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Archive for the ‘Gram Parsons’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: STEVE EARLE-Transcendental Blues (2000).

I’ve never really liked Steve Earle’s music.  For some reason I always thought of him as a kind of outlaw country.  But the review of this album from Hornby made me want to check it out.  And while there are certainly country music trappings, this is a solid fun rock record.

Earle’s voice isn’t what I thought it was (or wasn’t was it is now)–it’s much softer and much higher than I imagined.  So what’s going on on this record?

“Transcendental Blues” has a great distorted guitar riff running opposite the throbbing bassline.  Earle’s voice sounds like a cross between Dylan, Petty and (anachronistically) Kevin Devine.  “Everyone’s in Love with You” sounds like a rocking R.E.M. song with a very 90s vocal style and even a reverse guitar solo.

“Another Town” sounds like a song that I’ve heard a million times (but I haven’t).  It’s a simple pop song with a crazy catchy melody and it’s barely 2 minutes long.  “I Can’t Wait” slows things down a bit with a real poppy Matthew Sweet-vibe.

“The Boy Who Never Cried” is a dirgey song, slow and story telling.  It has strings with a slightly Middle Eastern feel.

“Steve’s Last Ramble” is a stompin’ song with full on harmonica introduction (which makes it seem even more Dylan).  “The Galway Girl” is a mandolin-based stomper while “Lonelier Than This” is a quiet, sad song.

“Wherever I Go” is only two minutes ling and has a country feel, even though it’s not that different from the other songs.  The guitar solo is totally early Beatles, but the lyrics are pure country:

I could drink corn whisky ’til my brain goes soft
I could run this highway ’til my wheels come off

The harmonica returns on “When I Fall” the start of a trifecta of country songs.  His drawl really comes out here, possibly because of his duet partner (Steve Earle’s sister, Stacey Earle, a country singer in her own right).  It’s a shame this song is so long as it’s my least favorite.

“I Don’t Want to Lose You Yet” is a simple country pop song (the twang remains).  Although “Halo ‘Round the Moon” is a softer song with a gentle shuffle beat.  “Until the Day I Die” continues with the old school country/bluegrass style with a big ol’ banjo intro, close harmonies, and a fiddle solo.  You can imagine a jug solo, hand clappin’ and a hoedown in a live version.

“All of My Life” rocks out again, with some loud bass and distorted guitar, which I desperately needed after those last few songs.

The disc ends with “Over Yonder (Jonathan’ Song).”  From songfacts:

This song is about the execution-by injection of Jonathan Nobles, which Steve Earle witnessed. The alt-country star told Mojo magazine May 2008 about it: “I don’t recommend it. I befriended Jonathan for several months beforehand. Then I saw the execution and later brought his remains to England for burial according to his wishes. But the execution was incredibly toxic to me. It’s hard. You can’t believe it’s really happening. I remember afterwards I thought, ‘did I black out and miss it? I let Jonathan down.’ Then the blank filled in… it was the shock… I realized exactly what I’d seen. I can’t see myself doing it again. I’ve absorbed enough death. And I still work hard against the death penalty.”

So I’m still on the fence about Earle, but I did enjoy this record much more than I thought I would.  Thanks, Nick.

[READ: June 15, 2019] “Alternative Earle”

I am aware of Steve Earle and I really like his lyrics.  I don’t love his music though–too much country in the alt-country.  Although Hornby describes it as Nashville folk and rock n roll hybrid.  But man, his lyrics are great.  I wish I liked him a bit more especially after reading this review.

Hornby is a passionate music lover and anything he likes sounds great when he describes it.

The album in question is Transcendental Blues (and in the photo Earle’s beard is much shorter than it is now).  As of 2000, Earle has been married and divorced six times (to five women–4 and 6 were the same person). In 1994 he was imprisoned for possessing narcotics.  This sentence ending years of heroin addiction. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FIRST AID KIT-The Lion’s Roar (2012).

This album was my first exposure to First Aid Kit and I immediately loved the harmonies and the dark but positive-sounding vocals.

I’m probably one of ten people on earth who doesn’t love Bright Eyes, but I love the production by Bright Eyes’ Mike Mogis (with contributions from Bright Eyes’ Nate Walcott and band leader Conor Oberst–maybe I need to re-listen to Bright Eyes).

The first song I’d heard was the opening cut “The Lion’s Roar.”  The song starts with a minor key guitar chord progression and “electronic flute.”  It’s atmospheric and a bit spooky-sounding, but when they come in with the chorus “And I’m a goddamn coward, but then again so are you” in wonderful harmony that is at times right on and other times kind of dissonant, it’s goose-bump-inducing.  Oh wow. what a moment

Pitchfork describes that electronic flute as “one deeply eerie flute tone that lingers throughout, floating in and out of scenes like a sly specter” and that’s pretty accurate.

It’s followed by “Emmylou” the most gorgeous country song I’ve ever heard, complete with pedal steel guitar and a wonderfully evocative chorus: “I’ll be your Emmylou, and I’ll be your June/ If you’ll be my Gram and my Johnny, too,” (do watch them sing it to Emmylou Harris at an award ceremony and watch her brought to tears).

“In The Hearts Of Men” slows things down with some wonderful moments as the sisters sing the “la la las” throughout the chorus.  Once again, there’s surprisingly dark lyrics for two women around 23 and 21.  And speaking of dark lyrics, the pretty xylophone and guitar play a chirpy melody in “Blue” which has this stark and dark verse:

And the only man you ever loved / You thought was gonna marry you / Died in a car accident when he was only 22 / Then you just decided, love wasn’t for you / And every year since then / Has proved it to be true

Damn.  How does a song with that lyrics have a beautiful soaring chorus that is so uplifting and Abba-esque and yet again lyrically:

But you’re just a shell of / Your former you / That stranger in the mirror / Oh, that’s you / Why’d you look so blue?

“This Old Routine” features more of that uncanny, how are you only 21 years old lyrics sung with such beautiful harmony (and delicate mandolin sprinkled in):

This old routine will drive you mad
It’s just a mumble never spoken out loud
And sometimes you don’t even know why you loved her.
Well you look at her now, and you see why.

The second half of the song has strings and such, playing a simple five note melody.  There’s a moment near the end where the strings play that five note riff and its followed by the mandolin playing the same melody one step up and it’s just gorgeous.

“To a Poet” has a fast tight guitar melody.  As the song builds, a harmonium is added.  The chorus goes in a high register until the simple catchy end line: “There’s nothing more to it / I just get through it.”  The poet in question is Frank O’Hara

But Frank put it best when he said
“You can’t plan on the heart”
Those words keep me on my feet
When I think I might just fall apart

The string section ending is bit of a surprise since neither one of them palsy on it but it does add some nice texture to this song that has just grown from a tiny guitar to full orchestration over the course of 6 minutes.

That cool flute sound returns on “I Found a Way,” as it runs through the falsetto-filled chorus.  “Dance To Another Tune” slows things down for a while until the middle features another string section.  This time the sisters add their “bah bah bahs” to it and it sound terrific.

“New Year’s Eve” brings back the autoharp (you can really hear the plectrum zipping along the strings–something I’ve never noticed when others play it).  It’s a suitably quiet song with a gentle harmony on the final line of the chorus: “that’s what’s going to save me.”  And I love that no other instrumentation is added.

The end of the record is quite different from anything else.  “King of the World’ is a dynamic romp, easily their fastest, loudest, stompingest song.  It’s got a full band behind them and a vocal turn from Conor Oberst.  There’s all kinds of strings and mandolin tucked in the corners that peek out here and there.  There’s even horns which sound a bit like Calexico.

This album is just fantastic.  And their harmonies get better and more confident with each album.

[READ: January 22, 2018] “Writing Teacher”

I have not really enjoyed any of the stories I’ve read by Wideman.  This was the first one that I felt was on the right path to my enjoyment.  And then it kind of drifted away from me at the end.

It also features one of the things I hate most in stories–more on that in a moment.

This is the story of a writing teacher.  He is reading and reviewing a story by a student, Teresa McConnell who, “wants to help other people.”  The story “wishes to save the life of its main character, a young woman of color, a few years out of high school, single, child to support, no money, shitty job, living with her mother who never misses an I-told-you-so chance to criticize her daughter’s choices.”

What I hate most in stories comes a few sentences later: (more…)

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2016-12-05-21-06-09SOUNDTRACK: FIRST AID KIT-Tiny Desk Concert #204 (March 28, 2012).

I’d published these posts without Soundtracks while I was reading the calendars.  But I decided to add Tiny Desk Concerts to them when I realized that I’d love to post about all of the remaining 100 or shows and this was a good way to knock out 25 of them.

firstThis Tiny Desk Concert is what first introduced me to First Aid Kit.  It was “The Lion’s Roar” that really sold me on this exotic duo with the beautiful harmonies (they are sisters from Sweden–that’s Johanna Söderberg with the lighter hair and Klara Söderberg with darker hair singing lead).

For the first song, “New Year’s Eve,” Johanna plays the autoharp as Klara sings lead.  They both do the lovely harmony chorus.

For “The Lion’s Roar” Klara plays guitar.  And while she sings a lovely lead, it’s Johanna’s haunting low harmonies that really make the song amazing.  The album version has keys but they are not missed in this beautiful rendition.

I also fell in love with “Emmylou,” a song about Emmylou Harris Gram Parsons, Johnny Cash and June Carter.  Klara’s lead is beautiful, but when both sisters sing lead in the second verse it’s stunning.

I have listened to the audio of this many times but haven’t actually watched it for a while.  This looks like it was filmed after hours at the NPR offices.  It is very dark with just one light shining on them.  It’s a shame as it would be fun to see them a little better.  But it also gives the whole recording a kind of subversive feel.

What a great introduction to a great band.

[READ: December 5, 2016] “Pet”

Near the end of November, I found out about The Short Story Advent Calendar.  Which is what exactly?  Well…

The Short Story Advent Calendar returns, not a moment too soon, to spice up your holidays with another collection of 24 stories that readers open one by one on the mornings leading up to Christmas.  This year’s stories once again come from some of your favourite writers across the continent—plus a couple of new crushes you haven’t met yet. Most of the stories have never appeared in a book before. Some have never been published, period.

I already had plans for what to post about in December, but since this arrived (a few days late for advent, but that was my fault for ordering so late) I’ve decided to post about every story on each day.

This is the first story I read in this calendar (I received it on the 5th).  I wasn’t sure if the stories would be thematic or if they would avoid dark subjects (it being advent after all), or if they would just be a box of good stories.

I was pleased that the first story was by Unferth, whom I really like.

This story is told in a very interesting way–a strange sense of removal that comes with the first line: “Somehow they have wound up with these two turtles.”

The “they” are a mother and her teenaged son.  The mother rescued these turtles from her sister.  She was house sitting and saw the turtles down there–pathetic, one rock between them in a dark basement.  And she felt compelled to take them home.  Her sister is all too happy to get rid of them.

Her son is dismissive.  Of the turtles and of her in general.

And the story telling also seems to be dismissive of her, in a way.  The story is not told from her point of view and yet it seems to take on her voice for this paragraph, but it seems to slowly morph into her son’s:

Besides, the turtles aren’t much work.  She has to feed them and check their water temperature and turn the light on and off.  She has to clean the tank each week.  She has to take the tank’s water out, cup by cup, pour it into a bowl, then carry the bowl to the tub, walk through two rooms to do it (drops of dirty water falling on he floor).  She has to empty bowl after bowl….

One of the turtles is sick and she takes it to the vet.   But the vet only deals with mammals and has no advice (and charges her $40).  Then she is stuck carrying the turtle with her everywhere else that day–even to her AA meeting, where they all insist she leave with the smelly thing.

She gets some medical advice from a friend and the turtle gets better.  But then it starts fighting with the smaller turtle.

Her son tells her to just leave them in the road and let them get run over.

The story seems to loom as a story of helplessness, but then she sees a ray of hope.  A man from her AA meetings asks her to dinner.  Her son, of course, is dismissive of him as well.  But he is willing to come over and help with the turtles.

And I love that he gives her an answer she was completely unaware of.

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