Sometimes nice, quiet, gentle music is what hits the spot, and this month offers two terrific new CDs chock full of it.
Back around 1980, I remember saying “I like all kinds of music, except country and Irish.” Then Elvis Costello released “Different Finger” (and later the “Almost Blue” LP) and I could no longer rule out country music with a blanket decree (The Pogues soon did the same for Irish). Granted, any country you’ll find on my iPod is of the “alt-” category, like Brett Dennen or Ryan Adams. Adams originally won me over with “III/IV”, the massive set of only slightly country-flavored rock and roll he put out last year with his band The Cardinals. Only then did I go back and check out his awesome “New York, New York” which I had somehow missed during the 9/11 aftermath, when, I understand, it played in a fairly nonstop loop on MTV and VH1. That that song received a Grammy nomination in the rock category shows just how “country” he was, but he countrys it up a few notches on the soon to be released “Ashes & Fire.”
It’s a quiet, rainy day kind of album, appropriately starting with “Dirty Rain,” a melancholy tale of gunfire, broken glass and gasoline-fueled fire that somehow is still a pretty love ballad. I’ve read elsewhere that you’d think going home at night to Mandy Moore would cheer a guy up, but Ryan seems to focusing on the melancholy with “Come Home”, “Rocks”, and “Do I Wait”, all gorgeous tales of missing the one you love, supporting the one you love, and waiting for the one you love, respectively. There’s a generally sad but beautiful tone in all of them, even while their messages are pretty happy (though she’s “never coming back” by the end of “Do I Wait,” but he seems content to wait forever…then again, he may be rethinking that in the melancholy “Save Me” with “….by the morning, I will be gone.”) “Come Home” and “Save Me” feature background vocals by Norah Jones.
That tone is also evident in LP closer “I Love You But I Don’t Know What To Say,” the title of which is a lie, since the lyrics more than say it profoundly. I predict this will be a favorite wedding “first dance” song throughout most of America’s heartland. “Invisible Riverside” would also make a fine choice in that regard, with lines like “I wanna lay my head forever on your shoulder, stay with me my love now and when we’re older, standing on the ocean we got nothing now but time.” “Kindness” (also featuring backing vocals by Jones) seems simultaneously an open letter to society (“If you’re so strong can you shelter the weak?”) and intimate love letter (“When it goes wrong, days come and gone, and it’s been said and been done, I will shelter you with my love and my forgiveness.”)
It’s nice to get an occasional break from serenades and soul searching, and the upbeat title track (in tone and tempo if not message) more than obliges, with honky-tonk piano and gee-tar twang. “Chains of Love” (no, it’s not an Erasure cover) is my favorite track and it’s pure pop, with lush strings and sparse piano notes. The lead single “Lucky Now”, released this summer, quickly becomes a breezy, strummy mid-tempo pleaser as well.
Leslie Feist may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I was a fan from the instant I heard her, which I’m sad to say was well into her career with 2007’s “The Reminder” (she had me at “one….”) Her newest,”Metals,” never gets as peppy as her biggest singles, but there are some gems in there along with plenty of that quiet, pensive stuff. “The Bad in Each Other” starts the LP off with kick drum and hand claps, and buzzes with minor-key drone that borders on creepy. Somehow it’s very pleasant nonetheless. “Graveyard” is, simply enough, an ode to cemeteries, and it’s surprisingly cheery, with “Dirt and grass, a shadow heart; the moon sails past” leading to “Whoa-ah-ah-ah ah-ah, bring ’em all back to life.” “Caught a Long Wind” is another pretty tune, with Feist evoking the freedom of a soaring bird. “How Come You Never Go There,” leaked this summer, is classic Feist: a smiley, peppy reading of a sad story: “The room is full of eyes and empty like your letters never sent me; words like a lasso, you’re an instrumental tune.” It’s my favorite track of the set.
“A Commotion” sounds like an action movie soundtrack, which makes it somewhat out of place with the rest of the LP. Still, the pounding chorus guarantees that it will find its way to indie radio playlists. She channels Kate Bush beautifully in “The Circle Married The Line,” the track you’ll want to put on repeat when you first listen. Aptly titled “Bittersweet Melodies” satisfies as well, with a beautiful multi-tracked harmony and a neo-Burt Bacharach quality. Don’t ask me what Feist is selling in “Anti-Pioneer” with “Start with colours, they always get away with attitude but they’ll try to convince you of your mood. What you want they’ll give it to you but it’s only therapy; that’s all they do” and “When the flag changes colours the language knows; when the month changes numbers it’s time to go” but I’m buying it. This twangy dirge of a song would not be out of place in a David Lynch film, and that’s high praise as I see it. She’s been performing it in concert for years (see below, Vancouver 2007) but this is it’s first studio version. I’m hoping my yoga instructor adds it to her mix.
“Undiscovered First” starts out tentative, almost as if it’s a take they should have tossed, but it chugs along to become like a New Orleans funeral march with tambourine that’s actually played, not just shaken. “Cicadas and Gulls” is a lovely ode to two of the most annoying creatures on earth if you ask me! A simply plucked lone guitar and the multi-layered, much reverbed vocal combine beautifully. “Comfort Me” starts with a haiku, then deviates as soon as she calls attention to that fact. Still, it’s poetic and melodic in a Regina Spektor-ish way. LP closer “Get It Wrong, Get It Right” leaves you wanting more with its sparse but polished beauty. “Wind on the fields blowing your hair weaving gold…hand to hold.” Another one for the yoga mix I hope!