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Guilty pleasures

Caught the last twenty minutes of John Hughes' sole non-teen film that was any good -- Planes, Trains, and Automobiles -- this morning on some random cable channel. I never quite understood why John Hughes made the decision to leave behind Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink for work such as Curly Sue and Baby's Day Out. But then again, I guess Hughes wouldn't have made the zillions of bucks he made from producing/writing the Home Alone movies had he continued making Jon Cryer vehicles.

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles has hilarious moments -- I kinda think of it as part of Steve Martin's best period, a period starting with All of Me and heading through Planes Trains and Roxanne (I always found L.A. Story so-so, Hollywood jokes being as easy a target as bashing Republicans and televangelists). And at the end of the movie, there's an instrumental version of a song which, I gotta confess, I always kind of liked. Paul Young's "Everytime You Go Away, You Take a Piece of Me With You." (That's admittedly not the title, but it sure is fun to type all of it.)

It was Young's one song to hit big in America -- though in the UK he did have some other hits, like a nice slice of bland reggaelite called "Love of the Common People." Paul Young had your typical blue-eyed British soul voice, a bit higher than Rick Astley; if he had an American equivalent in terms of singing, it was probably Daryl Hall. The production of "Everytime You Go" feels as over-polished and dated as a Dexy's Midnight Runners song, but what does manage to come through all the synth is the fact that it's actually a very good song, in terms of the melody and writing.

Don't believe me? Next time you hear it, imagine it without the synthesizers and polish, and instead imagine it being sung by not a British white boy but a soul singer -- Sam Moore, say, or Solomon Burke. I've always felt that the best soul singers can find the terrific song inside a bubblegum hit -- I think of Etta James' version of the Eagles' "Take It to the Limit," or, better still, Wilson Pickett's upturning of the Archies' "Sugar, Sugar."

Someone should do the same with Paul Young's "Everytime You Go Away, You Take a Piece of Me With You." Because there's a beautiful song in there, crying to get out.

posted by Anon. 5:22 PM


Hot Canadians make good music

A friend often will ask me when I pick up an album by a young twentysomething female artist: did I buy it for the Kasey Chambers factor?

Chambers is the fine Australian alt-country singer, whose first album, The Captain, is very good; her follow-up, Barricades and Brickwalls, a little less so, kinda a B-. She has good songwriting chops, a slightly too girlish voice, and nice friends like Buddy Miller and Lucinda Williams who appear on her records. But Chambers is cute, very, very cute, and she's the kind of cute singer whose album you might actually buy because, well, she's really cute.

When I picked up the Kathleen Edwards record, Failer, that's received a good deal of press, Phil asked me if I had bought it for, yes, the Kasey Chambers factor. Yes, Edwards is certainly cute. But I bought it because the little sticker that the record label slapped on the album included a journalism quote likening Edwards to both Lucinda and Neil Young in the same sentence.

I don't hear much of Lucinda in Kathleen Edwards' songs, and I hear even less Neil Young, but some of the songs have the nice dichotomy of cheery, airy melodies with lyrics describing desperation and loneliness. I always kinda liked songs that felt like contradictions, arguments inside one's head.

Edwards' sound and voice remind me of another Canadian singer/songwriter, who, lo and behold, shares the same label as Edwards -- Sarah Harmer, whose "Basement Apartment" is a wonderful song that I've written about in these pages before. Her voice has some nice textures to it, it's not just all sugar and sweetness, which allows her singing of "wired cars and whiskey" a little more plausible.

The down-side is that her songwriting is not quite there yet -- there are some boring slow songs that didn't do much for me (in my advancing age I'm realizing that it takes a lot for me to like a ballad).

That said, there are at least three big winners here -- the opener, "Six O'Clock News"; "One More Song the Radio Won't Like," which almost lives up to the huge promise of that great title; and "Westby," with its frank chorus: "If you weren't so old, I would keep you/If you weren't so old, I'd tell my friends/But I don't think your wife would like my friends." If they have 'em on the Apple $.99 store, they're well worth your time and three bucks.

posted by Anon. 3:53 PM
Sawdust on the floor

Joe Henry -- better known to some as Madonna's brother-in-law -- has never done too much for me. But then, I came kinda late to him, by the time he had already left his roots rock/Americana style behind for a more "experimental" -- there's a word which should trigger the red flags and alarms -- sound, involving drum loops, feedback, atmospheric production -- he swapped country for city. I bought his Fuse record of a couple years back, used, and except for one terrific, driving pulse of a song -- "Skin and Teeth" -- I was unimpressed.

Phil made a mix for me a few months ago that featured a song, "Short Man's Room," from the album of the same name, a record from '91 and one of Joe Henry's two records that feature a more stripped down, Americana sound. (Short Man's Room, the album, features as backing band for all its tracks the Jayhawks, to give you any indication of its Americana credentials.) I liked the song, and I was curious to hear more.

Then a month or two ago, at Aron's Records, I stumbled upon a sampler of Joe Henry's songs. It had a few songs I already had, from Fuse, but also songs from earlier and newer albums -- it wasn't something that was available in stores, but instead one of those radio samplers the label sends stations to get airplay for the new release. I picked it up.

I only got around to listening to it a couple weeks ago, and the songs which I liked the most were those from JH's two Americana records -- a duet called "Kindness of the World" from the album of the same name, and the songs from "Short Man's Room," including a wonderful, melodic, fiddle-infused song called "One Shoe Up."

Last week, on a trip to Aron's, I bought Short Man's Room new, and I've been listening to it a great deal while driving the last week. Joe Henry's lyrics on it are evocative, occasionally venturing towards the over-written, but more often than not, feeling lean and eloquent along a backdrop of fiddles, acoustic guitars, and mandolins. (His voice reminds me of that of Walter Salas-Humara of the before-their-time band the Silos, a group that was ten years too early before alt-country caught on.) It's a very good record, and I'm glad I came to it late, rather than never.

posted by Anon. 2:48 PM
Tell Tchaikovsky the news

Sorry about that. We're back now. Though we're desperate for a new graphic design. Blogger has scaled back their template choices, and all of them are ugly. Our dream is to meld this blog with our sister blog, on a single page with little extras. You know, like a linkbox.

Designs welcome!

posted by Anon. 2:33 PM