Posts Tagged ‘Kindness of Strangers’

For decades, just about, I usually rolled out of bed in the predawn, gulped coffee while browsing the news (and newsfeed) or working on my website/blog, and departed for the office some two hours later, right around 7:30am. I maintained that early-to-rise routine on weekends, too – even if we were out late the night before. It was just the way of my life. These days, however? Most weekdays, I wake late, don’t turn on the computer until the night, and barely glance at my iPhone until I arrive at the office around 8:30am. So it was somewhat serendipitous that I fired up the MacBook this past Thursday morning – albeit for just 10 minutes – and discovered, by way of Facebook, that NPR’s First Listen was none other than Courtney Marie Andrews’ May Your Kindness Remain album, which is due out on March 23rd.

I streamed it during the commute that followed, and found myself – for the first time ever, I think – cursing what was an atypical easy ride. The lack of slowdowns, accidents, or debris on the highway made it appear that I’d arrive at work before the album ended. (Thankfully, my fear was for naught: a jam at the Valley Forge exit, where some 10 lanes narrow into two, caused me to pull into my company’s parking lot about five minutes after the 43-minute listen had ended.)

I played it again that evening. And again this morning – times four. Not enough listens for a proper review, but enough to share my first impressions. Which are:

Unlike Honest Life, which was – by and large – a fairly stripped-down affair, the 10 songs here are fleshed out with organ, electric guitar, and Sweet Inspirations-esque backing vocals. A gritty guitar often reverberates, sawing through songs – such as the title track or “Took You Up” – like a serrated blade through softwood lumber. (Wood houses, for those unaware, are framed with what’s known as softwood.)

Now that I think about it, however, that’s an imperfect metaphor, as the song structures are beyond solid. The guitar does no damage, in other words; rather, it acts more like an accent or umlaut, fleshing out the sound and emotions. So, shifting to a more apt analogy, the sonic stew conjure the likes of Dylan (both Bob and Thomas), Joni, Lucinda, and the Band, plus – especially on “Two Cold Nights in Buffalo” – Iris DeMent. (“Livin’ in the Wasteland of the Free” is calling out to be covered in concert, Courtney. Just sayin’.)

But, mostly, the echoes are just that – echoes. Courtney synthesizes those (real or imagined) influences into a tasty gumbo of her own.

Lyrically, she makes the universal personal and the personal universal. Whether or not she lived the experiences, “Lift the Lonely From My Heart,” “Rough Around the Edges” and “Took It Up” sound like the confessions of a battered soul. (From “Took It Up”: “Is it the journey or the destination/is this love or is this addiction/circumstances are meant to be/what does that say about you and me?”) The piano intro in “Rough Around the Edges” – which is just a stellar song – is akin to a soft wind carrying the melody of a long-ago tune, though which one I can’t yet identify. On the flip side, she sounds contented in “This House,” which – though it’s not much of a house – she considers a home.

I’ll have more on it in the coming weeks. But this much I can say now: Once the album drops next week, I’ll be playing it over and over, and over, again.

(It’s available for purchase here, by the way.)

Earlier this week, I planned to use this morning to write a grand essay about audience expectations, artistic inclinations and one of my favorite poems by Wallace Stevens, “The Man With the Blue Guitar,” which was partially inspired by Pablo Picasso’s “The Old Guitarist.”

It begins:

The man bent over his guitar,
A shearsman of sorts. The day was green.

They said, “You have a blue guitar,
You do not play things as they are.”

The man replied, “Things as they are
Are changed upon the blue guitar.”

And they said then, “But play, you must,
A tune beyond us, yet ourselves,

A tune upon the blue guitar
Of things exactly as they are.”

There’s more, of course, and – as with “The Idea of Order at Key West” – much of the poem is referential and deferential to the power and source of poetry (and art as a whole) – it’s a perfect subject for a thought piece, right?

But a funny thing happened between then and this afternoon:

A nor’easter blew through the Philly region (and the Northeastern U.S.) yesterday. Among its other misdeeds: heavy rain, strong winds and blinding snow. It was the first two that caused me to work from home; the snow was something of a surprise, as the last weather map I saw showed my hometown on the borderline between receiving none and two-or-so inches. (And if the latter, said the same report, accumulations would mainly be on the grass.) So imagine my surprise when I opened the front door at 12:30pm and saw what appeared like a white blanket draped across the neighborhood.

Still, that shock aside, it wasn’t much different than all of my workdays: busy, busy, busy. As 5 o’clock neared, I began calculating just how much longer I could vs. should work. Fridays are Fridays, after all, and tired eyes are tired eyes, but deadlines and commitments must be met. Before I could map out my end time, however, the lamp beside the desk flickered – and, just like that, we lost power. “Don’t worry,” I told Diane. “It’ll be back soon.”

But, as the minutes turned into an hour, and that hour into hours, it became obvious that it wasn’t to be soon.

To make a bad thing worse: the storm also killed cell coverage for us. I.e., no Internet. No Facebook. No Twitter. No YouTube, Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Video. No iCloud. Even making a phone call proved problematic: It took two hours before I was able to call our electric company to report the outage and learn what the ETA for power to return was. (The initial estimate: the 4th at 5pm.) The only good: my Morphie battery pack for my iPhone kept it at 100 percent for the next 20 hours; Diane’s iPads were more or less fully charged; and, though her iPhone wasn’t, my MacBook was – and we used that to bring her phone back to life. (Not that she could do anything with it beyond read.)

I have several portable hard drives filled with music, but we wanted to be transported into another world – a good movie or TV show. Without access to the Cloud, or my powered hard drives (where I store things I’ve downloaded through the years, options were severely limited – some episodes of Pretty Little Liars, which Diane never got into, and the pilots for Veronica Mars and Once Upon a Time, which were both free downloads at some point from iTunes. So we watched both on my MacBook while lying beneath a small stack of blankets in bed.

The Veronica Mars pilot remains a thing of genius. It took us away from a chilly, dreary night to sunny Neptune, Cal., where a seemingly hardened teen detective shows herself to be, in reality, a marshmallow. I still miss that series. Once Upon a Time was less genius and more fluff, but fun fluff. (It’s still on the air, actually, though we stopped watching ‘round about Season 4.)

This morning, cell reception was back though the electricity wasn’t – but it wasn’t a super-cold night, so in that sense we were blessed. The downstairs was 52 degrees (Fahrenheit), as the picture shows; it could have been much, much worse.

After a run to Dunkin’ Donuts, where the Girl Scouts-branded Coconut Caramel coffee truly hit the spot, we gathered our various gadgets and hightailed it to my mother’s to charge everything that needed charging. It was there, round about noon, that we learned from Facebook that our power had likely been restored, as a nearby business was back online. And, sure enough, when we swung home, it was – the upstairs TV was blaring like a banshee.

We headed out to celebrate at our favorite restaurant – only to discover that it was closed due to a power outage of its own. In the immortal word of the eminent philosopher Homer, “D’oh!”

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: Of Marshmallows, Music & Nor’easters.

1) Juliana Hatfield – “Physical.” The latest song from Juliana’s forthcoming ONJ tribute is an absolute stunner. In a Stereogum article, she says “Olivia Newton-John’s lusty ‘Physical’ is a groovy, bouncy song, but my take on it is darker, more aggro, because I don’t think of lust as fun or funny; I think it’s dangerous and disruptive and mostly unwelcome. So that is my interpretation of “Physical”: the human condition is a bummer, and desire a frustrating impediment to serenity.”

2) Maryanne Window & Mary Lou Lord – “Long May You Run.” So I just discovered this sweet rendition of the Neil Young classic, which is from early 2014, this past week. Maryanne Window is an Australian musician and producer, and collaborated with Mary Lou on her 2015 Backstreet Angels album (an overlooked treasure). Here, she takes the lead while Mary Lou sings backup.

3) The Staves – “Sadness Don’t Own Me.” I’ve been playing the Pine Hollow EP over and over (and over) on my commutes of late. It’s stress-reduction set to song. And this song… as Diane just said, “It’s just so beautiful.”

4) Lucy Rose – “All That Fear.” Hearing the Staves always leads me to Lucy Rose due to “Floral Dresses.” Earlier this week, she shared the video for this Something’s Changing out-take and said this about it on her Facebook page: “My husband Will and I filmed this on our first night in Australia. I was jet-lagged, unwashed hair and had nothing to hide. I wanted to show a side of me that for so long I wouldn’t have shown anyone and a side of me I’ve grown to love.”

5) Laura Marling – “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall.” The British folksinger recorded this spellbinding cover of the Bob Dylan classic for the Peaky Blinders finale.

And one bonus…

Courtney Marie Andrews – “Kindness of Strangers.” I shared this last week, and the audio before that. It’s another song I can’t get enough of. (Her forthcoming album, May Your Kindness Remain, is going to be grand.)

Thursday night, Diane and I journeyed to the Sellersville Theater in Sellersville, Pa., to see the country-flavored singer-songwriter sisters Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer.

As expected, the set was almost the same as when we saw the two last August at the World Cafe Live in Philadelphia, given that the tour is in support of their note-perfect covers album Not Dark Yet. And, as expected, this show was as magical as that one. The lone change of substance consisted of them swapping their cover of Nirvana’s “Lithium” for Shelby’s “Miss You Sissy” (from her I Am Shelby Lynne album).

One performance that crawled into my subconscious this night was “Is It Too Much,” the lone original from Not Dark Yet. It’s a stark, powerful piece about the heavy emotional weight they’ve carried since their teen years, yet the lyrics are applicable to all who’ve weathered tough times. The mark of much, though certainly not all, great art is that it’s simultaneously personal and universal, restrictive yet expansive.

Live, it was even more stirring and spellbinding than on album.

Another highlight: their cover of Jason Isbell’s “The Color of a Cloudy Day.”

During the show, Allison – whose online journal is littered with interesting essays – discussed a piece she’s writing for a friend’s book about places. She said, and I’m paraphrasing here, that where we’re from shapes us as much as who we’re from. Think about it. (As Shelby then exclaimed, and this is a near-exact quote, “that’s some deep shit!”)

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: Personal & Universal.

1) Courtney Marie Andrews – “The Kindness of Strangers.” I shared this song from Courtney’s forthcoming May Your Kindness Remain album a few weeks back, but not this video, which she released on Thursday. She talks about it, and other things (including once crashing on Chris Pratt’s couch), in this GQ UK article.

2) H.C. McEntire – “A Lamb, A Dove.” The lyric video for the lead track from McEntire’s solo debut, Lionheart, is little more than a time-lapse of a sunrise. But it’s as amazing and addictive as the song and album.

3) Whitney Rose – “You Don’t Own Me.” In a Billboard article, Whitney says of her latest single, “[Y]ou can’t turn on the news these days without seeing that it’s just as relevant now as it was when Lesley Gore released it in 1963. I want everyone in the world to know this song and I want everyone to believe the words. I may not have that kind of reach but I wanted to do my part.”

4) Sarah Louise – “The Field That Touches My House and Yours.” Sarah Louise, who’s half of House and Land, has a new album titled Deeper Woods due out on May 11th. Back in my old folkie days, I’d have played it alongside the hand-me-down songs of yore, and listeners would likely have thought it was a lost treasure. It has that kind of vibe.

5) Bette Smith – “I Found Love.” I have to thank Highway Queens for introducing me to this soul singer, whose cover of the Lone Justice song on her Jetlagger album has drawn plaudits from the Little Diva herself. Maria shout-tweeted (in response to a tweet from me) “I LOVE THIS SO MUCH MORE THE ORIGINAL”

(And, finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank Diane for the picture up top!)

So I’ve cobbled together this missive from an assortment of sources, aka a handful of favorite young(er) acts, and am sharing their works today because, quite frankly, after a long day at the office such things improve my mood.

1) Lucy Rose – “All That Fear.” Believe it or not, this tasty treat – released just last week – was an outtake from Lucy’s stellar 2017 release, Something’s Changing.

2) Courtney Marie Andrews – “Kindness of Strangers.” And so CMA rolls along with another track from her forthcoming album, May Your Kindness Remain. (Here’s hoping they make a mistake and ship my bundle next week, not next month. It’s going to be beyond great.)

3) Phoebe Bridgers – “Funeral.” I was unfamiliar with Phoebe until this evening, when Mary Lou Lord shared this clip (which also features Conor Oberst). Which now has me kicking myself for not knowing about her before.

4) Bedouine – “One of These Days.” Bedouine, who’s real name is Azniv Korkejian, was born in Aleppo, Syria, and spent of her childhood – like me – in a gated American community in Saudi Arabia. Fascinating woman. And a fascinating artist.

5) First Aid Kit – “Fireworks.” How could one of my Top 5s of new music not include something from the new First Aid Kit album? Here they are performing this stellar Ruins track on BBC Radio 6.