A lot of big names slipped into this month’s playlist. It’s a summertime thing. Speaking of which, I find “Girls In Their Summer Clothes” to be as majestic and beautiful a song as Bruce Springsteen has ever written, and in my mind the one absolute classic he’s recorded in the 30 some-odd years that have passed since Born in the USA made him a stadium star. (Note: while I appreciate it emotionally, I found The Rising kind of ponderous and self-derivative musically speaking.) It came out on the 2007’s generally underrated Magic album and is a must-have on any summer playlist; if you happen to have never heard it before, you’re welcome.

One you almost certainly have not heard before is the odd little Patti LaSalle nugget, “How Many Times,” which was made available this month on an intriguing compilation that just came out last week called Mid-Century Sounds: Deep Cuts From the Desert, via Fervor Records. Given that I am a sucker for anything that says either “mid-century” or “deep cuts,” I could not pass this one by. The overall quality is erratic but the story, which you can read about here, is interesting, and there are a few goodies buried in here for those willing to dig into the hot desert sand.

And talk about buried goodies, how awesome is “I Stand Accused (Of Loving You),” from the The Glories, a criminally overlooked trio fronted by Frances Yvonne (Frankie) Gearing? This was the only song of theirs to crack the Billboard charts (for a mere two weeks); their other seven singles disappeared without a trace, at least until Goldenlane Records put them all out on a CD called The Glories: Soul Legend, in 2011. Many of them, now, sound good enough to have been hits, and have been embraced by Northern Soul fans, this one perhaps most fondly of all. But, sheesh, The Glories have slipped through the internet’s cracks for sure—they don’t even have a Wikipedia page, probably because there’s no reliable source material otherwise online.

Meanwhile, I finally found a place for Todd Rundgren on one of these playlists, and “Long Flowing Robe” is a terrific example of a lead track that was not a single, the kind of thing FM radio loved to play back in the day (there were no notable hit singles from Runt: The Ballad of Todd Rundgren; maybe because they never released this one?). And let’s not overlook the glory that is Dean Friedman’s “Ariel,” which was in fact something of a hit in 1977, coming in at number 87 for the year on the American Top 40 year-end chart. Although long since faded from the mainstream scene in the U.S., Friedman has all these years been recording and touring, and released the album 12 Songs just last month, as luck would have it. Take that as a reminder that luck does, sometimes, against the odds, have it.


Full playlist below the widget.

“Long Flowing Robe” – Todd Rundgren (Runt: The Ballad of Todd Rundgren, 1971)
“Almost” – Sarah Harmer (All Of Our Names, 2004)
“Strange Relationship” – Prince (Sign O’ the Times, 1988)
“Contessa” – Mice Parade (Candela, 2012)
“Tell Me When the Whistle Blows” – Elton John (Captain Fantastic and the
       Brown Dirt Cowboy
, 1975)
“Maricela” – Los Lobos (Colossal Head, 1996)
“Thrasher” – Casey Dienel (Imitation of a Woman to Love, 2017)
“I Stand Accused (Of Loving You)” – The Glories (single, 1967)
“London Rain (Nothing Heals Me Like You Do)” – Heather Nova (Siren, 1998)
“Gates of Steel” – Devo (Freedom of Choice, 1980)
“Ariel” – Dean Friedman (Dean Friedman, 1977)
“Start a Little Late” – Annie Hayden (The Rub, 2001)
“Everything Now” – Arcade Fire (pre-release, Everything Now, 2017)
“How Many Times” – Patti LaSalle (single, 1960)
“Fast Buck Freddie” – Jefferson Starship (Red Octopus, 1975)
“Black Sails in the Sunset” – Elvis Costello (originally unreleased, 1980)
“Couldn’t Love You More” – Sade (Love Deluxe, 1992)
“Girls In Their Summer Clothes” – Bruce Springsteen (Magic, 2007)
“The Magic Touch” – Melba Moore (single, 1966)
“Over There” – The Connells (Boylan Heights, 1987)

Cairo Gang

“Real Enough to Believe” – The Cairo Gang

Emmett Kelly, the L.A.-based singer/songwriter doing musical business as The Cairo Gang, has a preternatural knack for pop rock at once knotty and charming. Funneling sounds and melodies born in the power pop origin years of 1967 through 1974, “Real Enough to Believe” combines Byrdsian jangle and Beatlesque chords (um: 2:18!) with the melancholy, inside-out tunefulness of Big Star.

Interestingly, Kelly combines these archetypally ear-friendly elements into a song that is neither power pop nor catchy in any obvious way—the pace is a bit too relaxed, the verse melody too spread out, and the chorus too subtle, what with its 10/4 time signature. Full of lovely melodic turns but resisting efforts to sing along, “Real Enough to Believe” feels, somehow, like the embodiment of thought, and not just because the lyrics are generally difficult to understand. Many songs are inscrutable lyrically but retain a sense of narrative or action. This one feels to be floating in the realm of reverie in such a way as to be somehow commenting on the process of thinking itself. Maybe I’m being influenced, or misled, by a handful of phrases that do make themselves heard—“thinking only of the time”; “it’s too far off to be real enough to believe”; “with some people it’s plain to see”—but I sense this as an unusually introspective song. To my ears, the music, with its gentle knobs and declarative intervals, reflects the rumination in a nuanced and gratifying way.

“Real Enough to Believe” is a track from The Cairo Gang’s second album, Untouchable, released in March. You can buy the album via Bandcamp. The Cairo Gang was previously featured on Fingertips for the song “Ice Fishing,” one of my favorites of 2015. The MP3 comes, as will two others this time around, from the generous gang at KEXP.

Louise Burns

“Storms” – Louise Burns

Louise Burns is pretty much why I do this. She writes songs that sound effortless, sings like a hero, and makes such splendid, accessible music (not a crime!) that, at least for the moment that lasts while you’re listening, the labels and the hand-wringing and the punditry baked into this so-called industry of ours seems pointless, all the hipster posturing and tech-centric prognosticating irrelevant. Because this and only this is what it’s about: music that eases your burden, frees your soul, sets your heart on fire, for reasons that no blog post can explain. That Burns named her newest album after a snarky jibe made against her in a review of her previous album, well, consider that icing on the cake. Louise Burns rocks, and I’m happy to be here to say so.

“Storms” is at once nothing special and exceptional—a fast-paced backbeater that arrives, through arrangement, voice, vibe, melody, and guitar work at something greater than the sum of its parts. I can do my best to identify specific moments that I connect with—the sonorous, minor-key guitar lines; the understated but incisive hook of the chorus; the new timber in Burns’ appealing voice in the bridge—but this still doesn’t get near the effect the song has on me. All I know is I heard it and felt moved on the spot to buy the album, without having heard anything else from it. Look at me!: I still buy albums. And look at Louise Burns, a genuine talent, worth supporting.

Burns was previously featured on Fingertips in 2011; there, you can read, if you’re interested, of her now-unlikely back story as an adolescent almost-pop-star. “Storms” is a track from her 2017 album Young Mopes, released on Light Organ Records in February. MP3, again, via KEXP.


photo credit: Jennilee Marigomen

Old 97s

“Good With God” – Old 97’s (featuring Brandi Carlile)

Rhett Miller is either blessed or cursed—not sure which—with such a distinctive musical sound that Old 97’s have been writing and recording songs for years that hew to a familiar vibe. This is a nice way of saying that their songs tend to sound the same. I will quickly add that this is a feature not a bug if you are a fan of this sound.

But maybe it takes a musical force of nature like Brandi Carlile to shove the amiable Dallas band out of its comfort zone for four minutes. To be sure, “Good With God” still adheres to one of Old 97’s two basic musical formats—there are the shuffly head-bopping songs, and the chugging, train-rhythm songs, with tempos that can vary slightly in each camp; this one’s a chugger. But the discordant guitar noise that introduces the song alerts us right away that we may here be breaking the mold a bit. And sure enough, even when it settles into the familiar rhythm, the echoey Western guitar line feels instantly self-possessed, and Miller dives into the eight-measure melody with headlong restraint, if that contradiction makes sense. (I like the little hiccup the song makes at 0:35, as if bracing itself for what is still to come.)

So the first verse is Miller singing as some smug pretty boy who imagines that his earthly transgressions aren’t that bad in the scheme of things, that his lip service to the almighty keeps him on the good side of the heavenly register. Cue furious guitar solo. On its heels comes Carlile, a bundle of sharpened fury, voice distorted in a subtly uncanny way. She’s not so nice, she tells him. Watch out. Now then, Miller did signal the plot twist (i.e., female God) in the last lyric of the song’s narrator, who sings, “All’s I know’s I’m good with God/I wonder how she feels about me,” and at first I’m thinking, hm, is this joker the kind to even conceive of a female Creator, never mind employ such a casual reference? But then I’m thinking yes maybe he is precisely that kind of joker. All the worse for him when Brandi Carlile shows up. I’d forgotten what an impressive singer she is. Stick around for the guitar coda, which acquires a grim-reaper-y kind of glee as it climbs up the neck.

“Good With God” is from Graveyard Whistling, the band’s eleventh studio album, recorded at the same rural Texas studio as its 1997 debut, and released back in February. The MP3 comes, yet again, from KEXP.

Dallan

“My Man” – Dallan

Launched off a series of melodramatic piano chords, “My Man” blends the feeling of an old-time torch song with something unexpectedly up-to-date. If you don’t notice the subtle hints before this, check out the transition between verses from 0:38 to 0:46 and you’ll hear the sounds of a song not content with all-out nostalgia, even if nostalgia is a potent part of the mix here. A later instrumental break (1:45), concise and slightly twisted as it is, offers definitive proof.

At its heart, this is a very simple song: there is just one central melody, which swings fetchingly against the basic one-two rhythm, and with a resolution that alternates between two primary landing spots, one minor and one major. Beyond this, there are two places in the song where the melody receives a two-line addendum (first heard at 0:33), and there is the aforementioned instrumental break. Other than that, the song sticks to the business of its grounding melody, enhanced strategically by some wonderful vocal flourishes by Dayana Stoehr, the singer/songwriter who performs as Dallan. I am reminded of Björk’s “Bachelorette”—not in sound or feel but in the way that both of these songs are driven by the power of one confident melody. This is not easy to do, either because not many melodies are robust enough to support a whole song or because not many songwriters think this way. Or both.

Based in Switzerland, Dallan appears admirably disinterested in personal hype—it’s hard enough to discern her country of origin, and I wouldn’t know her real name if she hadn’t emailed me in the first place. “My Man” is a song from Dallan’s upcoming album, Overturn, which is set for release in August. Her previous release was the EP Decade, which came out in 2015; you can listen to it and purchase it via Bandcamp. You can furthermore listen to four other songs slated for the new album on her SoundCloud page. Thanks to Dayana for the MP3.


photo credit: Renato Serge Stöhr