Posts Tagged ‘Someday’

This morning, during a rather hellacious commute, I whiled away the time listening to Courtney Marie Andrews’ May Your Kindness Remain, which is an early contender for my esteemed Album of the Year honors, and then listened to it again. I listened to it on the way home yesterday, and the day before that, and almost every day since its release.

It’s everything good about music. As I said in my First Impressions piece, “it’s the sound not of a generation, but of the generations.”

I told Diane as we were leaving her Boot & Saddle show last month that it’s likely the last time she’ll play there. The next time she’s in Philly (XPoNential Festival aside), she’ll be headlining the World Cafe Live’s downstairs room, which holds 300 to 600 (depending on whether tables are present; let’s hope for tables, as us old folks can only go so long on our feet), and instead of 100 fans in the room, it’ll be sold out. (Of course, I predicted that after we learned from Dillon Warnek that they were slated to appear on NPR’s World Cafe radio show two days later.) I hope I’m right.

Anyway, one of the thoughts that crossed my mind this morning: Songs that Courtney could and should cover – and not just any songs. Timeless songs, like hers.

And with that, here’s today’s Top 5: Timeless Songs.

1) Iris DeMent – “Livin’ in the Wasteland of the Free.” This is one of Iris’ most passionate and political songs, and even now – 20-plus years later – it resonates because, truth be told, not much has changed in the intervening years. And twang accent aside, it’s a perfect fit for Courtney. 

2) Merle Haggard – “If We Make It Through December.” One of the greatest songs about hard times ever written or performed.

3) Kris Kristofferson – “Help Me Make It Through the Night.” Another stone-cold classic, though one that’s been covered many, many times by many artists through the years.

4) Steve Earle – “Someday.” Another gem about working-class realities, and dreams of escape. (From Steve’s essential Guitar Town album.) Courtney would kill it. 

5) June Carter – “Juke Box Blues.” Long before she became Mrs. Cash, June was Nashville royalty – for good reason, of course. That said, she was often cast into comedy numbers due to the fact that she often shared the stage with sister Anita, whose voice is beauty set to song. “Juke Box Blues” was the B side to “No Swallerin’ Place,” a 1953 single. Unlike the A side, which is a joke set to a melody, the song is comedic primarily due to June’s delivery; the lyrics themselves are a testament to the power of music. (It was written by June’s mother Maybelle and sister Helen, for what that’s worth.) It’s long overdue for a revival – plus, Dillon could have a field day on guitar.)  

And one bonus…

6) Nanci Griffith – “If Wishes Were Changes.” What can be said about this gem? In short, to use one of my many overused words, it’s wondrous.

Three weeks after its release and I’m still obsessing over the new Susanna Hoffs solo album, Someday. To find out more about it and Hoffs, I caught up with her on what was a rather manic Monday – our phone conversation came at the end of a day of gabbing with reporters and deejays. She turned out to be gracious, genuine and sweet, if a tad tired of all the talking.

JG: Why a solo album now?

SH: I was yearning to do it for many, many, many years. One factor that delayed it was that I got quite busy with the Bangles. A lot of the songs that I had intended to do on a solo record I ended up doing on Bangles records. It was meeting Andrew Brassell, who moved here from Nashville and was really a close friend of my niece Miranda – I unexpectedly started this crazy writing flurry with him. I think part of it was the fact that he was actually living in the house and was around all the time. He was looking to settle down in L.A., but he didn’t have a place to stay so I offered him my guest room until he could get his feet on the ground here. He was sort of adopted by the family – my kids loved him, my husband thought he was great. We ended up writing, and there was no way to get distracted. That kind of kick started the whole record into gear.

JG: Someday has a distinct mid-‘60s feel to it. I know you love the music of that era, does Andrew?

SH: Yeah, I mean that was also kind of a compelling aspect to our musical connection. Here’s this guy who was born in the ‘80s, so he didn’t experience the ‘60s firsthand, as I did, but he loves that music so much, and knows it so well. We had a very strong connection through our appreciation of that era of music. In particular, I have been yearning to write songs that allowed for that kind of very emotional singing. Today, I was out walking and, believe it or not, I was listening to Tom Jones’ “It’s Not Unusual” and “What’s New, Pussycat.” There isn’t a moment in his vocal performance on either of those two songs that isn’t full-on – full-on, like every word. It’s the opposite of trying to play it cool. It’s going for it.

JG: In that era, a lot of singers did that.

SH: Everybody did. Most everybody did. You listen to early Beatle things, they’re screaming and crooning and “oooh!” and doing all that stuff. It’s full-on intensity. I grew up singing along to Petula Clark, Lulu, Joni Mitchell and Linda Ronstadt. Nobody was holding back. I’ve been listening to the Bee Gees a lot lately and even a song like “To Love Somebody” – I mean, just check out their vocal performance. There is so much passion and intensity, it’s insane. It’s like it’s fully imbued with wearing-your-heart-on-your-sleeve emotion. You sort of take it for granted when you listen to that music because we just get so familiar with the sounds of those records, they’re classics. The same is true for the arrangements. When you listen to “Walk Away Renee,” you’re not sitting there going ‘check out that string arrangement.’ ”

JG: It’s just part of the texture of the song.

SH: Exactly. Mitchell Froom, who produced the record, was an amazing collaborator. He listened to Brassell and I play the songs in my living room with two guitars and me singing. He studied the melody, figured out what kind of production would be the best to put the voice in the forefront and make it about the emotion, the essence of the music. Sometimes when you’re working on something you can’t step back and see the picture, the sound picture, you’re just sort of in the middle of it. You’re singing, and you’re emoting, and you’re breathing, and you’re putting out this performance, and you don’t really have a perspective on it. But he is so musical, and so talented at crafting the production to showcase the important thing. It was really interesting in the case of “Picture Me.” Andrew and I were playing it very strummy, a lot of guitar, and singing quite a bit of it together. Mitchell said ‘don’t play guitar, just sing,’ and he started playing piano – and suddenly, the melody, it sounded like a Burt Bacharach song. Brassell and I looked at each other and were like, ‘wow.’

I don’t really play piano. I can go up to a piano and plunk on a couple chords, but I don’t write on piano and I don’t think like someone who plays piano and knows music the way Mitchell does. I’m very much from the folk school. I pick up a guitar and I strum and I start singing along. [Working with Froom] was a real education.

JG: Did working on the Under the Covers albums (two all-cover sets, one focused on the ‘60s and the other on the ‘70s) with Matthew Sweet influence your songwriting for this album?

SH: That question is really interesting. I hadn’t really put that together. Our ‘60s collection, Under the Covers Volume 1 – the ‘60s were a very varied time period, and there was all sorts of music going on, but we found ourselves attracted to the baroque pop. I think it did have an impact. I’ve always loved that stuff. I’ve always had a real fondness for it.

JG: That music was much more innocent, in a way. It goes more to the heart of the emotions as opposed to a lot of what’s out there now.

SH: I think it’s changing. I think with some of the indie music – I get a lot of exposure to that from my own kids and through young people who are more up on what’s going on. There’s kind of a resurgence of that– very emotional, very melodic, with a really strong ‘60s sensibility.

JG: Will you be touring behind the album?

SH: We’re working on that right now, for October and November. Philadelphia will be early November.

The conversation lasted about 35 minutes – about twice as long as planned. Additional topics ranged from her 2009 performance at the World Café Live in Philadelphia with Matthew Sweet (she was rather nervous as it was the first night of their mini-tour together) to the British singer-songwriter Rumer, whose debut album – after I raved about it – she promised to buy that night. And in two interview excerpts that I uploaded to SoundCloud, she discusses the Beatles and how Simon & Garfunkel’s “Hazy Shade of Winter” became part of the Bangles’ repertoire.

My most unusual question came from singer-songwriter Juliana Hatfield, who worked on Hoffs’ 1991 solo debut, When You’re a Boy, and has opened for the Bangles a time or two through the years. Hatfield noted that Hoffs looks so good and healthy, and wanted to know if she was a vegan – a query, honestly, that I never would have thought to ask. Hoffs was delighted to respond (it’s safe to say she’s a Hatfield fan). “I remember we talked a lot about food, so the question is really interesting,” she said. “I try to eat really, really healthy. I exercise. But I do eat a fair amount of fish and some cheese, so that disqualifies me as a vegan.”

In many ways the 1980s were the Jan Brady of decades – it was an era that sought to escape the shadow of its older sibling while never quite managing to do so. That first wave of Gen Xers navigated a barren musical landscape of corporate rock and synth-heavy pop, ogled MTV and “Miami Vice,” and watched in mock-horror as the Rock ‘n’ Wrestling Connection was born.

That’s not to say all was awful about the decade. The Bangles, who percolated up from L.A.’s Paisley Underground scene into the mainstream in 1986 on the strength of the retro-pop of the Prince-penned “Manic Monday,” were one joy.

Bangles_New_Go_Gos

I first learned of them a few years before, in March 1983, due to the headline “Are the Bangles the New Go-Go’s?” that topped a Rolling Stone “Random Notes”  piece about their first EP. The following month a Kurt Loder-penned review of the EP said they were “probably fated to be perceived as “the new Go-Go’s” before suggesting that, aside from gender, they shared little of the same musical DNA with their erstwhile rivals. The Go-Go’s were akin to pre-Beatles girl groups, he said, while the Bangles were more Mersey Beat and Hollies. The review intrigued me enough to want to buy the EP, but finding the vinyl for such a small release in the pre-Internet age was near impossible, at least here in the suburbs.

Bangles_Beatles

As a result, it wasn’t until September of the following year that they popped back onto my radar, again due to Rolling Stone. A slightly longer article that borrowed the “Random Notes” headline for its lead caught my eye, primarily because of a quote that was bolded and set apart for emphasis:

“I used to stand in front of the mirror and pretend that I was a Beatle,” says Hoffs.

That’s Susanna Hoffs, of course, the band’s rhythm guitarist and singer – though not, as many assumed, the only lead singer. Like the Beatles, each of the Bangles handled vocals. “We’re not trying to be in a time tunnel of 1965,” she says elsewhere in the piece. “But what feels right to us are probably the same things that made those groups in the Sixties sound good, ‘cause we grew up listening to them.”

So All Over the Place, the album they were promoting, was actually the first time I heard them – well, not quite. Before I bought it, I caught the videos for “Going Down to Liverpool” and “Hero Takes a Fall” (yes, I was one who ogled MTV in its early years). They’re what sealed the deal. Twenty-eight years later and I’m still a fan, and for the same reasons I was then: the music. It’s poppy, playful and sweet, but never sickly sweet, sometimes serious and always filled with melodies that can’t be beat.

Which leads to the point of this post: the new Susanna Hoffs album, Someday, and her recent free EP, Some Summer Days. The album is a sublime delight, awash in such halcyon influences as the Beatles, Beach Boys, Burt Bacharach and Dusty Springfield while retaining an original, fresh feel. “Picture Me,” for instance, could well be a lost treasure from Dusty in Memphis. It features a delectable melody that’s accented by the judicious use of horns, which are akin to whipped cream on top of an already delicious Frappuccino. (As the link shows, even stripped to the bare essentials the song is utterly charming.) “Picture me like a melody,” she sings near the end in a tender, girlish voice and, if you close your eyes, you’ll do just that. I could rave in similar fashion about the rest of the songs – and I suppose, in a sense, I just did.

Another of my favorites, “One Day,” opens with a declaration driven in equal parts chutzpa and insecurity: “One day I’m going to make everybody love me.” The Bacharach-esque melody is pushed forth by a whirlwind of woodwinds and strings that slowly seep into the mix –one can easily imagine Dionne Warwick fronting the song in the mid-‘60s, especially when the backing vocals come in toward the end. It’s an absolutely wondrous, magical moment. “This is the Place,” too, is a track out of time – it would’ve been at home on the Under the Covers, Vol. 1 collection of ‘60s classics that Hoffs and Matthew Sweet released a few years back.

The EP, which was recorded in a day, features acoustic takes on three of theSomeday songs (“Raining,” “One Day” and “Always Enough”) and tosses in two equally cool non-album tunes (which, sad to say, aren’t on YouTube). For the price, it definitely can’t be beat.

To say that Someday is the best work Susanna Hoffs has done doesn’t cheapen or denigrate any of her past efforts, whether with the Bangles, Matthew Sweet or on her own – and while I’m tempted to write just that, the truth is it’s far too soon to make such a sweeping pronouncement. So I’ll say this instead: it’s the best album I’ve heard all year. And I’ve heard a lot.