Tag Archives: Music

Biz Markie — RIP

I listened to Vanilla Ice’s third single tonight, at the risk of gangrene. “I Love You” courted bathos. That’s the only mode he knew. In the same year Marcel Theo Hall showed contemporaries how to take a worn scenario — a crush insisting on a platonic relationship — into a terribly sung, beautifully wrapped scenario. Biz Markie’s thick mucous-y tunes bespoke his commitment to the shaggy dog story; not once did he suggest danger. “What Comes Around Goes Around” should’ve followed it into the top ten but didn’t.

Calling him the Crown Prince of Hip-hop condescended to him, as if rock ‘n’ roll, much less hip-hop, required discrete categories. As if rap and rock ‘n’ roll required us to separate the serious from the trivial!

‘Summer of Soul’ celebrates a historical moment

In a documentary replete with poignant moments, the most is a clip of Billy Davis Jr. and wife Marilyn McCoo intently watching their younger selves as members of the 5th Dimension. Their performance of “Don’tcha Hear Me Callin’ to Ya” at the Harlem Cultural Festival in 1969 refutes several decades of criticism about the vocal group not being Black enough. Continue reading

‘I don’t know where to begin’ — The winsomeness of Electronic

In spring 1991 the “post-modern music” segment of my top 40 radio station played Enigma’s “Mea Culpa,” Elvis Costello’s “The Other Side of Summer,” Daniel Ash’s “This Love,” and Electronic’s “Get The Message” back to back. I own the tape where I recorded the sequence. Continue reading

Re Peter Yarrow: ‘He had a problem. He went and got help with it. He moved on.’

For a couple decades I thought co-writing “Puff the Magic Dragon” ranked at the top of Peter Yarrow’s list of crimes, quite above grooming a Beat-era goatee well into the LBJ era. But one-third of Peter, Paul and Mary was convicted of “immoral and improper liberties” with fourteen-year-old Barbara Winter in 1969. Continue reading

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