Random Musical Ramblings Prompted by Live Shows...
Some things that have been burbling around in my brain for awhile, trying very hard to make it into words in a meaningful form, but failing miserably, are thus spilled out here in electronic randomness, because if I don't write some of these things down, even in a half-assed sort of way, my brain will simply explode from the pressure of thinking about them all the damned time.
Random thought the first, on Justin, Jeremy and cute Canadian indie boy singers...
In the span of a week, I saw both Justin Rutledge and Jeremy Fisher as the openers of shows I was going to see. That, in and of itself, is a minor, modern miracle, because generally speaking, I just don't see opening acts, at least not deliberately.
But I'd heard Justin's brilliantly melancholy CD No Never Alone, and knew that seeing his set was worth it; in fact, given that I've heard more about Buddy Miller than I've actually heard from Buddy Miller, I'd have to say that I decided to go to that show more because of Justin than of Buddy. No slight on Buddy, mind you, it was one hell of a show and he's an amazing performer, but I didn't own any of his CDs prior to this, so I just wasn't all that familiar with his stuff. Most specifically, though, I went to see Justin's set because if I didn't, I feel certain that Richard Flohil would have kicked my ass, and deservedly so.
In Jeremy's case, there's a not insignificant amount of buzz about him. His album was released by Sony, he's got a video that's getting some play and all the indie girls are gushing about how kyutttte he is - but only in that ironic detached sort of way that indie girls gush: irreverently and with plenty of sarcasm. I figured it was worth showing up early to see what the buzz was about.
Comparisons between the two are pretty obvious - young, cute, songwriters, guitar players, Canadians, alty folky rocky, gospel sensibilities, names that begin with J, etc. There are differences in there, though, and they go beyond the fact that Jeremy has opted to base his Indie-cred look around poofy hair, while Justin has retro-sideburns. Musically, they're certainly playing with the same genre, whatever that is, but coming at it from different places.
Justin's take is more straightforward, emotional, and filled with melancholy. Make no mistake about it, No Never Alone is not a rawking disc. You will not get up and dance. You will not hum along. It is entirely possible that you will cry. In my case, I first listened to it casually in the car, but then I *really* listened to it, repeatedly, from the late hours of the night before into the early hours of the morning. I'd just been robbed in my home at knife point and I was alternating between contemplating a bottle of windex, and whether I had the strength to clean up the fingerprint dust the police had left on the class, and contemplating a bottle of vodka, and whether it would help. Too sober to sleep and too drunk to cry, indeed. I'd let the disc play through, then put that song on repeat for 5 or 10 cycles, then start the cycle over again.
Jeremy's new disc is definitely lighter. The approach is almost whimsical in spots - certainly lemon meringue pie is one of the more whimsy-filled metaphors for sex that you're likely to run across. High School, the single, is a deadly accurate take on the mind of a teenage boy (and more than a few teenage girls, as well). Back Porch Spirituals, his earlier disc is a little deeper, a little darker, but still with a sense of playfulness built in. It's funny that his earlier work seems a little more mature, even, while Let It Shine occasionally seems to lapse into the high school mindset even outside of the track High School.
Ultimately, I can't help taking the two artists side by side and head to head. They're just too much alike for my mind not to wander in that direction. My preference ends up being entirely situational. Justin's aching melancholy packs a stronger emotional punch, but Jeremy's lighter touch makes for an easier, more entertaining listen.
Random thought the second, on nostalgia and bubblegum country...
A couple of weeks ago, I went to see Lisa Brokop at, of all places, the Hard Rock cafe. Lisa Brokop, for those of you unfamiliar with mainstream country music's lesser known artists, does not Rock in any way, never mind Hard. Then again, I suppose that's not untrue of the watered down chain of restaurants themselves.
When I listened to, and bought, a lot of mainstream country music, I'd picked up all of Lisa's album. They are enthusiastic and happy. She's like a Canadian Martina McBride, where even songs about bad things are imbued with an optimistic tone.
If I'd never heard of Lisa Brokop before, and was just hearing her albums for the first time now, I probably wouldn't be slightly interested. I'd write it off as more diluted Nashville product and move on. But my history with Lisa Brokop goes back a lot longer than that. Since before she even had albums for me to wave off dismissively, Lisa Brokop was one of my childhood heroes.
Where I grew up, in a small town in Northern BC, there wasn't a lot in the way of culture or art or even entertainment. We had 4 TV channels: one of them was in French, and another was educational, which was worse, because at least the French channel had hockey on Saturday nights. A third of the channels was the local TV Station of the town an hour up the road, and every year, they had a 2 day telethon to raise money for local charity projects. It was staged in the auditorium of one of the high schools, and brought new meaning to the term low budget, but to me it was something special, and most special of all was Lisa Brokop.
She was from Surrey, a suburb of Vancouver, and Vancouver was the most exciting place imaginable in the world. And she was young, just a teenager then, so not much older than me. Just watching her, this big city girl, come to visit our small town was an exhilirating experience for me. No matter how unfamous she might have been, to me she was a celebrity. When I rolled up my loose change and took it to the school to make a donation to the telethon and got to meet Lisa herself, well,
that was almost too much for a fat awkward child to handle.
As I sat through Lisa's show the other night, I was captivated again by her smile and her enthusiasm, even as I was thinking that it lacked the depth and emotion that I look for in music these days. Sometimes, though, it doesn't matter if it's superficial, sometimes what matters is that even with the make-over and the major label releases and the CMT camera crew at the ready, it's still the same woman who thrilled me as a child up there on stage, thrilling me all over again.
Random thought the third, on rocking songs about death and choices...
I posted about this show over on Fearnwhiskey, but wanted to write something more concrete about it here, as well. As with all these other thoughts, that's not coming together very well, so here's a slightly improved version of what I wrote on FNW.
Greg Keelor, of Blue Rodeo fame, has released a new album, Seven Songs for Jim, a song cycle about his father, and his recent death. He's doing a short solo tour with Travis Good of Sadies, plus a horn player, whose name I simply don't remember. The show was divided, as Greg explained it, between a 'funeral' and a 'wake'.
The funeral was the material from Seven Songs, followed by a wake of more upbeat material - some covers, some instrumentals, some Blue Rodeo stuff, lots of Travis sawing on his fiddle and the two of them trading licks.
There are some really vivid moments in the songs on Seven Songs, and Greg Keelor is the kind of songwriter who can bring life even to stories of death.
He told a story, and then sang about cleaning out his father's apartment after his death, describing the white squares left behind by removing paintings, when the rest of the wall was stained green and brown with cigarette smoke and grime and life. It reminded me of high school drama class, oddly enough. Every year, the classes would do 8 different shows on the same small stage in 16 weeks. Paint a set, paint it black, paint a set, paint it black. Layers and layers of laughter and life on those walls, and on all our walls. Mine now are stained with the smoke of a hundred candles burnt down in moments of stress and the ash of a thousand culinary experiments that didn't go quite how I'd planned.
Another of the songs talked about how he would wait for his father to arrive at the cottage for the weekend when he was a child. He was only allowed to go so far up the road along, and that was the extent of his world for the summer. Every year that world would grow a little bigger as the boundary was extended. You could almost feel the world growing larger, and see the childhood Greg, pushing his borders by edging one foot just a little past the line.
I think I'm done for awhile, and maybe my brain will get some rest, now.