October 2008

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It’s interesting to think about what albums or songs stay in one’s listening rotation over a long period of time. Frequently one’s perspective changes completely, hearing different things, and coming to a different appreciation of the strengths and weaknesses of a song.

In the case of todays post, I have two songs off an album that I’ve owned since High School, that I’ve always liked, and haven’t changed my opinion on significantly — Hammel on Trial’s best album, Big As Life.

I’ve certainly shifted my opinion slightly, I now feel like his greatest virtue is sincerity and simplicity rather than chaotic energy, but I also feel like both coexist, and he wouldn’t be nearly as fun without the chaotic energy.

I’ve seen him perform live twice, both in the last couple of years, and at this point he comes across as someone who is happily married, has a child, and is really happy to make a living playing music, being crazy, and telling dirty jokes onstage. He does give a strong performance, and I’d recommend the show.

I’ve picked two songs off the album one that is one of the “hits” (along with the title song) from the album, and the other my personal favorite.

The first, Blood of the Wolf is a long story about a childhood friend, including a description of the friend’s successful robbery of a KFC wielding a fork.

The second, Open Up The Gates, is a touching tribute to his mother.

I need a new category for music that I like but for which I haven’t completely decided why I like it.

I was given a copy of the Guided By Voices box set for my birthday and, with some trepidation, I started listening to it last week and have been enjoying it.

I’ve gotten solidly into the first two albums and have started listening to the third album. The song that most jumped out at me from the first album was “A Portrait Destroyed By Fire” (which I will probably post later) but on second and third listenings I’ve really appreciated Crux to my surprise.

Whatever I can say about it is still provisional, but these are my thoughts:

Whatever “lo-fi” means as a style the song is clearly excited about sound. From the thin but very tight and precise drum sound that opens the cut, to the clean electric guitar that comes in later it’s a certain example of great sound.

There’s something endearing about the combination of interesting sounds, with a very modest track. There is nothing about it that compels attention, but it invites attention is very casual way. It feels very sincere in it’s way.

It is also a certain model of indie music. It is completely radio unfriendly without being unfriendly to the listener in any way. There’s nothing harsh or rude, but you couldn’t imagine it being played on the radio. It has no narrative arc to the music. It has a beginning, middle, and end, but they don’t follow any logical sequence. It is non-teleological and, in that, it makes clear how much the radio wants music that has a destination and an order to one thing following another.

One of my very favorite Townes Van Zandt performances is his version of Dublin Blues written by Guy Clark.

The section of the song that particularly stands out me is the verse in which the narrator, washed up in Dublin and hurting over a failed relationship, lists his experience as someone who has seen the world — despite being poor and working class.

I have been to Fort Worth
I have been to Spain
I have been to proud
To come in out of the rain

I have seen the David
I’ve seen the Mona Lisa too
I have heard Doc Watson
Play Columbus Stockade Blues

I love how it arrives at Doc Watson as the final image. A comparison that elevates Doc Watson as cultural peer with the David or the Mona Lisa and, in doing so, asserts a pride in contemporary American culture.

It gets me every time. I appreciate the Doc Watson tribute, and the image of the narrator simultaneously depressed but still proud.

As a note, after I heard it I was surprised to realize that it wasn’t written by Townes Van Zandt since the emotions seem completely congruent with the emotions of Townes Van Zandt’s songwriting. But, upon reflection, it strikes me that Guy Clark’s songwriting tends to be much more based in narrative that that of Van Zandt which is more impressionistic. This song has elements of both but, when I think about that, it doesn’t surprise me anymore that it isn’t a Townes Van Zandt song.

Something happy, to take into the weekend.

via Yglesias’s commenters a live version of Moxy Fruvous performing King of Spain along with an Improv based on a trivial pursuit question, the answer to which you will never forget after hearing this song.

I’ve been listening on and off to this early to mid-period Talking Heads live album. What I really appreciate about it, is that it makes it possible for me to have a sense of what they would have sounded like to a contemporary audience, rather than just viewing them in retrospect. My sense of Talking Heads is mostly from Stop Making Sense, in which they’re great and have worked out not only their sound, but their entire presentation of themselves.

Take, for example this song from 1977. You could imagine going a bar and hearing that band. It would be a awfully good concert to end up at, but they would fit in a small club in a way the Stop Making Sense Talking Heads wouldn’t. You can hear what was new in New Wave.

It’s also fun to hear a song in which the sound isn’t so much in service to David Byrne. It, again, helps me imagine how the band came together and ultimate evolved in the ways that they did.

From the same Willie Nelson album, because I can’t resist, an astonishing version of “Outskirts Of Town

In the liner notes for the album, Willie Nelson describes as being recorded relatively quickly, and without any particular sense of who the audience would — just because it was a fun project. I seems like that circumstance allowed for a certain freedom, and this song is the most extreme example of that.

It isn’t a style that would normally be to my taste. It’s relatively sparse almost completely instrumental and not particularly technical, flashy, or pretty. His note for the song is, “Outskirts of Town takes us into the part of our life where some days the blues may be the only friend you have.”

But I find it extremely compelling. The playing is astonishingly expressive and his musicianship is extraordinary. Compared to any other Willie Nelson I’ve heard the performance feels like someone who is extremely comfortably playing music letting go of a lot habits and just playing. As I listen to it, everything in the performance feels like it is an embodiment of an emotional impulse, rather than a musical form. There is form to it, and it’s bluesy in a recognizable way, but it still seems unusually direct in the expressiveness of the music.

New to me:

I was just listening to this Willie Nelson album, and there’s a version of Rock Me To Sleep, written by Tom Hunter, and sung by Willie Nelson’s adult daughter Amy.
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