Posts Tagged ‘2019’

At some point in the late ‘70s, when I was 14 or thereabouts, I began twisting the FM dial away from WIFI 92 – by then Philly’s lone Top 40 radio station – and to the region’s twin pillars of rock ’n’ roll, 93.3 WMMR and 94.1 WYSP. Both featured a sonic palette that was at once wider and narrower than WIFI’s all-the-hits hue. Like other AOR stations, in other words, they pushed the illusion that their scope was limitless by programming album tracks and yesteryear favorites, “double shots” and blocks of songs from a single act, while actually reining in diversity of genre, color and gender.

I didn’t understand it at the time, mind you, and I’m sure many of my contemporaries – many of whom probably listen to the AOR offspring known as “classic rock” – still don’t. Instead, as someone who read the music magazines of the day (Rolling Stone, Creem, Trouser Press and Record, among others), the stations frustrated me due their reliance on the same-old, same-old. (There was a new wave coming, I tell ya.)

It’s why, in time, I began buying albums based solely on reviews and articles, and picked up album guides to better understand what was released when, and which catalog items I should pick up first. Eventually, too, I found my way even further up the FM dial, to 102.1 WIOQ, a home to a more progressive and adult brand of rock. It was there, I think, that I first heard Joni Mitchell, who by then wasn’t exactly hip with the teen/young adult set the rock stations targeted.

That’s a lot of background for what’s ostensibly my “first impressions” of Lucy Rose’s No Words Left album, which was released on March 22nd, but that’s where my mind goes while listening to its 11 tracks. When I was 14, I would have paid it no mind. By 18? It wouldn’t have left my turntable for weeks. Its songs are a hypnotic mix of stark confessionals (“conversation don’t come easy/but I’ve got a lot to say”) spiced by a few ethereal interludes that conjure no less than Clare H. Torry’s vocals on Pink Floyd’s “Great Gig in the Sky.” The end of the opening “The Conversation,” for example, morphs into “No Words Left, Part 1,” in which Lucy uses her expressive vocal range to convey emotions that words alone can’t. By “Pt. 2,” the cries are more akin to David Crosby’s “I’d Swear There Was Somebody There,” which closes his If I Can Only Remember My Name… album. They’re a powerful catharsis.

As Lucy observes in “Song After Song,” the closing track: “Song after song after song/all about me and my misery.” The album is melancholic, in other words, and accented by bitter truths and insights. At the same time, she synthesizes a range of influences and makes them her own. Joni’s an obvious point of reference, but so is Neil Young – and Bonnie Raitt, whose “I Can’t Make You Love Me” my wife hears in the opening of “Nobody Comes Round Here.”

I’ll leave it to others to go through a song-by-song analysis. Instead, I’ll observe that “You can’t know where you’re going without knowing where you’ve been” is an age-old cliche that’s born from truth. You also can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you are. No Words Left is a brilliant exploration of the latter. You’ll hear yourself – or those you know – in its words. It’s a future “essentials” pick, guaranteed.

Here’s the album in full:

 

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.

Linda Ronstadt’s Live in Hollywood features songs you know – or should know – as performed by the powerhouse singer at the Television Center Studios in Hollywood on April 24, 1980, for an HBO special. Three tracks appeared on the delightful 40th anniversary edition of Simple Dreams and, through the years, all have appeared on bootlegs sourced from the FM simulcast that accompanied the special’s broadcast.

The track list: “I Can’t Let Go”; “It’s So Easy”; “Willin’”; “Just One Look”; “Blue Bayou”; “Faithless Love”; “Hurt So Bad”; “Poor Poor Pitiful Me”; “You’re No Good”; “How Do I Make You”; “Back in the USA”; “Desperado”; and “Band Introductions.”

The night’s set, however, consisted of “I Can’t Let Go,” “Party Girl,” “It’s So Easy,” “Willin’,” “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love With You),” “Just One Look,” “Look Out for My Love,” “Mad Love,” “Cost of Love,” “Blue Bayou,” “Lies,” “Faithless Love,” “Hurts So Bad,” “Silver Threads and Golden Needles,” “Band Introductions,” “Poor Poor Pitiful Me,” “You’re No Good,” “How Do I Make You,” “Back in the USA,” “Heatwave” and “Desperado.” 

Eight of those songs are MIA from Live in Hollywood, which is the first official live album in Linda’s canon. Sometimes less is more. In this case? The subtractions shift the focus away from Mad Love, which was released two months prior, and turn the album into something akin to a live best-of. These are songs that, by and large, still get radio play. I heard four on my local oldies station this week, for example.

In any event, backed by a crack band, Linda melds pop, rock, country-rock and the era’s new-wave stylings into a delectable whole. Her cover of the Hollies classic “I Can’t Let Go,” on which she and backup singer (and good friend) Wendy Waldman trade vocals, is a thing of aural beauty. It’s uptempo, fun, and the perfect opener. Another highlight is, as one might expect, “Just One Look.” Here’s the official clip:

The J.D. Souther-penned “Faithless Love” is positively spine-tingling; Linda’s raven-flavored vocals on “Blue Bayou” and “Hurt So Bad” soar into the stratosphere; and her dusky soprano shares the spotlight with the band on a rollicking “You’re No Good.”

That’s the legendary session player Danny “Kooch” Kortchmar on guitar, I should mention –  and hiding behind drummer Russ Kunkel is Linda’s longtime compadre (and producer) Peter Asher on percussion and backing vocals.

In short, Live in Hollywood is an impeccable representation of a singer at the peak of her powers. Definitely check it out.

The good news: I now know my way to and from the local Wal-Mart. The bad news: I now know my way to and from the local Wal-Mart. 

I’m being somewhat facetious, of course, essentially joking to make a larger point: Since arriving in the Tar Heel State last month, I haven’t listened to music in the car – not via the radio or CD, and definitely not via the iPhone-aux jack connection, as my aux jack crapped out late last summer. Instead, my travelin’ companion has been Siri via Apple Maps. “Turn right,” she instructs. Turn right, I do – only to watch the app re-route because I turned one street too soon.

Such is life in the modern age, I suppose.

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: New Finds, Old Souls.

1) Lucy Rose – “Conversation.” The British songstress has a knack for crafting songs that sound like they were lifted fully formed not just from her subconscious, but from yours and mine, too. (It’s as if she taps into the universal synapse, in a sense.) Such is the case with this, the lead single from her forthcoming album, No Words Left, which is due out on March 22nd.

2) Sharon Van Etten – “Seventeen.” Van Etten’s looking over her shoulder in this tune, which is a taste of her forthcoming Remind Me Tomorrow album. Sonically speaking, it reminds me of Anna Calvi’s first Bowie-drenched album. (Not a bad thing, in my book.)

3) The Bangles – “Talking in My Sleep.” From the 3×4 compilation, which finds the Bangles, Three O’Clock, Dream Syndicate and Rain Parade covering each other’s songs. In this case, it’s the Bangles covering Rain Parade. (Side note: I hear my youth reverberating in the grooves…)

4) Juliana Hatfield – “Lost Ship.” Yeah, I offered my first impressions of Weird, the new Juliana album, last week. This song, one of its stellar tracks, has been ricocheting around my brain since I first heard it in mid-December. It’s just freakin’ great.

5) Jade Bird – “What Am I Here For.” The Brit singer-songwriter, who melds Americana with old-fashioned rock and pop, delivers an astounding performance in this month-old clip.

And two bonuses…

6) Linda Ronstadt – “1970s interview.” An excellent interview from The Old Grey Whistle Test in which Linda discusses her career, the Eagles and more. About the songs she sings: “I pick them. They have to be about me, in a way.”

7) Another insightful interview with Linda, this one from 1977: