Tag Archives: Near You

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.


Today’s Top 5: New Music, Vol. LVIV

Fall has (finally) arrived to our neck of the proverbial woods, which means our front lawn will soon be cluttered with leaves from trees that are not rooted on our property, or even on those adjoining ours. No, the wind whips them up and down and across the street(s), and for whatever reason they amass at our house as if attracted by a magnet. It’s maddening – as is what’s been an interminable commute home of late. Thursday, I left work at 5:45 and exited the turnpike at seven. Friday’s crawl clocked a similar runtime.

Yes, of course, those are penny-ante annoyances. In the words of the noted philosopher Roseanne Rosannadanna (1946-89), “If it ain’t one thing, it’s another.”

And on that note, here’s today’s Top 5: New Music, Vol. LVIV.

1) First Aid Kit – “It’s a Shame.” “Lately, I’ve been thinking about the past. How there is no holding back, no point in wasting sorrow on things that won’t be here tomorrow.” Those aren’t my words, but First Aid Kit’s. They released a new single this week, which means a new album is (hopefully) near. “It’s a Shame” delves into the dark side of life on the road, loneliness, and moving on while others stay put, and the fleeting relationships that form as a result. It’s not a new topic for the sisters Söderberg, of course, but it’s well executed. And those harmonies…

2) Neil Young – “Powderfinger.” Hitchhiker just gets better with every listen. While stuck in traffic on the ride home Friday, I played it, then played it again. And this morning, while out and about doing mundane errands, I played it yet again. It’s a hypnotic set that – and I don’t say this lightly – is in the running for my fabled Album of the Year honors.

3) Erin O’Dowd – “Queen of the Silver Dollar.” Erin’s full-length debut, Old Town, is due in early December for those of us who backed her on Kickstarter, and I can’t wait. She possesses the voice of a world-weary angel. Here, in the first of hopefully many “Porch Swing Sessions,” she shares her spin on this Shel Silverstein classic, which has been recorded by everyone from Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show to Barbi Benton(!) to Emmylou Harris.

4) The MonaLisa Twins featuring John Sebastian – “Waiting for the Waiter.” The Liverpool-based duo, who may well be best known for their Beatles covers, turn in this bluesy original about…is it a metaphor? Could be. Could be not.

5) Courtney Marie Andrews – “Sea Town.” Can a day go by without me listening to Courtney? Yes. But then I hear a song such as this, the b-side to her recent “Near You” single, and it’s like a flip switches inside my soul and I want to listen to no one but her…

And one bonus…

6) Courtney Marie Andrews – “Near You.” What I said above. Times two.

Today’s Top 5: Songs XPN Should Play

After investing in a refurbished Iomega external CD burner in 2001, or thereabouts, for my low-budget DIY computer, I stopped relying on the radio for my on-the-go music needs. Instead, I made CD copies of favorite albums, created cool compilations and best-ofs, and (generally) only turned on the radio to check traffic or the weather via all-news KYW-1060AM – a routine I’ve mostly maintained, though the CDRs were eventually replaced by my iPod, iPhone, Pono Player and, now, Apple Music via my iPhone.

Prior, however, my go-to radio station was WXPN, a listener-supported AAA station in Philadelphia. They played a good-to-great mix of new and old, singer-songwriters and alternative country, plus non-alternative rock. They went deep on albums, routinely playing more than just one cut, and generally avoided the tried-and-true tracks found elsewhere on the dial. I liked it enough that Diane and I became members at some point, and renewed every year until…

…the summer of 1996, when we found ourselves – thanks to an acquaintance who owned a CD store – at a Penn’s Landing luncheon for businesses that supported the station. When the station’s program director, whose name I’ve long forgotten, stopped at our table, I mentioned my surprise that they weren’t playing anything from Maria McKee’s recent Life Is Sweet album – my favorite of the moment. My memory, and it may be exaggerated by time, is that he glared at me, shook his head and said “never” and “not on my watch” (or words to that effect), and made haste for the next table.

Granted, the glam-infested Life Is Sweet was a dramatic departure from the country-rock stylings of 1993’s You Gotta Sin to Get Saved, which XPN had featured a fair bit, but the title track wasn’t. It should’ve been played. The (perceived) rudeness of the program director annoyed me even more, however. I let our membership lapse.

Anyway, through the 2000s and first half of the 2010s, the only time I listened to XPN was when Diane was with me and, for whatever reason, requested it. And for a time, whenever we tuned in it seemed a Steely Dan song was playing. Odd, that. Then, in 2015, First Aid Kit was booked for the station’s annual three-day XPoNential Festival and members paid less for a ticket, so – sound basically unheard for umpteen years – I rejoined.

I assumed, because they played First Aid Kit (and, according to their searchable playlist, they did – “My Silver Lining” on and off for six months, then “Stay Gold” pretty much ever since) that the rest of what they programmed would be similar. I began listening – and was quickly disappointed. They rarely play more than one song from a new release, instead going the FAK route – one song for months, then maybe replacing it with another – and seemed more a descendent of the long-gone WDRE, a modern-rock station that never quite gained traction during the mid-‘90s, and WMMR, a mainstream rock station, than the XPN of yore. Maybe it had to do with when I tuned in – mornings on the way to work, and late afternoons on the way home – but…

I let my membership lapse again.

But still, sometimes, I find myself listening – it’s easier, and safer, than tapping on my iPhone while driving, so when an album ends I sometimes switch to XPN. Once in a while, I hear something and think, “wow, who is that?” Then they play ZZ Top, the Moody Blues or any of a number of “classic” acts that leave me flipping to KYW or, of late, WOGL, an oldies station that is enjoyable in small doses.

All of which leads to today’s Top 5: Songs XPN Should Play…

1) Courtney Marie Andrews – “Near You.” In April of this year, I asked – via a tweet – why they weren’t playing anything from Courtney’s Honest Life album, which was released last October. Back in the day, they would have been all over it, playing “Put the Fire Out,” “How Quickly Your Heart Mends” and “Irene,” plus the title track and “Table for One.” One of their deejays liked my tweet, in fact…but, nothing. Nada. Zip. Months later, however, and a search of their playlist shows that they have played “Irene” a handful of times.

They should followup by placing this track, a new recording of an older song that she’s releasing on September 15th, in frequent rotation. It’s a powerful, moving tune.

2) Lucy Rose – “No Good at All.” I reviewed Lucy Rose’s recent Something’s Changing album yesterday, and included this clip. It’s a wondrous, addictive number that, according to XPN’s playlist search, has been played exactly once, three days after the album’s release.

3) Paul Weller – “Long Long Road.” They’ve played Paul Weller – a man without whom “modern rock” would not exist – exactly 14 times this year. Think about that. He’s scheduled to play the TLA in October, however, so the time is ripe to up those numbers. This is a standout track from his recent A Kind Revolution album.

4) Garland Jeffreys – “14 Steps to Harlem.” Here’s another artist without whom “modern rock” would not exist; and, to XPN’s credit, they do play him from time to time. But instead of dipping into his past catalog, why not feature something new? This, the title track to Garland’s latest album, is a beaut.

5) Karrie – “I Don’t Hear You.” The Irish singer-songwriter’s summer single is utterly addictive.

And two bonuses:

6) Courney Marie Andrews – “How Quickly Your Heart Mends.” And, just because, here’s one of those Honest Life songs XPN should be playing at least once a day. This is from a recent appearance on Swedish TV…

7) Maria McKee – “Life Is Sweet/After Life.” Finally, the song that obstinate program director refused to discuss in 1996 should have the digital dust blown off the CD and played. It’s a true lost classic.