Nashville Skyline

nashville skyline

This is the first in what I hope to be a series of album blogs. These will be album reviews in a relaxed and informal manner. My observations are not intended to be critical of the artists or their art, merely comments and observations and reconsiderations of albums that meant something to me at some point in my life, which is obviously why I bought the recording in the first place. I am using the Discogs randomizer to pick the albums for me and I hope to do one review per week. I will do multiple listens of the recording and probably on more than one format if they are available. I will also do some research on the history of the recordings and what relevant information that entails, at my discretion. I am trying to avoid reading other reviews because I feel that may taint my observations.

First up is a recording from 1969, which was a very good year in my life and in my music collection, the album is Nashville Skyline by Bob Dylan. This is the ninth studio album by Bob Dylan and shows a departure from the stylings of his previous recordings. The album that preceded Nashville Skyline was John Wesley Harding, an album that was well received by critics and fans alike and had a distinctly folk feel to it. The album that came after Nashville Skyline was Self Portrait, an album that alienated both fans and critics alike but has weathered the turbulence and has come to be fairly well regarded in the lexicon of Dylan. Nashville Skyline is between these two, it has elements of folk simply because it is very difficult to pigeon hole music like this, and it has a distinctly country and western feel that is different from the explosion of country rock that was flooding the world.

First off is the title that grabs me. I have seen the Nashville Skyline, walked it’s streets and listened to its music. So I have a connection to this recording before I hear a single note of music. I also have expectations because of the many, many C&W records that I have heard, Nashville Skyline does not disappoint.

The first note of music is Girl From The North Country, a duet with Johnny Cash. Their voices mesh interestingly. At times I can hear Johnny trying to match the cadence of Bob Dylan, a cadence that suits him well but is different from most other singers, including the very versatile voice of Johnny Cash. I can also hear Dylan holding back to allow Cash to come along with his voice and Cash does, sometimes better than others but on the whole, it is a well-done interpretation of Olde English folk tune with an interesting pairing of musicians in Cash and Dylan.

The rest of the album seems to flow seamlessly with no further duets but extremely competent accompaniment by the musicians behind Dylans singing and playing, talented artists like Charlie Daniels on bass guitar, Pete Drake on pedal steel and Bob Wilson on keyboards. Having this level of veteran Country and Western musicians allowed Dylan the freedom to concentrate on singing in 4/4 time and playing a variety of instruments in accompaniment but not aggressively out front.

The lyrics speak of the basic human conditions, such as love that everyone sings about, especially C/W artists. They are either singing about being lonely and searching for love, being in love, or falling out of love. Dylan does not disappoint, Nashville Skyline is full of references to love, love lost, and a goose, but no dog.

Lay Lady Lay is arguably the most well-known song off the album, although I Threw It All Away and Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You were also released as singles. Lay Lady Lay hit 7 on Billboard and has been covered by a list of musicians that would fill this page.

A litmus test of music for me is how well the recording stands up to repeated listens and how well it ages. This recording has been in my collection for a long time, I do not remember when I bought the record, but I know it wasn’t in 1969, which is when the record came out. It must not have been too long after because the copy I have is a 1969 pressing, so it is before the reissues came out in the mid-’70s.

Regardless of when it came out, I have been listening to it for a good number of years and still enjoy it. For this blog, I listened to it multiple times on vinyl, CD and digital. Nashville Skyline passes both of the tests with ease. In fact, I think I’ll listen to it again today just for the pure enjoyment of listening to it again.

Take away observations; this is a very good record with some stellar musicianship, just listen to the instrumentation and try to block the lyrics in your head. The pedal steel and drumming blow me away. For another listen ignore the interments and focus on the lyrics and what they say to you or interest you. And then listen to it in a relaxed manner, such as reading a book or doing a hobby, and just bask in the pleasure of hearing music and singing at a level that many strive for but few attain.

Album Review: Alice Phoebe Lou – Paper Castles

On her second full-length release, fire dancer turned singer-songwriter Alice Phoebe Lou seamlessly combines cool jazz vibes and light indie tones to create a laidback yet intriguing album.

Across the entirety of Paper Castles, South African born Berlin-based Alice Phoebe Lou’s captivating vocals soar over atmospheric and lushly textured instrumentals. With evident influence from relaxed, lounge-friendly jazz, the steady percussion and electronic piano accompaniment on tracks like “New Song” mingle fluidly with Alice Phoebe Lou’s voice and flatly intonated guitars. While jazz is a dominating force for Paper Castle‘s sound, it also blends with distinctly indie ideals. Many tracks on Paper Castles veer towards the jangly guitars and softly textured synthesizers of bedroom pop. On “Galaxies” a muted guitar blends with synth textures to create a spacious indie track that is reminiscent of other bands such as Lowly.

Lyrically, Paper Castles maintains poignancy by relating tales of nostalgia, femininity, and maturing. On the previously released single “Something Holy” Alice Phoebe Lou relays her moment of overcoming “past traumas with sex, with men” and her more in-depth understanding of intimacy with one of the album’s most haunting mantras “It hasn’t been so easy being lonely.

Overall, the Noah Georgeson-produced Paper Castles is a cohesive, well-textured album that nicely showcases Alice Phoebe Lou’s vocal capabilities and writing skills. Its calming combination of jazz and indie conveys a sense of ataraxia while still maintaining enough momentum to keep one interested.

4/5

-Joel Weatherly

Originally written for The Spill Magazine

Uncomfortable Music

Others have said that it is not the job of a doctor to make you feel comfortable, it is the doctors’ job to heal you and that might be uncomfortable at times. For example, suppose you break your arm. The doctor needs to do a visual inspection, and that probably involves moving your broken arm a bit, and that will not be comfortable, but it is necessary for the healing process. Next, the doctor will most likely get an X-ray of your arm, and that will require placing the arm in certain positions to get the best possible look at the bones and that most likely will not be comfortable either. But it is necessary for the proper diagnosis and healing to begin. So, with these examples, we can probably all agree that it is not the doctors’ job to make you comfortable.

Following that line of reasoning, I came into possession of four examples of the above analogy transferred to music. Swapping the word doctor for a musician, we get a new and exciting proverb.

It is not a musicians job to make you comfortable, it is the musicians’ job to use music to challenge you, and that can be uncomfortable at times.

I have come into the possession of four pieces of music that presented a challenge to me and made me uncomfortable but ultimately provided something equivalent to healing. These four albums challenged my concept of what music should be. They tested my notions of what lyrics in music should contain. They challenged me to understand what the musicians were trying to tell me through these songs.

I have been listening to mewithoutYou for a long time, I have all their albums, and they get played repeatedly throughout the year. They would probably be one of the most listened to artists in our music collection. Having said all that I waited with baited breathe for their new album to come out, it had been three years since their last album, Pale Horse, which I enjoyed. They had released a teaser single “Julia (or, ‘Holy to the LORD’ on the Bells of Horses),” which was an exciting piece that left me wondering what the rest of the album contained since they usually had threads or stings running through their records.

pale horse

The CD’s arrived this week for both the new album and an EP that was released simultaneously. I let them sit for a few days due to some other listening that I had to finish and a concert review that I wanted to get out of the way so I could focus on listening. Yesterday I opened the CD cases, opened the lyric sheets (which I appreciate bands supplying) and got comfortable for a listening session. I started with the EP, which clocks at an impressive 25 minutes, and it didn’t take long for my comfort to be challenged by the lyrical content. Track one contains this enigmatic line: “when your mouth was quiet was the sweetest sound of all.” The EP has the sound and feel of a mewithoutYou release. The vocals are consistent with Aaron Weiss’ lyrics from previous albums. He tends to wander between whispers and primal screams with some words that come across more like a poetry reading than traditional singing.

ep untitled

The album was next, [Untitled]. Yes, that is the title of it. [Untitled] Taking us out of our comfort zone with the title before I even take the shrink wrap off. The cover artwork is somewhat different from previous albums as well although they are all by the same artist, Vasily Kafanov. Even the art on the cover was taking me out of my comfort zone.
I put the CD in, get comfortable with the lyric sheet, and open my ears to hear. The first track is very mewithoutYou prime, and it has Aaron screaming at us: “Anyone listening wants a brainwashed like mine?” That sounds uncomfortable, and it echoes a theme that Aaron expounds upon frequently, mental health. The lyrics of both the EP and the full-length album, at 43 minutes, are more cryptic than ever and challenge the listener to listen. I challenge you to listen to the album intentionally. They are not suitable for passive listening, at least not for me. They expound upon issues of faith, feelings, fear and facing life with all of its ups, downs and twists and turns. Life is complicated and so are these two listens from mewithoutYou.

untitled

In conclusion, I like these recordings, and they have grown on me with each additional listen. They need time to become comfortable with us.

thy is a word

I also scored a pair of albums off of Facebook Marketplace that I was excited to have hard copies of since these don’t show up in Edmonton often. These two pieces of vinyl are by Half-handed Cloud, “As Stowaways In Cabinets Of Surf, We Live-Out In Our Members A Kind Of Rebirth,” and “Flying Scroll Flight Control.” I have listened to the only CD I have by Half-handed Cloud “Thy Is a Word + Feet Need Lamps” over and over plus streaming their material on iTunes frequently, so I was happy to score these two albums. I played them the same night I bought them

flying scroll
I must warn you about this band though, and it is not for everyone’s taste. Half-handed Cloud, much like their name and album titles are a little bit unconventional. The band is essentially a one-person show by John Ringhofer who often collaborates with Sufjan Stevens and Danielson, in their many configurations. The music will probably make you uncomfortable, but stick with it and listen intently. There are lots of interesting things happening. Instruments come and go, and he will often change instruments in the middle of a song in live shows. There are tempo changes that will catch you unawares. And then there are the lyrics. To quote Ringhofer: “Lyrics seem so much better heard than read…” There are no lyric sheets so I had to really listen to hear the words and to attach meaning to them.

stowaways

Perhaps we can align both mewithoutYou and Half-handed Cloud by their lyrics. They both explore themes of faith. Often, especially Half-handed Cloud, they are focused on faith in God as expressed in white Anglo-Saxon pentecostal churches. Less so with mewithoutYou, the doctrine of Aaron Weiss is more open to a broader concept of God, but none the less personal. I don’t think this takes anything away from their albums. If the faith in the lyrics makes you uncomfortable that could be a good thing. Perhaps they can be a challenge to you to open your life more to the things that are going on around you, open to what others think, feel, and believe and why they believe what they do.

I enjoyed the challenge presented by these four albums. The music and the lyrics made me perk up and pay attention, to think outside of my comfort zone. It was a good thing. “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” – Neale Donald Walsch

“God calls us to step out of our comfort zone, to do the thing that is difficult or uncomfortable. Not because God enjoys watching us struggle, but because he knows that we will grow stronger as individuals and in our faith when we try new things.” –  Suzanne Anderson

One more: https://www.habitsforwellbeing.com/poem-the-butterfly/

The Tragically Hip Marathon

I decided to listen to the discography of the Tragically Hip in chronological order. This is not the first time or the first band that I have attempted this feat with. I have done complete discography listens of The Pink Floyd, The Talking Heads, The Beatles and others in the past. Having considerable experience with this I offer these warnings before we start.

The opinions expressed herein do not represent the opinions of myself, my family, my friends, my second-grade teacher Miss Brown, or even myself depending on how long ago I wrote them. No other opinion is expressed or implied by me, myself or anyone I associate with, not that they would admit to knowing me in the first place.

This blog has been rated PG-13 by myself. Any resemblance to actual blogs is unintentional and purely a coincidence. This blog is for entertainment purposes only. Past blogs do not guarantee future results. Reader discretion is advised. If tinnitus or tendonitis develops, discontinue use and seek medical advice. All opinions are subject to change without notice.

Do not try this at home; the author is a trained listener. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. No animals were used during testing. Void where prohibited except where not prohibited. Do not look into the CD laser with your remaining good eye.

I will state categorically at the very beginning that tragically I do not have the entire discography of the Tragically Hip, I only have enough to be a bit hip.

This is their official discography:

I listened to:

7/14 ain’t too shabby but Apple Music filled in a few songs that I didn’t have physical copies of.

From the opening chords of their self-titled first album it is unmistakably The Tragically Hip, “Small Town Bringdown” connects us to the band through lyrics that perfectly describe small-town Canada:

“It’s a sad thing, bourbon’s all around

to stop the feeling when you’re living in a small town”

I really paid attention to the details while listening to this album and it came alive for me like it was the first time I had ever heard it. The album The Tragically Hip closes with a stinging bite at Canadian small towns:

“You’re really hanging with the crowd, you know the ins and the outs here

All Canadian Surf Club, denim jackets and long hair”

Could have been me in 1973, long hair and denim jacket trying to find a place in the crowd and not very good at learning the ins and outs and social protocols of small-town life.

Next audio audition was Fully Completely and a bit of Western Canadian bravado, “At The Hundredth Meridian”, where the great plains begin. Being a cowboy at heart and a surveyor in years gone by, this song really resonated with me:

“Driving down a corduroy road,

Weeds standing shoulder high”

This could be any road west of the hundredth meridian, I surveyed west of the 4th meridian and drove my share of corduroy roads and walked through many fields that were shoulder high and ditches with weeds of equal stature. I can’t help but think of the song “Saskatchewan Sea” by The SplendourBog: “The tallest thing around here is me.” I have a feeling Gord Downie would be in agreement with that lyric.

“Wheat Kings” is a song based on a true story about David Milgard who was wrongfully convicted of a crime he didn’t commit but was eventually set free. This is considered one of the most beloved songs of the Hips repertoire and is about as Canadian as you can get. In fact, the legal case involved is still taught in law schools.

Next album on the list is Day for Night and one of my personal favourite Hip songs, “Grace Too”:

“I come from downtown, born ready for you

Armed with will and determination, and grace, too”

This is sort of like my personal story, I come from downtown Edmonton. I was born ready for my wife Valerie. Armed with a will, I want this relationship to work. Determination, I will never let you go. And grace too, a bit of testimonial doesn’t hurt.

From the song “An Inch An Hour” we have these witty lyrics:

“Coffee coloured ice and peeling birch bark

The sound of rushing water in the dark

Makes me feel the same way

An inch an hour, two feet a day

To move through life with very little else to say”

I realized at this point in my listening journey the absolute mastery of the Tragically Hip as poetic geniuses. An inch an hour, two feet a day. Come on, that’s brilliant even to a devout disciple of the metric system like me.

“Ahead by a Century” is an intense piece of listening pleasure. The double track vocals, the guitar jingling along with a steady backbeat that builds and builds, and then it goes electric and keeps building. This is a great song with great lyrics. “No dress rehearsal, this is our life.”

“Bobcaygeon” from the album Phantom Power is a powerhouse song that speaks about race, peace, power, love, nature and Willie Nelson. It also references constellations and stars which are a hobby of mine to watch with a telescope.

“I left your house this morning

About a quarter after nine

Could have been the Willie Nelson

Could have been the wine

When I left your house this morning

It was a little after nine

It was in Bobcaygeon, I saw the constellations

Reveal themselves one star at a time”

I also think Phantom Power has one of the best album covers of all time. The brilliant artwork on that sleeve design. I am also hoping for clear skies so I can see the constellations reveal themselves to me one star (or planet) at a time.

Music @ Work, other than the fact that it uses the “at” symbol it didn’t work for me. Music @ Work, not “Men at Work” who had a big hit some 20 years earlier with the song “Down Under”. Interestingly enough I would rather hear “Business as Usual” today instead of Music @ Work, I know that is going to raise the shackles with some people but I have to be honest and honestly, Music @ Work  is an album that didn’t work for me. Even Babe Ruth didn’t hit home runs on every at-bat so I think its fair to say that not all albums are created equal either. Some are home runs, some limp around the bases and others strikeout.

The next album, in my listening, is In Between Evolution, which really grabs my attention. I don’t know what I can say about this album except that it is good from start to finish. Listen to it sing the praises of summer and about “Gus; The Polar Bear From Central Park”. How many bands have songs about polar bears eh?

I close out my listening marathon with the album Now for Plan A. This album debuted the lowest of any Hip album since their 1991 album “Road Apples”, which I don’t have yet but thanks to Apple Music I did listen to. They didn’t need a plan B because plan A worked out nicely.

There are a few songs that deserve honourable mention: “New Orleans is Sinking” and “Blow at High Dough”, which are both from the album Up to Here. I used to do a music appreciation group in an addiction recovery program and both of those songs where the most frequently requested and thus played in the group. I like to think that those music sessions offered some hope and maybe those songs brought a little joy into someone’s life that day.

I don’t have a physical copy of the Tragically Hips last album Man Machine Poem, but I did get to see their live show touring for the album. Tragically, it was also the farewell tour for the frontman and lead singer of the band, Gord Downie. It was a unique experience, to say the least. I have never seen or experienced an evening with the same emotion attached to it as that night. The crowd, the band, Gord, the music, the lyrics. It all came together and created a magical musical moment.

So there you have it, my marathon of Tragically Hip music. I hope you can enjoy listening to these selections as much as I did. They are not your average rock band, they are an icon of Canadian history and culture. They are The Tragically Hip.

s-l300

http://www.thehip.com/

@thehipdotcom

Tango With Lions – The Light Review

Cover Art by Bob Studio, Photo by Despoina Spyrou

Tango With Lions

The Light

Inner Ear Records

The Light marks Tango With Lions’ first release in five years. The highly anticipated follow-up to A Long Walk, The Light is a nine-song album packed with introspective lyrics, haunting vocals, and intricate instrumentals.

Musically, The Light is a bit of a varied album. Early in the album things sound very indie. Singer-Songwriter Katerina Papachristou’s airy dreamy vocals take centre stage as a distant piano and rattling percussion whirl throughout tracks like “Back to One.” Throughout most of the album, Papachristou’s vocals carry hints of Metric’s Emily Haines. Stylistically, things do shift during the course of The Light‘s 34 minutes as by the time you reach songs such as “Last Thrill” or “What You’ve Become” the backing instrumentals garner a sound with more hints of folk rock than indie pop.

Within “The Go Betweens,” one of the most intimate tracks on the album, are some of the most experimental sounds of The Light as buzzing synths add texture to an otherwise sparse and quiet musical landscape, this isolation allows for focus to direct towards Papachristou’s ethereal vocals.

Photo credit by Eftychia Vlachou

Throughout the entirety of The Light, themes of light and dark, optimism and nihilism are explored in-depth as Papachristou explores her own emotions and experiences. While introspective songs can often feel excessively maudlin, Tango With Lions manages to examine poignant ideas without becoming overly melancholy proving that a balance can be achieved between upbeat songs and philosophical subjects.

From its beginning to its end, The Light is an engaging and catchy listen that nicely display the talents of one of Greece’s biggest English-speaking bands while still showing that they have room to grow and experiment.

7.5/10

-Joel Weatherly