Author Archives: Jeff Gemmill

About Jeff Gemmill

I am not old, but middle-aged; not grey, though a few hairs are fading that way; and not feline, but human. In years past, I've written for the black & white sections of the Cable Guide, See, Total TV and TV Guide, plus helped oversee a cool and short-lived fanzine called Da Boot, which focused on bootleg CDs. In the late '90s and early '00s, I also oversaw the Old Grey Cat website, which focused (primarily) on Neil Young and Crosby, Stills & Nash (and all of their various permutations). I can be reached at oldgreycat [at] yahoo [dot] com.

First Aid Kit: Ruins, a Preview

Ruins, the first long-player from First Aid Kit since Stay Gold in 2014, is due out on Friday, Jan. 19th. As has become somewhat customary in today’s music-marketing world, quite a few of the album’s songs have already seen official release – instead of a stand-alone single released a month or two ahead of the album, some acts now release three or more individual tracks over a period of months. It’s just the way it is.

The downside: If the songs aren’t strong, they can lessen one’s expectations of the album. And, too, the availability of those early tracks can and do diminish what should be a series of welcome surprises on release day. Instead of hitting play and being amazed (or, sometimes, dismayed) by the music seeping from the speakers, it’s somewhat akin to a fill-in-the-blank exercise. The knowns can overshadow the unknowns on first listen, in other words, giving a false sense of the album’s overall strength or weakness.

The upside, at least in the case of Klara and Johanna Söderberg: New songs! Good songs! And cool videos! The four early songs all sound great to my ears – “Fireworks,” especially, seems destined to be embedded in playlists for decades to come.

And, with all that said, here’s a roundup of songs (both TV appearances and aforementioned cool videos) from Ruins:

1) “It’s a Shame” – FAK appeared on The Graham Norton Show in the UK last week. (Stay tuned after the song for a brief interview with them.)

2) “Fireworks” – The official video:

3) “Postcard” – An official video. The song sounds like a lost country treasure from the ‘70s.

4) “Ruins.” Another official video, from the same set as “Postcard.” The title track from the album is a meditation on a relationship gone wrong; and it’s a low-key wonder.

And here’s a clip that captures a cool cover that, hopefully, First Aid Kit will include in their set on their forthcoming tour. (It features the Tallest Man on Earth who, at least from afar, looks shorter than Johanna. )

5) “Graceland” –

And, finally, a very cool and illuminating two-part interview with the sisters Söderberg:


Today’s Top 5: Ephemeral Musings (aka CMA 2018)

In part, it’s the starkness of the “Near You” video that gets me. Shot in 2013 at a Manchester club, Courtney Marie Andrews perches on a chair, and leans from the darkness into a spotlight that seemingly cuts through unseen clouds like a god ray. In larger part, however, it’s the sheer hypnotic quality of her vocal, which cuts through the quagmire of YouTube compression like a luminous murmur. And, too, it’s the lyrics themselves, which spin a tale of unfettered love.

When she released the song as a single in the fall of 2017, seven years (or so) after she wrote it, Courtney explained that it’s “about loving someone without expectations or ego. I wrote this song when I was 20 years old. At that time, I was still learning about that kind of love, and I suspect writing this song helped me understand that. Real adult love is loving yourself enough to love someone without expectations. ‘Near You’ explores themes of a flawed person who loves another flawed person, but doesn’t beg them to change.”

I’d like to say that I discovered the video not long after I read the reviews of Honest Life in Uncut and Mojo on the same afternoon in February 2017, when I began a mad dash through YouTube’s many CMA clips. But, in truth, I stumbled upon it this past Thursday night, not long after listening to Courtney Marie’s latest offering, the title tune to her forthcoming May Your Kindness Remain album. It was next up on the algorithmic block.

The organ, dirty guitar and gospel accents of “May Your Kindness Remain” jell together like a spicy gumbo cooked up inside a big pink house in Woodstock. (That’s an admittedly awkward reference to the Band’s Music From Big Pink LP, I hasten to add, not the John Mellencamp song.) As I wrote Thursday night, it bodes well for the album as a whole – which, I should mention, is available for pre-order over at Courtney’s Bandcamp page.

Here’s another song slated to be on the album, “Long Road Back to You,” which I recorded at last year’s Boot & Saddle show. To my ears then and now, it could well be a song A.P. Carter mined in the hills of Appalachia during the 1920s.

It’ll be interesting to hear the album version, and whether it’s fleshed out with a band and backup singers. As-is, however, it’s a mesmerizing song. As is this one, “It Keeps Going,” from her 2013 album On My Page:

Unfortunately, life being life, I don’t have as much time to explore the highways and byways of YouTube as I’d like. I deep-dive when possible, especially when devising a Top 5, but by and large…I often wind up surprised years after I should’ve been – such as by this cover of “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man.” Written by the legendary songwriters Chips Moman and Dan Penn, it was first recorded by Aretha Franklin on her I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You album…

…and covered by a whole host of classic acts, including the Flying Burrito Brothers on their 1969 debut, The Gilded Palace of Sin. (That was the first version I heard, actually, by way of the double-LP Close Up the Honky Tonks collection, which I picked up on April 27, 1984, when I was 18.)

I contemplated concluding with a flourish of words but, instead, I’ll simply circle back to the song at the start, “Near You.” The single version released last September is as stunning as that solo performance from long ago – and, though we didn’t know it, a precursor of things to come. Sonically speaking, it shares quite a bit with “May Your Kindness Remain,” including a guitar roaring and soaring its way into the melody.

Courtney Marie Andrews – May Your Kindness Remain

This week has seen me spinning like a top that just won’t stop. First came Juliana Hatfield’s official announcement of her long-awaited (by me, at least) ONJ tribute album

… and then, yesterday, Courtney Marie Andrews released the title track of her forthcoming album, May Your Kindness Remain, which hits stores on March 23rd – a day before she plays the Boot & Saddle in South Philly. (Her seemingly never-ending tour continues, in other words.)

(To pre-order the album, head over to her Bandcamp page. It’s available as a download, limited-edition rose vinyl or CD.)

There’s much good to be said about the song, and NPR’s Brittany McKenna does just that, though her assessment that the “American Dream is becoming murkier by the day” is, I think, somewhat off. In truth, as a skim through history shows, the Dream has ebbed and flowed since the term was first popularized during the Great Depression. That decade-long economic downturn saw the unemployment rate rise to almost 25 percent – and in some parts of the country, double and triple that number. Some said the Dream was dead. Yet a generation – the Greatest Generation by every metric – soldiered on.

During the tumult of the 1970s, which included Kent State, Watergate, oil crises, double-digit inflation and rising unemployment, among other ills, there were also whispers that the Dream was over. And those whispers turned to shouts during the early 1990s, right around the time Philadelphia Inquirer journalists Donald L. Bartlett and James B. Steele published America: What Went Wrong, an excellent tome that detailed how the economic deck had been stacked against common folks during the prior decades.

And yet, just like a Dusty Rhodes wresting match, the Dream refused to give up or be pinned. He shook off the cobwebs, tossed the bad guy into the ropes and hit him with a bionic elbow when he bounced back. Times may be tough. They often are, and always are for someone, somewhere. But a comeback is, as it always is, mere moments away. If history teaches us anything, it teaches us that.

Hope and optimism are necessary ingredients in any and all ages, in other words. To quote former president Barack Obama, “Hope is that thing inside us that insists, despite all evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it, and to work for it, and to fight for it. Hope is the belief that destiny will not be written for us, but by us, by the men and women who are not content to settle for the world as it is, who have the courage to remake the world as it should be.”

But to the song: “May Your Kindness Remain” bodes well for the album as a whole. I like the droning organ at the song’s start, the backing vocals, and the guitar that slices like a dull machete into the mix midway through. And, too, there’s Courtney’s impassioned vocals (which I can’t wait to hear live)…and the lyrics. What matters isn’t the money or things we accrue, though it’s better to have some than none, but the love, kindness and respect we accord one another. It’s the intangibles that count most in life.

Just my thoughts.