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.

You wouldn’t believe me if I said (Eclectic Playlist Series 7.07 – July 2020)

Little did Natalie Laura Mering, doing musical business as Weyes Blood, realize what a wild time was yet in store when she released Titanic Rising last year. Or maybe she did: “Everyone’s broken now and no one knows just how/ We could have all gotten so far from truth.” I will spare you the rant that I wrote after this in my first draft, and move us right into the mix. Just note that it’s up to any of us who are trying to remain sane and well-informed and compassionate to continue to find the wherewithal to be a human being, and offer comfort and solace to others attempting the same bravura feat. Let music be an ongoing gift through these wild times.

The playlist:

“Slow Burn” – David Bowie (Heathen, 2002)
“Tired of Toein’ the Line” – Rocky Burnette (The Son of Rock’n’Roll, 1979)
“Glass Jar” – Tristen (Sneaker Waves, 2017)
“Think Too Hard” – Syd Straw (Surprise, 1989)
“Feeling Good” – Nina Simone (I Put A Spell On You, 1965)
“Sulky Girl” – Elvis Costello (Brutal Youth, 1994)
“Jaco” – Pat Metheny Group (Pat Metheny Group, 1978)
“Julia’s Call” – Lake Ruth (Birds of America, 2018)
“Mississippi” – Bob Dylan (Love and Theft, 2001)
“No New Tale To Tell” – Love and Rockets (Earth Sun Moon, 1987)
“Look The Other Way” – Lesley Gore (b-side, 1968)
“Wild Time” – Weyes Blood (Titanic Rising, 2019)
“Your Racist Friend” – They Might Be Giants (Flood, 1990)
“Read My Mind” – The Killers (Sam’s Town, 2006)
“Detroit or Buffalo” – Barbara Keith (Barbara Keith, 1972)
“Black Metallic” – Catherine Wheel (Ferment, 1992)
“Tesla Girls” – Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark (Junk Culture, 1988)
“Band of Gold” – Freda Payne (Band of Gold, 1970)
“I’m Not Getting Excited” – The Beths (Jump Rope Gazers, 2020)
“Night Train” – Oscar Peterson (Night Train, 1963)

Bonus explanatory notes below the widget…

* “Feeling Good,” rendered extraordinary by Nina Simone, is a song from the 1964 musical The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd, composed by Anthony Newley and Lesley Bricusse. Simone’s now-classic interpretation takes the song into a new place, and so richly that the source has been all but forgotten. (Newley’s own take, though, is actually quite good if differently nuanced [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aYF__H4PSUA], and exhibit A for anyone wondering who David Bowie’s biggest influences were.)

* Speaking of Mr. Bowie: of all the various “comebacks” of the great man’s career, one of the more overlooked is his return to form in the early ’00s, with the albums Heathen (2002) and Reality (2003). These accessible and high-quality releases followed 15 years of post-Let’s Dance albums dominated by experimentation and musical wandering that largely disappointed both critics and fans (the one exception being 1993’s underrated Black Tie White Noise). This time frame saw his veering off into the Tin Machine era, and culminated in three difficult to digest albums in the later ’90s that each found a smaller following than the last (ending with 1999’s oddly titled ‘hours…’). Heathen, conversely, sounded like a Bowie album for the ages, its melancholy grandeur aligning rather bleakly with our post-9/11 world. And yet, in all the career summaries emerging after his death in 2016, it seemed largely forgotten. I offer “Slow Burn” as a reminder of the album’s power, generated in part by Pete Townshend’s heroic guitar work. And now you can’t not hear Anthony Newley.

* There is oddly little information out there about the trio Lake Ruth, but I do know that I have a particular affinity for front woman Allison Brice’s vocals—she’s got that rounded, smoky tone that you don’t hear very often, and remains difficult to describe. Vocally, I am reminded of dear, departed Kirsty MacColl, which prompts immediate hearts here in Fingertipsland. The music is synthy but warm, and quite different from Brice’s work with the ’00s London-based sextet The Eighteenth Day of May (previously featured in a playlist this past November, in the before days.) This song comes from the band’s second full-length release, 2018’s Birds of America.

* “Your Racist Friend”: always, sadly, in season.

* Rocky Burnette, as per the title of his album, is in fact the son of early rock’n’roll star Johnny Burnette. This song is by and large Rocky’s only claim to fame to date, but it’s a fun one; what “Tired of Toein’ the Line” lacks in depth it makes up for in earnest glee and unrelenting hookiness. It was a top 10 hit in the U.S., and a number of other countries, back in 1980. Burnette is still out there somewhere, but not musically active since a spurt of new activity in the ’90s.

* One more note about Weyes Blood: check out the album cover when you have a chance—the scene was constructed and photographed under water, for real.

* While I continue to try to take in Bob Dylan’s latest ramblings (i.e., the intermittently compelling, extravagantly praised Rough and Rowdy Ways), I feel compelled to return to what to my ears was his last great album: Love and Theft. This too is tied to 9/11 (released that very day, in fact), but has otherwise little to do with that calamity, being instead a loose, often humorous, ongoingly offbeat collection of songs and performances. While this album introduced us to the shuffly, old-timey persona Dylan was unexpectedly morphing into, it also contained honest to goodness musical variety and lyrical sharpness. To this day I count “Mississippi” as his last masterpiece, a song that stands up to most anything in his ’60s and ’70s pantheon.

* Speaking of later compositions that belong in an artist’s pantheon, I will tip my hat here to the fierce and melodic “Sulky Girl,” a generally disregarded gem from Elvis Costello’s Brutal Youth album. The release was notable to us Elvis lovers for reuniting the Attractions for the first time since 1986; his long-time backing band, complete with personality kerfuffles, recorded together on five of the album’s 15 tracks. “Sulky Girl” is a standout, calling to mind the vehemence of his “angry young man” days tempered with the mature dynamism of his ongoing artistic evolution.

* And then we have “Band of Gold,” one of 20th-century top 40 radio’s shining moments, a song with such mysterious pull that its lyrical enigmas and/or unconventionality glide right by. Without listening too closely, you can read this as a standard tale of heartbreak. But the lyrics reveal a marriage in which the man, for unstated reasons, can’t perform sexually, and abandons his newlywed bride, leaving her frustrated and disappointed. Not the usual pop song fare in those days. Written by the mighty songwriting team of Holland-Dozier-Holland, the song was credited to two other names, for contractual reasons at the time. But it is one of their very best.

Free and legal MP3: Deep Sea Diver (jangle and fuzz driven anthem)

“Stop Pretending” – Deep Sea Diver

From its evocative, unhurried introduction, an ear-catching blend of jangle and fuzz, “Stop Pretending” is an immediate success, a song so crafty and well-crafted that its origins—written and recorded in two days this April, under lockdown conditions—seem all but miraculous. The end result sounds to me like the pandemic’s first true classic, a song at once languid and incisive, both musically and lyrically:

This life is dangerous
There’s no need to build those walls
Our love is all we have
Who knows where we’re heading

The song offers no solutions but the notion that we must make the effort to be present with what actually is, and tap into our basic goodness, even when the bad people are being awful. The music feels like a balm to the soul, with Jessica Dobson’s guitar noise and distortion churning below a soothing melody and heartfelt vocals. The instrumental break at 2:39, all growl and gristle, is weirdly lovely. Guitars get the job done. Oh and don’t miss the dog at the very end.

Deep Sea Diver is the Seattle-based duo of Dobson and husband Peter Mansen. Dobson played all the instruments but the drums and the “noise synth”; she engineered and mixed the track as well. Deep Sea Diver has released two albums and two EPs to date. Dobson has played with Beck, Spoon, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, among other artists, and was a member of the Shins for a while in the early ’10s.

MP3 via KEXP. You can buy and support the band via Bandcamp; while there you can also explore the rest of their catalog.

Free and legal MP3: Phoebe Bridgers (moody but lively)

“Kyoto” – Phoebe Bridgers

She may not often be in the mood to give us an upbeat versus a downtempo composition, but when Phoebe Bridgers plugs into a faster rhythm is when, to me, her songs really shine. Outside of the terrific “Motion Sickness,” the compositions on her first album were much more deliberate—very attractive for those ready to comb carefully through lyrics and/or those who groove on a melancholy vibe, but less easy to focus on as a casual listener.

“Kyoto,” on the other hand, grabs immediately. I like the misdirect in the introduction—what starts in a hesitant, filtered mode finds a solid backbeat just after the singing starts (0:07), and sweeps us along from there. Bridgers has a delightful way with phrasing (check out as just one example the way she sings “my little brother” at 1:35), sounding as if the fleet tempo has caught her a bit by surprise as well. (She actually did write “Kyoto” as a ballad, but, she told NME in April, “at that point I was so sick of recording slow songs, it turned into this.”)

There is even a structural reason to enjoy the song’s pacing, having to do with the effect of matching downcast lyrics with lively music. Content-wise, Bridgers remains moody here, grasping at why she can’t seem to be happy anywhere, and signaling some thorny father issues. Setting such musings to a breezy tune, to my ears, amplifies rather than subtracts from their impact.

I’ve emphasized the song’s tempo but note that the chorus features a half-time melody, and encompasses a line that doesn’t maybe register as notable the first time around—“I wanted to see the world”—and yet turns into one of the song’s great moments, due I think to a combination of the alluring chord change that precedes it and the subtle but striking emotion with which Bridgers sings the words, especially the second time through (2:09), with a slight melodic twist at the end.

“Kyoto” is the third track on her second solo album, Punisher, which was released in April on the Dead Oceans label. We heard Bridgers on Fingertips last year, a lifetime ago, in combination with Conor Oberst, as part of the Better Oblivion Community Center.

MP3 once again via KEXP. Listen to the whole album, and buy it if you like it, via Bandcamp.

Free and legal MP3: Punch the Sun (summertime earworm w/ a message)

“Do What I Want” – Punch the Sun

Bassist and front woman Shannon Söderlund has a lucid singing style that brings to mind a young Jonatha Brooke, a style that intimates that words very much matter to her. Combine that with the fact that she is indeed the bass player and right away Punch the Sun presents as a band with an engaging mission. (I have long noted here that bands with the bass player as front person often create especially satisfying music, perhaps because bass players who sing approach their instruments differently than those destined to play with their mouths closed.)

“Do What I Want” crosses the breeziness of a bubblegummy summertime earworm with worthy cultural commentary and some tight and meaty guitar work. The bass line dances and percusses with a deft touch, guiding the song’s head-bobbing rhythm without drawing attention to itself. Clocking in at a swift two minutes fifty seconds, the song hurtles forward, delivers its sing-along message, and moves on. In this context, the guitar is given just a seven-second solo (1:47), but it’s a rollicking one.

The lyrics here are a mix of the straightforward and the elusive; while the opening salvo makes Söderlund’s stance clear —

Hide your little girl in fluffy dresses, pretty curls
And soon enough she’ll learn to go along

— some of the other lines are more mysterious, and I kind of like that; once the general concept is communicated—rigid, corporate-driven beauty standards suck, basically—it’s nice the way the song leaves space for interpretation. You get the general gist but not every last thing is spelled out for you. And, given the contemptibility of the target—the consumerist push for women to be quote-unquote attractive in very particular ways—Söderlund hits with a light touch. She’s not out to harangue us about the evils of the fashion or diet industries, she’s just here to say she’s going to ignore all that and just do what she wants with herself. More power to her.

Punch the Sun is a trio based in Queens, New York. “Do What I Want” is the third track on the band’s first full-length album, Brevity, recorded when they were still a foursome, and released in April. You can listen to the whole thing and purchase it, for a price of your choosing, via Bandcamp. MP3 courtesy of the band.

A chance to talk (Eclectic Playlist Series 7.06 – June 2020)

I’m not here to preach, but I am here to try to be a human being, however lost a mere human being has become in the chaotic sea of systems, policies, memes, propaganda, and brutality that characterizes life in 2020. First and foremost, at this consequential moment in time, I recognize, in my own humanity, many flaws and failings. (By the way, name one honorable and effective person in the history of civilization who claimed always to be the best, who could confront detractors only with insults. I’ll save you time: you can’t.) I recognize that for all my liberal ideals and progressive tendencies, I have lived a long adult life without deeply considering the lived experiences of people of color in America. I mean, I knew about it, and was in pain about it at some abstract level—but at another level, I can see that I simply went about my (privileged) day, unable and/or unwilling to let the uncomfortable reality sink in. Of course I’ll never know, experientially, what it’s like and what it’s been like to live as a person of color in this pseudo-democratic and deeply hypocritical country of ours. But here’s what I can do: I can put myself in the position of needing to learn, needing to have new conversations, needing to have new responses to this world we’re in, this congenitally damaged country that looks much better on paper than it does on the streets where we live.

But: there’s no doing this with a playlist. I won’t even pretend. The best I can do is offer a mix of songs this month, similar to my usual efforts, some of which you may find thoughtful and relevant to the present moment, others of which have no particular connection besides being intangibly part of the flow I put together as someone striving to observe and feel into this fateful hour. As I said, I’m not here to preach. I am simply here to say that we can and must do this together. I’ll let the musical current of this latest mix pull us eventually towards Rickie Lee Jones’ world-weary grace, in the elegiac “Running From Mercy”:

Oh sacred patience with my soul abide
There’s a rainbow above me that the storm clouds hide

Keep hope alive, through the darkness. It’s what humans do.

Full playlist and extra notes below the widget:

“Keep On Keeping On” – Curtis Mayfield (Roots, 1971)
“Praise Song For a New Day” – Suzzy & Maggie Roche (Zero Church, 2001)
“Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometime” – The Korgis (Dumb Waiters, 1980)
“Cara de espejo” – Juana Molina (Halo, 2017)
“Love You To” – The Beatles (Revolver, 1966)
“Actor Out Of Work” – St. Vincent (Actor, 2009)
“Can’t Fight” – Lianne La Havas (single, 2020)
“Spinning Away” – Brian Eno & John Cale (Wrong Way Up, 1990)
“Smile” – Cristina (Sleep It Off, 1984)
“Try to Remember – The Fantasticks (featuring Jerry Orbach) (Original cast album, 1960)
“Baedeker” – Gabriel Kahane (Book of Travelers, 2013)
“Freedom Rider” – Traffic (John Barleycorn Must Die, 1970)
“Maiden Voyage” – Herbie Hancock (Maiden Voyage, 1965)
“The Charade” – D’Angelo and the Vanguard (Black Messiah, 2014)
“Held Down” – Laura Marling (Songs For Our Daughter, 2020)
“No Mermaid” – Sinéad Lohan (No Mermaid, 1998)
“Zero Hour” – Attention (single, 1983)
“Solace” – Scott Joplin/ Richard Zimmerman (Scott Joplin: His Greatest Hits, 1974 [1909 composition])
“Albert” – Ed Laurie (Meanwhile in the Park, 2006)
“Running From Mercy” – Rickie Lee Jones (Traffic From Paradise, 1993)

* This is the second song I’ve featured here from Gabriel Kahane’s ongoingly impressive Book of Travelers. It was released in the aftermath of one tragedy—the election of an historically ill-prepared and unprincipled man to the U.S. presidency (these are facts, not political statements)—and continues to fit the mood of the country, in its effort to find dignity in our individual stories, despite where we find ourselves collectively.

* From its origins in an unadorned Off-Broadway show, “Try To Remember” became a drippy standard covered by several zillion crooners and divas and wedding singers over the years. There’s a part of my ear that overlooks all that to remain charmed by the song’s plaintive melody and semi-miraculous chord changes. I keep hearing something elusive and profound in the simple progression in the verse—the movement from “When life was slow” to “and oh so mellow.” Extra points here for a chance to recall that the late great Jerry Orbach was far more than a network procedural fixture.

* “Zero Hour” from the NYC band Attention is a song with next to no internet trail. I discovered it via a Spanish blog offering a thrillingly exhaustive overview of semi-forgotten and entirely forgotten new wave songs, El ABC de la New Wave. I was mostly scanning the offerings for songs I used to know but have lost track of, but along the way I’ve unearthed a few gems I’d never heard before, including this one. According to Discogs, there was the “Zero Hour” single in 1983, a five-song “mini-album” in 1985, and that’s that. Given the generic nature of the band’s name, even if there’s some biographical information buried somewhere online, it’s not going to be easy to find; to make matters worse, another band named Attention has come along in the 21st century, so the earlier band is effectively a ghost.

* And then we have Zero Church, the album released by two of the three Roche sisters, originally slated for a 9/11/01 release, but delayed four months in the aftermath. It’s an unusual album; the origin story is too complicated to explain in a brief note, but the album’s exploration of complex social issues via prayers set to music seems as timely as ever.

* Laura Marling gets deeper and more astonishing with each album. And she’s only now 30. That she has been in a master’s program studying psychoanalysis for the last couple of years endears her to me all the more. Too many of today’s musicians seem so relentlessly one-dimensional, and all too ensnared in our culture of shallow digitalia. I’ll take a singer/songwriter working on her master’s degree over a YouTube sensation singing about his girlfriend every time.

* The trailblazing singer and writer Cristina Monet Zilkha, who performed simply as Cristina, died at the end of March of complications related to COVID-19; she was 64. A pioneer in a new musical realm combining punk attitude with pop sensibilities, Cristina has been retroactively credited with laying the groundwork for the mainstream success of a series of acclaimed pop stars, from Madonna through Lady Gaga. She was associated with the legendary “no wave” record label ZE Records, recording the label’s first-ever release. The song “Smile” was recorded for her second album, 1984’s Sleep It Off, but didn’t appear until a 2004 re-release, as a bonus track. Its sure-handed chops—you might almost call this power pop, with an edge—are due as much to Cristina’s vocal presence as to songwriters Don and David Was, whose band Was (Not Was) was originally signed to ZE Records.

* Lastly, I’m going to let D’Angelo speak for himself. That song came out six years ago.

Free and legal MP3: Pete Droge (feat. Elaine Summers) (Strong, gentle, lovely)

“Skeleton Crew” – Pete Droge (featuring Elaine Summers)

While singer/songwriters are relatively common here on Fingertips, I don’t end up featuring a lot of “man with a guitar” or “woman with a guitar” tunes. Not because I don’t like that kind of thing, but, truth be told, because I just don’t hear a lot that crosses the line from “nice” to “vital.” Because look: most acoustic-guitar-and-voice songs are by definition “nice.” But me, I want and need more from a song than niceness, especially now, and I think we get a lot more than that with this one, from Pete Droge, performing here with his wife and collaborator, the artist and musician Elaine Summers.

“Skeleton Crew” is a sad, sturdy song about resilience. Even as it sounds acutely relevant to our current moment —

We’ll get through this thing together
You lean on me and I’ll lean on you
Know that nothing lasts forever and ever

— in truth the song was started in November 2017 and had nothing to do with the pandemic (or, of course, our even more recent crisis). Launched off a concise, ear-catching guitar riff, the song is gracefully crafted, with its crisp, intimate guitar sound and well-placed vocal harmonies. The balance achieved between gentleness and strength, both musically and lyrically, is at the heart of the song’s loveliness and power.

Pete Droge had a moment or two back in the ’90s, with a major label record deal and some mainstream radio play; Allmusic calls him “one of the most overlooked of the modern-day Americana/rock/folk music movement.” But for whatever reason, probably having nothing to do with his talents and efforts, he faded off the scene as the new century turned. He was part of a short-lived “supergroup” called the Thorns, with Matthew Sweet and Shawn Mullins, which released an album in 2003.  Since then he has released four albums under his own name, on his own label. He has also done a lot of composing for a variety of media projects, from his home studio on Vashon Island, in the Puget Sound a short ferry ride from Seattle.

Speaking of which, Droge released “Skeleton Crew” in March as a fundraiser for a local charity, Vashon Youth and Family Services. He was kind enough to let me post the song here, but if you’re up for it, I’d suggest heading to Bandcamp and offering 50 cents or a dollar for the cause. And a big thanks goes out to visitor Scott for the head’s up about the song in the first place.