- A Kitty in the Henhouse
- Chicken Scratches and Other Writing Tips
- Eye Candy
- Happenings at the Henhouse
- Music of the Coop
- Pop Culture
- Squawk Authors: Latest and Greatest Books
- Squawk Friends
- Squawk Interactive: Captions, polls, etc
- Squawk's Favorite Books
- Stranger Than Fiction (Real Life)
- Teresa Reveals the CONFESSIONS OF A TRUE ROMANTIC
- CHRISTINA DODD HAS A TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY
- Christina Dodd Exposes the Glamour of Booktour
- Christina Dodd Treats You to an Extra Excerpt of IN BED WITH THE DUKE!
- GIRLFRIENDS JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN Contest!
- Connie Brockway Posts Incriminating New Video
- SPOIL ME! BY CELEBRATING THE GOLDEN SEASON’S PUB DATE, TODAY!
- Teresa Says It Loud and Says It Proud: I WRITE ROMANCE NOVELS!!!
- CHRISTINA DODD SAYS “IT’S CHRISTMAS! DUCK!”
- Teresa Needs Your Help to Choose the SEXIEST MAN DEAD!
Every woman should have a little Joan Armatrading in her music collection. And no college girl should finish college without giving Joan a good, long listen. I discovered her myself when I was in college, after seeing her perform “(I Love It When You) Call Me Names” on TV. She just seemed to be having so much fun performing, and the song is so sinisterly funny, something that really appealed to me at that age. (Though I confess that when I hear it now, I do twinge a bit.) My favorite song by her, though, is “Rosie,” about a capricious transvestite. No matter how bad a mood I’m in, I can scroll to that on my iPod and immediately feel better. There are too few songs like that in the world.
I love Joan Armatrading for many reasons, but probably mostly because her songs are all over the map. Some are happy, some are sad. Some are funny, some are poignant. Some are about how great it is to be independent, some are about how deeply a person can love. Some are slow, some are fast. Some are for listening, some are for dancing. And that massive range is illustrated beautifully on this CD, “The Millennium Collection: The Best of Joan Armatrading.” (I don’t actually have this collection. The greatest hits CD I have isn’t available anymore, but I found this one on iTunes, and it’s pretty close. And I think a greatest hits type CD is a good intro to her. Not to mention, it contains both of the above mentioned songs.)
In fact, every song on here is fabulous. “Drop the Pilot.” “Weakness in Me.” “Love and Affection.” And, of course, “Me, Myself, I,” which was one of many anthems I hugged to myself when I was in college. That’s the song, I think, that all young women should embrace. It’s about doing all the things you want and need to do, and doing them on your own. (Hey, I love romance as much as the next woman, and I think human beings, by nature, want to have mates. But I think the only healthy mate is one who has become content with her- or himself before making that commitment to another. But I digress.)
Armatrading is a truly gifted songwriter and guitarist (one of her guitars is on display in the Harrods “Born to Rock” guitar exhibition alongside guitars from Keith Richards and The Edge). Her music is a lovely mesh of pop, rock and folk, maybe a little bluesy sometimes, with some reggae and a little ska thrown in. There’s even a hint of funk here and there. She was born on St. Kitts in 1950 and raised in Birmingham, England, so she came of musical age during a time, and in places, where there were A LOT of influences to be had.
There’s just a lot here to love, regardless of your gender, but I do think she speaks to women in ways that many musicians miss. And as she sings on “I’m Lucky,” “...the world loves a winner.” Indeed they do. All the more reason to give this CD a try.
How do I love Maximo Park? Let me count the ways. I love them musically. I love them lyrically. I love them visually. A lot. In fact, when I went to their web site to learn more about them for this blog, I downloaded one of the band’s pics to use for my desktop wallpaper for a while. The minute I saw it, the sixteen-year-old girl in me for whom the British New Wave of the ‘70s was her salvation just jumped right up and went, “Wheeeee!” They’ve got that whole sexy new wave geek thing down sooooo well. Lead singer Paul Smith even bears a certain resemblance to Jools Holland, the keyboard player for Squeeze, my fave band when I was in high school.
I just love Maximo Park. And I love “A Certain Trigger,” their debut album. My favorite bands are always the ones that are impossible to slot under one particular musical heading and instead dip into a lot of colors from the musical palette. Scoop up a brushful of rock, add a dollop of roll, smudge in some alternative, a little splash of pop, a healthy slash of euro-synth, and spatter on some other stuff to shake it all up. Do that, and you’ve pretty much got “A Certain Trigger.” Highly danceable, great for driving, imminently listenable. And major, major brownie points for Smith, a guy from Northern England, for actually sounding like a guy from Northern England when he sings. I could listen to that accent all day.
There are no two songs on this CD that sound alike, but one after another, they are powerful, hard-pounding, and staggeringly good. And I love the arrangement of the order. The collection starts off terrifically hard-rocking and then gradually moves into a more… Hmm. I don’t want to say “mellow,” because it’s not that. Or “even,” either, because it’s not that. It just moves from hard-driving to...something else...then back to hard-driving again. You leave it feeling strangely both energized and rested.
And the lyrics are fabulous, and filled with wonderful imagery. Smith sings things like, “I still remember how you moved/And I taste your scent upon my lips.” Or how about, “‘Cause nothing works ‘round here/Where cranes collect the sky.” Or “When a long strand of cloud sits just above the horizon/Leaving a strip of clear blue beneath it/It becomes the panorama.” Or my favorite, a lovely, simple sentiment: “And if it comes down to me and him/You know I’d kiss you better…”
It’s just a really, really wonderful CD. And after reading their web site today, I discovered they’ve released a second titled “Our Earthly Pleasures.” Guess what I’ll be doing today?
This week’s music blog is for people of a certain age. Mine. The senior class of 1979. Because spring of that year heralded the release of Supertramp’s “Breakfast in America,” right when we were poised on leaving behind the predictable society of high school (however welcome that departure would be) to head out into the Real World. “The Logical Song” from this album became our anthem, the song we would sing at the tops of our lungs whenever it came on the radio.
I’m not sure teenagers today could fully appreciate that song now. Sure, there are still social outcasts in high school, and sure, there’s Good Charlotte’s “Anthem” for them. But that song doesn’t address the social pressures we were under in the 70s. Back then, there was still a VERY strong emphasis on toeing the lines society drew (and society drew some pretty rigid, boring lines back then), on not being different, on following rules, and on behaving in ways that were the acceptable norm. (That norm being much like the lines society drew.) We were expected to go to college and get good jobs doing the sorts of things our parents did. Creative endeavors weren’t an option. They were too...different.
Then along came “The Logical Song.” My, oh, my, did my friends and I respond to it. We were the social outcasts back before there was a certain coolness to being a social outcast. Despite that, we wanted to embrace our differentness and carry it into adulthood, and we feared that might not be possible. But “The Logical Song” made us realize that there were grown-ups out there who felt the way we did. Who had managed to hang on to their individuality even when others were telling them they had to conform. Because “The Logical Song” presents a person who did what he was supposed to do--he toed those social lines--and lived to bitterly regret it.
That was a powerful, heady thing to realize back then. To follow our hearts simply wasn’t advice we ever heard.
Of course, “The Logical Song” wasn’t the only good song on the album. Everything on this album was good--and still is. And still surprisingly topical in many ways. I heard “Long Way Home” on the radio this week (hence this blog), and it holds up magnificently, almost thirty years after being written. So does “Just Another Nervous Wreck.” And “Goodbye Stranger.” And the title track still makes me smile as much as it did the first time I heard it.
“Breakfast in America” is just a really nice collection of music, some fast, some slow, some rock, some roll. More than that, though, it’s an emblem of a certain time. My time. When music was really starting to matter to me. When I realized how expressive songs could be. When I needed to hear that it was okay for me to follow my own path. I owe Supertramp bigtime for that.
Okay, so after saying in my last music blog that one of my resolutions this year is to listen to more women artists, my first blog of the new year is on a guy. But he’s a really cool guy, trust me.
Upon poking around Pete Yorn’s web site for tidbits for this blog, I discovered that he’s been compared to Bruce Springsteen more than once. Until I read that, however, such a comparison never occurred to me. He’s a singer/songwriter like Bruce. He plays the guitar, as does Bruce. HIs songs aren’t what you’d call frivolous. He’s from Jersey. But he really has a sound totally his own, and his voice is way more soothing. (Not that I don’t love Bruce, but Yorn’s voice is a pebble on the water compared to Bruce’s deep-cut quarry.)
“Musicforthemorningafter” is Pete Yorn’s debut album, released in 2001. Rolling Stone, not a magazine to often wax poetic, called it “…atmospheric, gently lit by sunlight and regret.” Whoa, way to peg it. USA Today said Yorn’s melodies on this CD were “insinuating,” and his arrangements were “lean” and “driving” and “graceful.” Yep, they’re all that. The music is by turns fast and slow, but always moody and evocative. I don’t want to say mellow. I don’t want to say soothing. That makes it sound trite and it is in no way that. But it makes me feel both soothed and mellow.
What’s weird is that the song lyrics aren’t exactly cheerful and upbeat, but the music still comforts somehow. During my crap week a couple weeks ago, I listened to this CD a lot in the car, and it always made me feel better. Even when Yorn sang things like, “You were lying wide awake in the garden/trying to get over your stardom/and I could never see you depart us/and you’re my baby/you’re just another girl.” Because the way he sings it, it sounds so sweet and affectionate. All the lyrics are like that. As if someone’s leaving, or someone’s lying, or someone’s losing. Yet there’s something in Yorn’s voice as he sings about things gone wrong that makes it seem as if he yearns to set them right again. I love that.
Yorn’s music (and voice) have shown up in a number of movies and TV shows, and that’s where I discovered him myself--in “Shrek 2.” One of my top five favorite songs of all time is the Buzzcocks’ “Ever Fallen in Love,” and normally, I get pretty peeved when people cover songs I think are already perfect. But damned if Yorn didn’t make the song sound great all over again during the scene where Shrek and Donkey and Puss are raiding the Fairy Godmother’s factory. I figured anyone who could do that much justice to that song had to be pretty incredible.
I’ve not been disappointed in him once.
Yes, that’s right. I’m a 30-something-year-old woman (cough cough...shut up Xtina!) who is coming out of the closet to admit that I adore P!NK! I first fell in love with her music for one simple reason--the girl can sing. In a music industry where pop stars are manufactured from every pretty girl who ever appeared in a Disney movie or hosted her own Nickelodeon show, P!NK is the genuine article--talented, smart, brash and bold enough to get in your face if she has something important to say. She acknowledges this paradox in Don’t Let Me Get Me from MISSUNDAZTOOD: (Hey, I said she could sing, not spell!)
“L.A. told me
You’ll be a pop star
All you have to change
Is everything you are
Tired of being compared
To damn Britney Spears
She’s so pretty
That just ain’t me.”
She revisited the subject with Stupid Girls on her most recent CD I’M NOT DEAD. The song was accompanied by a hilarious video of P!NK mocking her less talented contemporaries by writhing all over the sudsy hood of a car a la national brain trust Paris Hilton. MISSUNDAZTOOD is the only CD aside from the hallowed BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER: THE MUSICAL that ever stayed in my car CD player for an entire year without me ever getting sick of it.
Part of P!NK’s charm is her diversity. She sings pop laced with a sly wit and self-deprecating humor. She sings soul. She rocks like a latter-day Joan Jett on songs like Humble Neighborhood from TRY THIS and Numb from MISSUNDAZTOOD. And she can break your heart with songs like Family Portrait from MISSUNDAZSTOOD, which has to be the most honest account I’ve ever heard of what’s it’s like for a frightened child to wake up in the middle of the night to the sounds of breaking glass and her parents screaming at each other. When we lost our 20-year-old nephew to an accidental drug overdose in August, there was very little that could give me comfort but P!NK’S song Who Knew (written for a dear friend of hers who died from an overdose three years ago) gave my anguish both a voice and a melody.
I’ve always been a sucker for smart, angry young women who have something genuine to say and refuse to take any crap off of anybody. (Alannis Morissette anyone?) They remind me of what it’s like to be racing down the road at seventeen with the windows down and the stereo blasting. But P!NK is even more fun than Alannis because she knows when to wink at her own foibles and ours.
(DISCLAIMER: P!NK’s CDs TRY THIS and I’M NOT DEAD contain some profanity. I buy the edited versions for myself and my niece but it’s still not too hard to figure out what’s missing. The good news is that she doesn’t use profanity frequently or gratuitously. So if you like your swearing to have the delicious resonance and eloquence of a good Elizabeth Bevarly rant, then it may not bother you. And have no fear--our resident music expert Liz will return next week after her sprained finger heals! It was an honor to sit in her chair this week )
Any other P!NK fans out there? Have you ever surprised yourself or your family by discovering an unlikely singer or group? Do we have any grandmas out there who listen to Evanescence or Kid Rock?
I didn’t get as much music for Christmas this year as I did last year, but what I got was really, really good, and I have enough Christmas money to buy what was on my list that I didn’t get. So today, as I did this time last year, I’m going to do a big overview of what I got, and what I wish I’d gotten, and what I’m gonna go get.
In my stocking, I found the soundtrack for the movie “A Good Year,” which has a wonderful, eclectic assortment of music, everything from an old samba by Edmundo Ros to a trio of tunes by Harry Nilsson. There are songs by Josephine Baker and Patti Page, the sixties classic, “Never Ending Song of Love” by Delaney & Bonnie and some great French pop.
And speaking of French Pop, the other CD I found in my stocking is “Attraction” from Paris Combo, which in spite of being only five years old has this fabulous retro ‘60s feel to it. I can’t listen to it without smiling. I love it.
My son also gifted me with “Straight Ahead” by punk band Pennywise, who I discovered totally by accident on iTunes. I haven’t given it a listen yet, but if it’s anything like what I’ve downloaded from this band already, I’m going to have to watch my speed if it’s in the car CD player.
Now then. I’ll be heading out after the first of the year armed with my Christmas money and an Ear X-Tacy gift card, along with a New Year’s resolution to listen to more female artists this year. Best of all, I’ve heard great buzz on a number of potentials, so I already have my list made out. Here’s what I’m going to buy:
“Corinne Bailey Rae” by, um, Corinne Bailey Rae. (It’s self-titled, but not a debut.) She’s been compared to both Billie Holiday and Macy Gray, but after sampling her on iTunes, she sort of reminds me of Ricki Lee Jones, too. In any event, this promises to be a sultry collection that’s the epitome of cool.
“Blue Alert” by Anjani, a jazz pianist whose been around for decades, and whose smoky voice rivals any torch singer anywhere, ever. And according to iTunes, she was mentored by Leonard Cohen, so I can’t imagine I’ll be disappointed. It’s lovely, mellow stuff.
“The Greatest” by Cat Power, which sounds kind of bluesy and edgy and twangy. Her voice is one of those seasoned, rough ones that conveys more life experienced than probably any of us wants, but somehow it just makes the music that much more beautiful. This CD is evidently a compilation of previously released tracks, but since she’s been recording for years (who knew?), there’s a lot to choose from.
Regina Spektor’s “Begin to Hope.” Spektor is another artist I stumbled onto by accident by wading around iTunes (and this is a GREAT way to procrastinate, people). She’s kind of hard to peg, description-wise. There’s some truly ethereal piano on some of the tracks, but there’s some euro-pop stuff on other songs, and a definite rock bent on others.
There. I think that’s a pretty good start. Have a happy, musical new year, everybody!
How about you? Anyone get any great music for Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa? What music are you looking forward to in the coming year?
I know it’s no surprise here that I have eclectic tastes when it comes to music. But this is especially true when it comes to my Christmas music, because the only Christmas music we had in our house growing up was “Sing Along with Mitch [Miller]” and “Christmas with [Ray] Coniff.” A Christmas miracle did occur one year when my parents picked up Herb Alpert’s Christmas album, but for the most part, as a child, our Christmases were pretty white (and no, I ain’t talkin’ about the snow).
Which is why one of my very favorite Christmas CDs is “World Christmas.” With this fabulous CD, I can experience Christmas cheer from places all over the globe. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you EXACTLY where on the globe, because my one gripe with this CD is that it doesn’t identify the nationalities of its artists, and even iTunes isn’t helping me very much this morning. So you’re just going to have to trust me that there are lots of different languages, lots of different instruments, lots of different rhythms, lots of different beats. And every last one of them is magical.
Most of the selections are traditional tunes you’ve heard a million times before, but they’ve all been rearranged in ways that make them sound totally new. Papa Wembe gives “Angels We Have Heard on High” a lovely Brazilian flavor (at least, I think it’s Brazilian--I’m pretty sure that’s Portuguese he’s singing in). “We Three Kings” receives an exotic Middle-Eastern interpretation (appropriate, dontcha think?) from Bob Berg, Jim Beard and Arto Tunchboyacyan featuring Zakir Hussain. “Ave Maria” is lovely and ethereal by Deep Forest and Lokua Kanza. “The Twelve Days of Christmas” becomes bluesy and kind of Beatnik (and totally cool) under the influences of Mino Cinelu And Dianne Reeves. Joshua Redman (a fave of my husband’s) gives us a mellow, jazzy “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” John Scofield and the and the Wild Magnolias return to the gospel--and very powerful--roots of “Go Tell It on the Mountain.”
There are some wonderful tunes that are new to me, however, all of them nevertheless putting me well into the holiday spirit. “Boas Festas” by Gilberto Gil and Caetan Veloso with Elaine Elias (who is another favorite in our household) has a wonderful South American flavor. And Ruben Blades gives us a whole different “Jingle Bells” (“Cascabel” in this case), accompanied by Yomo Tor and the Boricua All Stars.
My favorite part of the CD, however, comes in a three-in-a-row mix of both old and new with “O Holy Night,” as interpreted by Angelique Kidjo, originally from Benin and now living in Paris, “Santa Claus,” by the Caribbean Jazz Project (yeah, I know that comes as a shocker), and “Natal” by Cesaria Evora, a native of Cape Verde. Gipsy Kings round up the collection in their usual energetic, pulse-pound, feet-tapping way with “Navidad.”
So pour yourself a glass of eggnog and spike it with the international flavor you prefer, put on “World Christmas,” then settle in for best Christmas vacation you’ll ever have. Merry Christmas/Feliz Navidad/Joyeux Noel/Feliz Natal/Gud Jul/Kala Christouyenna/Buone Feste Natalizie/Shinnen Omedeto/Naya Saal Mubarak Ho, Everybody!