Category Archives: Rosanne Cash

Today’s Top 5: January 1991 (via CD Review)

fullsizeoutput_fbdYears long ago, we had a 5-CD Sony player hooked into a receiver with a double-cassette deck, the brand of which escapes me now. Good speakers. No turntable, as by then (1991) we – like many folks – had moved full-force into the age of the shiny platter. What I loved about that system was this: fading in or out when making a mix tape. I could open a tape with, say, a minute-long rendition of “Drift Away” by the 10,000 Maniacs, lifted from the 1994 In the Garden of Eden bootleg, where it tracked with “Hey Jack Kerouac”; and close the side with the Beatles performing a ragged version of “Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35” during their Get Back sessions, the audio verité manner of the bootleg it hailed from (Songs of the Past Vol. Whatever, I believe) making it part of a track longer than the 1:10 it actually is.

The 5-CD platter was an even better feature. Diane and I chose two discs each, agreed on a third (or flipped a coin), hit shuffle and…away the night would go, the two of us obsessively playing any of a number of games – Acquire was quite the habit for a time. Trivial Pursuit was another. We had good friends in South Philly – usually we’d go to them, as they had a dog (and lived close to Nick’s, which had the best hot roast beef sandwiches in the region); occasionally they’d come out to us, though if they did the night never went on quite as long, as they had someone who needed tending. Regardless, a good time was always had.

I’m getting ahead of myself by a few years. What can I say? Time flies; and memories intermingle. The point I was going for: In the pre-Internet age, information wasn’t a few mouse clicks away. Life was slower. If you watched TV, you watched – no “second screen.” If you listened to music, you might do something else – read a book or magazine, play a game, etc. But, often, you (or I) just listened. And for information on music – the local newspaper might have a weekly column about it but, really, fans were reliant on magazines, including Rolling Stone, Record, Spin, Creem and Circus, along with a slew of fanzines. By the late 1980s, two additions were added to my menu: ICE, the International CD Exchange, which was more of a newsletter; and Digital Audio and CD Review, which went in-depth into digital gear and CD sonics.

The reason for those last two: Not everything on vinyl was available on CD. And some that was, well, let’s just say the sound quality was lacking. The first few Byrds releases on compact disc, for instance, sounded like the master tapes had been put through a blender. Likewise, Simon & Garfunkel’s Collected Works came from second-generation masters because Columbia lost the originals. The result sounded okay, but it’s not as good as, say, the re-reissues from a few years back, which were redone from tapes one step closer to the source.

Anyway, at some point, Digital Audio and CD Review dropped the first three words of its title. CDs were graded for both artistic and sonic elements, though the reviews themselves often said little about the audio quality.

Onward to today’s Top 5: January 1991.

fullsizeoutput_faf1) Rosanne Cash – “What We Really Want.” Holly Gleason opens up her review of Rosie’s 1990 release, Interiors, with: “Rosanne Cash never has been one to be content with just wearing her heart on her sleeve. She also puts her anxieties, misgivings, and rage out there—and it’s made her one of the most honest, affecting artists of any genre of the ‘80s.

“Consequently, it should come as no surprise that Interiors, Cash’s first disc of the new decade, is the kind of work that digs out the truth no matter how painful. Filled with moments of faltering and self-doubt, she paints herself and those around her in often fading light, struggling for the truth, often coming up short and continuing in spite of the odds.”

She sums up the CD with an apt comparison: “Like Joni Mitchell’s classic Blue, Interiors yields to catharsis. Sensual without being sexual, there’s a revelation at every turn and hope in the face of devastating interpersonal realities.”

To my ears, it’s one of the greatest singer-songwriter albums of all time. And this song is as true today as it was then.

fullsizeoutput_fb22) Emmylou Harris – “Tougher Than the Rest.” Holly Gleason also tackles Emmy’s 1990 Brand New Dance album: “[S]he follows the brave new path of eclecticism she began staking out on 1989’s Bluebird. Once again Harris challenges her listeners, offering them something other than obvious hooks and cheap instrumental fills. Instead, producers Richard Bennett and Allen Reynolds have built an album on thoughtful playing and songs that work from the inside out, which yields a work that fairly resonates with raw beauty. For instance, Bruce Springsteen’s “Tougher Than the Rest” is chilling in its contrast of the song’s sentiment and the softness of the track.”

fullsizeoutput_fb63) Kathy Mattea – “A Few Good Things Remain.” In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, Mattea was on a roll, hit after hit, and racking up ACM, CMA and Grammy awards. Diane and I saw her two or three times in that span at the Valley Forge Music Fair – she always put on a good show.

Anyway, going for the trifecta, Holly Gleason also reviews A Collection of Hits, Mattea’s first greatest hits set. She writes, “Given her second Country Music Association award for Female Vocalist of the Year, it would be almost di rigueur for Mattea to continue to follow her pre-defined musical path. Instead, she broadens her lyrical horizon with a track recorded in 1990, ‘A Few Good Things Remain,’ an exceptionally mature song that has a deeply personal quality to it.”

fullsizeoutput_fba4) Carlene Carter – “I Fell in Love.” Carlene, the daughter of June Carter and stepdaughter of Johnny Cash, has had her fair share of ups and downs in her personal and professional lives, but when she’s on – as on I Fell in Love – well, she’s just plain great. Reviewer David Okamoto says that “[l]ike 1980’s Musical Shapes, I Fell in Love is a country album performed by roots-conscious rockers. Howie Epstein—bassist for Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers—produced this playful disc, co-wrote two songs and recruited fellow Heartbreaker Benmont Tench plus Dave Edmunds, David Lindley, Albert Lee, Levon Helm, and James Burton to help out. Together with the sturdy rhythm section of drummer Ed Greene and bassist James Ciambotti, they lend a loose, infectious energy to these 11 songs that rarely comes across on today’s overpolished country discs.”

img_23205) Richard Hell & the Voidoids – “Blank Generation.” Paul Robicheau explains that “Blank Generation has been reissued on compact disc (with a booklet of informative liner notes as well as lyrics), a dated but delightful rock nugget to pick up—especially if you’ve never heard it before.” True, that.

He sums up with: “With all due respect to the Voidoids’ itchy but incisive musicianship, it was Hell’s clever, cavalier lyrics that gave the group its real spark. An aspiring poet, he was firmly committed to indifference; ‘Blank Generation’ and ‘Who Says (It’s Good to Be Alive)’ are testaments to his cynical stance. But Hell’s tongue is firmly in cheek and his delivery even campy, especially when his vocals go gloriously off key on slower tunes like the pseudo-waltz ‘Betrayal Takes Two’ and a perfectly lame, jazzy cover of Frank Sinatra’s ‘All the Way.'”

… here are the portions of the reviews that I didn’t include above. (As with most images on my blog, clicking them pulls up a far larger pic.)

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Today’s Top 5: 1985

The year 1985 is likely best remembered for the simultaneous Live Aid concerts that occurred in London and Philadelphia on Saturday, July 13th. There were many performances that day and night – some good, some not, and many somewhere in-between – but the one that probably had the biggest impact, at least in the U.S., was U2’s. Their 18-minute set epitomized, and still epitomizes, everything good about this crazy little thing called rock ’n’ roll:

In every other respect, the year – like 1986 – was a transitional time. I wrote about it in my Top 5 for April 1985, so hopefully won’t repeat too much of myself here. In short: America was still rebounding from back-to-back recessions that occurred earlier in the decade. Unemployment stood at 7.3 percent at year’s start and fell to 6.7 by year’s end. Inflation was, thankfully, almost a non-entity, averaging 3.6 percent; and since the average wage increased by 4.26 percent from 1984, that meant most employed folks came out .66 percent ahead.

me_chevette_85As I’ve mentioned before, in ’85 I worked part-time as a department-store sales associate and, during the summer, worked full-time hours. I had no complaints. I had a car – a 1979 Chevette, dubbed the “Hankmobile” by my folks because I plastered an “I’m a Fan of Hank Jr.” bumper sticker on the back. (Yes, I was – and remain, to an extent – a fan of Hank’s, though that’s grist for another post somewhere down the road.) The Hankmobile got the job done – perhaps not in style, but so what? I bought a tape player, installed it and was good to go. (That’s me, sometime that summer, beside the car.)

Among the year’s top films: Back to the Future, The Goonies, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, St. Elmo’s Fire, The Color Purple, Witness, Rocky IV and Rambo: First Blood Part II. Back to the Future and The Breakfast Club rank among my most-watched films of all time – just as my wife can watch Remember the Titans ad infinitum, I can watch those over and over and over again.

The year’s top songs included “Careless Whisper” and “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” by Wham!; “Like a Virgin and “Crazy for You” by Madonna; “I Want to Know What Love Is” by Foreigner; “I Feel for You” by Chaka Khan; “Out of Touch” by Hall & Oates; “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears; “Money for Nothing” by Dire Straits; “We Are the World” by USA for Africa; and, yep, “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by Simple Minds.

The year’s top news stories included President Reagan’s controversial visit to a Bitburg, Germany, military cemetery; and the hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship by Palestinian terrorists. Closer to home: the Philadelphia Flyers’ phenomenal goalie, Pelle Lindbergh, died in a car accident; and Philadelphia mayor Wilson Goode dropped a bomb on the city – literally – that caused 65 homes to go up in flames.

For me, the year is noteworthy for other reasons, too: After two years of commuter-college life at Penn State’s Ogontz campus (now known as Penn State Abington), I headed to the mothership, University Park, in State College, Pa., in late August. It was, indeed, a “Happy Valley.” I had a good roommate that first year, made good friends (one of whom became my roommate my second year), and – like most everyone else I knew – partied way too much. I joined the Folk Show staff on WPSU, contributed to a quarterly student magazine, and discovered the joy of selling plasma twice a week.

That same fall, an independent record store opened in town: City Lights Records, where I often whiled away time and money. Here’s a student film from 2008 that tells its story:

img_2094Anyway, enough of the introduction; it’s time for today’s Top 5: 1985. As in, my Top 5 albums from that storied year… (all of which, small surprise, I’ve previously featured in these pages.)

1) Lone Justice – Lone Justice. Two words – and one name – as to why this tops my list: Maria McKee. The Little Diva, as she was nicknamed at some point in her career, is absolutely riveting throughout. Truth be told, to my ears, when she sings – whether with Lone Justice or on any of her stellar solo albums (and they’re all stellar), there’s no one better. Ever. That’s how I feel in the moment, at least. True, the delirium passes when the music ends, but man! I never want it to end.

2) The Long Ryders – State of Our Union. I wrote in my Top 5: Summer 1985 list that the Ryders “basically laid down the blueprint of the alt.country/Americana movement a decade before it became popular”; and this LP, to my ears, is their tour de force. As with Lone Justice’s debut, it’s an album – originally vinyl, then CD and now that CD digitalized as FLAC files – that I’ve returned to time and again through the decades. It never gets old. “State of My Union,” a Chuck Berry-infused, tongue-in-cheek tour of the South, is one of my favorite tracks, but they’re all great.

3) John Cougar Mellencamp – Scarecrow. A damn good album. “Minutes to Memories,” which I featured in my Top 5 for October 1985, is one highlight; “Small Town” is another. On this album, and the one (Lonesome Jubilee) that followed, Mellencamp tackled subjects and themes – the rural reality of the Reagan Age and small-town life, primarily – too often avoided by his rock ’n’ roll peers, no doubt because they hadn’t lived it. He had, and it shows.

4) Emmylou Harris – Ballad of Sally Rose. I’m sure I rank this higher than most would, but it’s the album that made this boy a fan. As I wrote in my remembrance of her 1985 concert at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, I bought it on vinyl on February 17th; picked up a double-album cassette of Pieces of the Sky and Elite Hotel on March 2nd; and saw her play Sally Rose from start to finish on March 29th. Perhaps it was that condensed introduction – some might say, instant obsession – with her music, but…wow. This set still packs an emotional punch. (For those not aware, it’s a fictionalized account of her relationship with Gram Parsons.)

5) Rosanne Cash – Rhythm & Romance. And, finally… Rosie! As I explained in that Summer 1985 piece, I discovered Rosie and this album via VH1.

And a few runners-up…

The Three O’Clock – Arrive Without Traveling

10,000 Maniacs – The Wishing Chair

Jane Wiedlin – Jane Wieldin

Pete Townshend – White City: A Novel

Today’s Top 5: March 1993 (via Rolling Stone)

IMG_5362March 18th, 1993, is the date of this Rolling Stone. Theoretically, then, it arrived in my mailbox a few days after the Storm of the Century walloped the East Coast and just a few days before the start of spring. At the time, Diane and I lived in a quadplex at the end of a dead-end street that ran up against a thicket of trees – a perfect place for drifting snow to settle.

That snowstorm aside, life was good. We owned a computer – a 286 that ran DOS – and accessed the pre-Internet via Prodigy, which featured bulletin boards, chat rooms, email to fellow users, and the news.

10K_EdenWhen I think back on that winter, though, the first thing that comes to mind isn’t the weather or Prodigy, but an album: Our Time in Eden by 10,000 Maniacs. We saw them in September 1992, 12 days before its release, and…it just became one of “those” albums for me. I’d play it, and then I’d play it again. And again. And again, after that.

Anyway, the cover story by Kim France, a staff writer at Sassy magazine, turns out not to be as in-depth as it could have been – two pages and part of a third isn’t enough space for that – but it’s a worthwhile read, explaining the band’s rising popularity following the “critical and financial disappointment” of Blind Man’s Zoo (1989). Natalie Merchant’s face graces the cover; and the shot inside features the entire band.

IMG_5363One sentence: “An atypically optimistic hit single, ‘These Are Days,’ as performed by an exhilarated Merchant at the MTV Inaugural Ball, was a highlight of the evening – a ‘Don’t Stop’ of the MTV generation.”

A paragraph: “Our Time in Eden is indeed a departure for the Maniacs, and many fans insist it’s the band at its best. Teetering on the edge of soft rock without quite going over the precipice, Eden is brightened by some flashy touches – like James Brown’s horns section sitting in on a couple of eminently radio-friendly songs, ‘Candy Everybody Wants’ and ‘Few and Far Between.’ The issue-oriented songs, long a Maniacs mainstay, are there, too, but much of the album concerns the intricacies of personal relationships. Merchant, who could have been called remote and even moralistic in earlier forays, displays an ability to get into other people’s minds with a dexterity and empathy that was only hinted at in previous albums.”

And a quote from Natalie: “I look at my early records as term papers that maybe would’ve been better buried in a box in the attic, and taken out ten years later and chuckled about.”

Today’s Top 5:

1) 10,000 Maniacs – “Noah’s Dove.” A lush, piano-driven song with lyrics about a fallen angel from the perspective of someone still behind the gates: not a typical opening track. Yet, it sets the mood (and theme) for Our Time in Eden as a whole, and does so in a narcotic-like manner.

IMG_53642) Rosanne Cash – “If There’s a God on My Side.” The Wheel, Rosanne’s follow-up to the sparse Interiors, follows the same basic blueprint as its predecessor – love, relationships, breakups – yet isn’t a “lather, rinse, repeat” release. I.e., it may explore the same terrain, but mines new veins of angst and pain along the way, such as “Roses in the Fire” and “You Won’t Let Me In.” As former Philadelphia Inquirer music critic Tom Moon writes in this review: “The Wheel is hardly carefree, but no longer is Cash obsessed with conveying the minute details that made Interiors so daunting.” He also says that “If There’s a God on My Side” closes the album “with an elaboration on the lonesome desperation Cash has hinted at elsewhere. It’s a plea for a moment of clarity amid turmoil, and it uses the pathos of old-school country to maximum effect. The pain is palpable, and so is the doubt, and in these things lie the raw matter of Cash’s art.”

IMG_53673) Juliana Hatfield – “Everybody Loves Me but You.” In an incongruous pairing, Juliana Hatfield opened for the B-52s at Radio City Music Hall in New York City on January 15, 1993, and reviewer Elysa Gardner is both cruel and kind in her critique: “Hatfield has an impressive voice – deceptively girlish but supple and clear, with a fine raspy bottom – and she’s a surprisingly emotive guitarist. But she would do well to focus less on writing songs about how tough it is to be a girl and more on projecting the strength and directness that are a woman’s best defense against sexism, in rock & roll or in life.”

This is Juliana’s setlist from that night: Supermodel/My Sister/Lost and Saved/I See You/Tamara/Here Comes the Pain/Rider/President Garfield/Ugly/Everybody Loves Me but You/Nirvana/I Got No idols.

jhatfield_heybabeAfter seeing that, Gardner’s take comes off as questionable. Here’s what Ann Powers, in a review that appeared in the New York Times, said of the same performance: “Her trio turned its amps up loud and sped through Ms. Hatfield’s bluntly personal accounts of frustration, self-doubt and hope. She’s still discovering her own talent, but Ms. Hatfield is an artist whose hesitant steps will lead alternative rock into its next mutation.”

“Everybody Loves Me but You” hails from Juliana’s first solo album, the wonderful Hey Babe. (Incidentally, that’s not Juliana’s hair on the cover of Hey Babe – it’s a wig.)

IMG_53694) Belly – “Feed the Tree.” A great song from the short-lived, Boston-based band. Tanya Donelly, formerly of the Breeders and Throwing Muses (who I saw open for R.E.M. in 1989), founded the group with some childhood pals, wrote most of the songs, played guitar and sang lead. Star, their debut album, was more than just solid – it was a delight. In addition to this super-catchy tune, it features the rocking “Dusted,” sweet “Gepetto” and dazzling title track; and plays well from start to finish. It was a hit with the modern-rock crowd; and was one of my favorites of the year.

5) Willie Nelson – “American Tune.” In the Random Notes section, there’s this: “Legendary singer-songwriter/IRS punching bag Willie Nelson has recruited a calvacade of music-industry heavyweights – including Sinead O’Connor, Bonnie Raitt, Don Was, Paul Simon and Bob Dylan, with whom he collaborated via fax – for his upcoming album, Across the Borderline.

Willie always sounds great, of course, but he’s not always consistent, album-wise. This one, however, is top-notch. (Diane actually heard it first, knew it would be something I’d love and surprised me with it.)