I think I can speak for my fellow SWR-ians by saying that the Books fucking rule. I heard them live once on a wintry night in Chicago; I was shushed during the boring-ass opening act by an overweight beardo hipster; the Books killed; in a blissed-out stupor I talked with one of the Books afterward. The cellist. His accent was too thick to understand. I tried to shake his hand and he wouldn’t have it. (Later, Jordy asked me, “Is that what you call him? Is he a Book?) Their live set, to be sure, was fantastic. The kind of show where time disappears.
At any rate, our pal Rob tipped me off to the fact that the Books are working on a new album, to be released in the next year. In the mean time, they’re touring. I missed ’em in NC; don’t make the same mistake.
The New Pornographers are, in large part, responsible for indie rock’s ascension to broader popularity over the last 8 years or so. Its supergroup make-up has resulted neither in self-destructive clashes of ego nor a stagnation of pop song ideas. Helmed by kick-ass songwriter A.C. Newman, they rarely cut a dud tune. I’ve seen them live a couple times and they have always been exuberant and tight.
This Dan Bejar (of Destroyer) tune is a perfect example of the band’s high caliber and features terrific vocal harmonies from Neko Case.
Few instruments play melancholia like the famed Wurlitzer Electronic Piano. Its touching tremolo is often overlooked but always critical to whatever tune employs it. Here are a few of my favorite examples:
-Neil Young – “See the Sky About to Rain” from On the Beach (1974) [buy]
Neil brings the piano to the center of this song, often sending Ben Keith’s slide guitar to the side. Nevertheless, they complement each other very well.
-Kris Kristofferson – “Epitaph (Black and Blue)” from The Silver Tongued Devil and I (1971)
This song inspired the post. The Wurlitzer is probably meant to lend a more funereal mood as if it wasn’t morbid enough with the vocal and string arrangements. (Buy this album. Fans of John Prine, take note.)
-Wilco – “Jesus, Etc.” from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002) [buy]
Leave it to Wilco, classicists that they are, to prop the Wurlitzer up in the modern era. Its use here is primarily as a rhythm instrument under all the strings and plucking. It doesn’t so much sing as propel the song. A lot like Supertramp might use it. Did somebody mention Supertramp?! Man, that was a great band… like Boston, but not as loud and better.
-Supertramp – “The Logical Song” from Breakfast in America (1979) [buy]
The piano is the spine of this song and, indeed, much of the album. How about that sax solo halfway through? That’s killer. What a slick song, eh?
Any other examples you’d care to cite?
*Update (7-30-09): Adam brings up the Fender Rhodes piano, which certainly has its place among the great gear of the 60s and 70s. The Rhodes’ sound is a bit sharper and jazzier than the Wurlitzer. I usually associate it with Bitches Brew as played by the late, great Joe Zawinul. See Glenn’s homage and hear the Rhodes in action. Also hear Zawinul and Jan Hammer in two different fusion outfits featuring the Rhodes.
As for rock, Pink Floyd owed a lot of its sound on Dark Side to the Rhodes. Also, see the intro to “Sheep” from 1977’s Animals.
A while back, I mentioned that I thought Curtis Mayfield an unsung musical genius. Turns out the man is plenty sung, not least by Kayne West, who sampled Mayfield’s excellent “Move On Up” in his less-excellent-though-still-good “Touch The Sky”:
Earlier I had posted one of Mayfield’s classics from his famous Superfly soundtrack, “Little Child Runnin’ Wild.” Here is a demo version, a little less ominous, featuring fewer chord changes and a brighter groove:
Drive-By Truckers – “The Opening Act” from Brighter Than Creation’s Dark (2008)
I’m a little late to hop on the Drive-By Truckers Mechanical Bull Ride, which is too bad, because they used to play down here in Greensboro on a fairly regular basis. While their latest album is not nearly perfect, this song is.
“The Opening Act” is a Tonight’s The Night-esque epic. The bit toward the end, where the narrator sees the sun “rising over a Technicolor horizon,” is a beautiful example of how good bands use color and variation in music to illustrate the dramatic weight of the lyrics. The song just seems to lift off right there.
I caught Elvis Costello at Wolf Trap in Vienna, VA Thursday night. I haven’t heard much of his new bluegrassish album but he and the band sounded pretty good. To be honest, I have trouble dealing with great rockers outside (particularly, after) their prime, be it EC, Dylan, or otherwise. It just seems weird.
In keeping with his appropriated American identity, he played a lot of stuff from King of America (Indoor Fireworks, Brilliant Mistake, American Without Tears) and even one from Almost Blue (Merle Haggard’s “Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down”):
He also covered the Dead’s “Friend of the Devil” which seemed to draw more applause and singing-along than “Blame it on Cain” or “The Angels Wanna Wear My Red Shoes.” They also did a nice work-up of the Velvet Underground’s “Femme Fatale.”
Other highlights included a couple tunes from his incomplete concept opera about the life of Hans Christian Andersen.