Saturday, November 22, 2008

What I'm Listening To

One of the things that I miss in this insanely-busy-semester of mine is my regular Sunday night gig as the hostess of "Americana the Beautiful" on Rhodes Radio. When I was in grad school, I had a lot of music-loving friends with whom I could endlessly talk about and trade tunes. (Miss you, Kyle!) Now those friends are spread far and wide, so the conversations are fewer and further between, though I can thankfully check in with Christophresh on a pretty regular basis through his website, which always has good stuff on it. So, I thought I'd share what I'm listening to these days (and a little bit of why).

First, Ryan Adams & The Cardinal's Jacksonville City Nights. I actually came to Ryan Adams a little late, which is weird since he is for all intents and purposes the Avatar of Americana Music. I had pretty much stuck to his solo albums and some of the Whiskeytown stuff, but I recently decided to give the Cardinals a try. I tried first with the album Cold Roses, which I did NOT love. That was a disappointment... but I'm a girl who believes in second (and third, and fourth, etc.) chances, so I asked around and learned that I should've been listening to Jacksonville City Nights. Much better. JCN has just the right amount of pedal-steel (the instrument that I've always said most closely approximates the human cry), just the right amount of sadness, just the right amount of foot-tapping honky-tonk. I particularly like "My Heart Is Broken," which showcases the kind of simple-and-true songwriting at which Ryan Adams excels. All the tracks are tight, compact gems-- none of the indulgent stuff that's on Cold Roses. So, this one has been on regular rotation lately.

At night, and when I need non-lyrics-driven music to read by, I've been listening to Ennio Morricone's briiliantly composed soundtrack to the film The Mission.
The film The Mission is one of my most favorite of all time. But the soundtrack is, quite simply, some of the most beautiful music I've ever heard. It's hard for me to judge whether or not the music is that beautiful all by itself or whether I subconsciously associate it with the film's story... but, either way, I must have listened to this album about a thousand times and it still gives me goosebumps. Before hearing this album for the first time, I don't think I could have picked the sound of an oboe out of a horn section, but now I understand the haunting lonesomeness of that little wind instrument. And the track "Vita Nostra" is a tour de force.

Getting the most play on my iPod these days is The Very Best of Solomon Burke. Solomon Burke is one of the cornerstones of the old "Philly soul" sound, which I love because it reminds of all the ways that Philly reminded me of Memphis when I was living there. You probably know Burke best for the song "Cry To Me", featured in one of the sexy scenes of the film Dirty Dancing. Well, imagine that song times 15 and you've got The Very Best of Solomon Burke. This album's got it all-- love songs, breakup songs, cheating songs, missing-you songs, momma-told-me-better songs-- ALL OF IT. There's a horn section, there's a Hammond B3 organ or two, there's doo-wop girls and boys in the background... and then there's Mr. Burke. Classic. I seriously can't get enough of this.

Finally, I'm sad to report, I think I'm almost ready to conclude that Lucinda Williams' Little Honey is a pretty major disappointment. Now, it really, really hurts me to say that... but I've been a Lucinda fan for as long as I can remember and I gotta keep it real. There's a lot of rough-and-raunchy "rockers" on this album, like "Honey Bee," which sound like Lucinda was secretly working out some contest between herself and some of the younger alt-country phenoms (see: Ryan Adams). The rockers are at the same time too loose and too forced, which makes for a sound that sounds like it's trying too hard to sound like it's not trying too hard. (Get that? Good.) Then, there are songs like "Tears of Joy" that sound like previous Lucinda tunes ("Long For Your Kiss" to be specific) that have been thrown on a paper plate, warmed in the microwave, and re-served. (For the record, the song "Knowing" is definitely one of these re-heat and re-serve songs, only I can't quite place which previous song of hers that it sounds like.) And I wonder what she was thinking when writing songs like "If Wishes Were Horses" (next line:"...I'd have a ranch"). Really, Lucinda? REALLY? There's a very fine line between eccentric songwriting and bad poetry. A Very. Fine. Line. Finally, the song "Rarity"-- hilariously misnamed, since it runs a whopping 9 minutes long-- is just plain indulgent overkill. There are a couple of good tracks on Little Honey ("Plan to Marry" and "Well, Well, Well"), but on the whole, it's a bit of a haul to get through. I might give Little Honey a couple of more listens just to be fair, but I am very soon heading back to Lucinda's Live @ the Filmore double-album, which is her at her best.


Mark Wadley said...

I have a weird love/hate relationship with Ryan Adams. I guess he is the avatar of Americana—at least in popular consciousness—but he's just so all-over-the-place. I suppose self-indulgent is the right word.

Adams definitely has something of the American work ethic (considering how prolific he is), but he doesn't seem to have a solid notion of efficiency. Cold Roses has some really good tracks, but there was no reason for it to be a double album (as is the case with most double albums).

Well, he's certainly not just the "poor man's Jeff Tweedy" anymore. I think he (and Jeff) have gone to great lengths to prove that.

christophresh said...

I think I'm going to listen to "city nights" right now (as soon as I turn off the Idiot-Box that is my computer: ITunes is just so very easy to listen to...), in tribute to you.
If I can find it: too many CDs floating around...
Ennio M. is great. I got a hold of his double CD 'hits', and there are some straight-up weird songs on there. "Robodog"? Yep. "The Ballad OF Sacco & Vanzetti - Part 2[!]"? Indeed.