I don’t know if my musical taste has changed considerably over the last couple of years or if the music I normally listen to is – for lack of a better term – crap today, but the music I’ve been buying (new and old) and enjoying is a departure from my earlier tastes.
While my musical taste is somewhat eclectic – I like the Blues, classical, opera and other music – the music I listen to most of the time is (I guess) alternative rock, with a singer/songwriter bent. Think groups like U2 and REM, individuals like Bruce Springsteen, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and Van (“the man”) Morrison.
In other words, not the stuff that wins Grammy awards, for the most part.
But I’m just not buying this stuff today, because “today’s” alternative rockers – Counting Crows, Googoo Dolls (spelling?), John Mayer and so on…they’re all going to be on MTV’s “Where are they today?” show in about five years.
Or singing in some shopping mall somewhere. (Sidebar: I actually saw Michael Lindsey – of Paul Revere and the Raiders and solo “Silverbird” and “Arizona” fame – perform in a shopping center in downtown Indianapolis sometime in the late ’80s. Sad.)
Anyway, what I have been buying – and enjoying immensely lately – are overwhlemingly women singers and a lot of CDs with a country flavor, and I’m not a country music fan.
Some recent purchases and impressions:
EmmyLou Harris, Red Dirt Girl
Hands down the finest CD I’ve purchased in the last couple of years. It came out in 2000, I believe – and I heard cuts from it and liked it, but never was motivated to purchase. I got it a week or two ago and I’ve probably listened to it two dozen times. Easily.
A remarkable album. Purchase. Immediately.
EmmyLou Harris, Stumble Into Grace
The follow-up to Red Dirt Girl is weak in comparison but still an enjoyable CD. The lead song – “Here I Am” is the disc’s strongest song. I saw her perform it on Letterman when the CD first came out; a powerful performance. She reminds me of Van Morrison, the soulful honesty.
Johnny Cash, The Essential Johnny Cash 1955-1983
Yes, I’ve known of – and heard this and that of – Johnny Cash for my entire life. How could anyone miss being exposed to him? Yet I never really “got into him” or whatever.
Yet this compilation (three discs) is unbelieveably listenable. Strong, honest songs. Cash is one of figures who will never fade away – again, he is a Van Morrison type singer/songwriter: Honest, humorous, brutal.
This collection has a lot going for it, but the one (delightful) surprise to me was Cash’s cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Highway Patrolman.” Springsteen first offered this on his hugely-underrated, brilliant Nebraska album; Cash’s cover virtually makes the song his own. It’s a wicked little song if you pay attention to it.
Loretta Lynn, Van Lear Rose
Actually, this one was kind of a disappointment, as the two songs I purchased it for – the strong title track and the one-of-my-current-all-time-favorites “Portland, Oregon” – are the only songs I really enjoy.
The others are too “country” for me, even with my recent country leanings.
But “Portland, Oregon” – a collaborative effort with Jack White (of the White Stripes; how surreal is that?) – is brilliant. Let’s toast this song with a pitcher of Sloe Gin Fizz…
Beth Orton (various)
Beth Orton is someone who is never really on the radar. I know few people who know of her, yet her music is frequently used in soundtracks (I think that CBS show “Cold Case” used one of her songs for an episode). Like her music, Orton seems to keep a pretty low profile. Again, this is music that won’t win a Grammy (that does not mean it doesn’t deserve awards; more of a Grammy slam…).
If you don’t know Orton, she is cut from the same cloth as Joni Mitchell, Michelle Shocked and – especially – Sandy Denny. She has a great soothing voice and a casual but direct delivery. I’d love to see her live in a small club.
I don’t think she’ll ever make it big – her shtick (sp?) just isn’t that commercial, which seems fine to her – but I can’t imagine seeing her or buying a CD of hers and being disappointed.
Other women and/or country (flavored) types I currently like include Sheryl Crowe, Liz Phair (not her most recent; blech; bubblegum), Son Volt (led by Jay Farrar, formerly of Uncle Tupelo) and John Hiatt.
What does this all mean?
Who cares! Enjoy the music, regardless of it’s source, age or classification.
It’s like art: I can’t define it, but I know what I like when I see it. Ditto with aural art. Immerse yourself in it.