“As Far As I Know” – Paul Westerberg
Last heard channeling Keith Richards, Paul Westerberg is back wearing Beatle-ier clothing this time. What at first sounded to me like a competent bit of neo-McCartney-ism has revealed itself, after three or four listens, to be a deeply endearing pop song. The charm is all around the edges: the ringing guitars offset by a ragged wash of fuzz; the ’60s-perfect melody deconstructed by Westerberg’s exquisitely unpolished voice; the whole thing driven by an earnest drumbeat as relentless as it is borderline goofy. And you want to hear subtle? Listen to the chords he works up to during that distinct, repeated melody featured near the end of each verse. In the introductory section, with just the guitar playing, the words are “that doesn’t get kissed, that doesn’t exist”; the second time we get to that point he’s backed by the full band and sings “that never took place, that’s easy to trace.” Now listen as he’s there the third time, singing “that doesn’t resist, that doesn’t exist,” this time with a wondrous, elusive chord progression that augments the unfolding poignancy of the lyrics. At the same time, the song’s ramshackle momentum has by now become utterly infectious, its tumbling percussiveness revealing a refreshing, solidly human presence in this age of loops and programs. The lyrics build to reinforce the impression, closing with: “I’m in love with a dream I had as a kid/I wait up the street until you show/That dream it came true/But you never do, no you never did/As far as I know.” The song is on Westerberg’s new album Folker, due out tomorrow on Vagrant Records.
“From the Station” – Soltero
Neil Young meets Elliott Smith meets the Kinks in this loping, loopy, quick-pulsed ballad. I like how the song starts right in, both musically and lyrically; I like even more how it keeps going: “From the Station” features an unusually long melody line, fully 16 measures (actually 14 in the first verse, then 16 in the other two). Most pop songs give out at eight measures, and lots of these only survive that long with a good amount of internal repetition, with measures three and five mimicking measure one, for instance. Here the melody descends and extends, aided marvelously by singer/songwriter/guitarist Tim Howard’s appealing, high-pitched vocals, ghostly organ flourishes, and tasteful guitar distortions. While the Boston-based Howard does play all the instruments on this track, Soltero is in fact a four-piece band. They just haven’t recorded a full-band album yet; previous Soltero releases (beginning with 2001’s wonderfully titled Science Will Figure You Out) have been largely Howard’s work. “From the Station” will be on the next Soltero CD, entitled Hell Train, to be released later this year.
The MP3 is on the band’s web site.
“Ugly Man” – Rickie Lee Jones
A jazzy shuffle, leisurely melody, and layered harmonies disguise an almost painfully personal protest song. Never mind the specifics of policies and decisions, Rickie Lee slices to the heart of the matter, which is GWB’s inability to access his own (heart, that is). Maybe, like the Tin Man, he simply doesn’t realize he has one. Look: thousands of years of human culture and spiritual wisdom tell us what living and acting from a heart-based center entails, and it has little to do with the appointed president’s resolute disinterest in learning and growing as an adult human being, never mind his crippling inability to connect to the entirety of humanity rather than simply those similarly uninterested in learning and growing. “Ugly Man” comes from Rickie Lee’s most recent CD, The Evening of My Best Day, which was released last year on V2 Records.
The MP3 can be found for free on Salon.