Friday, September 4, 2020


 This could go either way. My occasional forays into musics outside the SMM staples of vocals/guitar/bass/drums seldom capture many glimpses, this post adding injury to insult by featuring one of the more vilified singers of recent(ish) times, tho' she is still active. So, listen to the track. Something familiar in the vanilla tones?

Or indeed the song, it being reprised, or at least the female vocal part, as My Lover's Gone, for the Dido debut solo album, No Angel. I'll come off the fence. I like Dido. There, I've said it, never quite understanding the usual smirks whenever her name comes up, at least in this country. (Is it any different in the U.S.?) Sure, she has a massive audience and has sold oodles of product, but in this land of loathing for tall poppies, the critical reception has been traditionally to scythe her down. Let's examine the evidence.

Dido, or Florian Cloud de Bounevialle O'Malley Armstrong, as she is compulsorily referred to within sneering put-downs, possibly never planned it thus. Her name(s), clearly, were given by her parents, who actually might take some deserved flak for that, and her musical history only began through her brother, Rollo, needing some female vocals for his band, Faithless. As with the featured song. Rollo, strangely never Rollo Constantine O'Malley Armstrong, is the famously non-participant member of Faithless, writing much of the material, leaving the other core members, Sister Bliss and Maxi Jazz, possibly also neither their full or given names, to perform them with associated session men and sundry electronica. Her cameo vocals were sufficient to grasp her a recording contract. And her own material, a sweeter and blander, more easily digested version of her brother's music, often written with him, was poised to fill the middle ground. There are myriad singers occupying arguably similar ground, and I will offend the fans of Sia and Paloma Faith by including them in that terroir, but it's true. There is always a niche for well played and performed, exquisitely  produced pop music. But Dido had one huge stroke of luck, with one of her songs being picked up by star of the day/for the day Eminem. His sampling of her vocals was a master stroke, massively expanding both his appeal and hers, hoovering up both sales and plaudits aplenty. Thank youStan.

It is true, I haven't paid huge attention to her later work: I have her later recordings, or access to: my wife is a fan, having graduated effortlessly to that status, courtesy her adoration of Faithless and all things related. (An anecdote: it was my picking up her mention of the diminutive Maxi Jaxx on her dating site bio, that both caught my eye, endearing me to her, mistaken in her belief that my tastes did not run quite as far as they do. Had she then known I was listening also to hardcore bagpipe-driven folk-rock and steel drenched country, things may have turned out very different.......) But my affection remains, as those about me four scorn and disdain. The fondly remembered music mag, (The) Word, went on record to say that when they put her on the cover, it was their least selling copy, arguably saying more about their audience than Ms Armstrong. Perhaps I will have to check my stats after I post this?!

Purely because I hadn't realised this before, let me also draw attention to her appearances with and for other artists. Now it may be that Carlos Santana can be a bit of a tart, beefing up his appeal by and nearly inventing the idea of stuffing albums with as many guests as he can find, but this collaboration with Dido isn't so terribly bad.

As is, neither, this duet with Rufus Wainwright, for one of the Bridget Jones sequels. Quite a bit better, actually.If the notoriously picky and spiky Wainwright was willing to share a song with her, up a little further she goes in my estimation.

Check yer mail!

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Mail: Letters to Cleo

Letters to Cleo: Here and Now 

[purchase Aurora Glory Alice

This theme was inspired by the attempt by the Trump administration to damage the United States Postal Service, apparently to make voting by mail more difficult, or subject to challenge, or both. 

Despite that, I’m not going to write about a song that discusses the mail, or letters, or mail carriers. Instead, let’s discuss the band Letters to Cleo, making this my second consecutive post about a Boston area band. 

Formed in 1990, the lineup coalesced around 1994, and the band’s name came from a box of letters that singer Kay Hanley had sent to a childhood pen pal that were returned, and which she discovered when the band was trying to pick a name. 

Their first album, Aurora Gory Alice, spawned a single, “Here and Now,” that was a Billboard Modern Rock hit, was popular on college radio, and was on the Melrose Place soundtrack. It’s a great alternative pop/rock song and is probably the one Letters to Cleo song that anyone who could name a Letters to Cleo song could name. 

After that, the band released a couple of albums with decreasing success, had some songs on soundtracks (including covers of “I Want You to Want Me,” and “Cruel to be Kind,” from 10 Things I Hate About You), had some personnel turnover, and broke up in 2000. The members went off to solo careers, or formed or joined other bands. Singer Hanley also provided vocals for the Josie & The Pussycats movie. There were some brief reunions in 2007 and 2009, and that would have been that. Letters to Cleo would be one of those bands that some people fondly remembered, and “Here and Now” would show up occasionally on radio or streaming stations that play 90s alt-rock. 

Except that’s not what happened. 

In 2011, Michael Schur, one of the creators of the great TV show, Parks & Recreation, saw Hanley at a charity music event in Boston. He was a fan of Letters to Cleo, and decided to put one of the characters, Ben Wyatt, played by Adam Scott, in a t-shirt with the image of the Aurora Gory Alice album on it. He got approval from the dormant band’s management to create the shirt, which had never before existed. In anticipation, the band printed up a few hundred shirts and posted it on their website. 

After the episode aired in 2012, Letters to Cleo trended on Twitter, and the t-shirts started to move. And in 2014, when the show created a “Pawnee/Eagleton Unity Concert,” they called in a bunch of real stars to appear, including Ginuwine, Jeff Tweedy (as the frontman of the reunited band Land Ho!), The Decemberists, and Yo La Tengo, who dressed up as Indiana University coach Bobby Knight and performed Night Ranger's "Sister Christian,” as Bobby Knight Ranger. And Letters to Cleo. 

I couldn’t find their performance (and actually don’t specifically recall if they showed them perform on the show), but you can see some of the members in this video.

After that, they put out some new music and a holiday EP, and did some shows before live shows ended earlier this year. So, are they back? I wouldn’t bet against it.