Posts Tagged ‘Here I Am’

A few years back, Diane and I traveled from our old homestead in Hatboro, Pa., to the Ardmore Music Hall for what turned out to be one of our final shows in the Philly region. The reason for the trek: the singer-songwriter Shelby Lynne. She pulsated like a supernova once she hit the stage, not stepping into the spotlight but becoming one with the spotlight.

It was a remarkable night.

After the show, at the merchandise table, we picked up the DVD and soundtrack LP for Here I Am, an independent film that she starred in and was selling directly to fans, and a month or so after that I ordered the soundtrack on CD from Shelby’s online store – I wanted to be able to listen in my car, not just in my den. The CD arrived while we were in midst of packing, packing and packing for our impending move, so I ripped the CD and tossed it into a box (and, honestly, have yet to see it again).

That’s a whole lot of backstory to get to this: In the weeks and months that followed, the Here I Am soundtrack became one with my subconscious. A few soliloquies lifted from the film are tracks unto themselves and are no less brilliant than the songs. “I was looking at the moon the other night,” Shelby says in one, “and it’s the same moon that that waitress and gravedigger look at. It’s the same dreams. Everybody stands on a stage of some kind. Every spirit’s walking around under the same stage lights. You don’t have to sing to just be in the spotlight. Six feet under is six feet under. Doesn’t matter what dirt it is or where the dirt is.”

On the soundtrack, that leads into the fragile and vulnerable “Revolving Broken Heart,” which opens with its own spoken-word vignette: “The audience, they’re the real heroes. They watch you fall apart. They listen to what you’re not telling. They know what you’re hiding…”

The juxtaposition of soliloquy and song create an intimate, diary-like feel to the enterprise. But, as the soliloquy-free version above demonstrates, it loses none of its power without the spoken words. 

Since then, the movie has been retitled When We Kill the Creators, re-edited, and has earned much applause at film festivals; and Shelby has turned the soundtrack into a full-fledged album, which was released yesterday (4/17). As inferred above, the spoken-word bits and one song, “War Heroes,” have been dropped, the remaining tracks re-mixed, and a few new songs added. I must confess, however, that I was a little apprehensive about the tinkering until I heard the full album yesterday. While the album has a slightly different feel than the soundtrack, it is no less intimate or brilliant.

Unfortunately, I can’t reference my CD for the liner notes, as my Amazon delivery was pushed back to next week, but Shelby said on The Paste Happiest Hour webcast yesterday (she goes on around the 25-minute mark, but the interview – which features two songs – doesn’t begin in earnest for about five more minutes) that she recorded most of the tracks herself in her home studio; and that the new songs were also inspired by the film. 

Certain tracks, a la “Revolving Broken Heart,” expose a wounded soul. In “My Mind’s Riot,” for instance, she sings about a fraying relationship:

(That’s Shelby on sax, by the way – she last played it in 9th grade!)

Other songs, however, have a more soulful feel to them. As I mentioned last week, “Don’t Even Believe in Love” sounds like a long-lost Dusty in Memphis outtake to my ears. Beyond the drums being more prominent, I don’t hear much of a difference between it and the Here I Am mix, but in a sense it doesn’t much matter: After one listen you’ll swear it’s been with you forever. It’s just an incredible song.

In that Paste piece, Shelby also talks about how she can get the feeling of a song down even though she’s not technically proficient on every instrument she picks up. (In fact, she sums up the album as “just a bunch of feelings.”) From where I sit, as a music fan, emotional heft comes not from the purity of the playing in and of itself, but the purity of the intent behind it. (It’s why Neil Young and Crazy Horse are, to me, one of the all-time best bands.) “Here I Am” is an example of that – just Shelby and piano, it’s a dramatic and powerful tour de force. It resonates in the soul long after the song has faded to silence.

These are odd times due to the pandemic, of course, with many of us shuttered inside our homes and stressed by the unknowns that lie beyond our doors. Shelby Lynne’s new album won’t end any of that, but it will take you away from the worries for a spell. Give it a go. It’s available on all the usual streaming platforms; Amazon has the CD; and Shelby – through her website – is also selling autographed LPs.

’Tis the season for making lists and checking them twice, and determining which album is the Old Grey Cat’s ballyhooed Album of the Year. The honor, which is celebrating its 40th year this year, came about late in 1978 due to my dream of becoming a rock critic (yeah, I know: crazy!), and continued through the decades because…well, why not? Over that span, it’s chronicled the evolution (or lack thereof) of my musical tastes.

It is a decidedly personal affair, in other words. In years past, and on the updated tally I post early each year, I explain the process thusly: “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.”

But in the immortal words of Ron Ziegler, “that statement is no longer operative.” In the age of Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube, no one needs to actually purchase an album to enjoy it. Just about every new release can be had for the price of one CD a month (aka the subscription fee) or the willingness to put up with commercials. (Yet, although I don’t purchase as much as I once did, I own all the albums that made their way onto my list. How could I not?)

Also, as I wrote last year, “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.”

Some years, I revisit all the contenders. This year? There was no need. They are albums that I’ve turned to time and again since their releases, and have never grown tired of. That said, there were a few surprises: Although I thoroughly loved First Aid Kit’s Ruins and Courtney Marie Andrews’ May Your Kindness Remain, as the year wore on I found myself listening to them less and less often. I’m sure it had more to do with me, and the headspace I found myself in, than the music. I deem them two of my three “honorable mentions” for the year. Mikaela Davis’ Delivery is my third.

And, with that… 

Juliana Hatfield’s Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John is my Album of the Year. 

I got chills when she announced the project – as Hopelessly Devoted to Liv – during her concert with Wesley Stace at the Ardmore Music Hall in October 2017, and those chills were multiplying after she sang “Have You Never Been Mellow?” and “Physical.” (Just as an aside, Stace suggested that she call the album JH Sings ONJ, as the title conjures such cover sets from yesteryear as The Hollies Sing Dylan. It obviously stuck.) 

In my review, I noted that the set is, in some ways, an extension of the moving “Wonder Why” from her 2017 Pussycat LP, “in which she sought refuge from the madness of the present via the memories of her childhood. These songs, for her and us, are a similar escape into the past. They conjure another time and place, and also pay homage to a singer (and sometime songwriter) who, in that long-ago era, created a safe room where many of us dwelled on occasion.”

FYI: It’s the sixth time that Juliana has nabbed my year-end honors.

The first runner-up: the Stone Foundation’s Everybody, Anyone. In my review, I said that the songs “feature taut rhythms and lyrics that strive for something more than the rudimentary reflections that make up much of today’s mainstream music. They’re metaphysical musings of the highest order.”

Paul Weller co-wrote that Stone Foundation track, “Next Time Around.” His own release this year, True Meanings, is the latest classic in his own oeuvre, and is my second runner-up. Due to offline events, this blog was placed into a holding pattern around the time of the album’s release, so I never reviewed it. But make no mistake: It’s one of his best. 

The third runner-up: Shelby Lynne’s Here I Am, which features her songs (and some poetic snippets of dialogue) from her movie of the same name. Originally available only on vinyl, it’s now out on CD (via Shelby’s online store). The songs are as mesmerizing as her performance in the film.  

The fourth runner-up: Erin O’Dowd, whose debut album, Old Town, took up residence in my heart and head way back in May, and provided much-needed sustenance on a long road trip Diane and I took in September. In my First Impressions piece on it, I said that the songs sent “my spirits soaring higher than the beautiful May morn.”

The fifth and final runner-up: Becky Warren’s Undesirable, which is an album-long treatise on America’s unofficial caste system. As I wrote in this piece, it’s akin to a series of short stories set to song. It’ll draw you in, make you think, and make you tap your feet.

[Update: Since I wrote this in August 2018, the movie has been retitled “When We Kill the Creators.” You can find more information about it here.]

I am not a film critic, nor do I play one on TV. In fact, these days, I rarely go to the multiplex – the last film I saw in a theater was Jason Bourne (my choice) and before that Love & Friendship (Diane’s choice), and before that Indignation (mine), Spotlight (ours), and whatever the final Harry Potter film (Diane’s) was called. And, at home, despite having an array of options thanks to cable, Netflix and Amazon Prime, I rarely click play on a movie. I don’t care about animation, live-action comic books, or crass comedies, which are pretty much all that the Hollywood studios crank out these days.

In fact, before Here I Am, the last “new” movie I watched was Lady Bird on Amazon Prime, which Diane wanted to see. I found it insightful, poignant and funny, and enjoyed its nuanced, slice-of-life story. 

Written and directed by Cynthia Mort, Here I Am is also a slice-of-life tale, though it’s a music-based drama that includes a layer of metaphysical musings. The plot is straightforward: Successful singer Tommy Gold (Shelby Lynne), who’s been rocked by guilt and self-doubt since a tragic death, deals with the pressures of life while recording a new album and preparing for a tour. In some respects, the film has a cinéma-vérité feel – we’re plopped into the middle of an ongoing story, and it’s left to us to sort certain things out.

As Tommy, Shelby Lynne radiates pain – but also the magnetism that’s made Tommy a star. You believe her in the role. The supporting cast is also strong: Ally Walker plays Walker, who’s either Tommy’s manager or former manager-turned-record company executive, as well as a former lover – aside from Tommy’s internal demons, she’s the main antagonist. Elisabeth Röhm costars as Tommy’s agent, Gail, who defends and explains her boss to those who only see her as a product. Hugo Armstrong plays Colton, a sympathetic record-company man. 

I found it an insightful look at this thing called human existence, and recommend it to anyone interested in adult stories. (And by “adult” I mean “grown-up.”) Don’t get me wrong: Shot on a barebones budget over 15 days, it’s not a perfect film. But the story and performances are compelling enough that you’ll overlook the flaws.

You can buy it and the soundtrack via Shelby Lynne’s web store.

The soundtrack, I should mention, features songs written by Shelby Lynne as well as Shelby and Cynthia Mort. My only criticism: At present, it’s only available on vinyl from Shelby’s store, which means I can only listen when I’m here, at home, and not on the road. Here’s one of the songs, which I’m leaving unlisted on YouTube, as performed at the Ardmore Music Hall a few weeks back:

A few days after the show, Shelby told me via a tweet that the title is “Looking at the Moon/Revolving Broken Heart,” but that doesn’t match any of the songs listed at the end of the DVD or on the film’s website…and our LP, which we picked up along with the Here I Am DVD at the show, doesn’t list titles on the jacket or label. Late tonight (8/12), she said it’s “My Mind’s Riot.” Whatever it’s called, it’s a stirring ode to the downside of love – losing it, or the fear of losing it. It’s the kind of song that lingers in the mind long after the album is over.

And the rest of the soundtrack is as good. Here’s another track, “Off My Mind,” which was released as a single earlier this year.

(To learn more about Here I Am, visit Shelby Lynne’s website.)