Question of the Day: Timeless Albums

29 10 2006

What are some of your favorite, forgotten albums that have stood the test of time?
Submitted by PeterGibbons.

The two key words here seem to be “favorite” and “forgotten.” And I guess it’s my favorites, forgotten by everyone else. Hey, that’s my specialty!

1.) Braver Newer World by Jimmie Dale Gilmore — This is probably my favorite album of all time. Gilmore, who founded The Flatlanders with Joe Ely and Butch Hancock, is one of the greats of alt country. His solo work, including Braver Newer World, is uniformly exquisite. But BNW is different and breathtaking. It’s the product of Gilmore’s interest in Buddhism and his upbringing in Lubbock; I guess you could say the album is a sort of glorious cross between Zen and Texas. That said, the Buddhist themes aren’t in-your-face, but—if you’re attentive—you’ll hear them from time to time. Here, for instance, is a snippet of Gilmore’s lyrics from the title track:

Tell me now that you know how
To greet the dawn each day.
Fearless and unfettered, stand
Before the sun and pray.
There’s no controversy
Let silence judge your plea
For justice or for mercy.
They both will set you free.

It’s a braver, newer world you’ve found,
Rolling ’round and ’round and ’round and ’round
It’s a braver, newer world you’ve found.

There isn’t a bad song on the album, but I highly recommend the title track, “Borderland,” “Headed for a Fall,” and “Where Is Love Now.”

This is an album that I’d evangelize for. I want all my friends and family, and you, to hear it. It’s that good.

2.) I’ve Got that Old Feeling by Alison Krauss — I think this just might be the best bluegrass album ever. I know that’s saying a lot, and I’ll rile up the Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, and J.D. Crowe fans by saying so, but I stand by the comment. On Old Feeling, Krauss—who wasn’t even 20 yet when she recorded the album—shows off both the phenomenal fiddle-playing that first captured the attention of bluegrass fans as well as the voice that later won her fans among less bluegrass-oriented fans of country music.

Krauss has always had a thing for love-gone-wrong song, and she shows that off on Old Feeling. One song after another showcases the variety of broken hearts out there. My favorite is either the title track or “That Makes One of Us,” written by the great Sidney Cox, which has memorable lyrics like this:

You’ve made up your mind
We don’t want the same thing
And that we won’t change things
Wishing there were ways
And there’s no use staying together
Nothing lasts forever
That’s what you say

And that makes one of us not in love
And that makes one of us who can’t give up
If you can walk away from the life we’ve made
Then that makes one of us

That chorus always gets me. Other favorite songs on the album: “Wish I Still Had You,” “Steel Rails,” and “Tonight I’ll Be Lonely, Too.” Highly, highly recommended.

3.) Lovers Knot by Jeb Loy Nichols — I don’t understand why Jeb Loy Nichols isn’t a huge star. Or, at least, a cult favorite among those experimental types who might really appreciate his blend of R&B, country, reggae, and folk. Knot, which came out in 1997, and Just What Time it Is, which came out four years later, did garner critical success—but, dang it, Nichols just didn’t seem to cultivate anything but a small, if devoted, following. I’ve seen him in concert three or four times; each time, there were no more than 30 or 40 stalwarts in attendance. He deserves many, many more fans.

Anyway, Knot is absolutely one of my favorite albums. A little bit unusually for me, a couple of my favorite songs on the album are about love that’s actually working out. (Novel concept, huh?) In that vein, I’d recommend “Our Good, Good Thing (Just Gets Better)” and “Sugar Creek.” “Sugar Creek,” in particular, is dear to me because it reminds me of the happiest times I spent with my ex. The ex liked the song, too, and—for that matter—he turned into a big fan of Nichols. “Good, Good Thing” probably has more universally appealing lyrics, though:

Darling please forgive me
I was tired I didn’t mean a world I said
Now all this talk
Won’t stop the clock
And that sleepy look
In your eye
Say it’s time for bed

But I know
That when I apologize
She’s gonna say that’s OK
And when she tries to kiss me
I’m gonna let her
‘Cause I know everytime we make up
Gives our hearts a little shake up
And I believe
Our good, good thing
Just gets better

Other standouts on Lovers Knot include “Yesterday’s a Long Time Ago,” “Quickly into Trouble,” and “Ill Angel.”

4.) The Happiest Dogs by Mighty Joe Plum — Mighty Joe Plum was dismissed, I suppose, as just another post-grunge, mid-to-late 1990s rock band. Its one album, The Happiest Dogs, went nowhere, and that’s a real shame. If there were any justice, at least one of the songs on Dogs, probably “Live Through This (Fifteen Stories),” would have been a hit. Since I’m quoting right and left in this post, here’s the chorus to that song:

What if I fell fifteen stories
What if my weight wasn’t enough to kill me
What if I were sticky enough
to walk the ceiling….
then maybe I could live through this.

The raw emotion of that always gets me…. Anyway, Mighty Joe Plum offered everything that was popular at the time—driving guitar work; energetic, masculine vocals (in the vein of, oh, Staind, I guess); genuine-feeling, original lyrics; catchy hooks. Although I wouldn’t describe myself as the biggest fan of this genre of music, I took to this album like few others.

Other standout songs on Dogs: “Irish,” “Borderline,” “Please (Hear Me)”, and—fittingly for a Florida band—”Sweet Orange Marmalade.”

5.) Wild Kentucky Skies by Marty Brown — I guess Marty Brown was alt country before there was such a thing. Brown, who wrote and performed on four quality-but-little-noticed albums in the early 1990s, is downright Country (yup, with a capital ‘C’). And it’s legitimate: He grew up in tobacco country in Kentucky, and all the biographies say he started playing in honky tonks when he was 14. Anyway, he sounds like your long-lost cousin from the sticks. (I have a ton of those, don’t you?) And, yes, that’s a good thing.

I had a tough time deciding between Brown’s first album, High and Dry, or his second, Wild Kentucky Skies, for this list. I ultimately, and somewhat arbitrarily, opted for Skies, but—I assure you—both albums are top-notch ultra-country productions. Skies, for what it’s worth, probably has a few more songs that still give me goose bumps. Maybe my favorite song is the lead-off song, “It Must Be the Rain”:

I’ve seen bluer skies — I’ve known brighter days
I’ve had sunshine, but now my skies are grey
You just told me you don’t love me anymore
There’s nothing I can do but watch the rain pour
I can’t believe that you’re leaving me
I can’t believe that your love is really gone

It must be the rain, I can’t be crying
It must be the rain, our love can’t be dying
I saw the lightning strike, and I heard the thunder roll
When I thought I heard you say you don’t love me anymore

I just listened to “It Must Be the Rain” again this afternoon, and it got to me like it always does. I got a little tear-y, and there wasn’t even any rain to blame. Brown’s high-lonesome vocals really complement his lyrics here. “Rain” is good stuff. It’ll definitely make you feel something. Other noteworthy songs on the album include “God Knows,” “Honey, I Ain’t No Fool,” “She’s Gone,” and the title track. There’s really only one clunker (“I’d Rather Fish than Fight”) on the album. How often can you say that about an album?

I’m sure Brown isn’t for everyone. But if you like a little authentic country yodel, or if you yearn for honky tonk sounds of 50 years ago, check him out.

It’s a real shame Brown didn’t become a superstar. I hope he’s got another album or two in him.


October Was a Blur

28 10 2006

It’s been too long since I posted, but I have been busy. Some of the highlights:

1.) Having decided a few weeks ago that I wanted to get through James Joyce’s Ulysses this year, I did something about it. I signed up for a local museum’s year-long(!) reading group, led by a Joyce scholar. We’re set to finish the book a few days before Bloomsday 2007. The course has met only once so far, but I certainly enjoyed the people—and I absolutely appreciated having someone help me figure out what the hell was going on in the early chapters. I’ve already made it further in the book than I have in 20 years of trying. I think a support group was exactly what I needed….

2.) Last weekend, a friend and I attended a performance by violinist Jennifer Koh and pianist Reiko Uchida of some avant-garde pieces. When we got to the Kimmel Center, I was excited to be sitting in the same row as Jennifer Higdon, the Philadelphia-based contemporary composer whose String Poetic was receiving its world premiere. Unfortunately, at least on first hearing, I wasn’t as taken with String Poetic as the local newspaper’s music critic. (I’d say I particularly enjoyed two of the piece’s five songs, the more percussive “Jagged Climb” and “Climb Jagged.”)

I was completely taken, though, with Grand Duo, a Lou Harrison piece that I’d never heard. It required Uchida, the pianist, to do lots of string-plucking and to use something called an octave bar—which the program notes described as “a device that depresses all the notes spanning an octave, but which is contoured so that the framing notes of the octave sound louder than the interior notes.” The result was awfully cool, as all those keys being pressed at once yielded a sort of rhythmic, noisy backdrop for Koh’s playing.

It looks like Koh’s new album will have Grand Duo on it. I can’t wait to hear it.

3.) For the first time since I turned 40, I had to check a 40+ box on a survey (40-44, actually). Egad! Please, survey-makers, it’s so much nicer to be lumped in with the 35-and-over crowd. Hee.

Question of the Day: Good on a Cold Day

22 10 2006

What food or drink do you love when it’s cold out? (Recipes and recommendations, please!)

Coffee. I’m a coffee fiend. It really doesn’t matter whether it’s cold outside or not, I suppose: I’m going to want coffee on my way to work. When it is cold, though, a big cup of hot coffee is precisely what I want. And it’s become so easy to get my fix. A few weeks ago, a new Starbucks—yes, I’m sure that being such a tool of Starbucks makes me, oh, so lame—opened between the train station and work. So my morning treats lately have been grande maple macchiatos (I love those Starbucks seasonals), venti pumpkin spice lattes (see?), and tall Yukon blends. Yum, yum, yum. Sometimes when I don’t want to get up in the morning, I just have to remind myself that I’ll soon get a little coffee treat. That gets me going. I’m so easy.

Unfortunately, I’ve been so stressed out lately that I’ve had to give up caffeine, at least for now. But this hasn’t really affected my morning coffee fix. I just add “decaf” to all those silly Starbucks adjectives coming out of my mouth. And it hasn’t made any real difference to me. Those Starbucks coffee concotions are still delicious.

What else do I like on a cold night? On a winter night, a shot of cognac is sometimes what I crave. It warms me right up. Of course, it also impairs my ability to read, write, clean the kitchen, and do algebra—so the cognac is better left for bedtime. As much as I hate cold weather, and I do, I certainly don’t mind having an excuse for some bedtime cognac.

As for food, well, soup is always nice when it’s cold out. But my absolute favorite winter meal is Malt-O-Meal. Really. When I’m cold and hungry, Malt-O-Meal makes the world seem like a good place again. Unfortunately, none of my local grocery stores sells Malt-O-Meal, so I have to special order it. Really, again. Maybe it’s a Southern thing?

Coffee, cognac, and Malt-O-Meal. That’s me.

Memo to Autumn Lovers

15 10 2006

Ornamental Corn
I have to apologize for the lack of blogging this month. I’m preoccupied with an issue concerning my apartment, which I’m sure I’ll be blogging about sooner or later, and I’m just not sitting down at my computer as often as I usually do. Plus, I’m not coping well with this little cold snap; in fact, as it often does, autumn seems to be making me sick. Um, literally.

A few years ago, when I was writing for a different project, I wrote a memo to autumn lovers, explaining my views on what seems to be the favorite season of so many people. Since I can’t seem to write anything new for you, here’s a slightly tweaked version of what I wrote then.

TO: Autumn Lovers
: Getting (you) in touch with reality
DATE: October 15, 2006

It has come to my attention that many of you claim that autumn is the best time of year. Every day, it seems, I hear co-workers or fellow commuters saying that autumn is their favorite season. A common theme of your comments is that you thrilled to summer as a kid but that you love fall more and more as you get older. You go on and on about football, the new chill in the air, the yellows and the rusts in the leaves, and Thanksgiving.

I want to call your attention to some other things, though. There’s that tickle in the back of your throat. The way you’re so congested that you can only breathe through your open mouth. There’s that cough that makes you sound like Typhoid Mary. The way you can’t decide whether to turn the air conditioner or the heater on. I want to call your attention to the way you’re feeling right now. To the way you’re alternately chilled and feverish. I want to call your attention to your sudden need to have cough syrup right there on your desk.

Yes, friends, I want you to realize that the congestion and the horrible, unending hack-ack-acking cough (and, really, can you just keep that away from me, please?), well, they go right along with those rusty leaves and that chill in the air. The reason you feel so crappy right now is directly attributable to the change in the season. Your body is trying to figure out how to cope, but the weather just won’t cooperate. It’s warm one day, cold the next. It’s cool in the morning, almost downright hot in the afternoon.

Your so-called favorite season is making you sick.

P.S. If there’s any justice, I’ll win the lottery soon and move to New Orleans or Key West or San Diego or Honolulu. There, I’ll enjoy the sameness of all those warm days strung one against the other, from January to December. You’ll be welcome to visit, so long as you promise not to go on and on about how you enjoy that chill in the October air. Ugh.

I’m ready for springtime. Who’s with me?

Question of the Day: My Ambitious Wish List

4 10 2006

What are 5 things you’d like to accomplish in the next 5 years?

1.) I’d like to find a man. Not just any man, of course. A smart man. A funny man. A handsome man. A gentle man. A man who likes baseball and hockey and modern art. A man who doesn’t mind subtitled films but also knows how to hook the TV up to the sound system. All that. (Gosh, why am I feeling so pessimistic all of a sudden?)

2.) I’d like to buy a condo. I’m too old to be living in dumpy apartments, next to neighbors who come and go at all hours and who regularly invite seven or eight of their dearest friends to sleep on the living room floor…. Oh, gosh, I drifted off there, huh? Anyway, there are some cool condos going up in Philly’s Chinatown right now, and my curiosity is piqued.

3.) I want to take a really cool vacation. Maybe to Turkey. Maybe to Spain. If I could somehow afford it—and if I’m buying a condo, I won’t be able to—maybe to Japan.

4.) I want to finally finish reading James Joyce’s Ulysses. Somehow or other, I’m the only college-educated person on the planet who hasn’t read the modernist masterwork. It was never required reading in any class I took. And when I’ve tried to read it on my own, I’ve always just lost interest or patience. Let’s face it: I’m a philistine.

5.) I want to organize my CD collection. In the past five years, my CD collection—of, oh, 2000 or so—has fallen into ruin. Some of the CDs are in a cabinet. Others are in a rack. Some are at the office. Some are in boxes. When I’m looking for something in particular, I can never find it. At this point, though, I sort of feel like I’d have to take three or four days off work just to, um, alphabetize. Ugh.