While I’ve caught up on just about everything, I still have a ton of new music piling up that I haven’t listened to yet. So I need a bit more time to get a good bunch of touts for you. But stay tuned tomorrow as we kick off a new feature: The Wednesday Weeper of the Week. Come back and see what it’s all about and I think you’ll enjoy it. Until then, have a good one.
When Jackson Browne released his debut album in 1972, it seemed impossible to many fans that a new artist could arrive on the scene with an album full of songs so advanced and assured. Of course, Browne had been around for years performing and writing songs for others, but that still doesn’t mitigate the singular achievement of his debut (sometimes known as Saturate Before Using due to the cover.) In fact, you could make a fair case that it even outstrips any of his subsequent albums (close, but not quite all of them.) Here is a song-by-song review:
10. “Under The Falling Sky”- He would eventually figure out how to lighten the mood on his albums and still sound convincing. Not yet though, as this change of pace is a bit jarring.
9. “A Child In These Hills”- Leaving home isn’t easy, even when you make the conscious choice to do so. That’s the gist of Browne’s plaint here, which is a little limp musically even if the questions it asks can’t help but resonate with anyone who’s ever been in the same boat.
8. “Something Fine”- This pretty bit of wistful folk that features typically effortless Browne lyrics about missing Morocco or at least the feelings (or the girl) associated with it. Nicely understated.
7. “Rock Me On The Water”- Even at this early point in his career, Browne’s Rolodex contained the best of the best of the West Coast’s musicians. Those connections really pay off on songs like this, which builds from a piano intro into something fuller and more resounding. This is California gospel, and it’s more honest in its way than if he had been accompanied by choirs and church organs and the obvious signifiers.
6. “From Silver Lake”- Some guys get everything. In addition to being blessed with ridiculous songwriting skills, Browne owns a voice of chill-inducing clarity. He understood how to show it off too, as he demonstrates here in this bittersweet ode to wanderlust, holding those vowels for bar after bar until every last bit of emotion has dripped from them.
5. “Doctor My Eyes”- Oh yeah, the dude could turn out hit songs too. Even though this song depicts a character who feels way too much about everything and has to see a shrink to cope with it all, the jauntiness of the music keeps things upbeat enough for the Top 10. Early proof that Browne could be just as affecting when he was shooting for efficiency instead of breadth with his lyrics.
4. “Song For Adam”- You hear the adjective “clear-eyed” a lot when people describe Browne’s work, and it’s probably because of songs like these. The death of a friend, most likely by suicide, would be cause for lesser songwriters to rend their garments and pay maudlin tribute. Browne spends the song subtly trying to make sense of it all even as he concedes he never will. He leaves the sorrow to David Campbell’s viola part, which wends it way through in touching fashion.
3. “Jamaica Say You Will”- In the very first song on his very first album, Browne had already nailed down the template that has captivated audiences for over four decades: Singing deeply-felt lyrics over delicate instrumentation about lost love. That makes it sound simple, I know, which it clearly isn’t, or else we’d have a lot more almost eerily perfect songs like this one floating around. The way Browne hints at the girl’s eventual departure in the first two verses before she surprises him by actually leaving in the last speaks movingly to the blinders we tend to wear when a relationship is going so well.
2. “Looking Into You”- Browne also shows he can pull off a flat-out love song without getting mushy. He does it here by keeping the music somewhat somber to provide a balance and by diverting our attention with the narrator’s seemingly endless quest to find some sort of safe harbor in the stormy seas of his life. That sets us up for the poetic potency of his discovery: “Now here I stand at the edge of my embattled illusions/Looking into you.”
1. “My Opening Farewell”- Perhaps the topic that Browne has always been best at illuminating is the landscape of a crumbling relationship, that mystifying conundrum of how we can be aware of what’s going wrong and yet are still powerless to stop it. This earliest incarnation of his thesis on the subject is still one of his finest, abetted by sympathetic instrumentation and a melody that allows him to start in the doldrums, rise with anguish, and then sink back down again into painful resignation that the end is only a falling tear away.
(E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia.)
Hello all. I know it’s been a while, but I have a good excuse, better than just flat-out laziness. After getting married in July, my wife and I have been renovating our house and tried to do it all before a family party that we had at the house last weekend. As anyone who’s done this kind of thing knows, it’s mass chaos, and the fact that we squeezed most of it into a small window made it even more of a circus. So anything other than my assigned writing was put on the back burner for the most part.
The good news is that I’m coming out of it now and should have time to rev the blog back up again, which I’m going to try and do on Monday with the start of another Retro Review series. That should be fun. I’m also going to get the Tuesday Touts up and going again and I have a fun idea for some posts on Wednesdays that you guys and gals will enjoy. So most weeks we could be talking about four posts per week, which is my way of thanking you folks that have stuck with me since the beginning.
In other news, I am participating in a really special event this weekend which maybe some of you in the Jersey area can check out. It’s called the Fifty Years Forum and it’s being presented by the Friends of the Bruce Springsteen Special Collection, which is a mass assemblage of Springsteen memorabilia. The forum, which takes place at Wilson Hall on the campus of Monmouth University in West Long Branch, New Jersey, will feature panel discussions on various aspects of Springsteen’s work. Yours truly is a panelist for a 10 AM ET panel on Springsteen’s finest songs (can’t imagine why they chose me for that one.) The thing runs from about 9:30AM to 3:30 PM and seats are still available for those who want to walk up. It should be a lot of fun.
I’d also like to thank those of you who have purchased my books and e-books; much appreciated. If you have the time and inclination and want to go the extra mile to help me out, a review on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or the site of your choosing would be really helpful.
So I hope to talk to you all again next week. Thanks for populating the site in the meantime even when no new content was forthcoming. I promise that will all be changing soon.
You know the drill by now, folks. These are the new songs or albums to which I’ve been grooving, so I suggest you check them out to see if they’re equally grooveworthy to you.
“Almost Like The Blues” by Leonard Cohen
It was with great excitement that I learned of Cohen’s new album, Popular Problems, coming out on September 23. And the first taste of that album doesn’t disappoint. Over bongos and bass, Cohen muses on the world’s problems with the typical combination of sly humor and understated grace. What a wonder that he hasn’t lost anything off his fastball after all these years. Check it out in the link:
“Gimme Something Good” by Ryan Adams: Another hotly-anticipated album around these parts (by “these parts”, I mean my office) is Adams self-titled release on September 9. Chances are if you’ve listened to rock radio in the past month or two, you’ve heard this forceful attention-grabber which cops a vibe more Heartbreakers (can we be sure that isn’t Benmont Tench playing those creeping organ riffs?) than Heartbreaker. As direct and powerful as I’ve heard Adams in a while, this bodes well for the new release. And, for some reason, Elvira is in the video, so it’s got that going for it.
“Dangerous Days” by Zola Jesus: In a perfect world, this sepia-tinged electronic anthem would be a summer radio smash. Nika Danilova, who performs as Zola Jesus, has one of those voices that sound amazing in any setting, but in the midst of this track, it’s damn near overwhelming. Listen to the wordless belts in the outro and I guarantee you’ll want to cue thing up again. From her upcoming October album Taiga.
“Even The Darkness Has Arms” by The Barr Brothers: Words and melodies never go out of style, and this one proves that eternal fact in captivating fashion. This act based on Montreal has one album under their belt and have another, Sleeping Operator, coming out in September. This is pretty, haunting stuff that effortlessly seeps into your consciousness. Check it out below.
The Reconsider Me Tout of the Week- Cloud Nine by George Harrison: It may seem silly to ask you to reconsider an album that was a huge smash and contained an unavoidable #1 single (“Got My Mind Set On You.”) But I feel like this one gets forgotten amidst the wave of Wilbury-related albums that came out around that time. This is Harrison at his most accessible, full of killer melodies and lyrics that alternate between spiritual and sardonic. It also features perhaps my all-time favorite song about the Beatles, “When We Was Fab,” with a video that includes, Ringo, Elton, Jeff Lynne, John (via album cover), and a left-handed walrus on the bass.
(E-mail me at email@example.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. Check out my books on the songs of Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan in the links below.)
Here we go, folks. Another heaping helping of great new music you should be checking out pronto.
They Want My Soul by Spoon: The indie-rock mainstays are garnering some of the best reviews of their career for their new disc, out today. What I’ve heard so far certainly warrants those accolades. This stinging single, all pounding drums, jagged guitars, and Britt Daniel’s wolf howl, is a great place to start.
“She’s Not Me” by Jenny Lewis: Lewis has always been a critical darling as the singer in Rilo Kiley and as a solo artist, but here she releases something that has wide-audience appeal yet is still captivating and mysterious. It’s a standout track from her just-released album, The Voyager, even though it sounds like an American Top 40 hit circa 1977.
“The No-Hit Wonder” by Cory Branan: Getting help from members of The Hold Steady, Branan paints a rollicking, affecting portrait of a struggling musician. It’s the title track of his new album, due out on August 19, which also features an appearance by Jason Isbell. Running in such heady company might overwhelm lesser artists, but Branan’s songwriting chops here prove that he’s worthy.
“Cleopatra” by Sloan: These Canadian fellows are on their 11th album, and it’s a shame that more folks don’t know their stuff. Maybe that will change with their upcoming September release Commonwealth, which allows all four members a side of music to show their songwriting skills. Lead single “Cleopatra” is power-pop perfection.
The Reconsider Me Tout Of The Week: Lost In Space by Aimee Mann: Following up the sublime Bachelor No.2, it was almost a given that this 2002 album wouldn’t be as kindly received. And yet I find myself going back to it more and more these days, mesmerized by Mann’s typically brilliant songcraft. Take the gorgeous “It’s Not”, which you can check out below, for just one example, and then tell me how this undervalued album can possibly be considered a letdown.
No Touts next week due to a family vacation, but I’ll be back after that with more great new stuff. And I’ve also identified a new Retro Review topic. I’ll give you a hint: He has an album coming out later this year. Any guesses?
(E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. Counting Down Bruce Springsteen: His 100 Finest Songs is now available all over the world at every major online bookseller.)
Things are finally settling somewhat in the CK household, which means it’s time to touch base again with my loyal readers. I promise to start thinking about another list real soon for you all, but in the meantime, here are some of the things that I’ve enjoyed listening to since the last time we talked.
Hypnotic Eye by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers: It’s good to know that some things in the rock and roll world don’t change much. Knowing that TP is out there keeping the flame alive is reassuring; knowing that he’s releasing material that can stand proudly alongside his best is thrilling. Out today, Hypnotic Eye features the Heartbreakers at their fiercest (Mike Campbell is in particularly ripping form), while Petty’s songs are attheir most incisive and invigorating. My full review of the album will be available at the American Songwriter site soon. In the meantime, take a listen to the thundering kickoff track “American Dream Plan B” below.
“Back To The Shack” by Weezer: Just when you count out Rivers Cuomo and the boys, they fire back at you with an impossibly catchy, righteously rocking track like this one. It certainly speaks well of their upcoming fall album Everything Will Be Alright In The End. As self-referential as ever, Cuomo promises a return to form for the band and then wills it into existence with the track itself.
“Start Again” by Bishop Allen: From the album Lights Out, due on August 19, this buzzy new single has the deadpan New Wave rush of classic Cars. It’s been five years since these Brooklynites debut album, but, based on this exciting evidence, the new album will be worth the wait.
“War On The East Coast” by The New Pornographers: I’ve been in the bag for these power poppers since I heard “The Laws Have Changed” a decade or so ago. Dan Bejar takes the lead on this one, and, as usual, adds just a touch of dreamy introspection to the sugar rush. The new album, Brill Builders, arrives next month, and the first two singles have me drooling in anticipation.
The Reconsider Me Tout of the Week: The Invisible Band by Travis- Sometimes it feels like an album gets dismissed because the tastemakers decide that a band’s time in the spotlight has already passed. That’s my roundabout way of saying that I can’t understand why this gorgeous 2001 album from Travis didn’t gain more of a foothold here in the U.S. Nonetheless, the evidence of its excellence is there for anyone who wants to seek it out, including this track, “The Cage”, my personal favorite.
See you next week with more Touts. Don’t forget to e-mail me at email@example.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia.
The Tuesday Touts will have to wait another week due to my busier-than-expected schedule (House renovations are never-ending, let me tell you.) Nonetheless, here’s a little something to tide you over: My most recent article at American Songwriter, profiling the gorgeously sad “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over” by Jeff Buckley.