Today’s Top 5: New Releases, Vol. IVIX

It seems like yesterday that Diane and I made our way to the World Cafe Live to see the Staves, our first official concert of 2017, but it’s been eight months since that wondrous show – the first of many good and great live-music experiences in 2017.

Yeah, I’m already looking back.

There’s been a lot of great music released this year, too, including gems from Garland Jeffrey (14 Steps to Harlem), Lucy Rose (Something’s Changing), Paul Weller (A Kind Revolution) and, in the archival department, Neil Young (Hitch Hiker) and Paul McCartney (Flowers in the Dirt). Over the next few weeks, I plan to revisit all my favorites and – in the second week of December – reveal the OGC’s top pick for 2017 at our annual awards fete. And though I already have an inkling as to which will come out on top, the process is guaranteed to be fun.

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: New Releases, Vol. IVIX.

1) Neil Young & Promise of the Real – “Already Great.” Neil and the Real unveil The Visitor on December 1st, which if this, the lead single, is any indication – was inspired by Neil’s resident-status in the U.S.A and the 2016 presidential election. Past and present will intermingle on the 1st, too: He wrote on Facebook that “my archive will open on that same day, a place you can visit and experience every song I have ever released in the highest quality your machine will allow. It’s the way it’s supposed to be. In the beginning, everything is free.”

2) The Staves & yMusic – “The Way Is Read.” On Nov. 24th, the sisters Staveley-Taylor release their latest project, a collaboration with yMusic, a chamber ensemble. This, the title track, is the second song they’ve shared. Like the first, it bodes well for the project.

Here’s the first preview:

3) First Aid Kit – “Postcard.” Siblings Johanna and Klara Söderberg have a new album, Ruins, scheduled for release on January 19th; and a (sold-out) tour of America in January and February, to boot.

4) Lucy Rose – “End Up Here.” The singer-songwriter debuted this video, shot by her husband, last week. (She’s currently on tour in the U.K., with an Australian jaunt slated for February.) The song itself is from her 2017 albumSomething’s Changing.)

5) Erin O’Dowd – “Trick Pony.” Erin’s full-length debut, Old Town, is slated for an early digital release next month for Kickstarter backers and will see a wider release early next year. Here’s she is on VDub Sessions:

And two bonuses…

6) Bob Seger – “Busload of Faith.” Here’s a preview of Bob’s forthcoming LP, I Knew You When, which is due out on the 17th. It’s a cover of a Lou Reed track…

7) Bob Dylan – “Slow Train (Rehearsal With Horns).” The bard’s latest Bootleg Series entry, Trouble No More, covers the years 1979-81, when he fell hard for faith.

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Of Concerts Past: Janet Jackson at the Philadelphia Spectrum, 8/19/1990

Janet Jackson is slated to play the Wells Fargo barn in South Philly next week. The concert isn’t sold out, which is surprising to me, and the fact that good seats are still to be had almost make me reconsider the decision Diane and I made long before it was announced – the key word there is “almost.” The decision: Aside from Bruce and Neil, big barn shows are in our rear-view mirror. Why? They’re among the worst bangs for one’s live-music buck there is – tickets cost more, sight-lines are generally poor, the sound is often subpar, parking is expensive, booze-fueled idiocy flows freely, and traffic…don’t get me started on traffic. Also, in this instance, it’s a worknight.

Yes, I’m re-acquainting myself with the arguments against.

The argument in favor: As the ticket stub shows, we saw Janet in 1990 on the Rhythm Nation tour, the third of three dates she played over four days at the Philadelphia Spectrum, the hallowed hall built in 1966-67 to house the Philadelphia Flyers. It was her first headlining tour, I should mention. It was also a damn good show.

In some respects, it was her State of the Nation address:

The Rhythm Nation 1814 album, released in late 1989, was a socially aware set accented by such top-notch songs as “Miss You Much,” “Escapade,” “Black Cat” and “Come Back to Me.” It was pop, it was rock, it was dance, it was new-jack swing. (The between-song spoken bits were also annoying. But that’s a post for another day.)

Now, I’m basically a folk ’n’ roller. Singer-songwriters and old-school rockers – as evidenced by this blog, that’s who I tend to listen to and see in concert. But I have a wide range of additional likes, from traditional country to soul/R&B to jazzy pop, and have enjoyed each in a live setting. Janet’s is the only concert I’ve attended that featured music video-like production numbers, however. She had dancers, choreographed numbers and, I’m sure, on-stage marks she had to meet. And, yet, it was no more calculating than most big-scale rock shows. Instead of the obligatory guitar solos, there were those and the obligatory dance breaks.

The night began with her Control-era hits, then moved into the Rhythm Nation songs. I’d love to give a play-by-play of the evening in total, but – similar to the Tom Petty & Heartbreakers show we saw at the Spectrum six months earlier – only jagged memories of the night remain. I remember that, after a string of dance-heavy opening songs from Control, she slowed things down with that album’s sweet “Let’s Wait a While”…

Although my hunch then (and now) is that she relied on pre-recorded vocal tracks for the high-octane dance numbers, as I can’t imagine anyone singing while doing those moves, it was obvious that she sang live for the slowed-down songs and the more rock-oriented “Black Cat,” which was another of the night’s highlights.

The closing “Rhythm Nation” was also cool. Janet was decked out in her military-like garb, and she and her troupe of dancers stamped their feet to the beat of universal solidarity. “With music by our side/to break the color lines/Let’s work together/to improve our way of life/join voices in protest/to social injustice…”

Say what you will about Janet and her music in the years since (and I have mixed feelings about some of it), and about her now-infamous “wardrobe malfunction” at the 2004 Super Bowl, but when Diane and I left the Spectrum that long-ago August night in 1990, we only had good things to say about what we’d witnessed and heard.

The set (via Wikipedia):

  1. Control
  2. Nasty
  3. What Have You Done for Me Lately?
  4. Let’s Wait a While
  5. When I Think of You
  6. The Pleasure Principle
  7. T.V. (Interlude)
  8. State of the World
  9. Race (Interlude)
  10. The Knowledge
  11. Funny How Time Flies (When You’re Having Fun) [instrumental interlude]
  12. Black Cat
  13. Come Back to Me
  14. Alright
  15. Escapade
  16. Miss You Much
  17. Pledge (interlude)
  18. Rhythm Nation

And of that Super Bowl mishap? In some ways, I think, the over-the-top backlash that followed was fueled by the very forces she called out in “Rhythm Nation,” which she performed just moments earlier in the short set.

Shawn Colvin at the World Cafe Live in Philly, 11/1/17

In some respects, life is little more than a succession of ephemeral moments that fit like bricks into the design that is the present; and the present is little more than the latest iteration in that never-ending stack of interlocked instances.

Life, in other words, is akin to a never-ending construction project – a thought that occurred to me on Wednesday, November 1st, when Diane and I saw singer-songwriter Shawn Colvin at the World Cafe Live in West Philly for the umpteenth time. We first saw her in the early ‘90s – at the TLA in 1992, I believe, on the Fat City tour. And though we haven’t seen her every time she’s come to town since, as time and circumstance (and money) always play a part, we’ve seen her more times than I can count.

I first heard her crystalline voice during my Folk Show days in the mid-1980s, when she was a semi-regular fixture on the Fast Folk Musical Magazine series. Some early morns I was lazier than others, and I’d drop one of those compilation LPs onto the turntable and play two or three or more songs in a row. (She and Lucy Kaplansky often sang together, it seemed, though that may be my memory playing tricks on me.)

But, honestly, the folksinger I normally looked for on those comps wasn’t Shawn, but Suzanne – Vega, that is. It wasn’t until Shawn’s debut LP, Steady On in late 1989, that I signed on as a fan. The title tune, “Diamond in the Rough,” “Shotgun Down the Avalanche,” “Ricochet in Time” – well, what can be said? They’ve stayed with me.

This latest concert was in support of the “20th Anniversary Edition” of her platinum-selling 1996 album A Few Small Repairs album, which is home to the Grammy-winning “Sunny Came Home.” (That October 1st marked its 21st anniversary wasn’t mentioned.) After opening with Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers,” she played the album from start to finish, and shared stories behind several of the songs – “Get Out of This House,” for example, was born from her loathing of the writing room in her then-new house.

That’s not my video, I should mention. We were in the front row, far right – a bad angle, as the picture up top and one below shows.

Another insight: “Wichita Skyline,” another of the album’s highlights, was about her childhood in South Dakota, but she changed the locale due to John Levanthal’s melody, which pays homage to “Wichita Lineman.”

My favorite moments of the night came during the encores, which included a sterling cover of the Beatles’ “I’ll Be Back.” (And just as when she, Emmylou Harris and Patty Griffin performed it back in ’09…no one appears to have captured it.) “Steady On,” too, was grand:

Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams, who opened with their own set before backing Shawn, were very good, too. During their set, Larry explained that he and Shawn go way, way back. He got his start playing in a band with Buddy Miller, and she joined in 1980. So they’ve played together, on and off, for decades. During her set, Shawn recalled a pre-fame gig in Albany when they played four 45-minute sets a night.

I actually would have preferred, I think, a 25th anniversary celebration of Fat City, or at least the addition of the one-size-fits-all-song that is “Polaroids” (she used to turn it int a medley) to the set. But, personal preferences aside, it was a great show.

That said, here she is in 1994 on the BBC performing “Polaroids”…

Here’s the setlist, though I believe I may be missing one of the encores…

  1. Wildflowers
  2. Sunny Came Home
  3. Get Out of This House
  4. The Facts About Jimmy
  5. You and the Mona Lisa
  6. Trouble
  7. I Want It Back
  8. If I Were Brave
  9. Wichita Skyline
  10. 84,000 Different Delusions
  11. Suicide Alley
  12. New Thing Now
  13. Nothin’ on Me

Encores,

  1. I’ll Be Back
  2. Steady On
  3. Tenderness on the Block
  4. Diamond in the Rough