Archive for February, 2009


February 28, 2009

NPR is streaming the new Neko Case album so I don’t have to wait out these last few days before the album is officially released…  I’ll drink to that!  The album is just about as quirky as the fabulous promo photo: irreverent, enigmatic and beautiful.  I can’t say these are the best songs Neko’s ever put to record, but her voice has never been more impressive.  It’s not the melodies I’m listening for so much as all the many aspects of her singing. 

Jason Creps

Jason Creps

I recently watched the DVD of Rufus doing Judy! Judy! Judy!, and I was shocked by his total lack of phrasing.  In all truth, I don’t quite understand what phrasing is, but I suppose it has something to do with a singer’s technique of interpretting a song’s core emotions. Though Rufus possesses a beautiful sound, he finds it easier ham up his performances than to really travel inside of a song.  Neko sports such exquisite tone and phrasing that you intuitively feel the meaning of songs that are otherwise oblique. 

I have a weakness for sad songs and the title track on MIDDLE CYCLONE  just stops me short.  This is the first song I’ve heard that inhabits every corner of disappointment: disappointment in life, love, and one’s own worth.  And, yet, this sound is righteous.  I am not in love, at present, and it’s not an excitement I’ve been missing… until I heard this song.  I’m not sure if I miss the thrall or the heartbreak, but I do know that it all seems necessary again.  Sad as this song is, it finds redemption, ultimately.  If this world’s hurts can register so deeply then this must be a life worth living.  The best things are not trivial… and so their loss is epic. 
The counterpoint to “Middle Cyclone’s” ethereal strains and lofty sighs is “Prison Girls.”  This song is one unlikely stew.  It spits out fevered visions and a pulsing bass line.  The film noir imagery summons happy remembrances of BLACKLISTED and FURNACE ROOM LULLABY. The music and rhythm draw on many disparate traditions.  The central beat harks back to classic work songs and I like how this simple pounding relates scenes of mopping prison girls to hammering railroad workers or quarry men or field boys.  All of these scenes suggest forced labor and it’s interesting that this connection is drawn entirely through musical cues.  The other major influence I hear is cabaret music.  I imagine watching a performance of this suggestive number in a seedy Weimar club.  I can’t identify exactly how German decadence fits in to this song so I’ll just say that hers seems the logical next head for the Brecht-Waits-… crown. 
More reactions to this album are likely forthcoming.  For now, I’m just thankful for the early listen.

Weeping Willow

February 18, 2009

My radio’s been whispering that a new Buddy and Julie album is on the way.  Julie Miller!  She seemingly disappeared after that New Year’s show that effectively ushered out the Bottom Line.  I’d been missing her – hoping that her health was ok and her spirits were lifting when a brand new single stopped me short a year or so ago.  Levon Helm had dropped a triumphant new album and there in the background of its premier track were the plaintive strains of Julie Miller.  It’s a dangerous thing to hear Julie without full mental preparation.  She is so unguarded in her singing (and writing) that you experience all the pain of the world in her voice.  Her sound is raw and delicate and not unlike the sensation of grazing your knuckles against cement.   You’ll already be bleeding before you even know what happened to you. 

Whenever Julie takes me by surprise, I can feel all the air leaving my body and all the color draining from my face.  She is entirely too earnest, too genuine, too real.  Just as the prince is too costly a grace for Beatrice to wear but on Sundays so, too, is Julie Miller too much an indulgence for everyday woes.  I sit at a desk five days a week and just I can’t go to the primal world that Julie inhabits while I am twiddling my thumbs under fluorescent lights.

Lucky for me, then, that my radio betrays me from time to time.  It finds her contributing to all manner of affecting songs.  Whenever I’ve gone too long without thinking or worrying about her, my radio will remind me how worthwhile it is to suffer through her demons with her.

Luxious Loss

February 13, 2009

So, my brain appears to have completely short-circuited this week – I am completely alone with the death of Lux Interior.  I’ve tried to share this with a whole parade of people over the past several days, but I’ve discovered that none of my friends or family or colleagues really know who he is.  I cannot figure out why this has become so important.  The Cramps are not my favorite band, though they may just be the all-time greatest live band.   I’m definitely regretting that I’ll never see them live again, but I’m also regretting that they’ve suddenly become real people.  Poison Ivy is, of course, in mourning and it’s too strange to think that she has an emotional life.  Onstage, she is cooler than cool – half mysterious fetish chick and half amused onlooker.  Somehow, they both deserved better than this.  They should have rocked and rolled and exposed themselves to ever new generations for a couple more centuries,at least.  If they had to die, it should have been in some deliciously disgusting sexual situation.  So the more I sit and think about it, the more I’m convinced that they’ve both been really robbed by his death.  But there’s nothing I can do besides pull all the leather and animal print out of my closet and pay the man some tribute.

Country Confusion

February 13, 2009

I have a very hard time understanding the appeal of mainstream country music.  More so than the most over-produced pop or R&B track, mainstream country is the sound of plastic.  You can break it down as much as you want, but you’ll dig a good long while before you find something organic at its core.  This isn’t at all to say that I don’t like country music – it just means I’m hard-pressed to hear the music I like on my local radio station.  And for the very best in country radio, nothing short of WDVX will do. 

With these thoughts firmly in mind, I was, therefore, incredibly surprised when I heard Sugarland’s performance of “Stay” at Sunday’s Grammys.  The first puzzle was how I’d managed to wander this long without ever crossing them before.  Their Grammys appearance was joined with an abbreviated rendition of Adele’s “Chasing Pavements.”  I’ve been so smitten with Adele’s voice and music ever since I heard her live on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic.  Her voice is the fully mature woman next to Duffy’s flirty little girl.  I was really looking forward to letting her impress me and find new fans with the Grammys showcase opportunity, but it was, instead, Jennifer Nettles who grabbed me by the ear and made me sit a little straighter. 

“Stay” is a fairly generic [country] song: wronged woman, cheatin’ man.  It’s a story that’s been told a million times and this storyteller is no Hank Williams.  But this singer is onto something. It’s not too often that I find reason to love a mediocre song, but I was so struck by this singer’s voice. Joy Lynn White – that Nashville spitfire – is probably the last artist to make such an impression on me.  Jennifer Nettles has such an astonishing voice that  I completely forgot I was just waiting for Adele to appear and I was even a little disappointed when she finally did.

I’m not sure what it is I heard in Nettles’ voice during that performance.  I’ve been listening to the song on constant rotation since I bought it, but the sound is canned – it’s nothing but the ghost of that heartache that is the live version.  This is probably the reason why the performance had me so excited.  Regardless of the abundant drudge that is being recorded, there are some truly talented artists succeeding in mainstream country.  It’s gratifying to find that you can, occasionally, turn on network television to wonder at their gifts.