Posts Tagged ‘American Tune’

It’s early Sunday morn as I write, and Roberta Flack is killing me softly with her songs. My trusty Tribit headphones cover my ears, and – though Bluetooth capable – are plugged into my Macbook Pro via an M-Audio Micro DAC. It’s a plug-in sound card that, as the picture shows, is just a tad larger than a thumb drive, and enables me to listen to 24-bit, 192-kHz music files in all their glory without first copying said files to my Pono player. 

A MacBook Pro can output 24/96 through its headphone jack, of course, by switching the settings in the MIDI utility, and the sound quality is quite good for both high-res files and the Neil Young Archives, which streams up to 24/192. But this $100 Micro DAC improves the sound, be it through my headphones or solid Logitech Z623 THX-certified 2.1 computer speakers.

I should mention that, a few summers back, I stopped using the Pono player on a regular basis. It overheated once, then twice, and then a few more times during the summers of ’16 and ’17 while I was out and about, and then, while listening in our den one hot-and-humid afternoon, it didn’t just overheat, but fried the 128g micro-SD card inside. (I made the “mistake” of listening while charging.) By that point, however, I’d already grown tired not just of adding and subtracting files from my micro-SD cards, but of toting two gadgets around.

Around the same time, I decided to give Apple Music a go. While there was a drop-off in quality, there wasn’t a drop-off in what – to me, at least – is the most important factor when it comes to music: emotional quotient. And, truthfully, what I hear via my iPhone or MacBook Pro is better than what I enjoyed via the Realistic stereo system my parents gifted me with for Christmas ’77  and the Realistic cassette deck I installed in my little brown Chevette in ‘85, to say nothing of staticky AM radio. All things are relative, in other words. Sometimes “good enough” is enough.

Yet, when at my desk and in the mood, I often fire up the Vox app and play some of the high-res files I collected from 2014 through early ’17 – or just stream from the NYA site. How to enjoy that music to its fullest? While there are many options, some of which are rather pricey, for me right now it’s the M-Audio Micro DAC. It gets the job done.

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: Sunday, 9/1/19. 

1) Roberta Flack – “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” A few years back, Diane and I watched Killing Me Softly: The Roberta Flack Story, a one-hour documentary about Roberta’s ascent to stardom, on (I think) Amazon Prime. For me, it was something of a revelation – I picked up a few of her albums from the Pono Store in the weeks that followed. This, her rendition of the Simon & Garfunkel classic (found on her 1971 Quiet Fire album), is just mesmerizing. 

2) Simon & Garfunkel – “American Tune.” One of Paul Simon’s greatest songs, from his 1973 There Goes Rhymin’ Simon album, was given the Simon & Garfunkel treatment during their now-legendary 1981 Central Park concert. The lyrics are as appropriate now as they were in ‘73: “And I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered/I don’t have a friend who feels at ease/I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered/or driven to its knees/But it’s all right, it’s all right/We’ve lived so well so long/Still, when I think of the road/we’re traveling on/I wonder what went wrong/I can’t help it, I wonder what went wrong.”

3) Courtney Marie Andrews & Deer Tick – “You’re the One That I Want.” Speaking of duets… and to lighten the mood… there’s this clip of a Grease cover, which I just discovered last night. Trust me when I say, “It’s electrifying!”

4) Courtney Marie Andrews – “Downtown Train.” Speaking of Courtney, she’s part of the forthcoming collection of Tom Waits songs, Come on Up to the House, which also includes Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer, Rosanne Cash, Iris DeMent, Phoebe Bridgers and Patty Griffin, among others.

5) Allison Moorer – “The Rock and the Hill.” One album I’m anticipating is Allison Moorer’s Blood, which will be released alongside her memoir of the same name in late October. If this tasty track is any indication, it’s going to be flat-out great. (If you’re so inclined, head over to Allison’s website and pre-order both it and the book. And then check out her online journal, which is always an interesting read.)

And one bonus…

6) Neil Young & Crazy Horse – “Milky Way.” Another album I’m looking forward to is Colorado, which is also due out in October. It features Neil backed by a reconstituted Crazy Horse (with Nils Lofgren on guitar in place of Frank “Poncho” Sampredo). This, the first single, is both stirring and subdued at once.

Last week, prior to the Tift Merritt show, Diane and I ate at the World Cafe Live’s upstairs restaurant, where they also have nightly entertainment. The cool thing about eating there around dinnertime: the night’s performer(s) are doing their soundcheck(s). Sometimes they’re good, sometimes not, but either way – it’s free.

We’ve discovered a handful of acts as a result, including the Dove & the Wolf.

Anyway, onward – here’s today’s Top 5: New-to-Me Artists.

1) T Sisters – “American Tune.” Sisters Erika, Rachel and Chloe Tietjen harmonize with the ease that comes from a lifetime of singing together. Last week, they turned not just my head, but Diane’s. Here they are singing the Paul Simon classic…

2) Savannah Philyaw – “Better Without You.” So I discovered, and featured, this promising singer-songwriter a little ways ago. Here’s a brand-new tune from her:

3) Natalie Gelman – “Hallelujah.” Another, even more recent discovery is Natalie Gelman, who I found via Twitter. Here she is singing the Leonard Cohen classic…

4) The MonaLisa Twins – “A World Without Love.” German sisters relocate to Liverpool to pursue their Beatle dreams – and make wonderful music. Here they are singing the Peter & Gordon classic that was written by Paul McCartney,

5) Postmodern Jukebox (with Joey Cook) – “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked.” Joey, of course, went far in American Idol a few years back. This is something she did with Postmodern Jukebox a month or so ago…

IMG_5362March 18th, 1993, is the date of this Rolling Stone. Theoretically, then, it arrived in my mailbox a few days after the Storm of the Century walloped the East Coast and just a few days before the start of spring. At the time, Diane and I lived in a quadplex at the end of a dead-end street that ran up against a thicket of trees – a perfect place for drifting snow to settle.

That snowstorm aside, life was good. We owned a computer – a 286 that ran DOS – and accessed the pre-Internet via Prodigy, which featured bulletin boards, chat rooms, email to fellow users, and the news.

10K_EdenWhen I think back on that winter, though, the first thing that comes to mind isn’t the weather or Prodigy, but an album: Our Time in Eden by 10,000 Maniacs. We saw them in September 1992, 12 days before its release, and…it just became one of “those” albums for me. I’d play it, and then I’d play it again. And again. And again, after that.

Anyway, the cover story by Kim France, a staff writer at Sassy magazine, turns out not to be as in-depth as it could have been – two pages and part of a third isn’t enough space for that – but it’s a worthwhile read, explaining the band’s rising popularity following the “critical and financial disappointment” of Blind Man’s Zoo (1989). Natalie Merchant’s face graces the cover; and the shot inside features the entire band.

IMG_5363One sentence: “An atypically optimistic hit single, ‘These Are Days,’ as performed by an exhilarated Merchant at the MTV Inaugural Ball, was a highlight of the evening – a ‘Don’t Stop’ of the MTV generation.”

A paragraph: “Our Time in Eden is indeed a departure for the Maniacs, and many fans insist it’s the band at its best. Teetering on the edge of soft rock without quite going over the precipice, Eden is brightened by some flashy touches – like James Brown’s horns section sitting in on a couple of eminently radio-friendly songs, ‘Candy Everybody Wants’ and ‘Few and Far Between.’ The issue-oriented songs, long a Maniacs mainstay, are there, too, but much of the album concerns the intricacies of personal relationships. Merchant, who could have been called remote and even moralistic in earlier forays, displays an ability to get into other people’s minds with a dexterity and empathy that was only hinted at in previous albums.”

And a quote from Natalie: “I look at my early records as term papers that maybe would’ve been better buried in a box in the attic, and taken out ten years later and chuckled about.”

Today’s Top 5:

1) 10,000 Maniacs – “Noah’s Dove.” A lush, piano-driven song with lyrics about a fallen angel from the perspective of someone still behind the gates: not a typical opening track. Yet, it sets the mood (and theme) for Our Time in Eden as a whole, and does so in a narcotic-like manner.

IMG_53642) Rosanne Cash – “If There’s a God on My Side.” The Wheel, Rosanne’s follow-up to the sparse Interiors, follows the same basic blueprint as its predecessor – love, relationships, breakups – yet isn’t a “lather, rinse, repeat” release. I.e., it may explore the same terrain, but mines new veins of angst and pain along the way, such as “Roses in the Fire” and “You Won’t Let Me In.” As former Philadelphia Inquirer music critic Tom Moon writes in this review: “The Wheel is hardly carefree, but no longer is Cash obsessed with conveying the minute details that made Interiors so daunting.” He also says that “If There’s a God on My Side” closes the album “with an elaboration on the lonesome desperation Cash has hinted at elsewhere. It’s a plea for a moment of clarity amid turmoil, and it uses the pathos of old-school country to maximum effect. The pain is palpable, and so is the doubt, and in these things lie the raw matter of Cash’s art.”

IMG_53673) Juliana Hatfield – “Everybody Loves Me but You.” In an incongruous pairing, Juliana Hatfield opened for the B-52s at Radio City Music Hall in New York City on January 15, 1993, and reviewer Elysa Gardner is both cruel and kind in her critique: “Hatfield has an impressive voice – deceptively girlish but supple and clear, with a fine raspy bottom – and she’s a surprisingly emotive guitarist. But she would do well to focus less on writing songs about how tough it is to be a girl and more on projecting the strength and directness that are a woman’s best defense against sexism, in rock & roll or in life.”

This is Juliana’s setlist from that night: Supermodel/My Sister/Lost and Saved/I See You/Tamara/Here Comes the Pain/Rider/President Garfield/Ugly/Everybody Loves Me but You/Nirvana/I Got No idols.

jhatfield_heybabeAfter seeing that, Gardner’s take comes off as questionable. Here’s what Ann Powers, in a review that appeared in the New York Times, said of the same performance: “Her trio turned its amps up loud and sped through Ms. Hatfield’s bluntly personal accounts of frustration, self-doubt and hope. She’s still discovering her own talent, but Ms. Hatfield is an artist whose hesitant steps will lead alternative rock into its next mutation.”

“Everybody Loves Me but You” hails from Juliana’s first solo album, the wonderful Hey Babe. (Incidentally, that’s not Juliana’s hair on the cover of Hey Babe – it’s a wig.)

IMG_53694) Belly – “Feed the Tree.” A great song from the short-lived, Boston-based band. Tanya Donelly, formerly of the Breeders and Throwing Muses (who I saw open for R.E.M. in 1989), founded the group with some childhood pals, wrote most of the songs, played guitar and sang lead. Star, their debut album, was more than just solid – it was a delight. In addition to this super-catchy tune, it features the rocking “Dusted,” sweet “Gepetto” and dazzling title track; and plays well from start to finish. It was a hit with the modern-rock crowd; and was one of my favorites of the year.

5) Willie Nelson – “American Tune.” In the Random Notes section, there’s this: “Legendary singer-songwriter/IRS punching bag Willie Nelson has recruited a calvacade of music-industry heavyweights – including Sinead O’Connor, Bonnie Raitt, Don Was, Paul Simon and Bob Dylan, with whom he collaborated via fax – for his upcoming album, Across the Borderline.

Willie always sounds great, of course, but he’s not always consistent, album-wise. This one, however, is top-notch. (Diane actually heard it first, knew it would be something I’d love and surprised me with it.)

5) Suzi Quatro & Chris Norman – “Stumblin’ In”

This was posted to a Facebook group I belong to – NHA, No-Hipsters Allowed. Great group. I remember the song fairly well from its time on the charts in 1979. Back then, I only knew Quatro as Leather Tuscadero on Happy Days, so it was something of a surprise to hear her in this cheesy context. According to Wikipedia, “Stumblin’ In” went to No. 4 on the Billboard charts – her lone Top 40 hit in the U.S. Obviously, she and Norman are having a blast lip-syncing to it, which adds to the flavor of what is, was and will always be a fluffy gem.

4) Paul McCartney & Wings – “Letting Go”

We picked up McCartney tickets this week – decent first-level seats at an exorbitant price. Which got me to thinking of the songs I hope he does when we see him. This is one (originally from Venus & Mars.)

3) The Staves – “I’m on Fire”

I’d never heard of the Staves until earlier this year, when I read a review of their new If I Was album in Mojo. I looked them up on YouTube, liked what I heard and bought it. It’s very good – they’re akin to a distaff CSN. And this cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire” is a pure, harmony-laden delight.

2) Diane Birch – “Heavy Cross”

Diane Birch tweeted this week that she’d like to release an album of Bible Belt “demos and rejects.” I’d love to see it happen. I’d love, even more, for this to be included – her take on Gossip’s “Heavy Cross” (with a little bit of Screaming’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You” thrown in for good measure).

1) Paul Simon – “American Tune”

One of my favorite Paul Simon songs. A timeless metaphor for the American experience. (It’s also a song that I think Rumer should cover, as she’d do wonders with it.)