“Then Came Lo Mein” – Robert Earl Keen
I first discovered Robert Earl Keen through some friends of mine. I think I attended a concert before I’d ever listened to an album. It was a great concert and as I soon discovered, very typical Robert Earl Keen. That is to say full of great subversive country music, raucous and bawdy jokes and the biggest throw down of the year.
This is a great song and a great showcase of his songwriting skill. It is a love song with bad jokes and a heart full of something meaningful. It throws together lines like “I was steamed I was fried/But you stood by my life/When I had my nervous breakdown” to make a pun about the Chinese restraint they are in, and make an acute observation about the power of relationships.
The music is a soft, rolling thing made into a beautiful duet with Margo Timmins.
Keen is never going to find his way to the top of the charts nor be decried as the next Dylan. His music is like a pot of warm stew in February. It is hearty, filling, and sometimes all you need, but it won’t ever flash or glitter and get your attention like Crème Brûlée. But sometimes all you need is a solid songwriter to get you through the long winters.
“Wayfaring Stranger” – Johnny Cash
From American III
I think there are few songs that I love deep down in my soul like “Wayfaring Stranger.” I’m generally not one for religious lyrics in pop tunes, but this one hits me in a way few things can. I think it is the notion of being a traveler, not bound for one land for long that appeals to me most. I’ve spent most of my life moving about so I know the feeling of being a stranger, yet also understand the joy of coming home.
I don’t spend much time writing about my own spiritual beliefs, but the idea of leaving the harsh realities of this world and crossing over Jordan to that heavenly home sounds somehow comforting.
And when you get Johnny Cash to sing it, well, I think I’m already over that river and headed towards home. I love that Cash makes the recording sparse, just a fiddle, some light strumming guitar and that Voice. Johnny Cash had the voice of God.
If I get to choose the songs for my funeral, this one is going in.
“Ophelia” – The Band
From Last Waltz
Truth is I’m not much a fan of the Band. So much praise has been lauded on Music From the Big Pink, but I mainly find it a bore. I love “The Weight” and I think that love ruins the album for me. Where it has this great acoustical instrumentation, great lyrics and some perfect harmonies, the rest of the album sounds way too slow and the vocals are just one long whine. I’ve tried many times to relisten to it and find what all the praise is about, but always come up short.
I’d pretty much given up on the band, in fact, until I watched The Last Waltz on television awhile back. This is the Band I’d dreamed about. Great music, great performances and a group worthy to be the most famous incarnation of Dylan’s back up band.
It wasn’t just the assortment of all-stars, including Dylan, joining them for this last dance. The Band cooked like fried rice. These guys were obviously having fun and holding their own with some of the great artists in music.
“Ophelia” is just the Band, no celebrity filler and it still kills. This is the type of music that floats in my head most of the time. A big band with blazing guitars, thumping bass, keys and horns all meshed together in a brilliant ménage a groovitude.
“Certain People I Know” – Morrissey
From Your Arsenal
Morrissey, with or without the Smiths, is a musician I’ve pretended to love for many years. It’s not that I don’t enjoy his music, because I certainly do, but rather that I’m just not terribly familiar with it. Not enough for the amount of name checking I’ve done with him anyway.
The Smiths are one of those bands like the Sex Pistols or the Clash that give extra cool points to those who profess their love for them. I admit I have used them all to gain an edge on new friends, or to feel a little more special to an extra special girl.
Morrissey is the only one I actually really dug a record from (I’ve never managed to really get the Sex Pistols and only have recently found the joys of the Clash). Your Arsenal is the record of choice as it came about during my finer years and in the midst of the whole alternative is huge ordeal in the early 90s.
A recent run to the local library has yielded a bustle full of new Morrissey records and I am in the midst of a rebirth in his music. This one is an oldie, and one I’ve enjoyed for many years. Not exactly typical as it has a more rockabilly feel than most of his work, but still a good one.
Maybe now I can whisper to my wife how awesome I think the man is, and really mean it.
“Buffalo Gals” – Bruce Springsteen
From We Shall Overcome
I’ve mentioned before that I’m not much for Bruce Springsteen. I can see he is a good writer and performer, but he’s always seemed just a tad to earnest for my tastes. Whenever I listen to Springsteen, or hear the devotion from his legion of fans, I get a little nervous. It’s a bit like having die hard Jesus freaks over for dinner. I get what they are saying, but they’re just a little too into it to make me feel comfortable.
At least I did feel this until I heard his Pete Seeger tribute. Man that album rules. “Buffalo Gals” is probably my favorite tune in the bunch. There is such joy in this music. It’s a group of outstanding players playing their hearts out and having fun at it. It’s the fun part that wins me over. This is Springsteen finally tossing out the fire and brimstone and enjoying himself.
This is a hoe down of a song, a real barn burner. It makes me wish I could play an instrument, or had some rhythm to dance to it. It makes me glad to be alive. It makes me happy. And if that aint the point of it all, then we might as well all give up now, and go home.