“The Wind Blew All Around Me” – Mary Lou Lord  link no longer available
Gorgeous, insistent, accomplished, and heart-rending. Mary Lou Lord takes a straight-ahead, jangly-guitar, up-tempo ballad and renders it heroic, somehow. “Look at me laughing, look at me joking, I’ve having such fun,” she sings at the start, convincing you of exactly the opposite. While there may be nothing about “The Wind Blew All Around Me” that you haven’t heard before, that’s part of the joy of it: to remember that what moves the soul in a piece of music is rarely if ever a function of how “cutting-edge” it is. Genuine folk music has been moving souls for centuries, and this does, come to think of it, have the air of a sort of post-modern folk song–somewhat skewed, and charged with modern-day references (“My voice rang out like a dentist drill”), but with (as the title suggests) a timeless core. Lord’s voice is just plain lovely and yet very real and present; when she gets to that descending melody at the end of each verse, particular with the harmonies that kick in after the first verse, I just about want to cry. The song comes from Baby Blue (Rubric Records), her recently released second studio CD, featuring a set of songs written by collaborator (and label-mate) Nick Saloman (otherwise known as one-man band the Beavis Frond). The MP3 is available through SXSW.com.

“Burning Hearts” – My Favorite  link no longer available
I love when songs hit the ground running. In this case we have a ringing, melodic, guitar-ish synthesizer (or could be a melodica; singer Andi Vaughn apparently toots one) playing off a really big drum sound, like the kind you used to hear on Blondie records, and I am swept right in. As it happens, Vaughn has a bit of Debbie Harry’s disaffected warmth (there’s a paradox for you) about her voice, which adds to the grand orchestral decadence of the whole effort. As does the admittedly overwrought Hiroshima motif of the lyrics. To me, the song soars by combining a knowing sense of melody with a gift for vague but momentous-sounding lyrical phrases (“I was an architect, she was an actress/I drew the Eiffel Tower upon her dress/So we could see the world”). My Favorite–not my favorite band name, I must say–is from Long Island, New York; “Burning Hearts” is found on the band’s 2003 double-CD Happiest Days of Our Lives (Double Agent Records). The MP3 is on the band’s web site.

“Ghosts For Hire” – the Standard  link no longer available
From the tense two-note pulse of the intro, “Ghosts for Hire” opens into a stuttering sort of guitar-laced march, driven by a hypnotic guitar line and singer Tim Putnam’s jittery vocals. The song centers around short, shadowy lyrical blurts that leave an ominous if inscrutable trail; there is no obvious verse/chorus distinction, no clear hook other than that wondrous, oscillating guitar driving through the heart of the song like blood coursing through the veins. The Standard is a Portland, Oregon-based band with two CDs to its name so far; “Ghosts For Hire” comes from the second, Wire Post to Wire, which came out in March on Yep Roc Records. The MP3 is on the Yep Roc site.




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