Posts Tagged ‘First Impressions’

A few weeks back, I upgraded our meager 20-channel cable package to include ACCN, the cable network that provides coverage of the ACC – a necessity for a Tar Heels basketball fan like my wife. Cable companies being what they are, however, it wasn’t just a matter of adding the one station; I had to add bunches, most of which we’ll never watch.

That same day we discovered one of our favorite TV series of yore in a “binge-worthy” marathon on one of those new additions, WEtv: the original Law & Order. For those who’ve never seen it, the Dick Wolf-produced crime procedural followed a well-hewn pattern: cops investigate in the first half; and ADA Ben Stone or Jack McCoy prosecute the suspect(s) in the second half. Personal stories involving the principal characters are generally pushed to the periphery, though their personalities are on full display thanks to their interplay, wisecracks and conversations. There’s something oddly comforting about its predictability. Bad things happen; and good generally wins out in the end.

Which leads, in a roundabout way, to this:

Why certain artists and bands connect with some listeners but not others is one of the universe’s true mysteries. I had, have and will always have a wide range of likes and loves, for example, from pop to rock to country to R&B, from gritty to kitschy and all stops in-between, and can reel off many favorite artists and bands within each genre. And, as many other music fans, I had and have artists and bands that left and leave me…eh. Which is to say, when the Police came on one of Philadelphia’s rock radio stations, I sometimes tuned away but, as often, just bided my time. I didn’t actively dislike them, as I did other acts of that and other eras, but every little thing they did was not magic to my ears.

The Police, for those not in the know, were one of the few new wave bands embraced by the mainstream rock world during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. In retrospect, it’s understandable: The three principles (Sting, Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers) were clean-cut, conscientious, peppy and preppy – aka the kind of young rockers one could bring home to the folks and older siblings without setting off any alarms.

As political and pointed as they may have been on album cuts, their singles told another, less controversial story. In fact, as I wrote a few months back, when I was 14 in late ’79 or early ’80, I liked what I heard on rock radio enough to buy the “Message in a Bottle” 45 (which featured “Landlord” on the b-side). If they were sending out an SOS, like many other kids, I was listening.

And then I stopped.

Others of my generation, however, obviously heard something compelling in their music. Juliana, for instance, included a cool cover of “Every Breath You Take” on a bonus CD single that came with the two-fer bundle of her Beautiful Creature and Juliana’s Pony CDs back in 2000. I’m sure it left some fans walking on the moon, just about.

Anyway, Juliana Hatfield Sings the Police hews close to the peppy and preppy side of the Police, and mostly includes songs I’m not familiar with and/or just don’t remember. (I saw a headline somewhere describe them as “deep tracks,” a phrase I generally deride, but I suppose it’s accurate.) I have no inclination to seek out the originals and A-B them against Juliana’s versions, as – for me – Juliana’s versions are enough. “Hungry for You (J’Aurais Toujours Faim de Toi)” is my favorite of that bunch, as Juliana singing in French is a delight…

…and “Murder by Numbers” and “Landlord” rock with righteous abandon. (“Landlord,” actually, should have been the lead single. It’s killer, and the message remains as relevant today as ever.)

Of the four songs I do remember: “Can’t Stand Losing You,” “Every Breathe You Take” (a new recording, not the 2000 one) and “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” are good fun; even if she wasn’t, I hear Juliana smiling through the microphone during each of them. But the guitar in “Roxanne” annoys me to no end.

In summary: By and large, cover songs and albums are akin to procedural affairs. If you like Juliana, you’ll enjoy this; and if you like Juliana and dream the Police, you’ll be in heaven.

I listened to the new album from Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Colorado, this morning and a few more times this afternoon. To my ears, after those few spins, it’s a solid outing that mixes glimmers of greatness with a few well-meaning but mundane tracks – par for the course, in other words, when it comes to Neil’s output since Psychedelic Pill.

It should be noted that longtime Crazy Horse guitarist Poncho Sampredo opted out of rejoining the band, as he’s apparently happy in retirement in Hawaii (who wouldn’t be?), so Nils Lofgren – who first backed Neil on After the Gold Rush and played with the Danny Whitten-era Crazy Horse on their eponymous 1971 album, steps in. (He also played on Tonight’s the Night and with Neil’s Trans-era band, of course.) The shift results in less thud-thick chords reverberating like ripples through the soul and more stiletto-like guitar runs. One approach is no better than the other, mind you. It’s just different. And now that I think about it, It’s more akin to Neil and a less-woozy Santa Monica Flyers than Neil and Crazy Horse.

That said, the opening track, “Think of Me,” possesses a Broken Arrow-like gait that’s both comfortable and compelling. (And I mean the album, not the song.)

“She Showed Me Love” is a cacophonous track that clocks in at 13:37, with witticisms and broadsides set aside a chorus that seems borrowed from another work in progress. It matters not. The guitar histrionics and groove, as if often the case with Neil, matter more than the lyrics. Me, I get lost in the music; others, however, might find themselves bored after five minutes.

In “Olden Days,” Neil reaches out to an old friend who’s moved on. It’s a “Days That Used to Be”-type tune recast a few decades on, with the longing for the past replaced for a longing for friends who’ve passed. “Where did all the people go?/Why did they fade away from me?/They meant so much to me and now I know/That they’re here to stay in my heart.”

The ominous-sounding “Shut It Down” rages against climate change-deniers, and while I agree with the sentiments, the lyrics make less of a case than those of the questioning “I Do,” which closes the album proper.

The LP comes with two additional tracks on a 45 – a second helping of the “We’re a Rainbow Made of Children” rewrite, “Rainbow of Colors,” and “Truth Kills,” an acoustic ode in which Neil admits that “I don’t wanna be great again/First time was good enough/Truth kills in a world of lies/So I’ll be speaking up/Don’t wanna be great again.”

(He said it, not me.)

All in all, like I mentioned up top, it’s a solid outing with some memorable moments. Not Neil’s best, but far from him worst. Give it a go. (FYI: The single songs, along with the album in full, can be streamed via the Neil Young Archives.)

It’s easy to look back in anger, but long-held acrimony plumbs the depths of the soul only to rise into view like a wave from the seemingly calm sea. It’s unexpected and sometimes all-consuming, and sometimes grows into a tsunami that endangers everything and everyone in its path, including ourselves. And when or if it recedes, we tend to sidestep blame, pointing elsewhere to explain away our actions.

We take that anger from long ago, in other words, and unconsciously direct it elsewhere.

Learning to accept that which we cannot change, of embracing empathy and forgiveness not just for those who transgressed against us but for how we processed it, that’s not so easy. Yet it’s necessary in order to move on.

To that end, Allison Moorer’s latest album, Blood, is a compelling companion piece to her just-released memoir of the same name. In both, she delves into the tragedy that shaped her and her sister Shelby Lynne’s lives. Their parents had a volatile marriage due to their father’s heavy drinking and violent rages, which culminated one August morning in 1986 when he murdered their mother, from whom he was estranged, before taking his own life.

The 10 songs that make up the album explore the family dynamics that led to the tragedy, as well as its lingering impact. “Bad Weather,” the opening track, portends what’s to come in the song cycle, with long-ago storm clouds hovering over her in the present. “Cold Cold Earth” – which she first recorded years ago – then offers a journalistic account of the storm in question. As she summarizes in the last line, “such a sad, sad story, such a sad, sad world.” 

“Nightlight” revisits a memory that defines the madness from a child’s perspective, engendering sadness while simultaneously explaining her bond with her sister, who provided comfort in dark times; in a way, it’s the flip side to Shelby’s “I’ll Hold Your Head” on Revelation Road: “Lying here together in the dark/You might not think I feel your heart/I promise you I do, it’ll always be us two/you’re my nightlight/you’re my nightlight.”

The taut “The Rock and the Hill” then slides behind her mother’s eyes:

The two songs that follow, “I’m the One to Blame,” and “Set My Soul Free,” are set from the perspective of her father, an aspiring songwriter whose talent didn’t match his dreams. The former features lyrics he wrote long before his demons got the best of him (Shelby added the music after his death), yet in some ways they foreshadow the tragedy to come: “Only time will tell/How we’ll get along/Love is not the same/once the trust is gone.” The latter returns to the August morning in question, when bitterness from a lifetime’s disappointments led him to do the unthinkable: “I can’t stand to see the sun shine one more time/without her, without her.”

From that point on, the song cycle veers to Allison coming to grips with the psychic scars that incident left her with. In “The Ties That Bind,” she asks of her father’s legacy, “Why do I carry what isn’t mine? Can I take the good and leave the rest behind? Can I let go and watch it all unwind/Can I untie the ties that bind?” “All I Wanted (Thanks Anyway)” moves past those rhetorical questions and faces the one thing she wanted that he never gave, his love, and the things he gave (“your phrases and your fists”) that no one would want. 

The touching title track tackles her adult bond with Shelby – “you don’t have to explain/I’ve got your blood running through my veins” – before closing with a snippet of “Side by Side,” the same American Songbook tune that Shelby closed “I’ll Hold Your Head” with.  

“Heal,” the final song, is both an epiphany and a plea set to song. Co-written with Mary Gauthier, it recognizes that to step from the darkness one needs to consciously choose to walk into the light. “Help me lay my weapons down/Help me give the love I feel/Help me hold myself with kindness/And help me heal.”

In short, Blood is 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.

 

(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.)