Sounds of Music

Songbook: Man of Constant Sorrow

Let’s get serious guys: we will be talking lots of Bob Dylan here. Lots. Here’s one less conventional song for a good start.

“Man of Constant Sorrow” by Bob Dylan

Album: No Direction Home: Bootleg Vol. 7

Year: 1962

Category: Best of Dylan

Why it rocks:
Dylan’s bests are rarely covers but this one he completely makes his own (up to and including serious lyrics changes). It’s such a young Dylan, when he was flaunting the bad boy persona like nobody’s business and it’s fun to see him shifting the focus of this story into a more juvenile place where it’s all about a mysterious heartbreak. Also, I’ve always liked Dylan’s early harmonica (I mean since I taught myself to like it but it was so long ago it’s like in a different lifetime).

Favorite lyrics:
“I’ll say goodbye to Colorado / Where I was born and partly raised.” The “partly” is such a fun Dylan-like little shift. And people say he didn’t deserve the Nobel Prize. Heh. Basically, the best part of this lyrics is all the differences he makes to the classic version.

Favorite moment:
The last verse. But also, points for the long notes.

Best for: Arguments with people who think that version from that movie is better.

Advertisements
Standard
Sounds of Music

Songbook: Cleopatra

I think the Lumineers are a great band, one of my favorites among the current performers, but with this song they outshone themselves. I doubt I will even do it justice.

“Cleopatra” by the Lumineers

Album: Cleopatra

Year: 2016

Category: Recent-years favorites

Why it rocks:
For its incredible, heart-breaking humanism. Apparently, the lead singer listened to a Georgian taxi driver and wrote her story in a song. It’s small-scale and grandiose at the same time, random and feels so true to life, both tragic and commonplace. I love the imprecise rhyming pattern which makes the story feel even truer. I also love how simple and direct the song is despite all this emotional burden.

Favorite lyrics:
“I was Cleopatra, I was taller than the rafters.” I mean, come on.

Favorite moment:
This one: “So I drive a taxi / And the traffic distracts me / From the strangers in my backseat / They remind me of you.” But others are close.

Best for: Getting emotional.

Standard
Sounds of Music

Songbook: King of the World

This song by a Swedish (but-they-could-totally-be-American) band was, appropriately, suggested to me by Spotify a while ago.

“King of the World” by First Aid Kit

Album: The Lion’s Roar

Year: 2012

Category: Recent-years favorite

Why it rocks:
I like the tempo and the upbeat rebelliousness of this song. It’s such a good, light – and yet introspective – thing. It talks cheerfully of inner unrest and that’s always interesting.

Favorite lyrics:
“And once you asked me what was my biggest fear / That things would always remain so unclear / That one day I’d wake up all alone / With a big family and emptiness deep in my bones / That I would be so blinded, turn a deaf ear / And that my fake laugh would suddenly sound sincere.”

Favorite moment:
I love the bit with the waitress: so simple and so human at the same time and you can’t help but see the whole scene.

Best for: Swaying happily and feeling like you want to go on a roadtrip. Or maybe for having an existential crisis.

Standard
Sounds of Music

Songbook: River Waltz

I’m a sucker for triple meter, as you will have many occasions to see, I’m sure. This little pearl I found, like so many songs I like, in a movie.

“River Waltz” by Cowboy Junkies

Album: Rarities, B-Sides and Slow, Sad Waltzes

Year: 1999

Category: Recent-years favorite

Why it rocks:
It’s such an atmospheric, simple song with many things floating there, never fully realized: a bit of ecological thought, a bit of white-trashy romance, quite a bit of myth. It’s a song (and a voice) to get lost in.

Favorite lyrics:
I prefer the melody to the lyrics in this song but take the opening, for instance: “I’m going to find me a dying river / And strike a deal with her, I’ll say: / I’ll fold you in two and I’ll carry you away.”

Favorite moment:
The third verse in which the story and the melody change and it’s suddenly an imperfect love story more than a myth. Such a beautiful moment.

Best for: Imagining yourself waltzing at a very sad ball.

Side note: Cowboy Junkies is such a good band name.

Standard
Sounds of Music

Songbook: All the Best

Welcome to Songbook, a new type of post where I will focus on a single song: either an all-time favorite or something currently stuck in my head. It’s a natural continuation of my two lists of favorite songs (one, two) where I didn’t get to talk enough about so many great things. Songs don’t really fit into the convention of Mildly Enthusiastic Reviews of Things so they get a new convention entirely. It’s my blog. We start with a soft cover recently suggested to me by Spotify (I love Spotify):

“All the Best” by Carla Bruni and Marianne Faithfull

Album: A l’Olympia (live)

Year: 2014

Category: New acquisition

Why it rocks:
Two lovely ladies of folk come together to sing John Prine’s song and it becomes so much better and more soulful in this peaceful, female rendition. Their voices, so, so different, sound beautifully together and double the subtle power of the song.

Favorite lyrics:
“And when I walked / Love walked with me. / And I got no hate / And I got no pride / I got so much love that I cannot hide.”
And also this: “Then you change your mind / For something else to do / And your heart gets bored with your mind and it changes you.”

Favorite moment:
When both singers come together to sing “I got so much love that I cannot hide.” Powerful.

Best for: A quiet moment of not-too-deep reflection. Old relationships that failed you.

And that’s it really, these will be fairly short and sweet. See you soon for next ones.

Standard
Sounds of Music

When the Sun’s Gone Down: My Current Only One

er-whenthesunsgonedownI have had a patchy relationship with Spotify’s Discover feature: what with it constantly suggesting either bland pop folk with all the bands completely indistinguishable or, sometimes, things compared to which techno radio from the 80s sounds a treat (seriously, what in my music history suggests a liking for scary electronica?). But recently it has sent my way music so great that it has by now completely messed up my last.fm scrobbling statistics and now my top artist is one I haven’t even heard of a couple of weeks ago, named Langhorne Slim.

Now, my friends are great people but somehow I don’t know anyone with whom I could discuss my folky inclinations and after hearing When the Sun’s Gone Down so, so many times I just need to share my abundant feelings – while my husband can only suffer so much. So, thank you imaginary internet audience for being here to listen.

The album has everything I like and, what is more, it works together: frantic guitar strumming, underproduced abrasive sound, catchy melodies and addictiveness. The frantic guitar (or is it banjo? I don’t care) kicks right in from the beginning with the great “In the Midnight” where you can catch such intriguing snippets as “I wasn’t faking all my quest to love you less” and this energy continues for a few dynamic songs. A short instrumental song bridges into the second part of the album which is more mixed: it has both quick songs similar to the first ones and a few slower, more bizarre ones (which, after hearing the album a few dozen times I did find a little tiresome). This leads to the incredible, sort of titular “By the Time the Sun’s Gone Down.” If the similarity of the title suggests this to be the most important song of the album, that would be quite right because it is here that the rawness leads to wonderful frankness and emotionality. Even though it’s one of the most subdued numbers of the album, to me it’s most memorable.

After that, the album picks up again with a few lighthearted songs, leading to the closing, clownish and dance-hallish “I Love to Dance” that leaves you with a smile (or, you know, just opens again into “In the Midnight” if you’re me). All too rarely I chance upon an album that I can listen to over and over again. And when it’s by someone whose sense of humor and vocals (generally higher than I like) remind me of sort-of-early Dylan (when he discovered playing with a band but still had some self-distance) – well, if you know me at all, you know that’s about the highest musical compliment I can think of. I’m sorry Langhorne Slim is not more famous (which means he’ll never ever come to play here) but I hope at least my obsessive spotifying of his songs will earn him a few cents and add to his sense of appreciation.

Standard
Sounds of Music

Between Folk and Country: To Willie

er-towillieOn my old blog I had a small space to share the music I was listening to and so I didn’t have to actually write a lot about it except for a title and a few superlatives. Now I either don’t mention it at all or feel obliged to come up with something deeper to say and frankly not a lot of music deserves that effort. But here’s something that does.

To Willie by Phosphorescent is a tribute to, no surprise here, Willie Nelson, one of country legends. Now, where I come from country is not popular and most people can’t tell Johnny Cash from Dolly Parton but it still has a faint stink of stigma, like it’s something only truck drivers would listen to. As I was growing up I had no reason to disbelieve that and stayed away from country (which isn’t hard at all) until I started listening to Bob Dylan. I still scoffed at his more country-like tunes and even though I heard Pat Garret soundtrack a million and seven times I usually skipped “Turkey Chase” – until I didn’t. Dylan was my backdoor to country and when I later got to know Johnny Cash I had to face the facts: there was something about country I could really enjoy. (It’s the rhythm. And the acoustic aspect, but especially the rhythm.)

However, prejudice is a hard thing to shed and I never feel entirely comfortable admitting to people, or myself, that I like country classics or anyone that emulates them (except for Johnny Cash; he’s so beyond any of that). Luckily, there are so many ways to skin the cat – or, more importantly, to tinker with labels to avoid discomfort. And so while I don’t exactly listen to country, I really like various other genres: like americana, or folk, or especially indie folk.

There’s only one problem with that: many indie folk artists, while they definitely have the heart, lack the old masters’ ability to craft a catching and powerful tune. And so, to come back to Phosphorescent, the union between this modern rendition and the classic, melodic sound works wonderfully for me. I’ve been listening to this album for a couple of weeks now and I still find it very strong, but it actually moved me the first time I heard its second song “Too Sick to Pray,” and this really doesn’t happen too often.

Even though I’m a lyrics junkie, I can hardly relate to Nelson’s lyrics about partying hard or feeling bad after partying so hard. Still, the hypnotic sound that Phosphorescent’s Matthew Houck weaves makes the songs go beyond their pretty trivial literal meaning and speak of existence (and isn’t it a joyous subject). What is more, the record is wonderfully consistent. After listening to any album for a few times I will normally pick a song or, at most, three that I like and never return to the rest. But even though I have favorites from To Willie (“Reasons to Quit”, “Too Sick to Pray” and “The Party’s Over”, since you didn’t ask) listening to the entire album remains a powerful experience: at times calming, at times saddening, but never leaving those heartstrings of mine indifferent.

Standard