Friday, December 26, 2008

Some random thoughts

Listening to Loudon's Recovery album (2008) right now. His voice has become noticeably...weathered? Not quite sure what the right word is. The earliest album of his that I've heard from beginning to end is Unrequited (1975). Back then, he sounded like the snotty little jerk that I'm sure he used to me. Now, he sounds wearier, more desperate somehow. Sometimes, that really puts the songs over. The theme of the album, for readers unfamiliar, is songs that were written during the early 1970s, rerecorded. So these are the songs of the young Loudon, performed by the old Loudon. Some of the performances are really good, like "Saw Your Name in the Paper" and "Muse Blues." Sometimes, the strength of the songs has to do with the fact that a young man was singing them. That's my take on "Motel Blues" which, great though it is, sounds most unattractive coming out of the mouth of a 62 year old. It sounded desperate as sung by a young man, and now...well, it still sounds desperate. But the singer sounds defeated in a way that doesn't work for me. On the other hand, "School Days," from his very first album (1970) has improved with age. And his band's arrangements are wonderful on that song, stroking the melody and providing perfect counterpoint. And "Old Friend" and "The Man Who Couldn't Cry" would be powerful songs in almost any context; they are two of his greatest songs, I think.

I see that Joe Henry produced this CD. Joe Henry is the same man who is credited as producer for Ani's Knuckle Down (2005). That's Ani's best disc since Little Plastic Castle (1998), and I have often suspected that Joe Henry is a big reason for it being so good. Sometimes, having that outside voice can make a big difference. Ani seems to think so too:

About a week ago, I played Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer for Denise. "When I Go." She pronounced it the most beautiful thing I've ever played for her. We listened to a few more songs from When I Go, before playing her a few songs from Tracy's Flower of Avalon. She seemed to be impressed, although she pointed out that the arrangements on "Gypsy Rose" didn't work.

I've never played my favorite Neil Young songs for Denise. How can that be?

Speaking of Dave and Tracy, did you know that they have a Christmas album? It's called American Noel (2008) and I just listened to it for the first time two days ago. I'm putting it back in the CD player right now....Dave Carter had the magic touch. The opening song is "Go Tell the Fox," a Carter-written carol announcing the birth of the "Christ child." The music swings gently and has a simple, catchy melody, with guitar and fiddle (and bass?). And Tracy harmonizing beautifully. Tracy takes the lead on the next song, "Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella," with Dave her backing up on all the instruments: guitar, bass, and banjo. Then comes "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming." I do not like Christmas carols as a general rule, but Dave and Tracy...what can I say? The soul and the melodies and the harmony singing just keep on coming. I'm convinced that Dave Carter was an enormously gifted songwriter, who probably could have hung his hat on songwriting, without ever performing, if he had chosen that path. But he and Tracy sound natural together, meant for each other.

Brooks Williams is playing at the Iron Horse in mid-January, and I'll be there. I haven't seen Brooks since the spring of 2003, at the All Angels Coffeehouse at Broadway and 80th in Manhattan. Since that time, my friend Anthony has begun taking guitar lessons from him.

I'm not satisfied with what I said about "Motel Blues," above. I'm not entirely sure why this recording doesn't work as well for me. Listen to the version(s) on YouTube, or the one on A Live One (1980), and you tell me what you think. The desperation actually sounds more acute on these versions. Joe Henry, in the liner notes to Recovery, writes that the original version sounded like a come-on, from someone who just wanted to get laid, pure and simple, and that the current version sounds like a plea, really desperate. Me, I've always felt like the song sounds like a desperate plea, especially when he gets to "save my life!"

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