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Archive for May, 2010

[image swiped from the internet]

I was writing a story for an internal staff newsletter this past week about a colleague who maintains an extraordinary hobby, one that I’ve never heard of: restored fire-truck clubs.  Unlike motorcycle rallies or hot rod conventions, his group is one that gets together to show off their 105′ ladders and deafening sirens – and participate in the occasional parade.

While composing the story, I was reminded of an experience that took place in St. Louis a few years ago when I was walking through the streets of Soulard and found myself in the midst of an interminable row of restored Mustangs and Corvettes as well as amped-up antique autos.

It was as disorienting as it was fascinating to see the hordes of people flocking to the street-show, which extended for several blocks and boasted a range of vehicles equally impressive and obnoxious.

While recalling that afternoon, I wrote the following:

Muscle-car mobs are parked up and down city streets
with salivating spectators unfailingly gazing at paint jobs
Stunning and senseless
Girlfriends peer into the chrome to preen their reflections
Admiration is at its deepest under the hood
Smatterings of tire geek-speak spin by every corner
Fuel burns and heat blurs
Incomprehensible chatter about oil and leather buzzes through the choking air
Six-cylinder sickness sets in as the cruisers cough charcoal exhaust
Onlookers gasp for a clean breath
Free from the ferocious, gut-rumbling thunder of engines
Stinging, squinting, weeping and wheezing, it’s an excruciating exhibition
It’s vehicular manslaughter.

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See You on the Moon

When Tift Merritt sings I’ll tell you what I miss / the feel of the world / in your hands, you believe the pain, loss and longing in her voice.  But there’s an air of gratitude too, as she cycles through verses packed with imagery of sleepy road trips, outdoor afternoons and a lover’s touch.  “Feel of the World” basks in a sunny vibe so reminiscent of Wilco’s Sky Blue Sky – minus the guitar heroics – that it could have been a duet between the NYC-based Merritt and Jeff Tweedy.

Sitting near the center of See You on the Moon, Merritt’s forthcoming record on the Fantasy label, “Feel” is a stark and beautiful contrast to opener “Mixtape,” a groovy tribute to the long-lost art of homemade compilations, replete with handclaps, horns, strings and funky minor-key stabs of guitar.  Lyrically, I’m not sure anyone’s captured the concept better:

I’m just making you mixtapes with homemade covers.
Analog to show we’re lovers,
And here under the jacket folds inside,
I’ve taped my heart for you to find.

To find the perfect way,
Which album to say,
I la la love you.
With this plastic cassette,
It’s not finished yet,
It’s gonna tell you slowly.

Recorded on 2-inch analog tape  in the songwriter’s native North Carolina, See You on the Moon achieves a balance between nostalgia/memory and change/progression, as three of the band members lost grandmothers in three weeks and Merritt moved to NYC during the recording.

According to Merritt’s official website, the record is also inspired by “a longing for greater openness in music and personal disposition, and a general boredom with any kind of angst.”  It’s true – if there’s any apprehension or distress present on the record, it’s met with redemption, honesty, acceptance, and fortitude.  The prospect of a brighter future is always there.

Fans of sparsely arranged folk-pop with lots of soul will want to get their hands on this one.  It’s out June 1.  Many-a-summer will be made greater with these tracks coming through the speakers.  Give it a spin.

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Pink Floyd’s “I Wish You Were Here” has and always will be one of my favorite songs, although I rarely listen to it any more.  It’s one of those things you love so much that it’s been permanently fixed in your memory. I don’t need the click-wheel of an iPod or the FM frequency of your run-of-the-mill classic-rock station to hear it; I can simply cue it up and enjoy it in my headspace.  I never cared for what Wyclef did with it, and live renditions from the two halves of Pink Floyd’s leaders have never equaled what the group accomplished in 1975.

Until now.

Bettye LaVette, the American soul belter who has managed to elude recognition and renown in the masses yet enjoys the admiration and praise of a sizable group of hardcore fans, has made this song interesting to me again.  Re-channeling the folk leanings of the original into an atmosphere of gently swaying soul – replacing the original’s chiming 12-string guitars with a bed of delicate piano chords and tasty tremolo-laden guitar licks, LaVette provides just enough subtle changes to the melody to put her own stamp on a classic-rock standard and please fans of Floyd.

LaVette’s latest, Interpretations: The British Songbook, maintains a fiery, soulful vibe throughout its 13 tracks and 56 minutes, a collection of covers by British stalwarts including The Beatles, The Who, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and others from across the pond.  Building on the sweet-yet-stinging take on Floyd, LaVatte and her band continue the slow-n-low sultry burn on “It Don’t Come Easy,” “Nights in White Satin” and “Maybe I’m Amazed.”  “The Word” is transformed from a peace-and-love hippie anthem into a funky R&B trip punctuated with a steaming horn section, and the synths of Zep’s “All My Love” are swapped out for gospel-tinged piano and wah-wah guitar.

But it’s LaVette’s voice that’s the focal point here, and each track is an excellent display of her ability to not only rip and tear, but to treat a tune tenderly.  And it’s a shame to think that she’s not more well-known.  Give it a spin.

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