Friday, April 3, 2015


"Liar, Liar, your pants are on fire" runs the playground jibe, thereby encapsulating the ambivalence we embrace around untruth. Lies can either be the ultimate act of betrayal or just a little fib. Is there a difference? And what about white lies? Popular music is jam packed with all categories, but it is the songs of the spurned that appeal to me most, the songs of the betrayed, often bitter in their vitriol, and usually relating to discovered infidelities. Some of these songs are in the male voice, and will often be  full of self-pity and solace in alcohol. Far better those by the stronger sex, coming out fighting with harsh diatribes and withering words. Here's one of the best:

"Your lies won't leave me alone
you used to say you loved me did ya
why'd you do me this way
it didn't have to be that way
I got your message on the phone
I hung on every single line
you told me what we had was only business
hurt me so bad I had to sit down with the sickness
oh yeah
Your lies won't leave me alone
tore the phone out the wall and it's still ringin'
wreck the room and curtains ain't hangin' baby
guitar ain't playin'
Your lies won't leave me alone
look at your picture in the room I can see you were
never happy with me baby-
all my uncertainty is easy to see
how you're killin' me, cause
I got those bills you would not pay
the cost of our love is way too high and I just keep on
payin' baby
why'd you say you loved me - walk around and carry on,
hurting 'bout your love is gone, the song I sing is sad
and long, wonder if you are alone,
I don't know if I belong
Your lies won't leave me - alone"

This was the first track on Shelby Lynne's blistering mainstream breakthrough in 1999, I Am Shelby Lynne, having had a less distinguished country starlet career ahead of that. I recall hearing the album at the time, this opening song hitting me like a runaway train, the mix of strings, southern soul and venom sounding not quite like anything else out at that time, uncategorisable beyond great. The rest of it is equally good, but the running order is perfect, so as to give that thump almost immediately. Never sure whether it was or not to an errant lover, I prefer to imagine it was to her erstwhile bosses in her 13 years in Nashville prior to that. Seldom has a best newcomer Grammy been longer awaited or better deserved. With an onstage presence suggesting someone not to be messed with, and yet who has been frequently messed with, she helped open the door for other guitar slinging southern vixens, other slow burners such as Lucinda Williams and Susan Tedeschi coming to mind.

The sorry tale of Shelby's youth has oft been told, with the shotgun murder of her mother and the suicide of her father, with the same gun he had earlier used on her, this being supposedly responsible for her alleged difficult nature within the music business. Well, maybe, but what I find even more remarkable is the courage of the woman to succeed in life after such odds being stacked against her. Likewise that this upbringing should also produce her successful sibling, Allison Moorer, arguably ploughing a gentler path, though the lyrics of her recent break-up (with Steve Earle) album, Down To Believing might belie that, suggesting a similar steel runs through both girl's blood. Which is a good moment to introduce the two sisters playing this piece's title song again, together.

Here's the bonus version of the studio track to buy

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Lies/Liars: White Lies

Jason & the Scorchers: White Lies

There are things from my past that I think that I remember perfectly, although sometimes other people have totally different recollections. My piece a while back about my visit to Gettysburg led to a spirited discussion from my friends about what actually happened, and now I have no idea how accurate my memory of the event was.

But for this story, I know that I have some serious lapses in memory, which is probably a good thing, because it allows me to tell it without naming names, which really don’t matter, anyway. And making stuff up, which I may well be doing, sort of fits the theme. So, be prepared for vagueness.

My senior year in college, I applied to law school. I did pretty well on my LSATs, had a non-embarrassing GPA from one of the most competitive and prestigious colleges in the country, and, according to the historical records in that college’s Career Planning Office, it seemed like I would have no problem getting into my first choice, a well-regarded school located in Greenwich Village. Of course, if I hadn’t been a know-it-all Ivy League senior, and had actually deigned to speak to one of the trained counselors paid to dispense wisdom to the likes of me, I strongly believe that I would have also applied to some safer schools. But I didn’t. And when the acceptances came out, I was shut out. It was, by all accounts, the hardest year to get into law school, and I whiffed. My parents displayed less disappointment than I expected (and I still don’t know if that was an act), and after graduation, I moved back home. With the help of my father, I got a job working at a big New York law firm. That failure to get accepted, and that job, ultimately led to me meeting my wife, so ultimately, it worked out for the best, but that’s not what this story is about.

For a while, I commuted into the city with my dad, and we have some funny stories about that, too. I worked at the firm, ironically Richard Nixon’s former firm, and applied again, this time hedging my bets and ending up accepted to Fordham Law School, which turned out to be a great experience for many reasons.

Fordham, at the time, had no dorms for the law school, located at Lincoln Center, in a very expensive part of New York. Luckily, my parents were willing to help out, and through a roommate finding service, I found an apartment that was within walking distance to school, with two guys my age. It was a pretty nice apartment—three bedrooms, living room and small kitchen in a modern, high rise building. Jerry Orbach, pre-Law & Order, lived there when he was on Broadway in 42nd Street. It was an illegal sublet, though, and I wasn’t on the lease. And, it turned out poorly.

The two guys were friends, either from college or high school, and they were working—one, I think, was at a talent agency and the other might have been at a financial services company. I don’t even remember their names. They seemed nice enough, but it soon became clear that my life—getting up, going to class, coming home, making dinner and studying, then watching TV or listening to music, didn’t really jibe with their working lifestyle, which included having disposable incomes. These guys had a friend who, I think, worked for a record company or music publishing company and was an aspiring songwriter. I don’t remember his name, either, but he actually succeeded. OK-using the few facts I actually remember, I think I found him on the Internet (but, to be fair, I’m not sure if it is really him)—he has a Wikipedia page, has written a bunch of middle of the roadish hits and jingles, recorded a few albums, sued Mariah Carey for plagiarism, and even owned the baseball that Mookie hit through Buckner’s legs. And we have 2 friends in common on Facebook, one of whom is a writer for this site. So, if you want, I bet you can find him, if that is him.

During this time period, I somehow heard about Jason & the Scorchers. I feel like I read about them in the newspaper, or maybe I heard something on the radio. They were what was then referred to as “cow-punk,” a mix of country and punk that predated “alt-country” as a thing. Their second EP featured an awesome cover of Dylan’s “Absolutely Sweet Marie,” which might be better than the original, and was, otherwise, kick-ass. My recollection is that this friend of my roommates had some way of getting the EP for me for free, and he did, which was very nice. It is possible, though, that I got it from one of my old record company contacts. I’m pretty sure, though, that I didn't pay for it.

Shortly before my Christmas break, my roommates asked me to move out, saying that they wanted a friend (that friend?) to move in. I really had little leverage, so I moved out, because who would want to be in that situation and moved back home briefly. After the holidays, I moved into an apartment in a much crappier building in a slightly sketchier neighborhood, which I ultimately shared with my good friend Bill, and where we were living when Bill introduced me to my wife. A couple of years later, Jason & the Scorchers released their first full album, Lost and Found, which was also great, and included today’s featured song, “White Lies.” Their next album, though, wasn’t so great, and they found themselves considered too country for rock radio, and too rock for country radio, because, apparently, Uncle Tupelo didn’t exist yet to kick off the alt-country/Americana revival (I know, that’s not really true). But, clearly, they were ahead of their time, and unfortunately faded into oblivion (with the obligatory recent reunion that hasn’t seemed to get much traction). Here’s a professional music writer’s fairly recent reminiscence about the band.

Did my former roommates really want their friend to move in, or did they just want me out? Was it the truth, or just a white lie? Maybe if I remembered their names, I could try to track them down and ask.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Lies/Liars: Lies


Purchase JJ Cale: Lies

A quickie to get the theme rolling... one thought behind this theme is upcoming April Fool's Day: a celebration of untruths that are mostly just kidding. Somewhat lighter than the cheating and lying that seems to accompany themes of love thoughout popular music.

Probably best known as the author of "Cocaine", for the most part, JJ Cale prefered to stay out of the limelight. It is a reasonable guess that partly through a feeling of debt, "Clapton & Friends" put together a tribute album called "The Breeze" a year after Cale's death in 2013. More than one of the songs that have helped earn Clapton his fame are JJ Cale's tunes - "After Midnight" among them.

Underwhelming may be an apt desciptor for how Cale comes across. If not underwhelming, then certainly laidback. There are references to how he was one of the main forces in the Tulsa Sound style of music. He himself said that the style came about as a result of not really being able to play the Blues. Be that as it may, few would seriously argue that he wasnt influential nor that he didn't have a style very easily identifiable as his own. And that's no lie.