27 November 2006

You'll be the mule, I'll be the plow, come harvest time we'll work it out....

There was a time, years ago, when you could watch VH1 and actually see videos of new artists you would never have had the chance to otherwise hear of. This is how I discovered Nanci Griffith. It was a video of her song "Its a Hard Life Wherever You Go" from her then new release, Storms, that caught my eyes and ears. What I saw on the screen was a beautiful, lithe woman singing of the harshness of the world and the bigotry that goes with it. From a cafeteria line in Chicago to the back seat of her taxi in Ireland, she viewed that what we teach our children shapes the future of the world. While this in of itself is/was not a new revelation, the song was catchy without being preachy, and I had to know more about her. I ran out, got that CD and found many other tunes that reached deep into my soul, inspired me as a song writer to work harder and look at the world around me just a little bit more closely. Another song from that CD is a tune called "If Wishes Were Changes"....'there'd be no goodbyes....I wish that you loved me the way that I love you, I wish I had angels that sang in my dreams...' It's hard not to pay attention to such desperate and longing lyrics. You'd have to be a completely numb person not to notice. She has a voice that maybe isn't for everyone, and her music walks that fine line between folk and country, though I would argue that it's predominantly folk, but she writes from a place of Texas-sized emptiness that few people are capable of writing from. But don't get me wrong, this is not music to slit your wrists by, because she veils her words in a cloak of catchy melodies and more pop-leaning production values, which can leave you guessing, if you aren't paying attention. The song above, "Trouble In The Fields" about her grandparents struggle in depression-era Texas, I discovered on a CD of live songs called One Fair Summer Evening (also out on DVD). It's a Cd of 'greatest hits' of sorts that I wrote about in a previous blog called "Dig through a record bin..." from October, if you are interested in reading more about it. Needless to say Ms. Griffith and all that she has done is a huge inspiration for the new demo I'm working on.

I went on a road trip last week with Abby. We went through Zion National Park, into Bryce Canyon, and down to the Grand Canyon in a 4 day stretch. We did a lot of hiking down into the canyons, and gazing at the wide open spaces. All this in an effort to see what we can while still living on this side of the world. While of course the Canyons were unspeakably beautiful and awe inspiring, it was the drive between them, and the drive home that also amazed me.

I live in a city that is far too crowded and has gotten even more so in recent years thanks to the City Council that is allowing the destruction of 2 and 3 family houses in favour of 32 unit condos and the like. So being out in the middle of Utah, and northern Arizona where there's more land and wildlife than humans was truly eye opening and a much needed reminder that life exists outside a city. The few houses, or rather dwellings we saw along our 1400 mile trek and the few 'towns' we passed though reminded me of what it must be like to actually need the people around you in order to survive. Unlike LA where people generally only 'need' people to 'get them' higher up the proverbial ladder, these places are vast, harsh and dry and you can't survive in a bubble. You can't tune them out because there aren't enough of you to go around; you don't get in your car to avoid people you get in your car to get near them and visit. I got the sense from those that I spoke to that you can't go it alone, and that where there were communities, a real sense of togetherness and an 'us against the elements' bond existed. It's kind of like being in Boston in a snowstorm, nothing is open but the local diner, there's 3 feet of snow on the ground, and all your neighbours are digging out their cars and helping one another to do it. We don't have that here in LA. We have sunny, warm days all year round except for the occasional rain 'storm' (such as we are having today as I write this), and thusly we have no reason to 'need' each other in order to survive the day. You can go it alone here and live a very comfortable life because there is nothing that brings strangers together, no reason to bond, no reason to reach out, no harsh weather to get through. It is very easy to just be numb. I think that is why so many love it here, and why so many don't. I get it. But I'm glad I was reminded of what it is to need a mule and a plow, and to work it out later.

Thanks for tuning in...Until next Monday.....CHEERS!!!!!

18 November 2006

I want to thank you for giving me the best day of my life....oh, just to be with you...

I first heard Dido's "Thank You" when I went to see the film Sliding Doors in the theatre in 1998. Not only is it one of my favourite films of the last 10 years, the soundtrack caught my ear immediately and I rushed out to buy it practically the next day. It probably is one of the best around and has set a tone for many films that followed. One of the things that makes it so great is that all the music used was relevant and appropriate - not incidental, and distracting so as to create a 'music video' feel in the middle of the film, something many Directors are guilty of doing these days. There is a fine line I realize and it's easy to be indulgent and to cross over into gratuitous song placement - something Director Peter Howitt is never guilty of. Also very cool is that he chose some lesser known Artists (Dido made her mark because of this film) to help tell the story; Space Monkey's, Peach Union, The Brand New Heavies and Abra Moore fill out the rest of the roster that includes Aimee Mann and Elton John. All together it's an amazing collection of diverse and energetic music that compels one to check out these newer artists (I eagerly searched for Dido's album which hadn't even been released in the U.S. at the time of the film) and revisit some old favourites. I urge you not only to see the film, if you haven't already, but to check this batch of tunes out.

As some of you know, the years 2000 and 2001 were the most difficult in my life. I lost my Mother, my Grandmother, my Grandfather, and a close friend of mine was brutally murdered. Since then my life, as can only happen when everything goes wrong, has vastly improved, though the pain of these losses is with me every day - especially felt during the Holiday Season. So I wanted to take this moment, as I get ready to go camping in Bryce Canyon Utah before Turkey Day (hence the early posting) to thank the people who have made a difference in my life during and since those difficult years - aside from my family who already know how awesome they are. These are the folks that are not blood family, but will always be special to me and close to my heart, each of whom inspired me in ways I can never express. While to perfect strangers who might be reading this these names will mean nothing to you, please know they mean everything to me and are the reason I am able to get up in the morning and 'carry on' if you will. In no particular order: My beloved Best Friend, Fritz; my beloved, Boo; my 'Dude' Phineas; Jodi; Joanna; my Bee-Atch, Courtney; Maria; My excellent friend & Co-Producer, Rebecca; My "I'm not your bleeding Aunt" Aunt; and My dearest Suz. There are more, but I think you all get the point. As you sit down thursday, enjoying a delectable feast, take a moment to be especially grateful for those in your life, because you never know when they might save it. I know am.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone, be safe, be happy, and be good....

Thanks for tuning in...Until next Monday...CHEERS!!

13 November 2006

No matter what you make, all that you can take, it's what you give away...

I'm not a fan of Country music. This, despite many years living in/visiting the south, an ex in Boston who tried to get me to like it, and me having written one of my favourites, coincidentally a Country song, "Jackson Hole", earlier this year. But every once in awhile one really grabs me, inspires me and makes me wish I'd written it. Abby came over to watch The Country Music Awards on tuesday - it's her favourite awards show so I couldn't say no. After sleeping through much of it they announced Vince Gill featuring Sheryl Crow, and Amy Grant on one stage singing "What You Give Away". Less than a minute into it I was in love. The song struck me hard.

"You read the business page, see how you did today, life's just passing by....There's people on the street, aint got enough to eat, you just shake your head, the measure of a man is one who lends a hand, it's what my father said. After you've counted everything you've saved, you ever hit your knees and pray? You know there's going to be a judgement day, so what will you say? No matter what you make, all that you can take, it's what you give away..."

Released on his new album last month entitled These Days, it's part of a 4 disc set of original material featuring Sheryl Crow, Alison Krauss, Bonnie Raitt and too many others to mention. But I'm not here to talk about this cd (though you can check it out on itunes). The thing about this song, written by Al Anderson, is that there is something really uplifting and meaningful to it. It's also not what most people would think of as a Country tune per se, except that it's Vince Gill at the helm. It is in so many ways a perfect song; well written, well produced, with a choral buildup at the end that really pulls at your heart. You don't feel bad about yourself listening to this song because it's not preachy, it's simply reminding us of what is really important in the world. As we approach the Holiday Season, the New Year, and, hopefully, take stock in our lives, this song serves as a gentle reminder to look outside of our self importance. It isn't about how much money you earn, it's not about what you take from the world, it's what you give of yourself that matters. It's a life lesson we forget about as we sit in our cars on our way to our jobs and go to lunch, the bank, or buy ourselves a $220 sweater.

Thanks for tuning it...Until next Monday...CHEERS!!!

06 November 2006

Maybe it was to learn how to choose, maybe it was to learn how to loose....

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Shawn Colvin's "Cover Girl" album and it got me thinking about another such recording. k.d. lang's 2004 release "Songs of The 49th Parallel" (Produced by Ben Mink and k.d. lang) reinvents and covets some famous and not-so-famous songs from other Canadian Artists - including this week's title track "Love Is Everything" by the amazing and underrated Jane Siberry. This first song on the CD is a sweet, pining tune that sets the tone for the whole album hinting as to where we will be taken over the course of our 47 minute visit up north.

As we meander our way through our trip you can't help but be struck by the oft - covered Leonard Cohen tune "Hallelujah". What makes this version different than the rest is not only the piano work that resonates throughout the whole CD - reminding me of a George Winston work of art - but there's a happiness to this version that's not apparent on either the Jeff Buckley or J.J. Cale versions. What Ms. lang shows us is a less pained side of the tune that gets illuminated by her heavenly voice and a string accompaniment that elevate her ever higher into the Canadian night sky. She also covers Joni Mitchell's "A Case Of You", a delicate tune, and one of her finest, that I think can really be soiled by lesser artists. No worries here though.....you can almost picture Ms. lang sitting at her feet while she records this as Joni nods in approval. Probably the finest cover on this CD blew me away the first time I heard it - the opening cello notes of Neil Young's "Helpless" grabbed me and never let go. Building from the cello, we are carried upward like a hymn and gently brought back down to those first haunting notes. It's a very cool version of a song you've heard 1000 times - but you've never heard it like this.

One of the greatest things about this CD is that it all fits together. There is a vibe, if you will, a feel to it that carries throughout each tune. You have travelled up north on a chilly November night, it's snowing outside and inside you are kept warm by a fire and this CD. It's almost as if someone took a cue from Gary Jules' cover of the Tears For Fears song "Mad World" and ran with it. Again, to say nothing of the piano, cello, and other fine musical work, it's Ms. lang's most amazing and talented voice that make these songs more than covers...they are recreated and given a life they never knew they had. I'll admit, I am not a huge fan of hers but this CD has given me a new perspective on her and Ben Mink.

If you've been paying attention to Entertainment news of late you may have noticed a sudden rash of guys coming out of the closet and professing their gayness practically turning the last few weeks into "National Gay Boy Coming Out Month". It started with some guy from a boy band declaring his undying love for some dude thusly putting to rest any rumours. Two weeks ago T.R. Knight, from "Grey's Anatomy", who was shamelessly outed by his coworker, that idiot Isaiah Washington, made it official - to put any rumours to rest. Then this past friday that guy from "Doogie Hauser" & "How I Met Your Mother" Neil Patrick Harris did the same - to put any unseemly rumours to rest. Must be the line of the month.

All I can say is: IT'S ABOUT TIME GUYS!!! Why aren't more of you coming out? Are Elton and George the only Gay Guys around? Why are Americans, when they think of Gay People, having to think of "Ellen and Portia", "Rosie and Kelli" and "Melissa and Tammy Faye"...or whatever her name is? WHY?!?!? C'mon - there must be more dudes out there hanging with other dudes - this is nearly 2007 - what's the problem? If Anne Heche can come out, then get married to a dude, and barely skip a beat (I love her show "Men In Trees" by the way) than obviously it doesn't ruin a career! Does Hollywood think that Americans are still so homophobic that guys feel that they can't be truthful and just be themselves? Why are people still wearing 'beards' in this day and age? I mean, really, who cares?!?! Enough of the fake marriages, enough with the rumours, just DO IT!! If nothing else than to shut people up, because maybe if more dudes came out, people would care less.

Thanks for tuning in.....Until next Monday...CHEERS!!!!