Category Archives: 2010

Today’s Top 5: Curated Classics

Life unfurls like a flag on a windy day. Though it may seem that the cloth never ripples the same way twice, over time certain patterns can be discerned. For example, just like last year about this time, one of my first self-appointed chores of 2017 consisted of digging through the dusty virtual bins of Amazon in search of the perfect CDs to send my niece for her birthday. “Perfect” takes on a double meaning in this context – perfect for her and perfect, overall.

As last year, I used Amazon’s free gift tags to include short notes about each album.

dusty_memphis1) Dusty Springfield – “I Can’t Make It Alone” (from Dusty in Memphis, 1969). I wrote: “Although it didn’t sell well in 1969, this album is now considered a classic. It blends pop and soul in a way that no one had before; and Dusty’s vocals are wondrous.” I’d add: Make that a stone-cold classic; and luscious in addition to wondrous. Rolling Stone ranked it No. 89 on its 2012 list of the Top 500 Albums of All Time; I rank it higher – possibly Top 10. It smolders, yearns and burns, and sounds as fresh to my ears now as it did when I first heard it in the early 1980s.

emmylou_pieces2) Emmylou Harris – “For No One” (from Pieces of the Sky, 1975). I wrote: “Although she’s rarely topped the charts, Emmylou is an integral artist within the modern history of country music. This, her second try at a debut, explains why.” I’d add: Emmylou embraced and made her own the expansive “Cosmic American Music” vision of Gram Parsons, her musical mentor, who passed away in September 1973, on this classic from 1975. In essence, she helped forge the foundation that generations of female country and folk performers, including Taylor Swift and First Aid Kit, have built upon since.

harriet3) Harriet – “Broken for You” (from her eponymous debut, 2016). I wrote: “I discovered this gem on Christmas. Although the songs conjure the Carpenters and pop music of the 1970s, Harriet is a relatively new 20-something singer from London. It should make you smile.” I’d add: This set certainly makes me smile, at least. If I’d been aware of it when I created my Albums of the Year list in early December, I would have ranked it No. 3. It’s everything that’s good about pop music.

rumer_soms4) Rumer – “Aretha.” (from Seasons of My Soul, 2010). I wrote: “This is an atmospheric song cycle that’s teeming with soulful, knowing lyrics & melodies that wrap themselves around the heart. Among its themes: love, longing, loss & acceptance. It’s magic.” I’d add: I borrowed part of that from my first blog post on the Hatboro-Horsham Patch, since moved here; I’ve also written about it here and here. I rank it among my Top Albums of All Time, which I plan to share at some point later in the year.

rumer_vinyl5) Rumer – “This Girl’s in Love With You” (from This Girl’s in Love: A Bacharach & David Songbook, 2016). I wrote: “Burt Bacharach is a legendary songwriter who, with collaborators such as Hal David, crafted some of the world’s greatest songs. This set from Rumer was my Album of the Year for 2016.” For more, see my Album(s) of the Year, 2016 and Today’s Top 5: The Promise of Tomorrow posts. (By the way, that’s Bacharach singing at the start.)

 

Seasons of My Soul

rumer_somsMy morning wasn’t all that different than what others in the Northeast experienced this Sunday: I shoveled snow, shoveled some more, and then applied generous amounts of Ben-Gay to my aching back and shoulders. If you’re a young ‘un, odds are that you snickered at the end of that sentence, but if you’re of a certain age, well, I’d wager that you nodded in sympathy or, at least, understanding.

Digging out after a major snowstorm, of course, isn’t fun regardless of one’s age. When you’re young, though, you come in from the hours whiled away outside rarin’ to do something else. Maybe it’s turning on the TV and rooting for your favorite team in the Big Game, whatever that Big Game may be, or dropping a favorite record onto the turntable and losing yourself in the music.

Those favorite platters tend to stick with us through the decades, of course, because we hear in the music much more than just the melodies and lyrics. We hear our youth – our teens and early 20s, for the most part. The nostalgia factor is one reason, I think, why many of a certain age routinely cite those “classic” songs and albums as “the best of all time.” Memories can cloud judgment – even mine, as this blog shows.

Of late, I’ve been thinking of my Top 10 Albums of All Time – as in, favorite albums. If I was going for the most important, well, that’s an easy list that would feature picks by the Beatles, Stones, Marvin, Neil, Springsteen and Joni, among others. While some might quibble about the specific titles and order, most would agree that they laid the foundation for everything that’s followed. But favorites? That’s a different list altogether; as I often joke, my Top 10 contains 100 (or so) titles.

dusty_memphisExcept, really, it’s less a joke and more a statement of fact. Albums by some of the same artists I mention above make the cut. Dusty in Memphis does, too. Some predate my birth, others were released when I was a toddler, and many come from my teens and 20s. At a certain point, though, it seems that, for some, a switch is flipped and they’re forever stuck playing and replaying the same-old, same-old, over and over again, and dismissing anything that’s even relatively recent.

It’s obvious from this blog that I love the music of yesteryear, but it should also be obvious that I love much that is current. When push comes to shove(l), for instance, one of my all-time favorites isn’t a classic from my youth, but of my middle-age: Rumer’s maiden effort, Seasons of My Soul, which was released in England in late 2010. Where it would rank, I can’t say, other than it’s in the top tier. I’ve written plenty about it before, of course, from my first-ever post on the Hatboro-Horsham Patch (since moved here) in 2012 to last week, when I spotlighted it in my Of Apple Music, Pono & Sound essay. It’s easily my most played album of this decade – no easy feat given the way I churn through and obsess over music new and old.

Breathe easy: I won’t rehash anything I’ve written before, other than to say that the themes that Rumer tackles on the album – love, loss and longing, and fitting in – are ones that I identify with. I’ll also share a memory, of the moment that bonded me to the album:

Thanksgiving 2010 was the first traditional family gathering without my dad, who passed away at the end of 2009. That morning, I drove the 15 minutes to the cemetery where he’s buried to pay my respects, iPod Classic plugged into the aux jack of the stereo and Seasons of My Soul – which I’d recently purchased from Amazon as a pricey CD import – filling the car. I liked it from first listen, but when “On My Way Home” floated forth from the speakers during my ride home…

…well, I’m not an emotional guy. I’m just not. But that song, which is about loss – in Rumer’s case, her mother to breast cancer – and acceptance, of coming to terms with grief, is a magical odyssey, soothing, stirring and aching all at once. It was a perfect song to hear at that moment.

Anyway, many fans hear Rumer as a spiritual heir to Karen Carpenter due to the similarities of their voices. I don’t. I hear her more as a spiritual sibling to Dusty Springfield, Dionne Warwick and Carly Simon, among others, who (generally) dealt with adult matters for adult audiences. But that’s a topic for another post.

Rumer’s Seasons of My Soul

rumer_live

It used to be straightforward, this thing called music-obsessive syndrome. When I developed the condition in the late 1970s, you listened to the radio – WIFI, WMMR, WYSP, WIOQ, etc. – and if you heard a song you liked you trucked down to the Hatboro Music Store or up to Sam Goody in the Village Mall to buy the corresponding 45 or LP.

In time you’d dig deeper into the scene via recommendations from friends, Creem and Rolling Stone magazines, maybe invest in a book – the red or blue music guides from Rolling Stone, for instance – to learn about historical recordings, and saved cash by heading to Memory Lane Records in Horsham, where the sheer mass of used vinyl was as overwhelming as it was joyful. Everything was new regardless of age – in 1978 when I was 13, for instance, the Beatles and Stones were as new to me as Dire Straits and Van Halen.

Now? Most terrestrial music stations are accented by ultra-tight playlists, with those that highlight the new primarily doling out sound-alike hits and those that trade in nostalgia reducing the oeuvres of veteran acts to a handful of songs. A few exceptions exist, of course. WXPN, the best of the bunch in the Delaware Valley, features a rich mix of Americana, folk, blues and rock, but everytime I tune in they’re as likely to be playing the old (Steely Dan) as the new (Jessica Mayfield). Satellite radio, which I’m told is home to expansive playlists, requires a subscription and specialized equipment. Online radio and streaming sources abound as well, each with their own pluses and minuses.

But how do you find what you don’t know you’re looking for?

In my case, it’s actually not all that dissimilar to when I was a kid. While I rarely listen to the radio due to the depth of my collection, I still browse for hours in stores, though in lieu of Hatboro Music it’s now Amazon or iTunes. I listen to song samples, click on recommendations and, often, jump outside of their ecosystems to look up the act’s own website as well as concert clips on YouTube. I read Rolling Stone and the British music magazines Mojo and Uncut, and deep-dive back catalogs at Allmusic.com (the go-to site for such things).

Mojo led me to one of my favorite artists of the past few years, in fact. In late 2010 I opened the magazine to find a glowing review of Seasons of My Soul, the debut album by a singer-songwriter called Rumer (real name: Sarah Joyce). It sounded like something up my alley, so I hopped online to do further research and discovered that the CD was only available in the States as a pricey import. Song samples weren’t available on Amazon, either, though links on her Web site led me to the official video for the song “Aretha” on YouTube. It blew me away. I ordered the album that same day.

And, since the album wasn’t released in the States until last month, I’m glad I took the plunge. Seasons of My Soul is an atmospheric song cycle that’s teeming with soulful, knowing lyrics and melodies that wrap themselves around the heart, to say nothing of Rumer’s emotive, pitch-perfect vocals. It echoes the classic pop of Burt Bacharach and the Carpenters, yet moves past those inspirations by tackling themes not always associated with pop music. “On My Way Home,” for example, is about the grieving process, and several other songs echo loss of one sort or another. “Come to Me High,” on the other hand, is a lush, romantic ode, as is “Slow.” The intoxicating “Take Me As I Am” is – as she says in the clip – about pushing people away when you need them the most. Add in the aforementioned “Aretha” and such songs as “Thankful” and “Blackbird” and, to my mind, the album is a must for everyone’s collection.

As some of the above clips illustrate, Rumer is also a wonderful live artist. Due to budget constraints, she toured the States these past few months with a stripped-down band – first playing before a sparse audience at the World Café Live Upstairs in October (four months before Seasons of My Soul was released here) and at the World Cafe Live Downstairs last month, before what looked to be a near sell-out. She has a knack for tackling cool covers in concert, too – Laura Nyro (one of her inspirations), Gil-Scott Heron and, this last time, two of Philly’s favorite sons, Hall & Oates.

Anyway, in the weeks and months ahead, I hope to spotlight similar finds in this space. Some will be new, others not, but all will share this similarity with Rumer and Seasons of My Soul: they’re designed for the long haul.