Posts Tagged ‘Mary Lou Lord’

By 2007, our music collection was in disarray. We had three CD towers that each fit 400 discs, a sprawling mass of smaller CD racks behind and beside them, plus stacks and stacks, and stacks, of jewel boxes. They took up the entire front end of our old apartment, plus plenty of space in the “den” (which was basically a cramped walk-in closet), where additional racks and stacks could be found. Oh, and did I mention that each of the towers had snapped at the base? Or that, while certain – usually newer – CDs were within reach, finding specific titles often turned into an hours-long chore? You’d sort through one pile, then another, and then another, and hopefully find what you wanted by day’s end. It was a headache and a half.

That’s why, that January, I invested in an expensive ($199) 500-gig Western Digital external HD, encoded every track as a 256 or 320 kbps MP3 – about 2500 discs at the time – and then boxed everything up. In a sense, I created our own private Spotify. In the years that followed, we continued to purchase and rip CDs, but – like many others – also we began buying downloads via iTunes, Amazon Music, Bandcamp and HDTracks, and then subscribed to Apple Music. When a CD, I rip before listening, as I listen to encoded files via my MacBook, iPhone or Pono Player – either via my THX-branded Logitech computer speakers or my Bluetooth-equipped stereo system. 

I also re-ripped many of the same discs, this time as FLAC files, three years back, though they’re housed in a separate library. 

But now that we’re preparing to move – and, at least for a time, downsize to an apartment – the question is: Do we want to ship 20+ boxes of CDs across the country just to put them in storage for the next six or 12 months? Especially since we don’t actually listen to them? And what of our hundreds of LPs, some of which date back decades? Do we get rid of them, too?

No. And yes. Over the past few weeks, we’ve combed through everything, removing must-haves (special editions, autographed CDs, select favorites, and some where one or both of us are thanked in the credits), and stacked the boxes in the living room. We will part with them. Most LPs, though none that I’ve acquired in the last few years, will be sold, too. The only question is how much we’ll make from one of our life’s main pursuits. (I already know the answer: Not much.)

The reason that our CD collection continued, and continues, to grow: We buy new releases from old favorites, of course, but also releases from new and relatively new artists. We’re out of the mainstream in that regard. A recent survey by Deezer shows that most folks experience what’s dubbed as “musical paralysis” by 30 years of age. They stop seeking out new sounds and artists, and instead listen to the same-old, same-old, over and over, and over, again. The demands of life, work and raising kids, and competition from TV and video games, has made the music-discovery process too much of a time-sucking chore.

What’s a chore to one, of course, is pure joy to another. I can’t imagine not digging through the digital bins of Apple Music and YouTube, or flipping through the pages of Mojo and Uncut, in search of something new.

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: Our Own Private Spotify (aka New Music, Vol. LXXIII).

1) Paul Weller – “Gravity.” Weller’s recent True Meanings album is one of the year’s best, and in weeks to come – if I can carve out the time – I hope to review it. For now, here’s the video for “Gravity,” which he released this week.

2) American Aquarium – “The World Is on Fire.” Echoes of Bruce Springsteen and Steve Earle can be heard in the North Carolina band’s stellar work. This performance is from a recent appearance on Last Call With Carson Daly.

3) Jill Sobule – “Nostalgia Kills.” The singer-songwriter has released a new album, her first in four years. And, as the title track indicates, it’s a stellar set. (“We have to keep moving or die…”) 

4) Stonefield – “In the Eve.” I know next-to-nothing about this Aussie band, which was featured in Paste Music’s “Daytrotter” sessions this week, other than they’re four sisters, they’re a tad retro, and very cool. I look forward to digging into their oeuvre in the weeks ahead.

5) Mary Lou Lord – “Lights Are Changing.” The Massachusetts-based singer-songwriter’s 1998 album Got No Shadows was issued on vinyl for the first time this week, and if we weren’t busy boxing things up I’d have already ordered it. This cover of the Bevis Frond tune is one of many highlights of the album, which features support from such luminaries as Shawn Colvin, Roger McGuinn, the Bevis Frond’s Nick Saloman, and Elliott Smith. McGuinn performs on this song, in fact. (Of note, Mary Lou also covered it on her self-titled 1995 EP. The main difference: Juliana Hatfield sings back-up on that version.)

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.)

cmj_94001Of all the compilations in all the countries in all the world, on one cold winter’s day she showed up on mine – well, not mine per se, but CMJ New Music Monthly’s. And unlike Rick’s initial reaction to seeing Ilsa again, I’m glad she did.

First, though: January 1994 wasn’t a snowy month for the Philly region, but it did feature some extreme weather. On the 7th and 8th, an ice storm paralyzed the city and suburbs; and, on the 19th, we “enjoyed” a not-so-balmy high of 7 degrees Fahrenheit.

Major events that occurred: figure skater Nancy Kerrigan was attacked on the 6th in a plot hatched by rival Tonya Harding’s ex-husband; Vice President Al Gore chaired a Superhighway Summit in L.A. on the 11th; a major earthquake struck the L.A. area on the 17th that left 57 dead and 8700 injured; President Bill Clinton delivered his first State of the Union address on the 25th; and, on the 30th, the Dallas Cowboys defeated the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVIII.

On the music front: the year opened with the Lemonheads’ wondrous “Into Your Arms” atop Billboard’s Modern Rock Hits chart. Other songs that topped that specific chart this month: Pearl Jam’s “Daughter,” the Gin Blossoms’ “Found Out About You” and Nirvana’s “All Apologies.” Mainstream hits included “Hero” by Mariah Carey, which held the top spot for the first three weeks of the month, and “All for One,” a collaboration between Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart and Sting that I’ve yet to hear.

The ‘90s may not have been the ‘60s upside down, but they were a great time for music. A wealth of newer acts in all genres were crafting cool sounds and old-timers like Neil Young were doing the same – his early ‘90s run, which actually began in ’89 with Freedom, rivaled his work in the ‘70s. Alternative rock, which was really just rock cranked out by Gen Xers, was the Big Thing. Alt.country, as it was called, was an actual thing, too. Singer-songwriters were (finally) in vogue, again. Hip hop was mainstream.

Rolling Stone and Spin were both solid music magazines with robust review sections, but there was so much music being released that many new releases weren’t mentioned in them, which is why I sought out additional magazines and newsletters. As a result, on an excursion to Tower Records on South Street or in the Northeast, I picked up the January issue of CMJ New Music Monthly, a habit I’d picked up a few months earlier.

cmj_94b002For those unfamiliar with it, the magazine mimicked the shape of a CD longbox, though (as I remember it, anyway) it wasn’t quite as long. (A CD longbox, for those unfamiliar with the term, was a cardboard sleeve that held the CD jewel box; they were used in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s because, when placed side by side, they took up the same space as a vinyl album, which meant retailers didn’t need to change their racks; and, too, they made shoplifting a bit more difficult.) I enjoyed CMJ because it focused primarily on newer acts, many of which were ignored by Rolling Stone – and for the sampler CDs that were included with every issue. Though I no longer have the magazines themselves, I do have quite a few of the CDs.

And, with all of that out of the way…welcome to today’s Top 5: January 1994, aka “Hello, Mary Lou,” which is drawn from CMJ Music Monthly’s January 1994 CD compilation.

ml_blurred1) Mary Lou Lord – “Some Jingle Jangle Morning (When I’m Straight).” The second-to-last song on the sampler is this, a digital conversion of a 7-inch single released by the Kill Rock Stars label. (The version on Mary Lou’s 1998 album Got No Shadow is a different recording.) Even now, after all these years, the song sends me to another place. Diane loved the song, too, and we both became major MLL fans as a result. She’s released a handful of albums, including one last year, and a bounty of EPs; and we’ve seen her in concert twice, including once in the mid-‘90s at a swing-dance club in Philly, and again in the early 2010s at a house concert (which is where the photo came from).

2) Bob Dylan – “Blood in My Eyes.” As I said above, CMJ focused primarily on newer acts, but veteran acts sometimes snuck onto the compilation CDs. This song hails from Dylan’s 1993 album World Gone Wrong.

3) Tara Key – “Seraphim.” This punky, low-fi delight led me to buy Bourbon County. The song itself isn’t on YouTube, but here’s the album in full.

4) Lorelai – “Mostly I Sleep.” I never followed through and purchased anything by this Pittsburgh-based group, but this track is pretty cool – conjures the glorious Three O’Clock.

5) The Spinanes – “Noel, Jonah and Me.”

IMG_44591) Another week, another Melody – this time, “Bad News.” I’ve written in-depth about the mesmerizing Ms. Gardot before, so won’t rehash too much here. But, at the time that I discovered her music, I was enamored (some might say obsessed) with the music of another jazz chanteuse, Peggy Lee, whose Black Coffee album is as sultry a set of songs ever pressed to vinyl. As I listened to Melody’s new Currency of Man album this week, it occurred to me that “Bad News” would easily fit on Black Coffee between “A Woman Alone With the Blues” and “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was.” Currency of Man is the best new release I’ve heard this year.

2) Mary Lou Lord – “My Buddy Valentine.” So, during the early ‘90s, I often bought a very cool music magazine called CMJ New Music Monthly at Tower Records. Every edition included a CD of the music reviewed therein, which focused primarily on alternative sounds. The collections were, as one might expect, hit-or-miss affairs – but, so what? Nuggets were to be found, too, including one that was my introduction to Mary Lou Lord: “Some Jingle-Jangle Morning.” It’s indie-pop perfection.

As is, all these years later, her latest album, Backstreet Angels. This, the lead single, was released a few months ago.

3) Carole King – “Up on the Roof.” An oldie, yes, and a true classic. Written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, it was a hit for the Drifters in 1962; and has since been covered by hundreds of artists, including the Grass Roots, Laura Nyro, Dusty Springfield and Neil Diamond,  It’s as perfect a song ever written, I think, and if released today – by, say, Diane Birch – it would be a hit.

4) Diane Birch – “Waterfalls.” Speaking of the high priestess from the Church of Birch… she recently uploaded this beautiful rendition of the Paul McCartney song (from McCartney II) to Soundcloud.

5) I admit it: There’s much I don’t know. Take Miley Cyrus, for instance. Oh, I’ve flipped past her picture (and articles about her) in Rolling Stone from time to time, and I do recall a mashup of her “Wrecking Ball” with Bruce Springsteen’s same-titled song, though I never watched it. I just never gave her much thought. In fact, if you’d asked me a few weeks ago, I’d have summarized her as thus: the onetime Disney moppet who taught the world to twerk.

I still would, but I’d add: the gal can sing. The first inkling I had of that fact came on the overblown (and way too long) SNL 40th anniversary special, when she delivered a breezy take on Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” Then came her most recent Backyard Sessions clips, which she released to publicize her new charity, the Happy Hippy Foundation, which is geared to helping homeless kids. This song, a duet with Melanie Safka on Melanie’s “Look at What They’ve Done to My Song, Ma,” is a marvel.