Tag Archives: 2000s

Today’s Top 5: Albums MIA From NPR’s “Made by Women” List

There are far more important concerns than NPR’s 150 Greatest Albums Made by Women list. This, we know. Yet, while breezing through it Monday afternoon, I couldn’t help but to (silently) scream.

First and foremost: Albums from last year are on it. Seriously?! Maybe it’s me, but placing any recently released album on a “best of all time” list is short-sighted; we don’t know whether it will, as most great albums do, grow stronger through the years or fall from favor. The former is (obviously) the case for Joni Mitchell’s Blue (from 1971), the top pick, and Aretha Franklin’s I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You (from 1967), No. 4 (which really should have been No. 2). They speak universal truths of the human condition that are applicable to every generation and age; i.e., they both reflect and transcend their time.

That’s one reason why my Essentials series has a strict “at least five years old” policy. “Classic” status only kicks in if you continually return to an album – and not just for nostalgia’s sake – time and again through the years.

Another reason for my (silent) scream: The exclusion of many great and influential albums at the expense of…Britney Spears?! The Spice Girls?! Isn’t that a bit like including David Cassidy and the Osmond Brothers on an all-male list? I also have serious doubts about any list that ranks Hole higher than Joan Jett or Chrissie Hynde. They kicked down the door for Courtney Love (and all other women rockers who followed them, for that matter). I agree that the debuts of Tracy Chapman and the Indigo Girls should be included, but 10,000 Maniacs’ In My Tribe and Suzanne Vega’s Solitude Standing set the stage for them. And Vega’s 99.9° deserves mention, too, as does Madonna’s True Blue.

But, of course, that’s part and parcel with these sorts of lists. I’ve never seen one that I agree with – from Rolling Stone‘s to Entertainment Weekly‘s to Mojo‘s. They’re generally the creation of a small band of voters who share the same basic dispositions. I.e., they’re good for starting arguments, little else.

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: Albums MIA From NPR’s “Made by Women” List. (Where they fall is anyone’s guess… so I’m placing them in chronological order.) And, yes – I could well have called this Top 5 “My Regulars.” I’ve featured all of them many times.

1) Lone Justice – Lone Justice (1985). Selected song: “Sweet, Sweet Baby (I’m Falling).” I’ve written about this album, and spotlighted this song, many times before, of course, including in my first Essentials entry. It’s a genre-shattering, epoch-changing album that set the stage for the alt.country boom a decade later.

2) 10,000 Maniacs – In My Tribe (1987). Selected song: “Hey Jack Kerouac.” A folk-rock band from upstate New York, the Maniacs were (and remain) a wondrous group of eccentrics with a serious knack for crafting cool and catchy tunes. Who else could have come up with this swinging ode to Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and the beats? Their success paved the way for other late-‘80s (and beyond) folk-flavored singers and bands, from Tracy Chapman to the Indigo Girls to Innocence Mission.

3) Blake Babies – Sunburn (1990). Selected song: “Sanctify.” You want punk? You want spunk? You want an album that, whether anyone heard it or not, helped kick off the ‘90s wave of women-led rock bands? That could be said to be a true alt.college-rock album? That sounds like it was recorded yesterday? Then pick up this classic from Juliana Hatfield & Co. (And be sure to get Earwig, too). This song brings a “heavy metal rain” upon one’s head…

4) Juliana Hatfield – in exile deo (2004). Selected song: “Tourist.” On her own, Juliana has released a slew of stupendous albums, from Hey Babe (1992) to Pussycat (2017) – but I’m limiting myself to this one (and the Blake Babies) because, well, it’s great – her second to win my esteemed Album of the Year, in fact. Just as a side note: I clearly remember when and where I first heard it – on the day of its release in my Dodge Neon while on my way to pick up my wife.

5) Rumer – Seasons of My Soul (2010). Selected song: “On My Way Home.” I’ve written (too many times) about this album before, most recently in my Essentials series. At once retro and modern, it went platinum twice-over in the U.K. and topped the iTunes charts in the States; and it’s influenced other singers in the U.K. to follow the same stylistic path.

And two (non-chronological) bonuses:

6) Rosanne Cash – Interiors (1990). Selected song: “What We Really Want.” Rosanne Cash shed the country label with this, her seventh album, which owes a heavy debt to Joni Mitchell and the other confessional singer-songwriters of the early ‘70s. It’s stark and powerful, and a glimpse of the internal demons haunting her at the time.

7) Nanci Griffith – Other Voices, Other Rooms (1993). Selected song: “Speed at the Sound of Loneliness.” In the early 1990s, after a string of successful albums, Nanci celebrated her influences on the sublime Other Voices album; and won the Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album as a result.

Advertisements

Kasey Chambers in Philadelphia, 7/5/2017

How time flies. That’s a cliche, I know, but it seems just yesterday that Diane and I took our seats in an overstuffed couch positioned in front of the small stage at the Point, a now-defunct music club in Bryn Mawr.

The headliner that night, November 6, 2000: Kasey Chambers, a babyfaced 23-year-old country-folk singer from Australia. (Here’s the City Paper’s preview of the show.) The tickets set us back $12 (for the both of us). We were already fans, and were psyched to see her, though neither of us can now remember how we discovered her music. Was it through XPN? A review in a music magazine? A recommendation from a friend? A chance buy? However we came upon her, this much we do recall: She blew us away. Backed by a crack band that included her dad Bill, she delivered a rollicking set that routinely teetered from hilarious to profound, sometimes in the same song.

Two-and-a-half years later, at the Keswick Theater in Glenside, we saw her again at a highly anticipated (by us) show that I consider my Most Disappointing Concert Ever. She had a bad flu and, after a yeoman’s effort, called it quits after about 40 minutes (maybe less) of cutting short most songs – she’d start one only to realize 30 seconds or a minute in that she couldn’t hit the necessary notes. (It’s not the worst show I’ve witnessed, believe it or not. That “honor” goes to the Singer Who Shall Not Be Named.)

Anyway, she played the TLA in November 2004 – but we weren’t aware. So our last memory of her in a live setting was of that Keswick show; not that we held it against her. Her 2004 Wayward Angel album, to my ears, is an alt.country delight; her more-mainstream 2006 album Carnival is a gem; and Rattlin’ Bones, her 2008 release with then-husband Shane Nicholson is home to many neo-country classics, including the title cut. I’d continue down the line and lay praise on the albums that followed – except, somewhere in there, I lost track of her.

It’s easy to do. There’s so much good music, so little time and, in the case of Kasey Chambers, so little American press and radio.

And just as we missed that TLA concert and some of the albums that followed, we may well have missed this show. Natalie Merchant’s tour itinerary had her at Longwood Gardens this same night, July 5th, and I tried to score us tickets in March, but (for reasons too lengthy to go into here) came up empty. You can never truly know what you missed, of course, but as good or great as that show may have been, I’m grateful I missed it.

Quite simply, Kasey Chambers delivered what may well have been – and I don’t say this lightly – my Concert of the Year at the World Cafe Live. It mixed old-school country with rock and blues, humor and pathos, featured her still-crack band (which still includes her dad), and was topped off by her wondrous voice, which bypasses the ears for the heart and soul.

They opened with “Wheelbarrow” from her 2014 Bittersweet album…

…and played songs old and new. One highlight: “A Million Tears,” a song that dates to her classic 2001 Barricades & Brickwalls album.

Another: her cover of Little Feat’s “Willin’,” which builds from an acoustic gem into a full-band opus.

Some of the night’s highlights aren’t (yet) on YouTube – “Oh Grace,” during which Kasey was joined at her microphone by her bandmates, sent shivers down the spine; and “Ain’t No Little Girl,” the second-to-last song of her main set, featured a heart-stopping vocal performance that…wow. Just wow. Here she is at the City Winery in New York a few nights later singing it:

She concluded the main set with “The Captain,” which she wrote in her teens and, she says, is her favorite of all her songs.

The funny (and Dylan-esque) “Talkin’ Baby Blues” followed; and the night finally ended with what may well have been history: three generations of the Chambers clan on stage together for “Barricades & Brickwalls.” (That’s her son Arlo on harmonica.)

For my ears and money, it doesn’t get much better than that voice, its quiver and high notes; those guitars; and those songs, which mix Appalachian soul with a rock ’n’ roll heart. Over the course of the 18-song, 100-minute concert, Kasey Chambers guided us to heaven and hell, and all points in between, and left us wanting more. One can only hope that it’s not another 13 years before she comes around this way again.

The setlist:

Today’s Top 5: Natalie Merchant

Life. It’s sweet. Every day is a gift, every moment a treasure, despite the pain and misery we sometimes endure. Those are cliches, I know, but I believe them – especially while listening to The Natalie Merchant Collection, which I’m doing as I write. The set, for the uninitiated, features her seven studio albums alongside one disc of new and old songs performed with a string quartet, and another disc of, as the press release states, “rare and previously unreleased tracks recorded between 1998 and 2017.” It’s due out on July 14th, but those of us who preordered received it early.

Much has and will be written about the collection, I’m sure, and I plan to write about it myself this weekend, after I’ve had time to digest the new material and contemplate what the set, writ large, means in the scheme of things. I will say, however, that if you had told me back in 1986, when I first heard Natalie with the 10,000 Maniacs, that I’d still be listening to her all these years later…well, I’m not sure how I would have responded. But I’m glad she’s still making music, and glad to still be a fan.

Anyway, for now, here’s today’s Top 5: Natalie Merchant. Not necessarily her greatest songs (though some are), but great songs and performances, nonetheless.

1) “Carnival.” (From Tigerlily.)

2) “Life Is Sweet.” (From Ophelia.)

3) “Break Your Heart.” (From Ophelia.)

4) “I’m Not Gonna Beg.” (From Motherland.)

5) “Space Oddity.” (From 1999’s Live in Concert, which isn’t included in the collection.)

And three bonus tracks:

6) “Maggie and Milly and Molly and May.” (From Leave Your Sleep,)

7) “Ladybird.” (From Natalie Merchant.)

8) “Frozen Charlotte.” (From Butterfly, the collection’s disc of new and old material recorded with a string quartet.)