Friday, March 25, 2011

Trouble: Trouble (x3)

So many songs are just called "Trouble" - seems the word itself is sufficient to set the stage for artists aching to address the challenges and pain of life. We started the week with a cover of the Little Feet song of the same name; as we come to the end of our theme, here's three more favorites, none of them in their original form, all of them relatively rare and hard to find, even as their original versions are likely familiar to the average audiophile.

Shawn Colvin: Trouble (live)

[out of print; purchase used]

According to chart data and Amazon, Shawn Colvin's 1996 popfolk opus A Few Small Repairs is her best-selling album; it spawned her highest charting single, and garnered two Grammys, for Song and Album of the Year, two years after its relese. But I saw Shawn long before the world saw her coming, on a small stage in a cramped Cambridge coffeehouse, and to me, her best songs have always been the delicate ones, where her little-girl voice and the raw lyrical distance she draws from a portrayed world of pain shine through in their simplest form.

This version of Colvin's Trouble offers the best of both worlds: the song has its origin on A Few Small Repairs, yet here we hear it live, with Colvin's voice able to crackle with the energy of the late-nineties Lilith Fair audience who saw her as both a headline act and an icon of female empowerment. But after all that, it's not so different from the studio version: listen, and you can hear the album arrangement coming through, proving once again how vital the support of Colvin's cowriter, producer, and musical partner John Leventhal is to her commercial success.

The Holmes Brothers: Trouble (Cat Stevens cover)


Everyone knows who Cat Stevens is, though sadly, in a world where religion is a dirty word, many modern audiences know him less as a poetic seeker and more as the seventies artist who converted to Islam after an apocryphal near-death experience and disappeared from the scene for decades. But proud folk artists and others still cover the man's greatest works, most of which date from his delicately textured acoustic period between '69 and '77, and since Trouble was there at the beginning - it's originally found on Mona Bone Jakon, which gets much less in the way of play or props than Stevens' two subsequent discs, Tea For The Tillerman and Teaser and the Firecat - I have several versions of this seminal tune on my hard drive, including this one, featuring the Holmes Brothers' raspy blues harmonies, originally found on the Crossing Jordan soundtrack.

Mutual Admiration Society: Trouble (Jon Brion cover)


Mutual Admiration Society was a one-shot collaboration formed out of LA's Largo, a club which for decades has been a mainstay of the LA singer-songwriter scene. The band's single, self-titled album was rehearsed and recorded in a six day period in 2000, and eventually released in 2004 on bluegrass label Sugar Hill, possibly due to the rising name-brand recognition of the trio of young musicians who play alongside Toad The Wet Sprocket founder and frontman Glen Phillips here - Sara Watkins, Sean Watkins, and Chris Thile, a group you probably know as Nickel Creek.

The album contains two covers, both relevant to our theme this week: a delightfully gypsy-folk take on Harry Nillson's Think About Your Troubles, and this one, originally penned and performed by Jon Brion, arguably the central figure in the Largo scene, and sadly best known outside of that for penning the soundtracks to several films, including Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Magnolia, Boogie Nights, and, embarrassingly, Popeye, starring Shelly Duval and Robin Williams, neither of whom are known for their singing, and for good reason.

Today, of course, Glen, Sean, and Sara still play and record together as part of Works Progress Administration, another on-again off-again collaboration who released their own one-shot album in 2009. And Largo? It still functions as a locus for the likes of Aimee Mann, Brion, Phillips, and others; I'm still hoping to make it out someday, to see the scene at play.

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