Thursday, March 25

Songs of the Months

Okay, so I'm involved in a monthly CD exchange club. We get together once a month and each of us brings a cd (a copy for each of everyone else) of music that we like, or that is on a theme, or what have you.

Last night was our first get-together. Before the meeting, I only really knew one of the participants (Matt), others I knew from their weblogs, others not at all, and our host, Dave, I knew somewhat way back in university but haven't seen in almost 20 years (my god!).

When compiling my playlist, I was worried about picking songs that relatively few others would have. I made an initial list of great songs, ones that I really like, from what I consider to be relatively obscure artists. I quashed that list, though, because I figured these people likely have musical tastes akin to me, so they'd likely not be obscure to them. So, I decided to create a cd on a theme, a musical experience of 12 songs, each somehow representative of, or inspired by, a month of the year. Familiarity of songs be damned, I thought. This cd will not be the discovery of new artists. Rather it'll be about the experience of song flowing into song, month into month. It's a concept album, dammit.

That was the idea, anyway.

So, here's my list, with liner notes to boot:

Songs of the Months Club – Introductory Offer

12 songs, each in some way representative of a month of the year.

Wild Is The Wind – David Bowie: Yeah, it may be a love song, but everything about this song feels cold to me. I think that’s why I like it so much. The production is dry and Bowie’s voice is as cold as a blustery January night. This is the chilliest love song I’ve heard.

Snowin’ On Raton – Townes van Zandt: He was the quintessential Texas Singer/Songwriter, and a guy that many songwriters cite as inspiration. I’m a friend of voices that may not be the most technically proficient, but are able to convey the emotion of the song. Townes van Zandt has that type of voice. This is a February drivin’-the-truck-through-the-southern-snow kinda road song.

Five Feet and Rising – Johnny Cash: I’ve always been a fan of Cash. However, since he started recording with the American label, I’ve become a huge fan. He’s another of those singers whose ability to convey the emotion of the song means more than the range of notes he hits. This is a song from an earlier era of Johnny Cash. March may be a bit early around these parts to be talkin’ flood, but, by God, it’s floodin’ somewhere.

April After All – Ron Sexsmith: I don’t want to imagine a music library that doesn’t contain songs from Canadian Ron Sexsmith. Simply, he’s a fantastic songwriter. If you aren’t familiar with him, I urge you to go and get his music. If you’re not fond of this song, trust me, there are others of his that will find heavy rotation in your playlists. Seek him out. Why did I choose this song? Well, it is April, after all.

Three Little Birds – Bob Marley & the Wailers: I’m guessing you probably know this song, but I had to include it. It just makes me feel so good. To me it epitomizes the peaceful positive potential of the day. After a long, cold winter, the birds have come back to sing to us! A May song like this should give you hope and happiness for the coming days of summer bliss.

Wildflowers – The Trio: I shouldn’t be, but I’m embarrassed to say that I quite like the music of Dolly Parton. When she teamed up with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt to create the wonderful album called “The Trio”, I was happy. Some of the most incredible country harmonies I’ve been fortunate to hear. As a sample from that album, I offer you this vocal painting of June wildflowers.

Ballad of a Ballgame – Christine Lavin: I don’t know a lot about Christine Lavin. I first discovered her years ago on a compilation cassette of Rounder Records artists, where she sang a very funny song called “Sensitive New Age Guys”. She’s kind of a female Loudon Wainwright III, in her ability to create funny, catchy personal songs that also have the ability to make you feel sad. Getting picked last, not being appreciated or expected to contribute. I’m guessing we can all relate in some way to this homage to that aspect of the pickup game of ball that takes place in July.

Long Hot Summer – The Style Council: As the main member of The Jam, Paul Weller was an important icon to me. Even though they were huge in Britain, his band (unknown on PEI) was one of those touchstones whose name you could drop to others on the Island, and if they knew who you were talking about, they were part of the cool young punk club. When The Jam broke up and Paul Weller formed The Style Council, a quasi-jazz-pop band, I wasn’t sure what to think. But I went along with it, even if it wasn’t anything like punk. Listening now to the Style Council songs I have, they stand up pretty well. This song sways, ever so cool, like a late August hammock in the evening shade.

California Stars – Billy Bragg and Wilco: Another song I expect many/most/all of you have, but what the hell. More Wilco than Bragg, this song, it comes from the excellent Mermaid Avenue collaboration of the two giving voice and melody to a number of Woody Guthrie songs that were never recorded. I chose this song for September because it seems to me that this is something you might do in September. Summer’s coming to an end so, as a way to squeeze the most out of it, you run out into the yard some night and lie on the grass and just look at the stars. That’s what I think of when I hear this song.

Fields of Gold – Eva Cassidy: Yes, the Sting song. I was a huge Police fan, even a fan of Sting for most of his career, but surely there’s only so much Sting one can take. So it’s nice to hear a great rendition of one of his songs from someone who isn’t Sting. This comes from an album I found called “Best of Acoustic”. Before this, I never heard of Eva Cassidy, but was struck by the beauty of her voice on this song. Just Googled and discovered that she died in 1996. So there you go. October brings golden fields of harvest and the unshakable truth that death, like rust, never sleeps.

Thanksgiving – Loudon Wainwright III: Remember earlier, where I alluded to the notion that Loudon Wainwright III wrote funny songs. Well, this isn’t really one of them. While he has a wonderful knack for comedy, he also has the ability to write songs that just rip the heart out. I find this song to be beautifully sad. This is a November song because Loudon is American, and of course, their Thanksgiving happens that month. If you don’t know Loudon, you owe it to yourself to check him out. His live album Career Days is a favourite of mine.

Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis – Tom Waits
: There are a lot of people who can’t warm up to Tom Waits’ voice. I’m not one of them . I absolutely love his sound and in fact, he is, I think, the only artist recording today whose albums I’ll buy without question. His music is poetry. This song is unfathomably beautiful and sad.

Well, looking back, it’s kind of a low-key year, isn’t it? I thought about taking some songs out, and replacing them with a few more upbeat tunes, but somehow that seemed to spoil the mood of the thing. So, you’re stuck with this somewhat melancholy assemblage.


Dave Hyndman said...

Thanks for the tunes, Rob. Great seeing you after so many years.
So, am I allowed to listen to more than one song a month, or must I wait?

Rob MacD said...

No, of course you can listen to them all at once.
What I would suggest, Dave, is to take a cd player, a calendar, a fan and some ice cubes attached to string, into your bathroom (or any bathroom, for that matter).
Tie the ice-cubed string in front of the fan and turn it on high. Keep your face close to the fan as the January-March songs play.
Flip the calendar accordingly, for each month.
For the April-May songs, use the toilet, but do not flush. Let the aroma permeate the room. Start the shower, and keep it running. Then play the songs. This is the sound and smell of spring.
June-August. If your bathroom has a heat lamp, turn it on. High. Then listen.
September-October. Get your blow dryer out. Alternate between blowing hot, heat-lamp air, and cold ice-cube string air on your face, slowly graduating, for November and December, to only the cold ice-cubed air.

Cyn said...

Great list Rob. And great idea to Dave H.

Annie said...

I am curious about your decision to place Thanksgiving in November. Granted, LWIII, who wrote the terrific song, wrote it about a November Thanksgiving - but would apply equally, I would argue, to October Thanksgivings.
So what are American?

Rob MacD said...

Yes, Annie, it could just as easily have been an October song. I justify it because he is American. And believe me, I did fret about the apparent Americanization of my playlist by doing so.

Jeff said...

Rob, excellent list, looking forward to listening. I too was second guessing my list. Awkward like a first date. Hopefully it will be easier now, however I suspect, as before, I will procrastinate until the last minute. Hmmm, next months theme?
I also look forward to your 'obscure artist' CD.
By chance, are you a Replacements fan?

Rob MacD said...

No, never really got into the Replacements. I did have one of their albums, Pleased To Meet Me, but I could never get into their sound.