The new album, Singing Ax, is somehow even more intense than his previous album. It’s up there with Minor Works. Though it’s not like he’s made a weak album.
It reminds me of a conversation I had about Elliott Smith’s Figure 8. I told a friend of mine it was my favorite Elliott record, and he said it was maybe his 4th-best favorite. But, he added, that means it’s a 9-out-of-10.
“But what if you never gave up adolescence in the first place? What if you donned the binding garment of maturity only tentatively, and accessorized it with mockery, as if it were a hand-me-down from Grandpa or an ugly shirt plucked from a used-clothing rack? And what if, from the start, your youthful rebelliousness had been a secondhand entitlement, without a clear adversary?”—
I can’t remember exactly when I first heard Michael Hurley— it was either from Cat Power’s very effective covers of him or from the soundtrack to the Ethan Hawke rendition of Hamlet. Either way, I don’t think I can ever get over his distinctive guitar picking style and vocals. In my time as a hack musician, it’s his sound that inspires me the most. His tight, twangy half-picked/half-strummed riffs, his gently inflected warbling tenor: they’re what stick with me, influencing and maybe even contaminating my own attempts at songcraft.
Whatever. He fits in nicely in the soft spot I have for under-appreciated American artists, and it’s good to know he’s still out there making music.
Jennifer O’Connor is one of those very gifted songwriters out there right now that needs to get more attention. Her reviews (that I’ve seen) have been strong; I know I’ve pressed her cds into plenty of my friends’ hands. But whenever I see her, it’s generally tiny venues without great crowds. I can’t put my finger on what’s not drawing people out— her songs are passionate, articulate and affecting. Her live performances are very genuine. I’ve read that female singer-songwriters are having a particularly difficult time in the industry over the last few years, and I didn’t really believe it when I read it, since there are so many female performers I’ll readily go see. But maybe it’s true— Lilith Fair had to cancel a number of its dates this summer, which, admittedly, may have to do with a generational gap. I mean, do people under 22 really know much about Sarah McLachlan anymore?
Still, it all reminds me of a night a few years ago. I was (very eagerly) going to see Rosie Thomas for the first time, and I was trying to convince one of my housemates to go see her with me. He refused, saying she was “too girly.” In all fairness, Rosie is quite girly. But still, I said to him, she’s a girl. She’s allowed, isn’t she? Maybe there’s something about the feminine that people still aren’t comfortable with, at least not to the degree they are with the masculine.
Anyway. This is an amazing song, written after the loss of her sister. This is a stripped down acoustic version that appears on her earlier eponymous album, with a full band version appearing on her Matador debut LP.
“When you think about it, rules for drinking are not so different from rules for writing. Many of these are so familiar they’ve become truisms: Write what you know. Write every day. Never use a strange, fancy word when a simple one will do. Always finish the day’s writing when you could still do more. With a little adaptation these rules apply just as well for drinking. Drink what you know, drink regularly rather than in binges, avoid needlessly exotic booze, and leave the table while you can still stand.”—-Geoff Nicholson (via colinmeloy)
Now that these guys are world-famous, it’s cool to go back through the albums. Not nostalgic, exactly, but nice to see the path. Still, I can’t be sure if their commercial success now is based on their evolution as a band or just on their own persistence and a little luck. This song has been big for me, on and off, for years, as has the album it’s from, Rubber Factory.
“Scrambled eggs and whiskey
in the false-dawn light. Chicago,
a sweet town, bleak, God knows,
but sweet. Sometimes. And
weren’t we fine tonight?
When Hank set up that limping
treble roll behind me
my horn just growled and I
thought my heart would burst.
And Brad M. pressing with the
soft stick, and Joe-Anne
singing low. Here we are now
in the White Tower, leaning
on one another, too tired
to go home. But don’t say a word,
don’t tell a soul, they wouldn’t
understand, they couldn’t, never
in a million years, how fine,
how magnificent we were
in that old club tonight.”—
Spun this yesterday for my best friend’s wedding, as it’s the song they chose for their first dance. It struck me as a strangely intense choice at first, but in the end, I can’t imagine a better start. Salud.