Archive for the ‘Top 5’ Category

Last Saturday, after much hemming and hawing, and having read more about cars in the past two months than during the past two decades, I traded in my 2010 Honda Civic – which had near 112,000 miles on it – and bought a 2018 Mazda3 hatchback. It was one of the last “new” ’18 3s still on the dealer’s lot. (Word to the wise: Last year’s model is always marked down.) It’s a good ride with an excellent Bose sound system that almost makes me yearn for my old commute just so I can listen longer. 

(Note that I wrote “almost.”) 

The tech upgrade has been a bit of a culture shock, however. The Honda included a CD player, AM-FM stereo with buttons, and an aux jack. The Mazda, on the other hand, features a 7-inch LCD screen with AM, FM, SiriusXM, Bluetooth and Apple CarPlay, plus an aux jack but no CD player; and, when you’re driving, everything is controlled by nobs located between the front seats.

I’ve primarily listened to Jade Bird’s and Molly Tuttle’s full-length debuts this week, but carved out time during my shorter commute to explore a bit of SiriusXM, as the car comes with a three-month trial. E Street Radio is, as expected, a joy, but the Outlaw Country and Bluegrass Junction channels sound good, too. (More to come on that, for sure.) 

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: New Tracks & Videos

1) Bruce Springsteen – “Hello Sunshine.” I switched on E Street Radio, which is dedicated to all things Springsteen and band, on the ride home Thursday night and was surprised to hear that  Bruce has a new album coming out. And then “Hello Sunshine” played. Wow. Just wow.

2) Neil Young – “Don’t Be Denied.” Neil says he’s saddled up the Horse and that (as of April 22nd) they’ve recorded eight songs for a new album. While we wait for that, there’s this, the first taste of the coming archival release Tuscaloosa, which features 11 tracks from a 1973 concert in Alabama.

3) Courtney Marie Andrews – Tiny Desk Concert. Courtney and band perform a stellar three-song set: “May Your Kindness Remain,” “Rough Around the Edges” and “This House.”

4) Jade Bird – “Side Effects.” Jade and band deliver a driving rendition of this “Springsteen-y” track, one of the highlights from her recent full-length debut.

5) Lucy Rose – “The Confines of This World.” A live rendition of one of the (11) standout tracks from Lucy’s recent No Words Left album. From the Union Chapel in London on April 9th of this year, it’s a mesmerizing performance.

And one bonus…

6) Molly Tuttle – “Helpless.” Molly Tuttle’s full-length debut is a velvety smooth (and addictive) blend of bluegrass, folk and pop, and conjures – for me, at least – Alison Krauss, Shawn Colvin and Kasey Chambers, among others. Here, she ends a show with a rendition of Neil Young’s classic ode to his Canadian home. (For those unfamiliar with Molly, she – like Kasey – began her career in a family band before branching off on her own. Since, she’s twice been named the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Guitarist of the Year.)

So I watched the Oasis: Supersonic documentary on Netflix last night. The 2016 film, which I recommend, makes ample use of home movies, archival footage and fresh interviews to chronicle the band’s ascent to U.K. superstardom, which culminated in 1996 with back-to-back headlining gigs at Knebworth for 250,000 fans. (Some 2.5 million applied for tickets.)

A similar level of success in the States was not theirs to be had, though they did do well – especially with their sophomore set, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory, in 1995.

I enjoyed their guitar-driven music at the time, especially on that album, but found brothers Liam and Noel Gallagher blowhards and, language-wise, unnecessarily crude. So it came as a surprise to me when, during the doc, a self-aware Noel explains what made that second set resonate. “The songs on that record, they’re extraordinary songs. And they’re not extraordinary songs because of anything that I did. I only wrote them, and we only played them. It’s the millions of people who f***ing sing them back to you, to this day, that have made them extraordinary.”

It’s a remarkable observation – putting the onus on the listener/fan – because it’s a truth often missed by artists, fans and critics alike, and yet is applicable to every song ever written and every song yet written. While the inspiration, intent and development of a song are (usually) interesting, they can and will never explain why it does or doesn’t connect with the listener(s). That’s the great intangible. Or as Noel puts it, “We made people feel something that was indefinable.”

It once was customary for songs to come our way without their backstories shared in interviews for months or even years after their release. The tunes simply floated in from the ether (aka the radio or our turntables), and we made of the lyrics what we would. We interpreted them, debated them, and saw ourselves in them. In today’s age, when over-sharing has become the norm, my fear is that artists confide too much of the whys and wherefores of their art. (To borrow a phrase from Iris DeMent, let the mystery be.)

I’ve been tripping the past fantastic since the release of 3×4 a few weeks back. The compelling Paisley Underground collection from the Bangles, Three O’Clock, Rain Parade and Dream Syndicate engulfs the soul like the ocean does the beach at high tide. The water is warm, in this metaphor, and free from the debris that sometimes washes ashore during the twice-daily deluge. 

Yes, for those unaware, there are two high tides each day, just as there are two low tides. They’re caused by the gravitational pull of the moon and sun in concert with Earth’s rotation, which is one spin per every 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4.09053 seconds. A similar phenomenon is found on 3×4, though its power is linked to the gravitational pull of the melodies and rhythms in concert with the rotational rate of the record – 33 1/3 rpm, in this case.

To lift a passage from a poem I wrote, “33 1/3 r.p.m.,” in September ’85: 

Revolutions spin and spin.
They never last,
but they never end.
Revolutions begin again.

Anyway, the Bangles broke through to popular acclaim in 1986 thanks to the shimmering psychedelia of “Manic Monday” and addictive goofiness of “Walk Like an Egyptian,” but the others never attracted as wide an audience as they should have. It’s a fact that was and remains a shame, and I’d blame the transitional nature of the times, but the reality is that’s the nature of the music business – quality bands and artists from every era fail to break through. 

And, with that said, here’s today’s Top 5: The Paisley Underground.

1) Rain Parade – “You Are My Friend.” At some point in late ’85 or early ’86, I picked up Rain Parade’s 1983 debut, Emergency Third Rail Power Trip, at City Lights records in State College, Pa. (aka the home of Penn State). I’d love to say that I played it to death, but the reality is I played it, enjoyed it from time to time, and moved on. On 3×4, the Dream Syndicate’s rendition of this song is one of the album’s highlights.

Here’s some trivia: Rain Parade was founded by Matt Piucci and David Roeback. David had previously been in a band – alongside his brother (and fellow Rain Parade bandmate) Steven – with Susanna Hoffs. Roeback left Rain Parade and formed one of the greatest of the unheralded ‘80s bands, Opal, with former Dream Syndicate moll Kendra Smith (whose 1995 Five Ways of Disappearing album is a lost treasure of the ‘90s).  

2) The Dream Syndicate – “Tell Me When It’s Over.” As with the other three bands, by 1985 I was aware of the Dream Syndicate – but even with my at-times expansive music budget, I didn’t take the plunge and buy anything by them until the decade’s end, when I oversaw the CD departments in a couple of video stores. The Three O’Clock’s rendition of this tune may well be my favorite track on 3×4

3) Rain Parade – “Talking in My Sleep.” Another 3×4 highlight is the Bangles’ rendition of this track, also from Rain Parade’s debut. And like the remake, the original version is far from a drowsy affair.

4) The Three O’Clock – “Jet Fighter.” The Bangles scorch the stratosphere with their turbo-charged cover of the Three O’Clock song; Debbi Peterson, who sings lead, even sounds like Michael Quercio. The initial rendition, found on the Three O’Clock’s classic Sixteen Tambourines album, rides the sky at a slightly slower Mach speed, but soars at a higher altitude.

5) The Bangles – “The Real World.” Rain Parade turns in a revelatory rendition of this track on 3×4, which the band formerly known as the Bangs first released on a five-song EP way back in 1982 (reviews for it can be found in the April 1983 editions of Musician and Record). Those early tunes appeared here and there in the following years, but it wasn’t until 2014 and the Ladies and Gentlemen…the Bangles! compilation that they became widely available. (That set is well worth seeking out, by the way.)

If I could turn back time, one thing I’d do – aside from noting the digits of a Powerball drawing – would be to expand my music-discovery process. Among other things, I’m still vexed that Lucy Rose’s tuneful musings escaped my notice until early 2017, when the Staves shared one of her songs on social media. 

Given that I routinely scour the music magazines and blogs for new artists and releases, the oversight leaves me apoplectic. How could I have missed someone so good for so long?

For those unfamiliar with the British singer-songwriter, she’s released three studio albums, a live set and a remix disc since 2012. Wikipedia fills in more of the blanks, but her best-known song is probably one of her first: “Shiver,” from her debut, Like I Used To, which broke semi-big a few years later when it was used as the theme during Season 2 of the popular Mushishi anime series. Here she is, pre-debut in 2011, singing it on The Crypt Sessions. 

As you can hear, she’s essentially a diamond cutter who crafts precise, heartfelt gems from the vagaries of her life. In 2015, she told The 405, “Lyrics really are my hardest thing. I find them so hard, and a real challenge sometimes. To find something to write about and know what I want to say. You know, I don’t just want to write about anything, and write something for the point of writing a song. If I don’t have anything to say, then I feel like there really isn’t any point.”

That approach, of writing about what means the most to her, still echoes in her work. Check out the hypnotic “Solo(w)” from her No Words Left album, which is due out on March 22nd:

Also from No Words Left: the equally powerful “Conversation.”

Echoes of other artists, though not other songs, can be heard in those tunes, of course. As she explained to Arcadia Online in 2015, “I went through that whole stage when I was first starting out where I went into the back catalogues and listened to every Joni Mitchell album and every Neil Young album, and they’re those things that I’ll always go back to consistently.” She shared more influences in 2017 with The Pool, when she also incorporated Nico, Nick Drake, Carole King and Tom Waits into a playlist of influences. She also included all of them, plus others, in this Music Radar countdown of her top albums of all time. It makes me yearn to hear her sing something from Neil’s Harvest… but Harvest Moon works. This is delightfully sweet:

I wouldn’t be surprised if, somewhere along the way, she also cited Jackson Browne as an influence. Like him, she has an eye for incorporating details that add depth and weight to her songs. Here, she covers “These Days” – which was first sung by Nico in 1967 – on the BBC in 2013:

Speaking of cover tunes (and possible influences), here she is singing Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” on Fearne Cotton’s last Radio 1 show in 2015.

But enough covers. Here she serves up a haunting rendition of “Is This Called Home,” from her 2017 album Something’s Changing, for 7 Layers:

And, finally… I’ve featured this song many times on the blog since its 2017 release. How it didn’t become a massive hit escapes me, still.