Friday, 29 July 2016

My Top Ten Songs... of July 2016

I haven't done one of these posts for awhile. Mainly because, when I did them in the past, they were always the posts which received least response. But the raison d'etre of this blog is to allow me to write about music I like, and sometimes it's very difficult to shoehorn a lot of those songs into (even loosely-connected) categories. So to get all these off my chest... here's ten songs I've been listening to for the last month or so. Give 'em a listen and you might come to love them too...

10. El Vy - Need A Friend

What the guy from The National does when he's not in The National. A bit funkier than his main band, but still very intriguing.

I picked this up in the library near work, which was a good source of new music to me until the end of last year... when council budget cuts appear to have caused the supply of new CDs to dry up. Look after your local library, people!

9. Sundara Karma - Vivienne

When you're a true music fan, you find new things wherever you go. A couple of months ago we were having lunch in a Manchester cafe and I picked up a copy of one of those free City Life style magazines (a very badly produced one in serious need of a proofreader...but such is life in the 21st Century). Anyway, amid all the ads for nights out and kebab shops was an interview with this new band who were appearing in Manchester at the time. I was intrigued by the fact the interviewer said they'd been compared to Springsteen (though rather miffed when the lead singer admitted he'd only started listening to the Boss when someone made that comparison). Anyway, I made a mental note to give them a listen...

...and while they don't have an album out as yet, this early single does show promise. Sounds as much like Bruce as The Killers do, to be honest, but it's still nice to hear guitar bands embracing chrouses these days when so many of them appear to have abandoned such pleasantries.

8. Son Volt - Drown

I did think about doing a Top Ten Drowning Songs to shoehorn this one in, but it seemed a little morbid. Can't remember which of my favourite bloggers turned me on to Son Volt a year or so back, but I'm extremely grateful. They're one of many bands to come out of the break-up of the legendary Uncle Tupelo. While Jeff Tweedy went all Wilco, Jay Farrar turned Son Volt. Only tracked down one album by them so far, but this was by far the stand-out track. 

7. Everything But The Girl - The Night I Heard Caruso Sing

I'll admit that I never paid much attention to EBTG back in the day, largely because their biggest hits involved flirtations with dance producers like Todd Terry and wat da kidz call beatz. Turns out I should have listened a bit more carefully to their albums, much of which are completely dance free. This is just gorgeous, a mournful (yet joyous) piano-led ballad about a father-to-be haunted by the true horrors of the 1980s. When that trumpet comes in, you could almost be listening to Shipbuilding...

6. Sturgill Simpson - Turtles All The Way Down

Welcome to Metamodern Sounds In Country Music. Nothing to do with turtles, as far as I can see, but when was the last time you heard a country song with lyrics like this...?
There's a gateway in our mind that leads somewhere out there beyond this plane
Where reptile aliens made of light cut you open and pull out all your pain
Tell me how you make illegal something that we all make in our brain
Some say you might go crazy but then again it might make you go sane...
David Icke is obviously a fan. (Another topical reference there, for the kids.)
(But, in Sturgill's defence, the song's about doing too many drugs. So that makes it all OK.)

5. Simon & Garfunkel - Blues Run The Game

Having owned every Simon & Garfunkel album since I was in my mid-20s, I thought I knew everything they'd done. Imagine my confusion then when I heard this on the soundtrack to Martin Scorcese's Vinyl (well, I enjoyed it even if the critics didn't: no second series though). I recognised it immediately as Paul and Art (with those harmonies, it couldn't have been anyone else), but it turned out to be a bonus track only included on the 2001 reissue of Sounds of Silence... serves me right for buying an earlier version!

Anyway, I finally tracked it down on a reasonably priced second hand compilation. Turns out it's not a Paul Simon, but a cover of a song by Jackson C. Frank (a guy with a pretty interesting story who I'm determined to investigate further). His version's pretty cool too (and produced by Simon, to boot)... but it doesn't have those harmonies.

4. Weezer - Thank God For Girls

There's not many guitar bands you were into in the early 90s who are still producing records that stand up favourably against their earlier material (especially now that Fountains of Wayne have called it a day). Thank God for Weezer then, whose latest album (The White One) contains possibly some of their best songs ever... of which this leads the charge.

3. Amy Rigby - Cynically Yours

Amy Rigby: where have you been all my life? Like Dar Williams (who we'll get to in a moment), Amy Rigby is an artist who's been in my peripheral vision for awhile now, but I'd never taken the plunge. How I wish I'd done so sooner if the material on her 18 Again collection is anything to go by: sharp, witty songs that rock and under your skin because they have lots to say and come straight from the heart.

Cynically Yours could be a Tom Waits song: in fact, if you played this on vinyl and held your fingertip on the disc to slow it right down, it'd probably sound just like one. It's a realistic love song for everyday folk... forget the "hearts and flowers, you're my everything" bullshit, if the most you can ask from a partner is "you don't suck"... this is the song for you. I especially like it when Amy gets her other half to sign a pre-nup...
2. The Indelicates - Dead Ringer For Love

OK, here's one to cause a commotion. I've written a number of times about my deep and abiding respect for the Jim Steinman / Meat Loaf combo, and this was one of their biggest hits (with Free Cher, while stocks lasted). I generally don't think it's a wise idea to cover a Meat Loaf song written by Jim since the definitive version already exists and you're only going to come off second rate.

Fortunately, the Indelicates are well aware of this. The above lo fi demo was recorded by request for one of the special editions of their last album, 2015's Elevator Music. The deal was, huge fans of the band (or those with enough money) could buy not just the album, but a bunch of other stuff too... one being: Simon & Julia Indelicate would record a cover version of any song you requested. Sadly, I couldn't afford to buy anything but the CD myself, but enough people did go the Special Edition route, and one of them was their mate Keith Top of the Pops, who requested this particular cover... knowing that Simon & Julia were also Steinman fans. Sometime later, the band collected all these covers together and made them available FREE to anyone who'd bought a copy of Elevator Music... which is how I ended up hearing this...

Why I ended up listening to it over and over again, on a loop, basically filling an entire 45 minute commute with the same song...? Well, you'll have to give it a listen to find out. As I said, it's a raw, off-the-cuff live recording - about as far from the whistles and bells production number of your average Steinman song as you could possibly get. And Simon even forgets the lyrics halfway through, so polished is not a word you'd use to describe it. But it's infectious fun. If you like that sort of thing...

Their version of Romeo & Juliet is sublime too...

1. Dar Williams - FM Radio / Mad River

Dar Williams is someone I've been meaning to check out in more depth for a while now. She's been buzzing round my radar, occasionally popping up on compilation albums, tribute albums, other people's blogs and Bob Harris's 3am radio show, which I still catch via the iPlayer. But I've never bought an album by her until recently... when I bought two!

Both the above come from her most recent album, last year's Emerald, another one of those records which definitely would have been in in Best of 2015 list... if I'd heard it in time. The first is pure 80s pop: a homage, if it makes you feel better, but this is as good as the Bangles at their best. You know, the sort of song they don't make anymore? I was intrigued to discover it was co-written by Jill Sobule - I can hear her quirky humour here, but that could be Dar, I don't know who wrote what.

The thing I love about FM Radio, beyond it's insane catchiness (Radio 2 should have A-listed it!) is the way it tackles the whole "kids who want to be pop stars" idea...something you'd be forgiven for thinking is a post-X-Factor invention. Dar knows better, remembering her own youth in the 70s when all she wanted was to hear her own songs coming out of that FM Radio. The song starts out as hero worship (Every night I do stuff with my hair. Maybe Queen needs a clarinet player!") but turns into a rallying cry for young women to start writing and performing their own songs...with a tongue-in-cheek coda...

Hey little sister, take off your head phones. 
Don’t try to scrutinize, it’s just a dead zone.
Wake up the neighbors, tell me how you do feel. 
And live the fantasy that makes your life real
So if you wanna play, follow your glory, 
And if some guys says that’s not your story...
Take a lesson from the FM that I knew then....
It’s like a public pool, you decide where to jump in
To feel the sexiness, the passion, the fusion and the fission.
Remember Bruce Springsteen divorced a model and married a musician!

Mad River, on the other hand, is less pop, more serious songwriting...with just as much of a hook once you give it a few listens. Considering Dar's flirtatious mention of the Boss above, this comparison might seem obvious... but Mad River is the best River song I've heard since the one Bruce wrote. It's a great story that touches on much deeper issues than just jumping into a river... I can't get it out of my head.

More Dar Williams, please... luckily, she's been at this since the early 90s, so there's much for me yet to discover...

If you have any further recommendations for August listening, you know where to leave them...


  1. One or two for me to check out.I think I may be joining you on an Amy Rigby trip

    1. Good. I hate travelling alone.

  2. The Jackson C. Frank story is pretty tragic, so research with a stiff drink at the ready. Son Volt are good, but, to my ears at least, a bit one dimensional when compared to what Wilco do - 'Drown' certainly is great though.
    A few new names for me to check out here - thanks Rol!

    1. Hope you find something to tickle your fancy.

  3. Hadn't heard any of these. I need to get out more.

    The S&G track had also passed me by, somehow.

    1. You need to stay in more. That's how I do it.


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