Thursday, July 23, 2009

Now Hear This! - Vol. 2

My "earworm" series continues. As before, I'm including a few newies and a few oldies and I'm keeping everything on the lesser-known side. I try to always go for songs that can be downloaded individually (and legally!), but of course I will tell you what albums or compilations to look for if you want to buy more than just the one song.


For the newer ones this time, I'll stay in the spirit of the season and recommend songs I associate with summer.

"Lullaby Appetite," Alexa Wilkinson (available on Lullaby Appetite)

Ah, the summer of 2007! A time spent healing my frustrated music journalist's wounds by going to concerts and tossing back a couple of beers. Beer may not be the best way to heal, but music this beautiful sure eases the pain. I wasn't even familiar with Alexa when I saw her; she was sharing the bill with another artist whom I followed at the time. The shy, mild-mannered Ms. Wilkinson didn't make much of an impression on me at first.....then in the days following the show, I couldn't get this song out of my head. An inviting, soulfully sung folk-pop ballad with simply gorgeous instrumentation and a haunting melody. I'm getting all tingly just listening to it right now.

"Hallway," Bojibian (available on the Bojibian EP)

Although I could have stayed home and watched reruns of reruns of reruns of How I Met Your Mother, the summer of 2008 found me spending Monday nights at the Philly Rising Open Mic, where I watched this local foursome rock the stage on numerous occasions. Incidentally, they're named in honor of rock legends Bo Diddley and Jibi Hendrix. Not buying that? Okay, fine: they're actually named after Armenian financier A. Randolph Bojibian, who funded their first recording session. Okay, fine! In truth, "Bojibian" doesn't mean anything. The lyrics to "Hallway" are only slightly more meaningful, but with menacing chords, gritty harmonies, and a tripped-out guitar break, does anyone really care?

"Fools," Diane Birch (available on Bible Belt)

The summer of 2009! Hellish times for many of us, but we've still got some good music to help us through it all. You're probably seeing Diane Birch a lot on TV and in the press these days. That's great. Every time you've seen her on TV, you've probably heard her perform the song "Nothing But A Miracle." That's not great. Who am I to disagree with her record company or whatever experts chose "Miracle" as the lead single from her album? I'm a consumer who went out and bought her album and decided that even though "Miracle" is good, "Fools" is the pick hit: an immediately engaging slice of soul-pop heaven with a scintillating melody and a structure that's simple without being simplistic. But hey, as long as this talented singer/songwriter is getting recognized....

And as a bonus, I'd like to mention a track that's not available yet but you can listen to it online. You might remember The Idles. They're working on a new record, and the track "Everyday I'm A Rockstar" is streaming on MySpace now. This is more of that raw, nasty, fun rock 'n' roll The Idles are known for -- pay special attention to the lyrics on this one! The Idles have been good to One Note Ahead, so please be good to them.


"(Do The) Mashed Potatoes (Part I)," Nat Kendrick & The Swans (available on The Legendary Henry Stone Presents: Nat Kendrick & The Swans)

James Brown believed that an instrumental based on the "Mashed Potato" dance (in which people shuffled their feet as if mashing potatoes with them!) could be a hit. Syd Nathan, the head of JB's label King Records, didn't agree -- by the way, King also let Hank Ballard's "The Twist" go to waste around the same time, only for Chubby Checker's cover version to cause a Twist sensation. Not one to let Nathan's ineptitude hold him back, The Godfather of Soul had his band cut "Mashed Potatoes" for another label under a pseudonym, enlisting deejay King Coleman to overdub his vocals over Brown's so Nathan wouldn't get hip. The result is weirdly cool, some basic R&B riffage punctuated by off-kilter shout-singing, and it's all over in a heartbeat. There have been numerous alternate versions and reworkings over the years, but there's nothing quite like the hit version I've spotlighted here. (Note: For some reason, "Nat Kendrick" is sometimes billed or listed as "Nat Hendrick.")

"Mean Old World," Rick Nelson (available on The Best of Rick Nelson, 1963-75)

A young Billy Vera wrote this for Dionne Warwick, but such a crudely written song would hardly have fit such a refined singer. Ah, but Rick Nelson! Never a technical genius as a vocalist, but he had a pleasant voice, a knack for choosing excellent musicians, and a true feel for downbeat lyrics. And are these lyrics ever downbeat: "I can't let them see me cry/'Cause they don't care if I live or die." Ouch! Framed by some of the most solid instrumental work heard on any of his records, Rick sounds downright pissed by the time this track is over. If you've ever been left alone or mistreated in your time of need, you'll feel his pain.

"I Feel Much Better," Small Faces (available on The Immediate Years, Disc Two)

It's too bad that the Small Faces had only one major hit in the US, and it's too bad that their only major US hit was "Itchycoo Park," which has dated so poorly it's embarrassing. But that's the problem with this band's work: for every "Afterglow (Of Your Love)" there was a "Here Come The Nice," for every "All Or Nothing" a "Sha-La-La-La-Lee" (actually, they didn't even like that one). Silly tunes like "Lazy Sunday" made and still make it hard for some to take the Small Faces seriously, but they really were fantastic and powerful musicians. "I Feel Much Better" is one of my favorites, with its whimsically poetic lyrics, slyly trippy harmonies, and mood-shifting instrumentation. (Like most Small Faces tracks, it's available on many many compilations. The one I named is the iTunes comp that has what I consider the best-sounding mix. I have the track on a different collection, though.)

That's all for now. The XPN festival starts tomorrow, so look for a blog (or some blogs) about that next week. :-)

Copyright © 2009 S.J. Dibai. All rights reserved.
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