the Buzz for March 2011


Christina Perri — “Jar of Hearts” (from Jar of Hearts) — Jar of Hearts - Single - Christina Perri

[EDITOR’S NOTE: I’ve been recovering from a brutally taxing two-week stretch at work, hence this space’s unexpected silence over the past few days. But A caught a piece of this video on VH1 some time ago and was instantly captivated, and he has been driving me batty with his love of this song ever since, so I have offered him this forum to expound on his latest musical obsession, and, for once, he has accepted the invitation. So, while I don’t love this one nearly as much as he does, I nonetheless couldn’t be more thrilled to present you with this tiny drop of honey from my beloved’s hive:]

My new favorite song is everything that a dramatic ditty should be: aching, arcing melody; deep, sweeping piano and orchestral accompaniment; and thoughtful (and, at times, even witty) lyrics. I was drawn in from moment one by the measured, subdued pace; the serious, strong timbre of Perri’s voice; and the well-placed and well-executed crescendos. Simply brilliant.


Prince and the New Power Generation (featuring Rosie Gaines)
“Diamonds and Pearls” (from The Very Best of Prince) — Diamonds and Pearls (Edit) - The Very Best of Prince

Because it was the decade in which he (temporarily, thankfully for us all) went batshit nuts — and because his work in the previous decade has indeed proven to be every bit as indelible and unforgettable as we all suspected it would be at the time — Prince’s ’90s output hardly ever gets the credit it deserves for its ingenuity and creativity. (How long has it been since you spun “Thieves in the Temple” or “The Holy River” or even “Money Don’t Matter 2Night”? Will you be as flabbergasted as I am about how fresh they still sound?) Gaines and her spot-on pipes singlehandedly land this pleasant little trifle in the win column; don’t even try to convince me that you don’t sing right along when she explodes into “Pearls'” dynamic, rapturously glorious bridge.


James Taylor — “Enough to Be On Your Way” (from Hourglass) — Enough to Be On Your Way - Hourglass

While at work, I spent a good deal of yesterday evening watching (or, at worst, listening to) Troubadours — a feature-length, fabulously riveting chronicle of the community of singer/songwriters which put southern California on the map (musically, at least) in the early ’70s — which has just arrived on DVD after a staggered run on public television. Though it contains provocative anecdotes from such ancillary players as Jackson Browne, David Crosby, Elton John, and Kris Kristofferson, the film is told largely (and rightly) through the eyes of James Taylor and Carole King, the songwriter movement’s uncontested torchbearers, and watching clips of them today performing those ever-iconic hits (“You’ve Got a Friend,” “Fire and Rain,” “So Far Away”), you’re reminded both of the sheer power a strong song can harness, and of the great gifts that a group of tight-knit friends — friends like all of the aforementioned, as well as guys and gals with surnames like Mitchell, Ronstadt, and Young — gave the entire world during a peculiarly brief, shining moment in time. (Quite correctly, Taylor is most fondly revered for his ferociously well-executed early work, but later-era tunes like “Enough” — an oddly comforting treatise on life, death, and the rules of travel between those two poles which was inspired in part by the death of his brother — prove definitively that James didn’t at all lose his powerful touch the minute the calendar shifted decades.)


10,000 Maniacs — “I’m Not the Man” (from MTV Unplugged) — I'm Not the Man (Live) - MTV Unplugged: 10,000 Maniacs

Finally, the recording of the Maniacs’ utterly extraordinary 1993 appearance on MTV’s landmark music series Unplugged has made its way to iTunes (but still cannot be found on DVD, although VHS and laserdisc copies can still be found floating about in the ether for a laughably stiff premium), and I’m thrilled to be able to point your attention to this unheralded classic from the peerless Natalie Merchant — never, ever better than she is right cheer — documenting the desperate final hours of a condemned man about to be executed for a crime he didn’t commit. A brilliant, bone-chilling masterpiece.


Keri Hilson — “Pretty Girl Rock” (from No Boys Allowed) — Pretty Girl Rock - No Boys Allowed (Deluxe)

I’m not a girl, and my degree of prettiness is continually up for debate, so you’d have to figure that, as is the case with most other tunes of this particular stripe, this standard-issue female empowerment anthem would pass right by me without incident. And yet, how can you possibly resist Hilson here, Rock-ing in full-on diva-next-door mode, particularly on this track’s knockout opening minute, which finds Miss Keri scatting and strutting her way through a ferociously frisky reintroduction to the music world at large. (I’m being quite sincere when I tell you that, using this song’s elegantly electrifying Keri / very / scary / dairy-air rhyme scheme as a template after listening to it on a non-stop loop, I’ve spent the past couple of months trying to come up with a similar verse that utilizes my own name as brilliantly and easily as “Pretty” uses hers —
My name is Brandon / I’m so… (candid? landlocked? Mirandized?) — and, thus far, have come up with bupkes. But what I do know is this: why this isn’t the biggest smash at top 40 radio right now and mopping the floor with that ratty-haired trashy tart Ke$ha and her decidedly non-pretty brand of petri-dish pop is the head-scratcher of this still-young new year.)


Easton Corbin — “Someday When I’m Old” (from Easton Corbin) — Someday When I'm Old - Easton Corbin

True story: while I was home for Christmas a few months back, Sherry Ann handed me Corbin’s CD and told me I needed to listen to it. “Who is this child?” I asked, thinking at first that this was one of her inexplicable Jason Mraz-style crushes. “He’s had some hits,” she countered. “Well, he ain’t had very many of ’em, ’cause I’ve never once heard his name,” I replied. She forced the CD into the stack of discs that I was already stealing from her, and I dutifully copied it into my iTunes but didn’t really pay much attention to it otherwise. But then I caught Corbin’s show a couple of nights ago at the Austin rodeo, where my day job is centered for the remainder of this month, and even though the concert leaned more heavily on Kenny Chesney covers than could ever have been necessary — a forgivable offense, I s’pose, considering the kid is touring behind his debut album and has all of two radio hits to his name — I found him to be a charming and extraordinarily talented performer, and this bittersweet, wistfully romantic tune — which lands on the opposite end of the spectrum from “If I Die Young,” The Band Perry’s exquisite instant classic smash from last summer, but which is, in its own earnest way, every bit as powerful and affecting — incited, by far, the biggest reaction from the packed crowd.
Sherry Ann will likely tell you that the moral of the story I’ve just spun for you is Always listen to Sherry Ann — and you have to know, don’t you, that it really irks me when that witch gets the musical scoop ahead of me — but I much prefer that the ultimate takeaway here be Some stuff you gotta hear with your own ears. (And don’t write me a mean response in the comments, Sherry Ann;
you know I love you!)


Iron & Wine — “Glad Man Singing” (from Kiss Each Other Clean) — Glad Man Singing - Kiss Each Other Clean (Deluxe Version)

Sam Beam graduates to the majors (and in fine, fine style) with an album which finds him channeling the spirits of Van Morrison, early Elton John, and of course Dylan, but it’s not until very near the end of the record that he transforms himself — brilliantly — into a dead ringer for Older-era George Michael and stumbles upon Kiss‘s deceptively upbeat emotional core. (This is made even more apropos by a video from The Onion’s A.V. Club which burned up the web a couple of days ago and which features Beam covering Michael’s heart-stopping 1988 masterpiece “One More Try” with the game assistance of the marvelous Marketa Irglova, an Academy Award winner for her her glorious work in the musical film Once.)


Terence Trent D’Arby — “Wishing Well” — Wishing Well - Do You Love Me Like You Say: The Very Best Of Terence Trent D'Arby
(from Do You Love Me Like You Say: The Very Best of Terence Trent D’Arby)

A and I caught this video on VH1 Classic the other morning, and then there was a question about Mr. D’Arby on Jeopardy the following day (the category, and I’m not making this up:
“1980s #1 Hitmakers”), so the universe is clearly trying to tell me something, and I’m a big believer in staying attuned to such cosmic messages. Shortly after this track flew to the top of the charts in the spring of 1988, D’Arby famously proclaimed himself to be the finest musician drawing breath; not coincidentally, that very same season, George Michael poked holes all the way through D’Arby’s foolishly fallacious theory, and Bono, Sting, and Prince finished it off in kind. Nonetheless, I think you’ll find it a pleasant surprise how solidly this tune continues to hold up. (Incidentally, I won’t divulge what I thought he was singing, but I had no idea until this moment that the chorus’ final line is “a wishing well / of crocodile cheers.”)


Avril Lavigne — “What the Hell” (from Goodbye Lullaby) — What the Hell - Goodbye Lullaby (Deluxe Edition)

Now four albums in, Lavigne’s (mostly put-on) sk8er girl shtick is starting to wear a bit thin, and what was cute and charming at 18 now lands just this side of sad at 26. Still, is it wrong how much I love this taut little tune? If this li’l ditty, with its brisk, bopping chorus that is sticky like flypaper, isn’t the guilty pleasure of the season,
I dunno what tops it.


Tori Amos — “Cloud On My Tongue” (from Under the Pink) — Cloud On My Tongue - Under the Pink

Charlie Sheen’s scorched-earth campaign of complete self-destruction — which was dangerous live-wire fun in its infancy but which has (d)evolved into a heartbreaking three-dimensional collage of despair and denial — has me in an odd frame of mind this morning, and that almost always leads me to seek solace within the bountiful bosom of my own goddess. I haven’t written about my divine Miss Tori in this space for eons now — which is so not gettin’ it — and I’m feeling the width and profundity of that void in the whole of my soul today. You already know — you must, yes? — that Amos is my all-time favorite, and there are a trillion billion reasons why (love you, A!), but the most relevant one — at least for right now, this second — is that, at her most deliciously delicate, boldest best, she writes (and my God, sings!) about those among us who have been cast out — even (and, often, especially) those of us who are hiding in plain sight — and who are desperately trying to claw their way back in. And, in however trivial a way, the small-town boy, the oddball writer, the gay Texan in me can relate. If I were being exiled to Elba and were allowed only one album in my carry-on, I’d probably slit my wrists en route to the boat. But if I could bring along five albums, you’d best believe Pink — Amos’ astonishing second album — would be the first of the five chosen, and even though “Cloud” — the record’s gloriously wrenching emotional zenith — isn’t nearly my favorite Pink tune, it’s the one my heart can’t seem to shake as I type this. (When, near the end, she sings, her voice almost at a demolished murmur, thought I was / over the bridge now, doesn’t every fraying fiber in your own wounded heart just ache for her?) Got to stop spinning, sure and for sure, and today, I pray in my own way that we — we meaning Charlie, me, ignorant Republicans who have lost complete sight of why their party was even founded, all of us — will stop, will stand up, will turn over the right rocks and find the temerity to truly win.


Adam Lambert — “If I Had You” (from For Your Entertainment) — If I Had You - For Your Entertainment (Deluxe Version)

Regular readers of this blog recognize that, speaking generally and dating back to his very first performance on the Idol stage, I have never had an ounce of use for Lambert and his premeditated patties of glammed-up, atrociously artificial nonsense. But even a stopped clock is right twice a day, and even my old cold stone heart is powerless against the pull of a catchy-as-hell hook.


“If I had written into The West Wing the people who are the leaders on the right today — whether it’s Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, or Glenn Beck — I would’ve been eviscerated by the right for portraying them as idiot monsters.”

— Emmy- and Academy Award-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, discussing the lunacy of the new brand of politics-as-usual in the Obama age, on ABC’s Nightline.



A full eight weeks in (!), 2011’s new music slate finally gets cleared for takeoff, courtesy of the white-hot sophomore effort from a staggeringly talented young woman whose bracing debut three years ago won her the Grammy Award for Best New Artist and the immediate respect of her shell-shocked peers. Without further ado:


But first, a new wave of compilation discs under the Icon umbrella arrives this week, and the most prominent among the latest batch of titles comes from rock queen Melissa Etheridge, whose eleven-track collection isn’t nearly as comprehensive as her 2005 greatest hits set, but which is nonetheless remarkably up-to-date, as it includes her fabulous 2010 smash “Fearless Love” holding court alongside such expected classics as “Come to My Window” and “I’m the Only One.” In other words, Icon stands as a perfectly serviceable Etheridge primer. (Other new entries in the Icon series include Buddy Holly, The Four Tops, Peter Frampton, Joe Walsh, Salt-n-Pepa, Tony! Toni! Tone!, Billy Ray Cyrus, Aaron Neville,
Kool and the Gang, .38 Special, The Mavericks, and the legendary Loretta Lynn.)