Posts Tagged ‘Juliana Hatfield’

Making music is not akin to building a model, though sometimes it may seem that way. Prefabricated pieces aren’t stamped out at a factory in some far-off foreign land. Picture-laden directions aren’t included. There’s no inserting of staccato guitar solo A into steady rhythm B, and no slathering on glue and waiting for it to dry. Otherwise, the world would be awash in indistinguishable songs.

Oh wait. We are.

But such has been the case since the dawn of the entertainment industry. Hits beget blurry copies that smell of mimeograph ink – and if you don’t appreciate that reference, don’t worry. It only serves to point out my age and say, slyly, that much of modern pop music isn’t being made for me. (Nor should it be.) As Paul Simon summarized in “The Boy in the Bubble,” “every generation sends a hero up the pop charts.”

Anyway, although my much-ballyhooed “Album of the Year” is an honorific I’ve doled out every year since 1978, when I was 13, putting forth an “Album of the Decade” never occurred to me until a month ago, when the notion was mentioned in someone’s tweet; and then, this month, magazines, newspapers and online outlets began posting their lengthy and semi-lengthy lists. The ones I’ve seen basically weigh artistry and commercial impact, and inevitably mix in a handful of niche records while ignoring select popular hits.

Most are little more than clickbait exercises designed to boost ad impressions.

You’ll find no advertisements on this page. To borrow/adapt the lyrics from Neil Young’s “This Note’s for You,” I don’t write for Pepsi/I don’t write for Coke/I don’t write for nobody/Makes me look like a joke. Also, very few of those lists achieve what I love most about reading about music: a sense of the author. From where I sit, the best music reflects the listener(s) as much as it does the artist. It intertwines with our DNA. (And “best” in that sentence construct is a subjective thing.) 

With all that said, the reality of the past decade – which saw good times, bad times, and plenty of in-betweens for me and mine – is that a handful of albums turned my ear every year, and quite a few became constants. And of those, a select some have pretty much become one with my soul; they mean as much to me as the music of my youth.

One caveat: Your mileage may vary. One more caveat: It’s too early for my favorite albums of this year to be included here, as one never knows just how long they’ll stick with you (though I can’t imagine Allison Moorer’s Blood fading away). And one last caveat: I’m a middle-aged white guy with catholic tastes. (To quote Paul Simon again, “I know what I know.”) While I enjoy many different musical avenues, I generally find myself circling the same blocks of rock, pop and Americana/country.

And with that out of the way, here are my top seven albums for the 2010s.

1) Rumer – Seasons of My Soul (2010). In my first blog post on the Hatboro-Horsham Patch (which I’ve since moved to this site) in February 2012, I called it “an atmospheric song cycle that’s teeming with soulful, knowing lyrics and melodies that wrap themselves around the heart.” It spoke to me then and speaks to me now. It’s the definition of “essential.

2) Courtney Marie Andrews – Honest Life (2016). I cannot properly put into words the many ways this album affected me, other than to say this: From the moment I first heard it, it felt like it had been with me all my life. “Honest Life” is a song I want played at my funeral, whenever that may be. “Some things take a lifetime to fully understand.” (For my initial review of it, click here.)

3) Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Psychedelic Pill (2012). This may be a controversial pick for some, as not even all Neil fans appreciate its grandeur. Such is life. But as I wrote in this “essentials” essay, “it features sprawling songs that capture the messy essence of this thing called life.”

4) First Aid Kit – Stay Gold (2014). So, long about 2012, I had pretty much given up hope for the youth of the world. And then I heard “Emmylou” by the Swedish sister act known as First Aid Kit and realized that, indeed, I was wrong. As good as The Lion’s Den album was, however, nothing prepared me for this gem. The psychedelic folk of “Cedar Lane” remains as hypnotic to me now as it did then.

5) Juliana Hatfield – Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John (2018). I can hear some guffaws echoing through the interconnected tubes that make up this thing we call the “internet.” Whatever. This album saw two of my favorite worlds collide, and made a rough last half of the decade much sweeter. To rework a line from my initial review, it captures the spirit of the originals while adding a touch of Juliana’s heart.

6) Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball (2012). From my original review (another first posted to the Patch but since relocated here): “[W]hat makes a song great isn’t that it conjures spirits from our youthful nights, but that it speaks to the present. Maybe the first blush of melody hurtles us into the past, but the bridge jerks us as fast into the here and now. And the lyrics ring true no matter the age – or our age, for that matter. The runaway American dream that drives Born to Run, for example, represents today as much as 1975, just as the bitter realities and resignation of Darkness reflect working-class life of every era. As Springsteen sings on the title track of Wrecking Ball, his new album, “hard times come and hard times go/yeah, just to come again.” Some things, for good and bad, never change.”

7) Diane Birch – Nous (2016). This EP is a true work of art anchored by what, to me, is one of the decade’s greatest songs: “Stand Under My Love.” To borrow from my review, Nous “documents dreams, disappointments, disillusionment, faith and acceptance, and an awareness not spoken that, indeed, the Last Things are the First Things.”

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.

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.

For the record, I am not now, nor have I ever been, a fan of the Police. I don’t mean the brave men and women in blue, mind you, but the new-wave rock band that consisted of Sting on lead vocals and bass, Andy Summers on guitar, and Stewart Copeland on drums. At some point in late 1979 or early ’80, I did buy the 45 of “Message in a Bottle” – but that was it. Sure, like most radio listeners of the early ’80s, I enjoyed a handful of their other hits – such as “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” and “Every Breath You Take” – but never enough to purchase anything else by them. Music fandom is an odd duck, of course, and – though I didn’t connect with their music – I also didn’t detest it or them. (Which I can’t say for other bands of the era.) They just didn’t speak to or for me.

In fact, my favorite Police song isn’t a Police song, per se, but a cover by Juliana Hatfield. In 2000, she included her spin on “Every Breath You Take” via a bonus CD single (backed by the “Mad Mex Mix” of “When You Loved Me”) as part of the deluxe two-fer package of Beautiful Creature and Juliana’s Pony: Total System Failure. (It was later included on her 2002 Gold Stars best-of.)

I share all that for no other reason than this: Juliana’s next album is slated for release on November 15th. Titled Juliana Hatfield Sings The Police, it will feature her renditions of 12 Police songs. It’s the second entry in a planned series of Sings albums (the first being the ONJ set, obviously). Future entries will hopefully – but likely not – be devoted to the Kinks, Paul Weller and Neil Young. (That’s my wish list.) In a statement posted on the American Laundromat site, where one can pre-order the album on CD, vinyl or cassette, or splurge on the “Synchronicity” bundle, she explains:

“With “Juliana Hatfield Sings The Police” I am continuing the project that I started last year with my “Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John” album. I hope to continue to go deep into covering artists that were important to me in my formative years. The songs I’ve chosen seem to resonate in the present moment. “Rehumanize Yourself”, “Landlord”, and “Murder By Numbers” explore ugly kinds of nationalism, abuses of power, and the mendacity of large swaths of the ruling class. And then there are the timeless, relatable psychodramas: “Every Breath You Take”, “Can’t Stand Losing You”, “Canary In A Coalmine”. In the Police, each player’s style was so distinctive, accomplished and unique that I didn’t even attempt to match any of it; for anyone to try and play drums like Stewart Copeland would be a thankless, pointless task that is bound to fail. Instead, I simplified and deconstructed, playing a lot of the drums myself, in my rudimentary, caveman style. Chris Anzalone (Roomful Of Blues) played the rest of the drums. Ed Valauskas (the Gravel Pit) and I each played about half of the bass parts, while I did all the guitars and keyboards. I listened to a lot of the Police when I was preparing and making this album, and their recordings are as refreshing and exciting as ever. I hope that my interpretations of these songs can inspire people to keep loving the Police like I did, and still do.” 

As a non-Police fan, I can’t and won’t play Monday morning quarterback with the chosen songs. That said, I am surprised by the lack of “Don’t Stand So Close to Me,” which seems like it could be a page out of Juliana’s thematic playbook.

Here’s the first teaser track, “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da”: