Freddie Hart’s deeply dark “The Neon and the Rain”–the title track from his 1967 album–falls into the same homicidal category as Porter Wagoner’s classic “The Cold Hard Facts of Life.” Freddie covers the latter song on this album as well, though it’s hardly necessary. He’s already taken us down the deep hole with these opening lines:
As I sit beneath the steerin’ wheel a gun in my right hand I watch the girl I married keep a date with another man The neon sign above her head blinks motel vacancy And through the rain it’s flashin’ like the storm inside of me
The black leather gloves he’s sporting in the cover image–and what those gloves are holding–add to the menace.
“This is the part of the song where Billy Strange raised his hand and asked if he could please leave the room.” (Lee Hazlewood, from his version of “These Boots Are Made for Walking.”)
Bandleader/arranger/guitarist Billy Strange passed away yesterday (Wed., Feb. 22) at age 81.
While not exactly a household name, in the music world he was a major player. And over the years, on his own and as a member of L.A.’s famed Wrecking Crew, he worked with some of the biggest and best names of mid-20th century pop music, including Elvis Presley, Frank and Nancy Sinatra, Lee Hazlewood, the Beach Boys, Willie Nelson, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis, Jr.
A friend of mine (Nate Cavalieri) once made that statement in relation to a Steely Dan video he was sharing–and I always remembered it, and thought it made perfect sense in relation to that band’s sort of uber-polished, borderline-bland, radio-friendly pop sound.
Personally I’ve never entirely settled on where I stand with Steely Dan. On one hand it’s ubiquitous radio pop that is overly crisp, with all the dirt washed off and creases ironed out; the sound can be cloying, and as we all know it’s been impossible to escape for decades. On the other, man, when you really listen to some of those songs, they’re impressive. In terms of the writing, yes, but especially the production. And from that perspective alone, an album like Aja deserves its accolades.
Toronto indie-rock band The Darcys today paid tribute to Steely Dan by releasing their own version of Aja–a song-by-song re-creation of the classic 1977 album, though done in their own moody, fuzzy style.
Leonard Cohen was recently interviewed by Jarvis Cocker, in advance of the release of Cohen’s first album in many years. And the finely dressed master had some great quotes regarding his music, and the art of songwriting.
For instance, how does he do it? Even Jarvis can’t help but dig for hints of Cohen’s writing inspiration. Cohen, however–craftily, and probably wisely–deflected such direct questions.
“We’ve got to be very careful analysing these sacred mechanics because somebody will throw a monkey wrench into the thing and we’ll never write a line again.” He added that “now and then something invites you to animate it, which you try and do with grace and illumination.” Continue reading →
I threw together a Top Ten list of the best albums of the past year for the CBS site Street Date. It’s a fun task, but not always easy, as anyone who’s done it knows–you inevitably miss a few things, and weeks or months (or more) later, you may come to regret your choices. Either way, though, it stands as a capsule of where your head is at at a specific point in time. Here’s where mine’s been at lately.
One of the bands that’s been slowly burning its way into my consciousness the past few years is Phosphorescent. It started with their head-turning 2009 album To Willie, which contained all Willie Nelson songs redone with a laid-back approach that both pays tribute to Nelson’s own songwriting and arrangements, but also brings the music inside the circle of 21st century indie-rock. Meaning, Phosphorescent does a fantastic job reinterpreting Nelson’s music with arrangements and voice born from the alt-country side of the tracks, and makes the classic songs like “Too Sick To Pray” and “Pick Up The Tempo” feel fresh all over again.
Listen to the lead track, “Reasons to Quit”–a Nelson song that may have not grabbed your attention before; in the hands of Matthew Houck, however (he’s the main force in Phosphorescent)–with his gently raspy voice that sounds on the verge of breakdown–it’s a clear standout, capturing a moment in time where the characters are teetering on the edge between too much and not enough.
OK, not teetering anymore, they’re slipping into darkness.