Posts Tagged ‘Seasons of My Soul’

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.”

Of late, Facebook has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. As most folks now know, unscrupulous data miners utilized a personality-quiz app to scrape the innards of millions upon millions of profiles, and then used the information to push political ads during the 2016 election aimed at dissuading Democrats from voting and boosting Republican turnout. Micro-targeted ads, of course, are tailored for specific audiences. In this case, they played off of the hopes and/or fears that the scraped data indicated they have. 

There’s still much we don’t know, however, such as what the ads looked like – and whether they worked. But we do know this: It’s a foreshadow of what’s to come, writ large, and not just for political advertisements or on Facebook. It’s the wave of the future.

I should note that, somehow, my data wasn’t scraped. So the political ads in question came to me the old-fashioned way: by hook, not crook. Someone reacted vociferously to an ad, in other words, and decided to share their outrage or support. (And then I, in turn, ignored it.) In fact, after downloading my 10 years’ worth of Facebook data a few weeks back, what became obvious is that, by and large, the ads I interact with are music-related (artists, albums, concerts) or, more broadly, entertainment-related. (Veronica Mars meet Jason Bourne!)

Hmmm…I wonder why?

All that being said, I happen to like and enjoy Facebook. After a long day at the office, or even during a long day at the office, it provides a quick pick-me-up – Charlie Brown cartoons, silly animal videos, and music recommendations from friends and sponsored ads. It’s also a good way to keep up with friends old and new, as well as a few pets of said friends.

Anyway, I was “tagged” on Facebook several times over the past few weeks regarding one of the latest memes to make the rounds, which is supposed to be played out over 10 days: “In no particular order – 10 all-time favorite albums that really made an impact and are still on your rotation list, even if only now and then. Post the cover, no need to explain, and nominate a person to do the same. Today, I nominate…[insert tag].” After some internal back-and-forth, I gave into the whim and shared 10 “all-time favorite albums” over the next 10 days.

I hasten to add: They are not my All-Time Top 10 picks, just 10 albums I love. And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: 10 All-Time Favorite Albums, Part 1.

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Day 1: Lone Justice – Lone Justice. The 1985 debut of Maria McKee’s old band needs no introduction on these pages. It sounds as fresh to my ears now as it did then. It was the first pick for my occasional “Essentials” series. 

Day 2: Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. Another “Essentials” pick. 

Day 3: Rumer – Seasons of My Soul. And yet another “Essentials” pick. (See a pattern here?)

Day 4: The Bangles – Different Light. A future “Essentials” pick. Despite their success, the Bangles are one of the most underrated bands in the annals of rock ’n’ roll. (Why they aren’t in the Rock Hall of Fame is beyond me.) And this album is a sheer delight.

Day 5: Paul McCartney & Wings – Band on the Run. Another future “Essentials” pick. It should need no introduction to any self-respecting rock fan. 

There are far more important concerns than NPR’s 150 Greatest Albums Made by Women list. This, we know. Yet, while breezing through it Monday afternoon, I couldn’t help but to scream.

First and foremost: Albums from last year are on it. Seriously?! Maybe it’s me, but placing any recently released album on a “best of all time” list is short-sighted; we don’t know whether it will, as most great albums do, grow stronger through the years or fall from favor. The former is (obviously) the case for Joni Mitchell’s Blue (from 1971), the top pick, and Aretha Franklin’s I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You (from 1967), No. 4 (which really should have been No. 2). They speak universal truths of the human condition that are applicable to every generation and age; i.e., they both reflect and transcend their time.

That’s one reason why my Essentials series has a strict “at least five years old” policy. “Classic” status only kicks in if you continually return to an album – and not just for nostalgia’s sake – time and again through the years.

Another reason for my scream: The exclusion of many great and influential albums at the expense of…Britney Spears?! The Spice Girls?! Isn’t that a bit like including David Cassidy and the Osmond Brothers on an all-male list? I also have serious doubts about any list that ranks Hole higher than Joan Jett or Chrissie Hynde. They kicked down the door for Courtney Love (and all other women rockers who followed them, for that matter). I agree that the debuts of Tracy Chapman and the Indigo Girls should be included, but 10,000 Maniacs’ In My Tribe and Suzanne Vega’s Solitude Standing set the stage for them. And Vega’s 99.9° deserves mention, too, as does Madonna’s True Blue.

But, of course, that’s part and parcel with these sorts of lists. I’ve never seen one that I agree with – from Rolling Stone‘s to Entertainment Weekly‘s to Mojo‘s. They’re generally the creation of a small band of voters who share the same basic dispositions. I.e., they’re good for starting arguments, little else.

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: Albums MIA From NPR’s “Made by Women” List. (Where they fall is anyone’s guess… so I’m placing them in chronological order.) And, yes – I could well have called this Top 5 “My Regulars.” I’ve featured all of them many times.

1) Lone Justice – Lone Justice (1985). Selected song: “Sweet, Sweet Baby (I’m Falling).” I’ve written about this album, and spotlighted this song, many times before, of course, including in my first Essentials entry. It’s a genre-shattering, epoch-changing album that set the stage for the alt.country boom a decade later.

2) 10,000 Maniacs – In My Tribe (1987). Selected song: “Hey Jack Kerouac.” A folk-rock band from upstate New York, the Maniacs were (and remain) a wondrous group of eccentrics with a serious knack for crafting cool and catchy tunes. Who else could have come up with this swinging ode to Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and the beats? Their success paved the way for other late-‘80s (and beyond) folk-flavored singers and bands, from Tracy Chapman to the Indigo Girls to Innocence Mission.

3) Blake Babies – Sunburn (1990). Selected song: “Sanctify.” You want punk? You want spunk? You want an album that, whether anyone heard it or not, helped kick off the ‘90s wave of women-led rock bands? That could be said to be a true alt.college-rock album? That sounds like it was recorded yesterday? Then pick up this classic from Juliana Hatfield & Co. (And be sure to get Earwig, too). This song brings a “heavy metal rain” upon one’s head…

4) Juliana Hatfield – in exile deo (2004). Selected song: “Tourist.” On her own, Juliana has released a slew of stupendous albums, from Hey Babe (1992) to Pussycat (2017) – but I’m limiting myself to this one (and the Blake Babies) because, well, it’s great – her second to win my esteemed Album of the Year, in fact. Just as a side note: I clearly remember when and where I first heard it – on the day of its release in my Dodge Neon while on my way to pick up my wife.

5) Rumer – Seasons of My Soul (2010). Selected song: “On My Way Home.” I’ve written (too many times) about this album before, most recently in my Essentials series. At once retro and modern, it went platinum twice-over in the U.K. and topped the iTunes charts in the States; and it’s influenced other singers in the U.K. to follow the same stylistic path.

And two (non-chronological) bonuses:

6) Rosanne Cash – Interiors (1990). Selected song: “What We Really Want.” Rosanne Cash shed the country label with this, her seventh album, which owes a heavy debt to Joni Mitchell and the other confessional singer-songwriters of the early ‘70s. It’s stark and powerful, and a glimpse of the internal demons haunting her at the time.

7) Nanci Griffith – Other Voices, Other Rooms (1993). Selected song: “Speed at the Sound of Loneliness.” In the early 1990s, after a string of successful albums, Nanci celebrated her influences on the sublime Other Voices album; and won the Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album as a result.

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)

Last night, I listened anew to one of my all-time favorite albums – the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which was just released with a “3-D mono” mix orchestrated by the son of the late George Martin, Giles Martin. I first heard it in…late 1978, I imagine, though I can’t say for sure, and have returned to it hundreds, if not thousands, of times through the decades.

But is it, as the marketing campaign for this reissue claims, the greatest album of all time? According to numerous critic polls, the answer is yes – but some say no. Pet Sounds has edged it a time or two, I believe, as has – if my memory is correct – the Beatles’ own Revolver. It’s what happens when you solicit opinions from dozens or hundreds of people, as few of us are totally in sync on any matter, let alone music. And, too, there’s this: I honestly don’t know where it falls in the pantheon of my top picks. Aside from the not-so-arduous process I employ for my annual Album of the Year exercise, I’ve never contemplated all that long on where an album (or single, for that matter) falls in the scheme of things. Is it better than What’s Going On? Pet Sounds? Abbey Road? Dusty in Memphis, Late for the Sky or Born to Run? Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere? Bridge Over Troubled Water? Blue? Seasons of My Soul? How can one judge such things?

And even with the jeweled trophies I dole out to the winner and runners-up at my year-end Album of the Year fete, which is now in its 39th year (!), the reality – as I explain in the intro to my running tally – is that the honorees are as much a reflection of my mindset as anything. Which, really, is what makes a great album great: It speaks to and for us in ways that, often, we aren’t aware we want or need.

Such is the case with Seasons of My Soul, the 2010 debut album from British singer-songwriter and pop chanteuse Rumer, which would easily rank among my Top 10 Albums of All Time – if I had such a list, that is. It’s my most played album of the past seven years, easy; and likely one of my most played albums, ever. As I wrote in my first blog post (which first appeared on the Hatboro-Horsham Patch in February 2012), it’s “an atmospheric song cycle that’s teeming with soulful, knowing lyrics and melodies that wrap themselves around the heart, to say nothing of Rumer’s emotive, pitch-perfect vocals. It echoes the classic pop of Burt Bacharach and the Carpenters, yet moves past those inspirations by tackling themes not always associated with pop music. ‘On My Way Home,’ for example, is about the grieving process, and several other songs echo loss of one sort or another. ‘Come to Me High,’ on the other hand, is a lush, romantic ode, as is ‘Slow.’ The intoxicating ‘Take Me As I Am’ is about pushing people away when you need them the most. Add in … ‘Aretha’ and such songs as ‘Thankful’ and ‘Blackbird’ and, to my mind, the album is a must for everyone’s collection.”

Here she is in 2011 performing “On My Way Home” in Philadelphia:

I’ve written about the album here, as well, and elsewhere on this blog. To my ears, it’s a timeless song cycle that captures the nuances of life and love in a way that’s both personal and universal. It’s my definition of “essential,” in other words.

Here’s a YouTube playlist I created of the album as nature intended, aka in the order of the original British release. It features several of the original videos plus official and unofficial uploads of individual tracks:

The songs:

  1. Am I Forgiven?
  2. Come to Me High
  3. Slow
  4. Take Me As I Am
  5. Aretha
  6. Saving Grace
  7. Thankful
  8. Healer
  9. Blackbird
  10. On My Way Home
  11. Goodbye Girl

(Warner Bros. saw fit to re-arrange the order of the tracks for its download-only version when they released it in the U.S. in 2012. The songs remain brilliant, of course, but the album’s ebb-and-flow is dammed, at times.)