Posts Tagged ‘Elton John & Leon Russell’

Highlights Continued: 2006-2010

Friday, December 31st, 2010

New Year’s has never been a big deal to me. When I was a kid, Rick and I would spend the evening together, sometimes at our place but usually at his. We’d play board games and listen to music, and at midnight, we’d holler “Happy New Year!” Not long after that, we’d head to bed.

I did spend a couple of New Year’s Eves in a few drinking establishments along St. Cloud’s Fifth Avenue during my latter college days, but even those two evenings were fairly tame. The first year, 1974, three of us from The Table – two guys and a gal – sat in the Red Carpet sipping drinks and watching others dance. As 1975 ended, my Denmark buddy Rob and I stood by the bar next door in the Press, sipping drinks and watching others dance. So I’ve never really celebrated much on New Year’s Eve.

And that makes the rain, freezing rain, sleet and snow that we’re supposed to get today inconsequential, as long as the Texas Gal gets back from work safe and dry. We’ll probably watch some TV tonight, maybe load up the DVD with the next disc of The West Wing boxset, and – if we stay awake – we’ll watch the lighted ball drop in Times Square. After that, the only excitement will be staying up to watch the dates change on our computer screens.

But tomorrow is a new year and a new decade, and I should finish what I began yesterday, tapping one album and one other track from each of the years of the first decade of the new century. Yesterday, I wrote about 2001-2005, and today we pick up with 2006.

These last five years got a lot tougher. With the exception of the occasional powerhouse album or track, I absorb music slowly, through repeated listenings over time. And the closer I got to the present day in this exercise, the less I seemed to know about some of the music I’ve heard. I imagine that if I were to do the same thing for these ten years a decade from now, my selections would be quite a bit different. But we’ll leave that problem for December 2020 when we get there, and we’ll pick things up with 2006.

Choosing an album for 2006 might have been the easiest of this batch. Bruce Springsteen’s talented, rambling and delightfully informal Seeger Sessions Band put together a gem of Americana with We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions. A later version, subtitled The American Land Edition, added bonus tracks and bonus video and was actually worth the extra coinage. The sound of Springsteen and like-minded folks performing classic tunes like “Erie Canal” was a refreshing change. There’s nothing at all wrong with the E Street Band, of course, but it was fun to hear the Boss in a different environment.

My one single track from 2006 comes from a project by Linda Ronstadt and Cajun singer Ann Savoy. Their album, Adieu False Heart, while not quite a Cajun album, comes close to tapping the center of that unique American subculture. And to complicate things more, the duo digs into the old Left Banke hit, “Walk Away Renee” and makes the track work.

Things got a little obscure in 2007. That happens to be the year this blog began its explorations although I’m not sure there’s a causal link there. But as I looked at the list of CDs from 2007, I dithered a lot, considering We’ll Never Turn Back by Mavis Staples and Raising Sand by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss as well as albums by Maroon 5, the Indigo Girls and Ruthie Foster. After a lot of listening last evening, I settled on the debut CD by Rachel Harrington, The Bootlegger’s Daughter. The comments from All-Music Guide about Harrington’s follow-up – 2008’s City of Refuge – also describe The Bootlegger’s Daughter very well: “Harrington’s music . . . often sounds like it could date from the 1850s, or at least as far back as the 1930s, anyway. Accompanied by bluegrass instrumentation – fiddle, dobro, mandolin – she sings in a rough-hewn country voice songs with a rural setting that touch on love and death.” The Bootlegger’s Daughter is spare, haunting and beautiful.

It’s probably not surprising that a lot of my selections are Americana, steeped in the connection between the country, folk and singer/songwriter idioms. But the direction I took for a single track from 2007 might be a surprise. Nicole Atkins’ CD, Neptune City, was lushly produced pop with some tricks and warbles that made it clear how much Atkins listened to – among other things – the Brill Building sounds of the early 1960s. Though the album tends to wander a little, Atkins’ songs are strong; it’s a good listen, and I’ve selected “Maybe Tonight,” the album’s first track, as something to keep from 2007.

My album choice for 2008 landed here after I followed the advice of my pal and fellow blogger, jb of The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, who told me to make sure to listen to a group called Jump Back Jake. I listened and pretty quickly got hold of the group’s first album, Brooklyn Hustle/Memphis Muscle. The CD’s title pretty much sums up the group’s music: Straighforward, funky, soulful and rocking. This CD sees the inside of my player a lot.

In 2008, Nils Lofgren – whose solo work is a little slight in comparison with the work he’s done for Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen – put out a solo project that seemed at best risky: An acoustic album of Neil Young songs. I wasn’t sure Lofgren’s rather thin voice was up to that challenge. But it’s a superb album, and Lofgren does his early mentor well. It thought it would be difficult to pull one track from the CD, but it wasn’t. Here’s Lofgren’s cover of “On The Way Home.”

Among the CDs I wrote about during this blog’s early days were the two collaborations between singer/songwriter Eric Andersen, the late Rick Danko of The Band and Norwegian musician Jonas Fjeld. And since then, I keep watch for anything new by Andersen and Fjeld. Andersen’s easy enough to keep track of, but it’s a little tougher – though not nearly as difficult as it would have been twenty years ago – to know what Fjeld is doing. That why it was intriguing in 2009 when I discovered the second collaboration between Fjeld and the North Carolina bluegrass/roots group Chatham County Line. (The first was a 2007 live album recorded in Norway.) The 2009 CD, Brother Of Song, covers a lot of musical ground with songs rooted both in Americana and in Norwegian tradition (two of the tracks are sung in Norwegian), with Fjeld’s slightly raspy and slightly accented voice adding another dimension to the proceedings.

Instead of a studio track from 2009, I’m going to offer – I think for the second time at this blog – a live performance by Perpetuum Jazzile, a choir from Slovenia. The group’s performance of Toto’s “Africa” at – I think – a 2008 concert in Ljubljana remains amazing. The song was included on the group’s 2009 CD, Africa, but seeing it – even a second time – is better than just hearing it.

For all the dithering I did about some of the choices higher up the page, I found that making selections for the year just ending was easy. My favorite album from 2010 – as of this writing, anyway – turns out to be Women + Country by Jakob Dylan. It’s a collection of spare songs, supplemented by production from T-Bone Burnett and harmony vocals from Neko Case and Kelly Hogan, and it seems to sink deeper into me with every listening.

And my single track from 2010 was a pretty easy choice, too. I’ve been listening at least a little to The Union, the collaboration between Elton John and Leon Russell, and when I found that there’d been a video released for “If It Wasn’t For Bad,” the CD’s first track, there was no doubt what I’d tab as my favorite track of the year. Maybe it’s just the Bogartish noir of the video that gets to me. I dunno. But something makes this work for me. [Note: Sadly, that video has disappeared. But the tune is still available as of July 2018.]

Finally, a look at the last decade wouldn’t be complete without tapping into one of the funniest things I’ve found on the Internet since I first logged on in February 2000. In 2007, a music producer with too much time on his hands and some mimicry skills took seven of the witty children’s tales by Dr. Seuss and recorded them as they would have been done by Bob Dylan in the Blonde On Blonde era, with that “ wild mercury sound.” The songs were posted at the website Dylan Hears A Who, which was soon retired after a request by Dr. Seuss Enterprises. But the songs were already out there, and they continue to pop up now and then. So here’s a video for “Green Eggs & Ham” by Dylan Hears A Who:

I’ll be back tomorrow with the first Saturday Single of the new year.