Posts Tagged ‘Nicole Atkins’

Out From The Sun, Part 2

Friday, June 6th, 2014

Having safely crossed the Asteroid Belt beyond Mars, we continue our trek outward from the Sun and approach Jupiter, the largest of the planets. Fittingly, our tune here is one that is related to spaceflight: A search for information about the 1958 instrumental “Jupiter-C” by Pat & The Satellites brings us, among others, a link to Wikipedia, where we learn that Jupiter-C was an American rocket used to test re-entry nosecones during three sub-orbital spaceflights in 1956 and 1957. The rocket, Wikipedia says, was one of those designed by the U.S. Army under the direction of Wernher Von Braun (whom I once met). The record spent four weeks in the Billboard Hot 100 and peaked at No. 81, and as I check that out in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, I learn that the studio musicians who recorded “Jupiter-C” included the great King Curtis, whose sax is front and center for much of the record.

From Jupiter, we head on toward the beautiful rings of Saturn, and our tune is a Stevie Wonder track titled “Saturn” and found on Wonder’s 1976 album Songs In The Key Of Life. The track was never used as even the B-side of a single, but the album was No. 1 for fourteen weeks, beginning in the middle of October 1976. And even though it’s an album that I heard frequently if not constantly in the spring of 1977 as I hung out with friends from the St. Cloud State student newspaper, I’m sad to say don’t recall “Saturn” and its message:

There’s no principles in what you say
No direction in the things you do
For your world is soon to come to a close
Through the ages all great men have taught
Truth and happiness just can’t be bought – or sold
Tell me why are you people so cold?

We’ll hang around
Saturn for a while yet and make a stop at Titan, the largest of Saturn’s many, many moons. And as we gaze at – as Wikipedia says – “the only object other than Earth for which clear evidence of stable bodies of surface liquid has been found,” we listen to “Sirens of Titan” by Al Stewart, a track from his 1975 album Modern Times. The album sold decently, reaching No. 30 on the Billboard 200, but that pales, of course, compared to the reception received by Stewart’s next two albums, Year Of The Cat and Time Passages, which went to No. 5 and No. 10, respectively. Sonically, Modern Times is similar to the next two albums – all three were produced by Alan Parsons – but it sounds to me just a shade thinner than Cat and Passages. Stewart’s voice is, of course, unmistakable.

And we find ourselves approaching Uranus, the planet whose name is the source of thousands of schoolboy giggles, some of which have found themselves attached to some sophomoric song titles. But we don’t need to go there. Digging through the mp3 files and related tunes this morning, we find “Uranus” by the Brunning/Hall Sunflower Blues Band. According to All Music Guide, Bob Brunning was the bassist for the band that became Fleetwood Mac, but was let go by Peter Green once John McVie had left John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers to join Green’s band. Brunning went on to teach and continue recording part-time, and he and pianist Bob Hall formed the Sunflower Blues Band. In 1969, the band, with some participation from Green, recorded the album Trackside Blues, which included the track “Uranus.” It’s a decent blues track, but its primary appeal this morning is its title.

Heading on, we stay in the realm of the gas giants and find ourselves at Neptune, with the music provided by Nicole Atkins, herself a native of Neptune, albeit the city in New Jersey instead of the distant planet. “Neptune City” was the title track to her 2007 solo debut album. As I wrote in 2010, the album is “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.” And it’s an album that I like very much, one that stays pretty close to the CD player that I use for late-night listening.

Pluto is either a planet or a dwarf planet, depending on which cadre of astronomers you talk to, but all I know is that it’s out there and we need to stop by on our way toward the edge of the Solar System. Music was hard to come by here, and we had to dig deep into the digital shelves before finding a song that originally came from a Dutch pop duo called Het Goede Doel. In 1982, the duo’s single “België (Is er leven op Pluto?)” – which translates to “Belgium (Is There Life On Pluto?)” – went to No. 4 in the Netherlands. According to Wikipedia, the duo also recorded a version of the song in English. I didn’t look for that, though, because I have a cover of the tune in its original Dutch by Scala & Kolacny Brothers, the Belgian girls choir that has popped up here at least once before. From a bonus disc included with the 2010 album Circle, here’s “België (Is er leven op Pluto?)”

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.