I’ve been through enough lately (Eclectic Playlist Series 7.08 – August 2020)

Even as I take pains to keep it from dominating these playlists, good old classic rock, my long-time area of focus and expertise, is always going to have a place here. It is something of my task, in fact, not only to keep worthy classic rock songs in people’s awareness, but to enhance their impact, by mixing them in and around music from other genres and other eras. A simple idea, so rarely done in this age of siloed listening. I would draw your attention to all three classic rock entries this month, as two of them in particular epitomize the kinds of great songs that have been generally ignored by what’s become of the genre both on the radio and on the internet. First there’s the opener, Thin Lizzy’s “Do Anything You Want To Do,” which is wonderfully emblematic of this underrated band’s sound without (thankfully) being “The Boys Are Back In Town.” And then, about halfway down, you’ll hear “Immigration Man,” a song that was regularly heard on FM radio in the ’70s—it even cracked the top 40—but dropped off the radar with the passing of years. This was Crosby and Nash without Stills (or, of course, Young), from the first of four studio albums they made as a duo. A few songs later you’ll hear one of Steely Dan’s finest compositions, perhaps a little less forgotten, and about which more below. In and around these chestnuts, I’m offering the usual mix of the unusually mixed—old soul, 2020 pop, Brazilian instrumental, new wave, singer-songwriter, indie rock, reggae: it’s all in here, and then some, including at least one great if accidental segue. Stay safe, stay strong, and happy listening…

The playlist:

“Do Anything You Want To” – Thin Lizzy (Black Rose: A Rock Legend, 1979)
“What It Is” – Angel Olsen (All Mirrors, 2019)
“Un bacio è troppo poco” – Mina (b-side, 1965)
“I’m In Love With a German Film Star” – The Passions (Thirty Thousand Feet Over China, 1981)
“Heart’s Desire” – Ron Sexsmith (Cobblestone Runway, 2002)
“Flavor of the Month” – The Posies (Frosting on the Beater, 1993)
“Daisy” – Kate Davis (Trophy, 2019)
“Me and the Wind” – XTC (Mummer, 1983)
“Immigration Man” – David Crosby & Graham Nash (Graham Nash David Crosby, 1972)
“My Future” – Billie Eilish (single, 2020)
“Stronger Than Love” – James Carr (A Man Needs a Woman, 1968)
“Westby” – Kathleen Edwards (Failer, 2003)
“Doctor Wu” – Steely Dan (Katy Lied, 1975)
“Best Intentions” – Satchmode (Collide, 2014)
“2:1” – Elastica (Elastica, 1995)
“Got To Be Tough” – Toots and the Maytals (Got To Be Tough, 2020)
“Glamour Boys” – Living Colour (Pride, 1988)
“Maria Moita” – Sérgio Mendes (The Swinger From Rio, 1968)
“Lightning Strikes Twice” – Saint Etienne (Tales From Turnpike House, 2005)
“After This” – Kate Rusby (Ghost, 2014)

Bonus explanatory notes below the widget…

* Kathleen Edwards released her first album in eight years this month as I was curating this playlist. I’m still absorbing the album—it’s good!—and in the meantime felt moved to return to her stellar debut for one of its many incisive tunes. “Westby” is jaunty, mischievous, and brazenly catchy, a sure sign of a 25-year-old singer-songwriter with a promising future. That she, burnt out and disillusioned, interrupted her musical career to run a coffee shop in Ottawa (named Quitters) for eight years merely enhanced her credentials as an honest to goodness human being. Now 42, she sounds sharp and unfettered. Check out the new album at Bandcamp: https://kathleenedwards.bandcamp.com/album/total-freedom.

* Public service announcement: I suggest that you do not search for the Sérgio Mendes album A Swinger From Rio without your “safe search” settings on, unless you are sure you are alone. And even then.

* “Doctor Wu” is a high-water moment for Steely Dan, and (I’d argue) for rock’n’roll. Its flowing melodicism, harmonic craftiness, lyrical flair, and exquisite musicianship speak to the goals of a different generation, maybe, but it still sparkles to my 2020 ears. (#TwinstheNewTrend actually did dive into some Steely Dan a while back; a simpler song—“Do It Again”—but well worth watching: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EqITzPGD0Ko) It’s moronic to me that the Dan caught any backlash for their craft but I guess there will always be those who choose, to quote the poet, to criticize what they can’t understand. My only complaint about Fagan & Becker is that they seemed to lose their melodic gifts in their advancing years (as many older artists do for one reason or another), rooting their later-catalog songs in groove and atmosphere. Not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with that, but I will always prefer “Doctor Wu” and “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” and “Deacon Blues”—songs that manage to be easily accessible and musically interesting at the same time.

* For a number of mental-health-related reasons, I have trained myself to steer clear of the over-heated, insta-feedback world of social media, so I have no idea where Billie Eilish stands in this precise moment within that culture. All I know is what I hear with my ears and as such, from my perspective, this still very young musician (she’ll be 19 in December) is proving herself to be a durable and dynamic star, capable of blending up-to-date sounds and rhythms with a sense of melody and musical know-how that feels wise beyond her years. I respect most of all those who themselves show respect. (Note that if this were more generally true we could not be in the pickle we’re in, a country led by a human with no respect for anything or anyone.) I look forward to witnessing whatever Ms. Eilish chooses to do with her future.

* For you Elvis Costello fans who appreciated “Sulky Girl” last month, I have an Elvis-adjacent nugget this time around—the song “Un bacio è troppo poco,” from the Italian songstress Mina. Born Anna Maria Mazzini, she was and still is a huge star in Italy, having recorded some 79 albums (!), including four since 2015. The Elvis connection, which is how I know this song: the sultry beginning of “Un bacio è troppo poco” is used as an offbeat, ongoing sample throughout EC’s offhandedly monumental “When I Was Cruel No. 2,” the semi-title track to his 2002 album.

* Accidentally great segue of the month, for you segue fans: “Daisy” into “Me and the Wind.” I’m generally aiming for reasonably effective segues but this kind of thing I pretty much stumble into without planning it. Simple pleasures feel especially powerful right now.

Free and legal MP3: S.G. Goodman (raw, authoritative Americana)

“Old Time Feeling” – S.G. Goodman

The subtly defiant “Old Time Feeling” launches with the crunch and sizzle of raw authority and doesn’t relent. The beat is seductive, the lyrics tantalizing, the melody sturdy, and singer/songwriter S.G. Goodman’s voice has a sawdust dignity at once fragile and powerful that compels you to close listening.

The song’s stomping vibe—Americana with a rough-hewn edge—underscores a rare, if wry, toughness of spirit. A native of Western Kentucky, Goodman here offers an across-the-bow challenge to the persistent, delusional self-image that has been sadly characteristic of the South. As she recently told Spin magazine, “I think for the longest time, Southern music has perpetuated some of the outdated/never-should-have-been-a-rallying-point-to-begin-with message.” Weird sentence editing aside, I love that “never-should-have-been-a-rallying-point-to-begin-with” part. And even if not overtly imbued with “Lost Cause” revisionism, there has long been that “good old boy” self-righteousness represented in Southern music that presents a rollicking, affirmative cover to a region long beset by deep-rooted troubles of all kinds—economic, political, social, you name it. Goodman’s eye-opening pivot in “Old Time Feeling” has three parts: first, the recognition of said troubles—she refers to the “sickness in the countryside,” and sings, “The southern state is a condition, it’s true”—and second, the declaration that there are people in this complex region who are working on change. Thus the repeated chorus “We’re not living in that old time feeling.” She then goes one important step further, taking to task those who complain about the traditional Southern way but leave rather than stay to help with the transformation:

Oh, and I hear people saying how they want a change
And then the most of them do something strange
They move where everybody feels the same

Goodman’s response to them?:

I’ve got a little proposition for you
Stick around and work your way through
Be the change you hope to find

“Old Time Feeling” is the lead single from Goodman’s debut album of the same name, produced by Jim James of My Morning Jacket and released in July on Verve Forecast. Goodman had previously fronted a band called The Savage Radley, which released an album entitled Kudzu in 2017.


photo credit: Meredith Truax

Free and legal MP3: Juan Torregoza (instrumental with personality)

“Amber Eyes” – Juan Torregoza

Rock’n’roll instrumentals vaguely intimidate me; it’s like my mind doesn’t know what to do without words guiding the way. Which is kind of weird on the one hand, as I don’t usually listen too closely to the words of a song in the first place. I guess it’s that I like the sound of words with music versus music without a human voice in the mix. This is all to say that when it comes to instrumentals, I have even less of a thought process for selecting something to feature than usual. Occasionally, for reasons I can’t explain, one breaks through my awareness and says “Pick me,” and so I do.

And so here is “Amber Eyes,” from the NYC-based guitarist Juan Torregoza, which launches without fanfare into a deliberately plucked, 11-note electric guitar melody line, repeated with one variation on the final three notes, set against an itchy drumbeat. The personality and intention seem immediately appealing. After this settles in, some scrunchy guitar noises interject, with additional personality. This turns out to be the warm-up for the second lead guitar to add its counter-melody to the persistent 11-note through-line, beginning around 0:47.

If I had to guess what hooked me for good I’d say it’s probably that interval described when the second guitar kicks in, which sounds like a 7th (always an attractive interval). That 7th interval becomes a persistent thorn in the side of the first melody, in an aurally satisfying way. This goes on for a minute and a half or so, at which point (2:29) the second guitar retreats into 20 seconds of the scrunchy stuff, before returning undaunted to the opening interval. After 20 more seconds, the enterprise shuts itself down, having gone on long enough to register its ideas, and then knowing when it’s time to go.

“Amber Eyes” is one of six tracks on Torregoza’s EP Agimat, which was created and produced in April under quarantine conditions. You can listen to the whole thing, and buy it (for $4) via Bandcamp. The guitarist is currently part of two different musical projects in New York—the experimental ambient duo Dovie Beams Love Child and the band Subtropico Militia, which self-identifies its genres as reggae/dub/metal/hardcore. MP3 via the artist.

Free and legal MP3: Land of Talk (tranquil backbeat, emotional intensity)

“Weight Of That Weekend” – Land Of Talk

At once gentle and intense, “Weight Of That Weekend” finds Elizabeth Powell, the primary force behind Fingertips favorite Land of Talk, pondering something serious and yet just out of the song’s lyrical spotlight. The music offers contradictory sensations, its tranquil backbeat intermittently jarred by measures of 7/4 (in the verse) and 6/4 (in the chorus). As a singer Powell embodies this duality, with a voice feathered with ambivalence but likewise resolute.

And just after I asserted that I don’t usually listen to lyrics (see previous entry), along comes a song in which the lyrics are a seamless, central part of its texture and allure. Without an introduction, the song launches on as terse a description of being gaslighted as any you’re likely to encounter:

Always come at me from a different angle
Make me think I don’t understand
how I’m feeling

(Note that the “how I’m feeling” part is where you first hear the 7/4 measure momentarily suspend the flow.)

From here the lyrical power accumulates through what is being alluded to without being said, the words a series of understandable phrases that nonetheless never quite reveal their direct meaning. The music amplifies the unsettled atmosphere with a chorus, dominated by suspended chords, that remains unresolved musically, adding to the subtle ache of Powell’s effort to rise above troubled circumstances: “This is a prayer for love” is the insistent conclusion.

Powell by the way is a formidable guitarist; that she plays acoustically here, with restraint, is its own sort of statement. And don’t miss the French horn that wafts into the mix somewhere around 2:25, an unexpected and somehow exactly appropriate addition.

“Weight Of That Weekend” is the fourth track on the new Land of Talk album, Indistinct Conversations, which was released at the end of July on Saddle Creek Records. This is the band’s fourth full-length release; three EPs have been interspersed over the years. You can listen to a few of the new songs and buy the album via Bandcamp. MP3 via KEXP.

This is the fifth time Land of Talk has been featured here, with their first review dating back to April 2007, and their most recent appearance ten years ago to the month, in August 2010.