Posts Tagged ‘Bruce Springsteen’

The best music reflects the audience as much as the artist; we hear and feel our own life’s highs and lows in the lyrics and melodies. Hardship and happiness are singular yet communal experiences, in other words. Everyone encounters each along the way, though the where and when may differ. Life unfolds like a maze, after all. Though no two journeys are the same, at some point everyone treads down a rocky path that turns into a dead end – just as everyone eventually, at least for a time, finds their way. We do it again and again, over and over, until, at last, the maze comes to an end.

Years end, too. 

Which leads to this: On New Year’s Eve of 1978, the year when the music bug bit me, I scrawled “Wings – London Town” on a piece of looseleaf paper I titled “Best Album of the Year” (or words to that effect) that I then slipped into one of the drawers of my desk – the same desk, in fact, that I’m writing on now. With every passing year, another album or albums were added to said paper. In time, I transferred the burgeoning list to typing paper, then entered it into our first computer, then saved it to a floppy disc and, in the late 2000s, moved it lock, stock and barrel to an external hard drive. I now have it stored in the Cloud. 

(Heirs beware: There’s a lot of digital junk in my digital drawers.) 

The selection process, then and now, remains the same. As I explained in a Facebook post way back in 2010 that I’ve since moved to this blog: “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’d amend that ever-so-slightly now. 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.)

Bruce Springsteen’s Western Stars bowled me over upon its June release. It marries an art form I adore – the “adult pop” sound of the 1960s – with Bruce’s well-honed songcraft, which this time out features a slew of recognizable characters finding their way through life. As I wrote in my review, it “spins tales of life’s casualties who invariably take two steps back for every one step up. Springsteen’s sympathy and empathy for them ring clear, perhaps because he sees himself in them – as should we all. (‘There but for the grace of God go I,’ in other words.)”

It’s such a tremendous album that, honestly, I’ve assumed it would be my Album of the Year since I first heard it.

But it’s not. It’s my No. 2.

No, my top album of the year is Allison Moorer’s Blood, the companion album to her poetic (and highly recommended) memoir of the same name. As I concluded in my review, it’s “a soulful treatise that resonates like few albums I’ve heard this year, let alone this decade. It’s a personal journey through pain and darkness that shares universal truths about life, love and forgiveness. Don’t miss experiencing it.”

Not all of the year was given over to darkness, however. The 3×4 compilation, which found the Bangles, Three O’Clock, Rain Parade and Dream Syndicate tripping back to the mid-‘80s and the Paisley Underground via vibrant renditions of each other’s songs, was and is pure joy set to vinyl. As I said in my review, “the music was utterly of its time – and, I’d argue, timeless.” It’s my No. 3.

Coming in at No. 4: Kelsey Waldon’s White Noise/White Lines. To cop a few lines from my review, it “mines the earthen strains of country music that mainstream Nashville, too often these days, ignores. It’s not the country-pop played on the radio, but the country-punk once played in the honky-tonks. It’s raw and ragged, real. Black soot courses through its veins.”

And, finally, my fifth favorite album of the year is Leslie Stevens’ Sinner, a set that both conjures and transcends the Cosmic American Music of Gram Parsons. To borrow from my review, “[i]t’s the kind of album you play once, and wind up playing again and again, each time hearing something new. Her vocals are a thing of ever-shifting beauty, soulful and sweet and pure, and the songs are strong and sure.”

(There were many other albums that caught my ear throughout the year and, I’m sure, in the weeks and months to come I’ll regret not singling a few out here. Feel free to peruse my First Impressions of them.)

Tonight, the streets outside our home will be littered with limousines and Town Cars as nominees, presenters and industry bigwigs arrive at the Old Grey Cat’s annual, and much ballyhooed, Album of the Year shindig. Select music artists and assorted others will walk the red carpet (and UNC Tar Heels welcome mat), pose for photographers, and field questions from reporters covering the event.

As is customary, after weeks of spirited deliberations, each member of the awards committee submitted their top pick for the past year via a web form, with the tabulated results printed out, folded over and placed sight unseen into an envelope that was then hermetically sealed and dropped in a mayonnaise jar on Funk and Wagnalls’ porch. No one, and I mean no one, knows the contents of said envelope. No one, that is, except for the evening’s host, the great seer, soothsayer, and sage, Catnac the Magnificent.

But before that Big Reveal, there’s this: Song of the Year. 

It is not a new addition to the fete, but an occasional one, and generally relegated to a single mention during the main awards summary. This year, however, due to the strength of several songs, the committee has deigned to break it out into a separate “teaser” post.

The “committee,” of course, is me, JGG. As I’ve said before, and will likely say again in tomorrow’s Album of the Year post, I am who I am: a middle-aged white guy with catholic tastes and a whimsical sense of humor that, some days, only my wife and cat appreciate. In my estimation, and to switch to serious mode, music lifts us when sad, calms us when mad, makes bad times manageable and good times even better. My picks come from what I’ve either purchased or added to my Apple Music library, which is packed with longtime favorites and albums discovered through reviews.

And with that out of the way, here’s today’s Top 5: Remember November – Songs of the Year, 2019.

1) In another era, Allison Moorer’s hymn-like “Heal” (from her Blood album) would have sat atop the charts for weeks on end, been played on the radio alongside Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and the Beatles’ “Let It Be,” and – as those two songs – covered by Aretha Franklin. It’s that powerful. It’s that perfect. Soul-salving set to song, it’s a soaring – yet restrained – prayer for inner peace. It’s my Song of the Year.

2) In some respects, Bruce Springsteen’s “Hello Sunshine” follows a similar thematic blueprint. As I wrote upon its release back in May, “it’s a masterful treatise on melancholia and depression” that describes Bruce’s “desire to step from the shadows and stand in the sunshine.” 

3) Kelsey Waldon’s “Kentucky, 1988” (from her White Noise/White Lines album), on the other hand, is less a treatise and more a celebration of roots. Kelsey may have been born of “two imperfect people” and weathered tough times as a kid, but that doesn’t stop her from looking back with wonder.   

4) The Three O’Clock – “Tell Me When It’s Over.” Not to tip my hand, but the 3×4 project was one of my favorite albums of the year – and how could it not be? The Three O’Clock’s rendition of this Dream Syndicate song tosses me through spacetime like few other tunes… as does the album as a whole. (That said, the unofficial video itself is best listened to, not watched.)

5) Juliana Hatfield – “Lost Ship.” Released way back in January, Juliana’s Weird album was a damn good outing and this moody track, with its mercurial guitar break, remains – for me, at least – its piece de resistance. It takes me places.

(Photo by Rob DeMartin)

Last night, at our favorite area theater, we took in Bruce Springsteen’s Western Stars movie, in which he, a band and 30-piece orchestra perform his Western Stars album from start to finish before an audience of invited guests in the loft of his century-old Colt’s Neck, N.J., barn. (“It’s a place filled with the best kind of ghosts and spirits,” he explains.) What lifts the film from a mere replication of an intimate concert experience are the interstitial segments, which feature Bruce – now 70 years old – roaming the California desert while musing about the album’s songs, his life, and life in general. “Everybody’s broken in some way,” he says. “We’re always trying to find somebody whose broken pieces fit with our broken pieces, and something whole emerges.”

In a way, the movie is a cinematic extension of Springsteen on Broadway, in which crafted monologues introduced (and added depth to) a set of his classic songs. Yet, it’s more than that. It’s a collection of hard truths gleaned from a lifetime of personal failures and shared successes, of going it alone and going it together.

In short, Western Stars is a must-see film for Bruce fans past and present.

At one point, he talks about the fear of time passing him by – something many grapple with once they hit a certain age, when the rush of life often becomes a crush of unrecognizable realities. It’s an odd thing to consider, that a mega-star capable of selling out stadiums has the same fear we mere mortals do, but it’s true: Change discombobulates everyone.

So much has changed in the music industry since he released his first album, Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J., in 1973. Back then, “playlists” were curated by deejays – aka music fans – and they actually spurred listeners to buy singles and albums. Legendary Philly deejay Ed Sciaky, for example, helped shepherd Springsteen, Billy Joel and Yes, among others, to local success long before they broke out nationally. (To quote Bruce, “His support for my work brought me to an audience in Philadelphia that has remained one of my strongest to this day.”) That won’t and can’t happen, anymore.

Here’s “Sundown” from the film:

(The soundtrack is slated to be released this coming Friday.)

Anyone conscious of pop culture in the mid ‘80s likely remembers that, at the start of the 1986-87 TV season, the primetime suds fest Dallas dismissed its previous season, its ninth, as nothing more than a a bad dream. 

The backstory: At the end of Season 8, with his contract up, Patrick Duffy – who played the show’s white knight, Bobby Ewing – left in pursuit of other projects and, rather than have his character embark on a never-ending world cruise, or some such thing, the show’s creative team simply killed him off. 

One result: The show’s ratings dipped in Season 9, sliding from No. 2 to No. 6, the first time it hadn’t been No. 1 or No. 2 in five years. (Some accounts point to increasingly outlandish storylines as a contributing factor.) Duffy, meanwhile, failed to attract the offers he hoped for. So when the Dallas masterminds reached out with a plan for Bobby’s return, Duffy agreed. Thus, at the start of Season 10, Pamela Ewing (Victoria Principal) woke to the sound of the shower echoing through her room…

… and, in one fell swoop, everything that happened during Season 9 was written off as a dream – well, less a dream and more a nightmare. 

In a sense, then, Dallas unwittingly demonstrated the quantum model of the multiverse, which posits “parallel universes” are, at root, alternate timelines. The road not taken in this reality is the road taken in another; and the next fork in the road in this or that one generates yet another timeline. If spacetime is truly infinite, it stands to reason that there are also an infinite number of presents, pasts and futures.

Or so the theory goes.

Adding to the complexity: A dimple in the fabric of spacetime enhances the possibility of time travel, as the curvature causes the distance between some present and past points to decrease; one could argue that’s essentially what the Dallas creative team did, jumping into the past in order to save the future. Of course, we’re then thrust into Back to the Future territory: Even the smallest alteration to the past can cause the present to become unrecognizable; and, in the case of Dallas, that meant dropping from No. 6 to No. 11 in the ratings.

On an alternate timeline, however, the show could well have returned to No. 1.

That infinite possibilities lead to infinite outcomes matters not to the specific reality we find ourselves in, however. That reality is, sadly, that Lyndon LaRouche Mach 2 occupies the Oval Office and has surrounded himself with henchmen who pay fealty to him, not the Constitution. Unlike Season 9 of Dallas, it can’t be undone with a few flicks of a pen in the writer’s room; the new season, scheduled to begin on Jan. 20th, 2021, unless Congress intervenes before then, will pick up where this one leaves off. Between now and then, aside from messaging our representatives, there’s not much we, the people, can do… except distract ourselves through music.

And, on that cheery note, here’s today’s Top 5: Americana, Season 9…

1) Bruce Springsteen – “Sundown (From the Film Western Stars).” Diane and I already have our tickets for the film, which features Bruce, band and a 30-piece orchestra performing the Western Stars album – one of the year’s best, if not the best – in full. I didn’t think he could top the album version of any of the songs, as they’re all intricate hymns of the heart; I was wrong. 

2) Beth Bombara – “I Only Cry When I’m Alone/Upside Down.” As luck would have it, I stumbled across Beth’s recent album, Evergreen, early this afternoon, just before a 75-minute road trip. I cranked it up on the drive – and, damn, it’s sounds better than good. The St. Louis-based singer-songwriter delves into matters of the heart and soul while connecting with the intellect, and does so accompanied by a crack band. 

3) Michaela Anne – “By Our Design.” Michaela’s album, Desert Dove, is earning acclaim even from folks who aren’t keen on the idea of “Americana” as the (makeshift) genre it is. I haven’t yet had the chance to listen to it unencumbered from conversation, unfortunately, but what I have heard tells me that the acclaim is merited. She reminds me a lot of Emmylou Harris. 

4) Leslie Stevens – “On the Levee.” When we saw Leslie two weeks back, I was only familiar with her most recent album, Sinner. After the show, I picked up her 2016 album The Donkey and the Rose at the merchandise table, and listened to it and the rest of her oeuvre – by way of Apple Music – for the much of the following week. This song is a stunner.

5) Kelsey Waldon – “Anyhow.” Here’s a live rendition of the first single from Kelsey’s recent album, White Noise/White Lines (which I always read as White Light/White Heat – but that’s me). We have tickets to see her in the weeks ahead – can’t wait!