Happy Birthday, Cat Power! Yes, Chan Marshall turns 38 today. It’s been a long, winding journey for Ms. Marshall, starting out working with members of Sonic Youth and Two Dollar Guitar on oddly written songs, gaining more notoriety, dropping out, coming back, developing a reputation for erratic live performance and eventually breaking through to a larger audience, playing blues based rock that spotlighted her wonderful voice. Moreover, it seems like she is finding herself on stage and overcoming personal problems. Thus, the best may still be to come. In Chan/Cat’s honor, get out your iPod,, hit shuffle and please share the first ten songs that come up.
The Everly Brothers — I Wonder If I Care As Much (24 Original Classics): A lesser known Everly song which starts off with a strong lead guitar snippet before heading into pretty harmony territory. The melody of this song and the arrangement seem like a big influence on the British beat groups, especially The Searchers and The Hollies. I should check to see if they covered this. The electric guitar part really provides a nice contrast to the self-flagellating pathos of the lyrics.
Frisbie — Shakin’ The Tree (New Debut): The second iteration of this great Chicago band was a bit more rock, even though the original line up rocked quite a bit. This is a great example of the band’s smart approach to pop, with precise parts played by each member. Indeed, this song may sound simple on the surface, but it was actual one of the more difficult tunes for the band to pull off live. While not the type of anthemic roof raiser that Frisbie built its reputation on, this is a great display of how you can have a bit of an art-pop edge without losing accessibility.
Steve Dawson — Goodbye (I Will Miss The Trumpets And The Drums): Dawson, the lead singer of Dolly Varden, has made two top notch solo albums. On each album, he makes some forays into R & B inflected pop. This is right in the wheelhouse of his wonderful white soul voice, which is reminiscent of singers such as Darryl Hall and Van Morrison. This song is somewhere between Memphis and Philly, with a sublime middle eight.
Chris Stamey — Kierkegaard (Travels In The South): Speaking of soul, Chris Stamey let some R & B influences seep into his Carolina power pop on this album. That is certainly true on this number, where he also busts out some impressive lead guitar licks, augmented by a Hammond organ. These R & B touches merely frame the primary melody, which is more in the wistful vein of Stamey’s earlier solo work. And yes, the song definitely touches on philosophy.
The Clash — Groovy Times (Super Black Market Clash): This song first came out in the U.S. on a bonus 7-inch single that came with the band’s self-titled debut. This song is more in the vein of Give ‘Em Enough Rope or London Calling, with Joe Strummer declaiming over a spry rhythm and acoustic guitars. This song is much more in the vein of Clash heroes like Mott The Hoople and even includes a Spanish guitar solo. Not a great Clash song, but an interesting one nevertheless.
The New Pornographers — Moves (Together): There is a bit of Electric Light Orchestra influence in the ominous chords that begin this song, which A.C. Newman contrasts with one of his chirpiest melodies. This is one song where Newman has the lead vocal, but Neko Case’s accompaniment nearly dominates. Moreover, Newman finds a way to throw in three or four different catchy parts and blends them expertly.
Richard & Linda Thompson — A Heart Needs A Home (The Best of Richard & Linda Thompson): The gossamer voice of Linda Thompson over a song that’s three parts bluesy rock and one part folk, with Richard supplying tasteful lead guitar ornamentation. This would be a great song for Mavis Staples to cover, as there is a great soul song wanting to burst out of this tune.
Eurythmics — Love Is A Stranger (Sweet Dreams): The band’s second hit single is icy synth-pop perfection. Annie Lennox is simultaneously angelic and sinister, showing amazing vocal control, starting out low key, and slowly picking up her intensity as the tune goes on. The electronic percussion track is also brilliant, mixing a few different parts into pulse that gives the song momentum. A true classic.
The Gun Club — The Master Plan (The Las Vegas Story): While not acknowledged as a classic, the final proper Gun Club record cements them as a band that blew up the blues to cinematic proportions, with big guitar parts and stomping percussion and the out of control vocals of Jeffrey Lee Pierce. This is a dramatic instrumental.
Sagittarius — The Keeper of the Games (Present Tense): This legendary soft-pop aggregation was the creation of producers Gary Usher and Curt Boettcher, who composed pretty harmony infused pop with a baroque feel. The result was a more psychedelic variation on what bands like The Beach Boys and The Association were doing. This is an instantly memorable song that is sadly, only a couple minutes long.