Definitely Glamour

t’s hard to say if it feels like yesterday or a hundred years ago that I first heard Maia Sharp’s song “Brownstone” on the now defunct San Diego station KUPR. From her debut album “Hardly Glamour”, that ambiguous familiarity is inherent to the album itself; every track sounds like I’ve heard it before. Maia’s voice, deeper than most female singers you hear on pop radio, is warm and reassuring. Her songwriting and musicianship exude the same warmth and professionalism, making for one of the most enjoyable albums I’ve discovered in years. I’m not sure why it’s taken me five years to track it down, and now that I have, I regret the pretermission. I’ll make up for it by being particularly verbose in today’s review.If you’d like to read all about Maia’s famous songwriter father, or her struggles with the never-released album “Tinderbox”, I’m sure you can find all the details elsewhere. I’m only going to talk about her music.

It’s hard to say if it feels like yesterday or a hundred years ago that I first heard Maia Sharp‘s song “Brownstone” on the now defunct San Diego station KUPR. From her debut album “Maia Sharp's 'Hardly Glamour'Hardly Glamour“, that ambiguous familiarity is inherent to the album itself; every track sounds like I’ve heard it before. Maia’s voice, deeper than most female singers you hear on pop radio, is warm and reassuring. Her songwriting and musicianship exude the same warmth and professionalism, making for one of the most enjoyable albums I’ve discovered in years. I’m not sure why it’s taken me five years to track it down, and now that I have, I regret the pretermission. I’ll make up for it by being particularly verbose in today’s review.

If you’d like to read all about Maia’s famous songwriter father, or her struggles with the never-released album “Tinderbox”, I’m sure you can find all the details elsewhere. I’m only going to talk about her music.

  • “I Need This To Be Love” — ‘You said, “I’m going to California” so I was going to California, too.’ Leaving everything she knows behind, our heroine surrenders to the fantasy that love is a good enough reason for the madness of a cross-country crime spree. Co-writer Mark Addison and Daris Adkins keep adding layer upon layer of sliding, shimmering guitars, building this country-tinged number to a big round conclusion, even though the lyrics never really tell us whether it was love or not. Nice upbeat track in spite of it.
  • “Good Thing” — After the simplicity of the opening track, it takes more than one listen to absorb the more complex rhythym of this sad song’s chorus.
     To live without your touch Could never feel too much Like a good thing

    Despite dad Randy’s mandolin and acoustic guitar, this doesn’t sound like a country or folk tune. Maia’s voice and the arrangement of the mandolin solo combine with the time signature to lend a very jazzy feeling. And that’s a good thing. Co-written with Randy Sharp.

  • “The Apology” — Maia plays a number of keyboards and the tenor sax on this edgy/funky jazz tune. The keyboard solo doesn’t come to a tidy conclusion; everything just seems to dwindle to a near silence, making way for the next verse. Very nicely done, and not at all your typical pop schmaltz. It’s becoming clear we’re listening to a composer, not just a singer. The next track nails that down pretty securely.
  • “Brownstone” — A simple acoustic bass and guitar opening, with vocals to a completely different beat. Too many words for each line. Fuzzy, almost angry guitar over the gently vocals of the chorus. Suddenly, it’s raining, and a couple soprano saxes are dueling with a pair of electric guitars, but the prodominant sound is co-writer Janet Robin’s acoustic guitar, carrying the melody. Challenging, fascinating, complex, beautiful; this one track is worth the price of the entire album. A spectacular recording, showcasing Sharp’s mature writing and singing.
  • “Broken” — Another upbeat song about betrayal and unhappy love. It’s hard to empathize too much with the tragic lyrics when they’re surrounded by all those perky guitars doing their best George Harrison imitation. Another partnering with Janet Robin, who plays multiple guitars. Not quite country, but headed that way.
  • “Only Way Of Knowing” — A patient song about the freshness of first love. Co-writer/dad Randy provides some really stes/m backing vocals which make his new album “Connections” sound like a good bet.
  • “Don’t Come Around Tonight” — Opening like a Steven Bishop ballad, “Don’t Come Around” turns into the kind of rocker Jimmy Buffet might do if he had the notion. A good solid rhythmic piece which should have become a big hit.
     Don't come around here tonight But that doesn't mean forever

    In the old days of two-sided vinyl albums, this was the kind of rousing tune artists loved to have leading off side two.

  • “Solitaire” — Tr

New York State of Mind

ne year ago today, lives changed forever; some ended, some forever scarred, but at the same time, some began. Yes, there are children celebrating their first birthday today, because, in spite of the occasional madness in the world, life does indeed go on.More than one of those who perished were men I consider brothers from a religious standpoint; not helpless victims, but voluntary victims — firefighters who, knowing they were risking their own lives, didn’t hestitate to enter the dual inferno to help others.

One year ago today, lives changed forever; some ended, some forever scarred, but at the same time, some began. Yes, there are children celebrating their first birthday today, because, in spite of the occasional madness in the world, life does indeed go on.

More than one of those who perished were men I consider brothers from a religious standpoint; not helpless victims, but voluntary victims — firefighters who, knowing they were risking their own lives, didn’t hestitate to enter the dual inferno to help others.

Music has a marvelous healing effect. There are some songs which I’ll always associate with the 11th of September. One tune which has seen a resurgence of appreciation is Billy Joel’s Billy Joel's 'Turnstiles'New York State of Mind.” The first time I heard it was 22 years ago; the last time I heard it was ten minutes ago as I was wending my way through the city streets to work here in beautiful southern California. Joel once commented that meeting Ray Charles was like meeting the Statue of Liberty. “New York State of Mind” always reminds me of the homage he pays to the great jazz artists, and the fact that he’s always done so without sacrificing his own style. It’s a wonderful song which carries just a little bit more meaning than it once did.

Comment: Racing Toward the Future

egarding “Racing Toward the Future, One Second at a Time, this comment from artlung:”Norah Jones is great, for sure. I saw her live last month and she’s a dynamic performer. She did an awesome version of Tenessee Waltz. I grabbed some alternate stuff of hers on Limewire, and there are some sound clips on norahjones.com.”

Regarding “Racing Toward the Future, One Second at a Time, this comment from artlung:

“Norah Jones is great, for sure. I saw her live last month and she’s a dynamic performer. She did an awesome version of Tenessee Waltz. I grabbed some
alternate stuff of hers on Limewire, and there are some sound clips on norahjones.com.”

So, Joe, how about a review of the show? I missed it, and I’d love to have a first-hand account for Know Your Music.

Fair Summer Evenings

anci Griffith is a poet of the highest caliber. It’s an added benefit that she puts her poetry to beautiful music and sings it with an angel’s voice.I first heard that voice in 1989, when my sister suggested I listen to “More Than A Whisper” from Nanci’s 1986 album “Last Of The True Believers.” I immediately thought of James Taylor – the delicate style of guitar picking, the flow of the melody, the interplay between vocals and guitar. Like many of her tunes, “More Than A Whisper” is a cry for a little reason and sense in the usually irrational arena of love.

Nanci Griffith is a poet of the highest caliber. It’s an added benefit that she puts her poetry to beautiful music and sings it with an angel’s voice.

I first heard that voice in 1989, when my sister suggested I listen to “More Than A Whisper” from Nanci’s 1986 album “Nanci Griffith's 'Last of the True Believers'Last Of The True Believers.” I immediately thought of James Taylor – the delicate style of guitar picking, the flow of the melody, the interplay between vocals and guitar. Like many of her tunes, “More Than A Whisper” is a cry for a little reason and sense in the usually irrational arena of love.

And like many of her finest tunes, “More Than A Whisper” was included in her first live album, “Nanci Griffith's 'One Fair Summer Evening'One Fair Summer Evening.” Recorded at the Anderson Fair Retail Restaurant on two summer evenings in 1988, the songs are presented in their purest form; simple acoustic numbers, standing on their beautiful melodies and touching lyrics rather than fancy instrumentation. It’s easy to forget, listening to the richness of each song, that the only instruments played are Nanci’s guitar, long-time compatriot James Hooker’s keyboards, and Denny Bixby’s bass.

While many live albums eliminate the between-song patter, part of the appeal of “One Fair Summer Evening” is Nanci’s commentary; why songs were written, who they’re about, and in one case, what the little ‘ding’ is during the quiet instrumental sections. Her stories of great-aunts and uncles, her love for Ireland, and the loves and lives of her own loved ones, all flow naturally between and around the songs chronicling those same events.

Two new songs were introduced on the album. “Deadwood, South Dakota” is a quietly biting commentary on the plight of native Americans, told through the events in a small-town drug store when news arrives that Crazy Horse, enemy of the people, has been killed. The sarcasm of the chorus is atypical of Griffith’s lyrics, but apropos to the poignant tone of the track:

 And the gold she lay cold in their pockets And the sun she sets down on the trees And they thank the Lord for the land that they live in Where the white man does as he pleases

The second of the new tunes, “I Would Bring You Ireland”, is a ‘thank you’ to the people of Ireland. Nanci explains that the Irish have always made her feel especially welcome, and the song is a glowing portrait of a place she obviously loves.

Other highlights:

  • “Love At The Five And Dime”, a wonderful story of enduring love in everyday life, and featuring the ‘ding’ of the elevator bell in a Woolworths’ store. Nanci opens this one with her fond and funny memories associated with Woolworth stores. She perfectly describes something I remember well: the smell of a Woolworth’s store is the smell of “chewing gum and popcorn rubbed around on the bottom of a leather-soled shoe.”
  • “Trouble In The Fields”, a story inspired by Griffith’s great-uncles and aunts who farmed the land, enjoying good times and enduring bad. The lyrics use the hardships and joys of farming as an analogy to the hardships and joys of relationships. Acknowledging the hard work necessary to make anything grow, the chorus closes
     Come harvest time we'll work it out There's still a lotta love, here in these troubled fields

My next Nanci Griffith album is going to be her 1993 release “Nanci Griffith's 'Other Voices, Other Rooms'Other Voices, Other Rooms“, a tribute to the people whose music influenced her. Not only does she cover her benefactor’s tunes, the list of guest artists read like a “Who’s Who” of modern folk and country: Nanci Griffith's 'Flyer'Chet Atkins, Bob Dylan, Bela Fleck, Arlo Guthrie, Emmylou Harris, John Hartford, Leo Kottke, Alison Krause, Odetta, John Prine, Amy Ray, and Emily Saliers.

Sometime soon I’ll tell you all about Nanci’s fantastic 1994 album “Flyer“, another of my favorites.

What Was The Question?

ne of the search entries recently was “who sings walking in memphis” (sic); I hope you found your answer. If not, here it is: (shameless plug, forcing you to read my review).

One of the search entries recently was “who sings walking in memphis” (sic); I hope you found your answer. If not, here it is: (shameless plug, forcing you to read my review).

If you’ve ever got questions about music or musicians and can’t find the answer, let me know. I love a challenge. I’ll do my best to find the info you seek, and we’ll all learn something. If I can’t come up with the right answer (or a really good wrong answer) I’ll post the question here and perhaps our esteemed cohorts can.

Sunny Days Have Burnt A Path

prefer lyrics that make me think. The banal repetitive lyrics of the average pop song are okay if they’re carried by a spectacular voice or accompanied by really good music. But intelligent or thought-provoking lyrics can get by with a lot less window dressing.From my earliest childhood, this attitude has been influenced by the songs of Paul Simon. My perspective of the entire marketing field has always been colored by Simon’s “Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine” just as the first mental pictures I formed of New York were pleasant, happy images, wrapped around the 59th Street Bridge. Paul has always been introspective, and his lyrics are full of self-analysis, and, on occasion, the anguish and doubt which sometimes result. “Ten Years”, written for the anniversary of a television show (10 points if you can guess it) has meaning and value far beyond its origins. The singer looks back, noting the rapid passage of time, feeling a dearth of accomplishment; then, looks forward, wondering if the future holds more of the same.

I prefer lyrics that make me think. The banal repetitive lyrics of the average pop song are okay if they’re carried by a spectacular voice or accompanied by really good music. But intelligent or thought-provoking lyrics can get by with a lot less window dressing.

From my earliest childhood, this attitude has been influenced by the songs of Paul Simon. My perspective of the entire marketing field has always been colored by Simon’s “Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine” just as the first mental pictures I formed of New York were pleasant, happy images, wrapped around the 59th Street Bridge. Paul has always been introspective, and his lyrics are full of self-analysis, and, on occasion, the anguish and doubt which sometimes result. “Ten Years”, written for the anniversary of a television show (10 points if you can guess it) has meaning and value far beyond its origins. The singer looks back, noting the rapid passage of time, feeling a dearth of accomplishment; then, looks forward, wondering if the future holds more of the same.

CarnivalSimon is a wordsmith. From the opening lines

 You are moving on a crowded street through various shades of people

through

 the sky turns dark as stone

to the final line

 sunny days have burnt a path across another season

he chooses slightly unusual descriptions for the mundane, the expected, and thereby makes them something entirely new and different. Simon’s voice is as simple as always; the musical accompaniment sounds much like an outtake from “Graceland”; but the lyrics make the song stand out among his works.

The song first appeared, in shortened form, on the Oprah Winfrey show. The full version is only available on Carnival“, an album to benefit the Rainforest Foundation, and featuring Sting, <James Taylor, The Chieftans, and others.

In spite of the bleak lyrics, the song feels hopeful. Maybe it’s just wishful thinking, but when he sings

 If you look into your future life ten years from this question, do you imagine a familiar light burning in the distance?

I do indeed imagine a familiar light, but it’s a light I’d like to see.

Finding Iz

There was a lot to like about the movie “Finding Forrester.” First, I could watch Sean Connery nap on the couch and find it fascinating. Second, it’s amazing to see newcomer Rob Brown hold his own while he shares the screen with Connery, and occasionally dominates it. The story, although slightly predictable, is done so well that I’ve enjoyed it every time I’ve seen it.As a music freak, though, the thing that made the most lasting impression on me happened as the ending credits started to whizz past, as credits are wont to do these days. Out of nowhere, there was this amazing, high, clear voice, singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” accompanied by a ukelele! I caught the name ‘Israel something-impossibly-long-and-Hawaiian’ and scurried for the internet, where I discovered Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, Hawaii’s Bruddah Iz.

There was a lot to like about the movie “Finding ForresterFinding Forrester.” First, I could watch Sean Connery nap on the couch and find it fascinating. Second, it’s amazing to see newcomer Rob Brown hold his own while he shares the screen with Connery, and occasionally dominates it. The story, although slightly predictable, is done so well that I’ve enjoyed it every time I’ve seen it.

As a music freak, though, the thing that made the most lasting impression on me happened as the ending credits started to whizz past, as credits are wont to do these days. Out of nowhere, there was this amazing, high, clear voice, singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” accompanied by a ukelele! I caught the name ‘Israel something-impossibly-long-and-Hawaiian’ and scurried for the internet, where I discovered Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, Hawaii’s Bruddah Iz.

Born the same year as me, 1959, Israel came from a very musical background. Forming a musical group, Makaha Sons Of Ni’ihau, with his brother Skippy at a young age, Israel started recording under his own name in 1990. Although Skippy had died of a heart attack in 1982, the group continued to record and remained popular in Hawaii. Israel eventually recorded duets with recordings of Skippy, a la Natalie/Nat King Cole. Israel’s health was always a concern as well; his weight occasionally topped 750 pounds.

In 1995, Iz released “Israel Kamakawiwo'ole 'Facing Future'Facing Future” which contains the track “Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What A Wonderful World.” Neither song is a special favorite of mine; the former has sort of been done to death, the latter has always seemed just a bit trite. Not unlistenable tunes, just not favorites. But hearing Israel’s complete rearrangement, his crystal voice, and the obvious joy he took in his music, makes them both sparkle. He takes marvelous liberties with the lyrics to ‘Rainbow’ but it doesn’t seem to matter; the reason to listen is that voice.

The entire album is enjoyable. Mostly Hawaiian tunes (which makes appreciation of the lyrics a bit difficult for some of us) but besides the tune already mentioned, there’s a fun, humourous cover of “Take Me Home Country Road” with Hawaiian locations substituted for the originals, and a Hawaiian country chorus doing the backing vocals.

The opening track, “Hawai`i ’78 Introduction” is beautiful. It includes voice-overs of Israel talking about his father’s death of a heart attack. Since Israel’s death from the same cause in 1997 it is especially eerie to hear him refer to his father’s words about staying close to the people he loved; advice which Israel says on the album would have saved his father’s life had he followed it himself.

Despite the fact that we have a catalog of more than two dozen albums featuring Bruddah Iz, it’s sad to think he’ll no longer be singing the history of the homeland he obviously loved.

Pure Fluff

It doesn’t all have to be serious.A few years ago, San Diego’s ill-fated independent station KUPR had a weekly program showcasing new music. Independent artists and others from the music industry were invited to hawk their wares to a panel of interested parties. The panel varied slightly from week to week, but included local musicians and others from the local music scene, and members of the station’s staff.

Pure It doesn’t all have to be serious.

A few years ago, San Diego’s ill-fated independent station KUPR had a weekly program showcasing new music. Independent artists and others from the music industry were invited to hawk their wares to a panel of interested parties. The panel varied slightly from week to week, but included local musicians and others from the local music scene, and members of the station’s staff.

During one show, one of the tunes was an obviously trivial, but fun, calypso number. Mojo Nixon, a regular panelist, made the disparaging comment that it sounded like something ‘parrot-heads would think was cool.’ The rest of the panel agreed that it wasn’t ‘important’ enough to get airplay.

I’d developed a semi-friendly relationship with Clark Novak, who piloted KUPR in the midday. So, I fired off an indignant e-mail to Clark about why music doesn’t have to be serious or heavy; I included references to the Beatles, Irving Berlin and Cole Porter, and I think even Mozart.

The next day, Clark called me and said that he’d forwarded my message to the station’s programming manager, who had asked him to invite me onto the show as their first listener panelist. This was on Friday; I couldn’t make it that next Wednesday, so we scheduled my visit for the next week. I fretted and stressed for a whole week, worrying that after years of being considered ‘the music guy’ by the folks who knew me, I was going to embarrass myself on the radio.

No such luck. Friday morning, after three years of truly imaginative independent programming, including my first exposure to the likes of Jude Cole, Sonvolt, and others, KUPR turned country. No commercials, no breaks of any kind; just canned commercialized country-pop 24 hours a day. Eventually, they became a huge radio conglomerate’s answer to cotton candy; I couldn’t even tell you what station is at 95.7 in San Diego these days.

Needless to say, since there was no show, I didn’t embarrass myself. I still think it’s an extreme measure, killing an entire radio station just to keep me off the airwaves.

And, as Bill Cosby is wont to say, I told you that story so I could tell you another one; this time, about the Lightning Seeds‘ lush and fluffy tune ‘Pure.’

Just as Five For Fighting, World Party, and so many other groups are really the brain-children of a single artist, ‘Lightning Seeds’ is really primarily Liverpudlian singer/songwriter Ian Broudie. Broudie seems to cycle between serving as producer for acts like Echo & the Bunnymen (Bedbugs and Ballyhoo!) and this is just here so I could have a picture of Alison Moyet on my websiteAlison Moyet (Nobody’s Diary), and varous solo or duo projects.

The opening moments of the song establish a less-than-serious feeling with a single keyboard note which can only be described as a pleasant honk. After a few seconds, the usual bass, drums, and guitar join the pleasant honking in a bouncy melange that makes it hard for me to sit still. It’s primarily a vocal tune; even the guitar solo in the middle is extremely understated, more of an ‘introduction part II’ for the second half of the song. At less than four minutes long, the abundance of lyrics makes it seem longer.

Full of celestial and hypaethral imagery (lines like

 raindrops splash rainbows as daydreams slide to colour from shadow, picture the moonglow shooting stars around your heart as leaves pour down; splash autumn on gardens as colder nights harden, their moonlit delights look at me with starry eyes, push me up to starry skies; there's stardust in my head

fill the tune) it seems to be a lover’s plea for happiness. The verses seem so joyous and vibrant, every one ending with the line ‘and I love you’, but the chorus reveals awareness of a lover’s sadness:

 Now you're crying in your sleep I wish you'd never learnt to weep Don't sell the dreams you should be keeping pure and simple everytime

In spite of the implications of sadness and pain, there’s a beautiful message of unconditional love:

 I've found a place I'll never leave; shut my mouth and just believe love is the truth, I realize not a stream of pretty lies to use us up and waste our time

It might not be easy, but ‘Like You DoPure‘ is hopeful, almost from the beginning, reminding us that ‘perhaps someone you know could sparkle and shine.’

Isn’t love worth it?

On and On About La Jolla

La Jolla is one of the most beautiful places on earth. A suburb of San Diego, California, it occupies a small coastal plain between a sharp knife of hills and the Pacific Ocean. It has a small town feel to it; only about a mile wide and a few miles long, you can drive through in minutes. But I could spend the rest of my life there and never miss the rest of the world. Some of the most breathtaking coastline in the world, stunning architecture, fabulous restaurants, a modicum of seclusion from the hustle of the ‘real’ city; it’s nearly perfect.La Jolla was almost the subject of Stephen Bishop’s preciously non-tragic non-love song “On and On” as well.

La Jolla is one of the most beautiful places on earth. A suburb of San Diego, California, it occupies a small coastal plain between a sharp knife of hills and the Pacific Ocean. It has a small town feel to it; only about a mile wide and a few miles long, you can drive through in minutes. But I could spend the rest of my life there and never miss the rest of the world. Some of the most breathtaking coastline in the world, stunning architecture, fabulous restaurants, a modicum of seclusion from the hustle of the ‘real’ city; it’s nearly perfect.

La Jolla was almost the subject of Stephen Bishop’s preciously non-tragic non-love song “On and On” as well.

The local ‘old rock’ station, KGB, used to do a benefit every year. Local bands would submit tapes of tunes and the 10 best would be compiled in that year’s ‘Home Grown’ album. They range from interesting to spectacular. Ron Satterfield, who later formed Checkfield, appeared often. (Ron’s ‘Light of the City’ from ‘Home Grown IV’ is one of my 10 favorite songs of all time; too bad it’s just not available anywhere but used vinyl.)

Bishop, born in San Diego in 1951, allegedly submitted his tune (with the opening line ‘Down in La Jolla’ instead of ‘Down in Jamaica’) on the wrong format tape, and was disqualified without even getting a listen. That’s okay; it probably deserved a wider audience than the Home Grown albums got.

La Jolla is also host to the annual Raymond Chandler writing contest. Hosted by the La Jolla Chamber of Commerce, submissions of short stories in Chandler’s style or in parody of his style are awarded small cash prizes.

I always wondered why all the submissions were parodies. I assumed it was because it was easier than writing a serious piece in Chandler’s style. When I tried to submit a vignette I wrote while I was an unemployed construcion worker, I found out otherwise: all submissions become the property of the La Jolla C of C. Why would I write something I really cared about and then give it away?

Still unpublished except on the web, my vignette, “Simplicity Itself” was written in about 10 minutes, and hasn’t change a word since the night I awoke from a sound sleep with it fully formed in my head. I recommend listening to Dire Strait‘s song “On Every Street” while reading it.