Posts Tagged ‘Long Long Road’

The annual Old Grey Cat Awards fete, in which the Album of the Year nominees gather in the great hall that is our living room while anxiously awaiting the word, was more crowded this year than most. Were the Las Vegas oddsmakers correct? Or would an underdog be crowned king or queen? (Canines are much loved by the admittedly feline-centric OGC Committee, so it’s always a possibility.) By the time the gala’s host finally scampered onto the mantel to bellow the mews, well, the tension could’ve been cut with a claw.

Except, as often happens with this, the most ballyhooed of music awards, the many contenders could and should have saved their Xanax for another night. Courtney Marie Andrews’ Honest Life was and is just one of those albums. And the runners-up…aside from the late entry from the sister collective known as the Staves, not surprising. (The winner and four runners-up can be seen here.)

But awards ceremonies never tell the full story of a year.

While sorting through the year’s top contenders for my Album of the Year honors, I was shocked – but not appalled – by the many great albums and EPs released in 2017. I thought I’d share my numbers 6 through 11 – aka, the Honorable Mentions – here. Some I reviewed during the course of the year; others, unsurprisingly, I didn’t. They’re all worth buying or, at the least, adding to one’s Apple Music or Spotify library.

6) Garland Jeffreys – 14 Steps to Harlem. “As a whole, 14 Steps to Harlem finds Garland looking back, surveying the present and contemplating the future – and doing it all to melodies that linger long after the music has ceased.” Here’s the title track:

7) Paul WellerA Kind Revolution. “Long Long Road” is such a tremendous song that, even if the rest of the album was just so-so, A Kind Revolution would be an honorable mention. But the album is among Weller’s best.

8) Tift MerrittStitch of the World. “While we listened to it earlier today, me for probably the 10th time this week, Diane noted that certain songs would’ve been at home on Linda Ronstadt’s Heart Like a Wheel – or, I’d add, Emmylou Harris’ Luxury Liner. I.e., there’s a timelessness about them.” Here’s one of its stellar tracks,  “Heartache Is an Uphill Climb.”

9) Kasey ChambersDragonfly. “Ain’t No Little Girl” is just tremendous, bluesy and – in concert, especially – jaw-dropping in its intensity. The remainder of the double album is damn good, too.

And, two ties at No. 10…

10) Paul McCartney – Flowers in the Dirt (deluxe edition). “The set features the original album; a second disc of 10 demos recorded with Elvis Costello; a third disc of 9 of the same demo songs recorded with the nascent Flowers in the Dirt band and produced by Elvis; a fourth disc of b-sides and remixes; and a DVD of videos and behind-the-scenes stuff. ”

10) Natalie Merchant – Butterfly (available as part of The Natalie Merchant Collection). Here’s “Frozen Charlotte” from it…

[Update 6/23/18: Although I still have my issues with XPN, I’ve since become a member again – primarily for their support of Courtney Marie Andrews, who they now play every so often, and also because they play the Middle Kids and a few other cool/up-and-coming acts and artists that I like.]

After investing in a refurbished Iomega external CD burner in 2001, or thereabouts, for my low-budget DIY computer, I stopped relying on the radio for my on-the-go music needs. Instead, I made CD copies of favorite albums, created cool compilations and best-ofs, and (generally) only turned on the radio to check traffic or the weather via all-news KYW-1060AM – a routine I’ve mostly maintained, though the CDRs were eventually replaced by my iPod, iPhone, Pono Player and, now, Apple Music via my iPhone.

Prior, however, my go-to radio station was WXPN, a listener-supported AAA station in Philadelphia. They played a good-to-great mix of new and old, singer-songwriters and alternative country, plus non-alternative rock. They went deep on albums, routinely playing more than just one cut, and generally avoided the tried-and-true tracks found elsewhere on the dial. I liked it enough that Diane and I became members at some point, and renewed every year until…

…the summer of 1996, when we found ourselves – thanks to an acquaintance who owned a CD store – at a Penn’s Landing luncheon for businesses that supported the station. When the station’s program director, whose name I’ve long forgotten, stopped at our table, I mentioned my surprise that they weren’t playing anything from Maria McKee’s recent Life Is Sweet album – my favorite of the moment. My memory, and it may be exaggerated by time, is that he glared at me, shook his head and said “never” and “not on my watch” (or words to that effect), and made haste for the next table.

Granted, the glam-infested Life Is Sweet was a dramatic departure from the country-rock stylings of 1993’s You Gotta Sin to Get Saved, which XPN had featured a fair bit, but the title track wasn’t. It should’ve been played. The (perceived) rudeness of the program director annoyed me even more, however. I let our membership lapse.

Anyway, through the 2000s and first half of the 2010s, the only time I listened to XPN was when Diane was with me and, for whatever reason, requested it. And for a time, whenever we tuned in it seemed a Steely Dan song was playing. Odd, that. Then, in 2015, First Aid Kit was booked for the station’s annual three-day XPoNential Festival and members paid less for a ticket, so – sound basically unheard for umpteen years – I rejoined.

I assumed, because they played First Aid Kit (and, according to their searchable playlist, they did – “My Silver Lining” on and off for six months, then “Stay Gold” pretty much ever since) that the rest of what they programmed would be similar. I began listening – and was quickly disappointed. They rarely play more than one song from a new release, instead going the FAK route – one song for months, then maybe replacing it with another – and seemed more a descendent of the long-gone WDRE, a modern-rock station that never quite gained traction during the mid-‘90s, and WMMR, a mainstream rock station, than the XPN of yore.

I let my membership lapse again.

But still, sometimes, I find myself listening – it’s easier, and safer, than tapping on my iPhone while driving, so when an album ends I sometimes switch to XPN. Once in a while, I hear something and think, “wow, who is that?” Then they play ZZ Top, the Moody Blues or any of a number of “classic” acts that leave me flipping to KYW or, of late, WOGL, an oldies station that is enjoyable in small doses.

All of which leads to today’s Top 5: Songs XPN Should Play…

1) Courtney Marie Andrews – “Near You.” In April of this year, I asked – via a tweet – why they weren’t playing anything from Courtney’s Honest Life album, which was released last October. Back in the day, they would have been all over it, playing “Put the Fire Out,” “How Quickly Your Heart Mends” and “Irene,” plus the title track and “Table for One.” One of their deejays liked my tweet, in fact…but, nothing. Nada. Zip. Months later, however, and a search of their playlist shows that they have played “Irene” a handful of times.

They should followup by placing this track, a new recording of an older song that she’s releasing on September 15th, in frequent rotation. It’s a powerful, moving tune.

2) Lucy Rose – “No Good at All.” I reviewed Lucy Rose’s recent Something’s Changing album yesterday, and included this clip. It’s a wondrous, addictive number that, according to XPN’s playlist search, has been played exactly once, three days after the album’s release.

3) Paul Weller – “Long Long Road.” They’ve played Paul Weller – a man without whom “modern rock” would not exist – exactly 14 times this year. Think about that. He’s scheduled to play the TLA in October, however, so the time is ripe to up those numbers. This is a standout track from his recent A Kind Revolution album.

4) Garland Jeffreys – “14 Steps to Harlem.” Here’s another artist without whom “modern rock” would not exist; and, to XPN’s credit, they do play him from time to time. But instead of dipping into his past catalog, why not feature something new? This, the title track to Garland’s latest album, is a beaut.

5) Karrie – “I Don’t Hear You.” The Irish singer-songwriter’s summer single is utterly addictive.

And two bonuses:

6) Courney Marie Andrews – “How Quickly Your Heart Mends.” And, just because, here’s one of those Honest Life songs XPN should be playing at least once a day. This is from a recent appearance on Swedish TV…

7) Maria McKee – “Life Is Sweet/After Life.” Finally, the song that obstinate program director refused to discuss in 1996 should have the digital dust blown off the CD and played. It’s a true lost classic.

At the Boot & Saddle in South Philly last night, Courtney Marie Andrews delivered as magical and mesmerizing a set as I’ve witnessed during my 30+ years of concert-going. The 15 songs explored the highways, byways, colors and hues of heartbreak, heartache, life and death, and did so with deftness and charm. What blew me away as much as her lyrics and melodies: the clarity and power of her voice, which soars and swoops through the soul like no other.

In between songs, while tuning her guitar (which was replete with new strings), she shared stories about their inspirations and, too, her life experiences, from writing “Heart and Mind” at a truck stop following the 2016 election to interacting with the colorful characters she met while tending bar for a time. “Honest Life,” she explained, was heard as a gospel song by Jools Holland, who asked to play it with her when she appeared on his Later show in England.

The song, as does the Honest Life album as a whole, echoes the past while remaining rooted in the present; it’s an example of the amalgamation I referenced in my review, merging a myriad of influences into a unique and singular whole. It blows my mind every time I listen to it, in other words, and – live – it did so, again.

Other highlights included her first “funny” song, which was charming and droll. Some of the lyrics, as autographed by Courtney, are to the left.

“Put the Fire Out,” which closed the main portion of the set, was simply amazing:

That was to be the night’s last song, but after cajoles from the crowd she debuted a song she’d yet to perform live – no title was given, but the chorus mentions a “Long, Long Road.” Like the night’s previous 14 songs, one can hear the clarion call of the generations in it, from the tunes mined by A.P. Carter in the Appalachian mountains to the folk-country stylings of First Aid Kit.

Years from now, my hunch is that the 50-or-so folks in attendance will have ballooned to 1000 or more, as that many will lay claim to have been present. It will be the stuff of Philadelphia lore, akin to Joni playing the 2nd Fret coffeehouse on Rittenhouse Square in the late 1960s or Bruce, Jackson and Bonnie playing the Main Point in the early ‘70s. (That may seem hyperbolic, but…it is what it is.)

Here’s the set – with a few caveats. She didn’t mention song titles, so the “funny song” and night’s final song have what I think they may be called in parentheses; I’m likely wrong. I also am not familiar with the moving song she sang for her aunt, who was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer as she was writing it (she’s since rebounded and the cancer is nearly gone).

  1. Seaside Town
  2. Not the End
  3. Rookie Dreaming
  4. Table for One
  5. Heart and Mind
  6. Woman of Many Colors
  7. How Quickly the Heart Mends
  8. Honest Life
  9. 15 Highway Lines
  10. Irene
  11. Funny Song (“Drunk Needs a Drink”?)
  12. Song for Aunt
  13. Let the Good One Go
  14. Put the Fire Out
  15. New Song (“Long, Long Road”?)

Also: the Dove & the Wolf, who opened, were simply magnificent. We’re looking forward to seeing them again.

Afterwards, Courtney was kind enough to meet with fans and sign autographs, and posed for a picture with me – kinda like beauty and the beast, now that I look at it. (And I was so high from the performance that I forgot to get the Honest Life album, which I bought on vinyl, autographed! Next time, hopefully.)

And, last: Philly fans should note that Courtney will be back in town on November 2nd, when she opens for Hamilton Leithauser at the Union Transfer.