Room off the Street

I love pulling out the most obscure songs from albums I haven’t listened to in a long time, which you’ve probably listened to never. It’s like opening up a box in the attic. It’s memories and it’s feelings I don’t remember. I also really love it when the artist pulls out their most obscure songs. That’s like them giving us a gift box, from their own attic. I’m almost certain that Suzanne Vega never played this song after releasing it in 1990, until pulling it out for this show in 2000. If you’re familiar with Days of Open Hand, you won’t recognize the arrangement. You’ll notice she’s ditched the prominent woodwinds that made the original so mournful and made the handclaps snappier. Arrangements aren’t something I nerd out on, not being a musician myself, but what interests me is the value artists find in their own work. Certainly, they value the work that makes them the most money, but what about the things that don’t make money and just exist for the memories? Suzanne Vega, for one, has been very interested in reevaluating her own back catalog. She’s rerecorded a series of her old songs, releasing compilations that take songs from different albums and mix them together by theme. This repackaging might seem redundant, since the new recordings don’t sound radically different from the old ones, but it’s about changing the context of the songs to make them play in a different light. I can see how that can be an immensely fun project for the singer, and it’s really aimed at the fans who are deeply invested in the material. I admire that.

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Rollin’ and Tumblin’

R.L. Burnside was an old-school blues singer who became successful in the 1990’s, when he was already an old man. Since then, his music has entered pop culture through movies and television, making him a modern blues sensation. As such, he’s been subject to the very modern art of remixing. I don’t know of any other blues musicians who’ve released a series of remix albums. Does the blues need remixing? Probably not, but if it helps grow the music with the times, it can’t hurt. Just like Verve’s remix series helped modernize classic vocal jazz, Burnside’s remix albums introduced blues to new audiences. It may strike some as sacrilege, but purism is not conducive to growth, and music needs to grow and evolve.

 

The Rockafeller Skank

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Ahh, a real classic song of my lifetime. One of the quintessential musical moments of the 1990’s. A generational touchstone. Who would have thought that a wub-wub song would become all of those things. Who would have thought that one of the most important and enduring musical minds of the decade would be this “Fatboy Slim”, a semi-anonymous schmuck from Surrey? Well, that’s a rebuke to all of you who dismissed electronic music and all of its subgenres. If you’ve read the official year-end music industry reports, rock music is officially dead again, commanding none of the top ten positions on any chart measurement of popularity. That’s mostly thanks to the predominance of hip hop, but the other major market force is EDM, which is now as ubiquitous as corn syrup. It’s the additive that makes bland things taste so sweet! So, damn straight that Fatboy Slim, Aphex Twin, the Chemical Brothers, Prodigy and other trailblazers from the 90’s are now bona-fide legacy acts.

(Photo: Steve Dykes)

The River

This song is also by Brian Eno. It’s a slight bit strange that Eno wrote two songs with the same title with different collaborators, but I’ll take it. They’re markedly different songs. The last one was more David Byrne than Eno. This one is from Eno and John Cale’s Wrong Way Up, and it’s more Eno than Cale. In fact it’s the only song on that record credited only to Eno. Eno’s solo vocal songs have become increasingly rare since the seventies, and that’s a shame; they’re a lot more enjoyable than ambient digital soundscapes. So this makes this one a particular favorite of mine. It’s so soothing.

Right Here, Right Now

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A Google search for the words Right Here, Right Now yields a Google Map of my home address. I can zoom in and view a satellite image of my building in real time. The Fatboy Slim song is only the third item down. It’s not entirely off topic, though. We’re at the apex of human civilization, if you subscribe to the view that all of history is an upward progress. (That’s up for debate.) According to Fatboy Slim’s educational and scientifically accurate video, the apex of evolutionary progress is the “Why try harder?” kid. It’s a punchline familiar to anyone who’s ever seen a ‘stages of man’ cartoon. Yes, we’ve become somewhat less-than-glorious in our sedentary ways, and the flying cars we were promised have still not arrived. The hot theory in anthropology right now is that maybe this whole agriculture thing was a huge mistake and we all should have stuck to eating nuts and berries. Or, to paraphrase Douglas Adams, everything from the creation of the universe on down has been a bad move. On the other hand, though, most of us don’t die at birth or from minor injuries/drinking tainted water/bubonic plague/smallpox/crucifixion/eaten by lions etc. which is nice. We’re noble savages no longer, hardly anyone knows how to build a pyramid by hand anymore, and we’re all collectively pre-diabetic. But we have satellites, internet and EDM records. So, you know, it’s a trade-off.

Revolution Earth

Kate Pierson is so underrated. Yes, it’s agreed that Fred Schneider and his weirdness is what makes The B-52’s. But not all of their songs lean on weirdness so much, because all that quirkiness can sometimes come off as trying too hard to be fun, and it can lead to fun exhaustion. (Also, some people find Fred Schneider really annoying, but that I cannot abide.) Mostly though, I really like to hear a good showcase for Pierson. She’s an astounding vocalist, obviously, though weird too in her own way. You can’t say that she often gets lost in the mix, because it’s hard to mix down a voice like that, but she deserves to fly solo sometimes too. This is probably the best sustained Pierson solo performance in the band’s career, and incidentally or not, it’s from the one album where Cindy Wilson was on hiatus.

Return to Paradise

It’s a great day for jazz. The weather is beautiful and we all survived the weekend. So sit back and drink some tea and unwind for a minute. Let Shirley Horn take you away. I really need to listen to more jazz music, and more Shirley Horn in particular. Her voice is like silk and honey and whatever else delicious sexy things that poets would use to describe a sexy delicious voice. It’s a song to crawl into bed with, whether to sink into a fever sleep or something more productive.