Saturday, October 3, 2009

Title Tracks: Anyway

Amy Farris: Anyway


The perfect combination of Spector-era girl group harmonies and echoey Neko Case production on this obscure title track come courtesy of Dave Alvin, who produced Austin-born singer-songwriter Amy Farris' debut and only album in 2004, and more recently brought the underrated fiddler and vocalist on tour as part of his new band Guilty Women. The talent, however, is all Amy.

Farris, who was also known for her work in the studio and on tour with Bruce Robison, Kelly Willis, and Dave Alvin and Exene Cervenka of 80s americana punk band X, died Tuesday of an apparent suicide at the age of 40. If there is indeed great Texas music in heaven - and I believe there is - as of this week they've got a great fiddle player in the band.

Title Tracks: Hearts & Bones

Paul Simon: Hearts and Bones


I will forever associate this song and its album with the arc of a particular love affair, specifically the girl I dated through my last years of high school, an exotic, sensual, tiny and sweet free-spirited child of mixed-race divorce who at fourteen showed me the burning intensity of life for the first time. Our theme song was Song About the Moon, an equally gorgeous lullaby, but this title song from the album she kept on her stereo describes everything I was feeling at the time, from our "love like lightning shaking to moans" to the constant mischievous immediacy she tried, and ultimately failed, to convince me was the way I wanted to live my life, though I will always love her for it in my memory.

In many ways, Hearts and Bones is Paul Simon's most flawed album, with a few embarrassing clunkers in the mix, the whole product yawing too-wide through a set of songs about half of which stand better on their own than in the midst of the discomforting chaos that is the track-to-track listing. Yet in its own way, it is also terribly underrated, containing echoes of what came before and what was to come, as are the young loves who brought us to ourselves. I miss both girl and album every day, though I'd not trade either in a million years for what and who we have all - Simon, myself, and the girl, who is now a distant memory - moved on to become.

As a bonus, here's the sweetest cover of this song I know - equally poignant, though in a simpler, more wistful way.

Aoife O'Donovan: Hearts and Bones


Title Tracks: Hejira

Joni Mitchell: Hejira


Joni Mitchell: Hejira (the Travelogue version)


I helped start up and have maintained a monthly book discussion group, with seven amazing women friends... and last month marked the beginning of our ninth year together - at our recent gathering, one of our members brought up the following quote: "When you read a classic, you do not see more in the book than you did before; you see more in you than there was before." Clifton Fadiman.

I, of course, immediately related it to music in my life - there are some songs that, upon release, I just don't *get* and discover that, decades later, I can eventually relate. I realize that the glitch is not with them, it's with me - the wisdom has always been there, but it's taken time for me to grow into it... or to benefit from the always-been-there lesson...

Such was absolutely the case with the title track to Hejira, the album Joni released in 1976 (I had just graduated from college) - I was enamored with Confessional Singer-Songwriter Joni, and had tolerated The Hissing of Summer Lawns, thinking it was an experimental blip on her musical radar screen. Imagine my shock when she went even farther afield from the girl-and-her-guitar scenario - I tried to relate to the words... but that d*mn thrumming bass of Jaco Pastorius kept getting in the way (blasphemy, I know!). I continued to buy each of her albums as they were released... but I was not happy - where was the Joni I knew and loved?

Fast forward to 2002, when she put out Travelogue, a two-disc reworking of many of her standards, with orchestral backing - twenty-five years later, the song finally elicited the Proverbial Light Bulb Moment. I don't know if it was her deeper, aging, world-weary voice... or the swelling string section... or the fact that I was married/had children/experienced the melancholy of feeling lonely within the context of a relationship... or a combination of the three - all I *do* know is that the barrier vaporized and I finally *heard* the song with the intention in which it was written...

"You know it never has been easy
Whether you do or you do not resign
Whether you travel the breadth of extremities
Or stick to some straighter line..."

Thanks, Joni, for allowing me a second chance... and for being a wise and patient traveling companion all these many years - the musical journey continues...

Friday, October 2, 2009

Title Tracks: The Drugs I Need

Austin Lounge Lizards: The Drugs I Need


As a regular reader of this blog I thought that if I were a contributor, this might have been my selection for the Drugs theme. We have all seen the commercials..take this to cure that, but watch out for those side effects.Trouble is, sometimes the treatment may seem worse than the illness. Take for example the wonder drug Progenitorivox (at your own risk,of course). This cure all is brought to you by the Austin Lounge Lizards. If symptoms persist, call your doctor.

Title Tracks: Essence

Lucinda Williams: Essence

This is one of my favorite Lucinda Williams tracks, but it's also one that I can never play when I'm on the radio due to the potential for massive fines from the FCC should I do so. For that reason, I am more than glad to share it with you here.

Simply put, the song "Essence" is little more than lust given life in the form of a song. When Lucinda cries out for her "Sweet Baby," you can hear the yearning in her voice. Her desperation has overtaken her to the point that she is no longer in control. When she speaks of love as a drug, it's not a hyperbole or figure of speech. She is addicted.

It's a powerful song made even more so by Lucinda's ability to wring every ounce of emotion out of every breathy note she sings.

Title Tracks: God Shuffled His Feet

Crash Test Dummies: God Shuffled His Feet


God created man in His own image, and set him loose in the world. After a while, He had a picnic, to see how His creation had fared, and to take questions. Beyond human emotions, He was bemused.

That is the premise of the song, God Shuffled His Feet. It leads off an album of wonderfully eccentric story telling, with a rich palette of musical colors to enhance the experience.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Title Tracks: Rose of England

Nick Lowe: Rose Of England


The album Rose Of England by Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit may best be remembered for I Knew The Bride (When She Used To Rock And Roll). But the entire LP was a gem. So much so that we nearly wore it out. Among the tracks was a great cover of Moon Mullican's Seven Nights To Rock. Also, Long Walk Back, Darlin' Angel Eyes and Lucky Dog, fast became other must play favorites. And while many times the title song of an album isn't always one of the high points, for us at least, that was not the case with The Rose Of England. The Amazon link is for an import release.

Title Tracks: Dixie Chicken

Little Feat: Dixie Chicken


Dixie Chicken, the song and the album, was my introduction to the wonderful music of Little Feat. The unique funky rhythms of New Orleans combined with the bluesy slide guitar of Lowell George to create a new kind of southern rock that has never been equaled, before or since. (I know Little Feat still exists, but with Lowell George gone, it might as well be another band entirely.) My oldest brother brought the album home and made sure I heard it. Then, he decided to learn some of the songs for a cover band he played in, and I heard the album some more. For a couple of weeks, he played Walking All Night over and over, trying to make out the lyrics, (you couldn’t check the lyric sites on line before there were even home computers). I didn’t mind the repeat listens one bit, and all these years later, I still don’t.

As for Dixie Chicken, the song, a guy in a bar tells the patrons the tale of a peculiar romance. And they all find the tale strangely familiar. If you’ve never heard it before, I won’t give any more away. Suffice it to say. here is a lyric with one of the greatest payoffs in rock and roll.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Title Tracks: Utopia Parkway

Fountains of Wayne: Utopia Parkway


Fountains of Wayne's Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood often come off like the Donald Fagen and Walter Becker of powerpop, observing the world with a detached sense of humor that often only reveals itself upon closer inspection, while wearing their influences on their sleeves. But the results are more fun to listen to than Steely Dan ever were.

It's a shame that they will probably be remembered by the masses as a one-hit wonder. Their small catalog overflows with catchy numbers like this one, which I was reminded of when I passed a "Utopia Pkwy" sign on a recent drive out to Long Island.

I grew up not far from the kitschy store that gave Fountains of Wayne their name. I'll never forget the time my Mom heard them on an NPR program and immediately called me up to see if I knew that there was a band named after the store.

Of course I had.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Title Tracks: One Step Beyond

Madness: One Step Beyond


Exuberant and joyful, jaunty and jubilant, One Step Beyond is one of only a couple of Madness songs that successfully made the leap across the pond and became an MTV hit in America. Originally written and recorded by Prince Buster (who is also the inspiration for the name Madness), One Step Beyond is, for me, a mess of nostalgic memories of warm Saturday nights laughing and dancing with friends. The unmistakable opening chant that every wannabe Nutty Boy could recite by heart in 1981 still brings a smile to my face after all these years.

Hey you! Don't watch that, watch this!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Title Tracks: Sail Away

Randy Newman: Sail Away


As a budding teen audiophile, I spent a good portion of my adolescent summer nights camped out on the hardwood floor of my parents' living room, where a low custom-built cabinet held a lovingly catalogued sequence of sixties and seventies songwriters and old blues records, spinning disks one by one, trying to find my own musical sense and sensibility among that of my father's.

It was there that I found a well-worn, well-loved copy Randy Newman's Sail Away nestled among the Paul Simon and Chris Smither, the Joni and Loudon and Emmylou. More used than most in that sweet-smelling hardwood cabinet, its ragged-haired, glasses-sporting, close-cropped headshot cover called to me like a ghost of my father, and the music it held did too: sonically delicate and lyrically wry, with the swelling of soft horns and strings playing an anthem behind the title track like nobody's business. It would be years before I was mature enough to fully appreciate the sarcastic, caustic underbelly of these deceptively light-hearted tunes, but that the songs stuck in my head long enough to matter speaks pages about the pure emotive power of this singer-songwriter's singer-songwriter.

Over 30 years later, of course, the same title was used for a solid roots-and-bluegrass Randy Newman tribute album; here's one of my favorite mellow newgrass musicians crooning the equally gentle if slightly more rounded-out title track to that album, as befits both the week's theme and this coverblogger's bent.

Tim O'Brien: Sail Away


Title Tracks: Lights Out

UFO: Lights Out


Growing up, I listened to AM pop radio longer than most of my peers. So when the classic rock format first hit the New York airwaves in the mid '80s, it was actually refreshing to me. Of course, that didn't last. The format quickly ossified into endless repeats of the same 100 songs, and I moved on. At times, I've dreamed of an alternate reality where my long list of songs that should have been classic rock staples actually are. UFO's "Lights Out," the title track to their best studio album (it hit 23 on the U.S. album charts in 1977), is one of those songs.

Back in their '70s heyday, UFO straddled the line between hard rock and heavy metal. Indeed, they are often seen as the influential bridge between the two. Like many songs in both genres, it's not the lyrics that are important here, but the way the music makes an adolescent boy feel. When I discovered this song in 1986, it made me feel like cranking up the stereo to maximum volume. And it still does.