cutout racks XII: desert islands, forgotten scenes, and just two “really”s

18 Jul

So, I’m at it again, with more record reviews. I think it’s kind of fun that I’ve seen all of these artists live at least once, and I’m reasonably sure that I’ve seen three of them on the same stage, but never on the same night. Come to think of it, that would be a killer show…the only question is who would be the headliner?

♦ The Clarks – Let It Go: I’m reasonably sure most people are aware of the concept of desert island discs* (If not, I’ve included a handy asterisk and a link to context). Well, this record is one of mine. It doesn’t matter that it was recorded in by a regional bar band from Pittsburgh on an indie label that didn’t get much play outside the rust belt northeast; in my not entirely humble opinion, it really ought to go down as one of the great modern rock records. From start to finish, it hits all the right notes for me: the snappy guitar tone, the literate (but not too cerebral) lyrics, Blasey’s wry delivery, it just all wraps up into a great listening package. “Better of Without You,” “Snowman,” “Let It Go”…every one of these tunes should’ve been international monster hits; they’re better than most of the big radio hits of the time (summer 2000). I discovered the Clarks a few years before this came out, when they were expanding their touring circle east, being the Stones to the Badlees’ Beatles, and generally bringing a bit of Iron City flavor to Yeungling country, and became a lifelong fan. Sure, as a couple of my friends who were geographically lucky enough to see these guys rise from the depths have said, the newer records aren’t as good as the old ones, and they may be right, but I still believe this one’s just about perfect.

♦ Patty Griffin – Living With Ghosts: These days, Patty Griffin is probably one of the more respected and prolific songwriters and collaborators in the folk/americana business; having penned hits for Emmylou Harris, Dixie Chicks, and a slew of others, with a stack of awards (including at least one Grammy) to her credit. I saw her live in a bar/hotel ballroom right after this record came out, just a tiny little redhead with a beat-up leather jacket and an acoustic guitar on a mostly bare stage. The experience was amazing, and it sounded pretty much exactly like this record does; as it’s essentially a re-worked version of the demo tape that got her signed; just her, an acoustic guitar, a microphone, and hardly any overdubbing. And she doesn’t need anything else. The songs are powerful, beautiful, and affecting; despite the sparse instrumentation, they sound big (maybe even bigger than anything off of Flaming Red, the follow-up that was a more straight ahead rock record, and still damned good), thanks to the dynamic voice and percussive guitar accompaniment. I’ll take the version of “Let Him Fly” from this record over any of the covers that were bigger hits, and then I’d listen to “Every Little Bit” again, because it’s a great piece of songwriting and performance.

♦ Robert Reilly – Becoming Undone: Yet another mid-nineties record from an artist I discovered when they opened up for The Badlees on some little dive stage in Central Pennsylvania. At the time, he’d just gone solo after the demise of the band 78 West, after kicking around other parts of the country for several years. The tunes on this one are all excellent electric singer-songwriter stuff that probably should have gotten more attention, but just didn’t. It’s a shame, because tunes like “When We Were Young” and “Becoming Undone” are great uptempo crowd-pleasers, and “Given It All Away” and “Quickly As You Can” are equally engaging and heartbreaking ballads. I forgot how much I liked this record; it disappeared into the memory hole in the way that some of the other stuff from that scene (like, say, The Clarks) didn’t – listening to it recently, it all came back. It doesn’t have my favorite Reilly tune on it (which would be “Satisfied”, which you can get on another Central PA compilation disc I’ll probably get to one of these days), nor does it have that crowd pleasing song about the pot smoking schoolbus driver, but it’s well worth tracking down if you can find it.

Indigo Girls: Everybody knows this one for “Closer to Fine,” the signature tune that even non-fans recognize. This record is the first on a major label, and kicked off a long and successful career that is still going strong today. While they’ve consistently progressed in a more rock/alternative direction since (they sound more than a little like the Replacements now sometimes), with this record (and on through “Rites of Passage” before they consistently started working with a band), it’s still very much a folk duo thing; which is the sound that pulled me in initially, and kept me listening. Lots of great harmonies between Amy’s rough rock voice and Emily’s purer folkie, which have always been the consistent hallmark of the group’s sound, regardless of instrumentation, though it almost feels like the vocal interplay stands out more with this kind of instrumentation. The Indigo Girls have never completely fallen off my radar – I still tend to pick up all the records, and I’ve seen them live twice (the spouse saw them more recently, as a re-scheduled show forced me into babysitting duty – she took the eldest, who loved the experience) since; but I tend to listen more to the mid-period records, and haven’t come back to this one in quite some time. I was pleasantly surprised to remember the appearance of Michael Stipe (and what sounds like Peter Buck on guitar at least a little bit) from R.E.M. (both groups are from the Athens GA scene) on “Kid Fears” falling in as a third voice in the harmonic picture that really adds something. I’ll have to play it for the eldest (who’s become a big R.E.M. fan) and see if she catches on.


* – Imagine you’re stuck on a desert island or somewhere else isolated for the rest of your days. Assuming, for some reason, you could bodge together a solar-powered CD player out of coconut shells and palm fronds or something, what handful of records (usually five to eight, depending on who’s facilitating the exercise) would you pick if you knew that these were the only records you’d be able to listen to for the rest of your life? Why? It can make for some great discussion amongst a group of opinionated music fans, or, you know, a long-running radio programme on the BBC.


One Response to “cutout racks XII: desert islands, forgotten scenes, and just two “really”s”

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    chuck dash parker dot net – your unreliable narrator » Blog Archive » all time record – day one Says:

    […] pop vs soda line they were playing on. I reviewed it in this space back in 2011 as part of the cut out racks series I had going for a while. A the time, I said […]

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