Saturday, February 08, 2003

Back and forth we go. Steven talked about some albums he likes. Here's what I started to write in his comments before I decided to blog about it--as we say down South--my own self.


I seem to recall that Tower Records' in-house music magazine, Pulse!, has regularly compiled lists like this supplied by music fans and music makers--Desert Island Discs, the feature was called, if memory serves.

My DID list changes all the time, and I'm glad I don't really have to decide what pop music would best help me deal with starvation and crushing loneliness. I tend to get tired of albums. And then excited again. And then tired again.

But insofar as much of the music I like the most came about before the LP era--old country, for example--I do particularly appreciate well-crafted LPs. Here are some I've come especially to appreciate in the last few years.

Charley Pride, In Person - Read my review at

George Strait, Ocean Front Property - A polished, entertaining bit of 1980s country. Some terrific songs here: the familiar and great "All My Ex's Live In Texas," the first country song I'm aware of in which the honkytonk blues are fought with transcendental meditation; the mournful title track, as powerful an evocation of denial as George Jones' "My Favorite Lies." There is effervescence here, and eroticism, and bemusement, and devilishness; above all, there is professionalism, and Strait's understated, nuanced singing. Only one unexceptional track, the Caribbean-flavored "Without You Here," mars an otherwise fine collection.

Boz Scaggs, Down Two, Then Left - I've blogged about this album before. It's one I've put on many times over the last few months. It flopped commercially, even though it was essentially a remake of Scaggs' successful Silk Degrees, with all its hits ("Lowdown," "Lido Shuffle," "We're All Alone"). Down Two continues the soul and disco musings of Silk Degrees, but the songwriting is considerably stranger, more ambitious. The album's chart performance must have spooked Scaggs, who afterward turned out less risky (if still finely wrought) material like "Love, Look What You've Done To Me".

Elvis Presley, The Memphis Record - A favorite since college. As Steven also can attest, Elvis looms large in Tennessee, and one doesn't grow up there without forming some kind of opinion about him. When I was a youth in Tennessee, in the 1980s, Elvis seemed at once ever-present yet underappreciated, a bit like a low-grade fever. It was like: yes, there exists Elvis, but what about the rest of life? I could sing a million Elvis songs when I was a child; but I didn't own any Elvis music until an obsession with "Suspicious Minds" prompted me to pick up this CD. It came out on the heels of the 1968 television special and is a masterpiece, the King at the very top of his game--the album, like Elvis himself, is stupefyingly overblown and undeniably moving, sneering, sexy, bathetic, mysterious.

The Beach Boys, Beach Boys Party! - If memory serves, this LP was a hurriedly recorded contractual obligation, and therein lies its appeal. It immediately preceded Pet Sounds, which is appropriately viewed as a masterpiece, but which has always left me a bit cold. Beach Boys Party! is the anti-Pet Sounds--where the latter is meticulous and disciplined, the former is relaxed and organic. It was ostensibly recorded live in-studio, and it does sound like a party: between songs bottles and glasses clink, girls giggle, and the Beach Boys themselves mutter druggy asides. The instrumentation is simple: acoustic guitars, bongos--and of course, one of music's most remarkable instruments, the Beach Boys' ensemble singing in 1965. As for the songs themselves: there are a few Beach Boys hits from previous years, and the single, "Barbara Ann," is rightly a classic. But most of the tracks are cover material: the Boys sing the Beatles, Dylan, the Everly Brothers and--in a truly peculiar moment--the Hollywood Argyles, whose "Alley-Oop" the Beach Boys render as part affectionate send-up, part surreal freakout.

Damn, I need to get my turntable fixed.

Thursday, February 06, 2003

I'm folding laundry and listening to Lucinda Williams' Car Wheels On A Gravel Road. To make things more interesting, I decided to blog random thoughts as they entered my head. Some of these stem from lunch with Bob earlier today.

The Elvis dry cleaners in Chicago
How much live music I saw last year, and how glad that makes me. Lucinda Williams at that outdoor show in Nashville last summer was really charming and great
Also, new music period is really good, not that Car Wheels is all that new, but still
Southern accents
Dave Esmond of Mudride is a really nice guy
The Rutles
The French movie 8 Women is really, really, really, really, really good
High school is really intense
All the holiday's bourgeois trappings notwithstanding, I'm glad I have a valentine this Valentine's Day
Oh, she sang "June bug vs. hurricane." I thought at first it was "June bug vs. cocaine"
Before I played guitar, I seem to recall musing out loud that my first guitar would be a twelve-string. I seem also to recall that someone talked me out of this. Thank you, whoever you are
This is a great album. That was a really good concert. I need to blog about the chick fight that broke out right in front of me at that concert
I ought to write a talking blues about the atomic bomb project in Oak Ridge, Tennessee
What is the Spanish word for brother?
There's a brand new streetcar line down Canal St. in New Orleans. This is exciting. I once dragged a group of bored graduate students with me for a thrill ride on the St. Charles line, and later they thanked me
This song ("Lake Charles") has the same beat and tempo as Al Green's "Let's Stay Together"
Lot of angels on this record
I accidentally laundered Carol's grace cards. Oh well
At St. Vinnie's today I found a copy of Sterling Hayden's memoir! I've had an eye out for this for years now!
My favorite Sterling Hayden performance is in Kubrick's The Killing, but my earliest exposure to him was no doubt in 9 to 5
I can't decide whether I want to go to the Steve Earle concert tomorrow
The problem with attractive stage clothes is that the chaos inherent in performing tends to ensure that they get messed up too soon
Here's "I Lost It." This song rocks
Today I encountered something more annoying than a server who says, "Do you need change?": "How much change do you need?"
There are a lot of great shows coming up
The Junkers really should do Jimmy Martin's "Grand Ole Opry Song"
Bob and I were talking about great political songs, and I decided on the fly that my favorite political song is Jimmy Dean's "Big Bad John"
The New Recruits, a Madison punk band, have a song "Oprah Christ." It has lines that go something like: "Oprah's just like Jesus / She has a robe, and housewives love her"
This makes folding laundry more fun. I hate folding laundry. Ereck will be glad I folded laundry
Done! I want to thank Lucinda, Carol, the Healing Force, and the Cave of the Unknown. Till next time, Gentle Readers.