Posts Tagged ‘Floral Dresses’

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.

British singer-songwriter Lucy Rose delivered a spellbinding set at the Boot & Saddle in South Philly on Saturday night, the last stop of her month-long North American tour. Her voice is ethereal and otherworldly, and her humor is wry and self-deprecating. (For proof of the latter, she apologized for bringing folks out on a Saturday night, when people should be out having fun, to hear her downcast songs.)

Perhaps because it was the tour’s last night, she veered from her planned setlist and took requests from what looked to be a packed house. That led her to perform “Scar” and two songs that, honestly, I would have been disappointed if she hadn’t sung: “Floral Dresses” and “No Good at All” from her 2017 Something’s Changing album.

“No Good at All” was requested by many folks in the audience, including Diane and myself. After singing “Morai,” a stirring song about fate, Lucy rushed to the edge of the stage and gave Diane a choice: “Second Chance” or “No Good at All.” The former is a great song, but the choice was a no-brainer – “No Good at All” is pure melodic bliss. As a result, we were treated to a wondrous, slightly slowed-down rendition of it that morphed into a sweet audience sing-along toward the end. (I’d upload my video to YouTube, but the autofocus went wonky and turned Lucy into a blotchy blur.)

The main set concluded with “Shiver,” the song that introduced Lucy to the anime crowd. That, too, turned into a sweet sing-along.

The non-encore encore was a hypnotic “Nightbus.” (I describe it that way due to the Boot & Saddle’s set-up, which requires performers to descend into the audience to leave the stage.) In all, it was a hypnotic set that conjured the early ’70s. Her vocals are reminiscent of Joni Mitchell’s while her songs conjure Neil Young’s.  

The only negative: the set’s brevity. In all, she was on stage for about an hour. Given that she possesses a catalog of wondrous songs, such as “Soak It Up” from Something’s Changing, the recent “All That Fear” single, and past classics “Nebraska” and “Don’t You Worry,” she could have easily stayed on stage for another 15 or 20 minutes.

(Just as an aside, one day she should tour with the Staves – all four on stage together for 100 minutes or so, alternating songs and harmonies.)

The set (I may be missing a song):

  1. Is This Called Home
  2. Strangest of Ways
  3. Middle of the Bed
  4. Scar
  5. Floral Dresses
  6. Moirai
  7. No Good at All
  8. Love Song
  9. For You
  10. Shiver
  11. Nightbus

I’ve never been good about multitasking musical passions. I’m either all-in, or searching for the next album to be all-in with. For example, from the moment NPR began streaming Courtney Marie Andrews’ May Your Kindness Remainalbum to now, some two weeks and change later, I’ve listened pretty much only to it. And why wouldn’t I? The 10 songs hit the trifecta, connecting with the heart, soul and intellect.

Oh, last Sunday, while out and about doing errands, I gave Diane (who loves the album, but isn’t as obsessive as me) a break from the madness; we listened to XPN for a spell. And I’ve cranked up a few YouTube videos, too – including this one from CMA’s Boston show on March 26th.

Yes! It’s the Stax-like song whose title escaped both Diane and I by the time we’d made it to the car after Courtney Marie’s Philly show last Saturday. I actually hear a bit of Aretha’s “Baby I Love You” in there now, which I didn’t hear last week in the frenzy of the live performance. It’s phenomenal.

But, by and large, it’s been May Your Kindness Remain (plus the “Near You” single) that I’ve been listening to, and listening to again and again. The album just keeps getting better, and my favorite songs from it keep shifting. First it was the title track and “Kindness of Strangers,” then “Rough Around the Edges” and “Took You Up.” Now? It’s “Two Cold Nights in Buffalo.”

This morning, however, I made a conscious effort to seek out something new: Dillon Warnek’s three-song EP, Demos 2018. (Dillon, for those unaware, is the guitarist playing those killer licks in “Two Cold Nights” above.) Demos 2018 is pure Dillon – and shouldn’t be ignored. The songs conjure a young Steve Earle or Townes Van Zandt, yet possess his own sense and style. Listen to the EP below, then head over to his Bandcamp page and buy it.

Then, this afternoon, my Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-JohnXanadu” bundle (along with the Hey Babe vinyl reissue) arrived on my doorstep…

I’ve only heard the album straight through once, thus far, but… I love it. I honestly love it. I should add that I don’t think it will matter whether one came of age during ONJ’s hey day, as I did, and thus has a soft spot in the heart for the songs, only knows ONJ from Grease, or – heaven forbid – is a lifelong Juliana fan who thinks the project is a misstep. (ONJ has never had much critical cachet, after all.) The songs sound like prime Juliana, whose “prime” period – as last year’s Pussycat attests – has never ended.

I’ll have more to say about it in the weeks to come, guaranteed.

Right now, however, I have to flip the switch yet again, as we’re seeing the singer-songwriter Lucy Rose tomorrow night. We saw her open for Paul Weller last October, and she delivered a solid set despite a rather rambunctious crowd. Before an audience of her fans, I suspect she’ll be as spellbinding as her last album, Something’s Changing. Here she is at the Paste studios this past week…

The Delaware Valley faces a variety of weather-related advisories and warnings this morning. The same historic storm that brought snow to Texas, Louisiana and the Deep South is brushing the Delaware and Jersey coasts, and is large enough that those of us inland are facing slushy and slippery roads if we dare to leave the comforts of our homes.

It’s a reminder that the year is coming to a close.

‘Tis the season for merriment, of course, with office parties, family gatherings and auld lang syne, and our annual screening of It’s a Wonderful Life (one of the greatest movies ever made), but it’s also a time for reflection. In the case of this blog, that means contemplating the music that stirred my soul over the past 12 months and selecting my Album of the Year. I gather the contenders, listen to them from start to finish, listen to them again and again, and cogitate long into the night. What’s No. 1? What’s No. 5? Should I list honorable mentions?

First, though, the caveat that I first penned in a Facebook post back in 2010: “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.”

Second: The candidates are also winnowed by my age, race, gender and idiosyncrasies. I’m a middle-aged white guy, in other words, with catholic tastes.

Third: I’m not prone to highfalutin analysis, per se, and only think about meters and rhymes if they teeter or grind a song to a halt. On American Bandstand’s “Rate-a-Record” segment, the cliched “it’s got a good beat and you can dance to it” critique became a thing of jokey scorn, though it had much merit. Likewise, my pet phrases of “it takes you there, wherever there is” and “wow, just wow,” though overused, have merit. Great music takes us away from the immediate – it makes good times better and bad times manageable.

With that in mind, here are the Old Grey Cat’s Albums of the Year…

5) Neil Young – Hitchhiker. Neil released two albums in 2017: the archival Hitchhiker, which he recorded in one night in 1976, and the Promise of the Real-backed The Visitor. Hitchhiker, which was released in September, is a gem that shines brighter with each play while The Visitor…I like what I’ve heard, but – given that it was released on December 1st – haven’t heard it enough to weigh in, as of yet. But Hitchhiker…as I said in my review, “it’s a magical, mystical set.”

4) The Staves & yMusic – The Way Is Read. The Staves, of course, are sisters Jessica, Camilla and Emily Staveley-Taylor, whose luscious harmonies are a thing of utter wonder. yMusic is a chamber ensemble that, honestly, I know little about, but their musical flourishes on the album are reminiscent (to me, at least) of the instrumental passages in Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story. In short, The Way Is Read is unlike any other album I’ve heard this year – or decade, for that matter. It’s bright, dark, brave and hypnotic, with swirling strings and intertwining vocals.

It’s also why I’ve barely listened to The Visitor, as it was released a week earlier. There’s a strong undertow to the music that just pulls me in.

3) Lucy Rose – Something’s Changing. Before this year began, I’m sure I saw Lucy Rose’s name in one of the British music magazines I flip through (and sometimes buy) at Barnes & Noble. But it took the Staves for me to hear her. They sing on “Floral Dresses,” which was one of the lead singles from this five-star delight, and mentioned that fact on their Facebook page in March. That led me to discover this video…

As I wrote in my review of Something’s Changing, “The folk-flavored album is chock-full of tuneful musings on life and love, at turns retro and utterly modern.” I’ve turned to it many times throughout the year. Lucy recently tweeted out a picture of her day’s listening – Joni and Neil albums, all. Those influences are in the grooves, just beneath the surface; anyone who enjoys either of those greats would do well to snap up this set.

Oh, and if I named a Single of the Year? “No Good at All” would be near or at the top.

2) Juliana Hatfield – Pussycat. The Boston-based singer-songwriter-guitarist extraordinaire took out her anger over the Chump election with this cathartic set. As I wrote in my review, “Fans (new and old) who share her outlook on politics and life will thoroughly enjoy it, though some may be put off by the blunt imagery in some songs. It’s a claws-out affair that draws blood and trades, at times, in the profane. There’s an energy and drive to the performances that’s as palpable as the passion dripping from her vocals; and the lyrics, with a few exceptions, are soaked with anger, indignation and bitterness.”

Oh, and for what it’s worth, she played all the instruments except drums.

I mentioned in my original review that Pussycat likely won’t age well – 25 years from now, when Chump’s but a bad memory (akin to Nixon now), this set will take a backseat to such classics as Become What You Are, in exile deo, Made in China and How to Walk Away. And that’s okay. But for right here, right now? It hits the spot. It’s my second-most played album of the year.

It’s also home to one of Juliana’s greatest songs of all time (says I, of course), the nostalgic – and decidedly nonpolitical – “Wonder Why.”

1) Courtney Marie Andrews – Honest Life. Yes, Honest Life was released in the U.S. in late 2016 and, as a result, shouldn’t qualify for this list, let alone for the year’s most ballyhooed music honorific, the Old Grey Cat’s Album of the Year. And, yet, here we are.

My contorted logic is thus: It was released in the U.K. in January; I read reviews of it in Mojo and Uncut the following month; so, ergo, it qualifies.

It’s my most played album of the year. As I wrote in my review, “In a sense, it’s a simple singer-songwriter album that, due to the age we live in, has been categorized as country because of the country-flavored overtones on some of the songs. In another era, though, ‘Table for One’ or ‘Put the Fire Out’ would have been played by radio stations that also programmed Jackson Browne and Joni Mitchell.”

“There is nothing revolutionary in the grooves, in other words. And, yet, there is everything revolutionary in them. That conundrum-powered clarity, carried forth by Andrews’ evocative vocals and lyrics, echoes everything from Jackson Browne’s Late for the Sky to Joni Mitchell’s Blue, Steve Earle’s Guitar Town to the Jayhawks’ Hollywood Town Hall, to say nothing of Rumer’s Seasons of My Soul and First Aid Kit’s Stay Gold. Each of those LPs, after all, chronicle the human experience in ways that are unique yet familiar.”

I not only stand by that assessment, but – after a year’s worth of repeated plays – would argue that Honest Life stands shoulder-to-shoulder with each of those albums. It speaks to the heart and mind. It’s soulful, country and folk. The songs are plaintive and pretty, mesmerizing and wondrous, and dozens of additional superlatives rolled into one.

Like any great art, Honest Life takes you there, wherever there is. In other words, wow. Just wow.