rachelmanija: (Default)
( Mar. 13th, 2005 11:26 am)
I'm not sure if the disclaimer here should be that I adore a lot of Simon and Garfunkel's music, which is why I bought the deluxe complete set on CD (albeit used), or that I am aware of their besetting sin of wussiness, and I like them anyway.

1. Art Garfunkel does not sound like the sort of person who would ever, ever rob a liquor store, and so the two songs in which his first-person narrator does just that sound a bit goofy. Also, was Paul Simon aware that there are other criminal possibilities?

Oh baby, you don't know what I've done,
I've committed a crime, I've broken the law.
While you were here sleeping and just dreaming of me,
I went and embezzled a thousand dollars.

See, isn't that more plausible?

2. I know these were all written in the sixties and maybe things were different then, but who writes graffiti in crayon?

3. The word "groovy" has not worn well.
Song downloads at the bottom-- don't miss them!

First, the food porn: My parents and I met at Pinot Hollywood, an old and classy restaurant which I hadn't been to for about six years. It has two huge mirrors on the wall, which provided a startling moment when a waitress opened one and stepped through-- they're actually doors to the wine cellar.

There was a special Valentine's Day preview menu with four courses, which I ordered with the intent of mixing and matching with my parents' orders. So I traded my stepmother a goat cheese and roasted tomato terrine for a bowl of "melted" onion soup with the onions cooked down to sweetness, and we all shared a purple endive salad and a salad with greens, bacon, and pickled white asparagus. For the main course, my stepmother had the sea bass, which was rich yet delicate (I had a bite), I had the herb-crusted filet mignon with mashed potatos and carrots, and dad had the lamb loin. The waiters switched Dad and my orders, but what we got was so good (and we're so absent-minded) that we gobbled down half our plates before we realized what had happened and switched them. Since we were planning to share anyway, no harm, no foul. For dessert, I had a luscious vanilla mousse studded with strawberries, my stepmother had a brownie with mint ice cream, and Dad had vanilla, pistachio, and chocolate mini-creme brulees. To drink, I had a Cosmopolitan with dinner and coffee after.

Steve Earle is a singer-songwriter from Scherz, Texas. He says his childhood consisted of getting beaten up by rednecks named Otto. You'd call most of what he does country-rock, but his albums are tremendously varied, from hard-rockers to ballads to bluegrass. He writes terrific story songs, beautiful love songs, and fiery political albums. He's a leftist activist, and the energy of his concerts makes me think of what I've heard Bruce Springsteen was like when he was younger. Steve Earle keeps singing till the club shuts down. He has an engaging, badass, rousing stage presence, and you can see why women like him (he's been married six times and counting.) He can also be quite funny.

He started his set with a series of blazing hard rock songs with his band, The Dukes-- "The Revolution Starts Now," "Ashes to Ashes," "Copperhead Road," the brilliant story song "Taneytown," and about six more that I don't remember. Oh, and he managed to sing the only song he's written that I really detest, the misogynistic and embarrassing "Condi." Then he played "Christmas in Washington," said we got our asses kicked in the last election but the game isn't over, and encouraged us to keep fighting. He said it had been good to go out of the country on tour and "get a look at the debacle from outside of the insane asylum." He sang a beautiful version of "Jerusalem," which I wish I could link to but for some reason that album is not downloading. I think a couple of his songs were new-- I'd never heard them before.

For an encore, he sang "Galway Girl," dueted on the traditional "Carrickfergus" and his own "You're Still Standing There" with opening act/girlfriend Alison Moore, and sang a Rolling Stones song I didn't know and some obscure sixties song which I also didn't know, but my Dad said had been really popular back then. We got out at the stroke of midnight.

Links are to song downloads-- get them now, they'll only be up for seven days.

Ellis Unit One
is from the compilation album Dead Man Walking, which also has terrific songs from Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Cash, and Tom Waits-- and this is the best song on the album. It's a classic example of great art coming from politics, and people will still be listening to it long after the death penalty, one way or another, is no longer an issue. It's heartbreaking, a wonderful example of the power of looking an issue from an unexpected point of view, and makes brilliant use of a snippet of a very old song.

Taneytown is another story song, from the excellent album El Corazon. It's from the point of view of a young black man who doesn't seem to be quite all there mentally, and I can't believe Earle pulls that off without sounding like an ass, but he does. The duet vocal is by Emmylou Harris. I love the dissonant opening chords.

I Feel Alright, from the also-excellent album of the same name, was inspired by Earle's time in jail after he hit bottom as a junkie. It's a crackling, defiant rocker about coming back from disaster, better and stronger and unashamed.

You're Still Standing There, a gorgeous, very country duet with Lucinda Williams. They sound like they're related. Also from I Feel Alright.

The Devil's Right Hand. Showcases Earle's unusual accent-- well, it sounds unusual to me, but maybe it's your basic Shertz, Texas. A classic badass country song in the tradition of "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die." The switch in word referring to the victim in the line beginning, "I shot the dog down..." is one of my favorite subtle songwriting moments. From what I and many people think is Earle's best album, Copperhead Road.

Johnny Come Lately. Also from Copperhead Road, this is one of my all-time favorite story songs. I may discuss why in a later post after you've all listened to it, but to explain exactly what literary devices it uses to such brilliant effect would involve massive spoilers. Download, and pay attention to the lyrics. The backing band is the Pogues!

Further album recommendations:

Jerusalem has some misfires, but its best songs-- the beautiful "Jerusalem," "John Walker's Blues", and the bleak yet strangely comforting "Ashes to Ashes" are brilliant.

Transcendental Blues and Exile 0 are excellent, solid albums with lots of good songs and no clunkers.

The Mountain is a bluegrass album. The title song and "Dixieland" are two of Earle's best, but a lot of the rest of the album is mostly appealing if you already like bluegrass, which I don't particularly.

Train A Coming is a very good acoustic album with a lot of covers of people like Townes Van Zandt.

I don't recommend The Revolution Starts Now unless you're a completist, and though lots of people really like the early albums Guitar Town and The Hard Way they're not my favorites. The live album Shut up and Die Like an Aviator doesn't really capture the fire of his concerts.
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I have no idea how many of you will enjoy this or be able to take advantage of it, but so many people reading my journal are having a depressing or stressful winter that I thought some cheerful music might be just the thing.

So I uploaded a bunch of my most cheering songs to yousendit.com-- my first time using it, so I hope this works. They'll only be available for seven days, so download them while they're up.

Songs for Comfort

By Way of Sorrow, by Cry Cry Cry (lyrics by Julie Miller). Julie Miller's own albums are well worth seeking out, especially Blue Pony.

Gypsy, by Suzanne Vega. "Hold me like a baby..."

Precious Time, by Van Morrison. "But the fire's still in me and the passion it burns..." This song really speaks to me. If the tune wasn't so bouncy, I'd still find it comforting but I suspect most people wouldn't.

Windfall, by Son Volt. Also, one of my top three driving songs.

Thrasher, by Neil Young. A comforting song about an existential crisis.

Better Things, by Dar Williams, lyrics by the Kinks. I actually prefer the original, but I don't have it on CD.

The Pearl, by Emmylou Harris. Another comforting song about an existential crisis.

Come on up to the House, by Tom Waits. "The moon is broken and the sky is cracked/Come on up to the house..."

Songs for Joy

Iowa, by Dar Williams. Lovely, tuneful, and it taught me that Iowa has hills. Who knew?

Downtown Train, by Tom Waits. Unusually for Tom Waits, this one is gorgeous without being sad.

Diamond Mountain, by Luka Bloom. The energy in this one could propel a stalled car up a hill.

Red Right Hand, by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Um, possibly I should explain why I have an apocalyptic song about Satan on this list. For some reason it cheers me up. It's something about the way the melody and arrangement envelop you and the cleverness of the lyrics. There's a whole creepy little world in this song.

Strange Currencies, by REM. One of the top ten most gorgeous rock ballads ever.

Near Wild Heaven, by REM. The trumpets! The fa-la-las! They make me happy.

Badlands, by Bruce Springsteen. "It ain't no sin to be glad you're alive."

I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight, by Richard Thompson (live version). Possibly Thompson's happiest song ever.

Songs to put the spring back in your step

The Parish of Dunkeld, by Andy Stewart. Particularly amusing given how beset we are here in the US by holier-than-thou types.

The Night You Can't Remember, by the Magnetic Fields. Listen to the lyrics, they're hysterical.

For We Are the King of the Boudoir, We Are, by the Magnetic Fields. Ditto. I almost wrecked my car the first time I heard this one. It was when the singer couldn't figure out where a certain word ended.

Oops! I Did It Again, sung by Richard Thompson. Even with the goofy sing-along, Thompson proves that this is actually a pretty good pop song.

This is Your Life, by The Call. The best possible way of seeing the world and life and its troubles.
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