Posts Tagged ‘2016’

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Last night, with some time to kill prior to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, I found myself surfing the algorithmic waves of YouTube thanks to a hankering to hear Best Coast’s title song to their 2015 album California Nights. I’d never heard of the band until reading a review of the album in, I think, Mojo; and I was instantly smitten with that trippy song’s thick and hazy tones, which creep in like a dense fog at dusk. I ordered the CD the same day and, a few days later, featured it in this post – while mentioning its similarities to Opal and Mazzy Star.

And after listening to it yet again last night, I found myself diving head-first into Opal’s sonic undertow. Their 1987 Happy Nightmare, Baby album, as I’ve said before, is a true lost treasure. For those unaware of them, the band had its roots in L.A.’s Paisley Underground scene, and – if they’d stuck together – could’ve carved out a Sonic Youth-like career. But, while on tour promoting that LP (their one and only), lead singer Kendra Smith quit the band and, after releasing a few albums over the next few years, disappeared into the woods of Northern California, never to be heard from again. A true shame, as she was a talented artist and that version of the band was intense.

Dave Roback, Opal’s remaining musical architect, recruited Hope Sandoval to step into the void in order to finish the tour. They were already friends, having worked together on never-released recordings for Hope’s folk duo, Going Home. (In the clip above, that’s her to the right of Roback in the studio intro.) Here’s a full set of that version of Opal in 1988 Italy –

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I’m sure it was difficult to sub for Smith on such short notice, but Hope pulled it off – and then some; and, as the decade faded into the next, the group morphed into Mazzy Star. While they maintained the same languid shoe-gazing psychedelia, Hope’s vocals are far more dreamy, ethereal and inviting than Smith’s. And, too, the dark-hued dissonance was imbued with splashes of color. (Or something like that.)

Here’s “Halah,” from the 1990 Mazzy Star debut, She Hangs Brightly.

Three years later, they released the So Tonight That I Might See CD, home to a classic song that (almost) everyone of a certain vintage will remember: “Fade Into You.”

There’s far more to the story, of course; and the Wikipedia entry does a thorough job in explaining it. For the purposes of this post, though, while jumping from one video to another to another last night – such as this one, “Flowers in December,” from a 1994 appearance at Neil Young’s annual Bridge School benefit concert –

– I discovered that, last year, Hope collaborated with Massive Attack (for the second time) on the song “The Spoils.”

She also released the album Until the Hunter with her own group, the Warm Inventions – which will likely be most of what I listen to for the next few weeks. Now that I’ve listened to it not once, but twice, I can say: It follows the Opal/Mazzy Star blueprint; and is, in a word, amazing. Here are two songs from it:

On Saturday afternoon, while the world erupted into peaceful protests against Putin’s puppet, Diane and I – and two likewise liberal friends – weren’t marching in the streets, though we were supportive of those that did, but applauding, laughing and singing along (some more than others, granted) to Lights Out, a Four Seasons tribute band, at the Sellersville Theater in Sellersville, Pa.

Now, some on the right will think us daft for embracing progressive principles and me misguided for my view of the charlatan in chief; others on the left will ding us for drowning out the din of the day with the sweet sounds of yesteryear; and plenty from all political persuasions will likely find common ground in their contempt for tribute bands. Fair points, all. On the last: Lights Out are but the second tribute group I’ve seen; and like the first, a Laura Nyro act, we enjoyed the show, though exiting the theater at 5pm instead of 11pm was a tad disconcerting.

I hasten to add, my memories of Frankie Valli and/or the Four Seasons does not begin here –

– but, instead, on the Saturday Night Oldies show on WPEN-AM in late 1977 and early ’78. They were among the ingredients of the delicious sonic stew that the deejay, Michael St. John, routinely brewed. The first time I heard anything by Valli beyond that show, I think, was in a movie theater:

And, yes, “Grease” and other Valli solo tunes, such as “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” and “My Eyes Adored You,” were performed alongside such Four Seasons hits as “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Dawn,” “Walk Like a Man,” “Rag Doll,” “Working My Way Back to You,” “C’mon Marianne” and “December 1963 (Oh, What a Night).” Falsettos flew fast and furious, the dance steps and hand motions did, too, and the entire night – I mean, afternoon – was just plain fun.

After the intermission, the group performed a medley of songs that influenced the Four Seasons and songs influenced by their hits. Not to quibble, but I can’t help myself: I doubt that the Eagles’ “Hotel California,” a ruminative ode about the high life, was descended from “Sherry.” It was the only flat note of the night – er, afternoon.

Anyway, for today’s Top 5: River Deep, Valli High – the Four Seasons & Similar ’60s Groups.

1) The Four Seasons – “Working My Way Back to You”

2) The Association – “Cherish”

3) Brooklyn Bridge – “Worst That Could Happen”

4) Spanky & Our Gang – “Sunday Will Never Be the Same”

5) The Supremes – “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”

 

Life unfurls like a flag on a windy day. Though it may seem that the cloth never ripples the same way twice, over time certain patterns can be discerned. For example, just like last year about this time, one of my first self-appointed chores of 2017 consisted of digging through the dusty virtual bins of Amazon in search of the perfect CDs to send my niece for her birthday. “Perfect” takes on a double meaning in this context – perfect for her and perfect, overall.

As last year, I used Amazon’s free gift tags to include short notes about each album.

dusty_memphis1) Dusty Springfield – “I Can’t Make It Alone” (from Dusty in Memphis, 1969). I wrote: “Although it didn’t sell well in 1969, this album is now considered a classic. It blends pop and soul in a way that no one had before; and Dusty’s vocals are wondrous.” I’d add: Make that a stone-cold classic; and luscious in addition to wondrous. Rolling Stone ranked it No. 89 on its 2012 list of the Top 500 Albums of All Time; I rank it higher – possibly Top 10. It smolders, yearns and burns, and sounds as fresh to my ears now as it did when I first heard it in the early 1980s.

emmylou_pieces2) Emmylou Harris – “For No One” (from Pieces of the Sky, 1975). I wrote: “Although she’s rarely topped the charts, Emmylou is an integral artist within the modern history of country music. This, her second try at a debut, explains why.” I’d add: Emmylou embraced and made her own the expansive “Cosmic American Music” vision of Gram Parsons, her musical mentor, who passed away in September 1973, on this classic from 1975. In essence, she helped forge the foundation that generations of female country and folk performers, including Taylor Swift and First Aid Kit, have built upon since.

harriet3) Harriet – “Broken for You” (from her eponymous debut, 2016). I wrote: “I discovered this gem on Christmas. Although the songs conjure the Carpenters and pop music of the 1970s, Harriet is a relatively new 20-something singer from London. It should make you smile.” I’d add: This set certainly makes me smile, at least. If I’d been aware of it when I created my Albums of the Year list in early December, I would have ranked it No. 3. It’s everything that’s good about pop music.

rumer_soms4) Rumer – “Aretha.” (from Seasons of My Soul, 2010). I wrote: “This is an atmospheric song cycle that’s teeming with soulful, knowing lyrics & melodies that wrap themselves around the heart. Among its themes: love, longing, loss & acceptance. It’s magic.” I’d add: I borrowed part of that from my first blog post on the Hatboro-Horsham Patch, since moved here; I’ve also written about it here and here. I rank it among my Top Albums of All Time, which I plan to share at some point later in the year.

rumer_vinyl5) Rumer – “This Girl’s in Love With You” (from This Girl’s in Love: A Bacharach & David Songbook, 2016). I wrote: “Burt Bacharach is a legendary songwriter who, with collaborators such as Hal David, crafted some of the world’s greatest songs. This set from Rumer was my Album of the Year for 2016.” For more, see my Album(s) of the Year, 2016 and Today’s Top 5: The Promise of Tomorrow posts. (By the way, that’s Bacharach singing at the start.)

 

This is my 67th post of 2016. Some missives were good, others not, and most a mix of the two, primarily due – I see now – to my over-reliance on the Top 5 format. In and of itself, that tip of the hat to High Fidelity works well – especially when I’m digging through an old magazine. But week in, week out, it grows tiresome. As a result, in the new year, I plan less Top 5s and more straightforward essays and reviews.

And, yes, I see the irony in saying that within a Top 5.

With that said, onward to today’s Top 5: An Old Grey Cat Retrospective, Part 2. In Part 1, of course, I listed the most popular posts of the year along with a clip from each. Here, I’m sharing – in chronological order – the posts I most enjoyed writing.

1) Today’s Top 5: Classics, Old & New (1/9/16): “Whether they come from the pen of Wallace Stevens or piano of Carole King, or the hills of Appalachia, expressions of the heart, soul and psyche have remained constant through the ages. It’s why music, like all art, doesn’t come with an expiration date. We, as a people, live, long, love, lose and love again, and argue amongst ourselves, forever and ever. Amen.”

2) The “Nous” Church of Birch (2/6/16): “We expect life, when young, to unfold much like school: first grade leads to second leads to third, and on down the line until, one late-spring day, we’re tossing our caps in the air at high-school graduation. But life – for most, at any rate – doesn’t unfurl like the step-by-step directions proffered by Google or Apple maps. Detours and wrong turns are inevitable. We stride forward, stumble, tumble backwards and regroup, and head out yet again.”

3) Bruce Springsteen in Philly, 2/12/16: We Have Met the Future and It Is Us (2/14/16): “The young 30-something who released The River and the young fans who first embraced it would likely laugh at the idea that, 35 years on, they’re still spirits in the night, albeit just for the night.”

4) Today’s Top 10: It Was 30 Years Ago Today… (9/5/16): “Looking back, the ‘80s were somewhat like a snow globe: America was shaken at its start, but everything settled into place by decade’s end. That the era is often derided for its fashion miscues, pop music and political retrenchment is a shame; there was much good to be found.”

5) Bruce Springsteen: A Fleeting Meet-and-Greet (10/1/16): “Life can be challenging. We wake, roll out of bed and, often, dread the day to come – maybe it’s the morning commute or pile of work awaiting us at the office; perhaps a dead-end job for dead-end wages; or, at times, something much, much worse. But the music takes us away from whatever it is, albeit for a few minutes, and helps us muster the strength to soldier on.”

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And two bonuses…

6) Today’s Top 5: The Promise of Tomorrow (circa 1970 & Billboard) (11/26/16): “When we strip the gauzy nostalgia from the reality of any time, we’re left with this: What often made the time wonderful was less day-to-day life and more the promise of what had yet to come. It’s why succeeding generations continue to embrace the music of the ‘60s and ‘70s, I think – despite the tumult of the ‘60s and woes of the ‘70s, the messages that powered much of the music were hopeful. And, by and large, we’re a hopeful lot.”

7) Album(s) of the Year, 2016 (12/4/16): “And so the year comes to a close not with a bang or whimper, but a melody that’s older than my time on Earth: ‘What the World Needs Now Is Love.’”