Posts Tagged ‘1990s’

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.  

——————–

“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…

——————–

(An updated version of my original post that adds this year’s pick, among other edits.)

“Album of the Year” is an honorific I’ve bestowed on one album (sometimes two) every year since beginning my journey into music fandom. I started the practice one night in December 1978, when I was 13, by jotting the name of my favorite LP of the year on a piece of looseleaf paper. In time, I transferred the list to typing paper, entered it into our first computer, saved it to a floppy disc and, in the late 2000s, moved it to an external hard drive and then the Cloud, where it shares space with all my other Pages documents.

For the longest time, that’s all it was – a list that I returned to every year to add another line. Even when I oversaw the original Old Grey Cat website in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, I never wrote year-end summations of my favorites – I was too busy critiquing Neil Young bootlegs. It wasn’t until 2008 on Facebook that I posted my top picks for the year; and, on and off over the next few years, I followed with similar missives until launching this blog on the Hatboro-Horsham Patch in 2012. (I’ve since moved to wordpress.com, obviously.)

I think I best explained the way I go about it in this 2010 post: “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.” I added this addendum last year: “The explosion of streaming music has caused the need to spend money moot, but time is the new currency. And few of us have a lot of that to spend.” (That said, I still buy a lot.)

That’s not to say I’d make the same selections now as I did then (or even last year). I was and am a major McCartney fan, but London Town and Back to the Egg weren’t his best, let alone the best of their respective years. Nowadays, I’d pick Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town as my No. 1 and Bob Seger’s Stranger in Town as my No. 2 for ’78; and Neil Young’s Rust Never Sleeps as my No. 1 and Rickie Lee Jones’ self-titled debut as my No. 2 for ’79. I’d re-do quite a few other picks, too. Paul McCartney’s Memory Almost Full would be my top album for 2007, for instance, pushing Maria McKee’s Late December down a notch. I’d also flip my choices for both 2010 and 2012 – in 2010, as I wrote at the time, I relegated Rumer’s Seasons of My Soul (one of my all-time favorites) to the second slot because it hadn’t been officially released in the U.S.; and, in 2012, I was simply smitten with Susanna Hoff’s perfect solo effort, Someday – I still am, but Neil Young’s Psychedelic Pill has received far more play in the years since, as I explained in a 2014 rumination titled On Albums of the Year & the Pono Player. It takes me places I need to go whenever I play it. I’d also flip last year’s top two, as Bruce’s Western Stars – like Psychedelic Pill – has become one of my latter-day go-to albums. “Hello Sunshine” slays me every time.

But that’s all beside the point. The list, as I see it, is less a critical exercise and more a chronicle of the evolution (or lack thereof) of my musical taste, silly as it sometimes is, and is evidence of of my simultaneously suburban and idiosyncratic tastes. Where possible, I’ve linked to past blog posts about each of the albums or artists.

2020 – Bruce Springsteen – Letter to You (1); Courtney Marie Andrews – Old Flowers (2)
2019 – Allison Moorer – Blood (1); Bruce Springsteen – Western Stars (2)
2018 – Juliana Hatfield – Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John
2017 – Courtney Marie Andrews – Honest Life (1); Juliana Hatfield – Pussycat (2)
2016 – Rumer – This Girl’s in Love: A Bacharach & David Songbook
2015 – The Staves – If I Was
2014 – First Aid Kit – Stay Gold
2013 – Susanna Hoffs & Matthew Sweet – Under the Covers Vol. III
2012 – Susanna Hoffs – Someday (1); Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Psychedelic Pill (2)
2011 – Juliana Hatfield – There’s Always Another Girl
2010 – Tift Merritt – See You on the Moon (1); Rumer – Seasons of My Soul (2)
2009 – Diane Birch – Bible Belt
2008 – Juliana Hatfield – How to Walk Away
2007 – Maria McKee – Late December
2006 – The Dixie Chicks – Taking the Long Way
2005 – Juliana Hatfield – Made in China
2004 – Juliana Hatfield – in exile deo
2003 – Maria McKee – High Dive
2002 – Neil Young – Are You Passionate?
2001 – Natalie Merchant – Motherland
2000 – Juliana Hatfield – Beautiful Creature
1999 – Natalie Merchant – Live in Concert
1998 – Lucinda Williams – Car Wheels on a Gravel Road
1997 – Steve Earle – El Corazon
1996 – Neil Young – Broken Arrow; Maria McKee – Life Is Sweet (tie)
1995 – Natalie Merchant – Tigerlily
1994 – Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Sleeps with Angels
1993 – Maria McKee – You Gotta Sin to Get Saved
1992 – 10,000 Maniacs – Our Time in Eden
1991 – Mary Black – Babes in the Wood
1990 – Rosanne Cash – Interiors
1989 – Neil Young – Freedom
1988 – Steve Earle – Copperhead Road
1987 – 10,000 Maniacs – In My Tribe
1986 – Paul Simon – Graceland; Bangles – Different Light (2)
1985 – Lone Justice – self-titled debut (1); Long Ryders – State of Our Union (2)
1984 – The Go-Go’s – Talk Show; Prince – Purple Rain (2)
1983 – Neil Young – Trans
1982 – Paul McCartney – Tug of War
1981 – Neil Young & Crazy Horse – re*ac*tor (1) / Go-Go’s – Beauty & the Beat (2)
1980 – Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band – Against the Wind
1979 – Wings – Back to the Egg
1978 – Wings – London Town

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…

Mortality and the passage of time has much been on my mind this past month, as I marked another year sailing around the sun on this ship we call Earth. We’ve entered unsettled waters of late, with towering waves thrashing the hull and cracking through rotted planks of wood that the captain, an incompetent steward if ever there was one, claimed sound prior to leaving port.

In any event, in this storm, I look back at all that’s come before with wonder and few regrets – yet, to borrow a lyric from Juliana Hatfield’s “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory,” find myself questioning “Where is the comfort in having been somewhere you know you can’t go again?” The past is behind us, in other words, and reliving past glories impacts the present not a bit. As she sings in “Fade Away,” albeit in a different context, “there is nothing I can say/that is not a cliche.”

If you’re unfamiliar with “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory” (which is not a cover of the classic Johnny Thunders song made famous by Guns N’ Roses), that’s no surprise. Along with “Fade Away,” it’s one of 11 God’s Foot demos she served up as a PledgeMusic premium in late 2014, while accruing cash to fund the 2015 Juliana Hatfield Three album Whatever, My Love.

The God’s Foot album, for those not in the know, was slated to be the follow-up to her 1995 Only Everything album. It was more a concept and less a stack of specific tracks, with Juliana racking up six-digit studio costs while recording in Woodstock, N.Y. Atlantic Records, her label home, rejected her efforts due to the dearth of a radio-friendly tune that could be pushed as a single, however. She recorded some more, they said no, and finally she gave in and asked to be released from her contract. They consented, but retained rights to the material she’d recorded for the unfinished album.

Two decades and several bootlegged versions of God’s Foot later, including this one…

…she decided to share what she did have from the aborted album with fans. From what she noted at the time (and Live On Tomorrow – A Juliana Hatfield Fan Site recorded for posterity), “[t]he recordings were taken from an old cassette – the only version of these recordings that I have…the songs were recorded onto two-inch reel-to-reel tape and then most likely transferred to half-inch tape and then transferred onto a cassette for my listening pleasure and then that cassette ended up in the basement sitting in a paper bag full of cassettes and then years later (circa now) the cassette was transferred onto a CD.”

She also noted that “although I never finalized an official version and sequence of the album, some of you have heard versions of what people who made the songs available (not me) were calling God’s Foot. but, again, I never sanctioned the song choices. Since I knew the album was not ever scheduled for release, I never needed to finalize the song choices or mixes or the sequence.”

The download-only delight from 2014 was 320 kbps and sounds very good, with a minimum of hiss and no slo-mo warped interludes that sometimes happens with old cassettes. The songs possess an analog warmth, actually, and none of the brittle highs that marred many recordings during the mid-‘90s. I’d love to have the set on CD, LP or full-resolution FLAC/ALAC files, as I’m sure some sonic pleasures were lost when squeezing the songs into MP3s. 

To my ears, the God’s Foot demos harken back to the oft-sweet sounds of Hey Babe while foreshadowing the lushness of Beautiful Creature, in exile deo and How to Walk Away, with dollops of harder rock (“Get Over Me” and “Charity”) punctuating the set. Guitars are plentiful, vocals are upfront and, as on the aching “Don’t Need a Reason,” cushioned by down-soft backing vocals. The lyrics feature Juliana’s idiosyncratic takes on life and love. In the opening “How Would You Know,” for instance, she confesses that “I want you to see me/look into my soul/but how would you know/my eyes are closed….”

Why Atlantic Records rejected the songs is beyond me; if these 11 songs are any indication, the album was guaranteed to be one of the decade’s top discs; instead, it’s become one of the decade’s great lost sets. To lift another lyric from “Fade Away”:

In the rosy gloom of youth
Every moment has its truth
It’s gonna fade away…

Two songs did eventually surface on the now out-of-print Gold Stars 1992–2002: The Juliana Hatfield Collection: “Mountains of Love” and “Fade Away”; and a third, “I Didn’t Know,” was made available during Juliana’s honor-download experiment of 2006-07 (somewhere I have a few cancelled checks with her signature on the back). If there was any justice in this world, however, American Laundromat would partner with Atlantic and issue God’s Foot. But I’m not holding my breath.

The songs: