If Willie Nelson’s career had ended in the late ’60s, he would deserve a place in musical history for writing such great songs as “Hello Walls”, “Funny How Time Slips Away”, “Pretty Paper” and, most famously, Patsy Cline’s signature tune, “Crazy”. Thankfully, it didn’t end there. Willie eventually tired of the Nashville scene and struck out in a different direction, coming into his own with the classic song cycle, Red Headed Stranger. From there, Willie blurred the lines between country, pop, jazz and other American musical forms, singing his own great compositions and interpreting the great American songbook with his clear voice and unique phrasing. Along the way, Willie became a bit of movie star, a tax cheat and a hero to High Times subscribers worldwide. Let’s pay tribute to an American icon, by grabbing your iPod/MP3 player, hitting shuffle, and sharing the first 10 songs that come up.
For this week’s shuffle, I used my iPod Nano, just to show that I have things in my music collection that have come out in the last five years. Let’s see how this plays out.
- The Resonars — Yes Grovesnor (That Evil Drone): The Resonars specialize in retro ’60s rock tunes that usually sound like The Hollies, if The Hollies were a rocking psych pop or garage band. This song, however, is a respite — a sweet acoustic guitar instrumental with a middle section that is a bit ominous. One could easily hear this developed into a full bore rock tune.
- Raphael Saadiq — Sure Hope You Mean It (The Way I See It): The former front man for Tony! Toni! Tone! really hit the jackpot with his 2008 solo record. Going back to the late ’80s, Saadiq had always had one foot in classic R & B, and here, he planted both feet in that sound, making a record that conjured up memories of Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, The Temptations, Curtis Mayfield and others. Since he’s an ace songwriter, he came pretty close to equaling his idols. How sweet this song is, if you get my drift.
- Electric Light Orchestra — Calling America (Balance Of Power): A low key pop tune from a group known for bombast. Okay, the chorus is a typical Jeff Lynne humdinger, and it’s a nice contrast to the quieter verses. Balance of Power was the final E.L.O. album until Lynne revived the name for the Zoom L.P., and like this track (which was a minor Top 40 hit), it’s a hidden gem.
- Happy Hate Me Nots — Everyday (The Good That’s Been Done): Another ferocious rocker from this fiery Australian band that took some cues from The Saints and came up with its own distinctive brand of R & B fueled punk. This is from a great 2 CD anthology of the band. They have reunited and will have a new album out soon.
- The Knux — F!re (Put it in the Air) (Remind Me In 3 Days): The two brothers who front the hip-hop band The Knux were displaced from New Orleans because of Katrina and ended up in L.A. The Knux are a throw back to ’80s hip hop in a lot of ways, with some songs using a fair amount of rock instrumentation. This song is a nice mid-tempo number that’s reminiscent of Naughty By Nature, with a big back beat and a nifty sampled snare drum backing.
- Jay Reatard — Florescent Grey (Matador Singles 08): This is a cover of a Deerhunter song. This is a masterpiece of garage rock paranoia. With its simple repeating guitar motif and Reatard’s strained vocal, this is the aural equivalent of a horror movie. Outstanding.
- Jason & The Scorchers — Mona Lee (Halcyon Times): The 2010 comeback from this band makes it sound like they haven’t left. This is the band for whom the phrase “cowpunk” was coined. The Scorchers could whip up a great country tune and then rock it up like nobody’s business. Mainstays Jason Ringenberg and guitarist Warner Hodges sound as good as ever, on the band’s best record since their debut album.
- Pretty & Nice — Peekaboo (Get Young): Herky-jerk post-punk perkiness that would appeal to fans of earlier XTC, The Monochrome Set, Field Music and The Sugarplastic. This is mellower than most of the material on the album, but very good nevertheless.
- Franz Ferdinand — Come On Home (Franz Ferdinand): I think that Franz Ferdinand’s debut album is nearly perfect. The songs are so well constructed and the performances are so good. They brought sexy back to the post-punk movement. This is probably a second tier song in the context of the album, which shows how incredible the first tier of songs is.
- Leatherface — Diego Garcia (The Stormy Petrel): As with Jason & the Scorchers, this is another comeback album that sounds like a continuation of prior greatness. Franklin Stubbs still has a voice that sounds like he gargled two bottles of Drano. It’s a deceptively expressive instrument which tinges everything he sings with a measure of resignation and sadness. Meanwhile, the band creates a punk maelstrom around him, with just enough melody to make it accessible.