Archive for the Music Category

Kelley Stoltz Keeps Mining Gems And His Latest,”Que Aura,” Gleams Like A Diamond

Posted in Music with tags , , , on October 19, 2017 by johnbuckley100

12 Jacket (3mm Spine) [GDOB-30H3-007}The cover photo of what Kelley Stoltz calls his “proper new album,” Que Aura, looks like something you’d see in a Kusama Infinity Room, all dots of light in a psychedelic space.  Like Kusama, Stoltz for the most part works alone, assembling true solo albums with painstaking craftsmanship, each track capturing an instrument played only by him.

Unlike Kusama, who resides in an asylum, Stoltz gets out of the house to play with bands, including touring as a sideman with his heroes Echo and the Bunnymen.  But in his own studio, over the past decade, he’s created an eccentric but exceptionally important and delightful body of work. As a recording artist, he deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence with the Beatles, David Bowie, Alex Chilton, and Ray Davies. Que Aura, released in August, is his best album since 2008’s Circular Sounds, which we would nestle alongside Rubber Soul, Radio City, and Lodger in the Go Bag that, one step ahead o’ the apocalypse, we’d take to the proverbial desert island.

Listening to Que Aura back-to-back with Below The Branches, the 2006 album that was our introduction to him, is instructive.  Back then, Stoltz was like a one-man version of the Fab 4 + George Martin, crafting intricate pop classics on acoustic piano and guitar, backed where needed by steady bass playing, what sounds like a Rickenbacker 6-string, and solid, unobtrusive drumming.  This was an era in which Stoltz says he was using a microphone propped in a sock drawer for wont of a proper studio and equipment.  The music is gorgeous, thrilling, inspirational, the seeming influences all from the ’60s.

A little more than a decade later, Que Aura sounds like it was recorded in a German studio with this generation’s George Martin twiddling the knobs.  As a singer, Kelley’s affect is effortless, but here he sounds like he’s fronting a really fantastic band whose rhythm section can swing.  And of course, it’s all him — an incredibly difficult trick to pull off.

Over his previous three albums — 2010’s To Dreamers, 2013’s Double Exposure, and 2015’s In Triangle Time — Stoltz has moved away from the delicacy of his earlier work to bring in New Wave influences, to thicken the sound a bit with horns and synths, and clearly Will Sergeant’s guitar sound (Echo + Bunnymen) and mid-period Bowie have inspired him in recent years. Like a craftsman who, after years of creating one-of-a-kind designs… pushing his needle and thread through fabric under a solitary light bulb… who has succumbed to such labor-saving devices as the sewing machine, Stoltz has rolled a bank of electronic keyboards into his atelier.  Keyboards have ruined many a solo practitioner’s studio work, from Prince to Tame Impala, but even though we miss the Rickenbacker and acoustic piano sound of yore, on Que Aura, he makes it all work. He’s still creating gems, but much as I love the pre-2010 work, these shine brighter.

The songwriting as a whole is stronger than on any album since Circular Sounds.  “I’m Here For Now” ranks with Double Exposure’s “Still Feel” and the most infectious rockers of his career.  “Tranquilo” is the closest thing Stoltz has produced to a hit you could see coming out of the Motown basement, and it has the quirks and charms of his greatest songs before culminating with psychedelic panache.  On “Same Pattern,” it’s clear that Kelley has had a conversation about synths with his label, Mr. John Dwyer.  Out of 11 songs, there are two we don’t think we’ll be listening to a decade hence.  This is a glorious clutch of songs, rendered with enough analog guitars, bass, and drums to prevent the electronic keyboards from ever smearing the delicacy, like a surfeit of Hollandaise on poached eggs.

Speaking of John Dwyer, there’s a reason why the progenitor of Thee Oh Sees, not to mention Jack White, would be the “label heads” putting out Stoltz’s most recent work.  In days of yore, some A&R chap at Warner Bros would have figured out how to slide a Kelley Stoltz contract past Mo Ostin.  But without a generous label afloat on a pontoon of CD sales taking a flyer on a talent like his, Stoltz is embraced by his fellow artists who know brilliance when they hear it.  Just as, gentle reader who has journeyed this far, we know you do too.

We already have raved about Kelley Stoltz a time or two, given his records the highest marks on our 2010 and 2008 Top Ten Lists.  Somehow, even with all our raving, we have failed in getting him to perform at Madison Square Garden.  We’re not done trying.  And based on Que Aura, Kelley Stoltz is not done appearing at the top of Tulip Frenzy’s annual Top 10 List.

Wand Brought Their Sweet “Plum” To DC9, And Played The Most Exciting Show In Memory

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , on October 9, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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The D.J. was playing Television’s “Marquis Moon” when Cory Hanson climbed up on DC9’s stage last night and strapped on his Stratocaster.  He played along for a moment, which makes sense when you consider that our early warning on how powerful Wand’s new album Plum would be was when Hanson told Uncut, “I was reading about how Television wrote Marquis Moon and they’d go into their rehearsal space five days a week for four hours a day.  So I decided to go in six days a week for 10 hours a day.  We pushed harder to see what would happen.”

Wand released “Blue Cloud” a few weeks before pushing Plum out the door, putting us on notice that not only was Wand ready to rehearse like Television, they wanted to beat them at their own game.  And from the moment last night that Evan Burrows furiously kicked into “White Cat” and Hanson and new addition Robbie Cody began trading guitar lines like Verlaine and Lloyd, it was clear they had.  As great as Television were (and are), Billy Ficca is no Aynsley Dunbar, and Burrows is unquestionably the greatest drummer playing in a band today.

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We feel like Wand has grown up before our eyes, from their 930 Club debut in 2014 opening for Ty Segall to their stunning show at the Black Cat in 2015.  From the release of Ganglion Reef to Plum, they’ve grown from songs with titles like “Flying Golem” and “Reaper Invert” to becoming surely the only rock band extant to write a poignant song called “Charles De Gaulle.”

On their first two albums, born like Catholic twins maybe 10 months apart, their early roots showed the influence of mentor Ty Segall, with Black Sabbath chords played at speed metal tempi.  But Hanson’s always had a melodic grounding, and any band that could put “Growing Up Boys” on their first album was destined for great things.  With Plum — with shows like the one they put on last night — their destiny has arrived.  We can’t think of a better album released this year, nor a better show than we saw last night.

Since they were here last, Sofia Arrequin was added on keyboards and vocals, and with her arrival Wand’s sound has shifted from synth-heavy support for Hanson’s fluid guitar and pretty voice to a band playing with the fluidity of White Denim, the guitar interplay of the Soft Boys.  They’re a unit built around the core propulsion of a breeder reactor, but could only be riveted tighter if they rolled out of the Boeing factory.

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Cory Hanson has the preppy good looks of a Kennedy, and he came out in similar garb to what he was wearing last year when he and Burrows – for a few months putting Wand aside — toured as part of Ty Segall’s Muggers.  Since then, Hanson’s released a solo album as distant from Wand in it’s delicate sound as fellow Angeleno Shannon Lay’s Living Water is from her punk band Feels (also once produced by Ty Segall).  Taking a vacation from the thunder of Wand’s first two albums, and the ambitious prog-pop of their third outing 1000 Days was clearly good for the band, as were the additions of the two new members.

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Wand is at the height of their powers, but writing that we know they still have plenty of room to grow.  Some strong albums have been released this year by both Ty Segall and West Coast giant John Dwyer, whose Oh Sees made our August.  But among the West Coast’s finest, Wand’s come out on top, the best young band working today.  We stand back in awe at the prospect of what they’re capable of.

New David Bowie Box Comes With A Brilliant Tony Visconti Remix Of “Lodger,” Bowie’s Greatest Album

Posted in Music with tags , , , on September 29, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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Lodger was the third and final album in what became known as Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy, that series of 43cords released between ’77 and the summer of ’79 that he crafted with Brian Eno.  Only Low and parts of Heroes were actually recorded at Berlin’s Hansa Studios, (though Berlin also was the locale of Bowie’s production of Iggy Pop’s The Idiot and Lust For Life.) Whether or not this period is accurately defined by the Cold War Berlin milieu, the three albums are of a piece, as Bowie turned away from cocaine and pop fame — or perhaps, “Fame” — and created his greatest work.

Low, like Eno’s Another Green World before it, was as notable for instrumentals and song fragments as it was for full-fledged rock songs.  It was, after Station To Station, a sharp left turn, coinciding with the rise of punk without in any way adopting, or even reckoning with it.  It began the process by which Bowie became as much associated with composers like Philip Glass and Steve Reich — and Eno — as he was with pop music.  This was a very controversial repositioning, but looking back on his long and fruitful career, we think this is the moment — the Berlin Trilogy — when Bowie cemented his stature.

Yes, “Heroes” the song, and Heroes the album were hits, and with Robert Fripp joining the party, this was thrilling rock music.  But the first two albums of the Berlin Trilogy were notable, in no small part, for how Bowie went his own way, parallel to punk and what became New Wave, even as, with his ties to and influence over Iggy Pop, he helped shape a reformation of rock that somehow combined avant garde elements of the Velvet Underground, the proto-punk of the Stooges, with the Krautrock of his adopted home.

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When Lodger came out in the summer of ’79, it was, to these ears at least, the culmination of what had come before it.  It had Eno’s trademark synth figures.  Adrian Belew was the poor man’s Robert Fripp, but he was nonetheless a fantastically unconventional guitarist added to the band Bowie had slowly assembled.  And while the Stones, the summer before, had on Some Girls bowed in homage to the punk rock designed to replace them, Bowie’s new record still ignored it, instead presaging World Music which was still really a decade away.  We had only weeks before returned from a post-college, around-the-world trek, and an album-based travelogue with a post card on its cover — and an English rock star depicted as smashed up from his journey; the cover photo, at least, was true to the punk rock ethos — became the perfect soundtrack to our entry to adulthood in a small apartment in Manhattan.

It’s important to note that in ’79, rock’n’roll music was in full ferment, especially in New York.  The CBGB bands were now the new establishment, with Talking Heads putting out Fear of Music, records by bands like Joy Division, Magazine, and Wire’s brilliant 154 washing up on shore, and Manhattan bands like the dBs and Fleshtones coexisting with Eno’s No Wave discoveries and their offshoots like 8 Eyed Spy.  Lodger put Bowie completely in alignment with a wide array of younger artists in New York and Britain, and even as at age 32 — along with Lou Reed and Iggy Pop — he was a revered elder statesman.

We thought Lodger was completely brilliant, and we had been a diehard Bowie fanatic since first hearing The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust in ’72.  Not everyone thought so. Greil Marcus could sniff in Rolling Stone, Lodger might have been an event, if only as a record we would someday look back on as work that mapped the territory between past and future. Instead, it’s just another LP, and one of his weakest at that: scattered, a footnote to Heroes, an act of marking time.”  Freshly minted as a rock critic, our work beginning to be published in New York Rocker, we knew Marcus was a square, not even as hip as the Voice’s Robert Christgau, who seemed uncharacteristically confused when he wrote, “Musically, these fragments of anomie don’t seem felt, and lyrically they don’t seem thought through. But that’s part of their charm–the way they confound categories of sensibility and sophistication is so frustrating it’s satisfying, at least if you have your doubts about the categories. Less satisfying, actually, than the impact of the record as a whole.”  He gave it an A- anyway.

For us, there was just one problem: the album sounded pretty terrible.  Presaging the miseries of ’80s production techniques, in which synthesizers and tinny mastering of the new CD format made the sound of all records suck, Lodger was brittle, claustrophobic. Too many instruments clogged the output.  The album was jarring, but we thought it was supposed to be that way.  We were wrong.

We actually had no idea just how bad Lodger sounded until this morning, when upon the release of the Bowie box celebrating his output between ’77 and ’82, a new Tony Visconti mix of the album came out.  We’ve been smiling ever since.

Listening to the Visconti mix of Lodger is like seeing the Sistine Chapel after 500 years of smoke and grime has been removed from its ceiling.  It breathes.  The instruments are warm, and his voice hangs upon the songs like a comfortable jacket on a cedar hanger in a capacious closet. There is space between instruments, and like wine properly decanted, fruit at room temperature, its bearing is natural, all flavors easily explored by the tongue.  Visconti has taken a 1979 polyester suit and rendered it in natural fibers.

We have always thought Lodger was Bowie’s greatest album.  Eighteen months after his death, the remix by his longstanding friend and producer Tony Visconti finally proves it. The Bowie estate surely understands what it has here as the only way you can access it is by purchasing the whole box set.  We hate moves like this, but is handing over the dough worth it?  Unquestionably, the answer is yes.

 

On “Orc,” Thee Oh Sees’ 19th Album, John Dwyer Makes A Statement

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , on August 30, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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Orc is, if you can believe it, Thee Oh Sees’ 19th album.  Though it’s their first album under the name “Oh Sees.”  Whatever this is, however you count it or categorize it, John Dwyer has by now built such a confounding, amazing, gorgeous, pulverizing body of work there should be a monument to him just outside the Temple of Real Rock’n’Roll.

Less than four years ago Santa put a lumpa coal in our Christmas stocking with the news that Thee Oh Sees were breaking up.  It was particularly disheartening because the gang at Tulip Frenzy had just voted Floating Coffin the #2 album on that year’s Top Ten List (c). Lo those many years ago, we wrote, “You have no idea what Thee Oh Sees are going to come out with next!  A No Wave rock opera.  Speed-metal yodeling.  Eddy Cochran backed by zithers. We are completely serious: this is a band that through sheer dint of trying proves every mother’s maxim that if only little Johnny puts his mind to it, he can do anything.  If little Johnny is John Dwyer, the answer is yes, yes he can.  And you would be well advised to catch up.”  Have to say it, that was good advice then, and now.

If John Dwyer had thrown in the towel then, he would have assumed his rightful place in history; that here we are, four years and five albums later, and his replacement unit from the Oh Sees classic of the early part of this decade has now fused into nothing less than a machine and you can see why we are so thrilled that Orc has joined the party.

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Here’s all you need to really know, if you are not someone whose large ganglia have twitched to Dwyer’s yips and the propulsive drumming of his 100-horsepower twin tyros lashed to the back of his guitar work.  The big question about punk rock was always what it would turn into when the primitives learned to play.  You know, not every band could be the Clash and by Sandinista be playing Mose Allison covers and pushing at the forefront of what was then called rap.  But at least three recs ago, Dwyer showed he could play guitar like Jimi Hendrix.  That he could compose complex rock songs with a power and beauty that rivaled anyone who’s ever admitted to participating in the genre.  That he seriously could, on the same album, mix punk, prog rock, garage, psychedelia, and pop.

Last year, on the matched pair albums of An Odd Entrances and A Weird Exits we really could see adding jazz and Krautrock to that list. He is the magpie’s magpie, but that implies a lack of originality and in fact he’s the opposite.  A guy who as recently as 2011 was playing punk rock at high speeds is now capable of anything.  Here’s an example: on Orc‘s “Keys To The Castle,” we start out on a light jog, John Dwyer singing harmony with (we hope) once + future Oh Sees singer Brigid Dawson, and ‘fore ya know it we’re traversing a steeper pitch with some classic punk chords as the song intensifies.  And there there is a pause… and we come back at slow mo’ speed with cello and organ and synth, in a lovely electric piano chordal half-walk, the sounds of space wrapping your face, and for the next four minutes, you are in a dream.

We’d say he does that on every song, but in fact, “Keys To The Castle” is both a standout and also, if you’ve been paying attention, just exactly what we’ve come to expect from the impossible-to-pin-down Mr. Dwyer and his morphing set of musicians and band names.

For the past six or seven years, we have lived in a Golden Age of Rock’n’Roll due to the presence of John Dwyer, Ty Segall, and White Fence’s Tim Presley.  If the advance word on Wand’s new rec is right, add Cory Hanson to the list of West Coast genies making life worth living.  John Dwyer’s band(s) have pushed forward a 60+-year old genre in part by reconciling all its best pieces.  On Orc, he makes a statement.

And did we mention that just yesterday came word that Thee Oh Sees’ 20th album will be released in… November.  It is said to be coming out under the band’s original name, OCS, and will be “pretty, pastoral, folky, with string arrangements by Heather Locke and brass arrangements by Mikal Cronin.”  We cannot fucking wait.

The Summer’s Best Record Is A Compilation of Velvet Underground Covers

Posted in Lou Reed, Music with tags , , , , , on August 15, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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Over an embarrassingly long span of time, we’ve made dozens of Velvet Underground playlists.  On cassettes, Mini Disks, and various i-devices, we’ve carried an encyclopedia of music all tied to a single band.  These playlists haven’t just been collections of songs by the Velvets, or covers of Velvets songs, but also that more ethereal if no less important sub-genre of music: songs by bands that would never have existed had the Velvet Underground not summoned them from dank basements and moody bedrooms.

In fact, a little over 10 years ago in this very space, we wrote about the concept of Velvet Underground music as notional, a category that actually exists more through bands they influenced than the four-album entity that broke up in the early ’70s.  That band, the real Velvet Underground of Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison, Maureen Tucker and, what the Hell, Doug Yule, surely existed.  They were captured on the four original albums, the wildly variable official and unofficial live albums,  plus — and crucially — 1985’s posthumous compilation album, VU, which released so many great songs heretofore only heard as covers by other bands.  But like a truffle dog in pursuit of pungent underground treasures, our life has been enriched by the search for those great bands that, long after the real Velvets were gone, channeled them, brought them to enhanced life, and in so doing created the music we most adore.

If the main highways of rock’n’roll lead back to the Beatles, Stones, and Dylan, to Motown, the blues, and Elvis, to the San Francisco bands and early metal, our favorite potholed city streets go directly to the Velvet Underground via Spiritualized and Galaxie 500, Per Ubu and the Brian Jonestown Massacre, the Black Ryder, Mazzy Star, and Jesus and Mary Chain.  The Velvets existed, but their progeny did so much more, and no, we won’t repeat Brian Eno’s hoary invocation of The Velvet Underground and Nico as the record that launched 1000 bands.

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C) Joel Meyerowitz 1968

The Brazilian blog and record company, The Blog That Celebrates Itself, commissions bands from around the globe to participate in compilation homages to fave bands, from Echo and the Bunnymen to Spiritualized.  It was just a matter of time before they would get to the Velvet Underground.  Brace yourself.

After Hours, Velvets In Another View, which you can download from Bandcamp, has just come out and is, by some margin, the Album of the Summer.  Hearing favorite bands like Flavor Crystals play that most gorgeous of Velvets songs, “Ocean,” brings tears to the eye.  But everyone steps up, and as is the case with compilation albums, we immediately learn about bands we’d never heard of.  Thank you, The Other Kingdom, for your version of “What Goes On” — we will immediately become your biggest fan. The Tamborines’ version of “Heard Her Call My Name” will forever be on our Velvets playlists, Volume 63-102. Each of the songs here sound bright, as if the bands had money to play with.  And while Iceland’s Singapore Sling are veterans of the studio, as is proved by the pulsating version of “Sister Ray” that kicks off the album, we don’t know enough about Robsongs and Psychedelic Trips To Death and Magic Shoppe to grok whether the ace versions here of “Oh! Sweet Nothing,” “Run Run Run,” and “Heroin,” respectively, are par for their particular course, or just showcase bands getting their shot and going for it.

Maybe the only thing that really needs to be said about the grip the Velvet Underground has had on my life is that, in the final record he made with the band, Lou Reed wrote a song with these lyrics:

Jenny said, when she was just five years old
There was nothin’ happening at all
Every time she puts on the radio
There was nothin’ goin’ down at all, not at all
Then, one fine mornin’, she puts on a New York station
You know, she couldn’t believe what she heard at all
She started shakin’ to that fine, fine music
You know, her life was saved by rock’n’roll

Growing up in ear shot of NY AM radio, this was the story of our life.  While most reference to the Velvets focus on heroin, decadence, noise and squalor, to us they always were a band of uplift, of Sunday mornings and pale blue eyes. Of intelligent questions, like what goes on in other people’s minds.  Of wisdom and revelation, when you’re beginning to see the light.  And of beauty, and peace, like the drone of the cosmos in the sound of ocean waves.

The Velvets contained multitudes. After Hours, Velvets In Another View is the summer’s revelation.

PJ Harvey’s Astonishing Show At Wolf Trap

Posted in Music with tags , , on July 22, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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In the 21st Century, the only musical artist working with a conceptual breadth to rival Radiohead has been PJ Harvey.  Last night at Wolf Trap, with a nine-man band of shape-shifters who reconsolidated themselves, moment by moment, with emphases on percussion, horns, and strings, she accomplished what has become such a rarity: a live show of complex material that sounded so much better than the studio output.

They marched in like Buddhist monks about to perform the Black Hat Dance, nine men and a waif with a saxophone in her hands, and by the time they were into “Chain Of Keys” from last year’s D.C. travelogue, The Hope Six Demolition Project, the effect was astonishing.  The baritone saxes and all-men’s choir, the double drums and guitars, all allowed Harvey’s high, pitch-perfect voice to cut through the humid night air.  We say that her band, largely intact from her last album and one of the century’s greatest works, Let England Shake, sounded even better than it did in the studio, and so it did.  Paradoxically note perfect and looser, combined with a singer who over 90 minutes literally never hit a flat note, this was a live act on a tour you pray someone has the sense to let tapes roll so that that a rara avis can be captured: a live album you’d want to play instead of the source material.

The third song of the evening was “Shame” from 2004’s undervalued Uh Huh Her, but until she got to a mini-set of old songs three-fourths of the way through the show, the material moved back and forth between Hope Six and Let England Shake, with an emphasis on the latter.  Live, “The Glorious Land” was the perhaps strongest anti-war denunciation in musical history, as she hauntingly indicted America and England in growing “the glorious fruit in our land/the fruit is deformed children/what is the glorious fruit in our land/the fruit is orphaned children.”  She may have been singing about World War I, but at an outdoor show in Northern Virginia, with the Pentagon — the “Ministry of Defence” — so near, it was a searing indictment.

PJ 1Last year, when Harvey released The Hope Six Demonstration Project, it was proof that she operates on a literary plane different from her peers, because like her World War I chronicle, Let England Shake, it wasn’t simply an album of songs, it was an interconnected set of observations from her visits to Washington and Kosovo.  Widely criticized, including, perhaps, here, the put down was that she had taken a “windshield tour” of DC’s poorest neighborhoods and exploited them with a shallow rendering of their pathologies.  Last night, though, as the songs were allowed to breath in the hot night air, we changed our mind a bit, and found ourselves loving the material in a way we hadn’t last year, even as we included the album as #7 on our 2016 Top 10 List of albums.  And when she closed the set by bringing out Anacostia’s Union Temple Baptist Church Choir for “River Anacostia” and then “The Community of Hope,” all was forgiven.

To a non-PJ Harvey fan who was seeing her last night, we tried in advance to widen the frame of what to expect.  Don’t judge her, we said, in the narrow context of what kind of rock’n’roll show she puts on.  Harvey works on a level not dissimilar from Dylan, channeling all sorts of pre-rock influences, in her case going back to Greek theater. With her songs of war and the pain of missing children, this is musical theater as classic literature.  Oh, and also gorgeous rock’n’roll.  Last night, she did not disappoint.

The Rolling Stones in ’72.  The Clash in ’79, Gang of Four in ’80.  Alejandro Escovedo in 1997.  Yeah, PJ Harvey in 2017.  We won’t soon forget it.

Kevin Morby’s Gorgeous “City Music” Should Blare From Apartment Windows Everywhere

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , on June 17, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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Some years ago, when contemplating the life I would lead in New York after graduating from a college set in the fields and orchards of Western Mass, I would stare at the jacket of Donald Barthelme’s collection, City Life.  A couple in nightdress, he older and somewhat delirious, she younger and game for the dance, seemed to sum up how much better life would be in the big city.

Yesterday was Bloomsday, which celebrates unquestionably the greatest love song to a city ever written, and of course it was fitting that Kevin Morby released his magisterial new album, City Music. For those late to this story, Morby was the bass player in Woods, and co-bandleader of The Babies, and beginning in 2013, a solo artist whose powers increase record-by-record.  His paean to city life is as heartfelt as Joyce’s, and the respect he pays to certain moments in modern urban history resonates deeply with me.

The title track of last summer’s fine sophomore album, Singing Saw, invoked the magic of  Talking Heads’ More Songs About Buildings And Food, and on City Music, the sometime-New Yorker invokes Television, Talking Heads, Garland Jeffreys, Lou Reed, and the Ramones, to name just a few of Fun City’s champions. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that Dylan’s a New York artist too. Morby doesn’t.

In a lovely NPR piece published yesterday, Morby walks us through the album song by song. It’s worth a read, revealing as it does how this young artist absorbs influences and uses them as inspiration.  He cites “Marquee Moon,” as the source of the title track’s guitar sound, and it’s as fun to listen to as seeing Wilco cover the original by seminal New Yorkers Television.  On Singing Saw, Morby had the benefit of Sam Cohen as producer and a guitarist whose lines take these completely unexpected left turns; the ensemble assembled on City Life is a congenial and accomplished band that you’d love to see live.  Even on the slow songs, they swing.

Morby’s voice isn’t particularly expressive, but his songwriting and storytelling more than make up for it, and his ambitions seem to be growing.  On Singing Saw, songs like “Dorothy” and “I Have Been To The Mountain” were so strong that they masked weaker material elsewhere on an album that was pretty universally acclaimed, including in these here parts.  There’s no such problem on City Music: every song, even the cover of the Germs’ “Caught In My Eye,” will make you want to play this album loud enough to bug the neighbors in your stifling apartment building.

A year ago, when Morby was able to tell the story of how he picked up and moved from Kansas City to Brooklyn, landing a few weeks later in Woods — then and now, a highlight of modern New York bands — the notion of the Bright Lights, Big City luring him from the midwest placed his narrative in familiar terms.  In City Life, he’s made it, he’s gone from the periphery to the center, like Dylan, like Jimmy Reed of Dunleith, Mississippi, who wrote the song, and Jay McInerney of Hartford, Connecticut, who wrote the book.

Around the time that we sat in our college dorm dreaming of joining the party in New York, we fixated on another great work of its time, Raymond Sokolov’s Native Intelligence.  The novel begins with the college admissions essay written by a young midwesterner who wants to go to Harvard to participate in the intellectual discussions he imagines exist there.  The opening chapter ends with the admissions officer’s notes, written in longhand in the margins: “Grades, SATs, and high-school recommendations all very high.  We will, of course, accept him, but I think he is going to be disappointed with Harvard and depressed by Radcliffe.  Another case of great expectations in the boondocks.”

Thank Heaven young Kevin Morby got on that bus.

 

 

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