Posts Tagged ‘Review’

Courtney Marie Andrews’ recent May Your Kindness Remain (Acoustic) EP features acoustic renditions of four songs from last year’s May Your Kindness Remain album. That LP showcased an expansive sound that conjured the Band and Little Feat, among others, and was a dramatic – though not unwelcome – departure from the country-folk flavorings that accented her 2016 set, Honest Life.

Stripped to their essence, the songs – the title track, “Took You Up,” “Rough Around the Edges” and “Border” – lose none of their power. They aren’t revelatory performances, per se, but are revelations all the same. Minus the wheezing organ and gospel flourishes, for example, “May Your Kindness Remain” crests and recedes on Courtney’s crystalline vocal alone.

It’s a close approximation to how she sounded when I first saw her live, in May 2017, backed only by guitarist/consigliere Dillon Warnek. Her voice was clear and strong that night, a thing of true aural beauty – and yet her vocals were no match for the songs themselves. To my ears, they were imbued with the past, present and future of American music.

That’s still the case. “Is it the journey or the destination?” opens “Took You Up,” conjuring a line from a long-ago Stephen Stills song, “Thoroughfare Gap”: “It’s no matter. No distance. It’s the ride.” On album, Dillon’s electric guitar amplifies the emotional underpinning of the lyrics to perfection. Sans those accents and umlauts, however, Courtney’s acoustic delivery is no less wondrous. Likewise “Rough Around the Edges.” On album, piano buttresses the self-aware confessional; on EP, it’s not missed (though, in a sense, it is). “Border,” about measuring those who’ve been down the deepest well, swaps its sinewy rhythm for a “Hollis Brown”-like guitar motif.

Up top, I said these aren’t revelatory performances, per se, but are revelations all the same. That’s because, to slightly tweak that Stephen Stills line, “It’s no matter. No distance. It’s the song.” With songs this strong, delivery matters not; they simply resonate.

At some point in the late ‘70s, when I was 14 or thereabouts, I began twisting the FM dial away from WIFI 92 – by then Philly’s lone Top 40 radio station – and to the region’s twin pillars of rock ’n’ roll, 93.3 WMMR and 94.1 WYSP. Both featured a sonic palette that was at once wider and narrower than WIFI’s all-the-hits hue. Like other AOR stations, in other words, they pushed the illusion that their scope was limitless by programming album tracks and yesteryear favorites, “double shots” and blocks of songs from a single act, while actually reining in diversity of genre, color and gender.

I didn’t understand it at the time, mind you, and I’m sure many of my contemporaries – many of whom probably listen to the AOR offspring known as “classic rock” – still don’t. Instead, as someone who read the music magazines of the day (Rolling Stone, Creem, Trouser Press and Record, among others), the stations frustrated me due their reliance on the same-old, same-old. (There was a new wave coming, I tell ya.)

It’s why, in time, I began buying albums based solely on reviews and articles, and picked up album guides to better understand what was released when, and which catalog items I should pick up first. Eventually, too, I found my way even further up the FM dial, to 102.1 WIOQ, a home to a more progressive and adult brand of rock. It was there, I think, that I first heard Joni Mitchell, who by then wasn’t exactly hip with the teen/young adult set the rock stations targeted.

That’s a lot of background for what’s ostensibly my “first impressions” of Lucy Rose’s No Words Left album, which was released on March 22nd, but that’s where my mind goes while listening to its 11 tracks. When I was 14, I would have paid it no mind. By 18? It wouldn’t have left my turntable for weeks. Its songs are a hypnotic mix of stark confessionals (“conversation don’t come easy/but I’ve got a lot to say”) spiced by a few ethereal interludes that conjure no less than Clare H. Torry’s vocals on Pink Floyd’s “Great Gig in the Sky.” The end of the opening “The Conversation,” for example, morphs into “No Words Left, Part 1,” in which Lucy uses her expressive vocal range to convey emotions that words alone can’t. By “Pt. 2,” the cries are more akin to David Crosby’s “I’d Swear There Was Somebody There,” which closes his If I Can Only Remember My Name… album. They’re a powerful catharsis.

As Lucy observes in “Song After Song,” the closing track: “Song after song after song/all about me and my misery.” The album is melancholic, in other words, and accented by bitter truths and insights. At the same time, she synthesizes a range of influences and makes them her own. Joni’s an obvious point of reference, but so is Neil Young – and Bonnie Raitt, whose “I Can’t Make You Love Me” my wife hears in the opening of “Nobody Comes Round Here.”

I’ll leave it to others to go through a song-by-song analysis. Instead, I’ll observe that “You can’t know where you’re going without knowing where you’ve been” is an age-old cliche that’s born from truth. You also can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you are. No Words Left is a brilliant exploration of the latter. You’ll hear yourself – or those you know – in its words. It’s a future “essentials” pick, guaranteed.

Here’s the album in full:

 

In a life long ago, aka 1985, the Three O’Clock’s Arrive Without Traveling – a smorgasbord of potent pop and bubbly rock – became one of my favorite platters. It features Day-Glo audio, just about, in that it’s fluorescent, effervescent, and just plain great. The Dream Syndicate and Rain Parade also became known entities to me that year, though I never played them quite as often. The Bangles, on the other hand, were already aural staples in my life.

For those unaware of the first three bands, they – along with the Bangles and dozens of others – were part of an early-’80s L.A. scene dubbed the Paisley Underground. This Wikipedia article digs up its roots, but all one really needs to know is that, as a collective, they channeled the sounds of the mid-‘60s. (Think the Beach Boys, Beatles, Byrds, Dylan, Love and the Velvet Underground, among others.) Yet, despite those influences, the music was utterly of its time – and, I’d argue, timeless.

The 3×4 compilation, in which each band covers three songs by their compatriots, confirms that assessment. In some ways, it’s a Nuggets-like compilation of ‘80s garage rock – if, that is, the groups on that Lenny Kaye-assembled anthology had sung each other’s songs. It reminds me, too, of the delightful Rainy Day endeavor of ’84 (which I picked up on CD in ’89), which featured many of the same players, except they’re now paying homage to one another instead of their influences.

Here are the Bangles providing a contact high with their rendition of Rain Parade’s “Talking in My Sleep”:

The Three O’Clock trip the (strobe) light fantastic with the Dream Syndicate’s “Tell Me When It’s Over.” (The fan-created video itself, on the other hand… eh.)

And the Dream Syndicate serves up a great take on the Bangles’ “Hero Takes a Fall”:

Whether one was familiar with the Paisley Underground at the time or came to it late (or not at all), the album is well worth seeking out. It’s available on Apple Music, Spotify and via the Yep Roc label. Here’s hoping that they hit the road together…

Here’s the track list; I’ve added the original band in parentheses.

  1. The Three O’Clock – “Getting Out of Hand” (Bangles)
  2. The Bangles – “That’s What You Always Say” (Dream Syndicate)
  3. The Dream Syndicate – “You Are My Friend” (Rain Parade)
  4. Rain Parade – “As Real as Real” (Three O’Clock)
  5. The Three O’Clock – “Tell Me When It’s Over” (Dream Syndicate)
  6. Rain Parade – “When You Smile” (Dream Syndicate)
  7. The Bangles – “Talking in My Sleep” (Rain Parade)
  8. The Dream Syndicate – “Hero Takes a Fall” (Bangles)
  9. The Bangles – “Jet Fighter” (Three O’Clock)
  10. Rain Parade – “Real World” (Bangles)
  11. The Three O’Clock – “What She’s Done to Your Mind” (Rain Parade)
  12. The Dream Syndicate – “She Turns to Flowers” (Salvation Army**)

[**The Three O’Clock started as the Salvation Army, but had to change their name when the other Salvation Army threatened legal action.]

Linda Ronstadt’s Live in Hollywood features songs you know – or should know – as performed by the powerhouse singer at the Television Center Studios in Hollywood on April 24, 1980, for an HBO special. Three tracks appeared on the delightful 40th anniversary edition of Simple Dreams and, through the years, all have appeared on bootlegs sourced from the FM simulcast that accompanied the special’s broadcast.

The track list: “I Can’t Let Go”; “It’s So Easy”; “Willin’”; “Just One Look”; “Blue Bayou”; “Faithless Love”; “Hurt So Bad”; “Poor Poor Pitiful Me”; “You’re No Good”; “How Do I Make You”; “Back in the USA”; “Desperado”; and “Band Introductions.”

The night’s set, however, consisted of “I Can’t Let Go,” “Party Girl,” “It’s So Easy,” “Willin’,” “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love With You),” “Just One Look,” “Look Out for My Love,” “Mad Love,” “Cost of Love,” “Blue Bayou,” “Lies,” “Faithless Love,” “Hurts So Bad,” “Silver Threads and Golden Needles,” “Band Introductions,” “Poor Poor Pitiful Me,” “You’re No Good,” “How Do I Make You,” “Back in the USA,” “Heatwave” and “Desperado.” 

Eight of those songs are MIA from Live in Hollywood, which is the first official live album in Linda’s canon. Sometimes less is more. In this case? The subtractions shift the focus away from Mad Love, which was released two months prior, and turn the album into something akin to a live best-of. These are songs that, by and large, still get radio play. I heard four on my local oldies station this week, for example.

In any event, backed by a crack band, Linda melds pop, rock, country-rock and the era’s new-wave stylings into a delectable whole. Her cover of the Hollies classic “I Can’t Let Go,” on which she and backup singer (and good friend) Wendy Waldman trade vocals, is a thing of aural beauty. It’s uptempo, fun, and the perfect opener. Another highlight is, as one might expect, “Just One Look.” Here’s the official clip:

The J.D. Souther-penned “Faithless Love” is positively spine-tingling; Linda’s raven-flavored vocals on “Blue Bayou” and “Hurt So Bad” soar into the stratosphere; and her dusky soprano shares the spotlight with the band on a rollicking “You’re No Good.”

That’s the legendary session player Danny “Kooch” Kortchmar on guitar, I should mention –  and hiding behind drummer Russ Kunkel is Linda’s longtime compadre (and producer) Peter Asher on percussion and backing vocals.

In short, Live in Hollywood is an impeccable representation of a singer at the peak of her powers. Definitely check it out.