There was a period of about 3 years where my live music lust pretty much blocked everything else out. I had no interest in new music. The stuff I periodically heard on the radio was trash. Boy bands and Britney Spears, my life can totally live without that.
The thing was, live music moved me in ways that the typical studio album didn’t. Plus it was a lot cheaper to buy a blank CDR at about ten cents a pop, than spend $18 for a studio album I wasn’t even sure was any good.
Slowly, I began coming out of my hibernation, and came around to the idea that there was some good music out there that wasn’t live, that was produced in a studio, and that was worth my $18.
It is during this reemergence that my sister’s husband, Brian asked me if I had heard the new White Stripes album. I replied I hadn’t and he said I should check it out, that I would like it. I’m always a little annoyed when people tell me I’ll like something – whether it’s a song, or a movie or book – most people have no idea what I really like, and to presume I’ll like something based on whatever is annoying. But Brian is usually pretty spot on with his recommendations (well except talking me into seeing Shallow Hal, for which he will never be forgiven).
So, I got a copy of Get Behind Me Satan and freaking loved it. I had been hearing about the White Stripes for awhile, about how they were the saviors of garage rock, but had pretty much ignored them. The album was so much more than garage rock, or punk, or just loud guitars. These were well thought out tunes, with insight into melody and song craft. The band could use a little filling out from their trick 2 person lineup. The songs needs little more than guitar/drum, piano/drum, solo piano. Would it kill Jack White to hire a bass player, and maybe a rhythm guitarist?
“I’m Lonely (But I Ain’t That Lonely Yet) is a nice little piano ballad. It is a far cry from the pumped up boom of “Seven Nation Army.” It’s also one of my least favorites from the album. There just isn’t enough to it. It’s got sad little lyrics, but it’s just pling pling on the piano and mopey singing from Mr. White. This seems to be a trend in ballads these days – write moody, poetic lyrics and a bland, unmelodic bit of music to go with it.
Ryan Adams came to me in this same musical awakening period as the White Stripes. I forget when I actually started to dig him. I absolutely loved “New York, New York” that got all sorts of air play just after 9/11 what with the timely lyrics and the video on the bridge just overlooking the Manhattan skyline.
But after that song I looked no further into the Ryan Adams play list. All the cool people seemed to dig him. I think I couldn’t get past that sloppy hipster hair. But slowly, somewhere I heard another song and another and became a fan.
Adams is the king of the no melody, just pluck on your instrument while singing super sad lyrics ballad. He’s drives me crazy with that stuff, especially since he can write a darn fine piece of pop music.
“So Alive” is a rather upbeat, lively piece of tunage. It’s actually a bit U2ish in it’s grandiosity, albeit with a Morrissey kind of vocal thing going. The results are interesting. It’s a good song, something that could easily blare out of my car speakers on a warm sunny day. It’s not really what I expect, or want from Ryan Adams though. He has the ability to write a real hook. His best songs keep me singing them for hours after I’ve heard them, this one leave my head soon after the last note is played.
God bless John Prine. He’s been writing songs like a mystic sage living on a mountaintop since he was but a young man. His lyrics are some of the most beautiful, moving words sung this side of Bob Dylan. He likes to say that he is an old rock and roller who has made a living writing folk songs. We are better people because of it.
Souvenirs is Prine covering himself. It is a collection of songs he wrote some 20 years before, reworked for a voice that is much more mature, and a man who has lived enough life to live in lyrics written by a man to young to know better.
“Hello In There” is a song written for old people. It’s a sad, beautiful thing that makes you want to call your grandmother after a listen. I have to admit, this new version nails the song in ways the original just couldn’t. Prine’s voice, while never smooth and pretty, has taken a rougher edge, with a maturity that fits the loneliness of old age perfectly.
Speaking of Brian turning me onto music, he’s one of the last few die hard Pearl Jam fans out there. Like a million other teenagers I fell in love with the band with their first release, Ten. The music was straight out of the 70’s hard rock box, with lyrics that spoke of alienation and hard times. It was perfect for a long haired, mixed up 17 year old.
I listened to their second album Vs for several weeks straight, without playing any other album. This was my band.
Then I went to college, met a girl who was too punk for grunge, and Pearl Jam left me behind. There very different, and ungrunge like third album Vitalogy didn’t help much. Periodically I heard a new single from the band and had a brief thought that I should get back into them, but never got around to it.
As stated, Brian is one of the last of the die hards. The boy loves him some Pearl Jam. His enthusiasm for the band always gets me and always makes me want to listen to the band fresh again. So, I buy an album, or download a single and dig them for a little while.
“I Am Mine” is fairly typical of what I’ve heard from new Pearl Jam. The hard rock edge is lessened by a better melody. Eddie Vedder’s deep baritone sweeps the song along. The lyrics are mysterious, sounding vaguely political and meaningful yet difficult to decipher and make sense of, yet remaining anthematic and full of sing-along ability.
My first time seeing any member of the Grateful Dead was at a Furthur Festival in Atlanta. This was a couple of years after Jerry died, and the surviving members were just starting to play music again. Bob Weir played a set with his band, Ratdog. Mickey Hart played all kinds of worldly drums with his ensemble, Bruce Hornsby had his band, and a few other Dead like bands were invited along as well.
At the close of the night all the bands joined together for a jam session. They closed with this Buddy Holly classic, and Dead staple. . As the song ended the musicians left the stage one by one, while those still onstage kept up the beat. Lastly, there were the drummers, banging out the bop, bop bop-bop back beat. As they, too, left the stage the entire audience kept rhythm with hand claps and their own voices. I stood there in the hot Georgia night smiling in the knowing feeling that I’d just had the time of my life. Even if the band had played that song a million times, and a thousand other audiences had sang along in the exact same way, I felt special. I felt a part of something. It was magic.
The Grateful Dead did play this song a million times. It was a concert staple from their early years. This version, taken from a show in February 1970 exemplifies the Deads ability to take a very simple pop song and elevate it to something far more. It is some 13 minutes in length and never has a misstep or a dull moment. The Dead never take it to the cosmic heights of say “Dark Star” but it is transcendent just the same.