November 2008

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A quick post before heading off to Thanksgiving dinner:

Rs sent me a copy of the live version of Rondinelli’s Castle that he mentioned in comments on the last post. It’s a nice version, it feels more emotionally direct than the album version.

Listening to it this time I was struck by the line in the opening verse, “He was looking for the new world; well we all were in those days.” It struck me that, in that way, the song is related to The Ballad of Elizabeth Dark by Michael Smith — both are songs written by older musicians who have written and performed for a long time, looking back at their youth in the 50s, and reflecting the fact that, whatever one’s sense of possibilities looking at the world as a younger person it is inevitable that the world will change in ways that are far larger and less predictable than you can think.

A while ago at unfogged someone brought up the idea of “gateway songs” — songs that are different than the majority of an artists work in ways that make them easier to get into, but that prepare you to appreciate the virtues of that musician. For me “The Ballad of Elizabeth Dark” was a gateway song for Michael Smith who is now one of my favorite songwriters. There’s something about his performance style that is both seemingly casual and simultaneously very mannered which can take getting used to. “The Ballad of Elizabeth Dark” is one of his songs that feels immediately personal, and it grabbed me immediately.

Writing the Corb Lund post got me thinking about another fantastic songwriter that I have wanted to post about but haven’t figured out how best to make the pitch.

For my birthday last year I got a copy of The Whiskey’s Gone by Larry Penn. I hadn’t heard of him before, but the person who gave it to me was somebody who’s tastes I trust, and he recommended it highly.
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Corb Lund was recommended to me, a little over two years ago, by someone who heard a performance broadcast on the CBC. His description was that the band, The Hurtin’ Albertans, was good live and that Corb Lund was a promising young songwriter who could write a song about anything (e.g., getting a truck stuck in the mud).

Based on that recommendation, I kept him in mind as someone to look for, but I didn’t run out and get his CD immediately. Eventually I did get a copy of his then currant album Hair In My Eyes Like a Highland Steer and, as soon as I got it, I found myself listening to it a lot. At some point I stopped listening to it as much, as happens. Then, a couple months ago, I picked up the album previous to that Five Dollar Bill and found myself listening to that album over and over again.

At that point I was convinced that Corb Lund is pretty good.
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Following the unfogged thread about Motown I’ve been meaning to post one of my favorite Motown songs — I Should Be Proud, a strong anti-war song by Martha and the Vandellas.

She sings it like she means it.

Fond Memories

I recently acquired a copy of a recording that I remembered fondly from childhood: Victor Borge’s Phonetic Punctuation. It isn’t a song, it’s essentially a comedy routine, but it holds up quite well.

What is impressive about the piece is simply how well done it is. The premise is simple, imagine how much clearer spoken English would be if we pronounced punctuation marks. The execution is marvelous in how it allows the comedy to build. When he goes through the various sounds that will represent punctuation none of them (other than the question mark) sound particularly bothersome. But then, a couple of paragraphs into the text, when there start to be multiply nested quotations, they completely take over from the words.

Closing Strong

This comes from a conversation at dinner last week. We were talking about the decisions involved in sequencing an album, and I was thinking about how few memorable album closing songs there are compared to album openers.

There are obvious commercial reasons why albums tend to be front-loaded and there is pressure to put any hit singles first, so it’s always going to be harder to think of good ending songs.

My first thought was Tower Of Song off of I’m Your Man — one of Leonard Cohen’s better known songs.

After looking at some album listings I was reminded that Cat Power closes The Covers Record with Sea Of Love which was the first Cat Power track I ever heard, and the reason I bought the album.

I have a third closing track to post, but I have to pick up the CD from work, so I will update this post tomorrow, but how about you? Any nominations for memorable songs closing albums?

Deacon Blues

I’ve been meaning to post some Steely Dan. Everybody loves them, there was a period when I listened to them a lot and I haven’t posted any.

Last night, I was thinking about the fact that I’m an NBA fan and that the fact that my favorite team is gone, after being arguably the worst teams in the NBA last season, and I found myself humming the lines

They’ve got a name for the winners in the world / I want a name when I loose.

At some point I will post some early Dan and go into more detail about what I think makes them great but for now, enjoy some late-period Steely Dan and appreciate their at that point thoroughly polished ability to write memorable pop hooks.

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