Archive for the ‘Matthew Sweet’ 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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Just as I was thinking that Nada Surf had dropped off the face of the earth, I discovered that they were releasing LuckyLucky continues Nada Surf’s fantastic output of beautiful melodies and poppy, almost folky songs.  I hate to make it sound like Nada Surf have mellowed, but they certainly have.  Nevertheless, their song craft has risen to even newer heights.  The first three songs are some of the best singles you’ll hear (and you may have heard “Whose Authority” which got some airplay…. If you liked that then you’ll love the rest of the album.)

There are obvious precedents for who Nada Surf now sound like, but it’s not an aping of sounds where you say, oh they sound just like Matthew Sweet or Semisonic or something, but they have that kind of vibe.  If the jangly alternapop of the late nineties were still popular, Nada Surf would be leading the pack.  As it is, they don’t sound retro in any way, the songs just exist, almost timelessly.

The middle songs culminate with “I Like What You Say.”  There’s no reason this song shouldn’t be a huge hit.  The lyrics are slightly hard to sing along to (which usually makes for the kind of song that people like to learn) “You say, I like what you say, I like what you say, you say,” but the chorus of “Baby, I only want to make you happy” lifts your spirits.  All eleven tracks are solid, and there’s enough diversity, even within the limited palette to keep you interested.  There’s even a short oom-pah-pah at the end of “Ice on the Wing.”  I’m not sure why it’s there, but it adds a nice bit of texture to the album.

This disc came with a bonus EP (something Nada Surf seems to like doing) which comes with acoustic versions of two of the songs from the album, and two new songs.  The last one, “Everyone’s on Tour” shows a rare glimpse of Nada Surf really rocking out.  It’s something of a throwaway song, but it shows off an interesting side of the band, just in case you were afraid they were getting too mellow.

[READ: Fall 2007] To Kill a Mockingbird.

There was some impetus that made me want to read this book and watch the movie.  I think it’s because Sarah likes to repeat her favorite line from the movie (see below) and I wanted to see it myself.  I wasn’t entirely sure what it was even about.  I think it was simply that I knew so many cultural references to this book without knowing the original.  It made me say, okay, time to read this thing.  (Similarly, if you’ve never actually seen 2001, A Space Odyssey, you are missing hundreds of cultural reference points every day).

And I am so glad I did.  Now, obviously, its a Pulitzer Prize winning story, and everyone is supposed to read it in school (why didn’t I?), so I’m not the only one to think it’s good.  But in addition to being Substantial and Substantive, it was also a really enjoyable read.  I admit that some of the classics are difficult to get through, but this one was so great I practically rushed through to the end.

So, of course, this is where Boo Radley comes from.  It’s also where Atticus Finch comes from.  It’s also a story about race, rape and a lawyer who is willing to stand up for what’s right even in the face of violence. That’s a lot to pack into a small book. (more…)

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lostcolony.jpgSOUNDTRACK: MATTHEW SWEET-Inside (1986) & Earth (1989).

I think of Matthew Sweet as one of the quintessentially 90s musicians. He had a few pretty big hits during the 90s, and seemed to be on every compilation that came out. So, imagine what the quintessentially 90s guy sounds like in the 80s.

inside.jpgInside is so so keyboard heavy, it could be ANY synth band from the 80s. And, the keyboards are so loud in the mix that Sweet’s voice, which is not very powerful to begin with is almost totally lost. Sweet’s voice is not even that powerful on his 90s records. He has a very delightful, but very soft, voice. So, you can barely tell much about the songs, because it seems that every one has synth horns or whatnot masking what’s really happening.

earth.jpgEarth falls in line of what you think the Matthew Sweet sound is. It’s still pretty heavy on the synth, but you can see the song structures that Sweet perfected in the 90s. There’s nothing really striking on Earth, but it’s a good bridge to his 90s albums.

On both of these records it’s interesting to see who he gets to guest on them. Aimee Mann sings along with him on Inside. And Lloyd Cole joins Sweet on Earth. Sweet used to play with Lloyd Cole before going solo, so that makes sense. He was just so unknown at the time, its amazing he was able to get any collaborators.


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