Tag Archives: Rosanne Cash

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.

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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