Saturday, July 30, 2011

Circuses and Carnivals: Five From The Midway

Dan Zanes: Wonderwheel


I went to a weekend fair
met someone while I was there
we put flowers in our hair
and rode the wonderwheel...

It sure sounds like a carnival, thanks to a rollicking accordion, a bouncy beat, and a subtle surfer's acoustic groove. And that's the point, for sure: after all, Dan Zanes is a master of the seemingly-casual kidsong, when in actuality, every note and tone is designed to add to the perfect festive mood, the inner child called to exquisitely.

Richard & Linda Thompson: The Wall of Death


Roller coaster as metaphor for the nauseating thrill-ride risk of the love affair? Yes, please. REM covers this one, but the Richard Thompson original is better by far, a perfect take from his mid-eighties solo work with ties to both true-blue rock and roll and his early folk rock sound with Fairport Convention.

David Wilcox: Top of the Roller Coaster


A bit more specific, softspoken southern folkie David Wilcox - a master of the sustained metaphor - looks at the roller coaster's moment of anticipation as a model of the inner heartjump turning thirty can bring. Love the way the bouncy tonality and sweet harmonies bring midlife crisis alive. So much joy.

Norah Jones: Carnival Town


A broad title belied in the first few lines - this is actually a song mostly about carnival rides and their motion as a reflection of life-movement, with each of the first two verses taking on a different ride (the third verse covers clowns). Loneliness on the downswing makes this a perfect lullaby.

Mary Gauthier: Merry Go Round


Gauthier holds off on her titular metaphor until the chorus, setting the stage with the violent and stark images of an early life of drug and family abuses that fit cleanly among the rest of the songs on powerful third album Filth & Fire. The carousel "horse" here is heroin; the turning of the wheel a path of addiction and recurrence - and so we come full circle, as it were, from the cheerfulness of Dan Zanes, proving the versatility of midway as macrocosm, reflecting the vastness of the inner world.

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