‘Thunder’

Well, it’s seven in the morning and the weather forecast calls for a sunny day with no chance of precipitation. But it’s darker than December outside, the thunder is rumbling, and the weather radar shows a green blob with yellow highlights heading this way from the northwest.

But that’s not ruining my day. Instead, it moves me to offer a random selection from the RealPlayer, where the tracks on the digital shelves now total more than 89,000. (I have about the same amount of music from various sources – friends, libraries, dark corners of the ’Net – sitting unsorted in folders on my external hard drive. If I were so inclined, I could work on sorting and tagging that for days.)

Anyway, here are three about thunder:

First up is “Drive Like Lightning (Crash Like Thunder)” from the Brian Setzer Orchestra. One of the first CDs I owned – obtained through a record club in 1999 – was the group’s 1998 effort The Dirty Boogie, which featured a cover of Louis Prima’s “Jump Jive an’ Wail” that went to No. 23 on the Billboard Hot 100. (The album itself went to No. 9 on the Billboard 200.) After a while, I tired of the group’s work and traded the CD for something else; Setzer’s approach to the jump blues he so obviously loves didn’t – for some reason – settle into my system well. “Drive Like Lightning” is from the group’s 2000 album Vavoom!, and it’s got a sound more rooted in a mythical late 1950s aesthetic (with some 1960s surf guitar tossed in), and like 1940s jump blues, that’s another interesting place to be. But even though I have a fair amount of music by the former Stray Cat front man and his group on the digital shelves – including another copy of The Dirty Boogie – Setzer’s work remains only of passing interest to me. Whenever I listen to more than one track at a time, I get the sense that Setzer and his mates are more interested in mugging at the audience than focusing on the groove.

From there, we bounce back to the late 1970s and some sessions that Bobbie Gentry did, evidently, for Warner Brothers. “Thunder In The Afternoon” and a few other tracks wound up on an early 1990s best-of release in the United Kingdom and were the subject of some discussion on a music board I stumbled upon about a year ago while putting together a post about Gentry’s version of Patti Dahlstrom’s “He Did Me Wrong But He Did It Right.” Likely recorded in 1977, “Thunder In The Afternoon” fits in nicely with the rest of Gentry’s oeuvre, though perhaps with a little less tang than her Delta-tinged early stuff. The question of what happened to Bobbie Gentry is one that music fans and writers return to from time to time. One of the latest writers to take on the topic was Neely Tucker of the Washington Post. Tucker’s piece, from June of this year, includes this teasing passage near the top: “Gentry spoke to a reporter, for this story, apparently for the first time in three decades. We caution you not to get too excited about that. It’s one sentence. Could be two. Then she hung up.”

The track that made me focus on “thunder” in this morning’s exercise instead of “rain” is, happily, our third random track today: “You’ll Love The Thunder” by Jackson Browne. Found on Browne’s 1978 live album Running On Empty, the track has long been one of my favorite Browne tracks, certainly my favorite from the live album. I think I just got tired of hearing “Running On Empty” and “The Load-Out/Stay” when they were overplayed on radio back in 1978. (The title track went to No. 11, and “Stay” – with “The Load-Out” on the B-side – went to No. 20.) The track still seems fresh almost forty years after I first heard it, and – as happens every time one of Jackson Browne’s early pieces pops up – I think briefly that maybe I should dig more deeply into the music he’s done in recent years. But even minor excavations into Browne’s later work always seem to leave me luke-warm. Why? I dunno, and I no longer try to figure out why. I have better ways to spend my time, like cuing up “The Late Show” or “Here Come Those Tears Again” or even “That Girl Could Sing.” Or “You’ll Love The Thunder.”

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One Response to “‘Thunder’”

  1. jb says:

    You have just put your finger on what has bugged me about the Brian Setzer Orchestra ever since we bought a couple of their CDs back in the day. “I love Louis Jordan and the other jump blues guys,” I think to myself, “so why does this stuff leave me cold?” That’s it precisely. It’s an act.

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