Posts Tagged ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’

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.

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.’”

Thanksgiving night, after a wonderful get-together with family, Diane and I continued our trek through Good Girls Revolt. One episode centered on New Year’s Eve of 1969: As the ‘60s came to an end, Patti (Genevieve Angelson) and editor Finn (Chris Diamantopoulos) concluded that the decade had been about suppression and repression; the ‘70s, they predicted, would be about expansion. Then, at about 10:50pm, I received a message from iTunes: Rumer’s This Girl’s in Love: A Bacharach and David Songbook was available for download.

It’s a lilting and lush set; the music possesses the grace of Audrey Hepburn, soul of Dusty Springfield and vocal finesse of the 5th Dimension, if that makes sense, and evokes the era in which the songs were born while remaining firmly rooted in the present. While one can imagine Rumer singing, say, “One Less Bell to Answer” on The Tonight Show in 1969, one can also imagine her swaying to the same music on The Tonight Show next month. At its best, music transcends time and space; and this set does just that.

Anyway, the juxtaposition of Good Girls Revolt and This Girl’s in Love (and, perhaps, too much turkey) led me to reflection – and to the realization that Patti and Finn, in their rush to pass judgment on the ’60s, were wrong. The decade was not a time of suppression or repression. To the contrary. It was a time when the collective American mindset pushed past a centuries-old prejudice (race) and began to do the same with another (gender). That’s not to say prejudice was eliminated; far from it. But the majority of folks realized it was wrong.

Consider this clip from Petula, a TV special starring British pop singer Petula Clark that aired on NBC on April 2, 1968:

The moment near the end, when Petula puts her arm on Harry Belafonte’s? Believe it or not, it spurred a controversy. A vice president of Chrysler, which was sponsoring the show, demanded that another take be used due to the “interracial touching.” Petula Clark and her husband, the special’s producer, said no; NBC sided with them; and the special, when it aired, was a hit. But if that touch had occurred a decade earlier? NBC likely would’ve cut the song or, if not, many TV stations, primarily in the South, would’ve refused to air the show.

That said, despite the decade’s advances, life wasn’t great. Two days after that special aired, for example, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated; two months later, Robert Kennedy was killed; four months later, the Democratic National Convention in Chicago turned violent; six months later, Richard Nixon was elected president; and, all the while, the Vietnam War raged – more than 16,592 American soldiers died and 87,388 were wounded that year.

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.

Which leads to today’s Top 5: The Promise of Tomorrow, circa 1970 and Billboard. These are the year’s top singles…

1) Simon & Garfunkel – “Bridge Over Troubled Water”

2) The Carpenters – “(They Long to Be) Close to You”

3) The Guess Who – “American Woman”

4) B.J. Thomas – “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head”

5) Edwin Starr – “War”

6) Diana Ross – “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”

And a few singles that didn’t make the year’s top 100:

7) The 5th Dimension – “One Less Bell to Answer”

8) Elton John – “Your Song”

9) Dusty Springfield – “A Brand New Me”

 

I’ve written before of my affinity for cover songs. There’s just something magical when a singer tackles a contemporary’s tune and/or digs deep into the charts of history to celebrate an influence. It sheds light on him or her, I think, in a way that one’s own work doesn’t.

Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, of course, cover songs were somewhat de rigueur. Many a Motown LP followed a simple pattern: the artist’s current single(s); versions of their stablemates’ hits; and renditions of Beatles’ songs and other current tunes. Gladys Knight & the Pips’ If I Were Your Woman album, from 1971, includes her renditions of Traffic’s “Feelin’ Alright” and the Beatles’ “Let It Be,” for instance, and her Standing Ovation features her sultry take on Kris Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make It Through the Night.”

In today’s world, many an aspiring singer has a YouTube channel loaded with their renditions, many of them very good, of current and classic songs. I’m sidestepping that rabbit hole to focus primarily on artists who’ve released original works, however.

So, without further adieu, here’s today’s Top 5: Cover Songs, Part Two.

1)  Rumer – “Balance of Nature.” This is another tasty treat from the Brit singer-songwriter’s upcoming album, This Girl’s in Love: A Bacharach and David Songbook. (It was originally recorded by Dionne Warwick for her 1972 Warner Brothers’ debut, Dionne.)

2) Rylie Bourne – “Fist City.” One of my favorite new artists shows off her roots with this rendition of the feisty Loretta Lynn classic.

3) The MonaLisa Twins – “God Only Knows.” So, above, I mentioned the rabbit hole of YouTube. The MonaLisa Twins, who I discovered courtesy of YouTube’s algorithms, are singing sisters from Austria who moved to Liverpool a few years back – and, man, what voices! This hails from their 2014 MonaLisa Twins Play Beatles & More album.

4) Paul Weller – “What’s Going On.” The “modfather” is joined by Lena Fiagbe for this cover of the timeless Marvin Gaye song.

5) Britta Phillips – “Drive.” A cover of the Cars’ song; a studio version can be found on her recent album, the sublime Luck or Magic.

And a few bonuses…

Elvis Presley – “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Presley expanded his Vegas sets with a plethora of contemporary tunes. This wondrous rendition of the Simon & Garfunkel chestnut comes from the That’s the Way It Is film, which documented his 1970 return to live performance in Las Vegas.

Alicia Keys – “Someday We’ll All Be Free.” Here’s Alicia from the America: A Tribute to Heroes TV special in 2001 performing a stirring rendition of the 1973 Donnie Hathaway classic.

Juliana Hatfield – “It Never Rains in Southern California.” A few years back, Juliana offered to record song requests for one of her PledgeMusic projects – for $1000 a pop, if my memory is correct. That was far and away out of my budget then, and still is now, but hey – someone ponied up the cash. Here’s one of them: a wistful version of the 1972 hit by Albert Hammond.