3. Aug. 2009, 3:06No scrobbling for most of the summer, as I'm on the road. But I imagine I'll scrobble the Hell out of the iPod when I get back. Whenever that is.
17. Jan. 2009, 22:34I was lucky enough to find a copy of Nick Drake's Family Tree LP while looking through some record shops in Baltimore this week. It's a heart-rending set of songs, a few of which I'd heard before. They're all home recordings of some sort, either recorded by Nick himself or by friends of his. Nick is, of course, really a wonderful singer and guitarist, but the attraction of this set is the intimate nature of the recordings. You get to hear him laugh at his own surreal lyrics to Strange Meeting II, or at his flubbed fingerpicking at one moment during Day Is Done. And I can't help but wonder what ghastly and beautiful piano he's playing during a haunting performance of Way to Blue.
There's more, too. There are songs by his mother, some with her singing, and a duet with his sister. There are covers of Bob Dylan, Dave Van Ronk, Bert Jansch, and Mozart. And I had no idea that Nick played the clarinet.
I hate to sound like a complainer, but it's maybe too much, in the end. I feel almost embarrassed listening sometimes, like I'm the third wheel at a dinner for two strangers, and the guy proposes to the girl, and I'm left feeling like an idiot for intruding. It's awkward, unless you're such an obsessed fan that you feel every moment of your favorite artists' lives are owed to you somehow.
I get a sense of how Sam Beam must feel, knowing that his early private demos are floating around in the ether. They're unpolished and personal things, never intended for general consumption. It's a bit awkward for him to know they're out there, and it's a bit awkward listening to them, knowing that it's something I wasn't intended to hear. Of course I'd be a hypocrite to decry anyone who has them, since I have copies and listen to them frequently. But with Nick and with Sam, these early demos pose a conundrum, at least in my mind.
The urge to hear more of these intimate moments is natural, I guess. Or at least it's a very common urge. But I still can't help but feel like an interloper.
There's a passage, though, that maybe salvages my sense of own decency. It's from a letter Nick's sister has written to him posthumously and is included as the liner notes:
"It seemed only natural, in the face of such enthusiasm for you, that Dad should play your fans the tape of your home recordings. And he was glad, when they asked, to make them a copy of those recordings, proud that he was able to do it (a more unusual feat in those days than it would be today), and probably comforted by the feeling that he was helping to make your music better known. For you must remember, Nick, that in those days, it seemed to us that your albums could all too easily drop into a vast nothingness, and you be forever forgotten. And that would have made the tragedy of your death even greater."
There's more to the story, but this passage captures the spirit of these recordings and their formal release. I had been worried that such a release would be exploitative, but really, upon reading the letter to Nick (and implicitly to us, the listeners), I don't feel quite so bad. Gabrielle Drake seems so genuine and forthright in her writing that it's difficult and perhaps inappropriate to find fault.
Besides, the album and its notes remind of me of something that's sometimes too easily forgotten: Though Nick Drake's work is some of the most melancholy and sublimely despondent music of the last century, there were still many moments of laughter, many bonds of friendship, and happy Christmases at home. These moments are part of his story too, and they inform his music as much as the sadness for which it is best known.
31. Dez. 2008, 8:16Sometimes the cosmic tumblers fall into place, and a plain and simple truth becomes clear. Call it an epiphany, or whatever. But somewhere in my old top ten list of all-time favorite songwriters, I've got to make room for Shane MacGowan of The Pogues.
He'd fit in somewhere between the grumbled clarity of Tom Waits and the forlorn narrator of Townes Van Zandt.
This all occurred to me tonight while I was strumming through Rainy Night in Soho, which was re-introduced to me this year by Matthew Ryan's cover.
1. Nov. 2008, 21:47So they've re-released Townes Van Zandt's 1969 self-titled debut on 180 gram vinyl. I'm trying to put this album in the context of all the other albums that came out around then, and I don't know what I'd compare it to. Maybe Johnny Cash's 1968 live album at Folsom Prison? It has that much sincerity and soul. Maybe John Lennon's 1970 solo debut, Plastic Ono Band? It has that same genuine sense of frustration and raw desperation. I need to think this over, when I get my head about me. More to come.
1. Nov. 2008, 19:23It’s fall again, and the nights are getting longer and longer. Sleep is getting cold and dull and heavy, and I’m not so inclined to blast Pet Sounds as I was a month ago. Call it seasonal affective disorder, or as my friend Nathan calls it, Seasonal Disaffective Disorder. But there’s a playlist bubbling up in the cold city nights, and I’ll give it a shot:
1. Reckoner: Radiohead never really stops surprising me with their ability to create melancholy textures that even a lifelong introvert such as myself couldn’t have imagined. Intense and quiet, this one resonates well after the track ends.
2. Vito’s Ordination Song: Sufjan Stevens has created such a deep and diverse catalogue in such a short amount of time. This song is full of yearning, which I think is the hallmark of faith. Watching another year slowly die, I find this song very reassuring. “Rest in my arms/ sleep in my bed/ there’s a design/to what I did and said…”
3. Devil’s Elbow: Colin Meloy’s Tarkio might be more conventional than his Decemberists, but there’s a straightforward and relatively artless sincerity to them that I crave sometimes. This one draws Meloy’s voice across fluid melodies with a late-90’s alternative edge to it, mixing dark and light tones in a way that colors the mood of anyone who hears it.
4. Maple Leaves- Jens Lekman makes me so happy. Or is it that Jens Lekman makes me so sad? Both? Neither? He’s so emotionally complex and available that it feels inappropriate to talk about it, even in silent typed prose. “She says that we were just make-believe, but I thought she said maple leaves.”
5. It’s Me, Not You: Mike Mangione shows us what would happen if Damien Rice could be consistently coherent and soulful. He’s a wordsmith and rhymer in the spirit of Dylan, but he’s walked those quiet streets with Tom Waits. This song is introspective and reflective, musing over the way we look at each other and at ourselves, perfect for falling leaves and cold, sunny days.
6. Blue: Cat Power’s cover of Joni Mitchell’s signature ballad might be blasphemy to some, but I was never so bewitched by Joni’s version. A little Hammond organ, and little piano, and a soulful, smoky vocal melody that supplies more subtle drama than I had thought was possible.
27. Sep. 2008, 7:45I remember this night back in 1999, where I was sitting up alone, wondering where my life was going and listening to Radiohead. It was a very long night.
And even though I've traveled all over the world since then, and had plenty of successes, partial victories, false starts, and out-and-out failures, I find myself sitting here tonight alone, wondering where my life is going and listening to Kid A. But at least I'm listening to it on the incredible vinyl re-issues. See? Life's not entirely static. I may not have learned much, but I've gotten better at listening to Radiohead.
26. Sep. 2008, 2:12
13. Sep. 2008, 0:57At least, Jolie Holland tells me so. And if you've ever heard Jolie sing, you'd take her word for it. I might follow her voice anywhere.
30. Aug. 2008, 13:31A few weeks ago, I saw Bon Iver and the Bowerbirds play at the Black Cat. The crowd was incredibly obnoxious and loud. I could gripe about it here, but really, what would be the point of that? Sometimes crowds just decide to talk loudly for the entire night. At least they quieted down for the headliner.
But the point of this post is that one of the openers, who was barely audible over the crowd, might actually be better than the headliners. I heard bits and pieces of their songs, and I like the snippets I heard. But I didn't hear much. Still, I took a chance and bought their LP on vinyl anyway.
And wow, the Bowerbirds are quite a band. They're folky, in that Beirut or Danielson sort of way. Their harmonies are really infectious, though not overly complex or pretty. The mix of accordion, plucked guitar and splashy percussion creates a spare but far-reaching sound. The lead singer has a touch of early Andrew Bird in his delivery.
I can see why they were paired with Bon Iver, as they have a similar pacing and folky feel. While Bon Iver has a much more lustrous sound, especially in the vocal harmonies, the melodies and lyrics in these Bowerbirds songs are more diverse and articulate. I'm not sure where I'd recommend starting off... perhaps with Dark Horse, or maybe with Bur Oak?
They're someone to keep an eye on, I think.
2. Aug. 2008, 9:22Friday was a very good beginning to August, so far as music goes.
1. I finally, after years of asking around, have Townes Van Zandt on vinyl. I have three albums in all: Our Mother The Mountain, Flying Shoes, and the double LP of him live at The Old Quarter in Houston. All original pressings. The joy in my heart is immense. Everyone should shop at Crooked Beat in Adams Morgan. Bill Daly is my Oracle at Delphi for great music.
2. I saw Bon Iver play at the Black Cat, along with Bowerbirds. The crowd was trendy-obnoxious, but Bon Iver was still rock solid. Sonically they were amazing, and I'm curious to see how their songwriting develops as they mature. A very passionate performance.
3. I made plans to see Iron & Wine this fall with some good friends. I'm really happy about it-- my favorite band with my favorite people. Great music is better when shared, I think.
Speaking of which, anyone want to come over and listen to Townes on vinyl with me? It's incredible...