I’m going out on a limb here and posting a December playlist that is not a holiday playlist. I challenge you, in fact, to find anything here that says “holiday season” in any straightforward way. I’m not aiming to be a Grinch per se–I’m actually in a pretty good place of late all things considered–but the so-called “holiday spirit” isn’t doing it for me this year. The world is a lot; it’s all one can do to find a little clearing in it to stop and feel grateful for something or another. To crank all the way to deck the halls and ho ho ho is not in the cards for me this time around.
As for the rest of what’s in store, I sense an unconscious blending of the happy and the wary, the rousing and the wistful, a bit messy around the edges: life, in other words, via a 20-song playlist. Anticipate the possibility of a slightly jarring segue or two, which I will justify in two ways–first because sometimes songs that work well together as neighbors don’t abut each other comfortably, second because that’s life too.
As usual, the widget for listening is below the playlist. Faitihful listeners should note that Mixcloud, where the playlists live, has made a new corporate adjustment and as of December requires a paid membership, as a curator/creator, in order to keep more than 10 shows actively online at any given time. (It’s still free to listen to.) I decided to spring for the membership at least for the next few months, if only because I felt funny about abandoning eight-plus years of mixes quite so abruptly. I’m not sure it will be worth it in the long haul, given how, um, let’s say “specialized” the audience is. Still, I don’t love the idea of taking all the old playlists offline. We’ll see how it goes. Anyhow, here’s the latest, with some explanatory notes, as usual, below the widget:
1. “Queen Jane Approximately” – Emma Swift (Blonde on the Tracks, 2020)
2. “What You Said” – The Decks (Breath and Bone, 2009)
3. “The Walls Came Down” – The Call (Modern Romans, 1983)
4. “Baby, Don’t Cry” – Ray Charles (Sweet and Sour Tears, 1964)
5. “Time is a Healer” – Jesse Baylin (Jersey Girl, 2022)
6. “I’m Over You” – The Silos (The Silos, 1990)
7. “Now It’s On” – Granddaddy (Sumday, 2003)
8. “Memories of Madrid” – Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass (What Now My Love, 1966)
9. “Broken Circle” – Sam Phillips (Solid State: Songs From the Long Play, 2011)
10.”I Can’t Make It Alone” – Maria McKee (You Gotta Sin to Get Saved, 1993)
11. “Out Of My Head” – First Aid Kit (Palomino, 2022)
12. “When My Baby’s Beside Me” – Big Star (#1 Record, 1972)
13. “Un Poco Loco” – Bud Powell (The Amazing Bud Powell, 1952)
14. “Pull Up The Roots” – Talking Heads (Speaking in Tongues, 1965)
15. “Snap Out Of It” – Arctic Monkeys (AM, 2013)
16. “Skin, Bone & Silicone” – Susan Enan (Plainsong, 2009)
17. “Rain” – Bruce Ruffin (Rain, 1971)
18. “What Friends?” – Bettie Serveert (Dust Bunnies, 1997)
19. “The Challenge” – Christine McVie (Christine McVie, 1984)
20. “Pollen Seeking Bees” – Saadi (Bad City EP, 2009)
The fine print:
* Emma Swift’s album of Bob Dylan covers, from 2020, seemed like just the thing my ears have wanted to listen to these last few weeks. I guess it ties in my mind to the release of Dylan’s odd but captivating book, The Philosophy of Modern Song; something about going through a book where Dylan talks about other people’s songs steered me towards an album where someone else was singing his songs. Or some such thing. Swift has a lovely voice full of effortless shadings, and the arrangements are unfussy, with Swift’s partner Robyn Hitchcock doing all sorts of nice, restrained guitar work. Check it out if you’re curious.
* The sad news of the death of Christine McVie prompted all sorts of well-deserved online eulogies, most focusing, with good reason, on the pivotal if often understated role she played in Fleetwood Mac. I decided to pay tribute via her lesser-known solo work, opting for a characteristically upbeat/melancholy number called “The Challenge,” from her self-titled 1984 album. The challenge she refers to? Love, what else.
* Susan Enan is a British singer/songwriter with one album to her name, which was released back in 2009. I spent a little time digging and could find nothing that suggests she is still active as a musician. I heard this song two or three times a number of years back on Radio Paradise and it stuck with me. If Enan is no longer singer/songwriter-ing I hope she has found a gratifying path; it always pains me to imagine talented musicians having simply to give up based on how hard it can be to make a living this way.
* Originally presented, in 1966, as a melancholy but forceful ballad in a Phil Spector-ish soundscape by the histrionic American singer P.J. Proby, “I Can’t Make It Alone” is yet another indelible Gerry Goffin/Carole King composition. Dusty Springfield recorded what may be the most familiar version of this on her landmark Dusty in Memphis album in 1969. (Lou Rawls did a convincing cover that same year.) No offense to Dusty or Lou but to my ears, Maria McKee owns this song, via a 1993 recording that unearthed the song’s backbeat and didn’t let up.
* The music of Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass could not be made in this day and age, for any number of reasons. And while I am not at all insensitive to issues of appropriation, I have to give a pass to music this innocent and joyful and sonically respectful. If Alpert knew how to package and market this to middle-brow Americans in the mid- to late-’60s, more power to him. It was super appealing to me as a kid and I still have a big soft spot for those whirlwind banner TJB years of 1965 to 1967, with Alpert releasing an album every six or so months; four of the six records that came out during that three-year stretch went to #1 on the US chart, including What Now My Love.
* Another, entirely different musical soft spot for me is anything Sam Phillips puts out. Phillips is not only deeply thoughtful and creative as a songwriter, she has been creative with the business end of things as well. Back in 2009, she launched a fee-based subscription service called The Long Play, which offered members regular downloads of new songs, along with blog posts, interviews with her musical collaborators, and an array of other original content. All in all, she sent out 42 songs this way, distributed over five EPs and one LP, before shutting the service down in 2011. After the fact, she curated an album featuring 13 of those 42 songs, entitled Solid State: Songs From The Long Play. I never subscribed to the service but I bought the compilation album, from which “Broken Circle” is one of many highlights.
* The Arctic Monkeys have evolved into a somewhat different-sounding (but still great) band since the release of their widely-praised 2013 album AM. While the ubiquitous “Do I Wanna Know?” received the bulk of the attention (it’s got 1.5 billion streams on Spotify), the album is engaging throughout, and even included a few hints at where they would be heading, sonically, especially on the closing track “I Wanna Be Yours.” I’m still absorbing their new album, Car, but I think I like it a lot.
* One last soft spot in a mix overloaded with them, apparently: I love the vocal tone and texture of Carol van Dyk, front woman for the long-running Dutch band Bettie Serveert. There’s something at once friendly and imperious about her voice; match it with the band’s flair for crunchy guitar lines and punchy melodies and what’s not to love? “What Friends?” is a cleverly punctuated song from the band’s third album, 1997’s Dust Bunnies (the full lyric reads “You still don’t know what friends are for”). There have been eight albums released since then, most recently 2016’s Damaged Good, all worthy of a listen. The band has been featured three times to date on Fingertips, dating all the way back to 2003; this 2010 review gives you some more background on what they’re about.