and easier than the scanning process, as it only requires a click. It also, obviously, preserves the integrity of the album(s). The downside: The quality, as shown to the left (that’s me in the early 1970s), is nowhere near as good as a scan. As thumbnails, the photos of photos look okay – washed-out, but good enough to recall the moment in time. Up close, however, they’re somewhat blotchy and pixelated.

Cover songs work in similar fashion. At their best, they’re metaphoric pipelines to and from the collective unconscious, shedding insights not just into the singer and song, but all who have braved the same musical journey. At their worst, they’re little more than carbon copies of the original, somewhat faded and hard to hear, but enjoyable nonetheless.

And, with that out of the way, here’s Today’s Top 5: Cover Songs, Vol. 55…

1) Courtney Marie Andrews – “One of These Days.” This Neil Young song (originally from Harvest Moon) is obviously dear to CMA’s heart, as she’s covered it before.

2) Phoebe Bridgers – “If We Make It Through December.” So, a few years back, I compiled a list of songs Courtney Marie should cover… and this Merle Haggard song was one of them. To my ears and heart, it’s one of the greatest songs written about making it through tough times – and Bridgers does it justice.

3) Malin Pettersen and Darling West – “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” This is a haunting beautiful rendition of a song that is, itself, hauntingly beautiful.

4) Margo Price – “River.” Who hasn’t covered this non-Christmas song? Yet when it’s done right, as it is by Ms. Price, who can complain? The heart aches while listening to it.

5) Molly Tuttle – “White Rabbit.” Molly boards the Jefferson Airplane for a flight high above the clouds with this very cool rendition of a Summer of Love standard.

And one bonus…

Scary Pockets featuring Rett Madison – “I’m on Fire.” I’m somewhat over covers of this Boss tune, as the Staves’ rendition from a few years back sort of made all others moot. But this kind of redraws the blueprint. (Rett, by the way, is an up-and-coming L.A.-based singer-songwriter – her recent single, “Kerosene,” absolutely smokes; and Scary Pockets is a funk band with a knack for cool covers.)

 

Last night, I found myself watching Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice on HBO Max. I first saw the film last fall, when Diane and I journeyed into Durham on a weekend afternoon to see it at the historic Carolina Theatre; although those were days of miracle and wonder, aka no masks or social distancing, there weren’t many folks in attendance. Part of that was due, no doubt, to it being a late-day matinee, but I’d wager a larger factor was that its target audience was content to wait for the film to show up on TV.

Anyway, then and now, I found it a well-done documentary filled with cogent insights from Linda and such friends and colleagues as Peter Asher, John Boylan, David Geffen, Emmylou Harris, Don Henley, Dolly Parton and J.D. Souther, as well as many clips that could well have been (and likely were) lifted from YouTube – there were only a handful I hadn’t seen before, in other words. (The Rare TV Appearances DVD collection features many of them, too, including the footage of her being interviewed at her Malibu home.) Which was and is fine. At the Carolina Theatre, it was cool to see them play on a movie screen; and last night, it was cool to see them flicker across our 42-inch TV. (Although I can pull up YouTube on the TV, I rarely do – surfing the site is much more of a computer experience for me.)

Which leads to today’s Top 5: Linda Ronstadt Live. Given the idiosyncrasies of YouTube, where unauthorized videos come and go, some of these will likely go missing in the days, months and years ahead, so play them early and often….

1) Don Kirchner’s Rock Concert. Linda appeared on the March 14th, 1974, episode of the music series. (The other performers that night: Jackson Browne and the Eagles.) Her set features “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore,” “When Will I Be Loved,” “Heart is Like a Wheel,” “You’re No Good,” “You Can Close Your Eyes” and “Silver Threads and Golden Needles.”

2) Passaic, NJ, 12/6/1975. Although the one-hour, seven-minute concert is in black and white, Linda’s vocals are accented by the hues of the heart. The set: “Colorado”; “That’ll Be the Day”; “Love Has No Pride”; “Silver Threads and Golden Needles”; “Willin’”; “Many Rivers to Cross”; “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore”; “When Will I Be Loved”; “Lose Again”; “Faithless Love”; “Roll Um Easy”; “Hey Mister That’s Me Up on the Jukebox”; “I Can’ Help It (If I’m Still in Love with You)”; “Desperado”; “Love Is a Rose”; “You’re No Good”; “Heat Wave”; “Rivers of Babylon”; and “Heart Like a Wheel.”

3) Los Angeles, 10/3/1977. This audio-only treat captures an entire concert from Linda’s Fall 1977 tour. (Sound quality is very good.) The set: “Lose Again”; “That’ll Be the Day”; “Blue Bayou”; “Silver Threads and Golden Needles”; “Willin’”; “Faithless Love”; “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore”; “When Will I Be Loved”; “Crazy”; “Poor Poor Pitiful Me”; “Desperado”; “Love Me Tender”; “Simple Man, Simple Dream”; “Love Is a Rose”; “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me”; band introductions”; “Tumbling Dice”; “You’re No Good”; “Heart Like a Wheel”; and “Heat Wave.”

4) The FM concert sequence. Linda figures in a subplot of this forgettable 1978 movie, as the staff of one radio station sets out to broadcast a concert of hers that’s being sponsored by a rival station. Incidentally, the concert sequence wasn’t recorded in L.A., where the film is set, but the Summit in Houston – likely on November 17th, 1977, as she played there that night.) The songs: “Tumbling Dice,” “Poor Poor Pitiful Me” and “Love Me Tender.”

 5) Boston 7/22/1983. This audio-only delight captures the final night of the Get Closer tour. (Sound is so-so, but more than listenable.) The set: “Tumbling Dice”; “It’s So Easy”; “I Knew You When”; “Get Closer”; “Easy For You to Say”; “I Can’t Let Go”; “Party Girl”; “All That You Dream”; “Blue Bayou”; “Willin’”; “That’ll Be The Day”; “Prisoner In Disguise”; “When Will I Be Loved”; “Bandit & a Heart Breaker”; “Poor Poor Pitiful Me”; “You’re No Good”; “Back in the U.S.A.”; “Heat Wave”; “Blowing Away”; and “Desperado.”

And one bonus…

Rally for Nuclear Disarmament, 6/12/1982. Not Linda’s entire set, unfortunately, but part of it. (It’s a playlist, so when one clip ends, the next should kick in.) Sound quality is subpar, but still fun to watch.

What is it about certain artists that keep us returning to them time and again? I’ve yet to put my finger on it, other than this rather simple explanation: Their music caresses our souls. Whether one’s at a concert, in the car or at home, in the den, great music transports you away from the immediate and into a netherworld of the artist’s – and your – making. (That’s the thing critics often leave out of the equation: music ain’t played in a vacuum. Like Marvin and Kim sang, “it takes two, baby. It takes two.”)

One example: The past few days have found me flashing back to one of my favorite bands of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, 10,000 Maniacs. I woke on Friday with “Hey Jack Kerouac” ringing in my ear, and have been indulging myself with their songs since. Yesterday and again today, I slipped down the YouTube rabbit hole and found many delights…

1) “Suspicious Minds.” In addition to seeing the band in September 1992, Diane and I saw them twice at the Mann Music Center during the summer of 1993. Great shows, both. One of the highlights was when they performed this Elvis Presley song. Here they are, not long before, performing it at the Great Woods Center for the Performing Arts in Mansfield, Mass.

2) Live in St, Louis, 6/9/93. Clocking in at two hours, this is almost the entire concert, which was much-bootlegged at the time. Only the closing “Let the Mystery Be” is missing.

3) MTV Rock Inaugural Ball, 1/20/1993. A magnetic performance by the band, who are joined by Michael Stipe for “To Sir With Love” and “Candy Everybody Wants.”

4) Live in Buffalo, 7/4/1989. Here’s another much-bootlegged show, this one from when they opened for the Grateful Dead. 

5) Live in Milan, 9/15/1987. Here they are in Milan, performing a tremendous 10-song set for Italian TV. 

And one bonus…

“Hey Jack Kerouac.” From the band’s Unplugged swan song in 1993…