Tag Archives: Music

Looking in to look out: Hayley Williams and Dusty Springfield

Hayley Williams – Flowers for Vases/Descansos

She’s such a forceful performer and so solid a melodist that for a quarter of this solo-in-every-sense album’s running time she sustains interest; but she’s not so forceful or solid a musician, or perhaps she intended to come across this way, for her rudimentary strumming and one-finger piano parts don’t hold up for more than a couple minutes. Continue reading

Keep a pen like a fiend keep a pipe with him: MF DOOM RIP

After my first listen to Operation: Doomsday in years last November, I realized I’d done a disservice to my brain by denying it frequent revisiting to a rap album of astonishing mellifluence. Word drink without succumbing to logorrhea, MF DOOM kept his promise to treat rhymes like dimes: exact change when required. Doomsday, the label-quashed KMD album Deluxe Edition, the Danger Doom collab The Mouse and the Mask, and, of course, Madvillainy — the imaginative reach of the samples (SOS Band! “Bungalow Bill”!) complements the words. He hadn’t released an official studio album since 2009’s excellent Born Like This. We needed a decade-plus to catch up with his fecundity, which, with his appetites and penchant for alter egos, made him hip-hop’s Prince.

This woman don’t stay in love forever: K.T. Oslin — RIP

Even during an era when Rosanne Cash scored several #1s, K.T. Oslin stood out for her crisp stories about women reluctant to call themselves feminists but want explanations for feeling unpretty, being ignored by husbands, and the isolation of an empty house. With a sympathetic label the Oslin of 2020 might’ve recorded so-called Americana, not country. Maybe. Hits like “Do Ya'” and “This Woman” needed the keyboard chimes and icepick-sharp guitar lines common to late eighties productions; the plushness matched Oslin’s predilection for the florid gesture. No doubt her struggles with depression gave her additional insight into the women she created with such an exacting eye.

But however much the glassy surfaces on This Woman and 80s Ladies reflect the anxieties of grown folks learning how expectations don’t predict consequences, Oslin did not wallow. She wasn’t above growling on “This Woman” or hooting on the glorious “Younger Men.” The latter opens with “”Women peak at forty, and men at nineteen/I remember laughing my head off when I read that in a magazine” over a slithery rhythm and doesn’t quit, peaking with the promise, “Younger men are starting to catch my eye.” And it has a spoken-word section that Shania Twain must’ve known about before recording “That Don’t Impress Me Much.” Go, girl!

In a 2013 interview with Jewly Hight, she admitted:

It’s funny. I decided to do some outside material once for an album. I started getting songs pitched to me. And I would get cardboard boxes filled with cassette tapes. Every one of them started out with crying. I said, “Is this all we [women] do? Cry?” And I thought, “Oh, this is really, really boring.” But as it got younger, you know, it’s about the cute boys. And the girls, if they’re not writers, they’re at the mercy of the guys that do. And they think you sit around crying all day.

This is a singer-songwriter who titled an album My Roots are Showing.

Although four singles during her 1987-1990 heyday topped the country chart, the one that didn’t will remain her anthem and now her epitaph. To write and sing an effective anthem requires talent enough to suppress the schmaltz; to write and sing a poignant and funny anthem adduces the singularity of Oslin’s “80s Ladies,” up there alongside Loretta Lynn’s “You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man), Tammy Wynette’s “Run, Woman, Run,” and Rosanne Cash’s “Seven Year Ache” — songs that, unafraid of being a little cruel, doubled as advice to and conversations between women. Over pedal steel and a rolling piano line, Oslin chronicles the development of three women who survived three decades of tumult; those expectations changed to consequences mighty quick, summed up by the perfect line “We burned our bras like we burned our dinners.” She doesn’t ask “What happened?” so much as “Where are we headed?” If the tinkling non-entities on her studio albums bore you — I’d argue the filler isn’t worse than what you’d find on a, say, Clint Black album — then Greatest Hits: Songs from an Aging Sex Bomb (1993) will serve as prime one-stop shopping. Her warm unaffected screen presence in the “80s Ladies” video might’ve persuaded Peter Bogdanovich to cast her as the club owner/talent scout in the misbegotten The Thing Called Love (1993), River Phoenix’s last film.

Diagnosed with Parkinson’s years ago, Oslin, alas, may have succumbed to the year’s deadliest killer. COVID, as the grieving families of Adam Schlesinger, John Prine, and Harold Budd know, demonstrated it cares little about genre distinctions. Listeners who with some merit mourn contemporary Nashville’s reluctance to promote female artists can look to K.T. Oslin’s too brief ascendancy — times were rough for women in 1989 too, even with Dolly Parton’s White Limozeen proving a smash. Oslin didn’t deal with improbabilities; her talent was to regard life as it was. Flexible but not up to cutting corners, manipulating her sexuality with a politician’s eye for whom it matters in a crowd, she should’ve been a model for songwriters who don’t confuse “adult” with “staid.”

Ranking George Harrison’s album openers

Praying to Vishnu that his voice wouldn’t get in the way of his guitar, George Harrison led his albums with fewer clunkers than I’d expect from a studio rock devotee who named a jam after himself and the tour he would start. Like McCartney, he relaxed when the limelight shifted to younger and cooler stars. With its debt to Dylan’s “I Want You,” “Give Me Love” earns its #1 status; the rest of his openers take their cue from the increasingly subtle kinks of his slide guitar lines: “Love Comes to Everyone” and “Any Road” are just lovely. The Hague candidates qualify for their grumpiness and concessions to Laura Branigan.

The Hague

Blood from a Clone
Wake Up My Love

Meh

Hari’s On Tour (Express)

Sound, Solid

Cloud Nine
Woman Don’t You Cry for Me
I’d Have You Anytime

Good to Great

Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)
Love Comes to Everyone
Microbes
Any Road
You

Ranking Joni Mitchell’s album closers

Aging and casting a cold eye toward the boomer icons who mean slightly less to me as an older chap, I find Joni Mitchell the last one standing, in part because the insularity of the purportedly autobiographical material wasn’t at Robert Lowell levels of obscurantism, which, believe me, was a thing then. She solved this problem by being a bandleader and producer of impressive concentration. “Refuge of the Road,” “Judgment of the Moon and Stars,” and “Love” understand how their lessons and maxims need embroidery honoring their precision. Continue reading

Sick to death: A playlist

In my dozen posts intended as verbal whistles in the dark, I’ve often alluded to my two-mile walks. Yesterday I went too far. After a stomp through 94-degree weather without water, I got home nauseous and light-headed. Today I take it easier — I’ll bring water. This phone playlist I called Sick to Death kept me sane. A mix of chestnuts and new material I sussed or am still sussing, the playlist also reflects my reading, whether obits, an ILM poll of The B-52s marvelous second album Wild Planet or Pitchfork’s unexpected Stevie Nicks rankings. Imagine my surprise when The Other Side of the Mirror‘s forgotten single “Long Way to Go” made the cut and with a terrific Jayson Greene that’s leather and lace (sorry, Andy Cush, I treat the Nicks-Don Henley duet as if it were a grocery shopper in 2020 without a mask). Other stuff’s here because it’s accompaniment to pounding the pavement: Can, The Orb, Soul II Soul. Scott Walker’s serpentine melodies are rope ladders to clamber out of hidden caverns.

I’ll get this list on Spotify soon. Enjoy. Continue reading

John Prine — RIP

“When I woke up this mornin’/Things were lookin’ bad,” he sang on the first song on his eponymous debut album in 1972 over basic chords. Many songwriters would’ve stopped right there. In the next line, however, comes the kicker: a bowl of oatmeal tries to stare him down — and wins! To be a successful absurdist is to observe a monotheistic faith in precision. On John Prine (1971), the late singer-songwriter got away with zingers less talented artists would’ve pulled their eyeballs out for, couched in melodies as homespun and casual as the prose Prine chiseled as accompaniment. Who else besides perhaps Loudon Wainwright III in the seventies would’ve summed up the depredations into which a heroin addict had sunk with the line, “There’s a hole in Daddy’s arm where all the money goes” in “Sam Stone”? Perfection and inevitability are synonymous — among songwriters Prine made it so. Continue reading

Ranking Pavement’s ‘Wowee Zowee’

Wowee Zowee is pitched halfway between the indulgence of a superstar or cult hero, and the run-of-the-mill oddities that have passed for normal in the indie world for years now,” Eric Weisbard observed in his review for SPIN Magazine in May 1995, a 7 out of 10-star judgment that also deemed WZ “an underground game of musical chairs.” Which means it functions like a double album by people with some money to burn, and a persona to burn using money as kindling. Not much money — Pavement was on Matador.

Since buying it in the early summer of 1998, WZ has hovered near the top of my Pavement pile: their grandest, silliest, most inscrutable statement. Listening to it today, the songs quake under the scrutiny; what seemed like fetching casualness sounds sloppy now, unrealized. For every stop-start wonder like “Rattled by the Rush” — what a terse description of good Pavement! — and woozy, aqueous call-to-action like “Motion Suggests,” there’s half-ass moments of half-assery, an album that worships The Beatles “Wild Honey Pie” while looking askance at “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road”; or, to take a post-punk example, a gnomic garble from Double Nickles on the Dime without the requisite instrumental concentration. I don’t care if Pavement intend “Fight This Generation” as parody of the here-we-are-now-entertain-us cohort or as a tentative contribution; it ain’t worth it.

Yet I love the indigo slipshod blueness of Wowee Zowee anyway. Here’s an album meant to be inhaled, not endured. Continue reading

On the Kenny Rogers legacy

Before “The Gambler,” “Islands in the Stream,” and Roasters, Kenny Rogers applied bearded fervor to material by The First Edition, for whom he sang and played bass. Those early hits still sound refreshing. “But You Know I Love You” has the faintest of swings that fans of The Guess Who’s “These Eyes” would tap their toes to (Dolly Parton took her own version to #1 on the country charts in 1981). Even better was a cover of Mel Tillis’ “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town,” in which the Houston-born vocalist’s sexy burr gets its most attractive setting. Note the pause between “Ruby” and the rest of the phrase; he knew what he was doing. For listeners rustling in their seats, run toward “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In),” a psychedelic shack of a song in which Rogers watches his mind fall out of his head while his bandmates pinch distorted riffs out of their guitars — you’ll swear you’re listening to Lou Reed’s solo in “I Heard Her Call My Name” or mid sixties Stones — and get hysterical with the organ washes. An anti-drug number, “Just Dropped In” of course descends into camp, but go back to the bearded fervor: Rogers is having too much fun to play George C. Scott in Hardcore. With “I Found a Reason” the band revealed themselves as expert magpies — tune out the vocals and the horn chart will evoke The Kinks. Continue reading

Survey du jour

BAND/ARTIST I HATE:
Alicia Keys

BAND/ARTIST I THINK IS OVERRATED:
Angel Olsen

BAND/ARTIST I THINK IS UNDER-APPRECIATED:
Belly

BAND/ARTIST I LOVE:
A Tribe Called Quest

BAND/ARTIST I CAN LISTEN TO OVER AGAIN AND AGAIN:
Sleater-Kinney

BAND/ARTIST THAT MADE ME FALL IN LOVE WITH MUSIC:
Peter Gabriel

BAND/ARTIST THAT CHANGED MY LIFE:
Roxy Music

BAND/ARTIST THAT SURPRISED ME LIVE:
Destroyer

GUILTY PLEASURE:
“Guilt is a useless emotion” — New Order

BAND/ARTIST I SHOULD HAVE SEEN BY NOW:
I never saw Prince or Bowie.

GREAT BAND/ARTIST TO SEE LIVE:
Bjork

Defining the Poppy Bush Interzone

Congressman, ambassador to the United Nations, envoy to China, RNC chair, and CIA director, George Herbert Walker Bush became the first vice president since Martin Van Buren to win the presidency without his predecessor dying on him and so far the last president in forty years to lose reelection. His term could not have gone further. Continue reading