The ongoing look at the albums I acquired this year:
Gary Louris, Vagabonds (2008)
Produced by Chris Robinson, whose Black Crowes history gives the album a Southern vibe, this solo record from former Jayhawks member Gary Louris is good overall and occasionally great. “She Only Calls Me on Sundays” is a fantastic country-blues lament, and the album features backing vocals from Robinson, Jenny Lewis, and Susanna Hoffs. You know you want to check it out now.
Tift Merritt, Another Country (2008)
Damn near perfect. I’ve loved Tift Merritt since Bramble Rose, and her latest album has her continuing on a path that’s part alt-country and part midcentury R&B revivalist. Her vocals are beautiful on every track, but “Another Country” is the one most likely to make you pull over while driving just to listen.
The Jayhawks, Live From the Women’s Club (2002)
This is Volume 1 of a set of live albums put out by The Jayhawks, and it’s fantastic. It’s got some of their best songs on here, from “Save It for a Rainy Day” to “A Break in the Clouds,” but it also offers a fascinating look into the songwriting process by opening with “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” and closing with a previously unreleased and earlier incarnation of the song called “Someone Will.” Great band, great live recording.
Counting Crows, Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings (2008)
I’m honor-bound to keep checking in on Counting Crows; I’ll never stop loving August & Everything After, and they’ve put out a lot of good music since then, as well. I honestly expected to like the second half of this concept album more than the first, since morning-after brooding seems more in line with Adam Duritz’s m.o. than weekending bar rock. But damn if he didn’t change things up and frontload the record with great tracks like “Los Angeles” and “Hanging Tree.” Adam, you sneaky dog.
Gin Blossoms, Congratulations I’m Sorry (1996)
I wish I’d had this album when I was 14, and could relay some kind of story of growing up with one of the best pop acts of the 1990s. But aside from a few random tracks, I didn’t start collecting Gin Blossoms albums until I was in college. And that’s a shame, because this album is a prime example of solid mid-’90s pop-rock. If it hews a little too closely to the pattern set out in New Miserable Experience (right down to the country excursion at the end), it’s still an honest and well-written bunch of songs, from the hit singles “Follow You Down” and “Competition Smile” to the beautiful “Not Only Numb” and the upbeat “Highwire.” Just a great album all around.
Golden Smog, On Golden Smog (1992)
Golden Smog is one of those bands I like and whose albums I’m slowly collecting just to fill out that part of my catalog; I am anal, and I accept this. This EP of five covers was their first release. Good stuff.
Golden Smog, Blood on the Slacks (2007)
A decent outing from the band, but still, worth it for collecting.
Eytan Mirsky, Was It Something I Said? (2001)
Eytan Mirsky’s been on my radar since I heard “(I Just Wanna Be) Your Steve McQueen” in The Tao of Steve, and this album is as wonderful and sad and poppy and just as great as I’d hoped it would be. The songs are all quick and biting and usually cover the same ground — guy loves girl, girl spurns guy, guy shrugs like he knew it was coming all along — but Mirsky is fantastic in the way he can create so many original songs out of the same kind of heartbreak. “Just Another in a Long Long Line” and “All the Things to Do When She Says No” are great, as is “Steve McQueen.”
Old 97’s, Blame It on Gravity (2008)
The latest release from my favorite working band. I wrote about the album when it was released, and still stand by my love for it. “Here’s to the Halcyon” sums up like half of my 20s.
Month: November 2008 (page 1 of 2)
The ongoing look at the albums I acquired this year:
Cornball song called “The Drover’s Ballad” — lyrics by Baz Luhrmann, music and vocals by Elton John — performed over the closing credits? You bet your unfortunate ass.
Seriously, not worth it.
Click here for the review.
Really, at three hours, it’s tremendously overlong, and it’s not that good. If you’re thinking of going, just stay home and watch this instead. It’s better:
I knew that Google’s archive of Life magazine photos had launched, but I didn’t get sucked into it until John posted about it the other day. He warned that visitors to the site should be ready to “lose a few hours,” and he was right. The scope and number of searchable images is staggering.
But the thing that strikes me most about the archive is the chance to stumble across a color shot from an era typically remembered in black and white. It’s a stirring reminder that these people and places and events that have been transformed into the pop history of the 20th century were real, living things, and looked just like things do now. Everything from film quality to hairstyles has a way of making the past seem otherworldly, but some of the photos in this collection make it feel more real. (One of the best examples of this is seeing a color photo of soldiers in World War II, which has in modern times been rendered in movies has having a kind of permanent burned-out sepia look, something that Steven Spielberg has never quite come out and apologized for.)
Here are some great samples:
The rest of the archive is here.
Today’s phrase: “I like my women like I like my coffee….” Here are a few to start:
• “… strong and black.”
• “… piping hot and sprinkled with cinnamon.”
• “… topped with whipped cream.”
• “… they burn going down.”
• “… smelling faintly of chai.”
• “… full of dirty beans.”
• “… with a warning label about the contents.”
Sis: “He lay perfectly still in the grass, his shirt open over his sculpted, incandescent chest, his scintillating arms bare. His glistening, pale lavender lids were shut, though of course he didn’t sleep.”
guess what that’s an excerpt from!
me: oh my goodness
Sis: … i’m so sorry i snooped!
i couldn’t help it!
me: seriously is that twilight
Sis: haha, yes
me: b/c i’m about to murder someone it’s that bad
Sis: the slate review had that that excerpt in it as a reason why the author hasn’t read the book
those lines are enough to make dan brown and nicholas sparks cry
me: ok i usually don’t like dana stevens, but now i will read the review b/c that’s awesome
that’s weird that the female character might actually want to be a vampire
and it’s so wrong to have vampires who can go out in daylight. CHEATING.
at least sookie has spunk
and on that note, i’m going to dinner
By the time I was old enough to start to appreciate music, my father’s tastes had receded to Les Miserables, Handel’s Messiah, and selected oldies. (The man loves The Chi-Lites’ “Have You Seen Her?” more than you could imagine.) But one of the things he imparted to me in my youth was a healthy respect for Eric Clapton that continues to this day. As is probably wise, I ignore Clapton’s regrettable adult pop excursions and stick to his blues, because that’s where the man shines. I grew up listening to songs whose lyrical and sonic turmoil were years beyond my comprehension, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t love them. In recent years, Clapton has gotten a lot of mileage out of turning his older stuff inside out, offering slowed-down, lamenting versions of his blistering classics. And that’s okay; the unspoken flip side to “Layla” is indeed one of gentle mourning. But nothing compares to the all-out electric fury of the original.
Anyway: All that to say that sometimes the originals are the best. This cut is from the only studio album put out by Derek and the Dominoes, Clapton’s supergroup from the early 1970s. It’s sad, and scorching, and downright perfect.
Here’s “Bell Bottom Blues”:
As a result of the cutbacks that are being felt at print and online outlets everywhere, I’ve been cut from my position as a freelance TV columnist at the Willamette Week. I’ve enjoyed being able to write about the good and bad things I’ve watched over the past 18 months, but sometimes these things just end.
Also, even though the column has been edited to say “Dallas murder police officer,” the original draft just said “Dallas murder police.” You know I love the Bunk.
Anyway: Click here for the column.
“Star Trek” and its multiple television and filmic entities have always been completely lame. It’s amazing that a fictional universe with so many supposedly warring civilizations hasn’t been able to drum up a single interesting conflict aside from the one Nicholas Meyer drummed up for The Wrath of Khan. There are no good villains or epic battles; it’s just a lot of people driving around and classifying new planets and avoiding rock monsters. There’s not much interpersonal conflict, the action is boring, problems are easily solved, and the only costs ever paid in service to exploration come from nameless red-shirted ensigns.
The series and its inhabitants are interminably dull, and it looks like J.J. Abrams is out to change that. The film aims to be a reboot of the story, a kind of new Genesis that runs parallel to the other works, which is something not usually attempted outside of comic book adaptations. Granted, this is still just a trailer, but it makes me use a word I’ve never before applied to the franchise: exciting.
Here it is:
Last year, for the first time in my life, I kept track of what albums I bought throughout the year. I loved being able to look back over the previous 12 months and remember what I’d found in a used CD bin or purchased online or had given to me by friends; it’s like a really immediate autobiography. Last fall, I wrote:
But music is different. An album has an effect on your growth in a different way than a movie or a TV show, mostly because it’s something you listen to several times in order to let it begin to sink in. The best albums become somehow stuck in your car’s CD player or become a default choice on your iPod, and you listen to them over and over again. Music is much more of a continued experience, which is why I decided this year to keep track of the albums I acquired in hopes of being able to step back and observe my musical habits and maybe come to some kind of half-assed conclusions about the whole thing in a musical-journey-of-life-minus-the-b.s. sense.
That reasoning still holds. As the year progressed, the music I acquired became fused with the experiences I was having/surviving at the time, and I know I’ll have those sense memories with me forever. So without further delay, here’s the first installment of this year’s list:
San Saba County, Easy Does It (2004)
I found this band by visiting the site for Austin’s Waterloo Records, and it was a great buy. I picked this up used at Half.com, since it’s not available on the band’s site any more, and it’s got some pretty good songs.
Will Hoge, Blackbird on a Lonely Wire (2003)
Meh. A friend gave it to me to prepare me for a concert I went to with a larger group. Pretty forgettable. I haven’t listened to it since.
Various Artists, Juno (2007)
What can I say, I fell for the hype. There are actually good tracks on here, too, but they’re not the Kimya Dawson ones.
That Dog, Retreat From the Sun (1997)
I bought this on the strength of the recommendation it got in a blog post in which I called for reader suggestions for great guitar pop. Solid record.
Willie Nelson, Natural Renegade (c. 2003, but who knows)
This was a total impulse buy when I was browsing Amoeba one day. It’s a compilation put out by Starbucks, but it’s still a fun album and one of the many, many possible combinations of “greatest hits” you could cull from Willie Nelson’s life and career. The titles speak for themselves: “On the Road Again,” “Always on My Mind,” “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” “Crazy.” Come on. (It also has Willie and Merle Haggard doing “Pancho and Lefty,” but I still think no one will ever top Townes van Zandt’s original. No one.)
Lyle Lovett, Lyle Lovett (1986)
Some people think of Pontiac as Lyle Lovett’s first record, and that’s a great one (“If I Had a Boat” alone makes it a classic), but his first album was actually his eponymous debut two years earlier. It’s a fantastic group of songs that typifies Lovett’s ability to combine country and blues with a singer-songwriter sensibility. The brush-off “God Will” is great for the sharp turn it takes, and “If I Were the Man You Wanted” is every good thing you’d expect from the title.
Emmylou Harris and the Nash Ramblers, At the Ryman (1992)
Amazing album. I’ve seen Emmylou live a couple times, and it’s always wonderful, but this one was recorded back before she started to lose some of the power from her upper register. Her cover of John Fogerty’s “Lodi” is a standout, and “Like Strangers” will kick your ass.
Me: Guess what?
Me: Chicken butt.
Her: Guess why?
Her: Chicken thigh.
Him: Guess westicles.
The Sis and I were chatting online when, out of nowhere, she unleashed the prompt, “Ok, so saddest songs ever.” We then began to list our favorite sad songs, going back and forth until I left work for the night. I tossed out a few off the top of my head and then checked my phone for more suggestions. This is what she and I came up with on the fly:
“Lost Cause,” Beck
“Crying,” Roy Orbison
“Are You Still in Love With Me?”, Tift Merritt
“Hallelujah,” Jeff Buckley
“He Stopped Loving Her Today,” George Jones
“Houses on the Hill,” Whiskeytown
“Martha,” Tom Waits
“Winona,” “Nothing Lasts,” “Your Sweet Voice,” “Everything Changes,” “I Almost Forgot,” Matthew Sweet
“Steven,” Denison Witmer
“Far, Far Away,” Wilco
“I Should Have Been True,” The Mavericks
“Oh My Sweet Carolina,” “La Cienega Just Smiled,” “September,” Ryan Adams
“Please Tell My Brother,” Golden Smog
“Salome,” Old 97’s
“Travelin’ Soldier,” “Without You,” Dixie Chicks
“The Stars Above and My Heart in Your Hands,” Christopher Denny (to which I attached the caveat that it’s so sad I can only listen to it every couple of months)
“Sweetest Waste of Time,” Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson
“I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” Hank Williams
“Broke, Lovesick, & Driftin’,” Hank Williams III
“Always On My Mind,” Willie Nelson
“Please Break My Heart,” Caitlin Cary and Thad Cockrell
“Fred Jones,” Ben Folds
“Casimir Pulaski Day,” Sufjan Stevens
“The Lonely 1,” Wilco
“Your Long Journey,” Robert Plant and Allison Krauss
“Mad World,” Gary Jules
“The Blower’s Daugter,” “Amie,” Damien Rice
“She’s Got You,” “Crazy,” “Walkin’ After Midnight,” Patsy Cline
“A Ghost in This House,” Allison Krauss and Union Station
And that’s just the stuff we came up with while bored at our respective jobs. We didn’t have iTunes libraries or stacks of CDs to check. I think we came up with some respectable titles, and I’d like to hear suggestions for more. Any genre, any era. Just hit me with the sadness and we’ll come up with the best damn wrist-cutting, whisky-sipping playlist anyone’s ever seen.
Cake is one of those bands that I like but always forget about. I’ll drift away and then a few months later stumble across them in my iPod and remember they’ve got some fantastic songs that I still really enjoy, especially this one, which has been in my possession since the days of Napster.
Here’s “Never There”: