Posts Tagged ‘Rumer’

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.”

As I write, Diane and I are at a foldable table in the dining area of our new, and still empty, apartment in North Carolina. She’s sitting in a $20 chair we picked up at Wal-Mart. I’m in an armless chair lent to us by the apartment complex’s overseers. Our belongings, meanwhile, are stuck on a trailer somewhere in the swamps of Jersey.

We wanted a delivery date of the 27th or 28th. Our plan was to spend Christmas with family, then drive down on the 26th or 27th, spend a night in a hotel, and unpack over the long holiday weekend. When we met with the moving company’s rep in early December, however, he said no. He insisted that delivery be on December 24th. “That way my people can be home for Christmas,” he explained.

We ultimately agreed to his timetable.

He reinforced the 24th when he checked in with Diane later in the month. She said to him, in the presence of a friend, that the most important thing was the Monday delivery; he agreed, and promised that our stuff would be here. The contract that he then sent over, and that Diane signed, gave a window of the 24th to 31st, but his insistence on the 24th…well, we take people at their word. If I’d seen that stretch of days on the contract, I would’ve assumed it was a CYA move to cover for a snowstorm.

And, in fact, his people were indeed home for Christmas. We, on the other hand, footed an over-priced bill for a buffet-style dinner at a restaurant, returned to an empty apartment, and raged against the rep, who avoided our calls and only apologized, via email, for what he dubbed “a miscommunication.” Diane even emailed the company president, who replied to say that he talked to the rep, and we should expect to hear from him soon. Two days later and…

Yeah, you guessed it. He’s a punk. Our stuff won’t be here until the 30th.

That’s all to say: It’s been a bad week. A bad month. A bad year.  Yet, as always, hope is to be had. The development we’ve landed in seems great, thus far. Good restaurants are nearby, as are a nice (if overpriced) market, and even a coffee shop, which I stopped in this morning. We’ve had to purchase a few things we shipped to ourselves, obviously, but we’ve also bought items we would’ve needed to get, anyway. Tyler the Cat is doing exceptionally well; the wide open spaces within the apartment are, to him, reasons to frolic. And, after a test run, my commute to work seems less onerous – if more convoluted – than my old one. (I’ll know for sure next week, when I head into the office for real.) 

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: Hope, Luck & Perseverance…

1) Wings – “With a Little Luck.” 

2) Rumer – “Here Comes the Sun.” 

3) Stephen Stills – “Thoroughfare Gap.”

4) Linda Ronstadt with James Taylor – “I Think It’s Gonna Work Out Fine.”

5) Stone Foundation with Paul Weller – “Your Balloon Is Rising.”

And two bonus tracks…

6) Harriet – “You Get What You Give.”

7) Bruce Springsteen – “The Promised Land.”

I spent Saturday afternoon listening to Holocaust survivor Daniel Goldsmith share his story. His family lived in Antwerp, Belgium, which was invaded by Nazi Germany in May 1940, when he was 8 years old. As in all their other occupied territories, the Nazis instituted a series of anti-Jewish laws. Then, in August 1942, they sent his father and other men to a forced labor camp in northern France. (As he learned many years after the war, several months later his father was sent to Auschwitz, where he died.) 

After he, his mother and 1-year-old sister narrowly averted capture by the Nazis during a roundup of the remaining Jews, his mother placed him and his sister in a Catholic convent and joined the underground as a courier. For safety’s sake, after several months he was shuttled to a series of orphanages, but one was eventually raided. He was sent to a prison, then another, and then another, and then was placed in a box car with other boys for transport to what likely would have been a death camp. They managed to escape, however. A 16-year-old boy pried the wood planks from the car, and they jumped from the moving train when it slowed for turns. They hid in the woods for several days before a priest in Perwez arranged for local families to take them in; and, this time, they remained safe until the Allies liberated the area in September 1944.

The story is representative of an era in human history that too few have educated themselves about. It’s not that history is being forgotten, per se. It’s that it’s being ignored. Most folks know the broad-brush outline of the past, but in the mad rush of modern life it’s easy to miss the similarities between then and now, and to look the other way when and if those similarities come into view. In Europe and the U.K., for example, anti-refugee sentiments and rising antisemitism are worrisome. In the U.S., at present, the latest example is the way some talk about the migrants seeking to escape the dire poverty and violence in Central America. Rather than seek a solution to stop them from fleeing in the first place, we’re told that they’re “bad people” and “criminals.”

It’s not that dissimilar to when we turned away the MS St. Louis in 1939.

In Trump’s America, people of good conscience are not allowed to disagree on how to address the problem without being vilified. Democrats, we’re told, are in league with the “bad people” – and always have been. On the flip side, some Democrats are equally as asinine in their assertions about Republicans.

In other words, for many, the political arena is no longer a venue where political philosophies compete. Instead, it’s become a battle of “us vs. them,” with the “them” forever cast as villains. But, as I wrote here, that’s a false construct. It’s actually, always, us vs. us.

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: What the World Needs Now…

1) U2 & Mary J. Blige – “One.”

2) Paul Weller – “Can You Heal Us (Holy Man)

3) Stone Foundation – “Heavenly Father”

4) Marvin Gaye – “What’s Going On” & “What’s Happening, Brother”

5) Rumer – “What the World Needs Now Is Love”

Last week, Diane and I began re-watching Season 1 of Joan of Arcadia, about a teen (Amber Tamblyn) who speaks to God – and by “speaks,” I mean has actual conversations and debates with Him. He – and She, as God changes bodies and genders episode to episode and often within episodes – often has what seems to Joan to be a mundane, silly or overwhelming task for her to perform, such as joining the chess club or debate team, or throwing a party. Inevitably, however, it leads to a larger, positive event occurring within Joan’s world.

Interwoven throughout are the stories of Joan’s family – her father (Joe Mantegna), a cop in a big (but not too big) Maryland city; her mother (Mary Steenburgen), who works at her school; older brother Kevin (Jason Ritter), who’s still coming to terms with being a paraplegic following a car accident a year-and-a-half earlier; and younger brother Luke (Michael Welch), a brainiac who should never, ever, drink caffeine.

That summary doesn’t do the series, which lasted a scant two seasons (2003-2005) justice, I should add. 

All in all, it’s good with glimmers of greatness. The cast is excellent. The stories are a mix of sweet and bittersweet, with some surprising grittiness thrown into the mix – and not just when focused on the father, who faces evil – and politics – on the job. The give-and-takes between Joan and God are adroit, funny, smart, and even philosophically deep. And the growing concern of Joan’s folks over her eccentric behavior rings true. (They don’t know about her pipeline to the above, after all.)

Anyway, it’s a series I wanted to watch when it first aired, but in those days we were often out on Friday nights, and OnDemand didn’t include much network fare. We’d unhooked our VHS recorder in favor of a DVD player by then, too, so recording it was out. I did keep an eye on the DVD sets when they became available (and when I remembered to look), but was unwilling to fork over the $45-60 per season retailers originally wanted to charge. I was also shocked by its lack of availability on Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime. But, finally, God heard my prayers: Two years back, I stumbled across a sweet deal on Amazon. ($16 per season. Woo hoo!) 

We watched it in about a month, filed the DVDs away, and moved on. As one does.

But, as I said at the outset, we’re watching it again. I love the philosophy behind it. The notion that a good deed, no matter how small, can cause a domino-like run of goodness in the wider world that eventually circles back to you is the essence of karma, which I’ve subscribed to since I first heard “The End” by the Beatles a long, long time ago: “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” What we put out is what we take in. Good begets good.

And Joan of Arcadia begets a smile. It’s a perfect escape from the insanity that has befallen the world, where kindness is too often seen as a vice.

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: God, Faith & Joan…of Arcadia.

1) Joan Osborne – “One of Us.” The theme song to Joan of Arcadia is this song, written by Eric Brazilian of the Hooters. It reached No. 4 on the pop charts.

2) Courtney Marie Andrews – “May Your Kindness Remain.” Kindness, goodness, sympathy and empathy all go hand in hand. This clip is from Courtney’s appearance in the Paste Studios earlier this week…

3) The Stone Foundation with Paul Weller – “Your Balloon Is Rising.” The Stone Foundation has a new album in the works, but this one – from their last studio set, Street Rituals – says it all. “May your words go on forever/May your kindness show no measure/Keep on breathing your life into every little thing…”

4) Paul Weller – “Above the Clouds.” And speaking of Weller and clouds…

5) Rumer – “Love Is the Answer.” The British singer-songwriter’s cover of the Todd Rundgren song was a match made in heaven when she recorded it in 2015, and remains so three years later. Love is the answer, indeed.

And in the end… the Beatles – “The End.”