CK Retro Review: My Ride’s Here by Warren Zevon

Following 2000’s reflective Life’ll Kill Ya, Warren Zevon returned to a more rocking mode with 2002’s My Ride’s Here. The former is more compelling; not that Zevon can’t rock convincingly, but the songs on the latter album, for the most part, are either too musically simplistic or too lyrically burdensome. And all of the co-writers prove that Zevon might have been better off going it alone. Still, there are three standouts here that can easily slide into any best-of mix CD of the man you might care to make. Here is a song-by-song review.

TWO STARS

10. “You’re A Whole Different Person When You’re Scared”- What should have been a monumental mind meld between Zevon and Hunter S. Thompson turns out to be anticlimactic, in part because Zevon forgot to write a melody, in part because the lyrics are kind of blah for two such distinctive writers.

9. “Laissez-Moi Tranquille”- Serge Gainsbourg’s original was like a rock tango. Zevon keeps the cowbell but otherwise turns it into more of a grinder, which saps the fun out of it. Not what you expect him to cover, but when  did he ever do what was expected?

8. “MacGillycuddy’s Reeks”- Zevon always case his net far and wide outside the rock world for collaborators. The Irish poet Paul Muldoon joins him here for an energetic jig about romance, sickness, and financial concerns. It’s maybe a smidge too idiosyncratic, although the lines “I was a thorn/Still trying to find a side” are keepers.

THREE STARS

7. “I Have To Leave”- Written by a buddy of Zevon’s (Dan McFarland), this mid-tempo number isn’t a classic but it elicits one of the most animated vocals on the album, in part because it possesses more melodic range than just about anything else here.

6. “Sacrificial Lambs”- Co-writing with Larry Klein, Zevon starts the album off on a particularly caustic note, tearing off some mean guitar licks to go with his unforgiving observations on the connection between money and religion. He seems to veer off the rail as the song rolls on, name-dropping Russell Crowe and Saddam Hussein, but what the hey? It’s all in good, dirty fun.

5. “Basket Case”- Warren hooks up with the “friskiest psycho” and eventually takes her place at the funny farm. If nothing else, it’s a good excuse for some solid one-liners from Zevon and old buddy Carl Hiassen, and it crunches along pretty effectively.

4. “Lord Byron’s Luggage”- Byron doesn’t stick around past the first verse’s musings on his bathing habits, and this second Irish-tinged tune on the album turns out to be the songwriter’s confessional. A grabby, slightly melancholy chorus centers the wandering verses of this song, the only one on the album written solely by Zevon.

FOUR STARS

3. “Hit Somebody! (The Hockey Song)”- As someone who wouldn’t watch hockey if they were playing the Stanley Cup across the street and changes the channel immediately when I see Mitch Albom’s face, I have to say that was a pleasant surprise. David Letterman’s hilarious recitation of the refrain helps to balance out the Hollywood sports movie turns of Albom’s storyline, and Letterman’s backing band does the song proud. Zevon’s just along to steer the zamboni on this winning novelty.

2. “My Ride’s Here”- Muldoon’s second contribution is a winner, delivered by Zevon with just the right mix of humor and heart. The galloping arrangement probably robs it of some of its pathos, and maybe that’s what Zevon wanted. Still, Bruce Springsteen’s slowed-down, mournful live version played in honor of Warren after his death seems definitive to me; The Boss makes even the Pinto sound elegiac somehow.

FIVE STARS

1. “Genius”- While it’s impossible to say what the division of power on this song was, it seems likely that Larry Klein handled the interestingly exotic instrumental backing and left the lyrics to Zevon. The Auto-Tune-like effect on his vocals is just right for the eloquently twisted narrative (or twistedly eloquent perhaps.) At its heart it’s a basic you-done-me-wrong song, but Zevon’s tangents are the fun part. Einstein, Mata Hari, and Charlie Sheen all make striking appearances, but none of them can draw our attention away from our narrator’s hypnotically deft wordplay. Genius, indeed.

(E-mail me at countdownkid@hotmail.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. My new book, Counting Down The Rolling Stones, comes out in November. Pre-order on the link below.)

http://www.amazon.com/Counting-Down-The-Rolling-Stones/dp/1442254467

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Wednesday Weeper of the Week: “Old Man” by Art Garfunkel

Sometimes an interpretation of a song can take it in a completely different direction than the one the songwriter intended. Randy Newman wrote “Old Man” and included a stark, somewhat acerbic version of it on his amazing 1972 album Sail Away. In the song, a son sits at the deathbed of his father and, rather than offering encouragement, spurns sentimentality and tells it like his father told him: No God will ride in to carry him off to heaven and he will die alone.

Even with strings buffering the blow, there’s something about Newman’s vocal that keep things pretty cold and unsparing. The way the song just ends after the words “Everybody dies” is extremely chilling. No comfort, no morals, just the end.

When Art Garfunkel recorded the song for his 1973 solo debut Angel Clare, he utilized a similar piano (provided by the inimitable session great Larry Knechtel) and strings arrangement, but he took the vocals into the stratosphere. The quivering of Garfunkel’s voice as he towers over the proceedings indicates a man desperate to reach out to his father, to make him see and hear how much he is grieving for him, even if theirs was not a father-son relationship from Hallmark.

Having had a great relationship with my own Dad and missing him still every day even though he passed away a long time ago, I guess I’m drawn to Garfunkel’s sweetening of the deal, even as I appreciate the honesty of Newman’s lyrics. In either case, it’s a beauty of a melody, ironically rendered by Newman and tenderly caressed by Garfunkel, and a weeper for the ages.

(E-mail me at countdownkid@hotmail.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia.)

http://www.amazon.com/Counting-Down-Bruce-Springsteen-Finest/dp/1442230657

http://www.amazon.com/Counting-Down-Bob-Dylan-Finest/dp/0810888238

 

 

 


CK Retro Review: Paul Simon by Paul Simon

So how could one ever follow up the majesty of Simon & Garfunkel’s final albums? In Paul Simon’s case, he took a little time off, chose some ace session players, and returned in 1972 with a self-titled solo album that dialed down the grandeur and upped the ante on loose-limbed music. As a result, Paul Simon may lack the chill-inducing songs of his best work with Artie, but it may be more consistently fun and fine than any of the duo’s albums. Here is a song-by-song review.

TWO STARS

11. “Hobo Blues”- It’s a brief interstitial instrumental featuring legendary violinist Stephane Grappelli, whom rock fans know for his cameo on Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.”

THREE STARS

10. “Papa Hobo”- Other than the singles, it’s hard to find a song on this album that doesn’t shift its musical shape a couple of times. “Papa Hobo” starts out as a gentle acoustic stroll before some bass harmonica and harmonium create a circus-like vibe. Simon’s sings understated lyrics about a woebegone denizen of Detroit. It’s a bit elusive but intriguing nonetheless.

9. “Armistice Day”- This one comes off like an instrumental that Paul just added lyrics to as an afterthought. Those lyrics veer from the personal to the political with little rhyme or reason, but the real draw here is the way the music transforms from stark and desolate into a boogie jaunt without ever drawing attention to the fact that it’s making such a nimble leap.

8. “Paranoia Blues”- Simon seems to have his tongue in his cheek throughout, undercutting the edgy bottleneck guitar and thumping beat with some playful horns, just as he takes the sting out of the lyrics about drug harassment and fake friends with concerns about stolen Chinese food. Those contrasts pull this one a surprisingly long way.

7. “Everything Put Together Falls Apart”- Simon was only a little past 30 years old when the album came out, yet the world-weariness he exudes on this lament is palpable. The melody wends its way unpredictably along with no concern for where it’s been, while Simon sings as if the heaviness of it all is about to crush him. It’s clear from this song that Paul thought that the bill was due for all of the excess of the 60’s.

6. “Congratulations”- “Love’s no romance,” Simon sings here, and that’s the ultimate theme to this melancholy closing track. Some of the jazz-inflected dreaminess that would come to mark much of Paul’s 70’s output can be first traced to “Congratulations,” as Larry Knechtel’s electric piano is the perfect accompaniment for the narrator’s broken-hearted journey.

FOUR STARS

5. “Run That Body Down”- This is another song that suggests a kind of malaise that blanketed Simon’s generation at the start of the 70’s. The whole save-the-world, peace-on-Earth vibe is subordinated here to self-preservation in terms of a person looking after his own health. Paul sings it beautifully, some lovely falsetto in the chorus suggesting stubborn wanderlust in the mind of a broken-down body.

4. “Duncan”- After the great results he achieved from working with them on “El Condor Pasa (If I Could)”, Simon invited Los Incas to perform their Andes Mountains magic on this track. Those exotic flutes compliment the adventures of Lincoln Duncan, one of Simon’s lonely wanderers who stumbles into spiritual and sexual bliss at the end of his song. I wouldn’t call it a happy ending, since the music tips toward wistfulness and Duncan’s journeys seem far from over, but at least the kid has his music if all else fails.

3. “Peace Like A River”- The idealism that seems squelched elsewhere on the album wins the day on this track. Simon’s gritty acoustic guitar work in the verses beautifully sets up the transcendent chorus, in which the dreamers challenge the schemers to do their worst, knowing that righteousness will win the day. The narrator wakes up from his glorious reverie in the final verse to gird himself for the fight, his resilience an inspiration for anybody listening.

FIVE STARS

2. “Mother And Child Reunion”- Even though they were vastly different in tone than some of his classics with Garfunkel, Simon’s early solo singles were just as captivating in their own way. In the case of “Mother And Child Reunion,” the ebullience of the reggae wouldn’t have worked quite as well had Simon not worked some melancholy into the verses, giving the music something over which it can triumph. Cissy Houston is among the backing vocalists who bring some gospel testifying to the islands.

1. “Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard”- This song may be the quintessence of Simon’s never-ending search for just the right sound for his records. People who get caught up in the story and try to figure out its mysteries are probably missing the point, since Paul was likely far more interested in the sounds that the words were making than their intended meaning. The impossibly crisp guitars and Airto Moreira’s hip-swiveling percussion are a combination that’s impossible to resist, and that’s what keeps the song so fresh after all these years, not any concern over what just Mama Pajama saw.

(E-mail me at countdownkid@hotmail.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For books and e-books based on material that originated on this site, check out the links below.)

http://www.amazon.com/Counting-Down-Bob-Dylan-Finest/dp/0810888238

http://www.amazon.com/Pump-It-Up-Costellos-ebook/dp/B00BXLUFN2/ref=sr_1_3?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1378235166&sr=1-3&keywords=jim+beviglia

http://www.amazon.com/Breakdown-Pettys-Best-Songs-ebook/dp/B00C281ZB6/ref=sr_1_4?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1378235166&sr=1-4&keywords=jim+beviglia

http://www.amazon.com/No-Surprises-Radioheads-Songs-ebook/dp/B00CEZ2A0M/ref=sr_1_5?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1378235166&sr=1-5&keywords=jim+beviglia

 

 

 


CK Retro Review: Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon & Garfunkel

(CK Note: I did this review a few months ago on the site before I started doing artist-specific series, so if you think you’re experiencing a bit of deja vu, don’t be alarmed. I’ve made only a few changes from the original.)

Paul Simon was headed for solo stardom and Art Garfunkel was headed for Hollywood, but they pulled together for one final album in 1970. Bridge Over Troubled Water topped charts all over the world, was named Album of the Year at the Grammys, and sent the duo out on a towering high note. Here is a song-by-song review.

TWO STARS

11. “Baby Driver”- The one song on the album that feels a little like a throwaway, it’s a mix of Beach Boys and Everly Brothers moves musically. Lyrically, Simon’s come-ons to a girl in pigtails make for a nice contrast from the more somber offerings on the album, but it wouldn’t break your heart if you skipped this track.

10. “Bye Bye Love”- Well they couldn’t bow out without paying proper homage to Phil and Don, could they? Alas, this live recording from Ames, Iowa doesn’t really make too much magic, but, then again, it’s such a cool little song that it’s tough to resist even at less than its best.

THREE STARS

9. “Keep The Customer Satisfied”- The horns are maybe too prominent by half, and Simon’s moaning about life on the road is nothing new in the rock and roll milieu. Nonetheless, the buoyancy of the melody keeps this thing afloat.

8. “Why Don’t You Write Me”- Paul Simon’s greatest competition in the world of melodic rock was clearly Paul McCartney, and this fun little lament from a guy separated from his beloved and doubting their connection has the same shuffling energy as Macca’s first few solo albums.

7. “Song For The Asking”- The closing track is little more than a fragment at under two minutes length, but Simon, going solo to close out the duo’s recording career, leaves quite an impression in that short time with his lovely little tune about the power of music.

6. “So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright”- Considering that Wright died in 1959, it seems odd that the Simon & Garfunkel would wait so long to say goodbye. That’s when it dawns on you that the famous architect might be a metaphor for Paul and Artie’s musical partnership. It’s a wistful look back too, as Garfunkel sings in his most fragile voice: “All of the nights we harmonized till dawn/I never laughed so long.”

FOUR STARS

5. “El Condor Pasa”- One of the earliest examples of Simon’s musical wanderlust, this track uses an old Peruvian folk song as its basis and benefits from the accompaniment of Los Incas. Those pipes are mesmerizing, and the minimal lyrics do an efficient job of conveying the sorrow of someone whose dreams are beyond their reach.

FIVE STARS

4. “The Only Living Boy In New York”- Loneliness and one’s attempts to transcend it could be considered the overall theme for the album, and this song perpetrates that theme through the stunning cathedral-like vocals that seem to be beaming in from another dimension. Simon, Garfunkel, and Roy Halee deserve great credit for what is one of the best-produced albums of that or any era, and this song is one of the best examples of that acumen.

3. “Cecilia”- Never has a cuckolded lover sounded so jubilant as does the narrator of this vibrant song. The fact that he’s accompanied by an ingenious, homemade rhythm certainly helps. Simon has always credited his success to an obsession with how his recordings sound, and it’s hard to find anything that sounds much better than this.

2. “The Boxer”- Start with the recording, which features a little bit of everything in terms of instrumentation to embellish the interlocked fingerpicking of Simon and Fred Carter Jr. Studio pros like Pete Drake, who adds the chilling pedal steel solo, and Hal Blaine, who plays the cavernous drums, are everywhere on the track. Then there’s the song itself, one of Simon’s finest. His befuddled narrator identifies with the punch-drunk stupor of a boxer, but he also summons the resilience necessary to withstand the blows, making the song as stirring as it is moving.

1. “Bridge Over Troubled Water”- It’s on a par with “Hey Jude” in the battle for the most uplifting song to ever come out of the rock era. Much credit goes to the piano part, played by Larry Knechtel, which soldiers on heartily. The song also builds up beautifully from the spare opening verses to the thrilling crescendo at the end. Simon’s lyrics are understated and his melody lovely. Garfunkel, brought to the fore on this album more than at any other time in the duo’s history, provides one of the most indelible vocals ever recorded, gentle yet sturdy early on, powerful and soaring in the climax. It’s been covered often, but the original is still perfection, convincing enough to make you believe that nobody suffers alone.

(E-mail me at countdownkid@hotmail.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For books and e-books based on material that originated on this site, check out the links below.)

http://www.amazon.com/Counting-Down-Bob-Dylan-Finest/dp/0810888238

http://www.amazon.com/Pump-It-Up-Costellos-ebook/dp/B00BXLUFN2/ref=sr_1_3?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1377882153&sr=1-3&keywords=jim+beviglia

http://www.amazon.com/Breakdown-Pettys-Best-Songs-ebook/dp/B00C281ZB6/ref=sr_1_4?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1377882153&sr=1-4&keywords=jim+beviglia

http://www.amazon.com/No-Surprises-Radioheads-Songs-ebook/dp/B00CEZ2A0M/ref=sr_1_5?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1377882153&sr=1-5&keywords=jim+beviglia


Elvis Costello Countdown #24: “How To Be Dumb”

Full disclosure: I have never read The Big Wheel, Attractions’ bassist Bruce Thomas’ thinly-veiled account of the life of a rock star on the road, so I can’t speak to its merits. The only thing I can be sure of is that Elvis Costello didn’t like it too much. I don’t know if it was because Thomas was breaking some sort of rock star omerta or if he told tales that weren’t true or if he just painted an unflattering picture of the man he referred to in the book only as “the singer.” At least it inspired “How To Be Dumb,” which, while not a particularly good thing for Thomas, is certainly a good  thing for Elvis’ fans.

“How To Be Dumb” might be the most vituperative song on an album, Mighty Like A Rose, that’s full of venom. Indeed, it’s all the more potent for being an intensely personal attack. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it before: Never cheese off an eloquent songwriter, because they’ll always get the last word in on a record and it will usually be the definitive stroke of the back-and-forth argument.

The interesting thing is that Costello marries the song to a very Attractions-like arrangement, almost circus-like in its ebullience. Larry Knechtel plays the Steve Nieve role, adding frenetic piano fills, while Pete Thomas plays the Pete Thomas role, beating the tar of the drums. Most fetching of all is the little saxophone riff, played by Roger Lewis, that really brings the chorus to life. The music is triumphant, as if Elvis is signalling that he’s coming out on top of this tete-a-tete.

Costello paints Thomas as someone who is enjoying the kudos he’s receiving for his “brand new occupation” (and, it should be noted, the book did get some good reviews.) “And beautiful people stampede to the doorway,” he sings, “Of the funniest f*#!er in the world.” Yet he also makes it clear what he thinks of Thomas’ authenticity: “There’s a bright future/For all you professional liars.”

As the song goes on, the attacks get nastier. When you parse through all of Costello’s verbiage, you find out that he essentially calls his nemesis a gutless, jealous poseur. In the final lines, he sounds almost gleeful as he dehumanizes his former bassist: “Scratch your own head, stupid/Count up to three/Roll over on your back/Repeat after me/Don’t you know how to be dumb?” That might be the most damning insult of all, as Elvis insinuates that his longtime bandmate can’t even get stupidity right.

It’s too bad that things had to go down this way, but the two patched things up enough to play together again for a few albums before the separation became permanent, so that’s something. Hey, sometimes people don’t get along, and sometimes it deteriorates pretty badly. It’s just that, as public figures, this personal disagreement played out in front of the reading and listening audience at large.

This song sounds like it was cathartic for Elvis, and, as a listener, you can substitute your own personal enemies and get that same kind of satisfying jolt of musical revenge. “How To Be Dumb” turns out to be just the opposite of “You’re So Vain,” in that nobody would want this song to be about them.

(The full Elvis Costello list is now available in e-book form. Here is the link:)

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00BXLUFN2

(E-mail the author at countdownkid@hotmail.com.)


Elvis Costello Countdown #38: “That Day Is Done”

Earlier in the list, I talked about “Mistress And Maid,” an excellent song co-written by Paul McCartney and Elvis Costello that got away from Macca a bit when he brought it into the studio. Luckily, he had no such problems with “That Day Is Done,” which was impeccably rendered on Flowers In The Dirt, the Paul album which takes its title from lyrics in the song. McCartney renders the song with the mixture of grandeur and sorrow that the lyrics demand.

We are also lucky that Costello provided his own version of this heartfelt song on the extra disc of the All Useless Beauty reissue. In that take, Elvis is accompanied by legendary session man Larry Knechtel on piano and the inimitable Fairfield Four on backing vocals. This version, especially with those amazing backing vocalists on board, really drives home the song’s gospel influences.

“That Day Is Done” feels like the duo’s attempt to replicate some of the somber majesty of the early recordings of The Band, especially the Dylan-penned numbers “Tears Of Rage” and “I Shall Be Released.” The open spaces in the music, the gospel influences, the lyrics which come from the perspective of a man who can’t keep his promise to his love because death has intervened, all of that recalls the mystery and magic of those first two Band albums.

Costello delivered a moving performance of this song at a tribute concert for Linda McCartney in 1999. Such painful occasions are why songs like this are written, because they pinpoint the myriad emotions inside of us better than we could ever possibly articulate them ourselves. That kind of beautiful sadness is generally the province of a master songwriter; “That Day Is Done” came from two of those masters, so the results are doubly heartrending.

(The full Elvis Costello list is now available in e-book form. Here is the link:)

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00BXLUFN2

(E-mail the author at countdownkid@hotmail.com.)