“Why” – Gina Villalobos
Every now and then someone new comes along doing something not-very-new so sparklingly well that it seems new all over again. Operating in the well-worn roots/Americana corner of the rock’n’roll world, Gina Villalobos invites a “usual suspects” list of comparisons–in her case, Lucinda Williams and Ryan Adams seem to be the first names out of everyone’s mouths–but I find her closest to the wondrous Kathleen Edwards, both in her rasp-inflected, emotive voice and in her capacity to channel some older and deeper rock’n’roll forces (think Neil Young in particular) and give them new life and force in the new century. From the minor key Tom Petty-ness of the intro, “Why” drives ahead with an authoritative stutter in the drum beat and a brilliant confluence and melody and voice in the second half of the verse: when she sings the phrase “If I can talk to what I see in the ceiling,” my goodness. Listen to the second syllable of the word “ceiling” and see if your heart doesn’t melt just a little. I won’t try to describe it. The song is the third track on Villalobos’ second CD, Rock’n’Roll Pony, released in June on the Kick Music label. The MP3 is one of six available on her web site, and all of them are good, including a satisfying cover of the old World Party nugget, “Put the Message in the Box.”
“Forest” – Dealership
A certain sort of confidence is required to open a song with the line “Let’s go, and I’ll play all my songs,” but singer Chris Groves has such a sweet-sailing voice that he has me right there–I’m thinking, sure, go ahead, play away. A do-it-yourself style trio from San Francisco, Dealership transcends its indie trappings through gorgeous melodicism and songwriting aplomb. The song is propelled by the juxtaposition of a jittery/infectious guitar line against a bell-like (and inexpensive-sounding) keyboard underneath a melody that cascades on itself, like noiseless fireworks arcing pattern upon pattern. When Groves arrives at the chorus, singing, “An electronic forest, a pixelated version” and then whatever he sings next (I can’t decipher the words at that point), we are in a certain sort of pop heaven. That guitarist Miyuki Jane Pinckard adds some solid yet airy (go figure) harmonies to the proceedings only adds to the feeling of being transported somewhere quite lovely, if a little bittersweet. I like how the band doesn’t waste the last minute of the song (which is when a lot of songs go into automatic pilot): listen to the edge Groves’ voice acquires at around the 2:15 point, and then feel the band pull the energy back at around 2:30 only to kick into a punched-up sprint to the finish at 2:50 or so. It’s all pretty subtle but I tend to like subtle. “Forest” is from the CD Action/Adventure, the band’s third, released in August on Turn Records; the MP3 can be found on the band’s web site.
“Hockey” – Jane Siberry
Anyone missing the hockey season yet? Well, in any case, it’s past time to get some Jane Siberry up here on Fingertips. For those unfamiliar with the work of the magical mystical Ms. Siberry, this song at least hints, in lots of small and idiosyncratic ways, at her deep and abiding allure. It’s all about childhood in-the-dying-light-of-late-afternoon-on-the-river hockey games, and Siberry’s earthy poetry evokes the scene beautifully, not just pictorially–“You skate as fast as you can ’til you hit the snowbank (that’s how you stop)”– but logistically: the song turns in part on the idea of how the game would wind down as more and more kids are called in for dinner, a subtle (that again) and masterful touch. I’m particularly enchanted by characteristic Siberry lyrical asides; I’ve never seen anyone else write lyrics like this and probably never will: “He’ll have that scar on his chin forever someday his girlfriend will say hey where…/He might look out the window…or not.” “Hockey” originally appeared on her 1989 album Bound by the Beauty; this is a slightly re-mixed version, with dog barks introduced to remove a potentially offending (but actually quite charming in context) word. You’ll find the MP3 on her self-owned record company web site.