Posts Tagged ‘Hello Sunshine’

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.

Panoramic. Poetic. Contemplative. Those are but a few descriptors that come to mind when listening to “Hello Sunshine,” the first of two tracks thus far released from Bruce Springsteen’s forthcoming new album, Western Stars. Sounding like a long-lost Jimmy Webb-Glen Campbell collaboration, it’s a masterful treatise on melancholia and depression that borrows a little from here, a little from there, and a little from Robert Frost.

You know I always liked that empty road
No place to be and miles to go
But miles to go is miles away
Hello sunshine, won’t you stay?

In addition to Glen Campbell’s work with Jimmy Webb, Harry Nilsson’s cover of Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talkin’” and Danny O’Keefe’s “Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues” have been cited as comparisons (if not influences) in various articles I’ve read about “Hello Sunshine,” and Burt Bacharach is sometimes mentioned, too. The song’s mid-tempo gait, subtle strings, and lyrical acumen echo the adult pop often heard on AM radio, most notably from Glen Campbell, who rode a country-pop wave to the top of the country and pop charts with a series of sophisticated songs penned by Jimmy Webb, including “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.” “Wichita Lineman” and “Galveston.”

Today’s youth will never appreciate the AM-FM divide, which sprouted during the late ‘60s and bloomed in full by the early ‘70s. For those not in the know: In the U.S., the then-dominate AM band featured stations that played pop, country, soul, and/or a “Top 40” format that integrated everything into a semi-coherent whole. The stereophonic counterparts found on the FM dial, on the other hand, often focused solely on rock (and featured album tracks, to boot). The cool kids tuned away from AM to FM, and denigrated pretty much anything that hinted at being country, pop or – heaven forbid – “middle of the road.”

Which leads back to Bruce Springsteen and “Hello Sunshine”:

This thing called life isn’t always easy, and often for reasons unseen. In his memoir Born to Run, Bruce talks openly of his battles with those invisible forces: While on a cross-country trip with a buddy in the early 1980s, for instance, he found himself facing the realization that “[l]ong ago, the defenses I built to withstand the stress of my childhood, to save what I had of myself, outlived their usefulness, and I’ve become an abuser of their once lifesaving powers. I relied on them wrongly to isolate myself, seal my alienation, cut me off from life, control others, and contain my emotions to a damaging degree.”

“Hello Sunshine,” in that respect, seems to look back at that time in his life, and of his desire to step from the shadows and stand in the sunshine. That it borrows its motif from the adult world he undoubtedly heard on the AM radio of his youth shouldn’t come as a surprise. We are all products of our past (though not – as he once feared – prisoners of it).

“There Goes My Miracle,” the second released track, treads a similar path, though this one leads even further back, to the early and mid-‘60s via Roy Orbison. Again, he tackles an adult theme, albeit one not quite as deep as melancholia, in the stylistic terminology (aka pop) he learned as a youth: “Heartache, heartbreak/Love gives, love takes/The book of love holds its rules/Disobeyed by fools/Disobeyed by fools.” 

Western Stars was written and recorded primarily in 2014 and ’15, while Bruce was also working on his memoir, and I have no doubt that the songs were informed by that process. That he held onto the recordings so long isn’t much of a surprise – first came the book tour, and then the bright lights of Broadway beckoned. Releasing the album at that point wouldn’t have been fair to the material.

In essence, both “Hello Sunshine” and “There Goes My Miracle” are a way of reaching back and paying respect to his younger self while, simultaneously, reminding himself that he’s no longer a metaphoric lonely lineman. That they echo the singing he heard in the wire, and through the whine, during his formative years is genius.

Last Saturday, after much hemming and hawing, and having read more about cars in the past two months than during the past two decades, I traded in my 2010 Honda Civic – which had near 112,000 miles on it – and bought a 2018 Mazda3 hatchback. It was one of the last “new” ’18 3s still on the dealer’s lot. (Word to the wise: Last year’s model is always marked down.) It’s a good ride with an excellent Bose sound system that almost makes me yearn for my old commute just so I can listen longer. 

(Note that I wrote “almost.”) 

The tech upgrade has been a bit of a culture shock, however. The Honda included a CD player, AM-FM stereo with buttons, and an aux jack. The Mazda, on the other hand, features a 7-inch LCD screen with AM, FM, SiriusXM, Bluetooth and Apple CarPlay, plus an aux jack but no CD player; and, when you’re driving, everything is controlled by nobs located between the front seats.

I’ve primarily listened to Jade Bird’s and Molly Tuttle’s full-length debuts this week, but carved out time during my shorter commute to explore a bit of SiriusXM, as the car comes with a three-month trial. E Street Radio is, as expected, a joy, but the Outlaw Country and Bluegrass Junction channels sound good, too. (More to come on that, for sure.) 

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: New Tracks & Videos

1) Bruce Springsteen – “Hello Sunshine.” I switched on E Street Radio, which is dedicated to all things Springsteen and band, on the ride home Thursday night and was surprised to hear that  Bruce has a new album coming out. And then “Hello Sunshine” played. Wow. Just wow.

2) Neil Young – “Don’t Be Denied.” Neil says he’s saddled up the Horse and that (as of April 22nd) they’ve recorded eight songs for a new album. While we wait for that, there’s this, the first taste of the coming archival release Tuscaloosa, which features 11 tracks from a 1973 concert in Alabama.

3) Courtney Marie Andrews – Tiny Desk Concert. Courtney and band perform a stellar three-song set: “May Your Kindness Remain,” “Rough Around the Edges” and “This House.”

4) Jade Bird – “Side Effects.” Jade and band deliver a driving rendition of this “Springsteen-y” track, one of the highlights from her recent full-length debut.

5) Lucy Rose – “The Confines of This World.” A live rendition of one of the (11) standout tracks from Lucy’s recent No Words Left album. From the Union Chapel in London on April 9th of this year, it’s a mesmerizing performance.

And one bonus…

6) Molly Tuttle – “Helpless.” Molly Tuttle’s full-length debut is a velvety smooth (and addictive) blend of bluegrass, folk and pop, and conjures – for me, at least – Alison Krauss, Shawn Colvin and Kasey Chambers, among others. Here, she ends a show with a rendition of Neil Young’s classic ode to his Canadian home. (For those unfamiliar with Molly, she – like Kasey – began her career in a family band before branching off on her own. Since, she’s twice been named the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Guitarist of the Year.)