Thursday, April 30, 2015

Soap & Water revisited

Chuck Prophet's amazing 2008 release, Soap & Water, deserves another look under the hood. I recently obtained a copy of the booklet Chuck created to share the lyrics, along with his notes about what inspired each of the songs. It's a sweet little testament to peruse, and reflects his self-deprecating sense of humor perfectly. 
The music is the real treasure here. Every song swings and connects with power. These are songs that stand up as good listening material, but dig a bit deeper and you'll find humor and wisdom and fear and regret. Would You Love Me, always a high emotional point in Chuck's live performances, brings an ultrapersonal point of view into your headphones. Don't waste time, listen to the man sing. 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

John Prine - August 1970

This recording takes me back to my roots, playing tiny coffeehouses in Northwest Indiana, and heading into Chicago to hear the real thing at Somebody Else's Troubles. A friend of mine learned how to palm his pick mid-song, from Steve Goodman, in the bathroom of that club. Then he taught it to me.

The first eleven tracks here were recorded in a studio, presumably in Chicago. You hear John's voice and his guitar; that's it. It's all you need to get what he was about in those days, transitioning from his work as a mailman to full-time musician. There's nothing forced or artificial here, just great songs presented in a straightforward manner.

The next seven tracks were recorded live at the 5th Peg in Chicago. He's having some fun and folks are singing along part of the time. This music is a tonic, to be taken liberally when life seems too complicated and your stress is getting stressed out.
Turn it on. turn it up, and listen to the sound of the truth. Cheers, all.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Trippin' like it's 1984

Marcas is a band from Antwerpen, Belgium, and today I followed my internal river to their 1984 release, Stories. "Cinematic Trip Hop Lounge" barely begins to describe the variety of sounds and moods in the 13 tracks on the album. Synths, drums, various horns, flute, various stringed instruments, and voice grace the album in an undemanding and yet expressive way. This is music you can have on, or listen to intently, or anywhere in the spectrum.

Vocals are used in different ways, sometimes spoken, other times sung. Average track length is around four minutes, so if you don't love a track, another sonic treat is soon to follow.

So, you may ask...why bother writing about an album that is over 30 years old? Because I just found it and immediately loved it. Because it's smart and sexy and sophisticated. Because it sets a mood and slowly evolves that mood, perfectly.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Courtney Barnett stole my soul

Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, Courtney Barnett's new album, brings her laconic point of view into sharper focus, which is a better commentary on modern living than any I've heard in a long while. Almost like the Wind-Up Birds backing up a cross between Charlotte Gainsbourg and Lykke Li; almost, but not quite.

There's that weird moment when you're trying to decide whether you're hearing a a new and compelling artist, or hipster trash. In some cases the moment drags on for a few days while you touch base with the album, peel away, and later return for more. Eventually, if you're me, you commit to one point of view or the other. I came down on Courtney's side, mostly because the songs are enjoyable on several levels. A good melody and some rhythm guitar is a pretty low threshold of pleasure. Next up is her voice, which is expressive without trying to be histrionic. Peel the onion some more to get into these lyrics from Debbie Downer:

I'm growing older every time I blink my eyes
Boring, neurotic, everything that I despise
We had some lows, we had some mids, we had some highs
Sell me all your golden rules and I'll see
If that's the kind of person that I wanna be
If I'm not happy I'll be glad I kept receipts

I don't ask too much of you
It's true and I can't read your mind

Don't stop listening, I'm not finished yet
I'm not fishing for your compliments

What really gets me stoked about her music is the sheer cheesiness of the instrumentation and arrangements. It proves there is no way I was looking for or even could have imagined an artist with such a unique and weirdly compelling way of expressing herself. And heck, I didn't need that soul anyway.   

What it isn't

This isn't a place for me to promote bands, although I'll share my thoughts on some of their musical and cultural output. This isn't a rant-fest, but I reserve the right to complain when the time and subject are right. This won't be a dismissive place; life's too short for folks who want to tear down the artistic efforts of others. It won't be worshiping at the altar of Americana - sheesh, I think we have enough of those places already.

So then what is it? A walk on the beach, with some music playing, and random thoughts inspired by the music and the folks who play it. A place where many musical genres can live in harmony. A way to wander without the worry of getting lost. One Hoosier's point of view.