Posts Tagged ‘Soul Searchers’

When I was a teen in the early ‘80s, I often rode my 10-speed bike from Hatboro to Memory Lane Records in neighboring Horsham, a 50-minute round trip, as it traded in used (aka less expensive) vinyl, and left balancing a small stack of LPs and 45s on the handlebars. Around the same time, for a spell, I belonged to the RCA Music Club, which featured insane deals a-plenty. It wasn’t uncommon for me to receive two, three, four or more cassettes in the same shipment. 

Some titles were new; others were new-to-me. Either-or, it didn’t matter. I played them and played them again, winnowing the wheat from the chaff, and then, in a few weeks, rode my bike back to Memory Lane and started anew with another batch of LPs and 45s. Or maybe, instead, I stopped at the Hatboro Music Shop or Sam Goody’s in the Village Mall, which stocked imports – though the prices at both were such that I rarely left with more than one LP. The summer before my senior year, I made the hour-long train trip from my suburban enclave into Philly every so often just to explore the esoteric stores on South Street.

By the end of the ‘80s, when I managed the CD departments at two video stores, it wasn’t uncommon for me to leave work with several CDs I’d sold to myself – and then head to the (relatively) new Tower Records on South Street or down to Jeremiah’s Record Exchange in Delaware to splurge some more. (In between, I was trading tapes with customers. Found lots of great music that way. To the left is one I made around that time. I was obviously in a bit of a country state of mind.)

I’m sure the same basic process played out for many folks reading this: We jumped feet-first into music fandom and obsessiveness, forever compelled to seek out new and new-to-us sounds. Sometimes we (or, at least, me) obsess over one artist or album for weeks or months on end. And then we move on. While there were and are many upsides to the process, there was (and is) one major downside: Some great music got (and gets) lost in the shuffle.

But given that most budgets bust from time to time, and spending must be reined in, you eventually re-acquainted yourself with the one-spin wonders and realized you were too quick in your initial assessment. In the age of streaming media, however, one’s budget is no longer an issue. Whether you subscribe to a streaming service or make do with ads, there’s never a reason to give something a second listen if it didn’t hook you on the first. 

Which, in a roundabout way, leads to this: Paul Weller released Other Aspects, Live at the Royal Albert Hall on March 8th, 2019. It came to be thanks to Weller’s sublime 2018 release, True Meanings, which is a laidback acoustic set accented by orchestral backing. Taking an orchestra out on the road is a tad expensive, however, so he booked a couple nights at the iconic Royal Albert Hall, hired an orchestra, and plotted out a 25-song set that matched the new tunes with past classics, and…voila! A live album was born.

I remember listening to it on the way to work shortly after its release and then on my way home that same night…and returning to the Day-Glo sounds of the Paisley Underground, which had been swirling in and around my head since the release of the 3×4 compilation earlier in the year, the next day. Part of that was due to nostalgia, another part due to escape. And, soon, Lucy Rose’s remarkable No Words Left caught my ear. And then another new release. And then an Oasis jag. And then something else…

I forgot about Other Aspects, in other words, until late December, when I pulled up my Apple Music library in order to listen to Weller’s solo debut for this Essentials piece. I saw Other Aspects listed with the other titles and clicked play…

…and was instantly hooked. How could I have not returned to it sooner?! It’s contemplative, which is where my head’s at right now. Taking life in. Pondering my present and future.

If you listened to “One Bright Star,” you’ll hear the initial strains of an orchestra, applause, and then Weller and his band kick off with the 22 Dreams track. It’s mid-tempo, lush, and anchored by Weller’s weathered, soulful vocals. That sums up the album in full, actually, which features 11 (of 14) songs from True Meanings, a handful of Jam and Style Council tunes, and gems from his solo years. Here’s “Strange Museum” from his solo debut, for example:

Another highlight: “The Soul Searchers” from True Meanings. It’s a tremendous song in the mode of his classic “Wild Wood.”

And speaking of “Wild Wood”… yep, that’s here, too.

As is (obvious from the album’s title) “Aspects,” another stellar True Meanings tune.

Another favorite: “Private Hell,” the Jam song from Setting Sons, which swaps its fiery and frenzied foundation for an orchestral underpinning. The picture Weller paints with his pointed poetry stings, still. (In some respects, life in the 21st century isn’t all that different than the pre-Internet age.)

In short, one’s headspace can make or break an album as much as the music itself. Such was the case here for me, upon first listen. But upon the second, third and fourth listens, which occurred nine months later? If I knew then what I know now, it would’ve been in my Top 5 albums of the year. It’s a wondrous, magical set. Check it out now… or when you’re ready to receive it.

’Tis the season for making lists and checking them twice, and determining which album is the Old Grey Cat’s ballyhooed Album of the Year. The honor, which is celebrating its 40th year this year, came about late in 1978 due to my dream of becoming a rock critic (yeah, I know: crazy!), and continued through the decades because…well, why not? Over that span, it’s chronicled the evolution (or lack thereof) of my musical tastes.

It is a decidedly personal affair, in other words. In years past, and on the updated tally I post early each year, I explain the process thusly: “The candidates are drawn from what I’ve purchased, so the pool is decidedly limited in comparison to, say, what the writers at Rolling Stone or Allmusic.com are exposed to. Some years I buy a lot and some years not, primarily due to my listening habits – I play albums I love over and over and over until they become one with my subconscious (obsession, not variety, is my spice of life). So the more I like certain albums, the less overall I hear.”

But in the immortal words of Ron Ziegler, “that statement is no longer operative.” In the age of Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube, no one needs to actually purchase an album to enjoy it. Just about every new release can be had for the price of one CD a month (aka the subscription fee) or the willingness to put up with commercials. (Yet, although I don’t purchase as much as I once did, I own all the albums that made their way onto my list. How could I not?)

Also, as I wrote last year, “The candidates are also winnowed by my age, race, gender and idiosyncrasies. I’m a middle-aged white guy, in other words, with catholic tastes.”

Some years, I revisit all the contenders. This year? There was no need. They are albums that I’ve turned to time and again since their releases, and have never grown tired of. That said, there were a few surprises: Although I thoroughly loved First Aid Kit’s Ruins and Courtney Marie Andrews’ May Your Kindness Remain, as the year wore on I found myself listening to them less and less often. I’m sure it had more to do with me, and the headspace I found myself in, than the music. I deem them two of my three “honorable mentions” for the year. Mikaela Davis’ Delivery is my third.

And, with that… 

Juliana Hatfield’s Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John is my Album of the Year. 

I got chills when she announced the project – as Hopelessly Devoted to Liv – during her concert with Wesley Stace at the Ardmore Music Hall in October 2017, and those chills were multiplying after she sang “Have You Never Been Mellow?” and “Physical.” (Just as an aside, Stace suggested that she call the album JH Sings ONJ, as the title conjures such cover sets from yesteryear as The Hollies Sing Dylan. It obviously stuck.) 

In my review, I noted that the set is, in some ways, an extension of the moving “Wonder Why” from her 2017 Pussycat LP, “in which she sought refuge from the madness of the present via the memories of her childhood. These songs, for her and us, are a similar escape into the past. They conjure another time and place, and also pay homage to a singer (and sometime songwriter) who, in that long-ago era, created a safe room where many of us dwelled on occasion.”

FYI: It’s the sixth time that Juliana has nabbed my year-end honors.

The first runner-up: the Stone Foundation’s Everybody, Anyone. In my review, I said that the songs “feature taut rhythms and lyrics that strive for something more than the rudimentary reflections that make up much of today’s mainstream music. They’re metaphysical musings of the highest order.”

Paul Weller co-wrote that Stone Foundation track, “Next Time Around.” His own release this year, True Meanings, is the latest classic in his own oeuvre, and is my second runner-up. Due to offline events, this blog was placed into a holding pattern around the time of the album’s release, so I never reviewed it. But make no mistake: It’s one of his best. 

The third runner-up: Shelby Lynne’s Here I Am, which features her songs (and some poetic snippets of dialogue) from her movie of the same name. Originally available only on vinyl, it’s now out on CD (via Shelby’s online store). The songs are as mesmerizing as her performance in the film.  

The fourth runner-up: Erin O’Dowd, whose debut album, Old Town, took up residence in my heart and head way back in May, and provided much-needed sustenance on a long road trip Diane and I took in September. In my First Impressions piece on it, I said that the songs sent “my spirits soaring higher than the beautiful May morn.”

The fifth and final runner-up: Becky Warren’s Undesirable, which is an album-long treatise on America’s unofficial caste system. As I wrote in this piece, it’s akin to a series of short stories set to song. It’ll draw you in, make you think, and make you tap your feet.

I rarely discuss matters of faith, but – when or if pressed – will confess to membership in the cross-denominational Church of Birch, whose charismatic prelate turns on the light of love and salvation in her melodic testimonies.

I’m speaking of singer-songwriter Diane Birch, of course.

Yesterday, she unveiled a PledgeMusic project. One could say she’s passing the donation plate to fund her next album, and promising a plethora of cool premiums in return. I pledged last night, though not for the premium I most desire – a cover song of my choice. That clocks in at a reasonable $400; if not for our impending move, and the upfront costs that will entail, I’d have clicked on it without a second thought. (Instead, I’m settling on the dream journal and USB thumb drive of demos.)

The Pastor Birch has a knack for turning the songs of others into her own. The first time we saw her live, in July 2009, she turned a fun rendition of Tom Petty’s “You Don’t Know How It Feels” into a way-cool moment by linking it with the Beatles’ “I Got a Feeling.” The second time we saw her, in 2010, it was a Hall & Oates song – “Rich Girl,” I believe. And in-between those two shows, on French TV, she turned in a mesmerizing spin of Gossip’s “Heavy Cross” that spliced in a little Screamin’ Jay Hawkins…

Which leads to today’s Top 5: Songs I’d Pay Diane Birch to Cover (If I Had the Cash)… 

1) Carole King/Gerry Goffin – “Up on the Roof.” My first choice. Simply put, it’s one of the greatest songs ever written…and Diane would send it into the stratosphere. Here’s Dusty Springfield’s take on it…

2) Laura Nyro – “The Sweet Sky.” My Diane’s first choice would be this deep cut from Laura Nyro’s 1978 Nested album.  (That’s Felix Cavaliere of the Rascals on electric piano, by the way.)

3) Paul Weller – “The Soul Searchers.” From Weller’s recent five-star album, True Meanings, this song is perfect fit for DB. I think she’d do wonders with it.

4) Neil Diamond – “Holly Holy.” DB would slay this stirring stream-of-consciousness song. It’s perfect for her.

5) Sandy Denny – “I’m a Dreamer.” Recorded for Sandy’s final studio album, Rendezvous, in 1977. Here’s an alternate take from the Notes and Words box set. (It’d go doubly well with DB’s own “Stand Under My Love.”)

And two bonuses…

6) Karla Bonoff – “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me,” which was recorded by Linda Ronstadt for her 1976 Hasten Down the Wind album. 

7) Style Council – “Shout to the Top.” I realized, looking at the first six picks, that I’d leaned hard on mid-tempo tunes. Here’s a remedy…and what a remedy!

I’ve been grooving to tunes this week by way of a new set of headphones – the Tribit XFree Tune Bluetooth Headphones, which go for all of $50 on Amazon. They’re a tad heavier than the lightweight Bose AO2 I’ve used for much of the past decade, but – sound-wise – are as good. If you’re looking for a set yourself, check them out. (CNet thinks highly of them, too.)

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5…

1) Diane Birch – “In It for the Race.” The latest offering from the Church of Birch pastor is a tasty confection that, like all she does, doubles as a communion for the soul. Lyrically speaking, it’s about a Lothario who’s “in it for the chase.” Musically speaking, it conjures Diane’s debut, the classic Bible Belt, while retaining some of the figurative wisps of smoke that emanate from the grooves of Nous, her moody 2016 E.P.

 

2) Chloé Caroline – “Gypsy Daughter.” Although released in May ’18, this tasty tune is new to me. It’s accented by a Stevie Nicks vibe, and is quite addictive.

3) Bob Seger – “East Side Story.” Years long ago, I created a CDR of all the early Seger sides, from ’66 to ’70, none of which were in print at the time. I gathered them by hook and crook, and – by and large – the sound quality sucked. It didn’t matter. Alone, each track was good-to-great. Grouped together? They showed Seger as one of the great regional artists of the ‘60s. A few, including the Them-like “East Side Story,” surfaced on the Cameo-Parkway box set of 2005, but the rest seem destined to be lost to time. Which is why Friday’s release of Heavy Music: The Complete Cameo Recordings 1966-67 is so exciting. Backed by his first band, the Last Heard, the set collects Bob’s initial burst of singles. Let’s hope it’s the first of several such collections… 

4) The Stone Foundation – “Standing on the Top.” I’ve been grooving to the Foundation’s stellar Everybody, Anyone album this week. It gets stronger with each new play, and is a definite contender for my fabled Album of the Year honors.

5) Paul Weller – “The Soul Searchers.” The teaser tracks thus far released from Paul Weller’s forthcoming True Meanings album (street date: Sept. 14th) are a tantalizing lot, and no more so than this one.